Mentors and the end of Tell Me More

Today I was listening to Michele Norris’ last week of Tell Me More. I listen to her regularly either on the tell me more podcast or on npr via the race card project.

She was an incredibly powerful keynote speaker at last year’s People of Color Conference in Washington D.C. that I was thankful to attend, so I thought I would dig out a few of my tweets from her keynote and share them again here. (I misspelled her name in the tweets and they can’t be edited. I tried!)

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Her Wednesday, July 30th episode was focused on mentors, and I tried to capture a few messages that resonated with me here:

Bernard Shaw, former CNN anchor, tells us to pursue for our dreams but to realize the trade offs because success will cost you. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do.” No one can tell you whether or not to pursue your dreams. I also appreciate his humility and gratitude in sharing that he had so many mentors and supporters that he feels it is his duty to pass that on to those younger.

On the subject of women and specifically women of color mentoring other women, Michele shared that there was a study out of the University of Colorado that found that women and non-white executives who push for the success of other women or non-whites actually suffer in their own performance reviews whereas white men who do are rated more highly. This is the revelation of a Blindspots that infuriates me.

Freeman Hrabowski III, President of University of Maryland – Baltimore County, emphasizes the importance of knowing how to get back up, because all of us will go through tough times in our life, work, health, etc. Our resilience defines our success. He speaks of creating a culture of mentorship at UMBC and how he institutionalizes this in a way that is meaningful: it’s all about students. This resonated with me as a teacher: what’s best for kids is what has driven my work for the past 8 years.

Michele Norris herself finishes with the wisdom that we are all part of minorities and majorities at different times of our lives, but the media often gives more attention to certain minorities or majorities. On this show, she has sought to bring out those NOT in the media spotlight. It makes me angry that NPR has cancelled a show that is unique in the content, guests, and audience, given their own report about social media allowing us to stick to our own opinions and the report about people polarizing on politics about the polarization of politics and media. How can NPR bring us the world and tell our story, as they claim on their “About NPR” page, if they cancel shows like this?

I will take Michele’s advice that she gave at POCC, “We must have conversations with people who disagree with us.” Thank you, Michele, for all the wisdom you have shared and facilitated in the past 7 years on this show, and I look forward to continuing to hear your voice on the radio.

Summertime and Transitions

The Columbia River GorgeAt the end of June, we packed all our belongings into a 16ft moving van and drove east, leaving Portland to return to my home state of Wisconsin, where I will being a PhD program in Madison. Transitions are a time of excitement and dread, delight in the new and longing for the old, exhilaration and exhaustion. I’ve moved a lot, but this time it felt different. Maybe because Portland is the longest I’ve lived in one place since I was 7. Maybe because it’s where we began our family. Maybe because it is the strength and love of the school community. Maybe it is the profound cultural and physical feeling of being home.

Our choice to move was based on wanting to advance my career and the desire to be closer to family for awhile. I am thrilled to be going back to school at a time when I feel confident in my experience as an independent school teacher, ready and open to learn from the experiences of others, and motivated to make a difference on a new level.

I’m settling into life here at the beginning of August, with just enough time left of summer to enjoy the calm before my program begins. I’ve spent time disconnected from my devices, played scrabble with my mom, and built train tracks. I’ve gotten a commuter bike set up with kid seat and explored the bike paths and playgrounds with my son. I’ve visited family, gone camping, and played outside.

I wrote this six word story some time ago and have always wanted to share it but never found the right context. Perhaps it is all the more appropriate, then, to share it in this time of transition, tension, growth, adventure, and change. Although I share my professional writing online or personal posts with friends, sharing poetry makes me feel quite vulnerable, so please be kind.

Strong wings

Growing roots

Learning being

Last Gathering: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

This morning the 8th grade choir sang an amazing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. It made me think about how we start the year with “Fall is Here, Ring the Bell.” “Rally points,” as they were called by our scheduling consultant, give us a sense of group identity, guide us through transitions or break up monotony, and help remind us that time is passing. After five years of gatherings at OES and three years prior to that at Bement, the ritual of coming together to start the day every morning with a song, announcements, and birthdays has been one of my favorites.

White privilege is…



not having to wonder

  • whether a landlord would accept my application based on race.
  • whether my landlord would be the same race or if that would even be an issue.
  • whether I would be accepted in whatever neighborhood I chose.
  • whether I would be judged by the friends that I asked to go look at it.
  • whether I should look for certain neighborhoods.
  • whether my name would cause questions.
  • whether I could comfortably ride the bus for a commute.
  • whether new neighbors would question my family structure.
  • whether my race would have any bearing on my success in graduate school.

As many of (the few of you) who read my blog know, I’ll be leaving my job here at the end of the year and moving on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. We’re just at the point of finding a rental, and as I was scouring craigslist and contacting landlords, I was reminded of White Like Me, by Tim Wise, which I read just after attending POCC.

