“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
― Dorothy Day
My days are basically the same: Wake up. Commute to work. Teach. Go home. Family time. Sleep. Rinse, repeat.
This is why on the days when I have the chance to engage with communities which break this monotony, or provide me with a sense of refuge within it, I feel so grateful. Like some super-complicated Venn diagram of my life, these various groups allow me to more fully be my best series of selves.
My teaching community
So much of teaching is in isolation. A teacher is surrounded by students all day long – and don’t get me wrong, when my classes are really great, those groups of students become true communities – but aside from specific structures such as staff meetings or shared lunch periods, we do not necessarily spend our time with other adults. Grading is often solitary. Planning is often solitary.
Luckily, we can find ways to carve our time into something meaningful. My school has built-in common planning periods for teachers who are on the same grade-level team. Lucky for me, this includes Tanya. We have taught together for a decade now, and in that time she has become a mentor, constant collaborator, and “big sister.” I rely on the days that we can enjoy a leisurely lunch, share student work, co-plan lessons, collaborate on curriculum, discuss pedagogy and TV and politics. Tanya and the rest of my circle of work friends, people who are like-minded in how they approach teaching and social justice and teens, support and sustain the professional me.
My writing community
This year I’m running a professional development workshop called Teachers as Writers. It’s basically a writing group for and of teachers – some from my school, others from across the district – who come together once a month and workshop each others’ writing. When we enter my classroom for 75 minutes on afternoons such as today, we don’t do it in service of improving pedagogy or assessment of student writing- we do it for ourselves, to hone our own work, to honor our own craft. It is freeing, and it has already made me a better teacher of writing for my students as well.
This community – some of whom I knew well before this began, others I have met for the first time in this course – has become a way for me to nourish that part of myself that craves feedback for my work, that acknowledges the poet and writer within. I leave each session buoyed by my hope for and belief in my own voice.
My parenting community
When K was born, I was a little adrift. In those first couple of months of his life, we moved apartments, my husband changed jobs, and my sister and close friend each got married. I had a lot on my plate. When J went back to work in the fall, I needed something to fill the remaining six weeks of my maternity leave, so I joined Stroller Strides, checked out a free drop-in music class at a local community center, and finally attended a local toy store’s new parents’ coffee hour. This last group eventually led me to my Mom Community (MoC). Although there are many online op-eds denigrating these spaces as judgmental, catty, basic, I have found an enormous amount of strength and love from MoC.
Although we often get together IRL (in real life), it’s hard to find babysitters, juggle schedules, and deal with myriad illnesses, family visits, etc. So we rely a lot on our Facebook group to share links, get advice, vent about kids/partners/family, find many shoulders to cry on. Our children span an 18-month period in their ages, so some of us can offer advice about where we’ve been; others get to look ahead to see what’s ahead in our journeys. Across our homes, across our families, MoC is a web of support connected by milk and motherhood, here to make sure that no mom is left behind.
It takes many villages
When I was younger, I would watch shows like Friends and silently bemoan the fact that I didn’t have a single close-knit group of friends to share my every waking moment. Although I know that some people’s lives do resemble sitcom television, mine has not been one of them.
Instead, I have many intersecting and individual communities: friends from college; friends from grad school; work friends; mom friends; family members who are also true friends; professional groups with whom I engage in pedagogical and ideological discourse; my large and wild extended family; my own family unit of J, K, and me.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” the saying goes. Maybe sometimes, it takes multiple villages. Like an intricate net of solidarity, each of these communities strengthens the various facets of my life, each a small village in the countryside of Me.