I feel like my life is at the vortex of one massive and monumental disruption. School was disrupted by COVID19. White privilege is being disrupted by the undeniable Anti Black and Anti Indigenous racism, governments are disrupting laws by making attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, and ejecting members of parliament for calling someone “racist”. Policing is being disrupted, institutions are being disrupted. And, if reports are to be believed, nature is restoring in places where we are not. This disruption is feedback if we listen and reflect.
I wonder if increasing rates of anxiety might be “the canary in the coal mine”. We all know that emotions are a form of feedback which, depending upon our response, can improve our performance. But I also wonder if we’ve been ignoring some of the most important messages. Maybe if we thought of the community body, we might be more concerned about the anxiety of others and probe a bit further rather than medicating or numbing it away.
I’ve been working on intentionally listening to myself and I find it interesting to consider the ways that making a podcast has forced me to take in the sound of my own voice, to confront the expression of my own words, my own thoughts which evolve and change. I have to face the permanence of words found in the recording, even when the words connected to the thoughts have dislodged and changed in me. I also have to accept my errors, publicly. It is a humbling way to approach change, but it feels necessary.
Whenever Amanda and I record an episode of Just Conversations, I’m torn about publishing it, especially now, as I’m working to decentre the White voice in my classroom. My hesitations are sometimes about my own sense of public humiliation for screwing up, but I also know that there is a difference between fear of something tangible happening to me, and the discomfort of personal failure; the risk is only perceived and not real and the only thing my silence does is uphold the inequities that I am struggling to challenge. I keep reminding myself, “I am the White liberal voice of education that is so dangerous to BIPOC students” and I’m in a fight to disrupt myself.
Just the other day, we talked and recorded our voices and as we explained our long silence, our conversation helped us articulate our purpose. We’ve been on this vulnerable journey striving for equity, but we realize that our podcast is actually better suited to White educators who are also wrestling with this work. In conversations about justice and equity, we realize our privilege, recognize our role, and refined our purpose. This helped us find better words, better thoughts.
I’ve been feeling another tension with speaking and listening in this current model of distance learning. Each week I move about the house, trying to find a space that is, in that moment, quiet enough for a Google Meet, yet free from the backdrop of my bedroom bathroom or other distractions of my small house. This quiet location migrates depending on my family members, outdoor construction, the wind. On screen in a confined and curated space, I welcome students saying their names as they enter the virtual classroom, cameras off, microphones muted. This quiet space of my home is reflected in the quiet space online. I stare at a screen of letters speaking as warmly as I can in some feeble attempt to connect, asking questions which they respond to in text form, in the chat function, quietly avoiding drawing attention to their own voices. They avoid being heard and I feel like I’m acting rather than teaching, holding up some charade of synchronous teaching. I know their voices are missing from these conversations and every attempt on my part feels inadequate, but I ignore my own feelings .
During our weekly English department lunch meeting, my colleague cried about the silence of virtual classes and I nearly joined her in the acknowledgement of this struggle, this disruption to our connected lives in education. And though there were tears, our conversations helped us make decisions to change our predominantly White book list. We collectively talked about our roles in upholding a racist system and this disruption begins to feel important and meaningful. We also commit to talking and learning more about a blended learning model; we know we need to ask the students what worked and what didn’t. This disruption of the school year is creating real movement in our profession and forcing us to get feedback from the students.
I am now seeing comfort as a luxury that is the norm for the privileged, but growth, progress, equity, and justice can only be achieved if we listen and reflect so we can respond to disruption’s feedback.