Beginning Courageous Conversations about Race, from Everyday Antiracism

At POCC, I picked up two books: White Like Me, by Tim Wise,
which I read cover to cover in the week following the conference,
and Everyday Antiracism, a collection of essays specifically for
teachers, edited by Mica Pollock. I’ve begun reading through the
essays and came to this one, Beginning Courageous Conversations
about Race. It has prompted me to finally write some of my
reflections about my experience at POCC. The four principles are
this: 1) Stay engaged. I think POCC more than any conference has
made me more reflective about who I am and who others are. I find
myself very aware of race and behaviors, constantly searching for
microaggressions and bringing it up in conversations with people,
almost probing to see if others are willing to talk about it. I
find myself seeking out people who have a more developed racial
identity so that I can listen to how they speak and what they
think. 2) Expect to experience discomfort. Oh yes. Falling silent
because you’re not sure how not to say the wrong thing? Yep.
Worrying that you’ve already said the wrong thing? Yep. I live in a
world where people mostly agree. And when we don’t, everyone is
very nice about it. When you begin to see terrible inequities and
racism in the fabric of your reality and it feels like you are the
only one seeing it, yes, you could say it’s uncomfortable, though
that’s a bit of an understatement. But even in my shifted world
view, I’m expected to carry on as though nothing’s changed, have
polite and thoughtful conversations, be nice about it, even when I
want everyone to be jumping up and down with urgency for the change
needed. At POCC, one of the best sessions I went to was about how
white children are racially socialized. I forget the prompting
statement, but a black man stood up and said something to the
effect of, “I’m tired of our kids having to suffer just so you
[white people] can keep figuring out how to cope with race!” This
really made an impression on me. It IS my responsibility NOW to be
racially competent. 3) Speak your truth. I have two thoughts on
this. I am grateful for the many people I have around me who are
always willing to engage with me. Second, I think I don’t always
recognize who is and who isn’t ready and able to. I tend to drop
small bombs in informal conversations with statements about how
uninclusive something is or the lack of diversity in children’s
books, for example. It might catch the other person off guard,
which is maybe why I do it, but I need to find more constructive
ways of engaging with others on this topic. 4) Expect and accept a
lack of closure. One of my beliefs that was shattered (in a good
way, though tough at the time) at POCC, is that the sheltered
environment of an independent school, where people are nice and
teachers are thoughtful and the harsh reality of the world is kept
away, is a good thing. Actually, it’s just a magnification of white
privilege. Yikes. I love the school I grew up at and the two
institutions at which I have taught, and never would I have thought
that what we were doing was actually worse than the real world!
Unpacking white privilege as it relates to independent schools is
an essential next step in my commitment to education and to who I
am as a person. I worry about sharing these thoughts publicly. In a
time when everything written can come back to haunt, I fear these
words will get taken out of context or that when I’ve gone further
down this journey, I’ll look back and judge my naïveté. But I will
be courageous and speak my truth and be gentle with myself, as I
would with others and hope they would with me. Thank you for
reading and being on this journey with me.

ICC Day 2

Culture Glasses

Yesterday was a professional development day. I was lucky enough to get in on the first round of “Day 2” of intercultural competency training. (I did Day 1 in August.) Our ICC committee has actually designed this curriculum for us with help from Janet Bennett from the Intercultural Communication Institute. It includes activities and topics specifically targeting what the school as a whole needs to work on. The workshops are facilitated mainly by teachers and involves all faculty and staff. The scope of this is what the implementation of real change looks like. Continue reading “ICC Day 2”

Beginning Teaching in Outdoor Education (or, How I was Inspired to Teach)

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When I graduated from college, I wanted as far away from academia as possible. I was tired, very tired, of memorization and tests that had sapped the joy out of learning. Now, I’m beginning my eighth year as a teacher, enthusiastic about learning, and am applying to graduate school.

College was an emotional and geographic roller coaster: I graduated from high school from the American School of Paris in June, split with dear friends, spent the summer working three jobs (including cleaning hotels rooms) in Door County, Wisconsin. In September, I plopped down at Washington University in St. Louis, and though I did well there, rowing crew and acing organic chemistry, I wasn’t happy. I spent the summer as a Girl Scout Camp Counselor near Minneapolis, the fall at the Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona, studying astronomy, and the spring back in Paris at the Sorbonne. It was healing and grounding to have chosen to go back to Paris, a place I’d always felt conflicted about. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to return to St. Louis and applied to transfer to the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I spent the next two years there, starting in analytical chemistry, switching to biochemistry, and finally graduating in biology with a double major in French. While all my friends applied to medical schools, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I moved out to Montana to work on a dude ranch.

Continue reading “Beginning Teaching in Outdoor Education (or, How I was Inspired to Teach)”

Pinterest instead of Instagram

Pinterest instead of Instagram

My last post was about trying to get myself to use instagram more as I think about visual culture and different ways of social networking. Ironically, as I was struggling with Instagram, I found myself spending time on Pinterest. What?

When I first joined Pinterest a year ago, I didn’t like it. I couldn’t find images I liked, I didn’t know who to follow, and I didn’t really have a mission. I also didn’t understand that it was about pinning things from the web, not just searching pictures other people had posted. This past week, I downloaded the e-book The No Brainer Wardrobe from Tiny Twig. Love the book, and I spent much of Mother’s Day reorganizing my closet (i.e. hanging up all the clothes piled in the corner). One of her tasks is to use Pinterest to find outfits you like in order to determine your style. It took some trial and error to find the search terms that worked, but I finally stumbled onto “Capsule Wardrobes.” Here’s a link to my wardrobe board.

I think Instagram was too hard for me as a starting point because I got stuck trying to take the pictures. Maybe I put too much pressure on finding the exact picture. My number one favorite subject for pictures right now is clearly my son, but I didn’t want to have tons of pictures of him on a public feed. So, regroup, redirect, learn.

It all comes back to how this informs my beliefs on education, and it reinforces for me how important timing can be for each individual. Not every student is going to be ready for a project at the same time, so we need to allow them choice (using Pinterest instead of Instagram to increase my exposure to visual culture) and personalization (wardrobe ideas is clearly not “professional” but this personal use will improve my teaching).

Now I finally understand why people say, “Happy Pinning!”