I’ve decided to end Season 12 of the Truth for Teachers podcast early, for reasons that will be apparent as I share what’s on my heart. I will not be back with another episode until at least January 2021.
This is a deeply personal podcast episode/blog post, so if you’re new here, I encourage you to revisit some of the previous ones that are probably going to be more helpful and along the lines of what you’re hoping to get from the podcast.
This one is going to be kind of all over the place, part inspirational, part confessional, part political, part visionary.
I’ve thought carefully about what message I want to end the season on, particularly since we have an election coming up here in the U.S. soon, and talk about it will continue to consume our news and social media interactions for weeks. I’m going to talk about the election toward the end of this episode — I know some folks don’t have the bandwidth right now to think about that so you can turn it off when I get to that part if you need to for your mental health.
But I don’t feel like I could have a platform this size and not address the most consequential election in my lifetime. Do you know the average Truth for Teachers episode now gets 25,000 downloads? That fact just blows my mind, that each time I step into my closet and that it’s too small to be a recording studio but is in fact my recording studio and turn on this mic. It’s the equivalent of a stadium with 25,000 educators gathered around to listen to me speak.
That fact is so humbling to me — it’s a lot of influence and I think that means a lot of responsibility — which is why I try to think through the topic each week really carefully and make sure I am putting the right ideas into the world. The ideas that I think are going to best equip teachers to raise this next generation of young learners.
And when I think about the ideas I want to leave you with here in October 2020, knowing that I won’t officially or formally be back with another episode until 2021 … these are the thoughts I hope will stay with you during that time.
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Finding the small good things
A foundational practice for me right now is finding the small good things.
This is a time when we are all stressed and exhausted, which has been true for a lifetime for most folks, just for different reasons than before the pandemic. There are new challenges now, and tempers and patience are short. The politically charged climate and division over how to handle the pandemic creates tension as well.
And again and again, I find myself looking for the small good things. The moments of humanity, the genuine connections with other humans. The connections with animals. The connections with nature.
The small wins are all we’ve got when it feels like we’re not making many big ones. So in the coming weeks especially, I encourage you to practice finding the small good things.
Actively seek out, talk about, recall, and savor those moments which will help you hold onto hope of better days ahead. They will refuel you and re-energize you. They will keep you afloat when you feel like you’re sinking.
Taking the next right steps
Many of the challenges we’re facing right now seem insurmountable and they’re things we’ve never had to do before. If you’re used to planning ahead, the uncertainty in every area right now can be very anxiety-provoking.
And when I feel that way, I try to remind myself:
Angela, just take the next right steps. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, right? Just the step in front of you. When you do that, the next step will be visible, and you can take that one. One step at a time, trusting that the following step will appear when you arrive at it.
Remember this when you are overwhelmed by everything that’s on your plate and everything troubling you in the world.
You don’t have to know what’s going to happen next year or even next week. Just focus on taking the next right step.
These are the types of thoughts that are grounding me right now, and helping me to keep pushing forward: find the small good things and take the next right step. Because these are heavy times.
What my family’s been experiencing since March
I don’t like to talk much about what I am going through personally because I know everyone has their own challenges, and frankly, I have the privilege of working from home at a time when a lot of folks listening to this are risking their lives going to work every day, or wishing they even had a job. I have many types of privilege right now that others don’t have.
But I will share that these last seven months since COVID emerged have pushed me past my breaking point many times.
My husband’s been out of work — he’s a musician and owns an entertainment company in Brooklyn, which is pretty much the last place and industry that will get back to whatever a new normal will look like.
We’ve had three family members get so sick with COVID that they had to be on ventilators for a month, and ended up losing one of my husband’s aunts and could not bury her because the morgues and funeral homes were so overloaded.
On top of that, my mother-in-law entered the advanced stages of dementia, and then passed away a few weeks ago. We were able to hold a funeral for her but I would not wish a COVID-era funeral in New York on anyone, we could only have 25 people in the room and had to sit 6 feet apart during the service and wear masks. It was not the grand homegoing celebration she deserved and we’ve been unable to properly grieve any of the many losses of friends, families, and neighbors we’ve experienced.
Exacerbating this pain are the COVID-deniers, who think the whole thing is a hoax and overblown and we don’t need to take any precautions, like losing a loved one to lung cancer and having to constantly hear folks saying, “Cancer’s not that bad — most people survive it.” None of that will bring back the folks we’ve lost.
