We’re in a world of right now.
It’s hard to imagine anything beyond the next 10 minutes, much less the next 10 days. Everything feels so urgent. We need to mask up right now. We need to know what’s going on with our schools right now. We need to refresh our timelines and know what tomfoolery is happening in the world of old, white men “leading” our country right now.
Of course, there are things that can’t, and shouldn’t, wait. We need to dismantle the systems that continue to uphold white supremacy. We need to arrest the murderers of Breonna Taylor. And we need to figure out what to do, as teachers, knowing we are being sent back into our buildings very soon (if not already).
But here’s the thing: in all this uncertainty and short-sightedness, we’re forgetting that eventually, someday, we will be out of this quagmire of time. We don’t know what the world will look like, but this will be another chapter in our lives that will end and upon which we will be able to look back.
So I ask you: how will you remember your navigation of this year?
Will you be glad that you banned students from eating or drinking on Zoom calls? Will you feel proud that you taught your students responsibility by making them change out of their pajamas as they sat in front of their computers for hours each day?
Will you protect your dignity if you outline your expectations of quiet places and no interruptions before your new students even get to know your name?
Will you be glad that you kept your head down and did your job as your district mandated practices that you knew would not be good for children? Will you feel a sense of relief that you never pushed back and asked questions?
How will you feel when you look back, knowing you read the n-word out loud in a class despite all the voices telling you not to? Will you be proud that you dragged your students through another year of The Scarlet Letter?
What will you do with your stack of books bought in the wake of the murder of George Floyd? Will they gather dust? Be boxed away? Will you crack their spines and engage in online discussion? And then will you turn around and continue to be silent and complicit in the violence against BIPOC in our nation?
And how will that make you feel?
What shame might you carry forward in your silence?
What words might surface when you turn and look back at the times someone tried to correct you and you jumped to defensiveness?
Will you miss the money you spent on culturally appropriated, plagiarized lessons? Will you notice the look in the eyes of the Latinx parents you proudly invited to Taco Night? Will you take pictures of the students you dressed in construction paper feathers and headbands for the Thanksgiving play? Will you continue to stumble over words like “Indian” and “Native American” but never bother to learn your way out of what you never knew?
How will you feel when you remember how you complained to your coworkers about your students’ laziness and disengagement during this time? Would you feel any differently if you knew what those students were really struggling with?
Do you think your students will remember how you decorated the wall behind you on your video conferences?
Will you still feel angry when you asked for free labor from a BIPOC and they said no? Will you feel righteous? Will you still be convinced you did nothing wrong?
Will you remember the student whose deadname you kept using? The student you continued to misgender?
How will you feel, in years on, when you can still only point to quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. as evidence of your anti-racism? Do you think it’s enough?
Do you think anyone will keep that mask you branded and sold while hundreds of thousands were dying?
Will you still be proud of your grading policy? Will you be glad that you never gave 100% on a single essay because there was no such thing as a perfect paper? Will you smile as you remember your reputation as a “tough” teacher? Will you remember the rubrics you made? The way it felt to hand a paper back with an 89% and not a 90% at the top?
Will you remember the kids that failed your class in the midst of a global pandemic?
When you turn around and look back at this chapter of your life, it may be hard to see beyond your own anxiety and woes. It may be hard to understand how your impact outweighed your intent. It may be easy to see how you did the best you could. It may be easy to see how you got overwhelmed in the tangled narratives spilling from the mouths of many.
But I hope when we come out of this, you can look back and remember your humanity. Because your students will certainly remember yours.
We don’t know what the world will look like, but this will be another chapter in our lives that will end and upon which we will be able to look back.