Empowerment and Disempowerment in Our Schools

I’ve been thinking a great deal about knowledge, power, and happiness. From knowledge of inequities, I have always been motivated to move – since I was a little girl. Teaching seemed a natural choice. People have told me time and again how challenging that career path is, how political it is, how you must hold onto the small amounts of change you create, as they are just as important as the monumental ones. As a young person, I thought I understood much of the system, as many young people think. But, after working for over seven years within the system, and after taking this course and gaining an even deeper understanding of inequities, I feel as though I have more knowledge and even less power.

The life I was given and the path I have walked is heavily influenced by my family and friends. We are primarily white middle-class people from the suburbs of Minnesota. I had a great education, though I have struggled for many years with mental illness as a result of several traumatic factors in my history. When I started at Takoda Prep, I thought I would be able to relate to the students more than any other young white woman. It did not take me long to realize the trauma I faced and the trauma they face are different, even though we manifested our trauma in similar ways. This has helped me connect with them, but it also causes me to reflect upon ways in which I am helpless to help them. Furthermore, my knowledge on policies and inequities causes me disillusionment. So many times, people have tried to change the system, and so many times people have failed. My once hopeful and optimistic outlook has since been damaged as a result from students being locked up for gun violence, a homeless encampment that has encroached onto the grounds of our school, and most recently because of the loss of a former student to an opioid overdose. Beyond this small space of our community school, I am further disillusioned by the total lack of power I have to change anything. I would love to get more involved in policy and lobbying. I would leap at the change to sit down with a lawmaker to urge them to take action for my students in ways I cannot. These opportunities, however, are few and far between.

At the same time, nights turn into new days and I keep pushing on. I see the Voices for Change, and I see that I can be one too. Though I’m personally pulled to become a mother, I am also still personally pulled to make change in schools. The trick is, how do people do it all? Would I still want to teach if I hadn’t even known about inequities in the first place? After all, ignorance is bliss. This course has been so crucial in adding to my knowledge on policy and social justice. Yet, I now am ready to move to action. I must seek out the tools necessary to become a Voice for Change. I don’t know what is to come in the next few years, and I am not going to plan it all out. I will not, however, give up on fighting for empowerment of young people and for myself.


be the sky
that holds in the air
that feeds the tree branches
that hold up the trunk
that support the roots
that give structure to the dirt
that encase the mantle & cores.

be that way,
so someone else doesn’t have to.
(they will appreciate it, even if they don’t know how to tell you that.)

so that when you need a sky

you know how to do it yourself.

For days when you haven’t felt like yourself (a poem)

Stepping out of the house into
flake ridden air is the
first reminder.
There was a darkness once,
behind the ribcage.
Rearing itself upon your face and
within your words.
Okay, not once. But almost always.

Stumbling into a serious type of happiness
came uneasily.
Why should you love when so many others die?
You remember this new type of darkness,
a deep blue type of darkness,
like it was yesterday.
Because it was.
And this morning you awoke to a weighted blanket of snow.

Now? I don’t know. Darkness does not just
go away.
Or does it?
Can you choose?
Can it choose you?
Will you stride?
Can you step with no stumble?
This snow will melt today.

The darkness will still live.
But turquoise veins are
running through your ribcage.

Summertime blues

Life is confusing.

In Minnesota, most of us wait [im]patiently for the warmth to spread onto the land and bring us out of our alcoves and into the green. We emerge from the house to a yard of freshly sprouted weeds, budded trees, and still icy lakes. We shed our clothing and let our faces soak up the much needed vitamin D that the sun provides. It is a beautiful moment, emerging from the winter.

And yet, I almost immediately wish to crawl back in to my alcove. I have some theories about why I experience seasonal affective disorder at the complete opposite time as most everyone else. But the theories aren’t really what matter anymore. That is to say, I’ve spent my life theorizing human behavior. Reasons for why a person acts a certain way; Causes of grand sweeping themes in a family; How a community came to be in such a state. Theoriestheoriestheories.

