Just Keep Teaching!

Every year as a principal, I’d find myself emphasizing at this time of year one very important thing to staff: Don’t stop teaching. Maintain the structure and routine in your classroom. Children thrive when the instructional day remains consistent. In my annual reminder email I’d write something to this effect: “Dark rooms and movies, along with unstructured activities can lead to issues with discipline and detract from an opportunity to provide our students with high quality learning experiences until the very end.” And then, I’d walk the halls and visit the classrooms because that’s how important it was to me that instruction continued for our students. They had too much they needed to learn for us to waste a minute not giving them what they needed.

Now-don’t get me wrong. We held the annual field day, awards day program, and those other end of year events. However, we had a collective agreement that the ending of state testing did not signify the ending of instruction or learning. Learning for our students had no finish line.

The end of the school year, or anytime you have available for that matter, is a great time to capitalize on the opportunity to extend learning for those who have demonstrated mastery in a particular area, provide intervention and support for those who still demonstrate academic deficits, and position students to be as ready as possible for their next step in their academic journey.

I worry that the heavy emphasis on state testing being over-sends a signal to our students and perhaps to some educators, that the bell has rung on the instructional experiences we provide. Learning is a continuous process that has no ending. Let’s model that for our students whether testing had ended or not, because if we keep teaching they will keep learning!

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Connections and Common Ground: Moving Ahead With Purpose In A Divided World

Bridges are important to our world. They are often used as a way to allow people to travel from one place to another, to connect two geographic areas, especially when there is no natural path for that connection. Our bridges and roads are so important that they often make up a good portion of the work of state and federal legislatures, making sure their upkeep is maintained so that we are safe as citizens when we choose to drive our vehicles across them. They are often accompanied by warning signs, (Bridge ices before road. Weight limit: 2 tons.) and in spite of these safety precautions, the world’s transportation system would not be functional without the use of bridges. They are a critical part of our infrastructure.

Like the physical bridges in our world, we need people who can serve as bridge builders. The current climate of society pushes us constantly to choose a side, and treats the most complex issues as an either/or rather than a both/and. As I reflect on our society’s history and some of the most controversial issues of our time, I recognize the role of bridge builders in moving society forward. Voting Rights, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, and desegregation would not have happened had there not been individuals who felt compelled to build a bridge between people who –thought-they were divided. I am convinced that to move forward in our state, and our country, we need more bridge builders.

Bridge builders help people find what we know we all have: common ground. We were each born, and we will each die. We all smile when we are happy, and we cry when we find ourselves sad. Caged between our ribs is our hearts, and water falls from our eyes when our souls are moved. When we work to find common ground before we work to find where we disagree, we can work together to better our organizations, our society, and more importantly ourselves. Our approach in challenging times is what moves us forward or keeps us stagnant. If we hope to move beyond a society where finding where we are oppositional leads our language, our love, and our lives, we need to adopt a perspective that focuses on finding common ground with others and nourishing our connections with other people as human beings.

If we’ve learned anything from the global pandemic, we know for certain that human beings need each other to thrive. We aren’t wired to be isolated from one another. We NEED connection. Our connections with each other have the power to make us better people who can love, live, and work together in productive ways, and we get to decide who it is we are willing to build connection with; That’s the power of the human condition. It is possible to connect with anyone, we just don’t always choose to do so.

And while I recognize that this is not new information, it certainly appears to be difficult for us to implement. In an age of social media “followers” and “friends,” bandwagon like appeal seems prevalent and our feeds are often echo chambers of people who think, look, love, and believe just like us. This makes it easy to get swept up into an us vs. them mentality, and when scrolling to pass the time becomes habitual, we may subconsciously find ourselves feeding our minds confirmation, rather than learning ways we can connect with others who are not just like us.

So if we are going to make it past this era of divisiveness, we are going to all need to be mindful of our work with others. Are you building bridges or fences in your conversations and interactions, whether they be public or private? Are you finding connections with others or oppositions? Are your words and actions helping to build the social infrastructure of our society, like the bridges in our world? Or are the things you do and say, online and in person, fueling divide and shining a light on differences?

