Welcome to Water for Teachers, A Heinemann podcast focused on engaging with the hearts and humanity of those who teach. One thing we know for sure is that teachers are human. They have fears. They've experienced tragedy. They struggle. They are affected by crises and pandemics. And like everyone else, they deserve to lead lives full of peace, joy, and love. Join host Shamari Reid and other educators as they move from logic to emotion, from the head to the heart, from thinking to feeling, and from the ego to love.
This week, Shamari is joined by Gabby Bachoo, a first year teacher, as they talk about our ability to love as humans and how we can center that love in the classroom.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Shamari: Welcome to episode three. Let me just say to all of you listening, thank you. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your energy and choosing to join me and my guests for another wonderful episode. Today's guest Gabby is a wonderful human who teaches, and I can't wait to talk with them, but before I introduce Gabby, I want to share a story. And then after, I'll invite Gabby to explore any and everything the story brings up for us both.
And so a few years ago, I was in Brooklyn. And though I've been in New York City for five and a half years, I'm not a native New Yorker. And so, I can't even tell you exactly where I was because New York City, for those of you who haven't been here, don't live here or aren't from here is really big and Brooklyn's enormous. And so I was somewhere off the A train and I had gone to attend an event on addressing the homelessness of Black and brown queer and trans youth. And the event had been organized by young people, which I really loved. I love when young people sort of take ownership of their own lives.
And so I went to support and the people facilitating, the young people spent about 30 minutes, maybe 45 addressing the policy decisions that affected their lives and resulted in some of them experiencing homelessness. And after they invited the audience to participate with them and collaborate and think about the different ways we could address the policy makers, ultimately trying to reverse those decisions. And so after about two hours, I'm all fired up. I feel really good. I want to do everything that I can to support them. And so I'm leaving and I see three or four of the young people who led the event. And I go to them and I just say, "You all are beautiful, thank you for inviting me and anything I can do to support you in this cause, please let me know, genuinely."
And they're like, "Yo, thank you. That was so dope. We were so nervous. Thank you for coming. What are you doing right now?" And I was like, "Well, actually, I'm going to get back on the train once I find it. And I'm going to go uptown. I'm going to go back home to Harlem." They were like, "No, we can show you where to go. We're going uptown too." And there was about an hour and 15 minutes, the train ride. And about every two or three stops, one of them would get off. And the last 15 minutes, it was just me and one other student, and they look at me and they were like, "So what do you do?"
And I was like, "I'm a teacher, I'm an educator. And I love teaching and I love learning." And I'm getting super excited as I often do about teaching. I really geek out. And they're not sharing in my excitement, they look at me, and they're like, "Oh, okay." And I'm just like, "Okay, so why aren't they excited?" So I just wait and they continue to say, "Yeah, I don't really know what teachers do when they're preparing to become teachers or what they learn in school, but I feel like maybe teachers spend too much time learning how to give in the classroom. They give opinions, they give directions, grades, they give feedback. But maybe that's why they can't receive things from students. It's almost as if students have nothing to contribute." And then they look at me and they looked into my eyes, and they finished by saying, "But one thing they didn't learn how to give was love." And that really froze me.
But I want to pause my story there, and I want to introduce today's guest, Gabby. And so Gabby is a first-year teacher. They're also a writer, a dancer, a listener who has an affinity for stained glass windows, and steel pan drums, and they believe that by learning to love ourselves, we can change not only the education system, but the world around us. So Gabby, welcome to Water for Teachers.
Gabby: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited.
Shamari: No, I am too. But let me ask you this, you're at the beginning. What's on your heart right now, as you listen to that story, and also as you went through your own day, whatever that was, but what's on your heart right now?
Gabby: I think the first thing that really stood out for me is that that feeling that that student had was 100% how I felt as a student. 100%. I never was one of these kids that grew up like, "I'm going to be a teacher and I love this place." I was like, "I can't wait to get out of school. I am done with this place. They are never going to see me again."
And it was just because I felt so hated sometimes, and it feels terrible to say hated because I really don't believe any of my teachers felt that way about me. But I didn't feel seen. I didn't feel like I had a place, and I definitely didn't feel loved. And then when I had a teacher who made me feel loved, it was monumental. It was revolutionary. It was something that was so unheard of that it became like, "That is my person. That is my everything. That is my go-to."
