by Daniel Kim
Development Director/Faculty at Rise University Preparatory School
This is not a post about how we have mastered Zoom for our 60 students at our school that serves low-income, first generation-to-college middle schoolers. I am proud though of our team of teachers and students at Rise Prep who have engaged so well with this new frontier of learning and are making sure our students do not become a statistic in the growing achievement gap that crises like the Coronavirus exacerbate.
This blog is more about MY education in the past three years, and how I am now realizing that I may have been teaching and modeling the wrong things in my 20 year career as a public school educator.
When I talk to graduates of my class, I have been struck by how few feel free to connect with me about how they are doing now 5, 10, 15, 20 years later. As I plumbed deeper, I heard a similar refrain about how they wanted to have their lives together before they emailed or talked to me. My response to them would be, “No! I want to know how you are doing? Doesn’t matter if you are put together!”
Apparently, in the past 20 years as an English teacher, I conveyed a sense of inspiration, but also inaccessibility. I was uber competent in my job, and students felt intimidated.
I left my job of 20 years to help start a school for first to college, low-income, and/or Bayview neighborhood residents. For the past 3 years, I have confronted my inadequacies as an educator, my awakened place in a racialized society, and the daily challenges of funding this mission to educate the students of our City. Along with the challenges at this start-up school, my parents, who are 78, have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. My children, whom we adopted from Korea, have their own attachment and developmental challenges. So in a nutshell, I daily confront my powerlessness and inadequacy.
I hear my God say, “Come to me.” My response has been, “I can’t. Especially now! I’m not put together!”
In a time when I have struggled to think of a hopeful word for many of my graduates in this uncertain time of the Coronavirus, I have stayed virtually silent. I used to be the teacher that showed Shawshank Redemption each year for every one of my 4 class periods, and replayed the scene where Andy Dufresne buries the letter for Red under the rock, and says, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I hope this letter finds you and finds you well.” I am no Andy Dufresne in these days, and I have felt ashamed of my own life and the lack of hope I often have each day. Many mornings, it takes a lot to get out of bed and to face the day.
I now wonder if my reluctance in writing a post to my students comes from that same fear, and actual lie, I unknowingly instilled in my students about needing to be “put together” to speak and connect. I have put up that same obstacle in my relationship with God as well, keeping distant even as I cope with the pain and struggle on my own.
But maybe this is the exact message I need to be speaking today to my students in light of the out of control state of our world and lives.
I am a broken person who needs Jesus, and it’s okay to say that. Flannery O’Connor saw it clearly…Maybe I see now what others on the margins see more clearly–that at the end of the day, we have a lot less power than we think. And the power or privilege we have been given, has really been more about control than about love. Though I am broken and lame, or maybe BECAUSE I am broken and lame, I may experience the reality of God’s grace and love.
I write this with trepidation that I may be sent back into despair with a tantrum from my daughter, or a disquieting call from my dad, but I also write with faith and hope that God wants me to come to him, even when I am not put together. Perhaps, this is the lesson that I was meant to teach all along.