Battered but love — education a love story

Artwork from Amplifer art: We The Future -“Paul S. John” Drawing of a Black man with a beard smiling wearing a hoodie (part of the Million Hoodies Movement), in front of a building with an American flag flying, words We the Future End Gun Violence.

Seattle had its first school shooting (WA Post database has recorded none in Seattle proper). While it feels like we just read about a school shooting a few months ago in Uvalde, it is maddening and heartbreaking. The loss we carry now knowing there are empty desks in cities with names known because of their connection to gun violence ties people together in a sad legacy. Even with this broken and battered-ness, there is still beauty.

This is a love letter to the educators, and I mean that broadly, thank you for teaching, connecting, and supporting the birthright of education.

Dear Educators,

You work in an impossible system. A system that is antiquated but functional. A system that is forever unfinished and sometimes strives to be better and sometimes wound as tightly as the tetherball on the playground. Through it all you find the students and the families who need you; you find the hurt and see the lightbulb moments.

Like sacred religious buildings, schools are a place, but also a collection of people independent of buildings. As educators, you are with students for six hours a day, 180 days a year. You see them in ways other people will never see students, and vice versa, students see you in ways only they are privileged to see as students in your classes. I hope this honor is a shared one that allows differences to be closed and a shared future to be weaved together.

It takes many of you to each day to take in students and literally feed them. To the food service workers, I see the love you put into ensuring food reaches our babies. Some of you may never see a student because you are in the central kitchens or delivering the food before the school day starts, but your love and care is felt. You keep kids connected to learning and growing and repair hungry bodies with the medicine we know as food. The same for the custodial staff, crossing guards, and maintenance staff who are behind in the buildings quietly cleaning, your presence is power. Your presence brings comfort and safety. Many of you are the uncles and aunties to the students, maybe by birth or by culture. Your generational status, young and old, roots the school in ways that allow students to lift their gazes. We see your struggles too – the fight for better pay, professional pathways, and dreams for yourself and the next generation.  

On Tuesday, midterm election day, I felt the irony of voting as power and the feeling of sadness and loss knowing a school shooting happened miles away. Voting itself couldn’t undo, nor will voting by itself protect the next school from a shooting – democracy is not that simple or quick. Yet even through this grief, it is one of the few things we can do. Enacting gun laws is one of many important steps to keep kids safe. We still need to find ways to connect with them. We need to find the broken hallelujahs and extend ourselves to see the humanity in our students and families. As educators in front of kids everyday you do this, and for support staff who work in schools, you do yeomen’s work of supporting healthy relationships.

What does all of this have to do with race and why does it belong on a blog that talks about race? I am asking myself that question, I believe the answer is complex and simple. Several months ago, I was in a policy meeting listening to a presentation about keeping students in schools. There was no love. The presenter tried to make it about how wonderful the outcome was, the kid stayed in school as he should. The exceptionalism that was oozing out was patronizing. The presenter made it about giving the kid shoes, paying for their sports fees, and other transactional items (it was a kid of color). The POCs at that meeting were having none of it. We knew the kid, even though it wasn’t a kid we knew personally, was one of ours, and we weren’t going to let a system take them down without fighting for their educational inheritance. It takes a myriad of voices to pull the education system forward, sometimes it is one-kid at a time and sometimes it is through other cataclysmic shifts – we all have a role to play.

As we honor loss, including our Veterans (since it is Veteran’s Day), I thank you for what you put into our emerald city and reflect back to you the love you put into your craft and the students touched by it.

Why I wrote this: To honor our educators after a hard week in Seattle and to remind us that gun violence impacts all of us.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.