A Metaphor For Metaphor

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This article was first posted on https://eajepsen.wordpress.com

My mind was preoccupied as I briskly cut to my classroom through the middle school cafeteria as 7th grade lunch was dismissing. Out of the corner of my eye, a quick movement caught my attention and I spun my head in the direction of the movement, which was now accompanied by squealing and yelling. At this point in the school year, my eyes and ears were trained to discern sounds abnormal from the regular din and activity that middle schoolers bring with them. My mind rapidly calculated that some sort of fight was breaking out and with lunch bag in tow, I sprinted to the huddle of students from where the noise was coming.

Surprised, I saw one of my female students—a generally quiet, conservative, and respectful girl—hitting another student who seemed to be cowering on the wall.

“Hey! Cut it out and get to class!” I yelled.

When the student doing the hitting disregarded my instruction, I was both annoyed and confused. This was not like her. I stepped closer, ready to intervene and much more loudly shouted,

“HEY! Get your hands off of her and get to class!”

This time, the student turned and looked at me, startled. She opened her mouth and began to attempt an explanation, which I abruptly cut off.

Once I saw that the fight was successfully dissipated, I hurried back to my class, where I now had students waiting. I was peeved, but honestly, stuff like this happened at my school all too frequently. I resumed my lesson and didn’t think much of it for the rest of the day.

With the final dismissal bell ringing at 3:30 p.m., I found myself sitting at my desk, exhaustion kicking in as my mind continued to reel with the many things that I still needed to accomplish before tomorrow. I snapped out of my tired stupor and began muddling my way through the eighty-something papers that I needed to grade before I left school.

My classroom door creaked open and I heard a soft voice.

“Hey, Ms. Jepsen!”

I looked up and saw Ciara, who frequently stopped by my classroom around this time to simultaneously pace around my room while playing on her tablet and chatter about her day. Generally, the topics of conversation ranged somewhere from what happened in math class, to how her younger sister annoyed her, to the list of boys she adamantly claimed she did NOT like.

Without fully entering my classroom, she hung close to the door and continued,

“I got yelled at by a teacher today!” I looked up again.

“What? You got yelled at? No, you didn’t.” Smiling, she nodded.

Curious, I prodded, “Who yelled at you?”

Ciara laughed, “You did! In the cafeteria!”

Understanding quickly dawned on me and I remembered the small debacle at lunch time.

“Oh yeah.” I had meant to follow up with her.

“What was that all about? You completely ignored me and none of that is like you at all.”

Ciara now stepped in the room and explained that the girl who she was playfully hitting was her friend, who had jokingly stolen something of hers. I came on the scene when Ciara had apparently figured out what had happened and was “getting her back.”

It made sense now. In retrospect, I pondered the situation and it made sense why nobody involved in this little altercation had been overly upset and why the girl being hit casually walked off when I broke it up.

From my vantage point, the now laughable lunch time incident, appeared to be a fight. From Ciara’s, it was nothing more than the delivering of a good-natured retribution. Because of our differing perspectives and involvement, the same incident appeared to be two completely different things. Not surprisingly, this is a common “phenomenon,” if you want to call it that. Look at the extremely disparate political, racial, and economic ideas and theories held by American citizens.

I know, this isn’t radical or new. I think most people have this very basic understanding of perspective:  it changes based on where we are standing, sitting, crouching. It changes based on who we are with or whether we are with someone at all. It changes based on our prior experience.

Now apply this concept of perspective to metaphors. The metaphors we choose to define our experiences and views are shaped by our personal piece of reality: our lives. Your reality is different than mine, because we are not same. Profound. Not really, but somehow at the age of 24, I am just now beginning to more completely understand how experience influences what we perceive.

I wished someone would have interrupted me and explained this to me when I was arrogantly spewing something about another something I knew nothing about. Or when I was applying my limited experience and knowledge to a situation so foreign to my own, that I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly use my vocabulary to adequately define or explain. But that’s the whole point—not just the error of youth—but that our experiences or lack thereof, determine how we innately define the world around us.

Let me use this metaphor about metaphor to talk about metaphor. Now, we’re really getting “meta” as some liberal arts college major (like me) would say. Metaphor is lens shaped by perspective. A lens created not by fragmentations of plastic or glass, but by our experiences.

When we think about metaphor this way, we might understand why two students asked the same question of “What metaphor would you use to describe school?” could respond with such opposing answers as “prison” and “adventure.” One has a negative connotation and one has exciting, if not positive connotation.

Metaphors are an attempt to gain understanding by framing the unfamiliar in familiar terms. In this way, metaphors are tidy, because each new thing is then assigned to an attribute or object of something that is already understood. It’s convenient, which also means it is something to be wary of doing glibly.

Being Black with Kids - The Fight

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“Why are your hands two different colors? It’s white on the inside and black on the outside?”

There are certain things that happen in one’s life that remain colorfully vivid, even 25+ years later. I’ll never forget that day. I was in 3rd grade, sitting at the lunch table when my classmate asked me those two questions.