What matters is day to day life. Of course I’ll always theorize in order to make sense of the people around me and make sense of myself. But I must focus on doing it lighter and lesser, so that my energies can be focused on living. Waking up each day grateful that I have a soft bed. A cat meowing in my ear and another frolicking at my feet. A man to spend my days with, who loves me for who I am and in spite of who I am not. A career that gives me even more than life, which is purpose. All of these things are worth being grateful for, and I know this. So why is it so hard sometimes? Specifically, when the damp air latches onto my skin and the trauma memory inside my bones flares up.

There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.

But recognition is the first step. I know these things to be true, and I want to change. I want to be happy during the summer, the time that is so cherished by so many. It’s not that easy. Like hormones or the moon tides, some times are out of our control. So we turn again to coping mechanisms (healthy or otherwise). Therapy, drinking, journaling, alone time, compartmentalizing, spending money, art, on and on. Life is, of course, work. Or, it is escape. I would rather work.

So I’m not sure what this all means in the present. Maybe I can’t do it alone (definitely I can’t do it alone). Depression is an invasive species in the body and mind, and for years I have been fending it off or letting it take over. The summer makes me weak. Again, recognition is key. So like one of my greatest teachers taught me, I’ll make a list for what’s next. It’s a short one, but it’s a start.

Recognize that which is in my control. Strength IS within. Even if it may not seem plausible on a day to day basis.

Recognize that which is out of my control. Strength also exists in those around me. Ask for help when needed.

Harness the power of the earth and time. Strength is in the moment. Live in a second, a minute, an hour.

Life is fleeting, life is fickle, life is fun. (a la Laura Marling)

Honor the trauma, but don’t let it define you.

Theories are not answers, but they do make some sense of the world.

And love. That is what I’ve always believed in, and that is what will save me.


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April 3rd

My poem today (and my two makeup poems because the weekend was pretty and I didn’t wish to be a poet) is a riff on two pieces of writing I came across this afternoon. The first was written in a grammar workbook by one of my students as he was practicing complete sentences. The second was written in a poem titled “Darwinist Logic on Unrequited Love” by Katie Willingham.

“I lost my mind wondering what happened.”

“I like things / that come apart easily // in my hands – dried leaves, clumps of sugar – ”



April 3rd

There are things that come apart
at the gentlest touch
of the finger.

Remember the red spider?
So small you could barely
notice him climbing up

your leg as you sat by afternoon fire.
Still, he was a spider,
and it was your leg.

So you poked him. And the
tiniest little pop could be heard.
You could lift your finger and

no spider was left.
Not even remains.
Not even the tickle of what once climbed up your leg.

Then there are the things
I am terrified to break.
Of the four glasses

from my grandparents’ house,
engraved with a calligraphic F,
only one remains.

Around my home exist
leavings of their lives,
almost all unbreakable (wooden creatures).

The glasses, however, were all that I wanted.
Each time one shattered at my hands
I would stare around the circle of shards

Wondering how it had slowly
rolled away from grasp,
heavy bottomed, short, and yet

my graceless fingers somehow
allowed it to take its own path.
I lost my mind wondering what happened.

Finally the things that cannot and
do not break.
They grow larger at times

and contract at others. They spill over
like a river flood and fill whatever room
they occupy – a gaseous mix of

attention seeking – blend in with
normalcy but individuality
when the opportunity arises.

We don’t pick it apart anymore.
We don’t try to split it when it
takes up space nor must we try

to put it back together when it weeps.
I am twenty-eight and cannot break.
At least it has not happened yet.

The fire that flares and the coals that remain

Today I am grappling with how to be the giver of the heat that does not burn out. I want to keep living. I want to be the coals that linger. Can I keep up the resplendent light? Can I learn to tame the raging flare that consumes all around me?

