Grateful Life

By Jessica Gibbs

It was my second year of teaching when I first heard the words “clinical depression.”  Sure, I was a little down; being alone over 3,000 miles away from all the family and friends one has can do that to a person. Sprinkle in the steep learning curve, dwindling bank account, and that class (the one with no behavior chill) almost all educators can relate to, and a strained situation-ship as the cherry on top. I knew I had the blues. But the saddest part is, I wasn’t even able to recognize just how truly miserable I felt.  A trusted co-worker and my Principal (turned mentor) were the first to notice the change in my personality. Suggestions poured in as I made feeble attempts to adopt new outlets, but there honestly was no more emotions to “let out.” I simply felt numb. “None of my friends or colleagues seemed to be struggling like I am. This isn’t fair! This is not the life I want for myself” I thought daily. 


Looking back on that season of life, I can see that there was no one quick fix that helped shed the depression.  However my faith, new-found therapist, and the fear of living a life unfulfilled led me on a journey to find and fight for my joy, even in the midst of personal and professional pitfalls. See happiness is external and influenced by the happenings around you; Joy is cultivated internally. As I fought to lower stress, internalize less, and increase my optimism & resilience, a tiny, overlooked life lesson helped me to open my eyes literally and figuratively. 
         ~If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at start to change.” ~

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I began keeping a gratitude box, jotting down the daily “blessings” I was grateful for. A compliment, a random act of kindness directed towards me, student growth shown on our interim tests, you name it. I purchased cute stationary to reflect on and record blessings of all sizes each day. Whenever I needed encouragement, I’d look to my gratitude box as a reminder that all is not lost. In fact, everything- yes, even the little things are working together for my good. While gratitude is not a magic bullet for all of life’s problems, it did help give me more peace and perspective. Once I began appreciating what I currently had, the Lord and law of attraction began blessing me with abundantly more.  four years later, I still find joy in practicing gratitude this same way.  It’s my ritual each New Year’s Eve to empty out my gratitude jar and revel in all of the blessings the previous year brought in. 

This school year, I found myself teaching at one of my most challenging professional assignments yet. To be clear, this time it’s not the kids. I arrived in August pumped to continue teaching at a Title I school with a predominantly black and brown student population. Unfortunately, I found that these same students are retained, suspended, and expelled at alarmingly disproportional rates compared to their white peers. The academic proficiency percentages of these subgroups in the 2016-2017 school year brought me to hot, angry tears while viewing the data. In short, these four months have shown me first-hand what it looks like when our babies are funneled through the school to pipeline prison. Call me Chris, because I’m not letting ANY ONE ease me into the “sunken place.” Instead, I’m choosing to raise hell and advocate for our kids, all while expressing gratitude for this eye-opening experience further igniting my passion for educational equity.


As Thanksgiving break nears, I’ll be glad for the time and space to reflect deeper and more fully, but here and now I’m grateful because: 

I’m gainfully employed doing work that’s needed and that I love.
The responsibility to be a light in a dark place. 
To be one of 6 black teachers, leaders, and role models at my school of 600 kids. Last year they only had 2. 
The opportunity to truly and loudly advocate for kids of color at my school in a way that has never been done before. 
Having coworkers who challenge me to give grace, develop patience, and reinforce my own personal boundaries. You’re teaching me to protect my personal peace and magic. 
To be sought by teachers regarding academic and behavioral challenges. I’m grateful to have my strengths and skillsets valued. 
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My workload as an interventionist is spread across 85+ kids from Kinder- 2nd grade. I am uniquely positioned to build a wide range of relationships. 
For the smiling faces I see and have the privilege of teaching each day. Surprisingly, they teach and inspire me to continue teaching and inspiring them. 
To work with the kids who need the most help. I enjoy being kept on my toes to research instructional strategies and tap into my creativity.
For a dynamic school leader I can relate to, look up to, and is also working to disrupt this system failing our kids. I’m grateful for another leader who shows me everything I never want to become. Both examples will serve me well in the future. 
I’m grateful for this year of being tugged and stretched. I’m growing in ways I don’t even realize yet. 
Thanksgiving Break is a perfect time to pause, reflect, and give thanks for all of the blessings in your life. Instead of letting your ice cream melt while you count someone else’s sprinkles, how can you use this time to appreciate what you have while you have it? In life and our careers, there will always be changes and challenges. I don’t know about you, but in the words of Jim Rohn, “I’m learning to be thankful for all that I have while I pursue all that I want.” What are you grateful for experiencing in this season? I’d love to know, please share and comment below!  

 


Jessica is a typical mid-twenty something and self-proclaimed concrete rose. Originally from upstate New York, she now resides in Athens, GA *blank stare* where she is pursuing her Masters of Early Childhood Education at UGA. This school year marks her 7th year as a full-time educator, including teaching upper elementary self-contained, K-2 reading and math intervention, and K-5 instructional coaching. As a Spelman College Alumna, her passion for urban education is fueled by a spirit of service and strong desire to return to inner cities such as the one she grew up in to pay it forward by further educating, elevating, and liberating students and people of color. When she isn’t teaching, you can find her belly dancing, reading new best-sellers/wine tasting with her book club, and living her best life with her college friends back in the ATL. IG: imjess_sayin5 

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