Today, working with Tatianna on her poetry project. I say, “What do you want to do?” She says, “Should we do this?”
I feel: enjoyment working with her; satisfaction that she is able to maintain focus and exert creativity over several hours; growth in myself around this assignment; alertness to her particular communication style and mine, whether I am giving her enough space to have opinions without putting her on the spot. This is our first concerted effort together. Gradually I become aware of the difference in how we are expressing around the project. I have a sudden sense that I should be making the project more hers, less ours. Whatever that means. They are her words, in her handwriting, about a song she chose, in a font she chose. And yet, there is the feeling: that if another teacher were watching me (if the system knew!), they would see that I am supporting, encouraging, offering ideas. They would see that we are doing it together. That to make it feel safe for her, I am stepping in. The feeling is: I should make her prove that she can do it alone! Right after that feeling, I think of the word Collaboration.
Collaboration is what I believe in. White dominance tells me that it is messy, hard to measure, not valid. I let Tatianna know that working with her was satisfying for me, and I appreciate her listening to my ideas and being willing to try new things. I validate her self-proclaimed perfectionism (grateful to have a piece of the puzzle – she is quiet, often very reserved, and does little work despite obvious attentiveness), and also let her know that I am glad she stretched by making something that isn’t perfect but lets other people know her better.
I think of other ways to include and facilitate Collaboration for these students. I think of how hard it can be for them to support and listen to each other unless they are already close. I think of how much fun they have together, as long as it’s not on topic. I think of the individuality of so much written work: how to show that more than one person put effort into an essay or a poem?
I think of Teaching While White – the episode with Peggy McIntosh and Debby Irving.
I think of how much more, really, I care about these youths’ ability to attend to each other, make relationships, self-regulate, respect each others’ time, navigate boundary setting, etc etc – than whether they can write an essay! But I am the English teacher because that is what Whiteness values. Already established. But how to include spoken language, sharing the work, reflecting each other, noticing and giving language to the other’s skills.