I have forever been an energy source for those around me. I did not ask to be this way, but I do not mean to ask for pity for the privilege into which I was born. I only mean that sometimes we enter the world with a task. Predestination is not the right term, but as a baby enters the world, they can see a light before them. They follow that light, or they watch it, or they hide from it. Or perhaps the light is of no consequence. They follow the sound, instead. On my day of entering the world, there was a winter fire burning somewhere nearby. I know now that it was my fire. Someone lit it for hope of warmth, and that warmth was answered. I followed the fire, and it still burns today.

For many years I was lively, industrious, sensitive, and I hustled my way through childhood. Little newspapers and magazines created first in crayon and then on a PC at home. Lemonade stands that traveled around our circular block. A greeting card company that my brother and I named “C & D Cards,” a precursor to our love for letters both as correspondences and singular symbols that represent our people. As time passed and maturity found me, trying to reign me in, life changed, as did my creations. Newspapers became poems, the lemonade stand became nightly dinners – made to quench a thirst of the soul, not a monetary gain.

As I’ve moved through the world, I have found that people gravitate towards me, but more so, my energy deeply affects those around me. This never made much sense to me. I felt sad sometimes, and that would somehow make all those around me sad. I was happy, and everyone glowed with joy. For a long time I thought that people were just highly critical of my moods. They wanted me to be one way all the time: upbeat and energetic. Never allowed to be sad, they would tell me how much anger it brought them when my eyebrows curled and my tone became serious and harsh. People are sensitive to harshness, as they feel like something is their fault, but it shouldn’t be, as they are just living their lives. I never set out to make people feel this way, but I needed my burning exasperation at the world to be known, else it internally burn me right to ashes.

Here we are, looking back upon my life in metaphor, and it is the only thing that makes sense to me. We don’t create metaphor to make things pretty or to make it more literary. We use metaphor – as it already exists and is not created by writers – to explore the truth, and to understand why/how/what our feelings even mean. My fire metaphor becomes even more than exploration – it is truth. It is truly inside me. I feel it in the morning, as the sun crawls up and through my blinds, I sip my coffee and begin to bellow the flicker. I feel it during the day, when my students need my energy to make it through another day climbing up the mountain of education. I feel it when I try to sleep, the difficulty of tricking a fire into meditation that leads to rest. And I feel it in my dreams, when wild rides that are my daily happenings manifest into bizarre appropriations of anxieties and fantasies.

It is the life I have lived, have chosen many times, and continue to battle with each day. I want to keep living. I want to be the bed of coals that, when the night comes, as it must, we sit around them and stare into their depths and meditate on the fact that those coals will be there if we let them slowly live. They will stay coals for a long time, and whenever we want them to flare up again, we feed them more fuel. They needn’t burn out from exhaustion. They needn’t be constant flame. The coals are as strong as the flame.

And this is the life I need to learn to live – through choice, composure, compassion, and acknowledgment.

As the snow gives us, if nothing else, a new covering of concealment

Prelude to the fact that I never update my blog:

Once I wanted to be a writer. But also, a teacher. Somehow, these two very time consuming career paths did not cross. In my day dreams about the future, I was able to complete each of them with fervor and passion and fame. As I age, I cannot seem to remember how to be a writer. I have had this blog for nearly five  years, and I write less and less. I am, however, becoming a better teacher every day. Not wanting to give up the writing, I must reframe what it means in my life. Perhaps more essays and less poetry. Perhaps a dedicated writing time with Lora. Perhaps goal setting, perhaps focused writing projects, perhaps perhaps perhaps. My mind swirls with over-analytical ideas. Just sit down and write, dammit.

I am too hard on myself.


January 10th

This is generally the time of year when we are all depressed and stir-crazy and self-conscious and grinding along day to day until the next time we see the sun. Many people around me seem to be moving in this sluggish haze.

January, her long nights and dark days, is taking souls, crumpling them up, and letting them sort themselves out. I know this happens each year, but maybe this is the first time I feel strong enough to make awareness of my psyche and control over my emotions a priority. I only wish I could help loved ones do the same. I happen to love this time of year, but there is a certain weight that exists with the dark and the snow and the sadness of the bodies surrounding me.

