The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Cute Little Black Boy

Some days I forget that I am raising a Black boy. Some days I erase my knowledge of the world around me and get in my bubble and live the day as if it doesn’t matter what race is attributed to my son and that who he is and what he is capable of and responsible for and expected to be is solely based on the truth of who he is. Some days I parent him as if his chances of living up to his highest potential are the same as any other boy’s chances.

I did not experience the world the way my son is experiencing the world. I did not expect to be raising a Black boy. And in this country. Thus, I did not prepare myself for it. I did not ask questions to try to understand. I did not listen intently to experiences that were shared with me. I didn’t seek out books about Black boys and Black men in the United States.

But here I am, as on most days, carrying this weight of knowing that my son is a Black boy in the United States. I understand this weight is only a tiny fraction of the weight he will carry. And Tamir Rice is on my mind.

In an ideal, truthful world, my son would not be any race. He would not be any race because race is not anything – it’s not genetic nor biological nor anything at all other than a social construction. Something we made up and agreed to and live by as if it’s something real.

In a slightly less than ideal world, my son would be multiracial (I’m Indian and his Daddy is Black). He would be seen as multiracial because everyone would acknowledge the deep influence of each of his parents’ ancestry, culture and experiences.

In the far from ideal world we live in, my son is Black. He’s Black because the influence of the one-drop rule STILL legitimizes race as biological. His Indian ancestry and the influence of his mother having been born and growing up in Tanzania and Zambia is often overlooked unless I am around to state it.

Call it serendipity, but well before I even dreamed about the funny, loving, witty and loyal man that I married, I became aware of and was disturbed by my experiences as a teacher and what I became conscious of concerning Black boys. I had no idea, at the time, how personal this would all become for me.

This…

“That little Brandon is just so cute, I could eat him up! Guess what he did today?!”

“Oh my gosh! Kevin said the funniest thing today. He is so cute, that boy!”

“I just loooove K.C! I can’t get enough of his cute little personality!”

I was in the teachers’ lunchroom and once again subjected to stories about another “cute little Black boy” told by a White middle class teacher. More often, the stories were told by my White, female colleagues talking about Black male students in their Kindergarten classes for whom they had developed a special affection. It was always the younger grades, never 3rd-5th grade cute little Black boys. The cuteness seemed to have disappeared by the time they got to those grades.

One teacher in particular, Belinda, regularly talked about a Kindergartner in her class, Ronnie, whom she thought, was “just the cutest little Black boy in the world.” It wasn’t unusual for her, like it was for several other teachers, to have had much contact with the child outside of school. Belinda had, on various occasions, invited Ronnie on a family outing to a basketball game, for lunch on a Sunday, the zoo on a Saturday and for various other activities. Always on Belinda’s turf. Never on Ronnie’s. I certainly could not imagine her going to Ronnie’s church on a Sunday or spending time in Ronnie’s home other than the time it took to pick him up to take him somewhere on her turf.

As comfortable as my colleague was with Ronnie, I was aware that outside of school, Belinda had practically no contact with other Black people – nor any other people of color for that matter. Her life was quite typical of many White, female teachers who lived in suburban areas that were a fair distance from the diverse (read NOT White), low-income schools in which they worked.

I was torn. On the one hand, it was pleasant to hear a teacher enjoying her student so much that she was compelled to tell stories about him to the rest of us. It should have been especially pleasant considering all the negativity associated with low-income, Black students, particularly Black, male students. But on the other hand, something about the frequency of these stories from the Kindergarten teachers did not sit well with me. I could not, at the time, articulate what is was, but something about their attachments to these particular individual students – cute, little, Black boys- and the general under performance of these students on standardized tests did not make sense to me. It would have made more sense that if White, female teachers so easily connected with and loved on little Black boys, then it would set them up to be successful in school from an early age. But the numbers did not show that to be true.

I often wondered how long Belinda would continue her relationship with Ronnie. At what point in the lives of these students, I wondered, did teachers’ perceptions of them change from “cute little Black boy” to “scary, criminal Black man?” At what point in Ronnie’s life, I wondered, would Belinda begin to see him as a Black man, and, therefore, one whose reputation is questionable according to society’s stereotypes? At what point would Belinda (or would she?) become fearful of Ronnie? Might there be a day when Belinda would find herself in an “urban” area and see, but not recognize a fully grown Ronnie, and clutch her purse a little tighter while crossing over to the other side of the street?

I wondered these things because Belinda is a not bad person with bad intentions or even someone I would label racist. Belinda was a likable, competent teacher. In fact, most teachers choose their profession because of their desire to do good and make a difference in kids’ lives.  I wondered the same of all the White, middle-class teachers, as well as teachers of color, who work with “cute little Black boys” while consciously or subconsciously carrying negative perceptions of Black men. What causes teachers, and possibly society as a whole, to perceive the child version of Black males as a separate or innately different being from the grown version of Black males? And what influence do these teacher perceptions have on Black boys as they grow into Black men?

In an activity I do with my college students who are pre- and in-service teachers, I ask them to list all the stereotypes they know about various groups such as “Asian woman,” “Latina,” “Gay,” “Lesbian,” “White man,” “Black man,” etc. Prior to generating the list, my students always want to clarify that I am looking for stereotypes they’ve heard of but to which they do not necessarily subscribe. We are sensitive to accusations about prejudice. After they have silently written their descriptors under the headings on chart paper, we have a discussion about where they first became aware of the stereotype, the source of the stereotype, how the stereotype is perpetuated in society.

The list under “Black Man” knocks the wind out of me. EVERY time. No matter that I am aware of the stereotypes. It hurts. It angers. It saddens. It worries. It perplexes.

Inevitably, among the list of stereotypes of Black men, are the following descriptors: thug, lazy, playa, athlete, unemployed, drug-addict, rap artist, bling-bling, well-endowed….you get the picture.

It’s not this:

IMG_1776

Nor this:

David 19

Nor this:

I could get carried away with opposite images I have…

On the flip side, the list for White man is usually more varied and includes: rich, can’t dance, hard-worker, good husband, privileged, provider, executive, regular guy, educated, etc. The world is far more open to different ways of being for White males. There are more options. More options that depend on the merit of the man.

It takes a lot out of me to see these lists. It’s become even more unbearable on the days I remember that my son is Black. I think of this list when I tune in to what people say and how they talk to and look at my son. I think of this list when I listen carefully to what teachers tell me about my son. I’m sensitive to hearing about my son’s behavior before I hear about his mind and his heart. I feel desperate and vulnerable because I don’t know what’s really happening in their subconscious. I don’t know if they see him as a child to be managed or as a child to be nurtured to his fullest, incredible potential.