My experience with heightened anxiety and depression
This is just a small window into what has been happening in my world lately.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression and the challenges with this pandemic have pushed me back onto medication after nearly 12 years of being off it. (I originally weaned myself off — under my doctor’s supervision, via a very long and gradual process — for the purpose of attempting to conceive. I didn’t get pregnant and am no longer trying, yet it didn’t occur to me until this summer that medication for depression was once again an option for me.)
I like to plan ahead, I like to have certainty, I like to have routines, and I like to have freedom. All of that has been difficult with COVID and pushed some of my biggest trigger buttons.
Being on an antianxiety and antidepressant — for those who are wondering, I now take 50MG of Zoloft — has helped tremendously. The lows are not nearly as low with the depression and I no longer feel hopeless.
The anxiety is also a lot better — I’m much more laid back, although also less motivated and productive, so it’s been a lot to adjust to.
The need for a time of silence, observation, and going inward
Right now for me, this is a time of going inward, and being silent. As I mentioned, I’m ending this podcast season early and taking a longer break between podcast seasons — I usually take 6 weeks off over the winter holidays and I’m going to give myself a few months this year.
And, I’ve withdrawn from social media almost completely. I’m ending my weekly emails for the first time in, I don’t know, 10 years maybe, and healing.
I’m following the lead of Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry and not adding anything else to the 2020 calendar — if I haven’t already committed to it for this year, it’s not happening until next year or maybe not at all, because I’m not in a hurry to pack my schedule for next year either.
And I’m also following her lead in taking a sabbatical. I will be mostly offline for the month of December, as well as most of November, if I can get the rest of my work finished in time without stressing myself out unnecessarily.
This sabbatical will be a time in which I do the least amount of work possible, rest, read, sleep, and heal.
I started teaching in 1999, and spent 11 years in the classroom followed by the past 10 years doing instructional coaching and educational consulting. And that means that every day of my life for the past 20 years, I have woken up thinking about teaching and learning.
Every single day, even in the summer, even on vacation — you know what that’s like. I think about teaching daily, and now I also have a business to run and consider. I have employees and contractors that depend on me for an income.
When you have an online business, the work never ends, and there’s never a day off from it, ever, unless one is intentionally chosen.
I am tired, y’all. I’m just tired of everything, to be honest.
I need a break from thinking about all of it because there are more important things, bigger things I need to process.
There is self-development work I need to complete. There are realizations and transformations I’ve begun but have not fully integrated.
I don’t know exactly what this sabbatical will look like as I’ve never done it, and I don’t want to plan it and schedule it out because I think what I need most is to listen to my body and my intuition each day instead of always making decisions with the mind and intellect.
I will tell you all about this sabbatical process afterward and what I’ve learned. I am observing and processing and regrouping now, with the hope to re-emerge from this little cocoon for myself in a few months with new visions and ideas and energy, and enthusiasm. I want to come back online feeling reinspired and deeply grounded in my purpose and mission.
Who do we want to become on the other side of these challenges?
Until then, I’ve been focusing on the small good things and taking the next right steps.
And, I’ve been thinking about who I want to become through these challenges:
What kind of person do I want to be on the other side of this pandemic? When I look back a few years from now, how do I want this experience to have changed me? What qualities do I want to have developed or strengthened in myself?
I am practicing showing up as my full authentic self in every context. No conforming to what other people expect of me, no pressure to upload the status quo or cultural norms. I’m practicing being honest about how I feel and what I want in my relationships. I’m re-evaluating how I use my time and what’s important.
I hope to come out on the other side of this pandemic feeling less of a need to control and plan, and more of an ability to be mindful and present and look just for the next right steps.
To appreciate the small good things and find them in any circumstance.
To loosen the hold of bad habits and strengthen the habits that bring me more peace and help me show up as the best version of myself.
When all of this is over — when we no longer have to think about the virus any longer — I will for sure still have ME. I cannot guarantee I will have any other person, or possession, or job, or financial asset. None of that is promised in life. But if I am still here, I will have ME.
And I want to be the strongest version of myself, the healthiest version — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — as possible. THAT is something I can return to even when everything else feels out of my control.
I can focus on the person I want to become through this experience.
What kind of leadership is needed right now?
I want to share something else that I hope to have on the other side of this pandemic, and am actively working to help create:
I want to have a country with strong, smart, experienced people in leadership.
You know I like to be as inclusive as possible with this podcast — I don’t like to intentionally alienate people, and I know political talk can be alienating. I also know that I can’t separate my politics from who I am — it’s all part of my worldview, and everything about my life choices, my beliefs, and so on stem from my worldview, from my values.