And it was so sad that I could count like five people on my hands, and who they were from K to 12. Instantly in my head. And to feel that I went through so many teachers for so long and I can count five, and it wasn't that the other ones did anything wrong, but it was just like that. It was like, "We're going to get this done. We're going to get this curriculum done. We're going to do whatever." And I wasn't a child who needed just curriculum. I was going home to chaos. I was going home to a family that was divided and not just like, "Oh, your parents got a divorce and it was done." It was like a battle until I was 16 from the age of three. So I needed to go to school and I needed to feel like a person the entire time, because I went home and I had so much love at home.
I will never say that I didn't receive love at home and this openness and this beauty, but you need some consistency in that. And the way you feel loved needs to be transcendent. When you're spending eight hours a day in a school building, seven hours a day in a school building, I need it there too. I need to feel like myself and I need to feel powerful and I need to feel like my voice and what I give, you want to hear it. And so I didn't feel that with most teachers, because a lot of the district I grew up in is a primarily white district, which means we do well when it comes to tests. We do well when it comes to certain things. So that was pushed. We got CMTs coming, it was our Connecticut Mastery Test. That's what we're doing. That's what it is. Everyone will succeed.
Anyone who doesn't, we're going to push you harder and harder and harder. And I was like, "I don't care about any of that." I am not going to move into the world and be like, "I got above average on my mastery tests." I couldn't see the value in it. And so I had good grades. I was able to do the bare minimum and still get As and still get whatever, so I felt like I was floating a lot at the time. I was just floating in that space until I could get out. And it wasn't really until I had a revolutionary teacher not even in my school district but in dance that saw me at my lowest, and this is a woman that loved me from preschool. And she loved me in a way that I was like, "Is this what teaching is supposed to be?"
I was like, "Wait, wait, wait. This is what you do all the time? Are you sure?" And she was like, "Oh, yeah. If this isn't what you're doing, then I'm not teaching you anything. I'm not supposed to push you in the world as someone who can add, I'm supposed to push you in the world as someone who can see others, hear them, and take a step back and understand, "Am I doing wrong? Am I giving them the best of me? Am I loving that person the way they need to be loved?""
Shamari: Yeah. So would you consider yourself as someone who is in touch with your emotions and feelings?
Gabby: Now. In the past? Oh, no, no, no. It was like, I knew what they were, but when you calcify yourself and you're like the way I'm going to survive this is like I said, by floating, you float through everything. It's not until you're knocked down in such a major way that you're forced to feel it that you have to go through that.
Shamari: Yeah. I asked because I'm a Cancer, and so for anyone who's into astrology, I've heard my whole life that I'm a true Cancer because I'm super emotional. Well, I don't mean it in that I cry a lot or that I feel things more intensely. What I think it is is that I'm able or maybe even willing, maybe willing is the right verb. I'm willing to articulate how I feel to myself first and to others when I feel safe, and some days are easier than others. And some emotions are easier than others to talk about and feel. But one emotion or feeling, or even act for some people that I've always been intrigued by is love. From a very young age, I've always had this desire to define and understand love for myself and what it meant for my life. So let me ask you, what is love to you?
Gabby: Love to me has just been healing for a very long time. It's so funny that the main emotion you felt in touch with was love. The main emotion I felt in touch with growing up was anger. I could be angry like it was nobody's business. I could cut you with my words. I could burn down a village. And then when it came to these people that I felt loved by, all of that just dissipated from my body. They were healing for me. They were just, like I said, revolutionary. The way they touched me with a glance, one of my best friends, he could look at me down the hallway and I was like, "Oh, today's going to be better. Today's going to be different. Today's going to be life."
And growing up, I didn't know how to articulate those things all the time. But it took losing that person and having that person pass away in such a tragic way for me to be like, "I need that feeling." And it can't go away with him. He died in a very graphic way. He committed suicide. So for someone who gave so much love, and he was so much safety to have not known what he meant to me and the fact that his life wasn't disposable to me was devastating to me.
And so it became, "How do I reassure myself that I can still feel that love? How do I still walk through this life feeling him in me, and how do I make sure that what he gave me, I can give to as many people as possible?" Because he saved me at a time when I didn't know how to save myself.