I started writing this piece years ago and have sat on it and played with the words several times. But these last two days have had me thinking about Tamir Rice again. I was compelled to finish and share it.

We should talk about these things. We should ask questions and we should listen carefully to try to understand. We should take risks with our vulnerability and own our prejudice.

Black lives matter. Tamir Rice’s life matters. My son’s life matters. Yes, he’s a cute little Black boy. The cutest one I know. He’s also funny and witty and loving and generous and thoughtful in the most delightful ways.

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Some days I forget my son is Black. Today, I’m thinking about Tamir Rice and remembering ever more seriously that my son is a Black boy.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

 

 

 

 

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Raising Kids or Raising Test Scores?

I was reminded just last night by a friend that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while. Well, as I sat down to write today, I came to the realization that it has been five months since I last posted something! This means it’s been that long since I wrote about truths in my life. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right to have set aside what I dream of for so long. My friend is a dreamkeeper.  Dreamkeepers are those special people who listen intently and eagerly to our dreams when we share them and store our dreams in their hearts and bring us closer to them every chance they get. I’m lucky to have a few of those in my life. We all need them, don’t we?

A wise woman described good teachers who work with students whose dreams are often overlooked or ignored by society as dreamkeepers. The good teachers of these students never once forget their students’ dreams, though, and at the center of their work is keeping those dreams safe and helping to fulfill them. The wise woman’s name is Gloria Ladson-Billings and she wrote a book about it. I highly recommend it for all teachers.

So much has been happening in the world in the last five months and, frankly, I’ve been feeling a little drained by the great space I am in as a teacher of teachers and the even greater space of the context of education. This is a scary time for education. So much is influencing education and education can influence so much. While I don’t want to step into the politics of education on my personal blog, I believe that all politics stem from what is personal to each of us. The question I keep asking myself is, “Are we raising children or raising test scores?” My sense, increasingly, is that we are losing sight of the true purpose of education.

Recently, I was in a clearly well-run classroom with a pleasant atmosphere  – the teacher was calm and respectful, the children seemed content and engaged and there was a sense of efficiency as everyone went about their business. Throughout the lesson I heard certain phrases that seemed foreign to my days as a teacher years (and years) ago. I heard things like “learning targets” and “objectives” and “goals” throughout the lesson. This was not merely the language of a lesson plan, but that of the teacher AND the students. It turns out all the kids knew their group and individual learning targets for every lesson and activity.

For a moment I thought, “Huh. How efficient.” I mean, each child knew what they were supposed to be learning. The teacher and each child could focus on this target and know at the end of the 30-45 minute segment of time whether or not and how well they had achieved their learning target. I could certainly see how all this efficiency would contribute to higher test scores. After all, the learning targets were the ones that would be assessed during the standardized test. For a moment, I questioned how I could have ever thought that I was an effective teacher in my past when this had never been part of my practice. I doubted my ability to even support the student teacher I had come to visit. What did I have to offer that could complement or improve what was happening in the room?

And then I heard a resounding scream in my gut and a WTH just inside my mouth.  I also felt overcome by an immense sadness at the thought of what we’re doing to our children on a larger scale. Again I heard the question in my mind, ‘Are we raising kids or raising test scores?” Have we forgotten that schools are filled with children? Children are new to the world and are learning about the world and how to be in it well. School for them is just a part of their human experience. They are simply having a human experience. That’s sacred. We have to preserve the sacredness of their human experiences! I wondered what happened to the kind of school experience in which a few kids might have a good idea and in the moment the teacher could help them run with the good idea? How could that be possible when there was a learning target specific to a content area for each minute of the day? What if a child came in from having greeted his new baby brother during the night? Was there room in that case for reading some books about being a big brother and for everyone to write notes of advice and congrats to the new big brother? Or would the teacher have to quickly check to see if there was a learning target for such an activity? And how about if two new Syrian students entered a classroom having just arrived in the neighborhood two days earlier. Could the teacher then take some time to help the students learn how to welcome and care for and understand what it might feel like to be in the shoes of the new classmates? Or is knowledge about the Syrian crisis a learning target for later in the school year, or most likely, NOT a learning target?

I’m worried about the state of schools and what surrounds schooling in this country. I teach teachers and I believe and uphold the value of good teachers. I consider it an honor to work alongside teachers on their journey into teaching. And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hear about the daily little and big wins that my former students experience as teachers. But I have to admit a hard truth that, these days, when I tell my students they can be amazing, wonderful teachers, I feel a knot in my gut as I wonder about whether or not they really can become amazing and wonderful within a system that does not support their potential. And not only does it seem like the system does not support good teachers, it seems more and more, that the system is actually attacking and depleting good teachers. This is not an academic blog so I will spare you the details, but teacher burnout is real and the teacher shortage has arrived.

I used to insert humor so effortlessly into my blogging, but it’s not coming to me right now. I feel worried and a little defeated. In the next few weeks my darling, creative, imaginative, little and mighty girl will be sitting through two sets of days-long tests and I will feel the same knot in my gut each day I send her to school. I will feel helpless and worried about the human experience she will have. And I will count on her teacher to keep her dreams while she takes her tests. I will hope for and count on the dreamkeepers at her school to smile and notice and consider her human experience on a daily basis. I have no happy or funny ending to this post today. What I cling to and am grateful to have are the dreamkeepers that wake up early each morning, get their armor on and insert the dreams of our children in their pockets and walk into their classrooms to teach. Tonight, I send out a wholehearted THANK YOU to the dreamkeepers who teach our precious young humans.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Singing My Song

Recently, I heard a woman singing her soul’s song. It was as if that song, those words, the music were created just for her voice and her voice for the music. It was absolutely beautiful and I could feel the song as if it were coming right out of my own soul. There’s a certain kind of joy I get when I am witness to someone who is in the moment of doing exactly the thing he or she was meant to be doing. When someone is at the top of their game, it is almost intoxicating to be in their presence. It’s that awe I felt watching Gabby Douglas in the Olympics or Tina Turner on her stage or my favorite professor in my undergraduate years at Agnes Scott College, the late Ayse Carden, while she was teaching. There’s something about being in the presence of someone who is in their MOMENT of fulfilling their life’s purpose that leaves me in wonder and joy. I know you must know the feeling.

I believe I feel that overwhelming joy when experiencing another person in the middle of the thing they are here to do because it’s like looking into a mirror of possibility. It’s like seeing and knowing what I am capable of. It’s inspiring because it’s my highest self expressed. There is a sacredness in those moments in which we are living up to our fullest potential. We recognize those moments when others are in theirs because they are OUR moments, too. After all, we are of the same spirit, the same source, the same life. So even when it’s not me in that moment of being in the presence of somebody else’s moment, I am also able to feel it as if it is mine, too.

