Welcoming Nonclosure

Our next few blast introductions focus on the four agreements by Glenn Singleton in Courageous Conversations About Race. Today I am going to focus on: expect and accept nonclosure.

“This agreement asks participants to ‘hang out in uncertainty’ and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing dialogue.” 

Glenn Singleton

When I was a middle school teacher, I think this proved to be the largest struggle for me. There were huge differences between my own cultural identity and those of my students’ and for my first few years of teaching, I desperately tried to solve this as I would any other “problem” that arose in my classroom.

In fact, I was constantly looking for a golden bullet to solve ALL issues in my classroom, including my own understanding of the interactions between myself and my students. I wanted to know the right chart to put up, the right activity to engage in, the right WAY to be culturally responsive without having to do the self work. 

I remember spending hours on teacher resource shares, looking for ways to incorporate my students’ identities into the work that we were doing, trying to incorporate their names, music they liked, etc. into word problems. And you know what, it didn’t work. In fact, upon reflecting on it now, I think that all put a much larger wedge between me and my students, I had simplified their identities into a checklist. 

The reality was that building authentic relationships with my students, as most things do, needed to start with myself. I needed to first reflect on aspects of my own upbringing that I was unintentionally projecting on my students and classroom culture. I needed to ask myself questions about why I believed what I did about education? I needed to learn authentically about my students (not just what music they like to listen to): What were their hopes, dreams, how did they think and problem solve? What did their families care about? I needed to learn about white supremacy culture; I needed to learn about racism as smog that affects as all. In short, I needed to learn and reflect a lot before I could start to take smart actions. 

Now here is the reality–I am certain that I did harm to my students in my first years of teaching. While I was busy looking for a “quick fix,” I know that I often invalidated their identities in my classroom. This is more nonclosure that I have to accept, the nonclosure of mistakes that I have made and can no longer change. 

I want to be really clear that I am not hating on taking action here. We can focus on developing ourselves and our racial identities and never actually take that into the classroom, which ultimately will lead nowhere. What I am saying is that in education, in developing authentic relationships across lines of difference, in conversations about race, quick fixes, plug and play planning has in my experience always had the opposite effect then I intended until I sat down and did the hard identity work I needed to do myself first.

All the best,