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Cages & Cheetahs: The Untaming of Teachers



You are a goddamn cheetah.
                                                                                                   -Glennon Doyle, Untamed

A cheetah. We are all "goddamn cheetahs." 

Glennon Doyle's new book, Untamed, begins with a memoir in which she takes her daughter to a zoo. While there, they watch Tabitha the cheetah's feeding. Once Tabitha is away from her handlers and the crowd, Doyle observes the changes in the cheetah. In the field, Tabitha's head becomes high; she stalks the periphery and paces. Her eyes stare at something beyond the fence.  It's as if the big cat remembers her wildness. Doyle imagines a conversation with Tabitha in which she admits her dissatisfaction with her zoo life. Tabitha longs for something more...something that doesn't exist. Doyle assures Tabitha that she's not ungrateful or crazy...she's a goddamn cheetah. The memoir reads like a parable. 

I haven't blogged since Pandemic Panic set in on March 13. On March 16, I began teaching online, every day, five days a week. I spent the remainder of my time creating curriculum resources that would help me teach the grade level standards my district tagged as imperative for the remainder of the school year. I was quarantined by myself, away from family members and loved ones. I only left the house for trail hikes and groceries. The rest of the time, I paced inside my cage.

I snagged Untamed during a hurried trip to Target for toilet paper, and it sat on my coffee table until I reunited with my podcast friends to discuss our summer episodes. Lo and behold! They had all purchased it, too. Untamed is the first book in our summer reading series for teachers. And of course, we have curated some recipes to go with your reading of this powerful book!

Cages

I love the way this memoir/self-help book is organized. The first memoirs are about the cages in which women find themselves, either built by society, family or self. They are expected to marry, child-bear and rear, housekeep, and have a career. But what if those expectations aren't what they want? What if they're cheetahs, instead? I couldn't help thinking about the cages we teachers enter as we move through our careers. What realities do we have thrust upon us? The standardized tests, the unrealistic expectations, the lack of respect, the acceptance of that lack of respect, of resources, of adequate pay, of public derision and distrust. In this section of her book, Doyle encourages her readers to feel all of the feelings. It reminds me of the stories I've told myself at low points in my career, when I've wanted to give up. I stuff the feelings down, because coming out of that cage feels a bit terrifying. If I admit that I'm unhappy or dissatisfied, then I must do something about it.  If I can't admit my feelings to myself, how can I possibly grow from them? 

Keys

This section is my favorite. Doyle passes us a few hacksaws so we can break out of our cages. Her short memoirs are action plans. My favorite one is "Be Still and Know." She talks about getting quiet inside in order to listen to herself. When I think about how many voices I allow in my decision-making (my colleagues, my parent, my friends, my sibling, my principal), I realize that I seldom listen to my own voice. And then I must ask the question: Do I trust myself? This part of the book moved me into action. As teachers, how often do we listen to our own voices? How often do we assert our voices?

Free

In the final section of Untamed, I found myself reflecting on two words: Burning and building. Glennon's analogy about burning the old cages to build new realities for ourselves reminds me of an article I read about the Australian wildfires. When Australia was done burning, within weeks, new growth appeared. Green appeared everywhere. In this section, she talks about her own burning and building, and it is inspiring. Again, I asked myself hard questions: What are my beliefs about myself as a teacher? As a 
human being? What do I need to edit? And finally, what will take its place?





This read is the perfect book to reflect on our quarantine, our school year, and our personal lives. We had a great time discussing it. You can listen to We Teach So Hard right HERE

P.S. It's good to be back with you, my readers. I've missed you. Until next time, I'll be burning and building! Click below to find out more. 
  

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