Stolen Joy

CW: racism

I chaired a doctoral defense today, of a doctoral candidate who embodies Black excellence, did his study on Black student experiences in Linked Learning pathways, worked tirelessly & was the first in his cohort to defend. It should have been a day of unmitigated celebration and joy. This candidate was well-loved by the department, his cohort, his family and friends.  He was excited to share his work with his family, community and the college. 

However, about 30 minutes into the defense, we were Zoom bombed by someone who wrote a racial slur on the candidate’s presentation, then proceeded to screen share from porn sites before I removed him from the defense.

On this day, which should have been nothing but celebration, but was already complicated by being a virtual defense, my student and everyone in the room (which was 75% POC, w/ 2 WOC on the committee) had to experience this trauma. And it was incredibly traumatic.  Although it probably was less than a minute between the writing of the slur and the ejection of the perpetrator from the room, it’s like a screenshot of that moment is seared in my memory.

The candidate resumed the defense, finished with grace and professionalism. The committee acknowledged both what had happened and how, in spite of it, the candidate had risen above and contributed such important work to us all with grace and poise. We celebrated his success and introduced him as Dr. for the first time.  There was joy in the Zoom room.

Immediately after, I jumped on an urgent Zoom call to debrief the incident and protect our future doctoral students. During that meeting, 30 minutes after the defense, my student texted me that he just wanted to get revisions done so he could be done, in light of what had happened during the defense. Instead of celebrating tonight, he is hyper-focused on that interruption. We are all thinking about it.

Viscerally, I was shaking for an hour after the incident. I am now numb & angry, asking myself what I could have done to prevent the situation & knowing that what happened today is part of larger structural racism, hatred, cyberbullying, etc. But knowing these things intellectually doesn’t give this candidate back his defense. There is no going back to the moments before the interruption. Upholding and affirming him in the aftermath doesn’t take this trauma away. It doesn’t give him this moment back. And I’m so angry.

He doesn’t even get to walk the stage because COVID-19 has taken away that moment from him too, at least this spring (which is, of course the right thing, but doesn’t make things easier), so this is the culminating moment on his journey for now.  This.

For someone who lives a life grounded in humanizing pedagogies, who works tirelessly so that the work of scholars, students and teachers of color can be recognized, highlighted and affirmed, this is devastating.  As a woman of color, a chair, an ally, this is devastating.

I know we will move forward, that he will move forward, that I will move forward and continue to fight against the racism and ignorance behind this act, but it’s just so exhausting.  I am so tired.  It is such a tiring time.

And I just wanted him to have this moment of joyous celebration that he worked so ridiculously hard for.

Unapologetically Showing Up for Myself: Reflections on NCTE 19

Thanks to the #DisruptTexts crew for having these shirts made

“To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. In order to change and transform the world, they must change and transform themselves.”

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to NCTE this year.  In the past, NCTE has been a complicated space for me, one that is as exhausting as it can be exhilarating, and one that is always overwhelming. I came in with a lot of things that I had to get done: on the plane, during the conference, on the way home.  Always all the things, right?

In the weeks approaching this NCTE, I have had a lot going on, and my mom’s birthday (she would have been 81 this year) came on Saturday, my busiest conference day.  There is always a tension in complicated grief on birthdays and anniversaries, so I wasn’t sure how it would all go.

But, it was probably the most beautiful and affirming conference experiences that I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever.

And it was because I showed up for myself.

I have spent my entire life showing up for others: my mother, friends, colleagues, my children, students.  I love these people, don’t get me wrong.  It is an HONOR to show up in love, solidarity, affirmation, coalition, for others.

But in showing up for others, I often forget to listen to myself and what I want or need, relegating those thoughts to the shameful realm of selfishness.

This NCTE something strange happened.

I just focused on being present. I focused on what I needed in any given moment.  I focused on healing parts of me that I’ve been working towards embracing and understanding for the last couple of years: my identity as an Asian American woman.

I went to Asian American (and women of color) author sessions; I facilitated an Asian American teacher panel; I co-presented with my friend Jung about our research on Asian American teachers; we co-facilitated the Asian American caucus open forum and first ever networking event, and I met a lot of amazing authors.

I didn’t push myself to hang out with all of the amazing people I love at NCTE.  If I saw them, we hugged and talked. If I didn’t, I wasn’t running around frantically to make things happen (well, except for when I was running frantically after the teacher panel to Debbi Michiko Florence’s signing that was already over, insert sad emoji here).  I connected with people I didn’t know, but now consider friends.  I met people who I’d only ever seen on Twitter. I spent quality time with people I deeply cherish.

I was present.

I showed up.

I showed up for myself.