I am in search of the truth of who I am. I have a general sense of the essence of who I am but I’ve been feeling a certain restlessness lately that’s telling me that maybe I’m not singing my soul’s song. This morning I listened to a talk on the Authentic Self. Funny how when you’re searching for answers, the lessons (and teachers) come flying at you and the closer you get, the more it feels like being in the storm. I’m feeling tossed and turned amidst these thoughts and trying to learn the lessons as they come and hoping that I am moving into the eye of the storm where I can feel the calm once again.

There is a beautiful story floating around about a group of people somewhere in Africa.  Side note – I rarely say such things as “somewhere in Africa” because very specific regions and countries and towns are home to me and vary greatly. However, not knowing exactly which tribe and where in Africa, I can only hope that Alan Cohen knows the truth about them. The piece is called Sing Your Song from his book, Wisdom of the Heart. Go on – click on the link and read it. It will open in a new tab. You’ll be glad you read it if you haven’t already. It’s beautiful and it brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me to seek, know and be guided by the truth of who I am. It reminds me that I have a song. It brings tears to my eyes to know that there are special, special people who know my song and always will. It reminds me that I came into this universe intentionally and to live out a purpose in a way that only I can. And it assures me that there will always be people around me to remind me of my song by singing it to me.

Today, one of those special people in my life sang me my song. I needed it. She sang it and I listened and I remembered my song. I may not have figured out my life’s purpose, but I remembered my song. I’m settling into the acceptance that, mostly, I’m living out my purpose without ever knowing what my purpose is. It’s not necessary for me to know my life’s purpose all the time. It’s only necessary to sing my song. To live out the truth of who I am. Ultimately, if I do anything in the spirit of true love, I am living out my purpose. Even when it’s really, really hard. I must remember that. And I must remember my song. I am deeply grateful for those special people who know my song and sing it to me.

So although I’m not clear about my life’s Purpose, I know I have been in the moments of fulfilling my life’s purpose. Some have been big and wild and had fireworks in the background, while others are quieter, simpler moments of knowing. Like right now, while writing, I know I’m in it. I like this. I feel calm and excited and happy all at the same time. I am in the eye of the storm in this moment.

And as surely as I sit here in this quiet Moment, I also know that there are bigger Moments to come as I live out my purpose and as you live out yours. I commit to daring to sing my song as loudly or as softly as necessary.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

P.S. Sometimes it takes me a while to make the connections and I just had an Aha! moment that forced me to update this post. This morning, I took a moment to sit outside on my deck to be in my feelings of feeling lost from my self. As I sat there, I saw a hummingbird in the distance hovering over some flowers in our yard that often attract hummingbirds. I always feel lucky to see hummingbirds. This one, however, hovered right on over in my direction and came all the way to 3 feet in front of my face and looked right at me while hovering!!!! It hovered for several seconds, gazing at me, then went on its way. I knew something special had happened in those moments with my humming bird.

And it took me until this evening to realize that it was a HUMMING BIRD. Get it?! – a humming bird. Humming birds hum. It came to hum my song to me. Without a doubt I know that it was God-sent. No doubt.

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The Big Bad Wolf

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived simply and happily with her family. She loved her family and her family loved her. Then one day an uncle, who was not really an uncle but a friend of her parents and whose families knew each other well, came to visit. He played with her and her little brother and big sister and he seemed to be a lot of fun. He made them laugh. He gave them hugs and kisses. He made them all feel special. So the shy little girl opened up a little and played right back and laughed when he tickled her.

Then one afternoon, he offered to read to them all before he took a nap. Of course they all wanted to hear a story. So they gathered around him, eager to hear the story and see the pictures. And when he said he had to touch her while he was reading, she felt a strange new feeling in her tummy. Her heart and her throat hurt a little. But there seemed to be no questions about it and it seemed like a normal thing to happen. He was a grown-up after all and she was taught to obey her elders because they knew about things and they took care of you. So while he read the story and touched her, her mind took her away from her body. She became the character in the story who had an adventure and was running away from the big bad wolf. She ran really fast. Faster and faster, her little heart pounding harder and harder. Fear taking over her entire body. And the whole time she was not in the room in her house that was offered to her parents’ friend. She was in the woods, in an adventure. Running for her life and her sanity. She got away from the big bad wolf. In her mind at least.

And when the story was over, she walked to her room with a heavy heart and a puzzled mind. When she got to her room, she crawled up into a ball in her bed and cried and cried and cried. And she never told anyone about the big bad wolf. It was a story after all. And who would believe that she had run so fast and gotten away from such a big bad wolf? And who would believe that her parents’ good friend was a big bad wolf, anyway? She only knew that she would avoid that big, bad wolf whenever she was in the woods. Maybe she wouldn’t go into the woods again. She would stay away when he came to talk to her and play with her and pick her up to swing her. She wasn’t sure she could run that fast again. 

Wake up, parents and everyone else who takes care of young children! Open your eyes and keep them open! Talk to your children. Teach them to listen and pay attention to strange feelings in the pits of their tummies and in their throats and in their hearts. Be very clear about their beautiful bodies and teach them to protect their private and very special body parts. Give them and practice the words and actions they should use to respond to any attempt to touch them inappropriately. Without those tools, it’s far too easy for those who prey on children – boys and girls – to take advantage of their gentle, trusting and loving spirits.

Unfortunately, the people who do this NEVER look like big bad wolves to children. They look like uncles and family friends and good neighbors. They think about and plan and create friendships and build trust with you first, knowing that your children are so much easier to get to when they go through you. You are their protector. You are their gatekeepers. And listen to your children when they tell you they don’t like particular adults. Tune in to their subtle reactions to the people you bring into their lives. Don’t get me wrong. I love people and I love having lots of good people in my life. And I believe MOST people are good. But even if it’s to protect my children from the one out of the one hundred or one thousand, I know I have to do everything I can to protect them, including having uncomfortable conversations.

And if your children are brave enough to tell you about something that happened, please, please don’t brush it off in the hopes that it’s not true or to avoid an awkward situation. Address it head on. Our children deserve that from us. And it’s time we started talking about this openly with each other. I am constantly amazed by how many people I know in my circles who have been molested or abused and who never told anyone. There is no shame in having been a victim! Tell the story. Tell everyone – especially if the predator is still out there. Chances are that predator is preying on some other child. It’s not okay. And while we’re at it – can we please get serious about how we feel about it in this country. Committing such crimes on our young children deserves more than a mere couple of months in jail and an early release back into the world. The problem is that we simply “frown upon” but don’t really, really detest and abhor the crime enough.

The little girl grew up and one day her father called her to tell her about the death of the uncle that had read to her when she was very little. She was silent on the phone as she felt her heart get lighter and her tummy unwind. She took a deep breath and said, “Oh,” to her father and added silently as she looked up, “Thank you…”  

The End.

