The Little Light Of Mine (On EdCampBrooklyn and Movement Building)

Jose Vilson Featured, Jose

Yesterday, I had the chance to go to EdCampBrooklyn, the first EdCamp in the borough of Robinson, Wallace, and Carter (among others). When the founder, Juli-Anne Benjamin, asked me to come through, I only asked when, not if. The trek from Harlem to Brooklyn was two trains, about an hour and a half on a Saturday morning. But the conversations and the energy were more than worth it. Educators across the country, especially those of us who attend these conferences on our “free” time understand that unconferencing isn’t an exercise in gaining more followers or creating a profile for ourselves, but to create synergy around pedagogy and practice. This specific EdCamp was important for me to attend because I knew that the educators who attended this conference were focused intently on working with the most marginalized students in our system, the ones that won’t show up on the brochures and city halls. Doing this on a Saturday gives us only Sunday to re-gather ourselves and implement the energy from this event back into our classroom.

You’re right: this work is difficult.

Even though my classroom aesthetics have gotten sharper, my language sharper, and my resolve more stringent, I see the 5:30am grind kicking my butt. I wake up and go to work with the sowers and the construction workers. They’ve got thumbtacks and hard hats. I got headphones, mostly to shut my brain up and get me focused on my work.

Any number of things plot against my success. Forgetting my lesson plans. Fire drills. Announcements on top of announcements. Coverages (which I’m more than happy to do, but still) when I would like to be grading. Lost packages. Bulletin boards and mandates from on high. Babysitting issues. Achy feet, knees, hips, and sinuses. The first seven days of teaching this year.

I get up to teach, though. Daily. Because I am the change.

Because teaching is my core, I’ve learned to accept the seemingly trivial gifts that students have to offer. I accept when students who otherwise hate math love my class. I recognize that my students’ correct answers grant me opportunities to do fist pumps mid-class. Some have taken to calling me Mr. Cool, even as I beg them to keep it inside. We don’t need heroes in class, much less someone as unqualified for heroism as me.

But this little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine.

The work outside the classroom doesn’t always feel like it’s bearing fruit. I haven’t solved racism in education. I do what I can. So do hundreds of thousands of others trying to negotiate demands from on high with the work necessary to make the material cogent for children. There’s a whole set of judgments we educators have to make on an hourly basis that either make us complicit in our children’s suppression or guides to their own liberation. Sometimes both.

When we unite on weekends and after-school hours, online and offline, we’re hoping to create movement akin to educators of color before. We may not have the online followers, the page views, or the accolades only deemed appropriate for people outside of the K-12 classroom. Admittedly, a part of the work humiliates us when we don’t get any of this because society has deemed these accolades as necessary symbols for elevating our statuses.

But we are more humbled than humiliates when we don’t see every single one of our students learning.

I anticipate a few sleepless nights and errant lesson plans. I’m privileged to mentor dozens of educators at a time, and I see their impatience and frustration come to the fore in the early parts of their careers. The difference between those who make it all the way through depends on two interwoven elements: they must have their light recognized by people who directly influence their work and they must recognize the light within themselves. The former is important because we are interdependent, especially in this profession. The latter is more important because, when folks don’t want to recognize you, you’ll need moments for you to recognize you.

So when I left EdCampBrooklyn, I felt that sense of relief because, even though it was just a start for them, I knew they had the right people to shine that light. The numbers will come; the energy will attract.