I showed up for the little girl who loved to read, who loved the windows into the worlds of others.

I showed up for the teenager who had just lost her mom, and who desperately needed to be seen and understood.

I showed up for the young mother who felt so overwhelmed that she just wanted to become invisible.

I showed up for the Asian American associate professor who is trying to embrace all of who she is, so she can show up stronger for herself and others.

I showed up for the author inside of me, who sees the calling and knows she has a voice and a story to tell.

And you know? Even though there are still all the things to do, I am letting go of some of them, to make room for the best people and the best things, the affirming things, the enriching things, the nourishing things.

So, I am not bummed if I missed you at NCTE. I am not sorry.

When our paths cross next, I will be more present with you because I am transforming.  When I show up for you next, I will show up with more of myself because showing up will be borne of love and choice and not obligation and inadequacy.  I will know what I am bringing to you through knowing who I am.

Much love to all of you who I did connect with at NCTE, whether for a super brief selfie of appreciation and love or a 5-minute conversation or over food, in sessions — however it was, thank you.  I am grateful for your contribution to me, for the restoration of being fully present.

I’ll see you all when I see you all next. In love and with gratitude.


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.

Doing Too Much or My Mythical Best Self

Mandatory Credit: Sean DuFrene / Photographer, Marketing and Communications
Long Beach State University

[Before I begin this post, I’d like to give props to my friends, Darlene & Wes Kriessel, who inspired me with their spousal 30-day blogging challenge. Darlene’s first post on pushing through and writing anyways reminded me that I need to do the same–prioritize writing, prioritize myself, do the hard things, especially when the hard things are the things I love.  So, thanks, Darlene (and Wes too, of course).]

Last week, at the end of one of my classes, I apologized to my students for not really feeling like “my best self” all semester.  They were somewhat incredulous and asked what my best self would be (they hadn’t noticed the deficiencies that felt glaring to me, as I was staring down a pile of unfinished grading, at the end of an exhausting semester).  I pondered then laughed.

“I guess my best self doesn’t really exist anymore.  She’s who I would be if I could only focus on any one of the things that is important to me in my life: like if I only focused on being a mother to my children, or on teaching 1 class, or on my research and writing.”

It was a laughter of recognition as well as one of indictment. Guilty of doing too much. Guilty of blaming myself for “not doing enough.” Guilty of striving for perfection instead of acknowledging the beautiful humanity of sometimes just getting it done.

It’s been another semester of doing too much. I know that this is as much a reflection of passion as ambition; service as much as veiled hubris, but I also know that it comes at a cost. I can feel it in the tightness of my shoulder muscles & clenched jaws; I can hear it in the tantrums of my 3.5 year old and the “yeah, you’ve been gone a lot” of my 12 year old; I know it, in what hasn’t gotten done (research & writing) as much as what I’ve pushed through.

Next semester already looks to be more of the same, a lot of work travel, an added Chinese class that I’m taking as a student, supervising student teachers, serving on search committees, attending family events, writing deadlines, church service — the list is long, and that’s just what comes to mind at 10pm on a Sunday night. I see my image of my best self fading into a meme-like oblivion, and I know I need to let her go….or let some of these things go.

It’s easier, in the moment, to let go of the perfectionism. So, starting today, my best self is the self you get on any given day, at any given moment.  This is what I’ve got. And if you need the me that’s smiling in the picture at the top of this post, maybe you can just bookmark this page and come back to visit her here.

Going Up for Tenure–the Decision before the Decision


I’ve been struggling in the last few weeks with whether I should go up early for tenure or proceed on the normative timeline.

In talking with colleagues, the advice ranges from, “If you think you’re ready, go up!” to “If you don’t need the money, don’t feel like you need to put the extra pressure on yourself,” and “It’s really up to you and what works for your life right now.”

I know all of that is true, but I’m struggling with the sense that I would be selling out on myself if I don’t try to go up early vs. the intense time pressure during an extremely busy part of life and the school year vs. the time I’ve already put into crafting a tenure review narrative vs. a string of recent rejections.

I seriously change my mind every day–sometimes several times a day.

It is not a fear of failure and not getting tenure.  I know that if I put up my file early and I am denied, I am as confident as one can reasonably be that I will be granted tenure in the next cycle (my normative timeline), so there aren’t “real” institutional consequences for trying.  It won’t be a blow to my ego either, as I’m aware of the area in which my file could be improved that’s giving me reservation.

What I am struggling with is putting forth a file that fully represents who I am and my work over the time I’ve been at my institution.  While I am proud of my work, and in some ways, it speaks for itself, my reflection and narrative were rushed, and for someone who values the reflective part of the review process, that causes me pause. I have pieces that I want to see through the publication process that have been revised multiple times.  I have a rejected grant proposal that I want to revise (or at least pilot a study from) and submit to a new funding agency.  And, the urgency I’ve created seems artificial since I don’t need to go up early.

