The Breaststroke (A Reflection on the 2019-2020 School Year)

The last time I went into a swimming pool, I did my usual routine. I’d put my full right foot in, slowly lean with my left foot, and draft full body into the water. I’d wait a few minutes before doing an accelerated vertical drop so as to wet my shoulders and head. I wasn’t afraid, but the thought of the few seconds of instantaneous chill running through my neck gave me pause. The second thought of not actually immersing myself in the water was worse, and so I dove.

That’s how my school year went.

I never once doubted I could swim, um, teach, but depending on the day, people confused me dipping before the eventual pull-up for me drowning. Oh, I’m gonna get an “ineffective” on planning lessons? Cool. I’m gonna get a developing on a few other dimensions? Cool. Oh, people are secretly trying to humble someone who’s already humble? Cool. People are mad because kids swear by my pedagogy in times when no one else is visible? OK. Got a follow-up observation the day after Christmas break when all the kids weren’t even back yet? Alright. I’m still not that professional even as I’m moving students to their classes in my free time, spending after-school hours with students, and supporting colleagues who otherwise don’t feel supported? Cool.

Lessons cycle back into my circumference. I already went through a teacher improvement plan and thought I’d be emancipated from that treachery. In moments of reflection during the snowy afternoons, my room would lose natural light from the windows. My serious demeanor, hefty exterior, and dark skin made me an easy target for villainy. All black everything and in abundance.

I never lost my form, though. I still believe most of my students learned a lot, even my more difficult class. I still took every opportunity in and out of class to get better for and on behalf of them. I still kept at it even when it got rough. I still called parents and assured them that their child would come out of my class better for having had me. I had to signal to everyone that the real me would poke my head out of water through the ebb and flow of the year.

On the Friday before the end of the school year, I conducted a band, announced an award, and called out the names for the eighth grade graduates. After saying I wouldn’t get involved with graduation. That evening, I was on a flight to Dallas, TX to speak to future educators at the Educators Rising National Conference. After saying that I didn’t see my own future in teaching. I flew back to NYC, ended the school year on a relaxed note, and shut off the lights of my classroom until next year. That afternoon, I celebrated a colleague’s retirement with the rest of my school. That evening, I was on another plane to speak to policymakers about this work with students. After I said I’d only focus on my own classroom.

I touched the wall of the swimming pool with my hands, gasped for air, flipped over, and pushed off the wall with my feet. I’m taking the summer to strengthen my core and my core values, to rub cocoa butter on the beautiful and robust skin that I’m in, to use sun as disinfectant, to move this message of peace, justice, and equity forward for all of us.

Let’s thank my Higher Source that I learned to swim when I was young. None of these situations were deep enough to keep me down.

photo c/o

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