Teach For America
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Why I’m (Still) Thankful

“Ms. Astari, please tell me you didn’t vote for Trump.”

Since November 8th, 2016, life has felt like an out-of-body experience. You know when your body and your whole being doesn’t belong to you, yet life goes on anyway?

I remembered vividly waking up the morning after the election. I felt dejected and heartbroken, among other emotions. I remembered thinking to myself that if I somehow made the wrong turn on my way to work, got into an accident, and didn’t make it to school, it wouldn’t even matter because my work doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. My family, my friends, the people in my community, and those whom I surround myself with don’t matter. There are millions of people out there who want me—us—to vanish. So why even bother living for the rest of the day?

My mind went to a deep, dark place that it has never traveled to before, and it was terrifying. I called my mom on the way to work just to cry to her. I called my dear friend and fellow teacher to keep me company once I got to school because I didn’t want to be alone. It was the day that my district specialist was coming; not only was my lesson not prepared, I was also not in the right place mentally and emotionally.

“Wow. You actually made me feel better. You checked off all the boxes—minority, immigrant, Muslim, and a woman. I only checked off two.”

Later on, I found out that many teachers weren’t in the right place that day, either. We were all in shock. Some of us chose to remain in denial, because after November 8th, life went on. And it still goes on.

When my first period students came into class in hysteria over the election results, I decided to address it. How could I expect my students to be fully present and engaged in a lesson on calculating density when there’s something more pressing in their minds (and rightly so)?

I decided to be completely transparent with my students, and for once, I didn’t care what the repercussions were because I felt the conviction in my heart.

I told my students that I’m afraid that there are people out there who don’t care about me or my students. There are things out there in the world that they want to do, but there are people out there who will stop them from reaching their dreams. And they might think that today’s lesson on density doesn’t matter, but it does because mastering it in my class would lead them to answer the correct question(s) on the end-of-year exam. Passing the end-of-year exam means they will be on the high school track for college readiness. Graduating high school means being able to pursue higher education. And higher education leads to success. Success in school will lead to more success, and that is why what we do in this class is important.

While there are people out there who won’t believe in my students, I believe in them. I’m here solely for them. Because when I see them, I see my two younger siblings. When I see them, I see their dreams, I see their future, I see the future. And it starts here.

It was the first day that I saw respect in my students’ eyes. And let me tell you, I’ve been flicked off, walked over (thankfully not literally), yelled at, laughed at, manipulated, and I can’t even tell you how many eye rolls I receive per day. But that day I saw some students smile. I saw their eyes glimmer. When I asked them, “Now, are we ready to learn?” they finally said, “Yes, ma’am.” That has never happened with this class before!

That day, I realized that I couldn’t be in a more perfect place in Trump’s America—doing exactly what I’m doing, in this community, leading these students to success.

“Ms. Astari—I know this doesn’t really have anything to do with me, it doesn’t have anything to do with the class, really—but what are you doing for Thanksgiving? You know, since your family lives so far away and all?”

I don’t need much to feel festive during Thanksgiving, because I’ve got plenty to be thankful for. Yeah, so we have a Cheeto for a President. Some days I want to quit my job. Some days I miss my family terribly and adult life can be quite lonely. But I always seek the silver linings and for once in my life, I don’t need to look hard to find them. Here are just a few things that I’m thankful for:

TFam (aka TFA Family)

tfam-final

I’m thankful for lifelong friends who are in this journey together. Recently one of my friends hosted a Friendsgiving at her house. While I couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family, I felt like I was already surrounded by family. I’m thankful for their company, their stories, and their support… even when I make bad choices at Cards Against Humanity.

I’m thankful for my TFA coach, who goes out of his way to support all of his first-year teachers. For me personally, my coach has been one of the three people on my speed dial whom I call every time I needed to cry, when I needed someone to reduce the items on my to-do list for me, and whose friendship I truly cherish here in Jax. Thanks for everything, JG!

My School

school

I’m thankful to be placed in a supportive school environment.

  • My Assistant Principal is there when I needed support and comes to the district’s monthly science meetings with the 8th grade science team. She loves learning and science just as much as we do, which is both affirming and endearing.
  • My school team consists of this year’s Teacher of the Year and some of the most beloved and best veteran teachers at my school.
  • The science department is incredible, headed by a coach who’s well-connected in the district and knowledgeable in the content area, and cares about my growth as a teacher as much as I do, if not even more.
  • My colleague, confidant, friend, and other 8th grade science teacher. I call her “bae” because she has been a rock for me this year. She’s a second-year TFA and an incredible science teacher. I’m so thankful to have someone who is as supportive and resourceful as her to model my teaching after, and someone as fun as her to grab lunch with during planning!
  • Last but certainly not least, my work wife, little sister I never had (and never asked for), and best friend. A fellow first-year TFA, we’ve been through every ups and downs together. Initially, we lucked out in having our rooms next to each other and her having all of my A-Day students, but recently she was moved to the 6th grade building and is now teaching 6th grade math. But we still make time to go to Applebee’s every Monday to rant about our Mondays and go out on the weekends. Truly, I don’t know what I would do without her, and I’m so thankful to have her in my life.

My Family & Support System from Home

famfriends

This goes without saying, but I’m thankful for my family whose love and support for me and my brother transcend national borders, Time Zones, and hemispheres. I was lucky that my mother was able to not only help me move into Jacksonville but also come back again to help me transition to living self-sufficiently on my own. My aunts were also able to visit from Indonesia and see the woman that I’m becoming, doing the work that I’ll be doing, which is was affirming and encouraging to experience.

I’m forever thankful for my friends all over the country! We share the eternal bond of the time that we’ve spent in undergrad and I’m grateful for all the times that I can simply pick up the phone and have a conversation.

Finally, I’m thankful for my brother who’s a freshman at the University of Central Florida and lives only a couple of hours away in Orlando. Having him just close enough to make visits happen instantaneously but far enough away to see him grow as his own person has been an amazing experience as an older sister. He’s also here for the holidays and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving for two. Truth be told, I’m so glad that he’s here.

My Naturally Selected Scientists

kids

My raison d’être. My reasons for headaches. My constant struggles and victories. My teachers. Truthfully, I learn from them just as much, if not more, in the classroom every day. They challenge me and keep me humble. They remind me that education should always be equitable and that I must teach the whole child—not just the children who fit the mold of what we’ve been accustomed to know as “success.” Because of them, I know the importance of the work that I do every day. Because of them, I know the future is bright.

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

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