This School Year, Take Good Care

This back-to-school season is like none other.  Given the pandemic, states and districts are choosing a variety of learning paths.  Planning for such uncertainty is stressful.  Living out the plan with an open hand because at any moment another course of action may need to be taken is anxiety-ridden.  Learning how to homeschool is daunting.  In spite of it all, families are rising to the occasion with a greater awareness of the mental health and wellness needs of their children, and yet…

A few years ago during the Question & Answer portion of a professional development I led for approximately 100 elementary teachers and administrators, one of the teachers asked, “We are pouring ourselves out each day, giving and giving to the kids.  What can we do to be filled?”  Her sincerity and desperation reminded me of the dozens of conversations I have had with educators, many of them mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, across the country.  Time and again I hear, “We believe in social-emotional learning, but we must build capacity within ourselves first before we can teach it.”  These questions and comments remind me of my own journey.

My first experiment with painting was in 1994 when I was working as a nanny. I played around with the paints that one of my kids had, and I remember feeling alive when I stroked the brush against the page. I remember being struck by the vibrance of the colors. I remember thinking that Jerry Garcia was both a singer and painter. I remember musing about the connection between music and visual art. I was moved by the paintings of Henri Matisse. My style was like his… or at least I wanted it to be if I ever had a style. Freeflowing. Abstract. Bright. Moving.

Then I abruptly stopped painting before I travelled anywhere in my soul. I felt inadequate because I was not trained as a painter. I felt frustrated because I didn’t have the supplies. More than that I was afraid, terrified of the journey into my soul. If I put on the page what I felt in my soul, I was sure to be rejected. Hidden inside was an ugliness that I couldn’t admit… shouldn’t admit. It was easier to be silent than to be honest.

Through the years, I often heard the call of the paints, brushes and canvases. I wanted to express myself, but I criticized my self-expression before it was even a pencil sketch. “You can’t paint that. You can’t think that. You can’t feel that. You can’t. You can’t. You can’t. Bad girl!” Part of the reason for the self-chastisement was my own religiousness — don’t talk about fear or pain, just smile and everything will be okay. The other part of the reason for my self-criticism was my desire to be perfect. If I let this darkness out of my soul, I would be telling the world that I wasn’t perfect; I would be acknowledging that there was a disconnect between my internal swirl and my placid appearance.

Tamara Fyke
Tamara Fyke
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love in a Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical, and also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world. Tamara is the editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children what LOVE looks like. Find out more at

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