That’s all this podcast is, an outpouring of the things I believe are important, my truths, the things I care about, and the ideas I believe are good enough to spread in the world.
So I have to share my heart here with you. I would be devastated if Biden doesn’t win this election, not because I’m such a super fan of Biden or believe the Democratic party is so amazing, but because I see how Trump is intentionally and openly dismantling American institutions, and I think it’s incredibly dangerous. I don’t know if our democracy can survive four more years of Trump.
I’m not interested in bashing Trump here, because your opinions on him are probably already decided. I just want to share what my vision is for the future of our country.
I want to see a president that truly wants to lead people who are not his base, people who are not aligned with his worldview, who cares about ALL Americans. I want to see a president who puts the country’s interests ahead of their own financial interest, a person who cares about being decent and caring. I want a president who does not get pleasure from upsetting people who think differently than him, a president who doesn’t thrive on creating an “us vs them” narrative, who doesn’t bate people on social media, rehash old grudges constantly, or center himself in every conversation to make himself look good.
These characteristics were a given for our past presidents — we all used to agree they were important — and these things are still important.
More than anything, I want (and I believe we should all want) a president who surrounds themselves with smart people and listens to good counsel. I want to see experts leading in our government and have their expertise respected. I want people running our agencies who believe in the fundamental mission of those agencies rather than trying to make everything to maximize corporate and private profits.
I want the head of the Department of Education to believe in the necessity of public education. I want the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to believe in the necessity of protecting the environment. I want the head of the postal service to believe in the necessity of a functional mail system.
These did not use to be controversial viewpoints.
I believe the role of government is to serve the people, so you can’t run it like a business. The goal isn’t to make or even save money. It’s to serve the people. All of the people, not just the people who are just like you, and all of the time, not just when the wealthiest 1% stand to make a profit from it.
With that as the baseline criteria, only one presidential candidate of our two choices comes even close to meeting the mark. I want experienced people in government with a long track record of public service, a track record of listening to experts and wise counsel rather than making knee-jerk, ego-based reactions. And the only way to get anywhere close to that right now is by electing Biden.
Whatever happens in the coming months, we all still need to live together
But that’s not the full solution. We have a situation in which a good percentage of the country is terrified of what will happen if Biden is elected and another good percentage terrified of what will happen if Trump is re-elected.
There is a lot of fear right now, and choices made from a place of fear are rarely the wisest ones.
A fact that’s been heavily on my heart in recent weeks is that we will all still need to live together as Americans.
There may be some folks listening to this who think I didn’t go hard enough here and speak about policies and specific types of racial and social justice. But what I stand for is evident in every single 200+ episode of Truth for Teachers, if you’re a dedicated listener, you know who I am, and I can’t imagine anyone here is surprised that I’m voting Democratic.
This does not feel like a moment for me to push away people who think differently.
I believe my role in this moment is to remind folks we still have to share this country and live together. We have to find ways to create space for every person here to have equal rights and opportunities, regardless of who is elected.
We might not see eye-to-eye on specific issues, and we probably never will. I also don’t think we need to. There will always be people on the right tugging policy that way, and folks on the left tugging there.
The common ground, I hope, is wanting to uphold rather than tear down American institutions. Or in some cases, we want to tear down things that don’t serve all the people and rebuild with a more just and equitable society but never tear down with the intent to replace with systems that still marginalize, discriminate, or keep all the wealth to just a handful of people.
As teachers, I hope we all share the belief that a free, high-quality public education is the right of every American, and we deserve national leadership that believes in that vision and wants to see our public school system succeed.
So, the next right step for our nation — in my view — is to place someone who is qualified to lead and whose goal is to be decent, empathetic, and unite the American people. I believe the divisiveness, hatefulness, and despicable social media circus we’re living in will eventually be better under a Biden/Harris ticket.
With any election outcome, I will still continue to stand for these values of unity and equality, and find ways to bring us together in a push for a more just America.
That’s my truth. And these are the thoughts I will leave you with until the podcast returns with season 13 in 2021:
Find the small good things.
Take the next right steps.
Focus on who you want to become through the remainder of this pandemic. What kind of person will you be on the other side of these challenging times?
What kind of schools do we want to have?
What kind of nation do we want to be?
There is a lot of heaviness now, but better days are ahead — this I believe with all my heart. Sending you all love and support, until next time.
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