Back in the summer of 2015, my family and friends had attended the local Life is Good Festival not expecting the experience to resonate on such a personal level. It was the fall of that year when I first knew. As I sat in the dark auditorium and listened to you speak about “cat hairs” and the impact of trauma, I felt overwhelmed and grateful for the shadows that hid my emotions from my colleagues. Six years later, your optimism and awareness helped me break free from a toxic environment. The photograph below captures my son as the superhero with an important message: Sometimes we are the ones that need to be saved.
A year ago I reached out to share this story with you.
Almost a year has past since you gave me advice on my cover letter for a job posting. When I saw the Director of Community Engagement position posted only a few days ago, I saw it as a sign.
Inspired by the Tag, Life is Good
According to my husband:
Our son is a nervous type, especially so when he was little. Before going anywhere, a Christmas party, a birthday party, he had to know who was going to be there, and how long he had to be there. Jake would fret and pace going over the list, and repeat I’m not going! Often, we got to our destination and he stuck to his word, creased and crying, he stayed in the car.
A few years ago, we planned on going to the Life Is Good Festival. We explained that we were meeting our friend Tim, his new girlfriend, and many nice strangers that we don’t need to talk to, and listen to live music, and play (or just watch) games. We got him and his sister in the car on this bright sunny day, got to the Blue Hills and traveled over to the farm. Jake walked very close to us for a while. Then we noticed his head bopping to the beats. Next thing we knew we were throwing beanbags, posing in front of Life is Good signs, and there was Jake in a cape and mustache posing in flight.
Later we met up with Tim’s new girlfriend. She spoke to my kids like little people and encouraged us to stay and listen to the . We happened upon my younger, cooler cousins who were previously playing a set with their band. Jake took to the band and hung with them while they sipped from their cups and gave him hi-fives.
We walked out that night to Hall and Oats playing on the shuttle bus. I had goosebumps of nostalgia and we realized that we were in a moment. There was an ease, a feel to this event that came from somewhere positive, a kind like minded crew. The t-shirts have always meant more to us since then.
Culture can make you feel like you are drowning in darkness and yet it has the ability to float you to the surface where there is light. As a creative individual, your culture can enhance and empower like ripples cast by a stone. However, should you find yourself in a toxic culture, the effects can be life altering. When I reflect on my past professional and personal experiences and the impact my culture had on my sense of self and my ability to persevere; I realized my definition of culture had evolved.
My culture changed me both mentally and physically. The abuse of power destroyed my confidence and my career. When I reached out for support, my culture turned cold and unrecognizable. Faced with the decision to leave or remain in a constant hyper vigilant state, I chose to seek an alternative culture. Confused and broken, I withdrew and tried to heal. After years of devotion, I felt unworthy and abandoned by my culture.
I sought solace in nature, colors, words and relationships. They were essential and effective. Determined to understand, I started to piece together what had happened. Confused and at times catatonic, I began surrounding myself with family and friends who reminded me of my potential and guided me with advice. Reclusive and paranoid, I was left with reoccurring thoughts and obsessive habits. Scrolling through Hire Culture and Indeed employment posts at the same speed as a teenager snapping friends.
Lost and grasping for air, I began writing. In an attempt to organize my thoughts and process what I could with my therapist, I created a website. It became evidence for myself. Images that I had captured and experiences that I was proud of. I needed to be optimistic about where I was going and be patient about how long the process was going to take.
I needed to educate myself on what resources I had available to me. Due to the cognitive impairment I struggled to convey my thoughts in a logical way. I was trying to construct my elevator pitch only all I could think about was the music playing in the background.
Volunteering as a photographer allowed me to focus on the awe and serendipitous occurrences that we often overlook. The more I gave of myself the more I felt connected and invigorated by these new non-profit relationships. Creativity and community networking gave me hope. I began searching for an alternative culture that might accept my scars as evidence to inspire others to act.
As anger and resentment would boil up, I had to rely on my family to redirect my negativity. No contact meant I had create habits that were healthy and productive. Growth meant moving on without validation.
Grasping for the stability of employment as the finances were being drained at an unprecedented rate. I no longer lived in fear of losing my job but I now worried about never finding a job. Spiraling through days dizzy and unbalanced.
Unemployment was not an option. I needed to escape the house that I had grown trapped in. I attempted to repair the devastation that I had inflicted on our finances.
In the most unlikely position I found my culture. I thrived on the diversity that it provided, the eclectic mix of individuals from various backgrounds mixed together was refreshing. Each valued for what they brought to the community. Experiences shared in various languages and expressed through food. Comradely and collaboration fueled our culture. Enhanced by the farm mentality it was like dirt therapy. I was accepted and celebrated with genuine kindness. Culture became what I was experiencing in the present sense no longer limited to the past in a historic nostalgic way. By accepting, sharing, laughing and celebrating with me, my culture reshaped how I interacted and allowed me to reinvent my role. In only a matter of months, I felt like the last eight years were a blur. The culture that I had been accustomed to for the first fifteen years of my career, was destroyed by a covert narcissistic administrator who used his position to target my soul. I had learned that my empathetic nature and traumatic childhood had left me vulnerable. Now educated and empowered this farm community became my new culture. My culture gave me clarity and confidence. I had found my people.
