Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA
Dan lives and teaches in Los Angeles. Over his nine years in the classroom, he has taught 4th through 8th grade, and in his free time he probably watches more cartoons than most of his students. He also enjoys poetry, critical race theory, and Kendrick Lamar.
Ah, summer. Sweet, sweet summertime. A time for relaxation and peace, for lengthy samurai novels and Bruce Lee movie binges.
A time for families to be separated, violent crimes to rise, celebrities to kill themselves, the Supreme Court to legitimize inhumane practices, the openness of the internet to succumb to the inevitable pressure of capitalism.
Hurray for summer.
I always appreciate this break. This year, I desperately needed it. This was a long, emotionally draining year, at the end of which I didn’t know how much more I had to offer. How many times can you hear children say ‘I want to die’ before it no longer burns?
And so I am incredibly grateful for afternoon naps, for waking up early to catch all of the World Cup games, for sitting outside with a beer in the middle of the afternoon (or, in the present moment, late in the morning). Yet, the world stubbornly refuses to relax and abide by a teacher’s schedule. The world keeps happening. As a result, summer is also when I tend to feel most impotent and lost.
These last few weeks have bordered on the surreal. Our president wants his people to respond to him the same way Kim Jong Un’s are forced to respond. Thousands of children have been ripped from their parents and held in cages — but, by the way, says Border Patrol, even though they are technically cages, let’s maybe not use that word? — and, though that may no longer happen, there is still no plan to reunite the families, and there is now a path toward indefinitely detaining entire families in cages and former Wal-Marts. We’ve left the U.N. Human Rights Council. We were never the most conscientious members, but the symbolism stings. And the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court.
This is our country. If history has taught us anything, it’s that this has, more or less, always been our country. We are habitually unjust to the oppressed. We have a lengthy tradition of exclusion and internment. This is us.
History has also taught us that we can fight, and we can be better. This is the pocket where I try to live as a history teacher. Our society is unjust and oppressive, but we are descendants of a long and proud legacy of resistance and love.
Lately, it’s been a lot easier for me to tap into anger than love. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. Venting brings me no relief. Phone calls and marches, though I do both, never feel like enough. I make meaning of myself and the world through teaching. I process current events with the kids in my classroom. It’s where I find hope and where I feel useful. I can’t teach right now. I also realize that I really, really need to take a break from thinking about teaching right now. I need to breathe.
When I was younger, my anger was enough to give me energy and push me through. It isn’t anymore. It probably never should have been. If I’m going to be my best come August, I need to let myself heal.
This work is consuming. We’re never good enough. We never do enough. We never see enough, hear enough, speak enough, listen enough. There’s always more to learn, more to plan, more to systematize, more to refine, more to interrogate. This work will consume you, if you let it.
We can’t do this work if we burn ourselves out of oxygen, be it through anger or passion. What I’m trying to let myself learn this summer is that it’s okay to feel impatient. It’s okay to spend time with discomfort. It’s okay to sit with my feelings and thoughts. It’s okay to heal.
Whatever you’re doing this summer — whether you’re working summer school, planting a garden, or sleeping and watching Netflix — please, please, let yourself heal. I know it’s hard, considering what’s happening in the world. If you’re anything like me, then teaching is part of your healing process. That’s fine (I tell myself), as long as it isn’t everything. We are, all of us, gloriously multifaceted. When we let what we do define us, when we let what makes us angry control us, we limit our humanity. This, in turn, limits our effectiveness as educators — and partners and parents and siblings and friends.
And so, as I watch the news and fume or phone Congress and feel impotent, I am simultaneously plotting new ways to teach civic engagement and finding new comics to read. I’m learning more about the origins of human rights so that I’m better able to teach them, but I’m also going for walks and letting myself process. I’m watching documentaries I might want to show in class, but I also just watched Power Rangers. I’m letting my mind wonder and wander and seeing where it takes me. I’m spending a lot of time with Walter Benjamin and the Bhagavad Gita. My theory is that the more whole I am as a person, the better I’ll be as a teacher.
I don’t know if any of this will make me a better person, but it feels right, and so I’m listening. If it does, if it helps me heal, then I’ll be better for it and able to keep growing when the school year starts. If it doesn’t, well, at least I watched Power Rangers.