Teaching Profession Opinion

Riding the Wave of Change

By Christina Torres — December 30, 2018 4 min read
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Growing up in Southern California and living in Hawai’i, I have a bit of a confession: I have still never surfed.

Embarassing I know, and I swear—as I do every year—that I’ll finally try it. I love the ocean, but it’s a bit daunting. While it is, at times, beautiful and serene, the majesty and power it possesses is awesome to behold, but scary to live through.

This year, I’ve learned quite a bit more about surfing. Something I never realized was how much work goes into catching a great set. Surfing at a decent level requires quite a bit of knowledge about land, water and sky: Going out means considering how wind patterns will affect swells and wave shape, what that storm in Russia means for oceanic movement on our shores, where the tide is at and where it will be in a few hours, and whether your break is built off a sandbar or a reef.

At the end of the day, though, and with all that knowledge, once you’re in the path of the wave, you’re in it. All you can do is either try and ride that wave well or duck under and hope not to get tossed around too badly.

Winter is big-wave season in Hawai’i, and with it has come a lot of time to watch the waves and think about the past year. As the holiday season dwindles down and the new year approaches, it’s important to take stock of what has happened. As many folks discussed in this month’s #EduColor chat, reflection is an essential piece of our growth as educators.

I looked back at last year’s reflection and was struck by this line:

The tide is slowly turning, and we need to start embodying that in our classrooms as well as our hearts. Change only happens when we actually believe things can be different, and the best way to show that belief is to put it into action.

While there are still many struggles to face in the world, I cannot help but see signs of hope for our future. We have seen monumental firsts in our political systems and students and families stand up for their right to important educational foundations. Real history is beginning to make its way into schools, and more and more books have diverse representation and share important messages for our kids.

Change never happens as quickly as we’d like, of course. As much as I have hope, I struggle. When I saw a video of Andrew Johnson’s hair being cut, I struggled, and was reminded of how much work needs to be done.

Yet it would be wrong to ignore the fact that the wave of change is here upon us, and if we give students and communities their just due, they will lead us to ride a powerful force to something much bigger than ourselves.

That wave can feel scary sometimes. Change can feel daunting, and there is often a wall of work—practical and internal—that comes with change, and feeling it crash down on us can be overwhelming.

We have two options, though: We can try and duck away from that work and let our students get tossed around by our educational system without the proper skills to swim through them; or we can do our best to educate ourselves, educate our students, and use that work to power us forward to a better and more beautiful place for our communities. It’s no longer a question of whether or not we should do that work, it’s whether or not we are willing to invest in it for the betterment of our kids.

Because here’s the important break in my ocean allegory: Unlike the ocean, we have power and control over what happens. We do not have to passively accept the condition of our environment or what that storm across the way will do to us. We can be the ones to make change. We can choose how we react, what we say, and the actions we take in our classrooms and at our schools. When we shape our own beliefs and mindsets around our profession, we take steps to create a more just world for the next generation.

And what is more powerful than that?

So, as we move into 2019, we can make the commitment to learn new things, help make big waves, and better ride them toward what’s next. That will mean asking ourselves important and, at times, difficult questions:

  • Whose voices are centered in my work, and does it need to be mine?
  • Who am I representing in my classroom, and what are those representations saying about my students, their community, and other communities and cultures I want to share with my students?
  • Where am I complicit in systems of oppression? How can I begin giving up my own privilege to give access and voice to others?
  • What are my areas for growth, and who can I learn from to help me grow?

It also means, though, focusing on where we have thrived and hoping to level up on those wins:

  • How can I cultivate stronger and more meaningful relationships with my students and community?
  • Where have I succeeded with my students, and how can I share our success to shout out their brilliance and help others?
  • How have I grown as an educator in my mindsets, and how can I use my growth to model and support others as they grow?

The work is hard, yes, but I believe that it is truly working. What may seem like ripples in our classrooms is having larger and grander affects in our world. Now is the time to take a breath and look forward to what comes next.

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.