Shamari: Thank you for sharing that. I shared in another episode, I was talking about losing my sister and what that was like for me. But in hearing you talk about your friend, it reminded me and I wrote somewhere in my life, I wrote it down, but that my sister was also the first person who I felt loved me and showed me what unconditional love was. And so when I think of her, I personally don't relegate her whole life to the tragedy that took her life. I actually think about the 19 years of beauty. And so I'm able to talk about her and smile because she loved me for real. And it was the first person I came out to about my sexuality and she didn't care. And so then it taught me that I shouldn't care and I could love myself. And so thank you for sharing that. It's also reminding me of how we met. And so I'll give you all a little behind the scenes here about how this show worked. [inaudible 00:12:46] No. Any of the guests, right?
These are not people that I have taught with that I've met before. We had an open call to educators who wanted to be on this podcast. And I asked all kinds of questions, "Who are you? Where are you? What do you teach?" But I also asked, "What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn?" And what Gabby shared was this, "The lesson that took me the longest to learn was that true freedom only comes when you take the courage to love every part of yourself openly." Gabby, why do you think it took you so long to learn that?
Gabby: I think one of the reasons it took me so long to learn that is when I looked around, I was like, "Everybody's life is right and mine is wrong." And it wasn't because anybody told me mine was wrong, it wasn't because anyone did anything to make me feel off, but I was like, "How is it that I feel this anger? How is it that I feel whatever?" And I'm internalizing that with myself. I didn't like my curly hair and I dress weird. I'm currently just in a gray sweater, but I am like a zebra print, platform shoes full out human. And I was getting looks from people and I started caring about it. And I was dressing in all black and I was really calming myself down and I was like, "This is who I'm supposed to be. This is how I'm supposed to teach. This is how I'm supposed to move."
And growing up, I didn't have a line. I had a whole bunch of mountains. And in having that, I was like, "Am I the right person to educate kids? Am I good enough to do what I love? Am I good enough to tell my story? Is my story okay?" Because I'll be very honest, there was one time when I said I could cut people with words, I was mean, I was so mean. And then after learning what words can do to people, you feel such shame in yourself for how you might've affected someone else, how you might've moved through the world. And I didn't think I was the right person to spread love because I didn't do it in my youth because I couldn't find it in myself. And one of the ways that I've found Shamari's podcasts was through Dr. Grace Player. She is one of my favorite teachers.
I love her, her energy, her being, her everything. And I think the moment when I realized I could forgive myself for a lot of the things was when Dr. Player was very honest with me. And she was like, "Ooh, I was an angry kid." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, another angry kid? Yes. I'm not the only one." But it became her being truthful with her story of realizing where she was wrong, taking responsibility for that, apologizing and growing. And I was like, I can be all of that. I can accept all of that. And I can still be the person I am today. I wouldn't be the person I am today without all those things that I did. And it never makes what I did right, but I know why that happened. I've spoken to those people about why it's happened.
I've made my peace. I've made friends, I've given love and I've had forgiveness received of me, which is, I'm so thankful for, for those people. But I needed to forgive myself for all the years that I was punishing myself when I was going through things too. When I was a child who couldn't control what was going on around me and couldn't break out of things so I was acting in a way because I needed someone to see me. And I didn't care if it was negative or positive. But I'm not going to belittle myself because of who I was when I needed someone.
Shamari: Right. Grace. Extending grace to ourselves.
Gabby: 100%. And for me, that's the biggest thing about love. How do I forgive myself? How do I see myself? How do I accept everything that I am and know that it was okay to make mistakes because it's led me to who I am now?
Shamari: What's he most important thing you think you've learned about love?
Gabby: How to give it unconditionally.
Yeah, no, you're really taking me back. I'm thinking of my own childhood and I'm like, "I wasn't angry, but I think when I shared at the top of this episode that I was curious about love it's because I didn't think it was a real thing. And so I wanted to read and really I watched a lot of Oprah because she was talking about it in a way that sort of made sense to me. But I think I was so curious because growing up as a black gay boy, and I've sort of been out kind of, since I was five and I was kind of always sort of just out there and I have feminine things so people were like, they would know, but I remember hearing from society and other people that because I was gay, I was unable to love and that I would never receive love.
