Doing the Work: Focusing on Thriving — A Post-#AERA19 Reflection

I just returned from Toronto and the 2019 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.  AERA, for many years, was exhausting, in a way that constituted a seemingly endless search to figure out who I was.  I would often reconnect with friends from graduate school or would connect with scholars whose work I admired, and I would wonder why I wasn’t doing what they were doing, how I could do more, be more, do something different, be someone different, make more time for research, apply the theoretical to my practical.  I would leave feeling conflicted about who I was and the work I was doing.

This year (and last year to some degree) was different.  This year, AERA, while always full and exhausting, was a time of embracing my professional identity, learning from others, refueling, connecting, and getting clear on the work that there is to do.  It also was a time where I was able to see myself through the interactions that I had with others, one of which (Thank you, Sunny!) encouraged me to take the time to write this blog.  I realized that people are reading what I write, learning from my work, and that I have community.  I learned that doing work that honors who I am is not theoretical, but personal, practical and important, with the potential for structural and transformational impact.  I learned that raising my voice is not only important, but essential, in challenging the normative ideologies and practices that, in the words of Bettina Love, spirit murder Black children.

My work, I know, focuses on teachers of color, and Asian American teachers/teacher educators in P-16 spaces.  It focuses on challenging dominant narratives of who teachers (and teacher educators) of color are and what they do, to begin unpacking the complexities of how they navigate and survive in a system not made for them, not made for us.  My work focuses on giving voice to complexity.  My writing (including this blog) reveals the complexities of being a mother-scholar, critical Asian American scholar, teacher-scholar, heritage language learner-scholar, advocate for equity-scholar, anti-anti-Black scholar, co-conspirator scholar among many other parts of my identity.

It is good work.  It is important work.

But this AERA, more than ever, I realized that it is work that will consume me and that could destroy me, if I do not commit to doing the work of thriving and promoting personal and professional sustainability.  As I work to grow as a mentor and as a learner, I am so clear that I need to grow in boundary setting.  There are no shortages of opportunities.  The work is so important.  But, so is my 4-year old who told me this morning as we were cuddling before she went off to preschool how much she missed having someone lay next to her as she fell asleep.  So is my 13-year old telling me about rock climbing in Joshua Tree and appreciating the maple flavored treats I brought home from this trip.  So is my sleep-deprived partner, who always encourages me to do the work and follow my passions. They are also my passions. Even more importantly, they are my heart.

And honestly, so is my time to reflect and to write, both for formal work and for reflective learning.  So is the space to be vulnerable, to be present to the life I have created and am creating.

From that place, we can all grow. It is all the work, but I must commit to prioritizing the work of living for my voice to feel its power.  That is the work, the humanizing work, that helps me see the people in my studies, to hear their voices, to support the co-construction of their stories, to make a difference.

And figuring out that work is such an important place to be.

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