I want to help. But I don’t know that I can. I know that I try, over and over. Misguidedly, abrasively, nonchalantly, facetiously (to be hard on myself). With deep amounts of care and allegiance to other humans (to be gracious to myself). Ultimately, some of us will just have to wait to emerge from this month and try to regain what we have lost.

There was an article in the paper last Sunday about Sister Antonia, the nun who spearheaded the efforts to build Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine’s University.

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I am not a religious woman, but I did love this story for many reasons. The most striking element of the article was the personality of Sister Antonia, who I identified with in terms of her frankness in a time when women’s expectations were much different. One nun spoke of her with the following description:

“Her outspokenness was proverbial. Her frankness was of a nature to abash those who were not lovers of the truth.”

This is who I feel I am, as well. But there does exist a certain tact, one I can only presume that Sister Antonia had, that I am still refining for myself, with age. Time passes and I become grounded in what matters and remember that everyone is just trying to get through. I am thankful for the people who love me as I learn these things.

2016 was a beautiful year. The best of my life. I moved in with Alex, which was a strange experience (because cohabitation is weird), but I am so happy in our little house that feels the most like home since I left my parents. My brother got married to my new sister-in-law, and I am so endlessly thankful to have a sister.My best friend got married and bought a house just a mile away from me, and her happiness has brought me so much joy. So many of my students graduated, and their aspirations inspire me every day. A thousand beautiful things happened. I don’t mind bragging about it. My path has been paved with tragedy over and over again, and I feel confident that it is time to enjoy the beauty of life that only perspective can bring.

But this extra strength I have. It is for the people in my life who need it. It may not always come with the most diplomatic and gracious attitude. Please forgive me, because I am still working on that. But my heart is good and I wish to be a positive force in the world. The one that I was always supposed to be.

And remember that this winter does not last forever. Today, as the snow tucks us in with a new blanket, look at its beauty and remember: “Between stimulus [action] and response [reaction] there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl


The first of the two poems is an example of the struggles I latch onto (latch onto me) on a daily basis – ones I cannot seem to shake even coming upon my 28th year.

The second is an ode to my students and how transparent I have become with them.




“Features of a Superlative Type Day”

It is one where my mind does not
succumb to itself, the little feelings won’t become
giant rubber-band-like structures which
fix themselves upon delicate movements
of the tongue.
(tending to squeeze out not only sanity
but oxygen
but focus of the eyes
but oxymorons
but simple happiness

It is one where my body does not
hurt. My muscles won’t ache from lack of
attention – as I have given them
all that they deserve. Deep holds –
three breaths each –
centered upon a spot on the Earth.
Lungs can live up to their potential
if you would just give them the chance.

It is one where the perfectly painted
outer skin
is no pretense – simply an extension
of my depth and desire. Beauty is for the self
and not you, or you, or you, or you (plural, world).

It is one where I lie my soul at night
to sleep fully and blankly. Not dream of
messages on train tracks;
Not restlessly squirm for the coming hours existence;
Not rise and fall from bed to room to room.
To wake up again
with a not so perfect day.
To live tomorrow’s day and think –
at least once –

It’s possible.




“Upon Hearing a Story Which Silenced Them All (If Only for a Second or Two)”

I’m sorry I always choose the sad stories,
I tell them.
One asks, Are you okay? In the way
only teenagers can – make a joke, yet
still sound genuinely interested in
the answer. (In the way both curious
and concerned).
I tell him, You know me well enough to know
the answer to that one, kid.

The sad stories are the best stories.
To hold a story
in our hands and ears
To know that our own
tears are true – and the same –
as the tears on the track
on the page
on the cheeks of a child a world away.

I’m sorry I always choose the sad stories.
But aren’t the sad stories why we keep on?