You hear these things like "You're not normal and no one's going to love you. You're not going to have a family." And so I think my curiosity really came from trying to answer the question, is that true? Am I incapable of love? Am I unable to give it and receive it? And again, through my sister, I learned that she loves me and that I think she is dope. And she was my younger sister. So I think she's dope and so that really helped me. But no, yeah, it's a journey. It's a journey and every day I think we're learning about ourselves and about love. And I do believe, and folks may disagree, but I believe there's something innate about love and there's something really human about it. It's very important to remember as humans who teach that we are all able to love.
And during a time of collective crisis, right? There's a pandemic. There's also a lot of injustice and inequity that has persisted for a very long time.
Gabby: Yes, sir.
Shamari: Now more than ever, we need love, and I'm talking about like a critical love, which goes back to bell hooks in her book All About Love, which we'll make sure to provide the details for in the description. But she talks about love as a feeling that moves you to nurture the physical and spiritual and emotional growth in yourself and in another person. And for me in education as a teacher, I interpret that as nurturing the growth of my students, but also interrupting anything that threatens that growth, anybody who threatens their humanity. And so what would you say? You're a first-year teacher, okay, this is an interesting time to be teaching through a lot of crises. You're learning to love and learning more about love, but what's been the hardest thing for you about teaching and living during these times?
Gabby: I think one of the hardest things is, I've spoken to you a lot about this, but the way I've always loved is by being there for people, always. "No matter what Gabby is going to show up to the birthday party. She could be five states away. She's to be here. She's going to be present. She's going to sing you a song." I have become this presence in my family of consistency because that's what I like. I enjoy consistency. I enjoy people knowing I'm gonna be there for you, thick and thin, no matter what. Because of our profession and because I'm in person with kids, I can't be there ever. I can't show up. I can't talk to you at six feet. Nobody wants to be around me. I don't want to be around anyone because I don't want to be the one to hurt someone in a way that I can't take back. And for me that's been my self-care for so long. When I felt hurt and when I needed to find myself, when I needed a place, I'd go to my family and it's not even necessarily talking to anyone, it's being in their presence, it's being in my love.
And so to not have that or to feel like I always have to have that through a computer screen has been really hard. And then, but one thing that's helped with that is I have that energy from my kids, my students, the way we love each other, the way my kids know "Ms. Gabby is going to be there and Ms. Gabby's going to love me. And when I say I need a break because it's a pandemic and I am freaking out, she's going to let me sit in the corner and play with my Play-Doh. And she's going to hear me." Because Lord knows they've seen me up there teaching with Play-Doh and they're like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "This is just what we're doing right now." But we just recently shut down our district so all of that energy that I felt, "At least I have it at work. At least I have it here," it feels like it was completely shut off again.
Shamari: Okay. So you're only virtual right now, or?
Gabby: Only virtual right now.
Shamari: And before they were in person doing six feet?
Gabby: Mm-hmm (affirmative). In person doing six feet, masks, we were taking breathing breaks out the window. We're like "Take a breath, come back in." But they said it they're like, "It feels different." And for them, I mean, they were doing this in March, you know what I mean? And they didn't have videos. We didn't have tech then. Our district really upgraded their tech stuff. They told me, they're like, "I just miss you." And they're like, "We thought it was going to be at least kind of the same because we have video cameras now and we're all on and I still do my dance breaks and we still listen to music together and we eat snack together because I don't care that we're in fifth grade. Everybody needs a snack time. I don't care how old you are."
Shamari: Oh, you're at virtual. I was going to ask you if you have a snack cabinet, but this is your first year and you're virtual.
Gabby: I do have a snack cabinet and my snacks and going bad. And I was so upset because I'm like, "I can't eat all of this."
Shamari: Yeah. I used to keep Nutri-Grain bars on deck in my classroom. And during passing period, I would duck down behind my desk and they all know, they're like, "There he goes again." And I'm like, "Y'all if a long day I have to eat something."
Gabby: I can't. We have two snack periods because I told them, I was like, "I need to eat five times a day."
Gabby: "I don't know about you, but I'm going to give you the option to eat five times a day and we're just going to roll with it because I'm a snacker." They know.
Shamari: Yeah. And what's your favorite snack?
Gabby: Oh my gosh. It depends the day. I'm not a candy person.
Shamari: A day like today?
