How Quitting Was the Most Courageous Lesson I Ever Taught

courageous lesson

“Fear keeps your achievements unrealized, hidden from yourself and the world. Love will set them free.” –Ralph Marston

My last 6 posts have partly told the story of what gave me the courage to quit my full-time high school teaching job so that I could write full-time.

To put that story into perspective and hopefully illustrate why I had to leave, I want you to read something I wrote after my first year of teaching.

7 Truths of Teaching and Learning

 

“Are you afraid?”

That’s the question I was asked when first interviewing for the Louisiana Teaching Fellows program. A wonderful principal asked me this because the program recruited teachers for the “toughest inner city schools” in Baton Rouge.

I never even thought to be afraid. Afraid of what? That question could be answered in two ways.

I could potentially be afraid of my self—doubting my abilities, feeling unworthy of the task, etc.

I’m sure, though, she wanted to know if I was afraid of teaching “those kids” who are often perceived as loud, ghetto, uncontrollable, violent, dangerous, and… unteachable.

It never occurred to me to be scared because I was too busy loving. I’m kin to my students. I am my students.

I had tea today with a couple who went through the teaching program with me, so teaching has been on my mind. I hiked a steep learning curve my first year, but here are some truths I’ve picked up along the way from personal experience, fellow teachers, books, and most I already knew from the life I lived before teaching.

1) “Fear keeps [my students’] achievements unrealized, hidden from [everyone]. Love will set them free.”

2) Students sense fear. When they act out in response to our fear of them, it’s probably to inflict pain similar to the pain they feel knowing that someone feared them without even knowing them. Also, they’ll take being feared over being threatened. Society has taught them that those who are feared stand a better chance of survival.

3) Every child is beautiful and BRILLIANT!!! But most importantly, they need to know it, and they need to know that I know it.

4) There’s no such thing as a student who “just doesn’t want to learn.” Students may not want to learn what we want to teach them, but they want to learn something.

5) I must be a student of my students, learning ways to best serve them. Teaching is not about me, so I scale my ego down to size. Teaching is not about my subject, so I dismiss the notion of sacred texts. No book, no curriculum, no standard could ever trump the sacredness of my children’s humanity.

6) I must love my students for who they are right now rather than for who formal education conditions them to be. I mustn’t tell them they can be somebody some day. I must show them they are somebody right now. Even if they have tattoos, gold teeth, or purple hair. Yes, even those things make them special.

7) The world cannot afford to lose out on my students. The world needs each of them to be productive citizens who know, live, and share their value daily.

Teaching and learning is not about fear; it’s about loving.

So, the final question I asked myself before realizing that quitting would be the most courageous lesson I could teach to the students I loved, was this: How can I lecture to my students about going after their dreams, when I’ve never even attempted to go after my own?

Should You Quit Your Job?

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Relax Your Hair and Get a Nose Job Too!

Plastic surgery, facelifts, boob jobs, but implants, collagen lip injections, Botox, skin bleaching, extreme tanning, tattooed makeup… All of these things are still kind of taboo for many African-Americans. We criticize people who resort to these methods of beautifying themselves. We condemn them as being shallow and fake. Michael Jackson is called a disgrace to the race for wanting to be white. We shake our heads when Asians complain about their eyes, and we ask, “Why can’t everyone just love themselves.”

But are we any different when we get addicted to hair straightening and extensions? If our natural hair is not good enough, maybe our natural lips, eyes, nose, skin, and breasts aren’t either.

I’ve come to the conclusion that chemically altered hair is no different from other forms of physical alteration. In each case, for whatever reason, people aren’t satisfied with their physical features, so they change them.

We as African-Americans fail to see the connection because the majority of us have been straightening our hair for so long that we’ve normalized it. For decades, the unnatural thing has been the natural thing to do. We believe we’re normal. Those other people? Well, they just need to love themselves the way God made them.

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

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Stop Hating

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Awhile back I read a tweet from a woman that said it’s hard not to become just a little jealous or insecure around a beautiful and successful woman. With the ubiquitous images of catty women on television and in movies it’s easy to think this is true of all women, especially black women. Yes, this is a result of capitalism, racism, misogyny, and patriarchy. Because of capitalism, film and TV producers will compromise other people’s dignity to make money. Because of racism, there aren’t enough positive and nuanced portrayals of blacks in mainstream media. Because of misogyny and patriarchy, women get the worst of capitalism and racism. AND it’s all about getting a man, right? Many people seem to think the bulk of female envy stems from the need to find and keep MR. GOOD ENOUGH. (Again, the media exaggerates this phenomena in portrayals of black women.)

Structures are in place that provoke and support hatred among women, structures that we can’t readily change, structures that have become self-sustaining. But I believe we can empower ourselves as women to love or at least appreciate each other.

So how do we remove the jealousy, insecurity, or hatred from our hearts? Reading a blog post won’t get it done, but I suppose it’s a start.

Don’t compare. 

