One of the biggest battles I’ve fought in my life is worrying. As a young child I worried about many things. Sometimes I worried about having money for unexpected expenses, our car breaking down, and how Momma was going to make ends meet when something unforeseen happened. For years, even into adulthood, I was plagued with anxiety about car trouble. I don’t know this to be certain, but I’m convinced it’s from the many issues we experienced with car trouble as a child. When my two door fuchsia Saturn conked on me because I had a friend connect two ten inch Kicker speakers in a plexi glass box to my alternator so I could be one of the only girls on campus with a booming system in college, I cried. I remember calling Momma and crying profusely as if the problem couldn’t be solved. My car got towed to a mechanic, who put in a new alternator, and let me know not to hook up those speakers to my alternator for a power source or I’d be back at his garage again. Momma talked me through that one like she always did, and with age and experience, my trauma response to car trouble has subsided. It also helps to know that money is no longer a struggle.
I can remember my Momma saying then, and many other times in my life, “You’re worried about the wrong thing.” She was right. It wasn’t that she was minimizing my concern, but rather helping me to realize that worry attached to everything that makes you uncomfortable isn’t productive. In fact, it’s debilitating. Momma’s take was that when we worry about the wrong things and not the right ones, our efforts are focused on symptoms of a problem, but not the root issue. And like Momma says, no matter the problem, if you don’t focus on the root, it’s coming back.
I can’t help but think about how worried American policy makers seem to be about the wrong things in public education. Bills and other potential legislation are focused on censorship this season: banning books, what students are taught, and what teachers can say or do in their classrooms abound. People are giving real energy to this; folks are showing up at board meetings to express their concern over the bad books, CRT, and face masks. COVID isn’t the only pandemic we are facing. Public education is under attack and some folks are too blind to see what is happening right before their very eyes. Momma would say they’re worried about the wrong thing, and I’d have to agree.
This nation is facing a teacher shortage like never before in a time where our students need the best and brightest minds in our classrooms to lead them. Imagine if the focus was on elevating the profession, raising teacher salaries, fully funding the base student cost, and making sure we recognize the impact of poverty on student learning and then doing something about it? What if we were using this time as an opportunity to right the wrong this nation has done to the profession that I see as a cornerstone to our democracy-public education? How might we incentivize young people to choose teaching as a profession, and to stay in it because of the noble work it is, and because it is valued by the American public as it deserves to be?
Public education has been made a political pawn in the nation’s messiest argument of my lifetime, and a result, the children suffer, and the profession is under siege. I often remind folks, our children are watching. They are watching how the world treats its’ teachers, how people treat the profession and the leaders of it, and what being a member of the profession looks and feels like for those of us who are still choosing it. No matter what advocacy or recruitment tool we develop, there is none greater than what we put on display for our children everyday. In my mind, we are indeed worried about the wrong things.
Four years ago, I wrote a book that called for a reshaping of the public education narrative, for educators to take their rightful place in the policy reform and advocacy arena, and shared with the world how I fought back from feeling demoralized as an educator. Today, I believe in what I wrote even more than I did before. I remain committed to the profession I love, and intend to dedicate my entire professional life to public education. I do not underestimate its power to change this world and do so for the better, and I am forever grateful for how it changed my life’s trajectory. For all the divisive issues plaguing our profession, and for every person who asks me what I think about it all, I’m going to give them Momma’s classic response, “You’re worried about the wrong thing.”
Y’all be easy,