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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Pina

Tending to my garden: Until the Big 4-0 pt.3


It has been over a year since my last entry and what a year it has been! I took a two-week cross-country road trip to move my best friend from Boston, MA to (just outside of) Anaheim, CA. I decided to step outside of the classroom to become a Social Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD) instructional coach for Boston Public Schools. I also decided to tend to my garden.

There were three things that I expressed in my last entry that I want to lift up:

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

  2. Where would I be and what would I do if I was encouraged and affirmed to pursue my interests

  3. I am exploring my 'AND'

You may be asking, you left the classroom? Why?! What's next?! But, what about your feature in Teachers in Their Power?! I alluded to taking a sabbatical in my last entry and decided to take one just around this time last year. However, when I was exploring this option, there was only one benefit that I found in taking an official sabbatical through Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union: a secured teaching position at the school where I am taking my leave. That prompted me to consider whether or not I wanted to continue teaching at my current school, and I did not.

I was not able to consistently bring my best self and work into my classroom last year. Aside from the lessons that come from experience, I was not able to intentionally grow. I felt the only way I could continue to be impactful was to be everything for everyone, while I was confused about what I needed from everyone. I now know I needed to be asked questions that sought understanding of my perspective, I needed honesty, and I needed to believe my actions were working towards establishing a foundation for collaborative iteration. I struggled to identify, let alone express, those needs during my last school year. I felt my growth and impact had come to its peak. My attempts to establish a deeper connection to the school community beyond being a math teacher did not take. I knew I could survive if I chose to stay. I also knew that I would not thrive.

My Garden

As I began to reflect on what I needed to 'thrive', I started to understand that I did not know.

One of the most profound moments I experienced while working was leaving my school at the end of a workday knowing I was going to be burying my mother and taking a week off in Arizona for myself. What made that moment so profound was that I never took time off for myself because I was culturally trained that it was weak and a sign of status to never miss a day of school/work. There have been many times when I was sick or in need of a personal day to recharge myself, but instead I 'powered through'. I remember working at my first school and being told, "Don't get sick on a Friday" because of the logistics of coverage.

I burnt my candle at both ends to be a consistent presence and support for other peoples' children and my colleagues. I volunteered to plant seeds to serve other's interest(s), but did not pause to consider my own. I spent over ten years prioritizing others 'gardens' to sadly look at my own a see I have not been watering.

I have amazing, loving, hilarious, authentic, beautiful friends and family members who have and continue to help me recognize my 'garden', but I have been neglectful to myself. This is why I am choosing to use the extra time and space I get from being an instructional coach to start tending to my 'garden'. I am exploring my interests and my 'AND', and I believe it starts by unearthing my core values.

I've been reading Elena Aguilar's book "The Art of Coaching" in which she has a resource to help her readers identify their top three core values. This seemed like a daunting task at first because I had judgments about what I was choosing, as if selecting one core value meant I did not care about the others; as if different core values are mutually exclusive. It was helpful to consider that whatever core values I identified through the activity were only a representation of my current state and season in life. My top three core values as a 5-year-old would be different from when I was 15 years old and that would be different from when I was 25 years old. As I enter this current season of my life, I have identified these top three core values:

Growth - Creativity - Vulnerability

Having 'growth' be one of my top core values was not surprising. One of my strengths as a teacher is being a reflective practitioner. Hell! I even led a PD on that topic! I operate with the mantra that if the net change is zero, then what has changed? I love to grow, in fact, that continues to be one of the drivers to why I stay in education, I want to be a better teacher for all my students in hopes it influences their life decisions! I actually enjoy walking into Target and seeing current students with their parents or guardians. I enjoy being on the MBTA (T) and seeing former students and catching up on how they and their former classmates were doing. I look at the concept of growth as a metric of improvement. I even see how growth shows up for me outside of my profession; I see it in my drive to beat a videogame without changing the difficulty level [e.g. Jedi Survivor as Cere trying to beat Darth Vader]. I also see it in my YouTube watch history and suggestions. My algorithm loves to serve me explainer videos, tutorials, and anything MCU.

I was also not surprised by 'creativity' being another top value of mine. I'm a poet. I'm a teacher. I'm a husband to a lovely wife who likes surprises. I also love videogames!

[SIDEBAR: I use the spelling of 'videogames' versus what Google Search results and Grammarly state 'video games' because while you can play video versions of games such as solitaire and Jeopardy, the culture of screen-dependent games is deeper and unique enough to not be considered just a derivative of paper-based chance games. CLOSE SIDEBAR]

I believe it takes creativity to write an original poem that states feelings and thoughts that are not all that original, yet packed and expressed in an original manner. It takes creativity to integrate your knowledge of students and their individual needs, to create a lesson that tries to engage the whole class. It takes creativity to exploit the awesomeness that is the Fuse ability in "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of a Kingdom"!

I was surprised I identified 'vulverability' as one of my top core values at first, but then I took some time to think and realized that my current self, my current season in life is leaning hard into vulnerability. I had to honestly identify my need to take some time out of the classroom and not let the guilt of leaving the classroom shut that idea down. I had to talk with friends and a few family members about my feelings and struggle to accept that I am closer and more trusting of my chosen family than my own blood relatives. I had to look in the mirror and ask myself, who was I pursuing National Board Certification for? I also have to accept and share that my married cute self can not bring the same energy as two single mid to late 30-something friends at 2 am... in N'awlins... in Houston... in O.K.C.... in Vegas during a road trip. I'm going to get my "Seinfeld" soup Nazi on because there is no tea for you!

What Is Next?

Well, that is where you can come in! I plan to put this Calendly to use! I will be using my "Thursday Dinners" to reflect on 'my garden' and my core values, and catch up with friends like you! So, use the link and book a "Thursday Dinner" with me. Let me be clear, I'm not buying you dinner, just inviting you to join. However, don't let that stop ya because

I am also deeply exploring what I want to do in the long run; Teaching? Coaching? Stocking shelves? Ph.D? What I do know is that I am in a season of growth and saying yes. Yes to my wife. Yes to my family. Yes to my friends. And, yes to myself.

Again, peruse my Calendly and get something on our books! Let's grow and build together.

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