I am convinced, because history tells us so, that there will be some special people who build the bridges we need to move forward. And those are the people who will be remembered in ways that add love and light to the world. I want to be one of those people, whose heart is full of love, that is demonstrated unconditionally, no matter what, because love has no side.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Let’s Talk About Who’s Staying

Seems I read a headline daily about the surging teacher shortage, and stories abound of educators who are exiting the profession at all levels. I’ve always believed that people should follow their heart’s desire and nothing is more miserable than doing something that you do not desire to do any longer. I’m thankful for every educator who chose this noble profession, those who are leaving or have already left, and those of us who are choosing to stay.

This era of public education reminds me of two distinct periods during my career. I started teaching in the late 90’s. Openings were everywhere. I came home for Spring break as a senior in college and went back to school with a job secured. State standards were the hot topic, and hobby teaching was said to be no more. Technology was about to disrupt the way we communicated because email was going to change the way we worked and help us all be more efficient.

Fast forward to 2011, and in South Carolina our new State Superintendent, was Mick Zais (who went on to be Deputy Secretary of Education under Betsy Devos). Those years with Zais at the helm in South Carolina were difficult and challenging for public education. Schools and districts were rated with letter grades A-F, funding was pushed toward a massive school choice movement, and many did not think we’d survive his tenure, or No Child Left Behind, but we did.

And here we are now in 2022. Public education has endured a global pandemic, challenges to broadband access, increased mental health needs of all stakeholders, educators included, and a complete disruption to the way we live, work, play, and learn when it comes to technology. Add to it the polarizing debates of our time including CRT, book banning, and vaccinations, and you get what we have today: messiness. I completely get why some folks are choosing to walk away from the field. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It is more challenging than it’s ever been before. I understand. I really do, and I’m not judging anyone for doing what they feel is right for them.

But I can’t leave. My soul won’t let me. For me, the right thing is to stay, and to keep fighting for what I know is an essential cornerstone of democracy: public education. I might be wrong, but I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that we’ll survive this era too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks return because passion doesn’t lie and it doesn’t die. It may flicker, but that flame is always there.

The way I see, now more than ever, I have a chance to make a difference in the field that I love so much. My goal is to do just that in my work, my words, and with all I have the opportunity to interact with in this field. The time to make a difference isn’t when things are easy, but when they are hard, and that’s why I’m choosing to stay. I want to see what happens if I don’t give up and I know that our children need strong, positive, effective, and resilient educators, and I want to be one of them.

Before anyone accuses me of toxic positivity, allow me to make it clear: this work is hard. Everyday is not sunshine and rainbows. Some days are very stressful and some problems are taxing and challenging. I would never deny that. I’ve lived it as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. It’s not easy, and I’d never make any attempt to say otherwise.

Even so, I am staying. It’s MY civic duty. I owe the change in my life’s trajectory to public education. Growing up in poverty in a single parent household and in a housing project, I know first hand the power and influence of a good public education. My life is a living testimony to what a great public education can do and how it can change the future for generations to come with a single quality experience for one student. Thank God that my teachers stayed and didn’t give up on me or the field. I’m sure they had challenging times too. Without my education, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so my commitment is simply a return on investment.

For those who are leaving or have already left, thank you! Thank you for sharing your minds and hearts with our children, and making a difference where you were and with the children you served. You are truly appreciated, and I feel sure after 23 years in this field that you’ll see a return on your investment when the children whose lives you’ve touched are successful, productive, and contributing citizens of our society. I hope you’ll find a way to continue to support this great and noble profession. We are going to need your support and encouragement!

To those of us who are choosing to stay, I see you! Let’s stick together and do the work that we know makes a difference. No matter what happens in the future, let’s not forget that. I’ll see y’all on the battlefield. We’ve got work to do!

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: There’s A Message In The Mess.

I couldn’t bear to watch the confirmation hearings for Judge Jackson in their entirety. I wanted to, but my heart was troubled by each instance I saw of how she was treated, spoken to, and disrespected. Each day of the hearing, I’d try to watch some of the highlights and read a few articles about the day’s events to see what had transpired. I told myself that less was better to protect my mental and heart health. I needed to know what was happening but I didn’t have to know every detail. But the day that Senator Corey Booker spoke everything changed.

