Not Even Pretending To Be Cool

“Ms. Napper, do you have a Snapchat?”
“No.”
“Instagram?”
“No.”
“Twitter?”
“Nope.”
“Kik?”
“What?”
“Vine?”
“No!”

There were about five minutes at the very beginning of my career when I was cool, because I used Facebook. Then I blinked, the kids had moved on to the next shiny object, and I began my descent into dinosaur status. I guess we all know that we’ll become out-of-date relics eventually, but who knew it would happen so fast?

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The evolution of social media mystifies me though. I was along for the ride as we went through the phases of AIM chats/profiles/away messages, LiveJournals, Xanga, MySpace, etc, until we all landed on Facebook. After that, it stopped making sense.

Remember the old days (or, at least, the movies about the old days), when grocery shopping meant a list of visits to the butcher, the produce guy, the baker, and the milkman came to you? Then grocery stores became a thing, and now we can get everything at Safeway. We consolidated, simplifying our lives, so now we can get all the things in one place.

Or remember when we used calculators, maps, cameras, dictionaries, flashlights, notepads, music players of some sort… And then smart phones entered our lives. Consolidation. All the things in one place.

So why is social media going in the opposite direction? Facebook gave us all the things in one place, but ever since, we’ve been fragmenting.

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Instagram lets you share photos… Or I can put photos on Facebook.

Twitter lets you share messages in 140 characters or less… Or I can share messages of any length I want on Facebook.

Vine lets you share videos of 6 seconds or less… Or I can share videos of any length on Facebook.

Snapchat, Kik, and whatever other messaging apps are out there… Not only does my phone already have text messaging, but Facebook has a messenger too!

Now, the question we should be asking ourselves–why isn’t Mark Zuckerberg paying me to write this?? (Hey, Zucks, contact me, and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal….)

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It sounds so crazy when you hear people in the public eye promoting themselves, and they rattle off this long list of usernames on all these different platforms. Why? Why is that necessary? Who can keep up with that?

As it is, Facebook sucks up an unhealthy amount of my time and attention. Also, I’ve been terrible about checking my personal email ever since Facebook became a thing. I can’t imagine how I’d manage my time if I were juggling half a dozen more social media apps, all of which I’d surely think needed to be checked every three minutes.

So, sorry-not-sorry, but my social media status piqued in 2005, when I was an elitist, college-student-only user of TheFacebook. The kids can shake their heads in disappointment at me, but it’s cool. I can always shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn.

One Last Bout Of School Year Sentiment

Not gonna lie, I spend all year looking forward to the magical last day of school, when the insanity takes a break, and summer begins. That should come as no surprise!

But here’s the thing. Underneath my thick layers of snark, awkwardness, and whimsical nonsense, I’m also a sentimental sap. And ending the school year is always tough. Goodbyes are tough. I’m horrifically bad at them.

Goodbyes to students are tough, especially the 8th graders. Laugh and roll your eyes if you must, but you have to understand, I teach many of them for up to three years in a row. I meet them as 11 year old children, stick with them through the crazy hormonal storms, and then say goodbye to 14 year olds who are actually bordering on maturity. By then, magic happens when I look at the kids, and I can simultaneously see shadows of the adults they’re becoming, and of the lil’ kids they once were. I miss the latter, and hope to someday meet the former. But after all that we go through together in three years, they have a pretty huge place in my heart!

The kids actually aren’t who I’m thinking about today though.

It’s also hard to say goodbye to the adults. I happen to work at the best middle school in the west–possibly the world–and it’s not coincidentally staffed by the best professionals you could ever want to work with. Ending the school year means saying goodbye to those who are retiring or moving on to other jobs. Of course, nothing will ever be as bad as the years after the economy crashed, when teachers were being moved against their will, and nobody had any control over where they ended up. At least now people generally only leave when they choose to. But that only makes it marginally easier!

I’m pretty anti-change in general. I like my routines. I like things to stay comfortable. I like my people to be right where I expect them to be. Always.

And I don’t like losing people who are such talented, kind, integral parts of our school community. So many times over the last few days, I’ve thought “How will we ever survive without _____?”

But I think that every year, and this year I tried not to say it out loud. Because you know what I’ve learned? We will survive. And we’ll continue to thrive. That’s part of how the much-talked-about “Whitford Way” works.

In nine years at Whitford, especially these nine years, I’ve seen a lot of incredible people come and go. The magical part, though, is watching their ripples. A person’s influence doesn’t stop when they leave Whitford. The good they’ve done keeps working its way around, evolving into new shapes and forms, but maintaining its flavor. Sometimes people leave a very tangible mark, where you can point to specific objects, practices, or traditions, and you know who did that. Usually it’s a less tangible legacy.

Speaking for myself, I know that I carry many pieces of other teachers with me. Sometimes it’s even mildly against my will: “If So-And-So were here, they would do such-and-such. But they’re not here, and it should still be done, so I guess I’ll do it…” Most of the time it’s with a much better attitude though, I promise! “This person always acts this way, and I want to be like that too…”

As a new teacher, it was easy to name the qualities I wanted to have as a teacher. For example, “I want to have high expectations for all students.” Very easy to say! But what does that actually mean in the trenches of a classroom? I can read lots of articles about high expectations, and maybe they help a little. But nothing helps as much as being around teachers who consistently model successful ways to get students meeting high expectations. In my head right now, there’s a long list of Whitford names, past and present, and specific things I’ve learned from each, that help me keep the expectations high in my own classroom.

I try to pass those things along to others, both students and teachers, because the Whitford Way works in ripples. Some of the most valuable advice I’ve received can be traced to teachers I’ve never even met, so I try to do my part to keep passing it forward.