Things that break my heart; or, Reasons to forgive

Every story that walks silently into a room.
Imagining how deep each river must run but is not destined to run so deep.
Unanswered questions of fear; answered questions with hate.
Victimhood, and how those most entitled to it refuse to inhabit it.
How it is not about my broken heart. It is not about yours.
How paper curls and refuses to undo itself from its buckle.
How bodies curl and refuse to revive themselves.
Navigating every second. Seconds – easy to come by yet over so quickly.
A second one comes, and again, it is over.
The hawk on the tree, robbed of her dinner by humans sensitive to small creatures –
The dry look on her face telling me to stop worrying –
Imploring me to look away, when staring gives me some sort of satisfaction –
Allowing me to continue my gaze, because at the end of the day she doesn’t need me.
I only wanted to be a stream.
And now – a lusty waterfall whose heart breaks at each question, second, and hawk.
A broken heart (breastbone) that is made to break –
I am not the point.
The heat swells and reminds us of those who have no refuge.
It breaks and we forget.
Every hawk is looking for dinner.
Every story does not aspire to be told.

Interview Questions – A.K.A. my autobiography of education and teaching

To the student teacher who requires my response to some very big questions about teaching – 

Here are the responses to those questions… sorry about the delay! I hope this all helps. I realize (and you probably did too, when speaking with me during your time here), I am a rather verbose person. So this is lengthy, but to me, it’s all relevant! Not much I do is “brief,” which totally drives my students crazy 😉

I became a teacher because it was something I always wanted to do. I believe I had some very lovely teachers in my elementary school years, and this probably implanted the idea into my mind. As I got older, I learned that connecting with other humans was my favorite part about life. I also loved showing people new things. At some level I think I really liked school, but it was more about building relationships with my peers and teachers. I have also always been very concerned with the well being of those who are down-and-out, struggling to make life work. To be honest, this is the only career I have ever truly wanted to pursue.

I have learned countless things from teaching. Every day I learn something new about myself, my students, and the way the world works. I learn about how humans function and what doesn’t work when trying to help them. I learn that every single person has a tough time getting out of bed in the morning to some degree – I suppose I have always known this, but each student reminds me (especially in our school, where so many of these souls have faces such tough times). The biggest thing I have learned from this job is how important it is to never give up on any one. No one is so far gone that you can’t show them love and kindness. Sure, you must let some students go. They are not ready to make positive changes in their lives. As my mom always says to me, “You can’t save everyone.” However, that is not cause to stop believing in them or feel animosity towards them. On that note, it’s so important to greet every student when they walk through the door with this attitude: “Good morning. I’m glad you’re here.”

Last year was my first year at this job. It was a year filled with fears and challenges. We had many students who were rowdy, uncouth, and totally disinterested in learning. I was not expecting that. Chris helped me a lot through those struggles – by reminding me that our students are some of the most challenging in the district. There’s a reason they are at our school. Another thing that helped me is was simply getting through last year and having more experience under my belt. Every day is a new day, and every day I feel that much more equipped to help our students.

Before coming to Takoda Prep I worked for Learning Disabilities Association of Minnesota for two and a half years. I worked as an intervention teacher with small groups of ELL students in several schools around the Twin Cities. LDA contracts with these schools to provide these types of services. You can find out more about the work they do here: ( I am not technically licensed to teach ELL, they simply hired me at a time they really needed to fill a position, and then I just never left. Because I was providing intervention services and students were not receiving credit for the work they did with me (this was all funded by Title III), it was okay that I wasn’t licensed in the right field. Anyway, I loved working with these students, and they taught me so much about how to approach English as a discipline. At my current job, I don’t work with many ELL students (sometimes in the Adult Basic Education program next door), but my intervention teaching work gave me insight into what is difficult about learning to read and speak English. I also got the opportunity to work at LEAP High School in St. Paul. This is a school strictly for immigrant and refugee students. That is where I met students from all over the world (not just Spanish speaking countries, which is what my experience was previously limited to). There was a majority of students from Burma; they were Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon, and various other ethnic groups from this country. If you haven’t heard of these groups of people, they are a more recent group of refugees coming to St. Paul from camps in Thailand (mostly). I encourage you to look into their history and pathway to America, because they will be a growing population in the Twin Cities schools in the coming years.