I called my Momma on my way home from work. We were having our usual small talk and mid week check-in conversation when she asked me if I had been keeping up with the hearing. I replied, “Somewhat. It’s just so hard to watch. I don’t know if I can take it.” That’s when Momma corrected me in a way that only she can do. She simply said, “If she can sit there and take it, we can watch it.” That hit me squarely in the heart and the gut. Momma was right. My secondary hurt was nothing compared to what Judge Jackson was enduring. From absolutely illogical and ridiculous questioning to stir the pot of divide to a complete disregard of her credentials and achievements, she was steadfast and unwavering. She responded with dignity, class, and the undeniable intellect that can never be taken away or denied, no matter how she’s treated. I was so moved and so proud of seeing someone who looks like me in that seat, and I especially loved what she said she tells young people: Persevere.

Her experience was a reminder to me, and I’m sure to many others as well. It reminded me that being first and breaking down centuries of denied opportunities is for specially chosen people. I believe that God carefully selects some of us to be publicly brave for a reason. It’s because while our accomplishments may be a part of our purpose, our purpose is so much greater than our accomplishments. What Judge Jackson has endured will pave the way a little smoother for the next candidate of color for the United States Supreme Court. How we treat each other should not rests on any affiliation other than the fact that we all belong to the human race. In the grand scheme of things, we don’t need any other knowledge of anyone to know how to treat and interact with them. Humanity is our shared experience, and that ought to be enough.

When the world feels messy, our purpose must remain clear. That’s the only way one can remain as steadfast Judge Jackson did throughout the hearing. Watching the hearings reminded me that we must not be moved by the evils of this world or some of the people in it. It is our duty to be led by our purpose, regardless of what we experience, and to remain steadfast in that sense we have that God has an intentional reason for our assignment here on earth. When we trust and focus on that, especially when we are exhausted by the actions of others who want to deny our achievements, overlook our accomplishments, and keep us in a position of inferiority, we can do what Judge Jackson said: persevere.

Momma made me realize that while I found much of the hearing to be a collective grieving experience for Black women, there was also collective joy, and the bad should never overshadow the good. I am so inspired by Judge Jackson and I know without a doubt that millions of us were watching her with the same sparkle in our eyes as her daughter in that now infamous photo taken during the hearing. We are proud. We are inspired, and we are hopeful.

Thank you Momma, and Thank you Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

About That TPT Tweet

So I tweeted this one day last week…

The next morning I woke up to quite a bit of activity to this tweet. Reactions ranged from overwhelming agreement to absolute dissent. Some people saw my tweet as me shaming and judging teachers in a negative light, and others informed me that I clearly was not connected to what teachers are experiencing right now. Luckily, I’ve got thick skin and a great sense of humor, and in spite of those who thought I was shaming and judging teachers, I’m still glad to have started a conversation we clearly need to have in the teaching community. Before I go on to give further explanation on my thoughts and opinions behind this tweet, let’s define curriculum for the purposes of our discussion. Here’s a definition I really like:


“Curriculum is a standards-based sequence of planned experiences where students practice and achieve proficiency in content and applied learning skills. Curriculum is the central guide for all educators as to what is essential for teaching and learning, so that every student has access to rigorous academic experiences. The structure, organization, and considerations in a curriculum are created in order to enhance student learning and facilitate instruction. Curriculum must include the necessary goals, methods, materials and assessments to effectively support instruction and learning.

Rhode Island Department of Education

You may have noticed some of the things I did NOT tweet: 1. TPT is bad. 2. Teachers should not use TPT. 3. Teachers need to create their own curriculum. 4. Teachers who use TPT should feel ashamed. 5. Teachers who use TPT are ineffective practitioners who do not vet the things they utilize to design learning experiences for their students. I felt the need to make sure I shared what wasn’t said to perhaps clear up some of what has been assumed. Now, here’s my view of TPT and the impact on our professional work, and yes-it’s my opinion, so it’s o.k. if you don’t agree with it. I just felt the need to expand on my thinking 8,000+ likes later.