I don’t remember if I perceived any inkling of innocence or maliciousness, but I do remember how small and insignificant I felt in that moment. I didn’t have an answer for the melanin on the outside of my skin, I hadn’t realized in all of my 9 years of existence that it was of any concern.

Yet it was that moment, being one of 5 black kids in an entire grade level and 1 of 2 girls who wasn’t mixed, that I realized my black was different and it made me feel inadequate.

Being in a “gifted school” was an academic feat, yet being a minority presented a burden I learned to carry. It didn’t become a chip on my shoulder but a weight on my back that forced me to learn how to walk straight despite the compressions. I worked 3x as hard with much less. I didn’t have any excuses for mediocrity, regardless of the external challenges I faced as a child living in poverty. For all intents and purposes, I was destined to fail, as I consistently had to prove that I deserved to be in that school amongst the others.

Living through those times and now being a mother, I consistently sit and reflect on the impact my life has had on me as a parent. As parents we do the best we can, yet there are times I wonder if my experiences have negatively colored my lenses.

I am raising a black daughter in the south.

Within that statement lies a connotation of implied racism that is synonymous with “the South”.  Having the experiences I have had in school throughout my adolescent years, I approach my daughter’s educational experiences with leery lenses, clouded by the perceived anticipated thoughts I have internalized over the years. I don’t shy off when fighting for my daughter. I strap up my combat boots figuratively and sometimes literally when I must encounter the all-white administration and teachers of her school. I purposefully dress down to “throw them off”, hoping to elicit their honest thoughts of who they are encountering by reading their demeanor in how they approach and begin our meetings. Yet my body language immediately signifies, “I don’t play about my daughter” while concurrently commencing to intentionally speaking in intense academic jargon when speaking with them to exhibit my thorough knowledge of education.

While this seems elaborate in hindsight, it is something so ingrained in my consciousness that I don’t realize I do it until it's done.

My daughter is a statistic. She is the only child of a single mother, bearing the last name of her father, indicating her family unit make-up without even asking. I’ve been in education long enough, as a teacher and administrator, to know automatically what the consensus is of children of fatherless households.

That is why I fight.

Or do I fight today to make up for the transgressions of my past? Do I fight for my daughter or am I fighting for the 9 year-old me? Am I seeing her teachers and administrators authentically or do I judge them out of the eyes of “little Marlena”?

Being Black with Kids raises more questions than answers. There are many times I have prepared questions of racial undertones at my daughter when she recaps her day. “Do you think your teacher acted that way because you are black? Did she treat “Susan” the same way she treated you when you did XYZ?” Many times, my daughter looks at me confusingly; I’m sure she’s unsure how she should answer because she knows her momma.

Because she knows her momma, I will never forget the apprehension in her spirit the day she told me about being falsely accused by her teacher and subsequently reminded of her “place” by her counselor. She followed what I taught her – If your teacher is being unfair, request to speak to another adult, then come home and let me handle the situation. Her counselor’s words were what she remembered. “Every teacher doesn’t have to like you”.

If her aunt, cousin or peer would have said those words, it would have been from a place of empowerment and purpose, because its true. If I would have said those words to my daughter, it would be perceived as a lesson in life, to stand regardless of opinion. But because her counselor is a white woman in her 30’s, those words struck me as a direct implication of her Blackness.

And I geared up for a fight.

Even if the intent behind some of the actions of her teachers are pure and without prejudice, the fact remains that being Black with kids comes with a heightened level of consciousness, an intense desire to teach our children what to do in the face of injustice and a cautionary stripping of innocence of just growing up.

It’s a constant reminder that we raise our kids differently, purposefully, intentionally and without apology.

Unfortunately, being Black with kids also means I understand wholeheartedly how far we think we are in years but how close in reality we are to pre-civil rights segregated America right now. Being Black with kids is a constant fight - to be heard, to be seen and to be treated individually first. Cause equal aint even an option if you can’t see me individually.

 

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.

 

“What do I do?”

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I am a first-generation college student and sole college graduate in my family. In 2018, it seems like we shouldn’t still have “Firsts,” but that’s another blog for another time.

As an educator, I’m very open with my students and others about my journey. There were times I had to complete my homework outside because we didn’t have electricity. I *still* sleep on floors because it’s synonymous with comfort and safety, especially when bullets have no name. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, in arguably the worst side of town.  I had fights in the neighborhood because I sat on our porch and read, seemingly acting like I was “better than everybody.”

Education has been, hands down, the one thing that has provided me with a sense of stability, opened doors for me, and has been a constant in my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am. Point blank. Period.

Yet, as much as having a high-quality education has been the cornerstone of who I am as an educator, activist, and life-long learner, I can’t say that my daughter is realizing that same dream.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my daughter isn’t receiving anything close to the education I did. She hasn’t been exposed to great teachers in a great school with a track record of success that spans decades. Her school isn’t ranking in the top schools in the state, nor is there a pipeline of excellence that she is being prepared for.

