June 21, 2019

The Voices


I’ve been thinking about this talk for weeks.

After three years together what do I want to leave you with. What is one last thing I can teach you? One last message that I was not able to convey in assemblies or on service trips, in English class or Life Skills, during activities, or in the hallways?

How can I sum up the myriad of lessons I still want to teach you in a five min speech?

I had a whole outline designed about the power of living the mission. I even wrote half of it but then I heard the voice.

I have been hearing the voice since I was your age. And judging by the way you all look at me sometimes I have no doubt that you hear the voice too.

The voice of which I speak is the voice of the cynic. And I think it is hatched when we turn 13.

  • The voice of the cynic is mistrustful and scared. It is insecure and afraid to take chances. 
  • The voice of the cynic wants to be accepted and becomes louder in crowds, putting people and ideas  down in order to feel popular. 
  • The voice of the cynic loves the status quo, cliques and political parties. 
  • The voice of the cynic is selfish and easily bored. It rolls its eyes and sighs heavily. 
  • The voice of the cynic sees the worst in every situation and rarely tries. It sees failure where others see opportunity. 
  • The voice of the cynic gossips and complains, highlighting problems and ridicules solutions. 

The voice of the cynic could go on and on and on.

You see. It is loud even for me.

I was going to start with the mission, but the voice told me:

They won’t want to hear it. They are sick and tired of the mission and the skills and qualities. And the elements and the smiling posters of kids and the slogans and the whole thing.

And so with the voice yelling, I sat at my computer alone in the silence.

Like I so often do after spending time on Twitter or in the comments of articles online. You see the cynical voice loves the internet, because it is echoed there, full blast- on repeat.

But there is another voice. Close your eyes. Listen. What else do you hear? Can you hear it? What might it say?

  • This is the voice of the idealist. The dreamer. The artist. The activist. The writer. The teacher. This is the voice of love and generosity, of revolution and learning.
  • The voice of the idealist is trustful and unafraid. It is secure and courageous. 
  • The voice of the idealist doesn’t need to be accepted and doesn’t put things down in order to feel popular. The voice of the idealist seeks out the voiceless and champions the underdog. 
  • The voice of the idealist loves diversity and has a tolerance for ambiguity. 
  • The voice of the idealist is selfless and never bored. It smiles and hugs and dances alone. 
  • The voice of the idealist sees the best in every situation and always tries its best. It sees solutions where others see problems. 
  • The voice of the idealist listens more than it speaks.  
  • The voice of the idealist could go on and on and on.

So my message to you is this-

You will hear both voices for years to come. You might be in class, or on trips, at parties or all alone and you will have to decide which voice to listen to.

I am not so naive as to expect you to ignore the cynical voice and follow the ideal, because the cynic in me knows better than that.

But I can ask that you to try and listen to both. Question both. And in any given situation ask yourself which voices is needed and why?

In a short time you will walk into the Main Hall with 200 of your classmates. It will be awkward and weird and exciting and awesome. You might not know what to with your hands or where to go when you walk in. You will look for familiar faces and open arms to let you know that you belong.

The cynic will tell you to judge and make fun and exclude. To stand with the pack and wait.

The idealist will tell you to jump and dance and sing and build a group, a tribe, a community that includes everyone.

The one thing I ask of you on this night is tell the cynic in you to take a break.

This is your night to celebrate and have fun. This is the idealists night. Listen as it tells you to ask that boy or girl to dance. To invite other groups to join you on the dance floor. To take photos and smile. To be alive and bask in the voice of the idealist in you.

Thank you all for bringing so much joy in my life for the last three years. It has been my pleasure to be your head of grade. You have taught me more than you will ever know.

Have a great night. You have earned it. I love you and let the party begin.

March 7, 2019

Super Heroes

You ever have one of those day where you feel like a superhero?

Your classes are mellow and calm, and on task. The kids are learning and you know because they show you and tell you and you see the growth. A nuanced claim statement, an outline that makes sense, evidence that proves profound points from books that were complex.

You speak to that one nervous kid and say things like, “Listen…look me in the eyes. I am not here to make you nervous. I am not judging or evaluating you as a person. I know you can do this stuff, so don’t panic when you see me. I am here to help you and teach you. This is the work we together in this space. Don’t worry about appearing smart or not smart, just focus on getting better from where you are. I am here for you and nothing else.” You see his shoulders ease up as he releases the anxiety and tension. He smiles awkwardly and you smile back. “You got this! What did I ask you to do?” He takes a breath, “Too add some transition words in my claim and make sure my reasons are aligned with parts of my claim.” He says confidently. “Quick, quick, get on that and get this task done before you leave today.”

You are relaxed and focused on every conversation with kids. You tell jokes. They laugh. You thank them. They nod knowingly. You and the kids are a team and you are winning.

You interact with your peers. Attend meetings. Contribute. You go to a PD on leadership and run two service meetings.

In Daraja you are working with small committees who are planning awareness raising campaigns on Consent and Feminism. At one point you say, “Hey guys, can I have your attention.”

But then catch yourself and explain to the group of mostly girls that you are sorry for calling them guys. “Oh we don’t mind. That’s not a big deal.” One says, so you say, “But you should care. Feminist online say we should pay attention to our language. When we live in a patriarchy, we have to realise the world was created by men for men, and even the language we consider normal falls under that system. So how do we question and react systems that were not build for girls and woman? How might we push back? What questions might we ask?” They nod. You’re not sure if this is too much or not enough.

After school you talk to another group of students about well being and working with adults with Mental Illness. Next week, the clients from a mental health facility will come to create art with these kids and you help them understand how questions are the key to learning. The group is calm and receptive. They seemed curious and engaged. You can feel this even through their fatigue.

It feels like you can do no wrong on days like this. You go to your daughter’s basketball game and come home too energised. You pace the house like a caged tiger. You make the lunches, watch Colbert, and then finally, you fall on the couch grateful you don’t work in a bank or at some company. You remember that this is what you work in a school. This is what you answered your calling. This is what super heroes must feel like.

November 15, 2018

homework

you bring
work home
every night.

it’s not
easy to
get done.

it’s more
than emails
planning, marking.

their problems
linger in
your heart.

one was
caught cheating
near tears.

the other
broken hearted
and alone.

one has
attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder.

the other
needs attention
can’t flirt.

one is
a follower
becoming lost.

the other
appears disrespectful
cripplingly insecure.

you bring
work home
every night.

their problems
linger in
your heart.

so you
make room,
go back
again tomorrow.