Giving Birth to My Son Taught Me That Change Is Hard. Here Is Why Teachers Must Adapt Anyway.
My son had been home from the NICU for just two weeks as I stood in front of a closet of clothes and shoes that no longer fit, trying to find something to wear to a job interview. A new position supporting instructional technology and innovation was opening in my former school district. I thought I had left for good, but now I felt drawn back. Before my son was born, my work required long hours and frequent travel. After 25 days of sitting next to my tiny baby, hooked up to all the wires and monitors, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. He needed so much from me.
Right now I feel like education is in an era defined more by upheaval than anything else, which is a lot like early parenthood. You wake up every morning utterly exhausted from the night before and keep on moving, but the field of education cannot work like that forever. As law professor john a. powell writes, “The rate and intensity of the change threaten to outpace our ability to adapt. This is widely experienced as stress and anxiety.”
When schools reopened, many thought things would return to normal. I got the job and returned to work in September last year, just as the realization that our first year back to “normal” would not be so normal, at all. Instead, we have been met with bigger challenges. The long-term impacts of the pandemic roil the waters of change for all of us. We are working so hard to address learning disruption, shortages of staff and supplies and the emotional impact of so much change. So many ideas for my new job melted away as I adjusted to reality and started to imagine what the real changes could be.
I learned a lot about adapting to change when I became a mother—the messiness, the difficulty and the necessity. Change can open the door to new possibilities, but we must find a balance between the threat that change will outpace our ability to adapt and our ability to make good on the opportunity change presents.
Education stands on a precipice. We must rise to this moment—our students, communities and colleagues depend on it.
We Must Do This Together
When my son was in the NICU, my mom and mother-in-law would come to the hospital and sit on the cold, hard hospital folding chair in his room to keep us company. In the early days, my phone was filled with supportive and encouraging messages from other parents. Our community wrapped around us during this time and their connection and love built us up.
One of the first lessons I learned as a district administrator was how quickly my decisions impacted other humans. In my first few months on the job, I spent too much time sitting by myself, trying to figure out big problems and come up with perfect solutions. This was foolish and all too common in a profession where we are all stretched so thin. We expect our people to be in our corner in our personal lives, but too often in education, we feel like we have to do it all alone.
Critical connections are essential in my job where instruction and technology intersect often. Change happens when we sit in classrooms with teachers trying something new, when we talk to the students who are growing up in the systems we have created or when we work together to tackle big problems. The success of our decisions increasingly depends on humans collectively working together within these spaces. Our students and educators rely on these critical connections. We have to get better at change, which will only happen when we really see each other and do this work together.
We Must Rise to This Moment
I experienced so many complications during the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Every change felt completely out of my hands and it was terrifying. After my son was born, I thought I would be recovering at home enjoying newborn cuddles and visits with friends. Instead, we were stuck in the hospital, I couldn’t see my son without a mask and I had to go to another floor just to use the bathroom. I mourned the experience of becoming a mother I thought I was missing.
The last few years have carved deep wells of sorrow in our schools and society. The cracks that formed these wells have exposed vulnerabilities in the foundation of public education. Education has not always been the best at change, and I have not always been the best at change. But when I held my tiny son in my arms for the first time, I knew that change had arrived and that I had to rise to the moment.
As my son learned to smile at the sun peeking through the tree leaves, my maternity leave came to an end. Life finally felt like it was stabilizing, and as we bonded, the sorrow that was carved into my being during our rocky beginning had been replaced with joy. These days, I see this kind of joy in our classrooms, in the small acts of resistance and resilience wielded by educators every day as they rise to the moment, as they always have and always will.
We Must Go for Broke
In moments of uncertainty, I return to James Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers”. There is one line that always catches me:
“To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible—and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people—must be prepared to ‘go for broke.'”
We must be prepared to go for broke.
Until I became a parent, I did not understand the responsibility placed on educators in our society. The first time my son smiled at those trees, I cried, and after months of pushing through sleepless nights and all-consuming days, there was light.
We are now in a liminal space, an interregnum, a dark night of the soul where uncertainty is all around us. However, amid this uncertainty, we find a way to keep going, knowing that eventually, joy will come.
We must rise to the moment in education now, but we also must recognize that deep wells are not filled with joy overnight. Change happens when we feel a sense of purpose and urgency, and we must recognize all we have overcome to be in this moment now.