(But not this second and never without notice - in case the people I work with see this!)
I love teaching so much. I have never quite put my finger on why student growth warms my heart like few other things.
But I need to quit doing it full time as soon as possible.
this is the only thing you were put here to do" (1).
I have been rehearsing these lines of poetry in my head for maybe ten years. But those three words "the only thing" made me so nervous.
Around the same time classmates, teachers, and adults at church started telling me I would make a great teacher, I started writing poetry whenever I was given creative license (mainly on school assignments). I started writing stories and acting them out with my Barbies. I was everyone's unofficial understudy in all the school plays and I was reciting famous poems and speeches at oratory competition. There was always a sketchbook in my bag and I sang or hummed everywhere I went (before smart phones, before iPods, and before Walkmans). The only thing I was put here to do is write, perform, speak, and throw some glitter on it (2). I know how much I love writing, as a process and as a result. I know how much I love the energy exchange between myself and a crowd, even better if it's a cypher circle. I know that the poetry slam teams I trained with brought me the deepest connections and the best memories of my life.
But "the ONLY thing"?
I had a conversation with a friend who made this statement, completed unprompted. He said, "because, y'know, teaching is your gift, but poetry is your calling." He said that as evidence for some other point, but I stopped him. "Wait what? Say that again slower."
He went on to explain that being good at something often takes the work out of it. You do it naturally and it impacts others, but doesn't change you much at all. But our callings or purposes in life will require us to work very hard in order to hone them. The pursuit of them shapes, molds, and refines us. And that work is what we were put here to do.
I am not here to talk about the difference between the words gift, calling, and purpose.
But why was dude allllll in my business? Does he know I have never rehearsed my poems enough? My master's thesis was lovely, but I didn't revise it enough. My first book of poems was what I needed at the time, but I did not edit enough. I say again, I have never rehearsed enough. In other words, I was not doing the work.
The only work I was put here to do.
Teaching is the wrong job for me because of the work and time that the system takes. Time that is spent attending to clerical and organizational school tasks. Teaching is my gift, but I was put here to work on the writing, the speaking, and the art.
At university, I fell prey to practicality (after dreaming just big enough to insist on a wildly expensive performing arts school, as one does). Finally, my bursar bills and belief in community action convinced me to do what everyone tells me I'm good at. I shifted into a profession based on inherent skills I can do "with my eyes closed." Teaching made sense for me. It's my gift; I'm a natural. The problem was hidden behind my gift, taking the time and effort away from my calling. The teaching profession is not my gift: not the assessing, or grading, or differentiating, or scaffolding. There's a lot of work in managing a million personalities or responding calmly to rudeness. I can do those things; I have been training at them for 10 years. I actually can't NOT teach without effort. Exes are irritated by it. Friends tell me when they don't want to be "fixed" or advised.
Many of the original hits on this blog will be from people who follow me because I'm a teacher. I taught them when they were younger, or I taught their children. I was outspoken when Oklahoma teachers went on not-quite-strike (along with many educators throughout the US in 2018). I co-created an organization whose purpose was to marry the arts and education and support both. I co-wrote a children's book to teach our young ones that before the Tulsa Race Massacre, Greenwood was independent, Black, and beautiful. I co-wrote curriculum for the Fire In Little Africa album extension. If we'd had an angel investor, I would have spearheaded an in-depth curriculum about Greenwood and the Massacre. I can't NOT teach.
Yet and still... I am in the wrong job. It's the wrong job even though (Black) teachers are essential. It's the wrong job even though there's an ever-intensifying shortage. Education is a noble profession and I enjoy much of it...but it's the wrong job for me.
I am meant to work at writing rhymes and explaining my reasons. I was put here to flow and to craft, to throw some glitter on universal themes. An aspect of that work is to interpret the reason in other artists' craft and find the hidden gold nuggets. Communities have always had a few members whose purpose is to keep and tell the people’s stories and to teach and interpret information. Often these folx also entertain with their own stories, poems, or music. Djelis, griots, leaders….public intellectuals. I’m one of those.
So welcome to the journey of becoming more like Morrison, Walker, Baldwin, Angelou, Butler, Ellison, Giovanni, Brooks, Hughes, and Wright. My friend, and Amoya Shante's academy (3), helped me take the practical blinders off and commit myself to the only work I was put here to do.
Starting with a commitment to the blog.
Then just MORE WRITING: poems for publication in periodicals, poems by commission, short stories, a guidebook, a remix of The Risk to Bloom. Subscribe here to get content before the public.
Let me know in the comments: do you think there's a difference between gift and calling? Was that convo with the homie just for me, or did you get something out of it?
I frustrated myself by designing a new blog and then coming back to redesign this website myself (is it cuter? better?). If you would like to not be frustrated and get a free (ish) website design these guys are really nice and they are persistent if you forget to follow up on your email like I do.
(1) Lauren Brazzle Zuniga on Josh Sallee's album circa 2012
(2) a quote from a sweet friend Ann Michelle King who was known for being light, bubbly, supportive, artistic, and adorable, until her untimely passing from cancer.
(3) Seriously, if you need a big change, consider taking Amoya's classes. I thought my mindset was great, but her classes helped me realize I was stilllllll downplaying myself.