DATE

October 19, 2021

AUTHOR

Sean Hamilton

CATEGORIES

Teachers

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This is Part 2 of a two part series created by Sean, one of our first RPIA educators. In his first blog post, Sean wrote about the radical power of creating spaces for unscripted student voice in the classroom and the culture. You can read the first part of his post at: Scream from the Top of Your Lungs: Centering Student Voice in the Culture

I did not intend this to be a “teaching during COVID” writing. But because I can only write from my perspective, I cannot help but think about how the concept of restoration can hold space within our now virtual learning environments. Despite that “the return” to in-person instruction may be on the horizon, many of our students have experienced deep wounds that cannot be neglected. These wounds are numerous and inhabit even further spaces within our new pedagogical contexts. My biggest fear is that “the return” will bring about a false sense of normalcy that may shift adult thinking into returning to the pre-pandemic status quo. In no way was it normal before and I certainly do not want to return to “normal” myself.

Normal was not what was best for students then and is most definitely not now. We are on the precipice of an alternative, an opportunity to not to restore what was before, but to transform it with our students–to collectively radicalize our understanding of the purposes of education, of people. I have no confidence in my ability to predict the future but can I anticipate the amount of healing that may be required for students to reach a place of claiming their spaces after being confined to learning from a computer screen. After all, we have inhabited the cold clutch of e-learning for almost a year now in place of the much-needed human connections. These connections, I fear, are often the first to be scrapped in lieu of focusing on “academics” within the prior normal.

Personally standing at this precipice, staring at a screen of empty boxes who fill my classes as stand-ins for students, I have realized just how little I know. I have always firmly believed that centering student voice is essential to teaching and the role of the educator is to facilitate student reclamation and harnessing of power. So I have found myself in reflection about this liminal space in which we inhabit, anticipating the return while remaining virtually (dis)connected. I now find myself asking questions more than determining answers.

  • What is my role as a teacher in our current context?
  • How can I establish a space of criticality, serenity, and most importantly, healing?
  • In what ways can I engage those who have the deepest wounds? Who have hidden wounds?
  • How am I currently centering students within our learning spaces to get the most out of our limited ability to connect on a human level?
  • How do I maintain a place of harnessing power in a seemingly powerless situation?
  • What is important right now to my students?
  • How do I maintain a place of hope?

Arguably, these questions are imperfect and incomplete, but they were very much a part of my daily process even before COVID. They are ever more amplified now, taking up space in my head, guiding my practice. My hope is that the answers to these questions can be seen playing out within our classroom, if even behind the blank boxes. Again, not every day is successful, and that is okay.

I have been called a radical teacher in the past, and I am unsure if that is a title I can fully claim or even grapple with mostly because the validity of the statement is out of reach. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have researched and considered the term radical and how this applies to the work we do in the classroom. If we take the idea of calling for “extreme change” as our root for radical, perhaps more teachers, parents, and students should embrace a radical shift away from the prior normal. Perhaps I, too, resonate with this understanding. But is it really that radical of an idea to call for spaces of healing? And does a space need to be (re)claimed by students to invite healing to occur? To borrow a quote from Raymond Williams, “to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”. We must make hope possible and think that can only be done through intensive healing efforts. .

In September, I greeted many familiar faces to our new virtual school environment. Many of these students chose to enroll in our class again for a subsequent year. For many of these students, space is important. I asked my students, in honor of our incomplete pre-pandemic performance, to symbolically claim our virtual space as their own. In unison, students unmuted their mics and created whatever sound spoke to them in the moment. Together, they orchestrated a beautifully chaotic auditory experience of scrapes, voices, and banging that very much resembled our contemporary lives. It is imperfect and incomplete and lasted only but a moment. It was not the audio recording that was the product, but the moment in which we were together creating something that had no limits, even within our limited and disconnected spaces. Together, we had hope. The audio recording does not show that students were beaming in absolute delight. That part was only for us to experience.

And so despite that no student will probably read this writing, I hope that they know how powerful they actually are, even if right now it doesn’t feel like that. I hope that they know that more and more educators are (and should be) seeking to create a space of healing, to combat the prior normal, to radicalize. Teachers, parents, communities must also be unafraid to make their voices heard. But most importantly, I hope that my students will be able to scream.

Because no ideas are mine, I like to end by paying homage to a greater thinker than I. I hope that it resonates with teachers and students alike. As “self-described black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who is one of my many heroes reclaiming spaces, Audre Lorde reminds us, “your silence will not protect you”. So please, scream from the top of your lungs.