It’s only halftime of 2020

When Barbara Walters was played on repeat saying “this is 2020” when the clock struck midnight to the new year, I’m not sure that anyone actually knew that this is what 2020 would be.

Needless to say, it’s been a weird year so far.

When our school got out for spring break, I didn’t think it would be the last time I would see my students for the year. I realize that’s an obvious statement and true for pretty much ever teacher everywhere. But still.

At the beginning of the break, COVID-19 had started to make more headlines in the U.S., and I began to wonder if my trip to D.C. was going to be canceled. Two other teachers and I were supposed to take 13 or so students there for a competition, and it suddenly didn’t sound like the greatest idea. I didn’t know much about the coronavirus yet, but I didn’t think going to a popular place for a large gathering was wise, based on what little I knew.

But on the morning of Wednesday, March 11—the same day the NBA decided to suspend its season—we found ourselves on a plane bound for D.C.

FaceTime became the new way to see my fam.

There was a strange feeling in the air as we were walking through the city to get to our hotel and then go to some museums. I can’t explain it well, but everything just felt different. Not too long after we landed, though, the organization hosting the contest notified us that the decision was made to cancel the whole thing. I would have preferred that decision had been made a few days prior, but there was nothing we could do about it at that point, other than figure out when and how we were going to get home.

The next day, we were back on a plane, almost exactly 24 hours after we had arrived. As you already know, life got really weird after that. The word “unprecedented” has been used a countless amount of times in the news, and “normal” isn’t even a thing anymore. There immediately seemed to be quite the mix of feelings and emotions from everyone—confusion, fear, anxiety, skepticism, frustration, anger, sorrow, loneliness, disappointment, distrust, hope. I could keep going, but it’s a really long list.

There are quite a few unknowns about the pandemic, and I think it would be pretty tough to be a leader or scientist or medical professional during all of this. It’s turned life upside down in many ways, and it seems that none of us actually knows what’s going on.

On top of that, a lot of the injustices and racism in our nation have been exposed more lately, and people are standing up for the rights they deserve. It’s heartbreaking that there’s still so much hatred and racism in a country that’s supposed to have freedom for everyone and that people are so often treated differently—and even die, in some cases—because of the color of their skin.

It’s not a time to ignore reality or pretend that things are better than they actually are. It’s not a time to overlook truth and put on blinders. It’s not a time to sit back in silence and watch as Black men and women continue to be treated unfairly and subjected to racist thoughts, words, and actions. It’s not a time for our history to continue to be our present.

It’s time for change.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media lately talking about how awful this year has been thus far. It’s hard to argue with them. It’s been pretty bad. But I love sports, so I’m going to look at what we’ve gone through up until now as a bad first half. What we need now is a comeback and a kick-a$* second half. It’s going to take much more than an inspirational locker room halftime speech, though.

We’re going to need more love and more heart than we’ve ever seen.

Let’s not write 2020 off just yet and start wishing for 2021 to get here sooner. When the Dallas Mavs won the NBA championship in 2011, they overcame multiple second-half deficits throughout their playoff run. Jason Terry said “if there’s time on that clock, there’s still time for us.”

There’s still time on that 2020 clock, people—there’s still time for us.

And even though I hate bringing this up because I really don’t like the New England Patriots, let’s not forget Super Bowl LI. The Patriots were down 28-3 in the second half and then scored 25 unanswered points against the Atlanta Falcons to send the game into overtime before winning the whole thing. Annoying. But respectable.

It’s our turn to be those pesky comeback kids.

There were a lot more teachers and administrators in this pic, but we were all socially distanced.

I don’t think it will be easy by any means. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s certainly going to require a great deal of dedication and persistence. There are some things that we cannot control, but we can control the ways we react and respond to the situations we face. And then there are things we absolutely can control, including the ways we treat people and the ways we love people and the ways we show support and respect for one another. It’s honestly not that difficult to be kind. I promise.

We’re almost halfway through 2020, so let’s go ahead and start that comeback now. The second half likely won’t be perfect, but not much ever is. We can at least try, though. We can fight for justice. We can fight for love. We can stand up for human rights. We can wear masks in public to protect ourselves and those around us. We can learn more about history and truth that weren’t necessarily taught to us. We can change our minds and hearts. We can believe. We can hope. We can trust.

There’s still time on that 2020 clock, people—there’s still time for us.

A Letter of Concern

Dear Donald (not sure if you go by Don),

I don’t know you personally, and even though I don’t agree with much of what you say and do, I’m not making an effort to judge you in any way. This letter has nothing to do with political stances of any sort, either. But you’re the nation’s leader right now, so I simply have some things that I would like to say, and I doubt that we will have a sit-down conversation anytime soon.

I understand that you’re in a rather difficult position in our current state. The world—particularly the United States—is quite a mess right now, and it seems like situations keep getting worse. I can’t imagine how tough it is to be a leader at the moment, but I’m guessing that you and many other individuals at their respective helms are experiencing significant amounts of stress and anxiety.

However, I don’t believe that a global pandemic is our biggest problem.

I’m a high school teacher, and I teach students of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, family histories, and whatever other diversity classifications you want to list. I love each and every single one of them with my whole heart. I’m not saying that because I have to—I don’t have to. I’m saying it because it’s true.

Sometimes my kids act up in class or play on their phones while I’m trying to teach or watch YouTube videos when they’re supposed to be completing their assignments or do a number of other things that they’re not supposed to be doing. Sometimes they say things that don’t make me smile. But on those days and in those moments, I remind myself that I don’t know every single thing those students are going through. Even though I get to know them as best I can, and they learn to trust and confide in me, they don’t always tell me every single struggle they face. As a leader for them, though, it’s important for me to respond with grace and love.

Because each and every single student in that room matters.

America is much bigger than my classroom, and there are certainly many more people in it. Regardless of differences and similarities, every single person in this world matters.

There’s a sign I made that I glued to the wall of my classroom that says something I remind my students of as often as possible: You are valued. You are loved. And you matter. While I want them to learn the material I teach them for the actual class, if they walk away knowing nothing else, I want them to know those truths that are declared on that sign.

And I want them to believe that about all people and treat others in the same way.

There’s a lot of hate in this world, and it leads to corruption and lies and murder and mistreatment of people and injustices and too many other horrible things to name. I don’t understand it. It seems like it takes a lot more effort to be hateful than it does to love people.

I can’t think of a single person who needs hate—but I can think of about 7-something billion people who need love. We’re all dealing with our own junk, and we all need love. Leading with love doesn’t make a person weak. If anything, it makes him or her brave.

Every school day, the pledge of allegiance is recited over our intercom. I know that you are already familiar with this pledge, but I’d like to stress the last part of it: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“Indivisible” means not able to be separated. Are we truly living as a united nation with no divisibility? It doesn’t feel like we are. Is there actually “liberty and justice for all”? I think we have plenty of evidence that there is not. Why are we having our students recite something that we can’t even live out as a nation?

It’s time for people to stop hating other people. What good does it do to cause people pain and anger and to harm and kill others who have families and loved ones who are left to grieve? People matter. Our actions matter. The ways we treat one another matter. The decisions you make and the words you say as a leader of this nation matter. Isn’t it time to start encouraging others to love one another and to model that for them?

The last thing I want to remind you of, Don, is what I remind my students of as often as possible: You are valued. You are loved. And you matter.