My culture had changed me and so I needed to reconnect and reevaluate what I defined as culture. Networking and being visible was invigorating. My experiences gave me strategies to cope with loss, feel grateful and be resourceful. That’s when I knew that I wanted to influence others in the same way that my culture had rescued me. Therefore, I’m advocating for an alternative opportunity for students and educators to counteract the impact of our current school culture.
Culture has the ability to impact our lives by weighing us down or lifting us up. How we value each other ultimately makes us stronger. Please consider the possibilities that can be achieved if we reflect on our own culture. I’m not saying that it will be easy or that change will be welcomed only that the outcomes will outweigh the costs. What could that do to for other communities as well as our own? We have the ability to give communities living models of successful programs and provide opportunities to collaborate. Our optimism will cause a ripple effect that will awaken our senses thereby influencing culture and enhancing lives.
Over the past six years, I have reached out to each of you for help. After exposing this misuse of power and the impact it has made on my health your responses were the same, “I’m sorry this is happening to you”.
Senator Paul A. Feeney this bill is designed to protect individuals like me.
However, our teacher evaluation system and our teachers union are leaving us vulnerable.
*Even the photograph of the unfair distribution of resources (air conditioning units) (regardless of the unhealthy conditions I had reported and documented for years) could not be more obvious to those outside our building that what is going on inside is sending a clear message.
Members of MTA like Scott Fulmer and union representatives like Jason Leto, are aware of this injustice and have shown their support by giving me a voice and validating the misuse of power given to my supervisor and the lack of evidence to justify this treatment. When I asked for a grievance to be filed and legal representation so that I would not be forced to return to the toxic environment, administration was unable to make accommodations unless I revealed that, as a result of this misuse of power, I now suffer from CPTSD. My ability to function in these conditions after years of being a target is being used against me. I am to accept that what happened to me is supported by my administration and the union that I was told would protect me.
When I was a little girl my dad would ask me “what are you going to do when the 100 lb. squirrel shows up? To which I had no answer.
Most of my dad’s players or students were often confused when it came to his unique parabolas. However, it was his innate ability to engage all types of characters that made me the teacher I am today. He took the time to figure out those who struggled or didn’t fit in and accepted them. He noticed things that others didn’t care enough to notice.
Like my dad, I am a highly sensitive creative person. What I experienced as a child now impacts how I cope as an adult. My rewired brain makes it difficult to focus when threatened. What others experience is intensified by my heightened senses. I am in a constant state of alert, living in fear, paranoid and hypervigilant.
In a supportive environment I thrive however, my proclivity to working well with children with unidentified and unsupported needs has led to a strategic stacking needs on my roster by my evaluator. These are my people, each one unique and filled with potential. These are complex characters who require a different approach to engage them. When measuring student engagement, you don’t see what I see. I’m not where I am because I “got them to drink the Kool-Aid” if you have met my students you know that some would be allergic, some would react to the red dye and others would spill it everywhere.
If we continue to make excuses and cover up the toxic conditions that we teach in, this will continue to impact the students who witness this disrespectful damaging behavior.
What hope do they have if we don’t act like adults and model genuine kindness?
I am optimistic and a natural playmaker. Our reputation as a district can be a real-life lesson and a model for others who like me are predisposition to this type of powerplay. By educating ourselves about the devastating mental and physical effects, economic strain and systemwide impact this culture has already shown we can also teach solidarity.
All I ask is that together we learn from our mistakes and collaborate to prepare and support our incoming learners, our current students, and alumni.
I propose a plan that shows a unified commitment to raising awareness and support for the social emotional needs of community members of all ages. We can support each other as learners in a safe collaborate environment. As teachers we are not designed to compete or form allies out of jealousy or fear. We encourage thinking outside the box, we share ideas and stand up for each other. We rely on data and evidence to drive our instruction. So why are we not discussing the work of David C Yamada*? As professionals it is our civic duty to educate ourselves and our students regarding social issues that as citizen they may someday face. I am not asking to be the face of this movement however; my story can be the catalyst for change.
• Senator Paul Feeney needs our support of this bill in order for it to pass.
• MTA needs legislation to support its union members.
• FEA members deserve representation that they pay for.
• We as a district need to admit that we need help.
• My family deserves to see their mother, daughter, niece, sister, auntie, and friend take what life has given her and use it to fuel her future.
• I deserve the opportunity to heal and empower others.
Please stop ignoring the 100lb squirrel in the room. I have a plan. I now know what I am going to do... I am going to share my nuts!
Bouys and Boats
A few weeks ago, I was hired to photograph the BOB: Business of Boating Convention here in Foxboro. When I wasn't adjusting for lighting I was listening. What I heard was that the boating industry needs employees, especially those with skills from a trade. As I listened, I instantly began imagining the possibilities. Unless these learners are exposed to these possible careers in a vocational school or are enrolled in one of the few liscenced programs this industry will suffer. These are jobs that require a certain type of learner. Why are we not encouraging these skills by offering opportunities to use tools and observe jobs that might provide an alternative to college? Innovative scenarios offer more choices to consider. By teaching fundamental life skills and providing real life examples we can provide possibilities to promote potential alternatives for those that enjoy tinkering. Exploring trades with young learners creates openminded thinking and purposeful learning that they can transfer into a career.
Collective Futures Fund