Empowerment through Language...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Catching Up...

It is already December. I am feeling out of connection with so much of the swirl around me. This was the year I was going to create, witness, experience a turnaround. This was the year that the doors would swing open and opportunity would be prevalent. This was the year I was going to settle soundly into my consulting and do great work. I was going to be offered all sorts of gigs and I was going to be safe and rewarded. It was also the year that I was going to be consistent with my blog, tracing my steps and sharing my thoughts.

It was going to be that year but somehow 2012 forgot to comply with my expectations and prayers.

Nearly 15 years ago, I starting on my journey as a teaching artist in a program for 3rd - 6th graders in an inner city school in my city. It seemed like it was going to be a brilliant career choice as I moved from secretary/administrative assistant to reclaim my path as poet, with teaching as the way to make my way in the world. Of course, I have never taken the traditional path to anything. I am also very guilty of self-sabotage. But the idea seemed good at the time and I believe in my dream, even now. I am just so very disheartened because it has been such a rocky trek and takes so much energy to balance all the projects that somehow still fail to meet my monthly budget needs.

That first program was a disaster, and much of it not of my own making, in spite of my naive leap and lack of experience. I cried on my way home more often than not.

I did afterschool work for several years, with joys and frustrations. It was the start of my practice as an artist educator and my commitment to sharing what I know about discovery, language, verse, the world around us.

This year, I have accepted afterschool work again. I need the money. This served as my primary motivation. I have been believing that I am good at what I do with students in the classroom. Heck, I even managed to get a book published, professing to be skilled in this work. But a small group of 4th graders have jacked me up.

After my first day with my class, just a month ago, I came home completely frustrated and asking myself if I even know how to do this anymore? Why were the children so challenging? What could I do to rein them in? To engage them? Why was it a battle for the first month of the program? What would they accept from me that would keep them focused and enthusiastic? So far, I have tried so much, with only microscopic success. I have spent hours on the phone with the site director, who is a friend and colleague, and I feel embarrassed that I am struggling with the children. What is different about them? Or have I just lost my ability, am I completely out of touch?

The other evening I was speaking with a friend who has known me since before I took the bold step to leave the day job, the health plan, the 50+ hour weeks of clerical work, to pursue that self that I felt was trapped inside, the poet I am. I was sharing my frustrations and bemoaning that the children were making it harder on all of us, if only they would trust me and go along for the ride. After all, I am a lot of fun, right?! I had a much deeper conversation about the same issues with another friend, support, guardian angel just days before, a person who works with challenging young people often classified as "youth at risk." What a catch phrase. She reminded me that we cannot save the world. We can only offer something authentically.

Then it hit me, why should these children trust me?! The same issues that I have questioned before became quite clear. They should trust me because I expect them to do so. That is what many of us in the world of adults and especially in education have come to believe. But their life experiences may not really be such that it is that easy. The children in my group have built astounding walls. Why should I be surprised? I have constructed astounding walls myself too. But I also open up with the slightest provocation. I am that eager for connection and love. The young people who I am spending Monday and Wednesday afternoons with are eager for connection and love too. But it comes at a high price, I suspect. 

Another obvious elephant in the living room has to do with not just my adulthood but, frankly, my pale skin. I can only surmise what the children I share Room 201 with on Mondays and Wednesdays know of trust, of adults, and of white people, since they are predominantly children of color. I could most likely be very wrong in any of my suppositions. But truly, why should the young ones before me trust me just because I tell them I expect it from them? Absurd notion at best. 

I realized the other evening that I must earn the trust. I don't know if I will be successful. I will do my best to present to them experiences, conversations, and activities that illustrate that I am trustworthy and safe. I can only be me and authentically so. In return, I would hope for a relief from the behavior problems and chaos that we have experienced together. I am not sure if I will get it but I will try again, in about 45 minutes. I will keep you posted.