A few months ago, I randomly came across a gathering of the Whitford retiree group. Some I knew as friends; others I mostly knew from legend. But there was something comforting and circle-of-lifey about that glimpse of what I hope my future looks like, still a part of this special family.

I’ve always felt lucky to be part of this community, experiencing the Whitford Way magic. And I think I’m starting to finally believe the magic doesn’t have an expiration date.

Another Opportunity To Check Your Racism

I’m not a big fan of our biggest local taxi service. Some bad experiences have left me with a sour taste and general distrust. But you know what I hate more than the taxi company? I hate that I can’t complain about the cab service, and just be talking about the cab service.

This is what happens, probably nine times out of ten, when I tell a story about a cab driver who was dishonest, or unsafe, or whatever the complaint is this time. The listener immediately asks some variation on: “Was he… from another country?” “Did he speak much English?” “Was he [insert race or ethnicity here]?” Often the question is preceded with the classic, “I’m not racist, but…”

The answer to the question doesn’t even matter. My problem is with the question itself. Why is anyone asking it? Why are so many people asking it? What kind of assumptions and biases are they trying to validate, and why?

When I tell stories about people being kind, thoughtful, witty, fun, or smart, nobody ever responds by asking about the person’s racial background. Never, at least as far as I can remember. If there are any assumptions made about that person’s ethnicity, they go unspoken.

And when I tell a story about bad behavior, I don’t remember anyone ever asking, “So, was he white?” “Was he European American?” “Let me guess, he was a native English speaker?”

IT’S NOT OK WITH ME. A story about bad behavior shouldn’t make your mind default to dark skin!

I resent being put in the position of answering such an offensive question. It’s easier when I can say the person was a white American with no trace of a different accent. In that case, everyone accepts that it was an individual acting poorly, and nobody gets stereotyped. But when the person is from any other racial or cultural background, there’s a knowing “hmm,” and I feel like I become complicit in the racism by answering the question. No matter what words I may say about an individual’s actions not reflecting the group, I still have this sense that I just reinforced another person’s stereotypes, and helped racism score a point. I never wanted to be part of something so ugly; I just wanted to vent about a bad taxi experience!

It gives me some empathy for an experience that people with privilege don’t often understand very well–having to represent an entire community. Maybe my fellow Mormon friends can understand this one. Once people find out I’m Mormon, they forever view my actions through that lens. They want to know how my words, actions, thoughts, politics, relationships, emotions, morals, etc. relate to my religious identity. They tell me all kinds of stories about “the Mormon neighbor” they used to have. All of that is completely fine with me, by the way. But it shows me how much power one person has to affect another person’s entire schema of Mormonism, for better or worse.

It’s a different experience for a person of color, but there are parallels. And that’s what comes to mind every time somebody asks if my negative experience was with a person from a different race. I feel this pressure, related to what a person of color must feel all the time, to represent an entire community. And I feel like I let that community down when my story doesn’t reflect well.

It’s not ok.

After tragedy…

I joked on Facebook that my next blog post would be something light and fluffy, like a tribute to Lisa Frank pandas. And you have no idea how badly I want to just sit back and write about Lisa Frank pandas! Why can’t the world stop being terrible for two seconds, and let me write about Lisa Frank pandas??

But here we are, staring at another senseless tragedy. And, predictably, the internet is splitting into its usual camps, all pointing fingers, promoting causes, trying to outshout each other. I completely agree with some of those fingers and causes; others, I find reprehensible.

One that hurts in a unique way, though, is the rallying cry to stop praying, and take action.

I hate a false dichotomy. One doesn’t have to choose between prayers and action; they’re stronger together. I don’t appreciate my faith being characterized as weakness, as turning a blind eye to the real problems in the world.

I do believe in prayer, and I have good reason to believe in that power. I do believe in God. And as hard as it is to believe right now, I believe that God still believes in us too.

So I will pray.

I’ll pray for comfort, healing, and eventually peace, for the families and friends of the victims.

I’ll pray for the shooter’s family. I don’t know what their story is, or what they need right now, but God knows.

I’ll pray for my LGBT friends, family, acquaintances, and fellow humans, that they’ll be safe and supported, physically and emotionally.

I’ll pray for my Muslim friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans, that they won’t suffer more social punishment for this man’s actions.

I’ll pray for our lawmakers to worry more about our safety, and less about their highest paying lobbyists.

I’ll pray for the refugee families throughout our nation and world, that they can have support dealing with trauma, before it gets passed down through generations.

I’ll pray for all of us to have help speaking and acting from a place of love and compassion, not a place of anger and fear.

I’ll use my voice and actions to do as much good as I can within my tiny sphere of influence. But you’d better believe I’m praying for all the help I can get.

You know who else has been doing a lot of praying lately? My Muslim students. They’re celebrating Ramadan, and to watch their dedication to fasting–no food or water, from sunup to sundown, even in the billion degree heat we suffered last week–has been pretty inspiring. The other students are curious about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, so they’re asking questions and getting answers. The conversations have been full of nothing but interest and respect. (You see that, fellow adults? Interfaith dialogue and respect isn’t so hard!)

We have our cultural traditions for dealing with tragedy. Lately they seem to involve lighting candles, wearing ribbons, putting a filter over our profile photo, or wearing an assigned color on a predetermined day. But you know what I think would be really cool?

What if this time, we united after tragedy through a day of fasting? Our Muslim friends and neighbors are already in the middle of fasting. What if, instead of labeling them as enemies, we joined with them for a day? Fasting can mean many things to many people. But regardless of our religious affiliation, what if for a day, we recognized that we’re all spiritual beings? What if we all came together and fed our spirits instead of our bodies for a day? A unified effort to bring a little more peace, understanding, and good into the world?