TPT is dangerously convenient. Before you decide to blast my Twitter feed because you think I am being judgmental or shaming teachers (so not me) just hear me out for a minute. Like anything else that makes designing learning experiences for our students feel easy, supplemental resources from textbook publishers included, we have to be careful about what we use to teach students what they should know and be able to do and how we use what we’ve selected. As academic practitioners, we must be critical consumers of ALL curricular resources, and not be driven to rely on sources that are designed with convenience, rather than quality, in mind. While many educators may vet what they select, the source itself has no vetting mechanism, and that is something I find troublesome. While I imagine that to be true, that’s not the point I am making here. Collecting unvetted resources and then putting them out to be shared and utilized regardless of quality isn’t very responsible of the source. There is no repository of content for sell, regardless of quality or effectiveness, in any other professional sector. Lawyers don’t have a LPL website to purchase written briefs do they? Architects aren’t buying blueprints from one another on an APA site? And no-we are not lawyers or architects, but we are professionals and I don’t think expecting some system of vetting to improve quality and effectiveness is an unreasonable expectation. Now I get it- TPT is a brilliant brain child of someone who is an entrepreneurial genius. Clearly. Essentially, someone has monetized the most critical aspect of our work: selecting what and determining how we will teach students the content and skills they need to know for any specified course of study. While I know first hand what it is like to work in an under resourced school or school system, and how difficult it can be to find quality curricular materials, I still don’t believe the quality of curriculum should be compromised, and more importantly, I don’t hold schools and districts responsible for this. The problem is so much larger. I believe unequivocally that state and federal legislators and policy makers need to sufficiently fund schools and adequately compensate teachers. No educator deserves to have to piecemeal a curriculum and no student in our public education system in this country deserves a piecemeal learning experience. If the nation cares for its children the way it should and proclaims it does, we must invest in public education in the right ways that result in adequately compensated educators and properly served children. As a public educator, I exercise this belief every time I select a candidate for a local, state, or national office. That’s why I vote with public education, students and educators, in mind every time I step in a voting booth.

Secondly, TPT as it is structured currently, can be a deterrent to building collective efficacy. Professional collaboration around the design of teaching, learning, and assessment experiences is an effective practice for improving teacher practice and student learning. Entering the arena of selling your instructional materials that were specifically designed for your students to meet their specific needs might make an educator some much needed extra money, but it also might cause educators not to share the load with their colleagues. It forces a sort of “my stuff” mindset. Many folks commented in the response to my tweet how they have had their work or known someone who had had their work essentially “stolen” and posted to TPT without their permission. They were also lots of mentions of plagiarism as well. Now I am clear that TPT isn’t the only reason why collaboration around the work can be a challenge for many department and/or grade level teams. There are all kinds of factors that impact that: time to collaborate, ability to build strong professional relationships with colleagues, trust, etc. I know that is a multi-faceted challenge. I just don’t know that TPT helps that kind of challenge, and I believe that the power of our work is in our collective ability to do it together. I whole heartedly agree that teachers need time to work together, support to do so effectively, and high quality resources to impact student learning in positive ways. I recognize that these things aren’t always present for educators, with or without TPT in the mix, but they certainly should be whenever possible. Collective efficacy has been deemed one of the key elements in the public education space for improving teaching practices, assessment design, and student learning. I believe it to be a critical aspect of our work as educators.

I can only speak to my experiences, and I can say without a doubt that I’ve witnessed misuse of curricular resources, TPT and others alike, as I am sure many of us have. I think that misuse, however, is rooted in convenience and capitalizes on the nation’s failure to invest in public education and teachers they way it should. When we make our selections for curricular resources having prioritized convenience rather than quality and effectiveness, I find myself concerned. Our students deserve a well-designed and high-quality learning experience that meets their needs and helps them reach their full potential. As practitioners, it is our professional duty to ensure that we are critical consumers of any curricular materials or resources that we use to provide our students with learning experiences they need and deserve. I believe that is likely the intention that the majority of educators have, yet I also know that our intentions are not always aligned to what we execute in our daily practices. We must be intentional and deliberate in our work because the work we do matters that much.

Finally, I realize that most of the people who responded to my tweet, positively or in dissent, don’t know me. But for the people who do know me, I mean really know me, and have worked with me as a teacher, principal, state level education leader, & instructional leader in my current district, they know this about me: I would never shame teachers. I love this profession too much to do that, and it’s just not who I am at all. I’ve dedicated 23 years of my life to public education, and I plan to fulfill my mission to have a complete career in public education until I retire. If anyone who read that tweet or reads this blog feels judged or shamed, allow me to issue you an apology: I am sorry to have made you feel that way. It certainly was not my goal.