This work was so important to my experience as an educator because, like many others, I always wanted to teach abroad. However I must admit that I have a hard time leaving home. My roots are deep in this community, and at the end of the day I want to be where my people are. Through my work at LDA I was able to learn about so many different cultures and practice teaching English without ever leaving Minnesota. We are an amazing state in that way, and I’m thankful to LDA for giving me that experience and kick starting my career.

Before getting that job I worked as a substitute teacher. That time of my career is a blur – and if you ever sub, you will know what I mean!! But it did give me the opportunity to see many different schools and classrooms. That was incredible – and is so, so important when learning about styles of teaching and schools.

I attended Hamline University for my undergraduate degree. My degree is in English with a focus in Creative Writing. I have a minor in Secondary Education. My license is Communication Arts and Literature, 5-12.

Furthermore, and in some ways more importantly, I attended Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley for my high school diploma. This is important to me because it showed me an alternative form of education – we spent half our day on our art (mine was Literary Arts). To me, high school education would be so much more successful if we could give students more of a path of study. For me it was writing. But it could also be mechanical, technical, IT related, medical, etc. Students could graduate high school ready to work in a field or ready to continue their education in whatever way they wish. Be it the same field they had been studying or a completely different one. Anyway, education reform is not my game (at least not right now).

My advice to you, as a prospective teacher, is to be committed to the job as much as you can each day, and each day that will be different. It will try every part of your being but it cannot break you. You are in control of that breaking point – and if that control means leaving the school you are at to go to another, that’s what it means. Listen to your soul. You will never know what the right decision is before you have to make one. You just roll with it and learn from your choices. Life!

You must also remember to take care of your soul once you leave the building. It is a vocation that causes your mind to buzz at all hours. Find spaces to escape that buzz – be it yoga, writing, whatever floats your boat. Also remember that your partner tends to have a weight on them from this work as well. Honor their role in keeping you sane and remember when to vent to someone else or expel energy in a different way.

Being at Takoda Prep has molded my teaching style to be a flexible and exceedingly differentiated one. These students all come with a different set of issues and skill sets. We are all in the same room together – one-room schoolhouse! – and I have to find pathways that work for each one of them, often on the spot. To me, the goal of this space isn’t to turn these students into academic braniacs. We’re not an IB school. Instead, it’s to give them a safe space to practice reading, writing, math, social skills, and computer skills (to name a few). It’s to get them graduated and help them make a plan for what to do after they graduate.

That leads me to the role of education in our society. Schools need to meet each student where they are at – we are all such different human beings! We all have a completely different idea of life, love, and decision making. When I first learned about Myers-Briggs brain typing, it opened a world of doors to me. I don’t look at this psychology as a way to prescribe skill sets and career paths – it’s more of a framework for understanding the self and how one can hone in on the truth of one’s being. But in the bigger picture, we need smaller schools (duh) and more personalized educational pathways. Again, education reform isn’t my game, but at least in the alternative school we can get closer to this personalization.

I don’t believe this role changes from rural to suburban to urban youth. Although I do understand that perhaps more low-income urban youth have faced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). I don’t have data to back that up – I’m totally making assumptions based on my experiences in the world of education and youth work. You likely have more information on this based on your master’s program. Basically, in my opinion, teacher training needs to emphasize understanding of how trauma affects young people and how important mental health care is for ALL humans (especially ones facing ACEs).

Your next question, “How were you educated about America’s past and other cultural groups?” lends itself well to what role I believe education has in society. What we do here at Takoda Prep, the way we teach alternate and Native focused histories, is something that should be done in all schools. I don’t personally think I was properly informed about America’s true history in my elementary and secondary educations. I did grow up in a fairly diverse suburb, which I loved. But I don’t think my school did the greatest job in teaching me the true story of our country. But if they didn’t, I don’t know who did. I must admit that I don’t have the best memory of what I learned in high school (a fact that will likely be the same for my students, ha). On the other hand, Perpich did a fine job of expanding my cultural horizon, from a foreign film analysis class, to an assignment to write a short story set in the throes of a conflict in another country, to a world literature class reading Chinese novellas.

