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How to Write Your Own Contract: setting your own terms & conditions (teacher edition)

TLDR: Read the subheadings and answer for yourself.

Context-Setting: who's ready for another year?

That fall anxiety is starting to kick in; you know, the daily realization that summer vacation is inevitably and quickly coming to an end. The last few years have not been great to teachers, students, and families, from COVID-induced online teaching and learning and the growing number of mass shootings in schools to the growing violence on our streets, from police brutality to civilian hate-crimes. Forget about inflation and the economy when lives are being taken and jeopardized daily. I applaud everyone for being resilient, responsive, and ready to sacrifice for their families in the face of adversity, assault, and absurdism.

As a teacher in 2022, I hope I’m not alone in asking myself:

  • Why am I still in education?

  • What gets me up in the morning and in that classroom?

  • What will I change about my habits to ensure my mental and social well-being?

  • When, where, and how will I say “no” to certain requests?

  • What if I left the classroom? What would I do? Why?

  • When will I be able to buy a home? Is that financially possible?

  • Will this year be my last?

  • How will I show up for myself, my students, and my colleagues in a way that honors my well-being, my values, and my capacity or bandwidth?

Intentions: what to expect...

As for this piece, I want to write a personal contract that challenges me to reflect, inspect, and project. Entering my 11th year as a classroom teacher, I must set my own terms and conditions for how I enter this upcoming year and how I show up for myself, my students, and my communities. Otherwise, I will not be showing up at all or just tiring myself out from constant showdowns with exploitative systems, administrations, and overall office politics. Yes, I am writing my own personal contract to contextualize my professional contract. In other words, for my professional contract but based on my own self-development, I am writing and reading my own fine print also known as the terms and conditions of my work-life harmony (not balance).

This piece is more than just goal-setting but more so about vision, values, volition, and vocation. In other words, I am a lifelong learner (and hopefully educator) who enjoys purposeful planning, deliberate execution, and a little spontaneity (or serendipity) for the sake of personal growth and evolution. I do not believe I would be as introspective, self-loving, or empathetic if I were not an educator. I’d probably still be ambitious but maybe to the point of cut-throat savagery and reckless self-care (or lack thereof).

In this piece, I outline specifics in terms of philosophy and practice through the 5W’s. I hope this piece inspires you to take some time to write out your vision in and outside of the classroom before the school year really, really starts. It’s easy to “crash out” or stall when you do not have a destination, a road map, a vehicle, and or a focused driver. Let’s be frank, sometimes the roads are shitty, filled with potholes or just plain non-existent, hence the need for your imagination.

But what about students?

If you are a student, especially one who is not the biggest fan of school, I would ask that you consider what skills you want to develop and what information you need in order to get where you want to be years down the road. Sure, some subject areas may not be personally exciting or engaging for you, but if anything, learn these fundamentals: discipline, study habits, and research skills. Do whatever you can (i.e., online research, informational interviews, networking, internships) to make sure you walk out of school having the skills and tools (technical and social) to put yourself in the places, positions, and around the people who will help you achieve your vision. I’ll be the first to tell you that school is not all about the books but more so about the behaviors. Stay tuned! I have a student edition coming!

My "Why's"

Long-Term: at the end of the day, what's the big deal? the end game?

One day, I want to just sit, write, and tell stories with young people. Every young person is a natural creative, just depends on guidance, opportunities, environment, and affirmation. I am no English major or English professor, so I do not care about teaching certain things in my class. I do care about young people getting excited about learning, creating, collaborating, and communicating –whether that be through the written word, spoken word, body language, or visual artwork. Maybe I'm already there.

The hallmarks of my classes include plenty of laughter, discussion, groupwork, movement, and multimedia. I can confidently say that I have taught and enjoyed some of the next big writers, thinkers, and changemakers of the next generation. Plus, good writers (and good teachers) tend to be curious, conscious, and careful listeners.

And there’s nothing wrong with speaking things into existence and working things into fruition. Before my last breath, I am going to write an assortment of children’s books, my friends’ biographies, and scripts for animated movies. Just putting that out there for the universe. I mean, who doesn’t cry every time they watch Luca or Moana!?

Immediate: so what’s that got to do with this upcoming year?

I will continue to make sure anyone in my presence feels a sense of belonging, love, care, and worth. No person left behind; no person left out; nobody left feeling like a nobody. I will continue to make space for any and everyone through open and honest sharing, caring, and (co)creating. Easier said than done but I have the capacity and the willingness to make my classroom more inclusive, informative, and inspiring, with the help of my students.

What: what are your needs?

  • I need time, space, and tools to do my job freely, successfully, and collaboratively.

  • I need time for solitude and social connection, respectively.

  • I need to learn how to rest and be still.