Gabby: Today I was fully strawberry Nutri-Grain bars and rainbow goldfish. It has to be rainbow. I don't want no plain goldfish. I need the color.
Shamari: Wait, is there a different flavor or is it just cheese?
Gabby: They're all cheddar. None of them have a different flavor, they just have a different color. Because my kids were like, "If you just gave me some vegetable Goldfish, I swear." And I was like, "I'm not going to give you veggie Goldfish."
Shamari: "Don't worry, it's the bad stuff."
Gabby: Thank you. I was like, "What is wrong with you? Do you guys know me?" We are no candy school. They know I'm like a smuggler. I'm like, "Here, take it, run, go home." And that was another thing I have to sanitize anything I give them. it was a constant going. We had extra lotion for when things were chipping.
And so, the way we showed love to each other was just by being with each other. We are a community. My kids mean everything to me. And when we had to announce that we were going virtual, I had to tell them, I was like, "This is happening because we love you, because I want to have you tomorrow and every day after that." And I'm not a big crier. They know I say that, but I tear up at least once a day. And they looked at me and they're like, "You're going to cry." And I was like, "No, I'm not. How dare you yell that to me." And so, they had tears streaming down their face and I had tears streaming down mine. And I was like, "When I tell you guys that you are my community, you are my people, I mean that."
I mean that more than anything, because the things my kids come forward to with me, I've had other teachers say like, "I didn't know that about that child. I didn't know what was going on." And I was like, I told them from the jump, "I love you. There is never anything you can do to me that I'm not going to love you." I have had a kid use gay as a slur. And I was like, "Let's have a conversation about it. We're going to talk about it. We're going to go through it." And they were like, "Oh my gosh, you just talked about what it is to be gay. You just talked about LGBTQ rights." And I'm like, "Well, yeah, of course I did." And they looked at me and they're like, "Why are you speaking about it so normally?" I'm like, "Because what's not normal? What's not the norm of this? It's love. The same way you guys have needs, and you need me to love you, and you need me to see you, everybody needs that."
There's nothing different about that. But to them, these aren't conversations of love because people have politicized them to this point that it's like you're this, or you're that, or you're this. No. In my classroom, we are each other, we hear each other, we take space for each other. I don't care what we're doing in math. Don't get me wrong, I teach my curriculum. I'm not going to say I don't because I like my job, and I would like to keep it. But if we have an incident come up, we're shutting down class. We're taking the time for it, because at the end of the day, the way you see each other matters more to me. And the way they see themselves matters more to me than any math problem, more than anything else, because I need them to go into the world loving themselves and knowing they're capable. But when somebody hurts them, being able to go from a place of love and say, why did that person do that to me?
And the first couple of weeks, we were not there. It's the first teacher in me that I was like, "I'm going to sprinkle some fairy dust, I'm going to say some quotes, and we're going to get it."
Shamari: Yeah. Quotes only get but so far.
Gabby: They were like, "I don't know what you're saying, please stop. I don't know what you're talking about." And so, the first question I asked my kids was, "How do you feel loved?" And so, many of them didn't have an answer for me. And they were like, "I think you need to explain that. I don't know what that means." And I was like, "For me, I feel loved when I'm in an honest space, because to me, honesty is safety. When people are upfront with me, I know where to move. It lowers my anxiety. It makes it so that I know who I am and where I am. And then a place where I feel listened to."
I was like, "Sometimes when people have side conversations, it kind of scares me." And I was like, "And when I'm saying it scares me, it makes me feel like, did I say something wrong? Does someone think bad thoughts about me? What does that mean?" And they were like, "Oh my gosh, teachers feel that way?" I was like, "Yeah. Why do you think we mad at you all the time when you having side conversations? It is not because what I'm teaching is the most important thing, it's because you are not hearing me as a person."
Shamari: Yeah, yeah. What do you love about teaching besides snack breaks and the Rainbow Goldfish and all those things? What do you love about our work?
Gabby: I think what I love about our work is that it's never the same. There is always a chance for me to take a step forward and be better than I was yesterday. There's always a chance for me to ask for something new, and try something different, and fail in front of my 15 kids, have them laugh at me and us try again tomorrow. The idea that I don't have to be stagnant is what I love about our job. And they change you so much all the time. I feel like every day I learn something, in the best way sometimes, in the worst way sometimes. And I know who I am as a person. And I know what it means to love and care about myself, because I'm constantly learning how to reform that image of myself, reform what I'm doing. And that comes from our job.