Even if you’re not a hater, per se, simply comparing yourself to other women can make you feel insecure, which makes you miserable and produces bad vibes. Bad vibes often cause conflict. On the road of life, someone’s always farther along or farther behind, so you might as well focus on your own journey. Use what’s in your own hand.

Be inspired. 

This was my personal epiphany. I was about to be jealous of someone, then I thought, Why be jealous? If she can do it, I can do it too! Now when I see women who have something I want or who do something I want to do, their accomplishments validate my dreams. In fact, my dreams seem more and more plausible with each new successful woman I see.

Learn something. 

Instead of smoldering in envy, ask the other woman how she does it? If you listen to her story, you might realize she’s overcome tremendous obstacles. When you see a successful woman, instead of whispering and staring, try networking. You might get the hook up with a new job, a new stylist, or a deal on a new car!

It sounds simple for such a deep and complex issue, but these attitudes have actually worked for me.

I’m curious to know what your experiences have been. How do you handle this issue? I really want to know.

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

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Sister-to-Sister: an Interview on Colorism

Two girls of different skin tones, growing up together as sisters born of the same mother AND father. This is a glimpse into the mind of the lighter skinned sister as she reflects on colorism.

Visit the new site ColorismHealing.org

Describe your home/family and work life.

I have been married for five years and am expecting my first child in March of next year. I am the middle child of three children and grew up in Baton Rouge, LA with my mother. My parents were divorced when I was 11. I currently practice school social work at a high school in southern Louisiana. I am a social worker by profession and a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work at LSU. I maintain a very busy and active lifestyle between work, LSU, and family. In addition, I assist with the youth group at my church planning activities and teaching bible classes.

Tell us about your earliest memories recognizing or dealing with skin color and colorism. 

I remember a time when my sister was being chased and taunted by a group of white girls at our daycare center, when I was about 8 years old. My older brother and I stopped them through physical restraint. When the day care workers took stock of the incident, they concluded that the version of the story that my brother, sister, and I told could not have been true since there were no “MARKS” on our skin like those on the skin of the white girls. Obviously, the darker our skin the less likely MARKS will show up.

At the same daycare, one of my sister’s Hispanic friends really frustrated me. I was 8 years old and had to teach a cultural competence lesson to this girl all the time because she didn’t understand that I could be the “real” sister of my darker skinned siblings. She kept asking “Why are you white and your sister and brother are black?” Granted the girl was in kindergarten, and I’ve been asked similar questions by adults both black and white, but mainly by other BLACK folks.

“Do you and your brother and sister have the same mom and dad?” “You must be mixed right?”  “Man your brother is black.” My response to this particularly ignorant comment was always “So are you and I.”  On and on, the annoying questions/comments went.

How do you view yourself in terms of skin color now?

My skin color is just a product of my birth. I don’t see myself as any better or worse because of the color that I am. I still grimace when people make comparisons about my sister and brother’s color, as if the shades of black are limited, or that it’s impossible for a great array to exist within one family. I am awesome because I’m me, which includes my skin color, but it’s not BECAUSE of my skin color.

How, if at all, has colorism played a role in your life up to this point?

I have seen elements of bias towards me as discussed above when compared to my sister and brother at daycare or among friends. I have come to be embarrassed at times because of my lighter skin color. What I mean by this is the snobby attitude of some lighter skinned women/girls makes people believe that snobby attitudes are common among lighter skinned women/girls. I am not that way. I am still very angered when someone attempts to tell me that I might be mixed or that I have to have different parents than my darker brother and sister. So I have had many points of frustration from colorism in my life!

As you prepare to be a new mother, do you have thoughts about raising a child with a healthy attitude about skin color?

I will be adamant about my child knowing the difference between ethnicity and skin color. There are very few people whose skin is actually the color BLACK. I will be sure that my child never says “Oh mom, look at him; he’s BLACK” to refer to a dark skinned person. My child will know that he/she is a Black person, and that different shades of BLACK should not define how we treat each other. Perhaps if we teach kids to value the black ethnicity and stop putting value on looks, our ethnic group/race would be in a different position in this country.

On a personal level, what may cause an individual to be biased against dark skin or light skin?

I think a level of insecurity is present when someone demeans another for any reason. This is also the case with skin color. When insecure about our own beauty, we try to cut down the beauty of others because of their skin color.

If someone has a negative image of others because of their skin color, what can they do to change that?

Biases usually stem from ignorance, so knowing others with a particular skin color BETTER can help to ease some of the negative images.

If someone has a negative image of themselves because of their skin color, what can they do to change that?

Examining your own self-worth is often a life long process because people often go through significant changes and stages. Acceptance and appreciation of your own qualities is a start. Rather than spending time on the negative images, one should spend energy using their individual qualities to make a difference in his immediate circumstances/ community.

Jandel Crutchfield

“Live Like You’re Dying”

“Leo ni Leo. Asemaye kesho ni mwongo” ~ E-sir

With love, from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

Visit ColorismHealing.org