I struggle so much with this.

I often tell my students I’m the best teacher they will have. Sure, it’s subjective, but I love all my students like my own…

Or do I love them more?

I fight every day to give my students the education they deserve, while sending my daughter to a school that still isn’t up to par either. Sure, she doesn’t attend an inner-city school, her classmates aren’t grade levels behind, nor does her teacher have most of the behaviors I have dealt with, but as I write this, I contend that MY daughter is at a disadvantage too.

Do I leave the 99 to get the one?

What if the ONE is my daughter?

As a single mother, I can’t afford to homeschool and teach her what she needs to be competitive globally. Without working, I’m not able to pay for varsity dance, enrichment camps and mentoring programs that enhance her adolescent experience.  In these cases, she does have “more” than the students her mommy teaches.

But she doesn’t have “ME”.

Of course, no one will do you better than “you,” but my daughter has never experienced a teacher that has even come close - one with the passion, content knowledge, and love for educational equity that I have. What’s more unfortunate is that I haven’t taught in a school where I would even take my daughter to either.

I often questioned God and my purpose. I found myself pouring out in prayer last night, an inner cry engulfed in sadness.

“Lord, would you have me to forsake my own for the upliftment of others? How can I serve her in the same capacity that I give to the students I teach? Is this the path that I am supposed to take? What more can I do for her? Am I enough for her when I’m trying to fulfill my purpose in you?”

And when I got off my knees, when I stood up and began my day, I was reminded that this fight

isn’t for me alone That the answers may not come all at once. That I need others to make the changes necessary for all.

And even more so,  I realized my journey is not my daughter’s journey. My work is in educational equality and equity, for my students and for her. While my students may have me for 10 months, my daughter has me for a lifetime. That can and never will compare.

That revelation has changed my entire perspective. It has made this fight feel worth it and gave me fuel for the fight to come. I may be the only gladiator my students see, a fire may be ignited in the hours we spend together. Concurrently, there may be a fire ignited in my daughter from seeing her mother work so hard for others, for she does not belong to me. I am yet a steward for the greatness within her.

I don’t have to choose to leave the 99 for the 1.

Have any other mothers felt the same? Do you feel torn between your calling and your children, especially in education?

 

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.

 

Equity in Funding?

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In the quest for equity in education, some school districts, including Shelby County, will be adopting student-based budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year.  Here is what you need to know about what these changes are and how it seeks to even the playing field for students with the most need.

1.       The district will not have a set amount for all students, such as $8,200 per pupil. Instead, every school will receive $3,400 per student.

2.       There are categories of need that will allocate more funds to specific students.

a.       Students with disabilities

b.       Mobility (how often students move from school to school, a rate that is measured by the amount of students who transfer into a school after the 20th day)

c.       Student performance (Students who score below grade level and students who score above grade level

d.       Grade level (Additional funds for K – 5, with a higher weight on K – 2 students)

Not only am I an educator, but I am also a parent.  I have yet to be in a place where those two positions and identities agreed on educational reform.

The educator in me sees this a unique opportunity to provide students with a greater need more funding on the school level.  Within this model, a school’s principal has greater autonomy on how to best serve the students at the school, whether that is with more teaching assistants and specialized staff or additional training.  A principal would be able to have the funds necessary for students who need greater levels of support. As an educator, this appears to be a great opportunity to address specific deficits in the students I teach.  Most recently, I taught 36 5th graders in one class.  Only 5 students were identified as students with disabilities; however, there were only three students who were performing at grade level.  The other 28 students were below grade level and would be eligible for additional funds with this model. Thus, all but three of my students would have received additional funds within this model and depending on how the mobility rate was determined, those individuals may receive additional funding if they came into the school year after the first day.

The thought of having additional funds for these students sounds like music to my ears. We could get leveled readers, additional curriculum resources, or even an additional assistant for small group instruction. As a teacher, student-based funding would be the answer to the disparities that exist in low-income, impoverished schools – provided principals used these funds appropriately.

Yet, as a parent of an upcoming 6th grader, this model leaves her out.  My daughter is an “on-grade level” student.  Under this model, she would not receive any additional funding outside of the $3,400. She is not identified as a student with disabilities, would not qualify under “mobility” since we don’t move often, and will be going to middle school, which isn’t a priority grade in this model.  I’m not an expert in this model – yet I emphatically know, it takes more than $3,400 to educate her for the entire school year. As a parent, I’m a bit frustrated, thinking, there seems to be embedded “punishment” for being on grade-level.

There is a constant dichotomy present in my life – one that advocates for the students I serve, who are in contrast to the daughter I am raising.  This situation is no different. I applaud Shelby County for seeking opportunities to provide equity in education, like other districts in Denver, Houston, Nashville, and Seattle, but those cities demographics are quite different than Memphis.

I’d love to learn more about how this model will help and benefit all students. And because being a parent is my priority, I’d love to know how this model benefits MY daughter and many other “on grade-level” students.


To read more about Shelby County’s proposed plan, click here.

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.