In our last blog post you heard from Sierra who shared her experience as a student co-teacher in Inner Strength’s Teen Mindfulness Program at Carver High School.
Today, we bring you the words of Simir, a bright, insightful, dedicated student headed to Pomona College in the fall! He also taught alongside Julie Coopersmith at Carver High School and we are so grateful that he wanted to share his experiences. Please meet the awesome Simir.
Who are you! What grade are you in and what are you interested in, in school or outside of school?
My name is Simir, I’m a senior. I’m going to Pomona College. One of the reasons I chose to go there was because of the intimate environment and [the fact that] you’re actually being recognized as not a number, but a person. That is ultimately what I’m interested in. All of the work I do daily is around: How can we recognize one’s humanity? And what do we do once we fall into the trap of dehumanizing someone else or ourselves?
I think that’s what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness ultimately doesn’t make that go away, but it does make us aware of those cycles. Those are the things I’m interested in. It’s very broad. Also, listening to a lot of music. And I mean a whole lot, 38 hours a week. It’s been cut down since school started, and I’ve been going on music fasts to get used to resisting temptation. But when I’m not doing that, I’m listening to music. I love music.
I also love having conversations with people. I like dancing in my room and pretending I have an audience. I like watching documentaries. I like reading books about culture, going deeper into time and space and how we occupy that. I might be missing some things, but those are the important ones.
You’re doing this co-teaching role for your senior project. What made you inspired to go for this opportunity and work with Ms. Julie this semester?
I had Ms. Julie’s class, and even though I participated a lot, I didn’t quite understand the whole idea of meditation, of getting to know yourself in a deeper way. The idea of the “inner you” was very complicated for my 10th grade brain, especially it being pre-pandemic. I feel like there has been a whole renaissance of mental health resources and acknowledgements because the pandemic pushed people into very dark places, and forced us to be more aware of mental health in our culture. I think [at the time] I wasn’t very open to all that. I still did all the things, but being a senior now, I have so much knowledge from going through horrible high school romances and spending all that time alone, listening to Bjork and Kate Bush, and watching so many documentaries. I’m just like, mindfulness is a thing and we need to start doing it. So when Ms. Julie asked whether there were any seniors interested in doing this, I said I would love to. I like being a part of learning spaces. I like giving people the space that maybe I didn’t have, or I wasn’t open to having. That’s ultimately why I’ve done it.
You alluded to mindfulness being a good resource for you during the pandemic. Can you say a little more about that?
One of the biggest things for me was with relationships, specifically romantic relationships. Being a teenager, all we see on the internet and media is, ‘you have to get a partner’ because that’s how you continue legacies, how you build families, how you survive. I think once we see all that, [we think,] I have to get that because I need to survive. I need to get through this. So me, being one of those teenagers, I’m like, I gotta get one of those partners. Exploring that was not good. I think what helped me through that was realizing there’s so much that needed to be seen, and mindfulness was the only answer to get through that process.
Which also spirals into other questions like why do I feel so uncomfortable with being alone? Mindfulness helps us get to the point where we get to ask those in the first place. It rewires the way my brain thinks. Before, my brain was so focused on getting by instead of actually giving love and care to myself. I think mindfulness is shifting things so it’s more about, seeing things as they are. Once I’ve started doing that, life has become a little bit more digestible. We can’t figure everything out –that’s impossible—but the things we can figure out, we have tools to get through them.
You’ve been through the curriculum as a student. Has being a teacher changed your understanding of any of the mindfulness tools or lessons?
Being on the teacher end is very ironic because I often find myself having to apply the lessons that I’ve learned. Even in the first lesson, I was so scared. What if they don’t listen to me? But I had to be mindful and say, they’re only two years younger than I am, and they’re also humans, and I was willing to listen at their age and somebody in the class will be willing to listen. It might not be everybody, but it will be somebody.
So I had to apply mindfulness. Teaching is also about sensing into, what does the class actually need? And having to deal with that. Which is literally mindfulness. If my class is kind of jittery, they need to be more engaged. So me and Ms. Julie are coming up with more activities to keep them up on their feet because if that’s not happening, they’re either going to fall asleep or find some other way to escape, like being on their phone or sleeping.
You often have to be in that space of mindfulness to teach a class about mindfulness. Which is a given, but you never really think about that.
Have you felt like you’ve grown in other ways?