I believe in public education and am passionate about this work because of how public education changed my life. Perhaps that’s a story for another day, but know this: I’ll never stop pushing for excellence in all we do in our work. Our children deserve it.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Make Up Your Own Mind

There’s power in a made up mind. My Momma was sure to emphasize to us as young children that we were to think for ourselves. Momma used to tell us all the time, “You’ve got your own mind. Think for yourself.” She wanted to emphasize to us that our decisions ultimately should rest on what we believed in our hearts and minds, and encourage us to not to “go along to get along” or do or say what everybody else was doing and saying just because it seemed popular. As Momma would simply put it, “You ain’t everybody else, and I ain’t everybody else’s Momma. I’m yours.”

I didn’t quite understand that sentiment until I was much older, and even now it becomes more and more clear to me exactly what she was trying to communicate. I’ve interacted with countless folks who are victims to peer pressure, children and adults alike, making choices and adopting mindsets that belong to somebody else, so much so that when pressed with the question of why they believe what they say they believe or think what they say they think, they can’t articulate it. Momma’s rearing and words have given me a sense of security that I don’t think I could have ever developed on my own. I don’t mind being the odd man out or being thought of as different. I’m fact, I find it incredibly freeing to not be the victim of other people’s expectations, beliefs, and ideas of who it is I should be. It isn’t always easy to operate like this, but it’s far easier than the alternative-being someone I am not.

Mommas words, “You’ve got your own mind. Think for yourself,” have helped me to not succumb to the societal pressures of life or to make any attempt to be who others think I should be when their ideas are contrary to my own. Instead, I’ve been focused on being who I am, as authentically as I can, and continue to focus on this as life progresses. I’ve watched many of my adult friends fall victim to worrying about what others might think and making decisions in response to that false limitation rather than their real life. I see how much the need to belong can get conflated with wanting to fit in when people aren’t clear about who they are and what they believe. I’ve watched people try to feel internal gaping holes in their heart and soul with surface level friendships and doing things they really don’t want to do but feel like they need to do. I’ve watched people battle between public personas and private desires, living a life that they believe to be approved by others although they find themselves unhappy more times than not. Seems age does not make one immune to the peer pressures of life after all, despite often being articulated as teenage problem. Thinking for one’s self is a necessary prerequisite for living as one’s authentic self.

I didn’t always value Momma’s teachings as I was growing up, and I often wondered why she found it necessary to say the same things over and over and over again. I get it now. She wanted to make sure we heard it, processed it, and gathered meaning from it. There were so many times I am sure she found herself uncertain as to whether or not I was listening, but clearly, I took it all in, and am so grateful that I did.

In this season of my life, I am focused on living more authentically each and every day, aligning all that I say and do, with my heart and mind. I want to be sure that my thoughts are my own and my decisions are not driven by what others might think, but by MY purpose, even if others do not understand it. No matter what I experience, whether it be rejection. criticism, or affirmation, I hope I always remember what Momma said, “You’ve got your own mind. Think for yourself. You ain’t everybody else,” and my goal is to live, work, and love accordingly! I got my mind made up because that’s where the power is!

Y’all be easy!

Latoya

Family Lessons: Be Ready When Your Name Is Called

Growing up in Black southern Baptist church comes with a lot of traditions. In August, we have revival, also known as “August Meeting.” From one Sunday to the next Sunday, guest preachers offer a nightly sermon and gospel choirs from all around sing and bring the house down with their talented members. After any service, the parking lot is where you can find people chatting it up, kids running around playing, but being told not to scuff their Sunday shoes, and hear reactions to the sermon. If it’s one of those Sundays, folks might be making their way to the fellowship hall or the basement to eat Sunday lunch. But on Easter Sunday, things are just a little bit different.

Easter Sunday was when Momma got us a new dress and new shoes. It’s when everyone wore their very best to church, kind of like dressing up for Jesus. It’s also when every kid had an Easter speech memorized and went to the front of the church to recite it. We’d practice for a week reciting our Easter speech which had been given to us by the person who worked with the youth. As you got older, the speech got longer, but there was one rule back then: No reading from the paper. You had to memorize it, and even if you missed a word or two people would give you a “mighty hand clap” and a few good Amens. Walking in to church on Easter morning was a bit stressful, so it was good to be dressed up in your new digs. You never knew the order of the program so as Momma would say, “Pay attention and be ready when your name is called.”