Hamline did an incredible job of showing me alternate histories. Hamline as an institution is so social-justice minded (and not in a SJW way), that I was able to actually study literature by non-white and female writers. I was able to hear professors who were so informed about these histories and experienced them first hand. Jermaine Singleton is one of the most incredible educators I have ever had, and his class “Reading Whiteness” taught me to take a look at what meaning race has – taught me that we can’t ignore race and pretend that racial discourse causes more problems. We have to talk about it, probably forever. Because of the history of this country, racial issues (intrinsically tied up in socio-economic and gender issues, among others) will need to be discussed, confronted, and challenged for a long time coming.

All of this prepared me in many ways to be an educator – many of which are subconscious. But the single most important way my education has affected me is that I can reflect on what it means for me to be white and the fact that every person I encounter comes from a different culture than I do. I am constantly telling my students that culture can be as big as the one world culture of this planet on which we live, can be as small as the culture in your immediate family, and everything in between. I ask them to tell me what they think. It has been difficult for me to always accept their ideas as they are – I always want there to be one answer that is the “rightest.” I learn to filter this feeling of mine every day – and it helps to be surrounded by people so different from myself.

Urban teachers can use students’ cultural assets every day! Get to know your students – what do they define as their culture? What are the benefits of their culture? What are the boundaries of their culture? Talk, talk, talk about it! And then remind yourself that in their mind and body, they have a self that is not necessarily defined by their culture. It is defined by the little culture that lives within their heart – that is every shifting each day. The more you get to know your students on a personal level (which is easiest to do in an environment like ours at Takoda Prep), the more you can infuse their assets to create meaningful lessons and experiences. And then, just when you think you’ve reached them through their own culture, throw in a completely different one. For example, we read Persepolis this past quarter. It is a graphic novel about a young girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. I do not have any Iranian students, but they loved the book, and I think it really showed them similarities of the human condition across cultures.

I don’t know that I could speak to the norms and taboos to be aware of, because I am a white, middle-class teacher who is still learning these norms. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Native people, black people, Asian immigrants, or anyone else. The most I can say about this is just to be aware of your underlying assumptions before going into another culture’s space and constantly reassess the meaning of experiences and situations. Ask yourself – “Is what that student just did a result of their family? Their culture? Or just because they are a teenager? Or something else?” And ask them, also. Bring in community members to speak to them – about anything! And learn from these people. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in a culture, just be sure not to trample it in any way. At the same time, always remind yourself that you have a space too and your feelings/opinions are valid.

Native students in particular come from a history that has  trampled them over and over. Black students as well. Many students of color have had this experience. Low-income students, immigrant students, ELLs, on and on and on. And even students who don’t fit any prescribed categories – people have a hard time at school across the board. Our education system is designed, for the most part, for a certain kind of student – one who is detail oriented, self-driven, has family support, has all the right prior knowledge, and is analytical. If you don’t fit the bill, you better figure out how to play the game. As educators in an alternative setting I believe we have the chance to change the status-quo. We can make the system work for the kid. Not all spaces allow teachers to do this – but then again, there are plenty of incredible teachers out there who do anyway.

All in all, to be a teacher is to make your own way. Pedagogy is a very personal thing. Right now, I’m sure, you have an idea of what kind of teacher you may be. That’s a wonderful thing to reflect on, constantly. Five years from now, it will be quite different. I’m so excited for you to get into your own classroom, as I can tell you have a contemplative and caring being. It’s so daunting  at first, and perhaps it always is. In many ways, I am still a new teacher. Writing this has been helpful for me as well, so I thank you for that experience. I realize it extremely long, haha. Sorry about that. I am a writer when I am not a teacher.

Good luck with the rest of your schooling, and remember you are welcome in this space! Maybe we will see you again someday.