I thoroughly enjoyed giving people advice on how their students should perform in school, and as a special education teacher, I would give people IEP meeting tips. But soon, the fire inside me started to dim, and I wondered if I had chosen the right career.
Content warning: This post discusses suicidal ideation.
[untitled #7]I am the amplification of every black student’s muted voice,Shouting through fresh fits and raised fists,Tightly clenching pencils too dull to mark the answers on secondhand scantrons,But still making it work,I am the shoulder for every single Denzel-tear,For those unashamedly in touch with their feelings,Or those who “just got really wet eyes,”Like leaks in a dam that’s damned it all for too damn long,Yet, still strong enough to handle the pressure,I am every enthusiastic dap, grip and church hug combo on a good day,Every reassuring head nod on hard ones,And the loudest, “Okay I see you!” shoutout on days you just feel invisible,But I can be the Uncle Phil to your season 1 Will,If need be,I am,A Black educator.-Myself
I went back and forth with the idea of including this poem here. I am really sensitive about sharing my creative side because it’s the last side I have full control of. Once I became a teacher, I became an educator in and out of the classroom. It was like a badge I couldn’t take off, and at first, I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed giving people advice on how their students should perform in school, and as a special education teacher, I would give people IEP meeting tips. But soon, the fire inside me started to dim, and I wondered if I had chosen the right career. It eventually led me down a dark path.
I’ve always wondered if I should share this next piece of information with my PLN. Is it too much? Will they think it’s for sympathy? I wasn’t sure until recently when I spoke with someone who I look to as a mentor of mine. So, about three years ago, I hated teaching so much, and it brought me so much depression that I was ready to not only quit my job but also commit suicide. I had it all planned out, figuring the easiest way would be by pills and alcohol in the middle of nowhere, late at night. I had it planned out to the date and time; however, God had other plans, and they included Computer Science.
A week before the planned date, I did a training at my site on Digital Citizenship solely for the extra cash. During the training, I ended up finishing the exercise an hour earlier because I have always been a natural with computers and electronics. The trainer was impressed and invited me to attend a conference on Digital Citizenship with her the following day. I only agreed so that I could miss work and have one less day of toxic drama that week; however, the day was still very challenging for me, and I only wanted to expedite my plans. There were even times during the conference that I had to step outside and calm my panic attacks and breakdowns.
Once we got to the keynote portion of the event, I was calm enough to sit through an entire presentation. The speaker was Mary Jo Madda, who does equity work for Google. She was amazing and incredibly inspiring. Suddenly, I felt a fire in me grow and shackles breaking. After her presentation, I approached her and asked how she got involved in such an amazing job. She told me about equity in computer science for education, and though I was very interested, I was still in my depressive state and planning to go through with it all. It wasn’t until I met a very important person shortly after that I felt my life was honestly saved.
Sonal Patel, the kindest person on this planet, approached me, a stranger, and poured heavily into my life with words of affirmation, encouragement, and wisdom, just because I was brave enough to be there that day. It was like she saw right through me, and had the answers. She walked up to me to introduce herself, and once we started talking about our backgrounds she invited me to sit with her and all the speakers for lunch. Through that, I met many other people who would eventually lead me to join CUE and get deeply involved in the world of educational technology. That day was a major turning point in my life, and several years later, I am writing this article to you as a CSTA Equity Fellow. In addition, I am a co-founder of Equity in Action CA, a former Vice President on the IACUE Board, and I have presented at over one dozen conferences/conventions. Getting involved and building such a supportive and diverse PLN truly saved my life. Imagine what it could do for you.
Before I go, I just wanted to thank you for sharing your time with me and reading this article. It took me a while to write it, and I started it over several times before landing on this. I hope this speaks to somebody and helps them get through the remainder of the school year. I know it can be tough and your passion can easily turn into your pain, but push through. Even though they won’t say it, your students love and need you; you may be the only smiling face they see. And one last thing, after you read this article, go get yourself your favorite snack, watch your favorite show, and just chill. Okay, peace out. Follow @ThatDopeTeacher on Twitter.
About the Author
Tory Wadlington is in his 5th year as a special education teacher in Southern California. He is a tech enthusiast with a passion for building equity and creating safe spaces for BIPOC students, staff, and families. He is a co-founder of Equity in Action CA which has brought teachers and leaders of color together for professional development. As a graduate of Grambling State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) Tory noticed stark differences in student achievement and motivation based on cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. This propelled him into many mentorship positions, eventually leading him to get his Master’s degree in Educational Technology, with a credential focusing on Special Education. Tory used computer science to create safe space classrooms, and new ways to engage previously unmotivated students. His heart for special education and Social and Emotional Learning has helped him develop training on engaging and welcoming all students.