Shamari: Yeah. So the next set of questions I ask every guest. The first is, as a human who teaches, what do you wish others knew about you and your work?
Gabby: Part of me wants to say that it's been known, because we had a pandemic and a bunch of kids got sent home, but no teacher should have to fear for their life and their safety. It feels really ridiculous to me that everything we've gone through as a country, there's still this stigma of teachers aren't doing enough. It comes from that lack of humanization that we were talking about. We dehumanize each other. We distance ourselves from each other. We don't see it. I have been so fortunate that my parents see me as a full human. I don't know if it's because I am so young, so it's easy for some of them to just be like, "Oh, you're my oldest daughter's age. Whatever, like you're 12."
But sometimes when I hear the way, even just the way that some people speak of each other, I'm like, "Would you say that to someone on the street? Why do we feel the need to tear each other down so much? If you feel a teacher isn't doing something right, can we ask a question? Can we have a real conversation with each other, rather than it escalating to a point that now we're not listening to each other? I don't know what you need from me. I don't know what I need from you." In our job, we're struggling too. This pandemic is kicking our butts, and we stand up in that room, and we act like we have no fear because the second we let it creep in, they see it in our room. Those kids feel it, they tense up. I can't get them to be themselves, but my kids know deep down that I know things aren't okay and that I'm playing an act. And why is it that we're not willing to acknowledge that in each other?
Shamari: Right, right. But we are now. And hopefully-
Shamari: ... our listeners are, teachers who are listening can share, at least with us, if nobody else. We get it. It is really, really hard. Really, outside the pandemic, just teaching in general, it's like 25 young hearts and minds or teenage hearts and minds or adult hearts and minds all in a space, a lot is happening. And we're supposed to learn with and from each other. Like, yo, the work, I love it. I wouldn't do anything else. It's my happy place. But I'd be lying if I said it were easy. It is-
Shamari: ... exhausting. And when you have people talk to you like you're a robot, I think it's beyond. There's a point, it's just like, do you know what I just done all day? I didn't get to have my Goldfish, I ran out of Nutri-Grain bars, I literally left my heart in the classroom. Then I come out to a society that's just like, "Yeah, okay. But did you do this, this, this, this, this," and just get beat up and beat up. And I'm just like, "No, no, no, we need love too."
Gabby: Yep. And we've gotten to the place where we have normalized treating each other that way. And I was like, "Oh no, no, no." Number one, I'm just a loud mouth. If I feel disrespected, in my household, you tell someone when you feel disrespected. So growing up, I'd be like, "Wow, that was kind of disrespectful," and people would be like, "What's wrong with you?" And I was like, "I don't know. That was rude. I don't know why you just said that." But we've gotten used to, you're not doing enough. And that's the culture sometimes that we carry with each other, where we're like, "Well, do you know that I just did this, this, this, this, and this while you've been chilling in your classroom planning." And I was like, "I'm just trying to plan. I'm also trying to do the thing. I know I don't look as stressed as you, but I am equally freaking out inside."
We're in that place. But if someone else isn't there with you and you don't feel that they're at your level of concern, we get into this place of, does that teacher not care enough? Does that teacher not care about their kids? Does that whatever. And society has conditioned us to think that's okay, and it's not okay. What if the reason Ms. Gabby is being quiet today is because she doesn't feel good, she's having a real bad day, she's having some serious stuff happening at home?
And another teacher that's supposed to be my support system, that's supposed to notice that something is different in me is now saying I don't care enough. And it's like, no, of course I care enough, of course I want this to be right. And the fact that whatever's going on at home is distracting me from that, makes me feel like a failure. And I just need to accept this failure right now, so that I can come back tomorrow better. And I need you not to call me out for it.
Shamari: That's right. Basically, we need to feel allowed to be human. Right?
