Rewriting What is Possible, by Erin Medeiros: “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility.” — bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress.
After a semester on leave, I returned last week to my classroom to meet with my team. The 3 of us teach out of a 2-room structure whose east end looks directly out on the ocean and brings in trades that cool us all year. On mornings with lots to do before students arrive, I often catch sunrise directly from one of their desks, where daydreamers can later watch koholā and seabirds. From the west end we look out to Kalalea and Konanae, the prominent mauna standing above Anahola. We teach together in, and often about, this place. We enjoy our collaboration, that we are here together in perpetual navigation, negotiation, compromise.
On our second day back together, we got to talking about other schools on the island, about our culture-focus and their academy models and what we are all preparing our students to do and be. What is this “real world” we all speak of? Is it a world of work, “getting and spending”? (Can I help if Wordsworth and Washington ring in my ears?) Is it a world of being and becoming? (Can I help if hooks and DuBois echo?) How can we prepare mind, body, spirit, and also attend to the day-to-day realities that impact and influence each child? How can we both inform and empower every student so that they want to participate in the work of positively transforming our communities?
Writing helps me process these questions and the realities of the work. Teaching happens in the infinite space between theory and action, and writing often clarifies where they meet and how to think and act next. I started writing long after I arrived in the classroom. I had written, of course, practically my whole life, but to write as a practice of love, possibility, vocation has been a process begun in the past 10 years.
Black feminist teacher and writer bell hooks, who passed away just last week, proclaimed in her groundbreaking text Teaching to Transgress, “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility.” hooks insisted that we evaluate how and what we teach, that we “create new visions” and care for the “souls of our students.” She made it acceptable, even academic, to focus on the connection between love and liberation.
I chose teaching because of writers like bell hooks and other practitioner-theorists who could translate the need and the experience to me before I ever knew it personally. I chose teaching because it seemed the most accessible place for change, somewhere I could actually contribute my love, knowledge, and energy while doing something necessary and worthwhile. I also chose teaching because I wanted every day to be new, to embody my hope that something magic might happen.
“Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process. That empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks.” —bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
Writing about our experiences helps to continue this tradition of translation and reflection. Listening to a recent episode of the podcast, What School Could Be in Hawaiʻi with Dr. Tammy Jones (at MLTSinHawaii.com), I found that one of her insights about the classroom resonated with my feelings about educators and writing and the system more broadly. She said, “With time to reflect, the community will correct itself.”
In community spaces, we share our experiences testing what is possible in our classrooms and listen to others’ soul-stirring stories. Practicing being vulnerable through writing, talking, and asking gives us the courage to take risks, gain confidence and humility, and be the empowered educators our kids need. Stepping into community spaces allows us to find those other empowered teachers and ask them what is happening at their schools. What does learning look like in their classrooms? What do the students do and say? Who are they becoming?
Vulnerability and possibility complement each other. We can’t try without risking something: lost time or embarrassment or criticism. But we also can’t reach that addicting moment of flow or peak experiences of transformation without shaking up the energy, the purpose, and our role in our learning community.
And so I return to this space we share where the daylight and breeze stream in, where the clouds gather on the mountains, where we keep experimenting, and I prepare myself and my kids for a world so real that we are never really ready and never really done. Choosing teaching means embracing uncertainty and, with it, the hope of what is still possible.
Erin Medeiros is an epic educator at Kanuikapono Learning Center, a K–12 Hawaiian-culture-focused public charter school in Anahola on the island of Kauaʻi in Hawaiʻi.