That lesson-“Pay attention and be ready when your name is called,” has stuck with me. Despite our efforts to try to predict life’s events and the order in which we think they should occur, we can’t. We don’t know when the next opportunity is coming, and that’s ok. Our job isn’t to have some exact linear progression of what we do in life from one step to the next, and for those of us who have a need to feel like we’re in control of something, this can be difficult. Our job is simple. No matter what is going on around us, we all better be ready when our name is called.

I’m sure many people reading this might think I’m referencing professional opportunities, but the truth is I’m referencing any opportunity. An opportunity to speak the truth, to offer a perspective to someone that they may not have otherwise, to make a difference, right a wrong, extend mercy, offer grace, or promote justice-whatever it is, it’s important we do what Momma would tell us every Easter Sunday-“Pay attention and be ready when your name is called.”

I can’t predict what life holds for my future, and neither can anyone else. I don’t know what the next minute will look like, let alone the next day, month, or year, but in this season of life, I’ve got a strong feeling that I need to take Momma’s directions seriously. My goal isn’t to try and predict what might happen. No matter what I encounter, I have just one job: Pay attention and be ready when my name is called, because that’s how I can make sure I fulfill my life’s purpose.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Laughter Is As Good As Crying!

When I was a junior in high school, my French teacher called Momma. While I had hoped she would share the news of my good grades, that wasn’t the case. She wanted to let Momma know I’d taken on the role of Class Clown, giving an extra effort to make sure my classmates had humor in their lives. Momma didn’t take to well to that, and she certainly didn’t find it funny. Momma’s reaction to my misbehavior terrified Ms. Fields. I believe my teacher was afraid for my life after disclosing the news to my Momma, who she knew well, having taught both of my older sisters. So much so, that she tried telling Momma that I wasn’t the only one acting up in class. It’s just too bad Momma wasn’t their Momma too, or they too, would have been subject to the discipline I received. It was simple: “Stop. If I get another phone call, you are off the basketball team.” Momma didn’t believe in the three strikes rule. She always said, “it only takes one time to do anything right.” That second call never came, and I got a certificate from Mrs.Fields for good behavior at the end of the semester; a sort of thank you for stopping the disruption of my class with your jokes and silliness.

Over the years, Momma has had to help me learn how and when to utilize my strongest skills and talents. Be a leader. Leaders aren’t bossy. Take pride in your work. Don’t put your name on anything that doesn’t represent your values. Do it right-not fast. Take your time. Don’t rush quality. Do your best. Don’t half do anything. Know when to say what. Timing is everything. Eventually, I learned how to use my humor for good and not disruption. In college, I used it to win a stand up comedy contest and won myself $200.00. I’ve always loved making people laugh, and thanks to Momma, I know that nobody finds disruption funny.

As I’ve matured and endured adulthood, laughter has become very important to me. It’s no different than making sure that I allow myself a good heart washing (cry) when l need one. It’s all about being tender enough to feel AND heal. I’ve used humor to break the tension in a room where everyone was clearly uncomfortable. There’s no greater joy than watching a frown become a smile, a burrowed brow relax, and tears fall from the eyes of someone who has a smile on their face. We all need a good dose of laughter and we need it routinely. Because everything doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be so serious all the time. I’ve yet to find that doom and gloom and grumpiness brings any joy to anyone’s heart.

But laughter can change a tone, open a heart, break the ice, and lower cortisol levels. It’s an important part of living life to the fullest extent possible. My conversations with Momma or my sisters are rarely without laughter. We always find a way to get a good laugh in, and I may or may not be the ring leader in cracking jokes. It’s not being funny that I enjoy; it’s making other people laugh that gives me great joy because I know it will give them the very same.

In a world where every social media feeds and news reel are often filled with all things serious, sad, and some downright scary, we need more laughter in our lives. We need to do the things and spend time with the people who put joy in our hearts. I’m convinced that allowing ourselves to feel joy plays a significant role in our ability to handle tough times, challenges, and move forward with resilience when we most need it. It’s how we stay hopeful and push ourselves to get through what we go through, because we know that joy is always on the other side of struggle.

