“A free person retains her power, her right to self-determination, her opportunity to flourish, her ability to love and to be loved, and her capacity for hope. . . I am calling on all educators —those in our classrooms, in our homes, and on our streets — to embrace and to respond to the urgency of our collective need to teach love and to learn freedom.”
I’ve been off my public writing game for nearly two months. At first I thought it was the busyness of parent-teacher and professional conference season, fall holidays, and just plain old having to teach 19 tiny humans. But when I decided to be honest with myself, I realized that I was struggling with situational depression. I have seen some very dark days in my lifetime. There have been days when I could barely muster enough emotional energy to get out of bed and force myself through a school day. Because “situations.”
This wasn’t that. I wasn’t that sad, which is exactly what made me shrug it off. “Girl, your hair isn’t falling out of your head. No one who you’ve given up your entire way of being for has told you that they ‘don’t have time to be a positive force in your life!’ Get up and go see about those babies.” But that was just it. Seeing about the babies was wearing me down.
Every single day of my teaching life is an act of resistance. My convictions to live and teach with authenticity require me to show up prepared to teach children, yes, but I must also bring my sword and shield so we’re prepared to defend ourselves against the many things that get in the way of our learning from one another. Sometimes all of this makes me so weary that even my copious reserves of energy, patience, grace, and unconditional love get depleted and I cannot find my way.
Most people would have you believe that teaching children of color who experience poverty is hard because of the children. Nope. That’s a lie. (It’s societal systems, including and beyond the institution of school, but that’s another blog post.) The children are a healing oil running down my brow. And I don’t have to ask them for what I need. They don’t say, “Call us if you need anything,” or “Let us know if you want us to drop by, if you need some company.” They just show up, unannounced, with exactly what you need.
On Wednesday, a woman child gave me a simple gift. She left a note in my mailbox that read:
I Love you
Ticket for Love!
Wait. What?! A “Ticket for Love?” What do I get when I redeem this?
I had a lot of questions. But I was also enchanted. D got me thinking. . .
I wonder what would happen if I made tickets for love? What if I put a basket of blank hearts out and invited the other children to write tickets for love? What would they do with such a provocation?
I had to know. On Thursday I asked D for permission to share her note with our friends and, with her permission, offered this provocation to the entire class. They too were enchanted. When we asked D how the “Ticket for Love” worked, what happens when the ticket is redeemed, she said that she had been wanting to give me a book she knew I would love and thought the ticket would be a fun way to surprise me. We wondered aloud together if a ticket had to yield something tangible or if there were other ways of expressing our love for one another, or if we could even ask the recipient what they would like to receive.
After inviting the children to a display where I’d placed blank hearts, Sharpie markers, baskets for holding the blank and redeemed tickets, and the book Everyone Says I Love You, tickets for love started being written immediately. They showed up in children’s personal boxes (and mine) all day.
The love flowing through the room brought us a new energy. Watching the children redeem the tickets for hugs, high fives, words of affirmation and so much more was really a sight to behold.
One man child waited until after the other children departed for the day to place a ticket in his best friend’s box. “I didn’t want him to see me put it in there,” he said. After he left, I violated his seven year-old trust and took a peek:
You’re always it for tag so I’ll try not to.
Your Bro J
And by their love — for me, but especially one another — I was healed. Instantly. Because the children had led me back to the truth, the few simple beliefs that guide my work with them:
I believe vulnerability is the rarely beaten pathway to happiness so I will allow myself to be seen.
I believe children are fully realized human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect so I will listen to them in wonderment and with joyful expectation.
I believe childhood is a unique stage of the human experience that demands mindful presence now, so I will gaze at children with awe and protect their right to experience learning and life as they are, as children, rather than who I hope they will become.
I believe that the world I hope will exist for children grown into adults when all that is left of me is a legacy must be created by them right now in democratic classrooms, schools, and homes that permit children to embrace a radical imagination, and where they do more than learn about freedom and love; they live it.
Being authentic means living our truths. Children are my truth. And it is their simple gifts, even on the darkest of days, that set me free.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.