(Re)Claiming My Education

October 18, 2021

Boring title but bear with me. (It was inspired by a speech I read for one of my classes this fall.) FYI this post is probably the hardest post I am ever going to write. So here goes. Walk with me and go easy.

As an educator people often have the mistaken impression that schooling and education came easy to me. Some may even believe that it was a place where I experienced tons of success. Nope. Not true at all. In fact I felt like a failure throughout most of my schooling experience. I didn’t really feel connected to school. It didn’t generate a whole lot of meaning for me. It was a place to hang out with friends and try out some new things.

Don’t get me wrong, I did try really hard – usually up until Thanksgiving. But schooling felt like a marathon race I had not trained for. I got off to a good sprint but by the 5 kilometer mark I was running out of steam and direction. (I’ll end the puns here for the sake of my dear friend Jen.) I never really felt like I knew what I was doing when it came to school. I was a very average student. Very. Sometimes exceptional moments would bubble to the surface but for the most part I was the kind of student that most teachers probably never noticed unless I was in gym or art. That is a whole other story that I will leave for another time.

Because I was a quiet (for the most part) kid everyone assumed that I knew what I was doing and would even call me smart. I felt like I was such a fake for never countering this image of myself. Things didn’t get much better when I applied to university – I was turned down by the school that I am now doing my masters at. Life sure brings you back to places to pick up the pieces of yourself you left behind. Coming back to this place of my first obvious failure made me reckon with why my schooling and education took such a turn.

I have recently come to realize why I didn’t engage with school as much as I could have. First of all I lived with my mother who had immigrated to Canada on her own to make a way for us. For most of my time in school my mother worked caring for children, the elderly and keeping rich peoples houses clean and their meals delicious. My mother never complained about her jobs. Her only requirement was that I get an education. She didn’t tell me what to become or what kind of job I should go towards. But she did indulge my interests which were constantly evolving but mainly revolved around church, art, and sports.

What my mother couldn’t help me with and I desperately needed was some tools to navigate the education system. My mother left school to the teachers and I was left to figure most things out. For some students in my situation that was not a barrier and they still excelled. But for a student like myself that was a bit of a disaster. For the most part I didn’t see school as preparation for much. Sad to say my thoughts about school didn’t go that far. I knew I had to “get an education” but really had no idea how to get it. So I kept plotting along every September with the hopes that each year I would try harder, be more consistent with homework, and get better organized. By the time February rolled around I found that I was behind on most assignments, I couldn’t grasp a lot of the mathematical concepts and I just tolerated most subjects. In high school I somehow made it into the gifted arts program. In the beginning all my energy and enthusiasm went into it. I tried so hard to prove that I belonged there. But at every turn I was met with that little imposter reminding me that I did not belong here with the smart and talented kids. During the last year of that program I watched as my energy and enthusiasm dried up.

Starting my masters this fall brought up all sorts of questions and wonderings about my place on that journey. I was in classes with people who were working on their PHD, well versed in academic speech, and seemed to make a seamless transition from whatever they were doing before to this new world. I leaned heavily into this feeling. And I made a decision. I was going to go all in. The first way in was accepting that I was a beginner.

I noticed that I had a pattern whenever a huge learning curve lay ahead. I would expend a lot of energy trying to prove I belonged rather than accepting my “beginner status”. I had never realized the power and freedom in the “beginner status”. Being a beginner means so many important things; I can ask for help, I can be wrong (over and over and over again), and I can take big risks knowing that I won’t land them all. Being a beginner came with its own set of problems but the more I leaned into it the more I found ease.

For those who know me, know that “ease reclamation” is a big deal in my world. As people of colour most of our lives (educational and professional) are marked by significant struggle. We overwork ourselves to counter attitudes towards us that do not ring true. We expend a lot of energy proving ourselves only to lose ourselves in one way or the other. So I’m leaning into my ‘beginner status” and taking it with ease.

So far it’s going great. That’s not to say I’m nailing everything – rather I’m reclaiming parts of my self I left behind all those years ago.

Note: It is necessary to say thank you to Professor Gilbert & Professor Shah for their help on this journey.