In this phase of life, I’m not trying to avoid crying. I just want to laugh equally as much, because life is too short to not spend as much of it as possible with a smile on my face and joy in my heart!

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: You’re Worried About The Wrong Thing

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,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Check on Your Friends!

Attention: Please replace all your social media where you have posted this phrase: Check on Your Strong Friends!

As a child, I often experienced anxiety and frustration when doing my homework with Momma. This was especially true when Math proved to be a bit challenging for me. Often times in elementary school, Momma would offer an alternate way to solve the problem, different than the way my teacher had shown me, and make an attempt to teach me the same method she used. Immediately, I would launch into my routine response, “But that’s not how my teacher said to do it.” In spite of Momma’s working with me and emphasizing that it was safe to solve the problem in the way she had shown me, I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. In my 8-year-old mind, it was wrong, and I didn’t have the skills or the experience to work through what I was feeling. Momma did a lot of talking to get me through those moments. She wouldn’t let me lash out, and in other moments, when she suspected I was keeping something bottled up inside, she wouldn’t let me keep it in either. Momma’s way, one which I have grown to treasure, was to talk. We talked about the hard things and we talked through the harder ones. We didn’t avoid what was emotionally strenuous. We dealt with it head on and talked until we felt better. We still do.

What I appreciate the most about being raised this way is that I’ve been blessed enough to recognize when I need someone to talk to, and that my need is not a disservice to the love I have for Jesus in my heart or a symbol of me lacking faith. As my sister would say, “Everybody needs to lay on somebody’s couch and talk sometimes.” In my early 20’s I went to counseling. I found myself at a point where I couldn’t help myself work through the anxiety and depression I was experiencing. For three years, my counselor, Gus worked with me, listened to me, and helped me get back to a healthy mindset and healthy heart place. I am forever grateful for his support, and I am not ashamed to say I needed help. I am quite the opposite, and most thankful that I got the help when I needed it.

As I’ve worked my way through life, and on to adulthood, I’ve often had others tell me how strong I seem, that my personality is bold, and because of that it has sometimes been assumed that I am not tender. As I have moved into leadership roles, I’ve found this to be especially true for me, and countless other Black colleagues, who also are in leadership roles. Just as some people are given an automatic level of credibility, and assumed to be kind, we are often assumed to be just the opposite. Words like intimidating, bold, and forward come to mind. Our self-confidence is unexpected, and because of that, it is often interpreted as aggressive. As I’ve thought long and hard about the deaths of Chelsie Kryst and Ian Alexander, Jr., and watched other people’s commentary on their deaths, I’ve felt compelled to write this blog post. Both were described as pure sunshine, talented, and warm. It’s apparent that both touched the lives of so many people. My heart breaks for their Mothers, Fathers, family, and friends who knew and still love them. For those of us who are outsiders, I offer this sentiment: There is no such thing as strong friends.

We are all human, and because of that we are all weak (at some points and in some ways). The fallacy of “Check on your strong friends” creates an illusion that our work is in determining who is strong and who is weak. Let me be clear: This is a false narrative. Check on ALL of your friends. We do not know what people carry internally and, no matter how strong you think someone is, your perception isn’t what needs to be the measuring stick against someone else’s needs. Secondly, “Check on your strong friends,” is the epitome of passing judgement. Who are you (myself included) to declare anyone as strong? Does that mean everyone else who you don’t deem as strong is weak? And what does that even mean? If you care about someone, talk to them. Call them. Visit them. Connect with them. And most importantly, make it safe for them to talk to you-without your judgement or moral assessment of how they should be doing or what they need to do.

There are battles we all fight that are lodged between our rib cages and our hearts. Some we find the courage to speak aloud, while others we do not. The human condition is weak. Over time, and if we live long enough, our bodies deteriorate, our minds slow, and our hearts eventually stop beating. It is only our souls that are strong enough to last for an eternity. There are no strong friends; there are only strong souls.

Each and every day, I am working to suspend judgement. I want to love without condition, and make it safe enough for others to know that about me without me ever saying a word. It is a work in progress, because just like you, I am human, and I am weak. Judging others is easy. Loving others is harder. I pray that love will always and forever be my guide, and I hope it will be yours as well.

Y’all be easy.

Latoya

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