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Lesson 5: Be Mindful of The Water’s Refusal

One day at Cinnamon Bay, we encountered unusually strong waves, with the awareness of a potential hurricane approaching the area. Syvonne Richardson, our makeup and costumes teaching-artist, wisely advised against venturing into the water that day, noting the less hospitable conditions. Some of us decided to embark on a daily evening dive despite our colleagues warning to avoid the ocean. The waves pushed me about more than usual, but I was determined to stay the course. About an hour into our swim, a powerful wave knocked me back, and I found myself struggling to regain balance. My body tensed, and a second incoming wave pushed me back toward the shore when I finally stood up. The ocean wanted to be left alone.  

As teachers, we often miss the signs that are students may not feel like participating, especially when time feels limited. During this period, the pressure to prepare students for their first school performance led me to become somewhat curt with them regarding their behaviors. Some students were resistant, not participating or following instructions. In hindsight, I should have recognized this as a moment to pause and check in on their feelings. Instead, I opted to push forward, requiring focus. In one instance, I singled out a student noted for “behavior issues” by the school, who had been negatively commenting on my instructions. Feeling tired and frustrated, I reprimanded her behavior in front of the class, disregarding her discomfort with the activities.

Observing her behavior shift, visibly agitated with any instruction I gave, I realized my mistake. After lunch, in front of the entire class, I apologized for scolding her publicly and asked if there was anything I could do to make amends with her and the class. Some students expressed a desire for a break to play games, noting that they weren’t enjoying the activities, hinting they needed time to self-regulate without my interference.

We must work against cultural preconceptions that assume children don’t know what they want. 

In repressive learning structures, teachers are encouraged to meet student’s refusal with coercion, persuasion, or redirection. Constraining classrooms require students’ adherence to the adult’s instructions. Only the teacher’s desires matter in this unchecked power system. We must work against cultural preconceptions that assume children don’t know what they want. Refusal and resistance can be met with respect instead of reprimand. The students at this school were accustomed to being at fault, but they were not accustomed to hearing a teacher admit wrongdoing. Although rebuilding trust in my student-to-teacher relationship with that student proved challenging, I remained open to repairing it whenever she was ready.

Lesson 6: You Are Never Alone in the Water.

I recall the ocean life at Cinnamon Bay swimming up to my legs, circling and tickling my toes. Sometimes, the water wasn’t as crystal clear, but that did not signal the absence of life. There is always life in the water to keep me company. I took strength in knowing I was a part of this living community.

I understand the ways teaching-artistry can feel isolating. Sometimes, the nuances of my work are complex to explain to others. When experiencing my most isolating feelings, I build walls around my process and do not reach out for help. This happened to me during the residency, and my community witnessed me struggling to request support.

A fellow teaching-artist, Malia’Kekia Nicolini, came to me and said, “How can I help? If you need time to figure it out, cool. You sit here, and I’ll work with the students this morning. Just come out when you are ready.” A teacher at the school noticed the students and I needed help typing the script in real time; she grabbed a computer and said, “I got this part. You keep doing what you’re doing.” My co-teaching artists and students all found ways to support me, too.

There comes a point in creative processes when things begin to flow. That flow comes when we trust others to hold the project with us. Trust requires me to show up for others and let them show up for me. We will keep one another afloat.  

Creating Waves

I recall standing waist-deep with three other teaching-artists and readying myself to brace against these deep blue massive waves. Malia’Kekia remarked, “Deen, you can’t fight the wave. You either got to let it take you or move (or dive) through the center of it.” It took me time to get used to the waves; I fell to the ocean floor many times and learned how sand can remain in dreadlocks for weeks. Reflecting on the experience with my colleague, she said, “It’s the standing back up that matters. You got up, each time. We have to because the sand is always shifting.”
 



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