As I prepare to return to work (back-to-the classroom) during the most uncertain of times, I can’t help but think about how different teaching and learning will look this school year. Generally, regardless of the many challenges they will face, teachers are masters at creating masterpieces and magic out of often impossible situations and I’m one of those teachers. I am unsure of what grade I’ll be teaching, how many students I’ll be teaching or where I might be teaching. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’ll be teaching.
For the past five or so years, I’ve begun the school year in just about the same way each time. I ask students: Why are they here (at school)? Why do they have to spend most of their days here? Why do their parent(s)/caregiver(s) leave them with me? No matter how young they are, they know that they come to school to learn. I ask them why I am at school with them and not with my son. They tell me that I am there to help them learn and to take care of them and keep them safe. They are right, I am there In loco parentis – in place of the parent to meet their needs, encourage them, guide them, teach them, that’s my purpose.
In general, I think about purpose a lot. My own purpose, the purpose of others and our purpose on this planet. I regularly remind and encourage my students to think about and explore their purpose, as well. Recently, after learning about Chadwick Boseman’s passing my social media fields were full of his messages, his wisdom. I watched and rewatched, listened and re-listened to his Howard University Homecoming Speech. His words were simple, true and resonated with my whole being.
He says, “Purpose is the essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.” This message is one that learners need to hear and need to hear often.
Boseman’s words remind me to find peace in knowing that no matter the circumstances my purpose remains unchanged and it is that purpose that will propel me (hopefully) through teaching during the times of Covid-19.
Chadwick Boseman had a purpose. A purpose that touched the (Black) lives of so many around the world. A passion-filled purpose that has become evident to the masses in light of his passing. A purpose that fuelled him through what I can only imagine to be one of, if not the most challenging time of his life. To continue to show up, to deliver, to perform, to achieve, to inspire, with every ounce of his being is a super hero example from a real person who loves, feels and struggles like all of us do. I am thankful for his passion, I am thankful for his purpose.
Thinking about going back to work (back-to-the classroom) makes me feel sick to my stomach. Thinking about returning to a workspace where social-distancing is impossible, class sizes are not small enough to be ‘safe’ and where air-quality is poor is terrifying; my chest tightens and my heart starts to race. However, with reminders to myself to breathe deeply and slowly, I will fulfill my purpose. I will meet my new group of learners and I will ask them about their NIA.
NIA means purpose in Swahili. It is also one of the seven principles of the Nguzo Saba and something we focus on developing within ourselves and as a collective in our classroom community. So whether or not I’ll be teaching Grade 1 or Grade 4/5/6. Whether or not I’ll have a ‘safe’ group of 10-15 students or a full class of 30, whether or not my students are physically in front of me or looking at me from behind a computer screen, my purpose remains constant. If Chadwick Boseman can be the King of Wakanda while battling Stage 4 Colon cancer, I can (masked, face-shielded and hand-sanitized) continue to support my students’ learning, care for them and help them begin to fulfill their own purpose.
Thank you for everything Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for your passion, your fortitude, your grace and your purpose. Rest well.