Last week while helping my daughter to wash her hair, I, once again, took the opportunity to remind my little girl about her private, special body parts and talk about when it was okay for someone to touch her there (the doctor while one of her parents was with her). She brought up a variety of other scenarios and we discussed them until she was satisfied and clear about what she should say and who she should tell immediately. A few minutes later, dried, lotioned and dressed and playing with her baby doll, I watched her cradled her baby doll close in her arms and whisper, “Ava, don’t let anyone touch your private parts. Okay, Ava? Mommy loves you so much!”

I giggled and my heart swelled with pride and gratitude that I could talk with her and teach her these things. And then I felt the usual ache of fear that she might, one day, need to use her skills.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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A Letter to a Phenomenal Future Teacher

I teach teachers and wannabee teachers. There’s a special place in my heart reserved for teachers and the work they do. This work with teachers challenges me daily because of who they are and what they’re getting into and with whom they will work. I spend a lot of time thinking about each one who comes my way and admiring and caring deeply for them because they have chosen to be a teacher. Because they have chosen to be on the front lines with our children. Because they have chosen a career that matters in this world and if they are among the good ones, they will never get paid their worth. It’s impossible. We should try, but it’s impossible.

It’s the end of the semester and, sometimes, if I am lucky enough, I give this letter to future teachers when I leave them because I see that they will be the good ones, the heroes. If you happen to be one of them, this letter is for you, too.

Dear Future Phenomenal Teacher,

I’ve had the opportunity to say a lot to you in this course. In the end, however, I realize that most of what I said will, likely, be forgotten. I decided that if I chose what I consider to be the most important things and put them on paper, maybe then you would remember. Three seems to be a time-tested magical number so, in the spirit of being unconventional, I will go with four. Here goes…

             First, know everything you need to know about good teaching and apply it. Learn about content and pedagogy and content pedagogy. Learn about how children learn, what they love, what motivates them, what scares them, what sharpens their minds and what dulls their minds, who loves them, and who does not consider them. Learn about the world – its people, its problems, its future, its wonders, and its fragility. Learn about how curriculums get developed and chosen, how schools get and use their funding, who makes decisions about standardized testing, why you have to do what you do. Know your worth as a teacher and show it.

             Second, know the students who enter your classroom. Really take the time to know them. Don’t underestimate the importance of informal conversations, eye-contact, humor, and attentiveness. Know your students so well that you can’t help loving them…or at the very least having a deep concern for their well-being. Ask them about themselves, ask their parents, ask anyone who cares about them. Actively take the time to know them and then be sure they know you know them. Acknowledge their presence daily. Speak to each of them at some point everyday. Let what you know about your students guide the way you teach them. Be the teacher that will stand out in their minds as the one that challenged them to realize their potential.

             Third, be an advocate for children. Discover what you stand for and be the teacher that speaks up for it, knowing that you will be empowering others to do the same. Challenge those things we do to children in schools and in society that we know are harmful to them. Determine your comfort zone and then challenge yourself to step out of it, when necessary, to advocate for what is best for children. Be an advocate, not just for your students, but for all children. Become political.

             And fourth, love life. Make a sincere attempt to thoroughly enjoy your life. Go to movies with happy endings; go to the beach and swim in the ocean; walk barefoot on soft grass; ride roller coasters; laugh every chance you get; fall in love with another person; try new foods; remember hilarious jokes and tell them every chance you get; talk to strangers; dance; sing out loud – off key or not; eat good ice-cream; have dreams and hobbies and books that have nothing to do with school and teaching and social justice. Be passionate about life. Enjoy life to the fullest because you will need to refuel yourself as you go through your career as a teacher and take on the lives of your students. Many will come to you from fortunate backgrounds, but so many will not. And whether or not you like it, you will take on and feel their pain. So fill yourself up on the good things in life as often as you can to balance out the tough stuff.

Teach to change the world…one little person at a time.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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My Girl. Our Girls.

There’s a little girl I know. She’s 7 and bubbly and smart and precocious. She joined me on a walk with my dog and our friendship grew to where she’d come knocking on my door whenever she could and bring her friends to meet me. She staked out a very special place in my heart and I happily welcomed her in. Her family came here from Iraq as refugees. She’s one of the most delightful people I know. She could light up any room with her smile and her bright eyes that dance when she looks at me. I love this little girl.

Except she’s not 7 anymore. She just turned 19. And she’s been serving time in prison…a two year sentence. Long enough to smother her bubbly, smart, precocious personality. Long enough for her to learn lessons that could harden her for life. Long enough to see and hear things that could change her forever. Long enough to slow down her path to college and independence and a happy life.

How she got there through the ridiculously flawed justice system sickens me to my stomach. The punishment far from fits the mistake (NOT crime) she made as a teenager. Far from fits it! The fact that the juvenile system left her case sitting long enough for her to be tried as an adult is beyond problematic in itself. The fact that the prison system is using her as a means to profit is despicable. Have I said enough about how I feel. To protect this young woman’s privacy, I will not delve into the details of her case, but trust me when I say that SHE DID NOT DESERVE ANY OF THIS. ANY OF IT. If you knew the details, you would agree with me. I have no doubt.

I am deeply disturbed about the path of girls like her, who live in a world where the right opportunities are just enough out of reach so that the wrong opportunities get taken. It’s girls like her that can change the world. Girls like her, who are bright and lovable and precocious growing up in a community that bears the brunt of poor decisions we’ve made as a society, can make a big difference. Girls like her grow up to become mothers who make choices about the education and care of their children and about the things they tell their children about the world. Mothers who have to teach their children how to know the difference between the right and the wrong opportunities. Mothers who could know about the opportunities that are available and how to get access to those opportunities. Instead, our system, more often, leads girls like her to grow up to be mothers like her own mother whose heart is a little broken because, no matter how much she loves her children – and she does – she did not know of or have access to all the opportunities that could have helped her along. There is a way and a need to change the systems that aim to punish rather than teach our young people – systems that capitalize on the mistakes of some teenagers knowing that they cannot afford to pay for a good defense. We have to change the systems for girls (and boys) like her.

This is what “the girl effect” is all about globally. This girl – my girl – is one of many girls. We have to start seeing them as OUR girls. I’ve said before how much I believe in the power of women – in the way we know and nurture and love and make wise decisions for the people around us. I believe in the power of us women and I also believe it’s our time. Our innate nature and the wisdom of that nature has a purpose on this earth and it’s our time. It’s our time to say STOP and to begin tapping into the wisdom of our nature. Time to listen to that voice, which for some of us has been been quieted down to a whisper that’s barely audible.

