Being a Brown Girl in Nude Heels

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I started writing this blog post nearly two years ago. I’m continuing it now. Almost two years ago in June,  I took my first ever teaching course with the first professor to tell me to call him by his first name. After four years of undergraduate study I took the best class I had ever taken my first month of graduate school. My teaching cohort spent that month huddled in circles, crumpling up life stories, paired against each other defending our sides on various issues and growing close to one another as a teaching cohort. Of everything that teaching has given me, one of the biggest gifts was that summer with that cohort.

Of the lessons I learned in that classroom management class, the first that hit was: Privilege is having band aids match your skin.

Or in my case, my lack of privilege is wearing nude heels that stick out against my dark skin. It’s always feeling like you don’t just quite fit in and worrying that you never will. I first grew up in a predominately black and hispanic neighborhood. I was generally accepted by my peers and felt proud of being an Indian. I was surprised to find that when I moved to a high-school that was made of 99% whites students, it wasn’t as cool to be “Indian”. In fact, many people didn’t even know what it meant to be an Indian.

I spend a lot of time completely unaware of issues of race and class. It was always underlying every event and circumstance but I never knew what to call that feeling of knowing that my peers looked and grew up differently than me, despite the fact that we attended the same school.

Learning that bandaids didn’t match the skin was at first upsetting. But that summer opened me up to a whole new world in which I learned that when we become aware of a problem, we can do something about it.

I eventually found “nude” heels that matched my skin color. But I first needed to be aware that the shoes I had on before weren’t quite right.

 

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A Culture of Stress

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In a culture of triple shot espressos, rush hour trains, city-speed walking and endless work/class hours- how can I not worry? Living in New York City is not for the faint of heart and I’ve grown accustomed to intimate train rides with strangers at least once a week. I worry about pretty much anything and a strange part of me enjoys the worry. I rarely admit this to myself but feeling worried makes me think that I’m at least working. But in the midst of my “busy” and “stress” I hear God asking me, why do you worry Nina? God points to the lie that stress and worry should be a work day norm or even that I can blame my job for my worry. Matthew 6:25-34 warns us against embracing this culture of worry and anxiety.

 

1.Worry is rooted in a lack of trust.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

God reminds us that the opposite of worrying is trusting that God will provide as he does for the birds of the air. Ultimately worry stems from a lack of trust that we hold.

2.God will give you more than you can ever find yourself

27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

How many times have I tried to find my own solution to problems and acted in haste? I think back to when I needed an internship for my Communications major. I couldn’t afford to work unpaid and all of my attempts at securing a job always seemed to lead me to illegitimate internships. I finally trusted in God and only interviewed for two places. The first place offered me a better position after meeting me. I ultimately accepted the second offer which was at a company I never thought I was “good” enough for. I still remember college friends telling me I was wasting my time with the “Christian club” and yet during my interview, my work with said Christian club got me the internship. It was completely out of my control and I thank God for how he gives.

3.Instead of worrying about things, seek God, the ultimate provider

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The secret to this passage is hidden in verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I am making a choice to seek God instead of money or prestige or success. Because every time I seek perfection out of my own strength I come to a striking halt. Instead, I choose chai lattes, quiet time in the mornings, long walks in the sun and trust in God. I lie to myself when I say that I am worried because of my job or graduate classes. Worrying is ultimately my choice and I can also make a decision to stop.

Should I be teaching?

Should I be teaching? For me, the answer is yes. But I long to teach in a collaborative environment where the content specific and Special Education teacher actually plan lessons together and teach so seamlessly that it’s hard to identify which teacher is which.

I’m a first year teacher, or really a first year teaching resident and for the first time ever I doubted whether I really want to teach. I came into the school year “unstoppable”, nothing would stop me from my goal of becoming a teacher and teaching for years and years but that all stopped momentarily this week. I work in Special Education, but working in Special Education was nothing like what I imagined it to be. The “norms” set for me as a teacher were so contradictory to my desires and aspirations.

Let me paint a teacher. You step into a ninth-grade classroom, my “focus” class. My focus class is essentially  the one class I take on as my own. You see two adults, one in the front teaching the lesson, one at a table who you would almost mistake for a student if they weren’t so much older, all alongside a class of 30 something students. I am that adult sitting on the side who sometimes really doesn’t know what lesson is going to be taught until I walk into the classroom. I feel uncomfortable with the content I’m teaching and always have to “catch up”.

But somehow I was content with this. I thought, “It’s only one year. Special Education looks different elsewhere.” I was reminded of my friends teaching a particular subject and truly being seen as equals to their fellow teacher in the classroom. But then I was reminded that in most settings, Special Education is exactly what I’m doing and how scarce jobs are for the type of job I want.

Don’t get me wrong- there is still good in this model. I look at my mentor teacher and feel astonished by his ability to master all 4 subjects to such a degree that he often teaches it better than the content teacher because of his ability to break down difficult concepts for Special Education students. But it’s difficult for me to accept a career where by default I essentially become a helper in the room instead of an educator. I am unwilling to stay in a position that does not leverage my strengths and abilities. I want to be challenged every day in my job.

My focus may be wrong. In my position, I still influence my students heavily. I learn every day and my life is filled with stories about my students. Interning in business never left me as satisfied. But despite my love for my students, I still want more. There are plenty of other jobs that would require me to work with students one on one or in small groups. But I chose to teach because I want to plan lessons and units that engage my students. I long to  challenge traditional curriculum and try out different ways to engage all types of learners in my class.

When met with the reality that I may always feel “one-step” behind in the classroom, I want to stop teaching. I can acknowledge the fact that I will get the same pay as content specific teachers with a smaller workload but I didn’t leave a possible career in Business behind to do less work. At my core, my real passion is to help others reach their potential. And I always think back to those teachers that changed my view of education.