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  • Francis Pina

Molting: Until the big 4-0 Pt.2

Growth can be painful at times.


Lobsters grow through a painful and vulnerable process called molting. When a lobster has grown too big for its current outer shell, the space becomes too tight and the pressure created forms cracks in the outer shell. A lobster absorbs water to make itself even bigger and must push and pull itself from its smaller outer shell completely. From the lobster's perspective, it has exhaustively struggled to naturally grow. From our perspective, the lobster emerges from its old self leaving a physical reminder of its growth while emerging bigger, stronger, and vulnerable.


Many animals, like cicadas, poetically grow and live in ways we can learn from. The lobster reminds me that growth can be painful. I have not written a blog in a while due to my own molting process.


My ninth year of teaching was full of challenges that I am still reflecting on. It was my first full-year teaching middle school mathematics (7th and 8th), with a new curriculum, and a completely new program middle school program. I'll spare you the details and just leave you with three truths I've learned over the course of the last school year:

  1. Joy is a developmentally appropriate environment for all students

  2. Middle schoolers build a mirror of self-centeredness and honesty that reflected my true strengths

  3. I do not need to be everything for everyone or do everything for everyone

I have experienced joy with my students through recess, field trips, and in-class projects. I have learned that I have what it takes to teach middle schoolers. I have also learned that I must be more intentional about what projects and extra-curricular activities I take on outside and inside my classroom so I do not burn out.


I have been a part of many fellowships, union-related work, and other programs over the last nine years. However, not many of those activities truly filled my cup. I have poured into so many things because of the pressures to do so. I have signed up or accepted things because they needed more perspectives, aka (racial) diversity. They needed the presence of a Black male who just so happened to be a mathematics teacher. My invisible tax was made clear when I was the only Black male in a program or fellowship, the only Black male educator on the school site council, the only Black male union representative, the only...


I have grown tired of being the only, I have grown tired of being the manifestation of recruitment, but not the necessary stewardship of retainment. I have grown resentful of feeling guilty if I do not 'champion' the cause of anti-racism or speak up as if I do not have a choice.


WE ALL HAVE A CHOICE



I am not better equipped to talk about race or address micro and macro aggressions because of my identity, I am better equipped because I have many lived experiences of what happens when I do not address these issues. I am also more than my racial identity.


I have been applauded and celebrated for being a Black man in public school, being a role model, and being a demographic checked-boxed. I imagine that was not the intent of the many programs or things I have done in the last few years, but that is the impact. I also recognize the hesitation some of my White colleagues have to speak up or act-upon things related to race or equity when colleagues of color are in the room because they may feel they do not have the authority. Fact is, we all have the authority to do what is right, to speak on what is wrong, to be accomplices towards justice.


Let me be clear, I am not minimalizing the impact of all the things I have done to be simply about race. My truth is that I was encouraged to pursue a STEM career solely because I was Black and that "we needed more Black engineers". I was not asked and encouraged to pursue any artistic pursuits. I was not exposed to other fields like advertising or the various jobs on a movie set. I was encouraged to become an engineer because that was where the money was and there were initiatives in college and the industry to make it an affordable path for me. So here I am, in a STEM career, yet when there are college and career panels for high schoolers, I am not asked to be on them, I am asked to tap into my networks to get "true" STEM professionals. I wonder where I would be, and what I would be doing if I was simply encouraged and affirmed to pursue my interests. Would I be happier if I did not get pushed to pursue STEM solely for capitalistic financial reasons?


WE ALL HAVE CHOICES BUT DO WE SEE THEM?


Let me be crystal clear, I love teaching! I'm pretty damn good at it and have the receipts to prove it! I have notes, emails, memories, and Target run-ins that expressed gratitude and the impact of my teaching. I am pursuing National Board Certification to further 'credential' my receipts and I await their decision in December.


I will not fully unpack the 'credential' aspect of being a Black professional who feels the need to have to prove myself in order to be taken seriously. I have seen many friends and colleagues of color leave my school or this profession with stories of not being treated and taken seriously. As if the only serious thing people of color can know and discuss is race; don't you expect the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) person to be a person of color? Don't you expect the person of color on a majority white panel to challenge assumptions and biases about race? If that is what we may be expecting, then how could we expect people of color to also be more? I want to be more, I want us to be more, I want us to find and be our 'AND'.


There have been two impetuses driving my 'AND' pursuit.


ONE



My mom passed away in October of 2021. There has been so much that I have been holding onto, not allowing myself to express or feel about it since then. I have been slowly exploring what it means to no longer have my mom. What it means to recognize her birthday this coming September. To consider what it means to recognize her 'death day' this coming October.


The most challenging time was right after my mom's passing. Planning the services, writing a eulogy, interacting with others, then the homegoing [this is not a link to my mom's ceremony] ceremony a week before my birthday, then the first Thanksgiving, and the first Christmas. Last fall was a gamut of facing the ramifications of her passing and now I have the challenging yet natural process of living the rest of my life knowing she is gone. We are all supposed to outlive our parents, but we just hope to do so when it is time to do so. I have been reflecting on the value of family, especially my chosen family.


TWO



I spent two weeks of July attending PCMI's summer session in the "Rehumanizing Mathematics" program. I entered that program drained and in need of something. I exited that program with a filled cup that exposed chambers I did not even know were empty. There was something so magical and rejuvenating about that experience. An experience that has added an extended family from Toronto down to Colombia and the Philippines.


I was challenged to consider different views of living and considerations of ownership. To unpack the effects our capitalistic culture has on my perspective of life and considerations of success. I am starting to explore and seek partnership with nature and understand indigenous ways of thinking. I left my experience with a project I look forward to implementing and cocreating with my 8th graders. I also left my experience with a new understanding of what experiences can happen when my 'ancestors be conspiring'.


My ancestors... Most of my life experiences have been through the impact of being Black. I feel tension when I think about being a son of Africa. My tension comes from being light-skinned Black, practically Bi-racial because of the Portuguese and Cape Verdean side of my Dad's family. I have not explored much about that aspect of my identity, but I get reminded about that aspect at the beginning of each school year. When one of my student's parents sees me, reads my last name, Pina, and immediately speaks to me in Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, or Portuguese and I have to disappoint them when I can not speak it back. I am beginning to unpack the reasonings behind being denied access to the mother tongue of my last namesake when I was younger. I am beginning to unpack my reasonings for not having pursued learning Portuguese and/or Cape Verdean in earnest.


AND


In the pursuit of my 'AND', I am considering many things, many what if I's. Like, what if I took a year-long sabbatical to begin learning a new language? What if I took a year-long sabbatical and entered a partnership with PBS and WGBH to do an internet show or podcast? I am considering graduate school to continue my research in video game design principles and their applications in the math classroom. I am considering beginning to write a book. Those are just a few of my considerations and what if I's as I explore my 'AND'.


I do not know when I'll write my next blog entry or if I will publish a new OpEd this year. So, it might be a while before you read from me again, but that is also within our power to change. To not be estranged and confined to this digital connection.


Until then, I ask you to consider what is your 'AND' and to share that with me.


I ask you to keep molting.

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