Loud Suffering and Why Teachers Need It Right Now

By Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Loud suffering has an impact. It signals a need for community, help, and support.

On December 2, 2020, an 11-year-old boy in Northern California made his suffering known through the loudness of a gunshot. His sister, who was in the house, heard the gunshot in her own Zoom session and ran next door for help. I can only imagine the loudness of suffering in those moments. What can be certain is that, before he made his pain audible, this young man had quietly suffered.

At the beginning of the school year, I presented the idea that teachers may be quietly suffering. Six months later it is no longer just an idea. The question now is how should educators process their suffering? I suggest that the first step is for educators to move beyond feelings of shame and engage in loud suffering. Teachers must collectively raise their voices such that the sound of suffering is undeniable and too unbearable to be ignored.

Loud suffering is the natural strategy for self-preservation and full humanity. It is only through socialization that we learn to mute our pain, feel ashamed of it, and suffer quietly.

In a society that ridicules those who have varying abilities or live in poverty, shame is a powerful emotion. Shame maintains inequality. It creates an environment where needing support, encouragement, and community is questioned. The antidote to shame is the collective naming of inequality. This has been the root of success for social justice movements in our history.

The civil rights movement did not take hold until Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the benefit of televising the suffering of African Americans being brutalized by the police for enacting their rights to vote and access businesses. It was the loudness of the images of dogs biting children and women being flung across concrete pavements from the force of water that demanded action from the larger society. Similarly, it was the loudness of George Floyd’s cry for his mother that set society on an intentional and determined path for racial justice. The #MeToo movement came from the loudness of the 100 women who spoke up about over three decades of assault by Harvey Weinstein.

These examples show ways that shame delayed justice and humanity. African Americans, particularly in the South, attempted to reduce the shame of being mistreated in front of their children and loved ones by staying within “their place.” Families of murdered Black men hesitated to speak out from shame of their living circumstances. Women violated by Weinstein were burdened by the shameful rhetoric of “she didn’t know better” or “she had it coming.” Shame is a powerful tool for oppression.

While some educators have willingly posted their fears and needs on social media, many more are suffering quietly. Yet, the reality that thousands of educators are suffering is hard to validate through the news media. What is visible is the suffering of parents and children.

We need to understand the extent of educators’ suffering so that we can support them. With support, educators can better support their students. This should be the priority as the nation faces another year of distance learning.

Quiet suffering has dangerous consequences. We suffer quietly until the quietness of our pain explodes into the loudness of gunshots, sirens, and cries of loss and grief.

While the news media reported that the sixth grader had his microphone and camera off, the final sound of his suffering was not quiet. It echoes through his sister’s ear and every wall in their home. It echoes through his teacher and classmates.

Loud suffering presents the opportunity for change, support, and community. The more that educators are willing to forgo shame, the greater the change possible. I am asking each educator to suffer loudly.

Tell others how hard it has been.

Tell others of the fear created by teaching through a pandemic.

Tell others that you cried last night (and the night before).

Tell others that you cannot take on another task.

Tell others that you are suffering.

Suffer loudly.

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The Literate Self

Writer, educator, and scholar. I write about equity and justice issues (local & global) in education with a particular focus on writing and contemporary texts