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I don’t know how you feel but this is how I hope to help

To: My Students

From: Stacey Roth Tirro (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To My Students,

As your teacher, I am supposed to be a rock for you, the linchpin for your success, but when schools closed in March, teachers began to scramble. It was hectic, as we tried to figure out how to execute remote learning. I teach dance and phys ed and direct school plays. I was worried. Some of you did all of the assignments and others never touched the work.

However, the toughest part of virtual learning is not necessarily about what I can teach but rather how I can help you. It is much harder to help you when I don’t know how you feel.

I saw some of you every day at school, but once we started working from home, I didn’t hear from so many of you. Some of you wound up getting jobs to help your families pay the bills, putting yourself at risk for COVID19. Not all of you answered your phone or your Google Classroom messages. So, I didn’t know if you were OK or if your families were OK.  I didn’t know if you were having a hard time coping or if you didn’t have access to the technology needed to get online.

When we are at school, I can see if you are not in a great mood or are struggling and I can immediately address it. Not being able to see you in person and face-to-face is a major tool in a teacher’s toolbox that was taken away.

Then, our world got even more difficult when police killed George Floyd on May 25th. I am friends with many alumni on Facebook and my feed began to blow up. The trauma many of you felt played out on social media.

I didn’t know if you were having a hard time coping or if you didn’t have access to the technology needed to get online.

As a privileged white woman, teaching in a school district that is more than 95% people of color, I felt even more unsettled and helpless. People who I loved were crumbling emotionally, as all of your stories were so compelling and heartbreaking.

One of my former students is black and her husband is black. Because of all of the racism in this world, she posted that they decided not to have children. They don’t want to subject a child to this racist society because she felt that she couldn’t protect a child from the harm that might come because of their skin color. This young woman is a loving and kind person. The idea that she decided not to have children because of the hate that exists is devastating and utterly wrong.

As I read through her story and others, I asked myself, “What am I going to do? How am I going to provide support?”

First, I started asking people if I could share their posts on my page to amplify their stories.

Then on June 2nd, an alum reached out to me in distress.

After an extended conversation, she asked me, “Have you ever written your own play?”

I said to myself, “I don’t write plays. I direct them.”

But then, the wheels started turning and I decided, with your permission, to take some of these stories you and your fellow alumni shared and organize them into a play.

Through this play, I am attempting to find a helpful way to facilitate difficult conversations.  The play is called “How Do We Feel Right Now?”

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In the video below Lauren explains how she relates to Stacey’s story and the lessons we can all learn from her. You must be a subscriber to watch this video.

It’s written so it can be performed virtually or live.

[vc_column_text]Not everybody is going to feel comfortable listening to everything that gets said in this play. But it’s about telling the truth and maintaining a historical perspective on how people responded to the killing of George Floyd in real-time. As raw as it is, it is a play that is relevant to your lives and hopefully further validates your feelings.

Tirro has been finding way to adapt to working from home. Photo Credit: Julie J. Guerrero

Some of you participated in our first read-through, and you were stunned in a positive way. We even discussed possibly hosting a discussion about racism with our audience after the performance. Also, we started The Give Back Experience, a non-profit that taps into the vast alumni network to raise money and support projects in our community.  Our inaugural project will support Spring Valley High School Thespian Troupe 721’s production of “How Do We Feel Right Now?” as well as the Martin Luther King multi-purpose Center.

There are so many unanswered questions right now. I don’t know when we will all be back together at school. The administration is still trying to figure all of that out. And while I am still worried, like I was back in March, I also feel motivated, charged and excited to get back to work.

Writing this play reminded me that we, as human beings have the power to adapt. And if we want to do something, if we have the will to do something, there’s a way to do it even if it’s outside your comfort zone.

As you grow older, life doesn’t get easier. It never gets easier. It just gets harder.

If you want to move forward, you have to be willing to keep an open head and an open heart and have the will and the confidence to say, “Well, I’m not going to know all these answers right now, but I’m going to work on finding them.”

That’s what I am trying to do as your teacher.

I want you all to know just because you don’t see me every day; it doesn’t mean I am not thinking about you or making plans with you in mind. I can’t fathom what some of you are facing emotionally and physically.

But even though I still don’t know exactly how you feel, whether we come back to school in person or virtually, I hope that I have created a space and an outlet for you to share who you are.

Stacey Roth Tirro
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