Monday Musings: I Won a Writing Award!

A few weeks ago, I received an email informing me I was going to be recognized with 70+ black educators with an excellence in education award. I was surprised. I wondered why the committee picked me. Next Friday, I will wrap up my 13th year as an educator. I believe I am a good educator, but am I good enough to be honored? I didn’t think so. I believe there is more for me to accomplish, but whom am I to argue with this recognition? I don’t view myself the way others do, and maybe I should.

Then, I was a little sad. My husband would not be there for the awards program. He flew to Georgia to see our niece graduate from high school. I couldn’t go because I didn’t have enough personal days to be gone for half of the week like his family had planned; I was glad he was there. My niece’s father passed away unexpectedly in 2010 from an aneurysm while my husband’s sister, niece, nephew, and him were bowling as a family. I knew it was important for her uncle to be there, even if I couldn’t be.

Since 70+ educators were being recognized, I figured they would call us all up and hand us a ribbon or certificate, and that would be that. Since we could invite guests, I invited by best friend and fellow educator Nikia and my mom and dad. I decided to drop off my twin eight-year-old sons with my cousin. I wish I hadn’t . I just imagined them getting restless, picking at each other, and me trying to be nice and low key threaten them through my teeth to sit still and listen.

When I arrived, I picked up a program and my name was on it. I said, “Why is my name on this program?” I was confused. That’s when I realized I was receiving an Excellence in Education Journalism award, solo.

They had a whole introduction and information about me. They shared about my current job as an elementary librarian, my part time job as a college adjunct instructor, and my writing for The Educator’s Room and Indy K12. They even shared one of my favorite quotes:

We read…to make meaning of our lives and to connect to those who have come before us and those who share the planet with us. We read to do our jobs, to learn, to explore, to adventure, to bring order to chaos, to open new vistas, to better understand the world around us, and to develop compassion for the human condition. Great writing leaves us with more questions than answers. ~Mosaic of Thought by Keene and Zimmerman

I’m not a shy person, but I am definitely an introvert. I walked up there and was handed a nice plaque. I probably gave the most awkward handshakes. Then, several photographs took my photograph a whole bunch of times. I wasn’t prepared for being photographed. Had I known that I would have thought about wearing contacts, even though I haven’t worn them for a year.

My glasses are extremely thick and they cause problems when I’m photographed. The one photographer, who I later found out was my dad’s former supervisor, had to adjust my head a few times to get the right picture. That was photo op one. Then, I had to walk the back of the room for more photos and back to my seat All these people were reaching out to say thanks, and I wanted to do like Samantha Stevens on Bewitched and wiggle my nose and poof back into my seat. That’s the life of an introvert. I’m much better now at 35 than I was when I was younger. I even sat close to the front; I used to sit on the perimeter in the back. There’s some progress ya’ll, but I do truly appreciate the honor!

I then watched Dr. Shawn Smith Superintendent of Lawrence Township, the school district I graduated from, receive the Excellence in Education Leadership award and Tamara Markey, who is the state of Indiana teacher of the year and a teacher in Lawrence Township, receive the IBE Role Model of the year award. Then, Markey spoke. I felt she was speaking directly to me.

She spoke about the imposter syndrome. I thought, “You have felt like an imposter.” You don’t get named the best teacher in the state by being ordinary. That’s how I felt about myself when I came to the awards. I’m just an ordinary educator. I’m just another writer. Then, Markey said after she went to Washington D.C. and heard former national year of the year and current U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes speak, she was reminded she was called for a time like this. I heard those words and felt them in my soul.

My writing is needed for a time like this. We need more black education journalists telling the real stories about what is happening and what changes can and should be made in our education system. I wished my sons would have seen me receive that award because I’m writing and fighting for kids who look like them. I want them to know that some of the time I sacrifice to write is not done in vain and that’s I’m making a difference, an impact.

…but that wasn’t all. Later, in the program, the 70+ black educators were recognized. Then, they called my name again. My parents appreciated that my name was pronounced correctly the second time. It was mispronounced for the first award. I did send in a pronunciation of my name because I knew my parents would be there, and they don’t like it when my name is mispronounced.

The educators called up during this portion of the program received a congressional recognition. I thought that was pretty cool. My parents read the recognition and smiled.

This part was also awkward. For these awards, we were called up by school district. My current school district is the MSD of Wayne Township. I worked in Wayne from 2009-2014 and returned this school year. This school year is when I faced opposition to my writing at my school. This didn’t happen when I worked for Indianapolis Public Schools. I was getting harassed and receiving unpleasant questions and complaints by colleagues in person, online, and via text. On LinkedIn yesterday, CEO of The Educator’s Room (TER) Fran Warren shared a post about TER which included this quote, “Our journalists have the constant fear of retaliation just because we are willing to write about what teaching is really like.” I shared the post and wrote, “I had a colleague turn in a written complaint about my articles and associated social media posts to my school’s leadership team AND the complaint was shared with the entire staff. Yes, that’s real AND no, I’m not going to stop telling the #truth.

About half through the school year, I blocked anyone associated from my school district from following my Twitter account. That sounds extreme, but it gave me peace of mind and stopped the harassment. I’m human. I know this work brings opposition, but I don’t have to put up with constant harassment to the point that I was considering either taking a break from writing or stopping altogether. I came to my senses and even wrote about it in the piece, “I Won’t Stop Writing, Even If It Costs Me My Job.” As one of my writing mentors said, “If you wasn’t striking a nerve, they wouldn’t be so angry.

Yes, I took a photo with people from my school district who all received an award. Because I had ended access to my Twitter, unless people really don’t have lives and are stalking me under an alternate account, this is why I’m not tagged in the photos posted by my school district or colleagues from the district. I’m okay with that. Peace is so much sweeter. I don’t hold any ill will, but I also need to focus on my writing and not responding to nonsense.

Let’s not dwell too much on that, but I had to be honest because I already have been asked why a photo had been shared with me in it and everyone’s name was listed but me. If you are wondering, my response was, “Ask the person?”

These recognitions reignited the fire in my belly to continue to make a difference. What I appreciated most is getting recognized by people who looked like me. Many times, I have had my black card taken…I wrote about that too. I have felt like I don’t fit into the black community. I felt embraced and welcome this weekend.

Thank you Indiana Black Expo and The New Teacher Project for these recognitions and for this wonderful program highlighting black excellence. Thank you to my mom, dad, and Nikki for supporting me!

Educator Barnes with her parents James and Lisa Stockton
Educator Barnes with her friend and fellow teacher Nikia Garland

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