Besides getting good teaching experience, I’ve definitely just grown in figuring out how to actually talk to people. I know so many 10th graders now. I think I’m also growing in trying not to project my criticisms of myself onto other people. They’re going to be damaging if we do. For example, one time we were talking about affirmations and scripting, and one of the students was like, “Affirmations don’t work for me.” At first, since I get so critical of myself, my brain was like, Well, you make it work. But I can’t talk like that to people. People aren’t robots. So I was like, “You know what, I’ve been there. When I teach you and when Ms. Julie teaches you, it’s in my words, or it’s in Ms. Julie’s words. When I first started learning this in 10th grade, I just copied Ms. Julie and it didn’t work until I put it in my own voice. It doesn’t work until you find your own voice and do affirmations in your own voice. So I completely get what you’re saying.”
Being part of this, you have to be gentle. Just like you would try to be with yourself in mindfulness, you have to be gentle with others too. That’s what I was trying to do in that moment.
What are your favorite parts of this role?
Outside of class I say hey to all the students. The best part was when one of the students came up to me and—the first lesson I played a song for everyone—and she was like, “I’ve been listening to that song like 20 times in a row.”
Just to have somebody actually take your work and use it in their own life. Even if it’s just a song recommendation, the fact that she was like, “Oh, I loved it so much. I played it 20 times.” That was probably one of the best moments.
Another moment was during the last class where we were asking questions [with the students] and going back and forth, and they were being open about what it means to have that persona of not wanting to care about anything, like how we all say, “I don’t care. ” Even when that whole time, that statement is contradictory to how our bodies actually feel. We’re actually very much in distress and very much care, and our words say something different. They were very honest about that. I like that actually getting to know people, outside of the normal mask that we wear.
What have you been creating in your role?
I’ve mostly been creating conversation groups. For the first time last week I did a meditation, which was very interesting. Leading group meditation is very new for me. You have to go off of whatever you want to say and not any script. That is the hard part with that, but it is nice creating that and seeing how people change after the meditation. I like body scans because so much of the tension is kept in my body. It was interesting to see how [students] reacted and responded to it.
I’ll say, “Sometimes I scrunch my face up, and I don’t even realize it until blah, blah, blah,” and I saw people like, “Oh, I’m the same way.” That’s something that everybody does whether it’s in the face or with hands or shoulders or whatever. It’s in our bodies.
What else has been challenging about being a co-teacher?
The day before teaching is the most challenging because you’re like, Oh yeah, I got to teach tomorrow and I have no idea what I want to do. That’s the most stressful. But it’s stressful in that way of just being anxious because you want it to be good, and that’s all.
I’ll be like, I don’t know how to actually engage people. But that’s just imposter syndrome. Once you actually get involved, it’s like jumping in cold water at the pool. It’s freezing and then you come in, and once you stay awhile, it gets way better. It’s still very cold, but it’s manageable.
Why do you think it’s gotten better?
Just how anything else gets better? You get used to it, and you have more tools to help you with the whole process of doing something new. It’s not new anymore.
Also, the fact that if I do end up doing something, I have Ms. Julie to lean back on. The second week I was supposed to prepare a meditation, and I had three tests in the same day and grades were closing, and I was like, I cannot do this. So she led the meditation. And I was pretty fortunate to just lean back on her. It’s realizing all the resources you have, and that you actually can do it.
How do you think you might apply this experience going forward?
There’s this really good quote, it’s on a podcast called, We can do hard things. One of the titles is “Be messy, be complicated, be afraid, but show up anyway.” I think that is literally what this whole thing is about. The first day of teaching, I was so close to just running to the bathroom. But I was like, this is anxiety. I’m going to get through this. And I got through. You know you’re afraid of messing up, but you literally show up anyway, because after the fear is gone, you are still there.
I think that’s the best part of this. That’s what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is essentially just learning to embrace how chaotic life is. We’re going to experience so many ranges of emotion. Sometimes they won’t be good ones. I think the whole idea is, instead of being resistant to feeling those emotions, or resistant to bad experiences, you just say: You know what, I know I’m gonna still be here after, so yes, it feels crazy, and then it won’t feel crappy anymore.
Thank you for having me.
A big thank you to Simir for sharing his experience with all of us. We believe that student voices need to be heard now, more than ever, and we look forward to bringing you more of these posts in the future