I wish it were enough

This is a come as you are, take what you need blog.
This is a this-is-me and hopefully we can vibe together blog.

This is an I-don’t-pretend-to-have-answers-but-will-share-what-I’ve-got blog.
It’s that kind of moment.
It’s that kind of year.
Again.

I’m here to process as much as I’m here to share.

Sometimes in moments like this, where teaching feels both over-and-underwhelming, even ideas from teachers I admire can feel like a defeat rather than a way forward.

I’m not new to that feeling when you’re giving your most, (which feels like your best) and circumstances beyond your control just prove your best isn’t enough.

It can be hard enough to just sit, settle your mind and breathe.
Hard to shake out all that excess energy and worry.
To hashtag self-care hashtag be mindful hashtag take your time hashtag be in the moment hashtag feel your feelings

Like a lot of teachers, I’m not new to constantly being slapped in the face when kids who work their asses off to learn, graduate, and “do” college are undercut by illness, financial obligations, exhausting near-full-time jobs, and both direct and indirect attacks on their identities, whether it be racial, linguistic, citizenship status, style of dress, or their religion. Attacks on being too good, not good enough, or not the right kind of good. Their burdens will never truly be our burdens, but we can’t ignore feeling the weight.

I wish I could lie to myself. Wish I could believe that what I do as a teacher is enough. That’s been the pandemic mantra, right? To tell ourselves it’s enough. We’re enough. And I get it — the reality is “enough” means we can only do so much. But I have spent my whole life raging against that philosophy. So, to say it now feels like defeat.

Yes, I try to focus on the things I can control and do for my students that I believe will sustain them in life — practices that show them how to honor and build on their strengths, on the parts of them they value and keep going forward and up. And the feeling that it will mean something slowly builds until..

Something like NYC Mayor Adams deciding to keep schools open during this current wave of the pandemic comes as yet another crushing reminder that no matter what, the system and its tentacles are too strong. The needs of the machine will always outweigh, outmaneuver the needs of the individual and community. And that weight can debilitate the community from coming together to find ways to overcome, undermine, or simply challenge it.

So, instead our best becomes ways to endure. And enduring itself is resistance. It is. Even when it doesn’t feel enough.

This level of overwhelm is new to many teachers who perhaps have lived lives of relative privilege. Who, at multiple points in their lives, have felt like their actions meant something, that their actions could create measurable, stabilizing, successes they could build on, rather than successes that are temporary and teasing.

But for many of us, this overwhelm has always—or for far too long—characterized much of life.

I see it in my recent graduates who don’t have consistent or well-paying jobs, or whose debts and sudden costs keep those jobs from becoming a stabilizing force. The student who couldn’t afford his second semester of community college (room + board) so he had to take on a night shift at Amazon, a two-hour commute from the Bronx. Or the student who hates all his private university classes because they connect in no meaningful way to his life, so he goes through the motions, feeling suffocated rather than fulfilled by the “higher education” atmosphere. Who has to do delivery to pay for food and books — and sudden costly car repairs to keep working said job.

The UFT wants to tell us we’re heroes. That we’re resilient and our efforts commendable

But if that were true, they’d be the shield protecting us from more harm. From having to shoulder more than we should. Not because teachers shouldn’t go to the lengths we do to create safe, sustaining, nurturing learning environments, but because we shouldn’t be expected to do more, when the government insists on doing less.

This is why our enough is never enough. This is why enduring is supposed to feel like success. Because none of this is ok.

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