However, tenure promises certainty, stability, and a raise, which is always a great thing.  Beyond the money though, a sense of certainty is critical to my own sense of well-being and continuing the course I’ve started, working on projects that are truly important to me without the worry of having to prove myself to a review committee.

I just don’t know.  I have 9 more days to decide and I’m sure I will waiver until I send the memo saying that I would like to be considered for early tenure or until the deadline passes.  I know this problems is minor in the longterm scheme of things, but it occupies valuable space in my mind.

For today, though, I need to focus on connecting with my students’ literacy histories, my colleague’s paper draft and our next college meeting.  Just a pause here to unload these thoughts from my mind.

What is Academic Life Like?

I saw this academic meme once (variations of which have been published in relation to other professions) that noted that the perception from the outside is different than the lived experience of those of us on the tenure track.  I’m actually pretty used to that, as prior to becoming an academic, I was a middle school teacher.

Some people outside of education think that K-12 teaching is all about working 7:30-3:30 and getting summers and holidays “off.”  It’s a nice “career” where you get to spend your day working with kids and spend time with your kids.  What could be better? (Actual educators know that teaching is NOT just about that you are in class with students, but also about lesson planning, preparation, assessment, working with parents, participating in professional development opportunities, working with colleagues, etc., involving long hours and often continuing through the summer.  All of this goes on behind the scenes, but is the real work of teaching.)

Similarly, faculty life in academia, with it’s flexible work structure, can be seen as an even more cushy profession.  I mean, I’m on an early career 3-year course release so I only teach 3 courses a semester (WAY less than the 5 that I used to teach at the middle school level).  I still get summers “off” and now, not only do I get to spend the summer with my kid, but I have time to volunteer at his school and be the treasurer for the PTA.  Why do I always seem so stressed on this blog?

Well, here’s why: I am a nerdy workaholic with poor boundaries that values teaching and is a team player.  So, finding balance isn’t easy.  What does that translate to?

1) I have to find (make?) the time necessary for academic work (i.e. reading, writing, research, presentations, etc.) and there’s a lot of time necessary for academic work.

I’ve been working on a manuscript for an article (that I just sent off today) for the past several months.  This process has involved extensive reading in the literature of my field, conceptualizing a study, getting it approved by an institutional research board, data collection (which actually has been taking place for a year and a half), data analysis in working with a research assistant, writing, revising (with the support of a research partner at another university), revising again, finding a journal that I think would be a good fit, editing and submission.  I’ve always been a good student so I thought, when pursuing an academic career, that this would be ideal.  I mean, they pay me to read and to write! Except that I put a TON of work into my teaching (see #2), leaving less time to read, write and think than I need, thus rendering the nerd in me somehow deeply unsatisfied at my academic publication progress.  I have a lot of data and some really interesting things to say (I think they’re interesting at least), but I need the time to stay current with reading in my field, opportunities to think deeply about the literature I read (which is hard when sometimes you don’t have a lot of time or opportunities to talk about your field of research with colleagues), time to analyze and write about my data, time to present and get feedback.  And, the most frustrating part, is that I need acceptance (which is completely out of my control) in order to validate the academic work that I’m doing.  So, while my fingers are crossed with this latest submission, almost 6 months + of work could result in a “we’ve chosen not to move forward with this article.” Sigh.

(And this is just the process on my single authored work.  My joint-authored submissions involve all of this and collaborative meetings to discuss and align voice in the papers–yet, that’s often regarded as “lesser” work depending on the order of my name in the article. Double sigh.)

2) Teaching 3 classes to the level that I expect takes a lot of time.

I’ve never been shy in identifying as a teacher.  While as a person, I am a research nerd, as a professional, I’ve always been a teacher, and the only reason I left my middle school classroom was to make a bigger impact on the profession that I love.  So, when opportunities for curricular revision come forth including the integration of new literacies & technologies, aligning coursework to research in our field (both pedagogically and in terms of curriculum), and integrating engaging activities that model strategies for my preservice teachers, of course, I’m going to take the extra time to embed them into my classes.  And, each semester that I teach a course, I revise it.  I do reuse some of my materials from semester to semester but rather than resting on my laurels from the previous semester, I use the time that I save from not reinventing the wheel to tweak and add to the course, often spending extensive time giving feedback and working with individual students each semester.  While I am teaching far fewer hours in front of the classroom, the depth and length of work I’m now assessing and the high stakes of teaching in a professional program mean that a lot of my week is spent on teaching.

