An education for the guys I overheard talking about their 'teacher friend.'

Dear guys on the train,

I must apologize for starters. It’s all my fault. I was eavesdropping. I tend to do that on the Red Line. Unlike most folks who keep their earbuds in and their music up loud, I don’t want to miss anything. I’m a chronic people-watcher. And lately, I’ve found that paying attention can be a ministry in itself. So, that’s really all I was trying to do.

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about you guys.


Image via iStock.

I heard you, the one with your tie loosened and wearing a Rolex, talking to your other friend in the nice suit. Talking about your other friend Josh.

Your conversation went a little something like this:

“Dude, he never goes out anymore. Ever. He’s like a hermit.”

“I know, bro. He acts like he’s so busy. He teaches f**king third grade. His day ends at, like, 3, haha.”

“God, I wish he knew what it was like in the real world for a day. He thinks his job is so hard.”

*Awkwardly long laughter*

“Yeah, and he’s been a cheapskate ever since we left Ann Arbor.”

“Seriously. Try living with him. But he can’t expect to make as much as we do when we work our asses off year-round. It’s only October and, I mean, he’s got fall break coming up and he’ll be off for Thanksgiving and he gets several weeks off at Christmas time, yet he thinks he’s got it rough.”

“If only he knew…”

“Ha.” *Checks phone* “Wanna grab a beer? Taylor just texted me and said they’re going out.”

“Hell yeah, man. I’m down.”

Then you guys got off at the stop before mine and left me thinking. The more I thought about it and replayed your conversation in my mind, I knew I had to write you.

Image via iStock.

I don’t know your other friend Josh, but he’s clearly not as cool as you guys, going out on a Wednesday night at 10 for beers with Taylor.

From what I gathered, you guys are sick of your teacher friend. You’re annoyed at how frugal he is, how early he goes to sleep, and how much time off he gets.

The thing is, I wanted to speak up so badly, but I suppressed my inner thoughts, which were bursting at the seams, and withheld from butting into your conversation.

Until now.

You see, I wanted to inform you I was a public school teacher for several years. I taught high school, sixth grade, and first grade. I resigned after this past school year ended because I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t cut out for it.

I wanted to ask you if you’ve ever had to run on a treadmill for eight hours straight on a speed that’s just a tad too fast. That's the only way I could describe the physical exhaustion of being a teacher.

I wanted to correct your assumption that Josh’s workday ends at 3 p.m.

As a former teacher, I can’t help but offer you a mini-lesson: Teachers arrive before school begins and stay long after it ends. They spend countless hours in the evenings, on weekends, and especially during their “long breaks” completing lesson plans, grading assignments, filling out behavior charts, calling parents, scheduling meetings, updating individualized education programs, preparing for standardized tests, writing out goals, changing the theme on the bulletin board, buying supplies for a science experiment (in an effort to make learning fun in hopes that the kids will love it), coaching sports, tutoring, entering grades, cleaning the classroom, filing paperwork, communicating with necessary colleagues about specific student needs, etc. I guess it’s not a mini-lesson after all. Oops.

Image via iStock.

I wanted to challenge you to work all day without using the restroom once, to eat your brown-bagged lunch in less than seven minutes, and to stay patient when you have 20-something students in desperate need for your attention and you just want to reply to an email.

I wanted to break it down for you so you could better understand why Josh is frugal — why, aside from being utterly exhausted, he doesn’t go out as much anymore. For pennies each hour per student, he’s busting his butt to ensure they are not only educated but taught to be kind and courageous, and are safe and loved.

I wanted to reminisce on my time in the classroom and share with you about the students whose home lives kept me up at night and the emotional toll this took on me and my marriage.

I wanted to make you ponder the differences between your jobs and his, but I’m afraid we would’ve run out of time. I’ll just throw this one out there: You can probably get away with being tired (or even hungover), whereas Josh has to be on from the minute those kids arrive in the morning.

I wanted to tell you that, in case you weren’t aware, teachers don’t fill out expense reports at the end of each week. It all comes out of their pocket. And only a guy like Josh would be cool enough to sacrifice a beer in order to buy scissors for his third-graders.

Image via iStock.

I wanted to give you a hundred ideas for how you could be supportive of Josh and the selfless job he’s chosen.

I wanted to acknowledge your jobs are probably hard, too, but gently remind you that you’re probably at least respected and compensated. Teachers can’t earn bonuses or raises. The incentive to be the best boils down to the heart and a strong dose of integrity.

Look, I know I don't know you. And I can't possibly know the whole context of your conversation. But I used to be a teacher, and I know how your friend Josh might be feeling. I know what it's like to have friends who don't get that feeling. I couldn't say these things to them at the time, but hearing your conversation reminded me of the things I wish I had.

I wanted to let you know I now work in “the real world” and it’s only reaffirmed my once-biased belief that teachers have one of the hardest, most important, undervalued, and underpaid jobs in the world.

Sincerely,

The ex-teacher on the train (and an advocate for all the Joshes in this world)

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."