Over time I learned that Daymond was born into a family of Bloods, that he first sold crack at age seven, that he saw people stabbed and shot before he ever made it out of elementary school. Knowing him hurt my heart and wore me down. I lost hope of there ever being any shift within him. Still, I continued to hold space for him, to accept him, even as the delicate dance of keeping him in line while earning his trust exhausted me.
Eventually, Daymond began to settle. One day he drew me a cartoon that I hung by my desk. The next day there was another cartoon. That provided me with an opening to animate his cartoons for the class and before Daymond realized it we were all being soft and silly together. From there things moved more quickly. He stayed after school to catch up on his work. The other students began to open to him. When he finally got fractions there was a feeling of euphoria in the room. At graduation Daymond arrived in a three-piece suit, his mother beaming behind him.
My experience of Daymond’s volatility and apathy, while it was frequently painful, was never disempowering. It was an honor to intimately bear witness, to offer him space for new possibilities. Conversely, I experienced many of my colleagues’ responses to Daymond as disempowering. Whenever I mentioned any “bad” student I was answered with the mantra that, “It’s all up to the students.” Feeling mildly chastised, I would respond with a nod, while anger flushed through my body. Yes, I thought, of course it’s all up to the students—but isn’t it all up to us, too? I experienced a sense of helplessness in these interactions, a feeling that I was in hostile waters, a fear that I was alone in my concern for the students. I found myself both judging and feeling judged. I numbed out. Separation occurred.
Truly, some of my colleagues were not suited to be in positions of power. Moreover, the way our school functioned was often dangerously disconnected from the students it purported to be serving. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that I related to my colleagues’ fear and apathy much the way they related to Daymond’s. I was not willing to accept their disregard of certain students as if, by not accepting this, I was changing it. After countless seemingly failed attempts to shift our school’s culture, I retreated from those colleagues whose perspectives pained me. In so doing, I infused the distance between our pedagogies with an obstructive sense of permanence. In retrospect, I see that my efforts to enliven our school’s culture were dependent upon results in a way that my most successful work with students isn’t. I wonder, what could have been possible had I not solidified my perceptions and allowed the intimacy of my soft, unprotected heart to function freely?
Meghan Chishin Casey, MRO