I am currently reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I'm no runner, I'm no novelist, but of course as Murakami confesses his introversion, his daily routine revolving around running and writing, I think of teaching.
But I also think of talking about what led me to teaching. About privilege and family and realizations of ethnicity and power and politics within the United States. Running is so often not simply running. Teaching is most definitely not simply teaching. It is this delicate balance of knowing where to let my biases, if you will, influence my teaching, or lay squirming inside me, silencing them for the neutrality I owe my students. But my job is most definitely not neutral. I come to this profession from a place of white privilege---being born into an incredible family who has worked harder than I to be where they are now. I am the product of an interracial marriage, of white phenotype but with the benefit of having heard Spanish slip off my grandparents' tongues, and from this chameleon-like appearance that makes it hard to pigeonhole or label my ethnicity. I went to a suburban school, lived on a suburban street, ate a balance of all the food groups growing up. I went to plays, the library, the bookstore, the movies, and many theme parks growing up. I spoke English first, and Spanish second. Everything leading me here has been because of my privilege...my parents coming from near-poverty to raise a healthy, happy family. I am so incredibly privileged and am where I am now simply because I was born into this incredibly family who also had certain privileges to allow them to get where they are. English is a huge privilege both my parents enjoy.
So here I am. Living my dream, teaching, and at times very much so struggling. But what I talk about when I talk about teaching has to be my family, my parents, and the opportunities I've had. Otherwise I wouldn't be here, and for that..I am so very grateful. My school of Latino and African American students has almost all white teachers because of privilege...it is a tragedy the way things play out in this country, the way race and power structures influence whether or not we can achieve our dreams (of course this is so much more complicated than I make it) but that makes my job all the more daunting and incredibly important...to give these brilliant brown children the belief that college can and will be in their future if they want it to...all the while validating their incredible backgrounds and combating parts of their realities (flaming hot cheetos are NOT good for your body or mind, no matter how much we both love them, and Black Ops is actually not how we should live our daily lives in the classroom...), while never having experienced what it's like to spend a day in their life.
What I talk about when I talk about teaching is love, hardship, happiness, and pride. But the ultimate thing is this disparity I experience every day...this power that I have to be very careful not to impose upon my students...to be aware of my (half) whiteness and to make my classroom a place where my students can both embrace and love their beautiful country, but also question its practices and the suffering many of its minority groups have suffered. I so much do not want to teach the status quo, to make my students believe that those in power only have their best interests at heart...but also without breaking their spirits. I want them to be independent, strong, and to voice their opinions, thoughts, and the injustices of their lives.
Teaching and social justice are not separate. They are one and the same.