I’m from a small county in Virginia and that’s where I went for the holidays this year. Despite it’s size, it’s one of the wealthiest counties for it’s size in the nation and the public schools are amazing. I think I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to have lived where I lived, and attended school there. I’m privileged, I’m white, and I probably can’t relate to my students….….or that was how TFA made it sound when I showed up for institute. I was going to have to put in double the work to relate to my students’ families and understand the culture they come from. For the most part that’s true. I have kids who don’t have stable home lives, family dynamics I never had, and when the option is to talk to another teacher who can relate, or talk to, white, upper-middle class, me…take a guess as to who parents will reach out to. I had something to prove.
This is something I’ve been struggling with for the first 4 months of school. It’s hard to feel at home in a place that’s so different from home. So when my holiday break began I rushed to my apartment to get packed and get on a plane home that night. As the plane touched down on December 21st at 10:30pm ET, I sat in the middle seat of my row, sicker than I’d been all school year, and I cried. I don’t really know why I was crying. I guess I was just relieved, so relieved to be back with my family, back somewhere familiar, back home.
Of course, being home meant all I did was talk about being in Chicago. I’d talk about my students, show pictures of my students, tell stories about my students, and I started to realize that maybe Chicago was more my home, and these kids (and their families) were more my family than I had originally thought and they still needed help, and I still had something to prove.
So, I put a note out on the listservs for my neighborhood and some nearby ones as well, asking if anyone had anything appropriate for preschoolers that they might be willing to part with so I could use it in my classroom. When I put the note out I was hoping for books, my school is really lacking books and they’re the most expensive things to buy. I got 16 responses in less than 24 hours, on Christmas Eve. It was amazing how many people reached out asking what they could do, what was appropriate to donate, and when they could come by to drop off stuff. I picked up box after box of toys, books, games and art supplies from people over my break and every time I said thank you and expressed how amazed I was by everyone’s generosity.
My parents have continued to pick up donations to ship to me since I’ve returned to Chicago and my mom keeps sending me updates about all the things they’ve received as donations. When she called me earlier, I was in the Target (I should move in to the Target) grocery shopping. She said she had been at a neighbor’s house picking up donations put together by the 8 year old boy in the family. When my mom walked in, she said he was waiting for her to walk her through all the stuff he’d picked out to donate. After she had loaded things into the car he came up to her and gave her a $20 bill folded really small. He’d gotten some money for Christmas and said he wanted “to make a cash donation” to my kids. As I sit here, typing this, I’m crying, so you can’t imagine what a wreck I was in the Target, 3 hours ago when my mom originally called and told me.
I’m white, and I’m upper-middle class, and I had an excellent education and at some point I began to think of myself as being less qualified for my job because of those things. Like I didn’t belong because I couldn’t relate. I love my kids, and I love their families. I know that I didn’t grow up in their neighborhoods, or attending their schools, I’ll probably never face some of the challenges that they’ll face living in Chicago. But I love my kids, and I love their families, and that’s all I have to prove. I’ve never been so proud of where I’m from as I was today in the cereal aisle at Target. My parents support me, my friends support me, the community I grew up in supports me and with all that support I receive, I pass it on to my students. Because they might not be upper-middle class and they might not attend amazing schools, but I’ll be damned if they don’t grow up feeling supported by as many people in their lives as possible.
So to everyone who donated and supported my classroom, myself, and ultimately, my kids, thank you. Thank you so much.