The louder voices that silence us often come through the media. We are told that we are not strong enough or smart enough or creative enough or tough enough or able enough to change the world. We are told that we are here to be pretty – not even for ourselves but for others. We are told that we are princesses who live in castles and get saved by knights in shining armor and that our purpose is to do all we can do to be ready and recognizable and pretty enough to take on the role of a princess.

Kaya Pirate

Yes, we’re in a bit of a princess-free zone around our house and whenever talk about princesses comes up, I find a way to have educational discussions about royal families and monarchies and freedom. I try not to lay it on too thick. Really I try. But I do have an aversion to princess talk and I am bored by the big eyes and long hair and feet that remain pointed even while barefoot. There’s just too much else in this world to occupy my children’s minds to let them get stuck on princesses. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a twinge of doubt and guilt when I pretend not to hear my little girl’s request for a princess doll. But I still mostly believe I’m doing what’s best for her by holding off on the princess and Barbie dolls and teaching her to question the meaning and value of beauty.

But I digress. I believe, with more conviction everyday, that women are the answer to today’s human problems. There’s a certain kinship and consciousness brewing in the last few decades that’s preparing us to change the world. And it’s going to take us tapping into our womanism. It cannot come from understandings of power in the way that our current society has established. It cannot come from the historically male-dominated society that we are in. And let me clarify that womanliness is not exclusive to people born with the physical body parts of women, but is open to anyone who is truly in touch with that other side of “manliness” that has become the standard by which we measure power and success and strength.

-Sojourner Truth

I believe change will have to start with women. Change will have to start with womanism – a way of being and knowing that has been around the world for hundreds of years. Womanism is an idea that differs from and precedes feminism. We need to reach back into the wisdom of our woman souls. Layli Maparyan wrote about this in her book The Womanist Idea. Womanism reaches back into the nature of who we are, into our core spiritual nature, and calls us into activism. Womanism is what drew women together to care for each other during birth and celebrations. It’s what drives women to do impossible things in the name of love for our families. It’s the no-nonsense, go-getter, put-up-with-bullshit so we can take care of what needs to be taken care of wisdom and strength we carry inside us. It’s what makes us fierce and phenomenal when necessary. We need to understand and tap into our womanism. And we need to teach our girls about the womanist idea when they are young so that they know better than we know about the Divine feminine force within them.

Hindu Goddess Shakti: The Feminine Divine Force

The kind eyes of a little girl whose face could be from any part of this earth watch me from a vision board that hangs near my desk. She represents my girl. Our girls. She beckons me whenever I look up and reminds me that the work needs to begin. This beckoning may just be another truth of who I am. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my girl. Our girls. I know there’s something brewing in my heart. It’s a wish and a whisper I’ve carried in my heart for a while now. I may even have been born with this wish that refuses to quiet down. The little seven year-old girl that joined me on my walk and chatted up a storm right into my heart gently awakened the dream in my heart. Her last two years have beaten up my heart. It’s to the point where I can no longer ignore the dream.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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A Gift From an Angel

Who knew when I went to bed feeling blah and then woke up this morning still feeling blah that I would be meeting an angel? I believe the Universe knew. But I had no idea.

I was having just that kind of morning in which tears and cuss words were on the brink of falling on whoever was in my path. Feeling restless. And angry. And disappointed. And misplaced. And scared. And so very guilty that I was not waking up wholly and completely joyful about all the amazing things I have in my life. After all I have a good (and handsome) partner, two hilarious, darling kids, co-workers whom I love and who blur the line between co-worker and friend, a comfortable home and a body that works well (but could use some exercise and a couple vegetables daily).

So being on the brink of tears and cussing makes me feel scared that the Universe might snatch it all back just so I REALLY appreciate the beauty in my life. And I feel guilty for feeling restless and wanting something else because I feel a little lost. With all the quotes I see daily that remind me to love and to be positive and to be brave and to just do the thing that has to be done, feeling the unrest seems so wrong. But there I was leaving the house with all of it and venturing into an elementary school to observe and offer feedback to budding teachers. I would much rather have stayed in bed and wallowed in my pity and negativity.

As I sat in the atrium of a lovely school and got irritated at the sight of pictures of kids who looked nothing like the kids who attended the school advertising STEM education, I heard a loud thud out of nowhere and found a young boy sitting next to me in tears. There was no-one else in that big room and I could have sworn he came from the sky or wherever angels live. He was mad and sad. He was NOT having a good day. Neither was I, so I immediately connected with him and scooted closer and patted his back. That simple act ignited a tiny spark deep inside me. After some probing and angry tears and through a shaky body (all him, not me), I managed to gather that 1. he did not feel like he could do anything right, 2. a friend had just said (loudly) inappropriate things about his mama (!!!!!), 3. his teacher had not been helpful and 4. he wanted to move to another country where he would be more liked. Apparently we were sharing the same experience under different circumstances.

That’s where I got to use my magic. See, THAT’S what I do really well. I can comfort a child like nobody’s business. I can help people – friends, strangers, loved ones – feel better. It’s sort of a gift I’ve been given.I can’t play any instrument well nor do I have a stage-worthy voice. Line dancing stresses me out and sports have failed to keep my attention for very long. It took me a large part of my life to choose teaching as a career, even. I used to wish I had a definite talent that propelled me through every choice including WHAT I WANTED TO DO WHEN I GREW UP. I never liked that question because I never knew an answer. I’m still not sure I have an answer, actually. But I have learned that I have this gift of being able to get people feeling better – even if it’s simply feeling better while still feeling their sadness or hurt or disappointment. I know it’s a gift because I receive it every time I give it away.

My ten minutes with with my angel boy were the best moments of that day. I lit up from the inside the moment I started to share my gift and the little spark grew into a bonfire by the time I left him. I drove home thinking about him and wondering what it might be like to do that all the time, everyday. What might it be like to ignite my spark and feel a bonfire every day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Goals and Intentions and the difference between the two. One of Oprah’s friends wrote about it and it stuck with me. Intentions are more important than Goals. You can fulfill your intentions through a variety of goals but goals should always begin with an intention. For example, it’s been my intention to nurture teachers into their most authentic and successful selves in the classroom. My goal of getting a Ph.D. came from that intention. Or another example – my intention is to be a GOOD mother and raise kind, happy children. My daily goal is to be patient and to NOT yell at my kids even when it’s the 51st time I’m making a request. Another example – my intention is to bring out the best in people, including myself. And I translate that to mean simply that we live from our souls, from our insides, from the place that God resides, from the truth of who we are.