Shamari: That's why I'm so sort of adamant about human who teaches. And I'm not trying to be repetitive or like, why is he saying that? Because we are people, because we are humans. Yes, we teach, but we are humans. And there are things that happen that definitely inform the way that we live, but also the ways that we teach and the ways that we show up or not in our classrooms. We feel stuff. And that's what-
Gabby: We need to stop playing into the fact that we don't. My kids asked me once why I teach the way I teach. And I was like, "What are you talking about?" I was like, "What bad thing are you going to tell me?" And they're like, "Why are you so open with us about your feelings?" And I was like, "Because I didn't know how to express my feelings at your age, and if I'm expecting you to express yourself, I need to model that for you." So if I'm feeling off in the day, I tell them, I'm like, "I'm feeling off right now, but I'm going to take this step, this step and this step to try to feel better. If it doesn't work, we'll readjust, I'll come back." But I just tell them because I need them to know I'm a human. I need them to see me as all of me, because Ms. Gabby doesn't exist without Gabby in the street.
All of those parts of me, I bring to them. When I'm dancing in the middle of the room, I'm dancing in the middle of the room because I had 13 years of dance lessons and they got to pay off for something. This is why we are doing this. And I want them to see me as a whole person because I didn't humanize so many of my teachers, and there's so many times that I think back to the things I thought of them, and some of them were really bad. And I was like, I can't believe I thought that about another human being, but it was because I had a teacher who was trying to be perfect all the time, because that's what society told them they had to be. And so, they were pushing that and pushing that and pushing that. And because they pushed that, I missed all of who they were. And I want to know who they are because they were such a big part of my life. I spent a whole year with them, seven hours a day. I want to know that you have a dog named Cookie. Tell me about Cookie. And not knowing that, I feel like I erased part of who they were.
Shamari: Yeah. What would you say to other educators right now? It could be about anything, but what would you say to them?
Gabby: I think I'm going to go back to have grace for yourself. I think as a first year teacher, it's a lot easier to say that because we're still exploring, we're still in that period. But we're all first year teachers this year, it's a pandemic. Have grace with yourself. Try new things. When they don't work, when the computer starts spasming out, it's okay. We're going to be mad. We're going to take our time. And take time for self care. Put it first. At all times. Because at the end of the day, when you do things to love yourself, when you pamper yourself, sometimes that's just taking time to lay in bed all day, when you do the small things that you need, you go into that classroom different and your kids feel it, and they know it and they learn from you.
So if you want them to be people who grow up to take care of themselves, to focus on their mental health and to move forward, you need to be doing that for yourself and exhibiting that to them.
Shamari: I always say we have to treat ourselves like people we love. Treat yourself like someone you love. Two more questions. The first question I ask all of my guests, and then the second one is just for you. Here's the first. And so the podcast is called Water for Teachers and water for me brings up all kinds of things. Love being one of them, healing, restoration, rest, a dog named Cookie, goldfish. Water brings up so many things, but really it's all around nourishment. Okay? And so let me ask you, Gabby, what is your water?
Gabby: What is my water? I think always, I pretend I'm not an extrovert. I'm an extrovert. My nourishment has been people and it's always in the weirdest circumstances. You'll hear my mom, she's like, "You can talk to anyone." I don't even know what you're talking about anymore, but I love that. I love listening to other people and just sitting and taking the time. And some of the closest people in my life are from the most random places in my life and the most random times in my life. But it was because I just sat and asked a question and let someone talk for an hour. Because that's what I need for my soul. And that's what it becomes with movies. I could watch movies all day because whatever that story is, I just want to sit in it and I want to understand it. And I want my whole body to feel whatever's happening and what's going with you.
And lately, that's what been. Dr. Player has been doing a research paper on our experience in the prep program, me and one other friend that graduated with me, Cindy Lopez. And every time Cindy or Grace open their mouth, I'm like, "Oh, I am whole." This is family. This is truth. This is your honesty and your deepest self. And I love when people can get to that place.
Gabby: And I love that people can get to that place with me. Not going to lie, it's my brag brag. I'm not humble about it. I'm like, "People tell me stuff." It makes me happy. And it feels like my gift, which just makes it feel like this is what I want to do. I want to spend my life listening to people's stories and just hearing who they are.
Shamari: Same. I'm such a listening nerd. I can listen to people talk forever, but when they're vulnerable and honest, right? I don't want to listen to you if you're going to perform or if you're going to pretend. That's why we have those weird questions on the forum for people who want to be on the podcast. Like, yeah, tell me your name and then I'm like, "Hardest lesson you ever learned in your life. Go." You know? It's because I want to know if you could be vulnerable because there's something so beautiful and so precious about vulnerability and the ability and the willingness to bare your soul. Doing that is harder than receiving it. But I love both. So the final question is this, what is the role of love in teaching?