3) Being a team player means various levels of service which all takes time too.

One of the aspects of academia that often is hidden to those on the outside is the idea of service; however, service is an important part of the review process, and fundamentally something that I believe in.  I serve on various departmental, program, college and university committees.  I’ve recently been on a couple of time-intensive grant committees and I serve my professional community both through speaking and consulting engagements throughout the state.  This is just the beginning of my career, so at some point, I expect greater commitments at the state and national level, likely meaning more travel and less space in my calendar, but providing opportunities to make the difference that I want to in my field.

4) In addition to all of this, there is “flexibility” so I can fill my schedule with family commitments. Oh wait, that also takes time.

Remember that part about bad boundary setting?  Well, as a former teacher, I know the importance of parent volunteers, particularly for public schools.  So, when asked to serve as PTA treasurer, I said sure and put my name on the ballot.  Then, when my son’s teacher needed someone to check off homework each week, I also committed to that.  I drop off my son at school every day (unless I’m out of town for work); I scale pinterest for ideas for his birthday party (why didn’t I just do Chuck E. Cheese?); I attend as many “during the day” school functions as I can–because I know that time is precious and it’s a privilege to have the flexibility in my schedule.  But, that same flexibility leads to the regular 16-hours a day that I work on several days a week when I’m not at his school.  I’m privileged not to miss those moments, but I’m exhausted.

So, every once in awhile I need days like today, where I did some academic reading, submitted my manuscript and aside from answering a few e-mails and responding to discussion board posts, I took the rest of today for myself.  I napped.  (In my 6th month of pregnancy, this is more of a requirement than an option yet it’s been WEEKS since I last napped because of the start of the semester) I took myself to lunch and bought myself new eyeliner.  Now, I’m writing this week’s blog (because Friday will be full of mom-commitments–homework check-off and Chinese New Year celebration at school) while junk television plays in the background.  Ah, balance. Today, the balance was in my favor, and my life seems amazing, but I know I have to keep working at it because there are more 16-hour days right around the corner.


What Does It Mean to Speak Freely?

It’s been a hard week, in terms of thinking clearly and speaking freely–hard in that I’ve had to wrestle with a lot that is not immediately apparent for me which is generally unusual.  Don’t get me wrong, I think deeply about issues of free speech and free expression (and violence, actually) all the time, but usually my position is pretty clear from the start.  This week has been different because of the shooting in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters which at this point has resulted in the deaths of 12 initial victims and the 2 gunman allegedly responsible for the attacks.

As I’m sure many who are reading this blog already know, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical paper/ magazine that for years has faced criticism for their brand of irreverent satire that truly holds nothing sacred.  The entire editorial staff was gathered for a weekly meeting when two gunman burst in and began shooting, targeting the chief editor and several prominent cartoonists and staff members.  Additionally, two police officers were killed, including Officer Ahmed Merabet, a French Muslim officer who died defending the adopted country and the intellectual freedom that at many times scorned or mocked his own faith.

I’ve come to clarity around several things: 1) I never believe that violence is the appropriate response to oppression (I know this may seem idealistic, but I stand behind this stance–it’s fundamental to who I am) and 2) I believe it’s important to protect the rights of artists and journalists, even those with whom I don’t agree (I really appreciated Krista Tippett’s perspectives on the shooting and the prospective implications and probably couldn’t have said this better myself).  But even after a lot of reading, and several in-person and on-line discussions with people I really respect, I am still struggling with what it means to speak freely which has led me to this point:  3) There’s a huge responsibility that we take when we publicize our words, beliefs and images and there are implication to those words, beliefs and images that we don’t control.

(As an academic, this also reminds me of the publicity surrounding the dismissal of Professor Steven Salaita for comments made in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on twitter.  While some feel that Salaita was responsible for his own undoing with his words, many others feel that the use of his comments, taken out of context and cherry-picked, as grounds for his dismissal prior to even assuming his new professorship were a huge set-back to academic freedom.  The New York Times and Salaita himself discuss the devastating impact of the University of Illinois which, while not deadly, were clearly destructive.)

So, with this responsibility and the unforeseeable consequences, particularly for those of us that, in many ways, live by the pen, what do we do? As an individual, I can pledge to live by compassion, practice non-violence, and engage in conversations that move our world forward, but as a scholar, as someone whose words are developing weight, I am struggling to know my truth in order to speak it.  I am struggling, in a situation where there are many clear victims and some that are more obscure, to know where to stand and how to advocate.  I am struggling, alone and with others, through the complexity that is our global society, to find what it is I have to say.

But, maybe if we engaged more in this type of struggle before we spoke, it would allow us to speak more freely.