I had to pause a moment after that last line, and even before it, because I didn’t see it coming. I just stated the intention of my existence. I realize, in this moment, that all the things that make me sad or mad or frustrated or disappointed or pissed off and on the brink of cuss words begin with not witnessing myself or others living from the truth of who we are. The opposite is also true – all that makes me feel happy and joyful and loving and amused and peaceful comes from witnessing myself or others living from the truth of who we are. Funny – I didn’t know when I named my blog that I was also naming my life’s intention. I suppose my goal of starting a blog fits with my Intention.

As for my little angel – our talk was just what we both needed. He walked back to his classroom with a lighter step and a promise to me to tell people and show people who he is on the inside so that they would know. And if they knew, then there could be no other way to feel about him than to love him. Same applies to the rest of us. Sometimes, the truth of who we are is harder for others to see because we’ve gotten so good at masking it. The truth of who we are is our Divine Self and all anyone could ever feel when they come in contact with our Divine Selves is love.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Life is a Potluck Banquet

There’s no denying that I love to eat and there’s no denying that I love being with people I love. So to gather with people I love around a table of food is something that bring me joy. Potlucks are my favorite because you get to taste a variety of different flavors. I’d be a happy woman if all my meals were sample sizes of things I love to eat. That’s how I imagine most of heaven to be, except there would be no high fructose corn syrup, nitrates/nitrites, GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides and definitely NO CALORIES in any of the food.

Because of my appreciation for lots of flavors, I have the hardest time deciding on one menu item when eating at a restaurant. I read over descriptions of EVERY item and then, painstakingly, choose one item to order and keep my menu open until the server arrives to take the dreaded order. Then I attempt to get everyone else to order before me so I know what’s coming to the table. Then, finally, I state what I decided on and look again at the menu and CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE. It is so very hard for me to commit to one food item to eat!

This is NOT one of my husband’s favorite things about me because, inevitably, when the food comes out, I want to taste what he ordered. He is not a sharer. He hates people eating off his plate. He hates eating off other people’s plates. This “problem” he has used to hurt my feelings early in our relationship but we have progressed to a great place in our relationship where he now offers me a bite of everything he orders before he digs in. He tries to act like he’s doing it grudgingly and I try to act nonchalant as I thank him and accept his offer. It’s one way we’ll grow old together.

I don’t know a whole lot about the science behind my enjoyment of tasting a variety of flavors, but this video, called The Sound of Taste captures it well. This is what it sounds like when I taste different flavors. It’s like a party in my mouth. Like fireworks on the Fourth of July in the U.S.A.

The video is right on point except it makes my heart weep just a little at how many delicious spices were wasted in the production of the video.

What I also like about potlucks is that I get to share something I, myself, prepared with love for somebody else. It gives me pleasure to put my all into a dish or a meal and have the people who eat it truly ENJOY the experience. As in they get JOY out of eating the food. This is a truth of who I am. I love to eat food, cook food, share food, talk about food, plan food, etc. I’m still hoping I will one day develop the same kind of passion for exercise to balance it all out. I love to cook for people. It’s one way I show love. It’s such an intimate thing to think of food that I prepare nourishing someone else’s body. It’s sacred, really. This is why every Hindu temple in India feeds every single person who enters the temple to worship on certain days of the week. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that “Sharing food is the highest form of Karma” because sharing food is a way to affirm that we are tied to each others destiny. Turns out I may still be connected to the truth of who I am from my roots in Hinduism.

A couple of weeks ago, David Ault, a man who often rocks my spiritual world, described life as a potluck banquet. I loved the analogy! It was right up my alley and it worked so much better than any sports analogy people have tried on me.

Life is a potluck banquet. Everyone is invited to sit at the table and everyone has the opportunity to bring something to the table to share and everyone gets to eat at the table. Because we are born, we are invited to life’s banquet. We can consume what we choose and we can share what we choose to share. And we can share it freely and abundantly or grudgingly and stingily.We can choose to participate as fully or as half-heartedly as we desire. We can choose the crumbs or we can take what we desire from deep within us.

This analogy brings me to a hard truth about myself. See, I’m rarely the one to pick up something quick on the way to a potluck unless life constraints require me to do so. Contributing chips and store-bought dip or, heaven forbid, 2 liter sodas to a potluck are missed opportunities for me. A failure even. This is not any kind of judgement on those who bring such items, it’s simply how I judge myself because of that whole joy of preparing food for others that I get. It’s my THING. It’s my gift to be able to prepare delicious food for others. I bring my best to potluck dinners every chance I get.

So when I first heard David Ault’s talk, I immediately assumed that what I did at real-life banquets translated to what I did at life’s banquet. I smugly drafted something in my head about how what I bring to real life potlucks was an indication of what I bring t0 life’s potluck banquet. It felt good to think that I was THAT person who had it right and brought my best for all to share. Oh, it felt so good. But it also felt like I couldn’t really write with joy. Well, thankfully, and maybe by Divine intervention, I rarely get to write and publish my posts immediately. I mulled over how to finish, to find joy in the writing, to share the truth. And then the truth started to sink in slowly until a light bulb went off and I was humbled to realize that I DON’T always bring my best to the table of life. Heck, I don’t even consume the best at the table. I do often settle for crumbs and I do often bring the bag of chips and hope somebody else brought some dip to go with it. I miss opportunities often. Sometimes, I sit at life’s potluck banquet in all its abundance and choose not to participate. And here’s a question that stopped me in my tracks at just the right time:

“What if the ques­tion is not why I am so infre­quently the per­son I really want to be, but why do I so infre­quently want to be the per­son I really am?”

~ Oriah Moun­tain Dreamer

It seems I have some more digging to do to get to the truth of who I am. I don’t know what stops me from participating wholeheartedly in life in exactly the way I really want to. I don’t know why I don’t always bring my best and take the best knowing that the table is full and there is enough for everyone. Why do I sometimes find myself checking people’s plates and wishing I could have what they have. I’ll admit that Facebook has supercharged that occurrence. I CAN have the same or at least exactly what I need.

And now vulnerability is creeping in and while I feel brave (thanks, Brené Brown) about it all, I also feel like wrapping up this post and settling for a declaration of what I want because…

So instead of a show-offy, look-at-what-a-fine-example-I-am post, I am writing about my truth which is a sincere desire to be more mindful and committed to bringing my best to life’s potluck. I want to be the same way about life and what I bring to the table of life. If life is a potluck banquet, I want to make sure I bring the very best to share AND I want to taste a little bit of everything and a lot of what I love. I definitely want to show up at the banquet and sit at the table and connect with the people around me. And if we ever have the Divine opportunity to sit next to each other at life’s potluck banquet, feel free to hold me to my commitment.

Getting hungry now….

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Color Me Beautiful

When I was a little girl, I often looked in the mirror and wondered if I was pretty. I’d stare at my reflection and study my features and my full eyebrows and wide cheeks that had been squeezed by aunties and uncles often. It’s a bit embarrassing to write about this because I have never told anyone about this insecure or maybe superficial side of my past self. It’s a truth about me that I don’t want to shed much light on, but I’m willing to bet that if I had such thoughts, then someone else out there has had similar experiences.