Gabby: Oh, it is the role. There's no other. That is number one. Number two, number 10, whole line. When it comes to teaching, my teaching philosophy, I said it in my first line. I teach with love. That is my goal always. If you put love at the forefront of everything you do as a teacher, it allows you to reflect so much on why you're doing things, who's getting what they need in your room, what's going on. Perfect example. I had a kid that I wasn't connecting with and because I was the student that would make a mess for teachers, I was like, "Every student that makes a mess for teachers, always vibes with me. Always." And he wasn't vibing with me. And I was like, "Sir, you're supposed to like me. We know you're supposed to like me. We know deep down, I'm your lady." He wasn't buying it. He's like, "I don't know why you keep talking to me. Get out of here."
And so his grades started slipping and things started ending up. And I caught myself writing one of those homework slips of, "You didn't give me homework. I need something be signed." And I looked at that sheet of paper and I was like, why did I write this? And I was like, did I write this because I wanted power and because I'm having an ego trip right now of I need him to show me respect? And I think that this slip of paper is going to show me respect? And so I went in my group chat with Dr. Player and Cindy and I was like, "I wrote this thing, but something in me feels wrong. Something in me feels aggressive. Something in me feels like this isn't coming from a place of, 'I love you. And I'm giving you the space to be yourself and come to me.' It comes from I'm forcing myself on you so that hopefully we can build a connection." And they were like, "Do you really need me to read that? Because whatever you just said you know you got to throw it out. Throw the paper out, what's wrong with you?"
And if I'm not teaching from a place of love, I can't check myself. I can't think, why am I doing this? Am I being there for him? Am I doing the right thing? And he came to me eventually. I gave him space, I gave him his time, and he came to me and I learned how to love him appropriately. But because he triggered a trauma in me of feeling like I'm not enough, feeling like I'm not good enough, feeling like he needs to love me, I almost disrupted his joy. I almost disrupted his love. For something that as an adult, I've got to get over. It's not his problem to bear. It's not his thing to deal. But if I wasn't teaching from a place of love, and if I didn't understand that that love is unconditional and I will love him no matter how much he is not vibing with me, I couldn't have checked myself at that time to be like, you're doing wrong. You know you're doing wrong and you feel it in you.
Shamari: Yeah. Wow. And so for those of you who are listening and you've joined us, I want to invite you to join the conversation as I always do. And I want you to think about your thoughts on the role of love in your teaching. What is the role of love in your teaching? And if you feel so moved, share your reflections and explorations with us, please.
I would love to engage with you and your humanity. You can share your responses on Twitter using the hashtag Water for Teachers or tag us using our Twitter handle @Water4Teachers. That's the number four. Thank you, Gabby, for your heart. Thank you for sharing this space with us and thank all of you at home for listening. Until next time, peace and love. Bye
Shamari K. Reid I often refer to myself as an ordinary Black Gay cisgender man from Oklahoma with extraordinary dreams. Currently, that dream involves completing my doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University in the department of Curriculum & Teaching where I focus on urban education and teacher education. Before starting my doctoral program, I completed a B.A. in Spanish Education at Oklahoma City University and an M.A in Spanish and TESOL at New York University. I've taught Spanish and ESL at the elementary, secondary, and post secondary levels in Oklahoma, New York, Uruguay, and Spain. In addition to my doctoral work, I have spent the last few years as an instructor at Hunter College- CUNY offering courses on the teaching of reading, urban education, and language, literacy, and culture. I have also been engaged in work as a consultant for the New York City Department of Education’s initiative to combat the discrimination students of color face. My research interests include Black youth agency, advocacy, and activism and transformative teacher education. I am currently in the process of completing my dissertation on the agency of Black LGBTQ+ youth in NYC. Oh, and I have small addiction to chocolate chip cookies.
Gabby is a first year teacher that graduated from the University of Connecticut with their Master's degree in Spring 2020. Gabby is a writer, dancer, and listener who has an affinity for stained glass windows, and steelpan drums. They believe that by learning to love ourselves we can change not only the education system but the world around us.