Can screaming in the car end The Achievement Plateau?
Probably not. But it's cathartic.
Two Friday’s ago I had jury duty. I drove to work, opened the building, held our weekly “5in5” with staff, and then got back in my car to drive to City Hall.
On the way, I found myself unexpectedly screaming in the car. “I’m f###ing angry!” I yelled. Tears followed. “I’m f###ing sad!” After parking, I took some deep breaths and let the cold, January air dry my eyes as I walked to jury duty.
One of the first things I did after I accepted this principal job was sign up for therapy. I knew this would be stressful, emotionally-heavy work, and I wanted to proactively prepare my heart for it.
It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
It turns out I had a terrible habit of bottling up my emotions, trying to present a steely, emotionally-neutral persona at work. And it turns out those bottled-up emotions didn’t just slowly evaporate like an Instant Pot left to naturally release its steam.
I think it’s important for a leader to be emotionally present and vulnerable, and I also think I’m most effective when I deal with my sadness and anger in healthy ways outside of the school building.
And so, at one of my first appointments, my therapist gave me a tennis racket and told me to beat the hell out of a pillow in his office. I gave the pillow an inspired whack, and he pressed me. “Really hit it. And yell. Are you angry? Then say so.” I beat a lot of pillows in my first year as principal, and my therapist encouraged me to practice at home. “Perhaps the concrete in your basement?”
I chose to use the car as my sanctuary, instead. I don’t own any tennis rackets, and our West Philly house has enough issues without me mercilessly beating its foundation. I still feel some amount of shame when I lean into emotions like anger and sadness. And Hondas are fairly reliable vehicles, though no reviews on Edmunds mention the steering wheel’s sturdiness after multiple strikes.
A few days before I found myself screaming and crying in my car while driving south on I-95 heading to jury duty (for which I was selected) on a cold January in 2022, a parent messaged me that a former student had been shot in the shot in the face in the morning while walking to work. Happened just a few blocks from our school, and only minutes after our morning admit. A few days later, her grandmother removed her from life support. Just 18 years old.
She was an 8th grader when I started here. I’m sure she was often the source of some of my pillow attacks during my first year. She also had an engaging smile, a younger sister, and so much promise. And now she’s just a memory, a face in an old yearbook I keep, a memorial service this Friday, and a nameless victim on a 20-second segment of the local news.
I had not expected to feel such a wave of emotion about her murder. I’m sure it was also the sadness and anger that has been accumulating over the last two years, the seemingly endless reports of young victims of violence. I haven’t been to therapy in a few months, I still don’t own any tennis rackets, and I haven’t been practicing great emotional health in recent months — too much work, too little time to pay attention to my heart. I often say that educators wear emotional kevlar vests. And sometimes they wear thin after repeated use.
I’ve struggled with this post. I have so many thoughts about the violence that pervades our country and affects our youth. And I always worry I’ll foster the stereotype that continues to oppress neighborhoods like ours. Maybe someday I’ll get around to teasing out all those thoughts into a coherent essay about how we can do more within schools to stop the violence that occurs outside them.
For now, though, I’m just sad. Very sad. And very f###ing angry.
Thanks so much for reading. Have a great week.