Pretty was not something my mother ever talked nor obsessed over. In fact, I could count on one hand and not need all my fingers how many times I remember my mother wearing makeup. She was a firm believer in Vicco Turmeric Face Cream and some Pond’s Talcum Powder. That was it. She noticed, and still does, beautiful fabrics and designs and took pleasure in wearing eye-catching saris and dresses, but I never got the impression that my mother was overly concerned about being pretty. I believe she has never needed to concern herself with being pretty because people around her connect with her gentle, no-nonsense, joyful, spiritual self.

My mother and I. Can you see how she delighted me?

So I’m not even sure why I would look in the mirror and wonder if I was pretty. I’m not entirely sure what in my world set me on a quest to be pretty. I’m not even sure what I was looking for in my reflection that would confirm pretty for me. My ideas of pretty developed in the midst of African people with a side of Indians and Europeans. While I’m not sure exactly how I developed my ideas of what pretty looked like, I do remember the only two Barbie-knock-off dolls that we somehow acquired looked pretty to me, as did the White paper dolls and Snow White and the golden-haired, freckled dolls that my father brought home from various work trips. I used to hold my dolls and stare at them and study their features and blue eyes and think how pretty they were. My best friend in Grade 4 was Vanessa with red hair and pretty freckles and my best friend in Grade 5 was Caroline from Canada. I think the fact that they looked like my dolls and the stars of the fairy tales I liked made me partial to them. They looked pretty to me. But I did not look like them. And I sort of knew that.

I just finished watching Oprah’s Lifeclass on Colorism and I’ve already experienced a range of emotions from sadness to irritation to frustration to anger. So what’s a girl to do but write a blog about it. Colorism is defined as discrimination based on skin color, skin tone, or skin complexion. The discrimination happens within the group and also from outsiders to the group.

Before going close up into colorism, let me take a step back to acknowledge the ridiculousness in the fact that we humans are so hung up on the color or shade of the skin that covers our incredible bodies. Take a step back with me and think about it. Of all the different and amazing, fascinating pieces that make up who we are and how we function and LIVE as human beings, how trivial and ridiculous is it to focus on our skin tones as a marker of anything important? ???!!!  We are ALIVE and able to breathe and move and communicate and connect and aspire and create and LOVE!!! How could the complexion of our skin possibly matter to anyone in deciding how valuable or worthy or beautiful one is? In the midst of the incredible way that humans came to exist on this planet in this solar system, how did we figure out a way to place so much importance to any one organ of our body?

Back to the close-up of colorism…

Colorism is not a new topic of discussion for me. At some point in just about every course I’ve ever taught, we talk about colorism. This video A Girl Like Me starts off the heated, painful, liberating, confusing, frustrating and empowering discussion well. There are 3 seconds of the clip that move me to tears EVERY SINGLE TIME I watch it. The clip cuts deep for many as we try to make sense of the phenomenon.

One of the differences between the discussion on Oprah’s Lifeclass and my course discussions, however, is that her show had an audience of only Black women of varying skin tones while my courses include men and women of varying races, nationalities and skin tones. In both situations, I feel sadness and frustration, but there was far more irritation and aggravation while watching Oprah’s Lifeclass because that discussion centered around why light-skinned and dark-skinned women “do it to each other” and how this is a phenomenon that is now considered a mental health crisis!!!! What????!!!!! Seriously????!!!!! A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS????!!!!!

I don’t often get indignant when watching Oprah-led shows, but this infuriated me just a bit. I watched another 45 minutes of the show and it continued along the same lines of how the light-skinned women felt and how the dark-skinned women felt. I cried a little and continued to get more annoyed that the focus and the blame seemed to remain entirely on the Black women (and other groups such as Indians and other Asians who got honorable mention for participating in colorism).  The take-away was, basically, “You have to love yourself and stop judging each other, women of color.” As in, “It’s all on you, women of color. Stop doing this to yourself. Just see beauty in your skin color the way it is.”

Do you hear the message? Do you get it?????!!!!!! I’ll tell you why I’m so irritated. The problem seems to be placed right back on us, women!!! This phenomenon is not something that Black or other women of color “do” to each other. We didn’t get born and decide on our own free will to judge ourselves and others based on the color of our skin and the texture of our hair and the shape of our lips and hips and breasts. The show did discuss the roots of the problem being in slavery and colonization. Thanks, Oprah and crew, that was the HISTORY of it, but can we talk about the CURRENT structures that support and promote colorism? Can we change those structures, please? The media with a capital M, for one – and not just what’s on TV or in movies, but EVERYWHERE – magazines, billboards, children’s books, advertizing, comic books,  catalogs, commercials, even porn (which I don’t study deeply). And then there’s toys and and make-up, beauty products, hiring processes and employment opportunities, language-use, tracking and re-segregation in schooling.

It’s no wonder that we can’t just “love ourselves and stop judging each other” because all the other messages seem so loud and consistent and ACCEPTED by everyone. The problem goes far deeper than simply a history that started it. The problem is perpetuated heavily by current structures in our social and professional worlds. It’s NOT us doing it to ourselves. Although we can teach our sons and daughters to be aware and critical, it’s not enough to stop there. And until we bravely explore and challenge and dismantle those structures that influence our minds from a very young age, we are going to make very slow and little progress in solving the problem of colorism. It’s time to stop taking in messages about ourselves blindly and to open our eyes and our souls and notice and refuse to accept the messages we receive on a daily basis.

Since my people only got honorable mention, let me share from my own experiences of being told to avoid the sun so I wouldn’t get “too dark” or watching many, many Hindi and Malayali movies with light-skinned Indian women as the good and beautiful and wanted ones and the darker-skinned women in the evil and undesirable roles. This is still true of Bollywood movies. In fact, with the arrival of a few popular westernized Indian movies, most people’s impression of Indians is that they are light-skinned. The truth is that Indians come in every shade and most are much, much darker than the majority of Bollywood stars  – who happen to get their starring roles BECAUSE they are lighter shades of brown. Lighter skin is what you hope for when you’re having a baby. I remember hearing people ask, when they heard about the birth of a baby (girl in particular), how dark she was. To be fair (no pun intended), all other features were always about the same – brown eyes, black hair, definitely hair. The catalogs and magazines and books I read did not depict characters like me. Skin lightening creams were easily accessible and advertizing like this were and still are accepted as truth:

I let go of looking for pretty in the mirror a while back in my life. I’ve seen so much beauty in women (and men) that looking for pretty felt trivial and boring. Glennon Melton said it well on her blog post, Don’t Be Pretty – Be Beautiful in 2014. She wrote just the words I want to use with my own daughter as she tries to understand pretty. Pretty is something defined for us everywhere we look and sometimes when we are not even looking. Beautiful is what we get to define for ourselves every single day. I leave you with a little timely video snippet from the Golden Globe Awards show (which has been on in the background while finishing up this post). When I learned of these women this past year, I saw so much beauty that it brought tears right out of my heart and soul. And I can see beautiful in each image because it’s me and it’s you and it is US. How we are colored is not who we are nor what we can do in this great big world. Let’s forget pretty and let’s color ourselves beautiful.