  • I need to make and take time and space to be physically and emotionally available for myself and my loved ones.

What: what are some of your 2022 goals or milestones?

Note: I write these goals in present tense to raise and set my vibrations as if I have already achieved these goals. Also, I continue to practice transparency and vulnerability with each and every post. Shout-outs to my homie Vivian for inspiring this writing exercise.

Professional Goals: inside the classroom

  • Considering the fact that I am teaching Honors English for the first time ever, I have a more efficient system for grading essays and turning major graded-work back to my students. I partially co-create this system with my students to ensure they get the necessary feedback in a timely manner.

Personal Goals: outside the classroom

  • I drink at least one gallon of water each day and go to the bathroom at least once during the school day. If you’re not a teacher, just know many teachers struggle to make time for lunch, bathroom breaks, or fresh air outside.

  • I connect and catch up with at least one friend per month.

Passion Project:

Note: everyone needs one, and mine is developing this platform.

  1. By the end of fiscal year 2022,

    1. this blog averages 5,000-10,000 monthly views.

    2. the blog spotlights at least one guest writer, speaker, and content creator each month.

    3. at least 25 new community members say it with their chest and make a (fashion) statement about their values within education.

    4. this platform hosts another writing contest in the form of a scholarship for graduating high school seniors.

Why Not: barriers, deterrents, unhealthy habits

Sometimes the key to success means identifying and eliminating the threats to your success. These threats may be personal (internal) or public (external). And even with systemic barriers or limited resources, an individual must identify and work around or through these issues. Or, they can remove themselves from problematic environments and systems altogether.

Some of my unhealthy habits:

  • My phone (mindless scrolling through social media)

  • Walking down the snack aisle in the store

  • Misplacing my water bottle at school

  • Keeping my phone too close to my workspace and my bed

  • Opening too many tabs on my web browser

  • Making impossibly long to-do lists

  • Not eating lunch or snacks throughout the day

  • Convincing myself I earned certain unhealthy rewards (alcohol, sugar, etc.)

Why Yes: aids, advantages, established healthy habits

Yes, you need to identify the things, tools, and actions that have contributed to your success. Congratulate yourself. You've lasted this long, so you're doing something right.

Some of my habits of success:

  • Making to-do lists but prioritizing and addressing major list items first

  • Carrying a water bottle and making a space for my water bottle

  • Spending at least one hour a day learning and or doing something new for my passion project (watching YT videos, listening to podcasts, reading articles)

  • Taking a 30-minute guilt-free dance break, walk outside, or meditation after 1-1.5 hours of work

  • Making the produce section the first and the longest stop during my store run

  • Setting personal deadlines for grading and syncing my various Google Calendars

How: how will you take action? (potential action steps)

  • Research and create better systems for work, self-care, and efficiency

    • And yes, this may mean turning to Tik-Tok for some answers

  • Set a consistent bedtime and routine for winding down the night

  • Develop weekly meal plan that includes snacks for the workday

  • Text to set-up actual times to connect with loved ones (instead of breaking out in cold sweats or running away when my phone randomly lights up and starts vibrating).

Mantras & Affirmations

I say these to myself throughout the day for grounding and getting crunk. Gotcha. I said it. I say these to settle me down and to get me up.

  • Self-Sufficiency: Everything I need I already have

  • Progress & Persistence: do something (consistently) that moves the needle in a major way

  • Self-Grounding: you are right where you're supposed to be

Who: who do you do it for?

Again, living and working on your own terms is about mindset. My philosophy dictates my practice. My thoughts become things. If you have a personal mission that is bigger than you, meaning a purpose that serves the people (family, larger communities), Mother Nature or the universe, then identify and honor those beings by writing down their names or putting up photos of them as a reminder, a cue, a source of motivation, and memorial. Trust, when times get tough and you can't even look yourself in the mirror, you may need to look up to see your late Grandma smiling down on you or your child looking up at you.

Who I do it for:

  • My late grandmother, Jurietta

  • My brothers Prince, DeQon, and DJ

  • My nephew, Halo

  • My future family

Call to Action: DO one of these things, at least!

Take this piece as a sort of template or reference.

  • Get it in Writing: Take 30 minutes to an hour by yourself and write down a few bullet points for any 2-3 highlighted sections. Great for my quiet processors.

  • Voice It: Take a walk in or outside of your room and record yourself talking through any of these sections. Perfect for my audio processors or folks on the go.

  • Keep it Simple: Draw that ol' school webmap, just connecting or not connecting seemingly random thoughts, keywords, or symbols. Perfect for my visual learners.

  • “Church Girls” by Beyonce

  • “Move” by Beyonce

  • "Living Proof" by Lloyd Banks featuring Benny the Butcher


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