Now let’s get to the work of questioning and creating and imagining and doing and loving and changing our world as we know it.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Analogies for Teachers

“The most inspirational man I knew only reached his potential by helping a child reach his.” Mitch Albom

I’ve often heard teachers being compared to doctors and I’ve always had some kind of reaction to that analogy. Not a positive reaction. My husband did it in the car the other day and, as has become an integral part of our romantic interludes, we delved into a heated discussion about the teaching profession – a topic that is close to our hearts. I was eventually able to understand his perspective and his use of the analogy but not once (and don’t tell him this) did I really believe it was a great analogy. This is my story and my truth and I’m sticking to it.

The reason I’ve always been confused or downright put off by the analogy of teachers as doctors is because there is an implication that the children are sick or diseased or unwell or hurt or in need of help of some sort. I don’t like this analogy. I don’t believe that children come to school deficient in any way. Not at all. On the contrary.

It seems to me, children go to school and should be seen by those of us who work with them as whole and beautiful and amazing! We should FIRST see that they come in with unique and very special and NEEDED contributions to make in the world. Every child holds something the world needs – a song, a story, an invention, a kind word, a perspective, a piece of art, a solution, a purpose that the world needs. We have to see their brightness and we have to know without a doubt that each child is necessary to the world and it is just as necessary for the world to receive their gift as it is for each child to give their gift to the world. Everything else that happens in school is secondary to this first step. It is the work of teachers, the honorable, necessary work of teachers to do everything in their power to ensure each child receives all the tools they need to give their gifts to the world. The little bodies that enter their classrooms are simply boxes that hold beautiful and amazing gifts. The wrapping may not always be in the most beautiful state, but the gift inside is always precious and beautiful and NECESSARY.

The next step then simply becomes, “Oh…you’re too cold to concentrate on learning how to write the story you will write one day. Here’s a coat and let me teach you how to buy your own coats some day.”

Or, “Oh…your first language is Burmese and you need to learn how to speak and read English so you can learn about the human body and learn how to heal it. Let me show you how to read.”

Or, “Oh…you’re carrying too much anger to learn how to nurture others and you will one day need to nurture the kids you will raise. Take my kindness and let me show you how to express your love.”

Or, “Oh…you’re too scared to trust people with your story for fear they may laugh. Let’s talk about being daring and vulnerable and here’s a paintbrush and some paints. Try drawing your feelings.”

Or, “Oh…you love to laugh and cut up with your friends. Let me show you how to deliver your jokes so that you will do a great job when you stand up in front of a crowd and make them laugh while teaching them how to take themselves a little less seriously. We could all use a little of that.”

Or, “Oh…you’re sad, often sad and you can’t concentrate on learning geometry – something you will need to design that awesome building. Let’s figure out what you can do to cope then you can start designing.”

That’s the work of teachers. They KNOW even before they see and sometimes often before the student knows, that there is a precious gift that must be unwrapped for the world. And the good teachers know it and then get to work. The analogy fit for teachers may be that of an artist with the children being all sorts of things that may look nothing like their potential, but certainly contain all the potential they hold – a sheet of paper, a pen, a paintbrush, a ruler, clay, stone, whatever those things are from which our creations originate. The work of the teacher is to figure out or at least assume that there is something amazing within those items. The gift is already there. Michaelangelo had to have known that David was already in the marble before he began his work. The gift was already there. Always. The artist simply had to uncover it.

We come into the world whole and remarkable and necessary to the world. There are no throwaway babies. There is no room for that. We need every life that comes our way, no matter how short the visit. I believe this. Teachers must believe this. It would make everything else so much simpler. Because then, you don’t have to use assessments to figure out to WHOM you should devote your time and effort. Instead, you use assessments to figure out HOW to use your time and effort more effectively. You stop wondering whether or not a kid values education. Instead, you realize that each child deserves a quality education or the rest of us may miss out on that child’s amazing gift. What if Joanne Rowling had NOT learned to write and was never able to put in words the story and characters that lived in her head? What if Annie Sullivan had not begged for and been permitted to attend the Perkins Institute where she learned how to be just the kind of teacher little Helen needed. What if Mrs. Bertha Flowers had not offered little Maya Angelou many, many books by wonderful authors that gave her just the words and means to live and write the stories and poems that go straight to our hearts? What if the world had missed out on these gifts? What if we do miss out, EVERY SINGLE DAY on the gifts children have? What if…

Teachers matter. Teachers matter so very much. I don’t take my work with teachers lightly. In the limited time I have with teachers before they go into their own classrooms, I work my hardest to make sure they know they matter. Their names and faces and words may not be remembered and their students may never ever invite them to be on the Oprah Show or CNN. But good teachers – the ones who do the real work from the heart and for the world – their work will live on in the world and does change the world. Their work matters.

When I was in Grade 5, despite all my good grades in the academic subjects, my teacher, Mrs. Ubhi, taught me how to write creative stories and macrame and draw and paint. She nudged me to compete in a drawing competition and when the piece I’d worked on for weeks was destroyed two days before it had to be submitted, she gave me all of the two days in class to work on my art so I could participate. And I did and I won! It was the first time I saw myself as an artist. Before then, I knew only that I was good at math and science and social studies. She saw something in me that was barely visible and then gave me the time and the tools and her belief in my creativity. Thank you, Mrs. Ubhi. Your work mattered to me then and surely matters today.

Teachers have to commit to the work without the expectation that they will be celebrated and remembered. Although it IS very nice when a former student does just that, the real work of teaching may happen and be wholly successful in changing the world by putting some good in it, but the teacher may not be remembered or acknowledged for it.

My analogy for teachers? Well, I can’t think of any one analogy, but many all together. Teachers are the brilliant compilation of artist, doctor, gold-digger, mother, father, entertainer, philosopher, leader, follower, therapist, custodian, sociologist and dream weavers. They are all of it and then some.

So, one more thing – if you do happen to remember a teacher and a moment or a year that helped you realize the amazing potential you have. Take another moment, if you are able, to tell that teacher about it. If that teacher is not around or reachable, please tell me as I always, always love a good story about a great teacher.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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