ne1 want to share?

As a teacher in the city, I hear a lot of disparaging remarks about children, and I won’t lie – sometimes I’m the one saying them.  As a disclaimer, I also talk trash about my family sometimes – when they’re annoying – but with the understanding that I love them unconditionally, and I will typically only share my frustrations with other family members.  So too at school – I love my kids and will only vent my ire with other teachers who love them too.  With family and students alike, I will challenge anyone who dares to denigrate them. And I will do so with stories like that which follows here.

For those of you who look at the youth of today and deem your own generation to be doomed once these youngfolk are taking care of you…

Two days before Thanksgiving, I asked students to write on any topic they chose.  I teach a remedial reading class (“reading recovery” is what we call it these days), and studies show that while allowing students to write on their choice of topic encourages them to write more, having them read their own writing aloud helps them to develop reading fluency as well as understand their mistakes for themselves, without a teacher having to tell them that something doesn’t sound right.  It beats teaching grammar rules that seem abstract and arbitrary to kids who struggle with reading – the rules make no sense on their own, but they can hear very clearly when something needs to be fixed.

Anyway, The students – four girls in this particular class – began to write feverishly for 20 minutes and had to be coerced by my pleading to stop.  I would have let them keep at it, but sharing is an important part of this exercise.

I suppose each of them had Thanksgiving on the mind because all four of them wrote about how thankful they were to have their families surrounding them.  This fact alone was touching enough; New York City kids are renowned for their tough exteriors and these girls are no exception, but they let their guard down just a bit.  Each one of them let the rest of us in just a little.

But then Jennifer, who had so much to say she wrote two separate responses, wanted to share some more.  Her first response was about how grateful she was for everything her mother brings into her life.  Her second piece was about the day her father died.

She asked our permission to read it.  We all told her she should feel free to share anything she was comfortable sharing.

The endearingly butch Laurie asked her if she was going to be okay reading it, if she could do it without crying.  She didn’t ask this to taunt Jennifer, her tone was that of genuine concern for her friend who was about to share something very painful.  Jennifer said she could do it and, furthermore, she really wanted to share it.

And so she read to us the story of being in Virginia with her mother eleven years ago when she was five years old.  Her mother received a phone call from her husband’s friend telling her that her husband had suffered a massive heart attack and was in critical condition.  Faced with a day-long bus-ride home, Jennifer’s mother didn’t want to distress her young daughter immediately when there was little to be done other than get home as quickly as possible.  She told Jennifer a half-truth: her friend was sick and they had to return to New York as soon as possible.  Jennifer was sad to leave her cousins in Virginia, but she respectfully returned with her mother.  It wasn’t until they returned home that her mother said to her, “Baby, you know how I told you that my friend was sick? Well, that friend is your daddy.”

Jennifer couldn’t read any further.  Laurie leaned over and held her so that Jennifer could cry on her shoulder.  Lizette ran out to fetch a handful of toilet paper for her to blow her nose and wipe her eyes.  Ivy grabbed a cup and ran to get some water, and all of this happened without instruction or hesitation.  The two who left returned, and no one spoke, we just let Jennifer have her cry.  When she’d calmed down enough to continue talking, she told us that the last time she saw her father was when he was in the hospital attached to machines; the image of him was so frightening to her five year old mind that she refused to speak to him.  And then he died.

Jennifer pulled herself together again and thanked everyone for their help.

Several things I happened in this intensely emotional ten minutes of time that made me feel very proud of my students and secure in the future of humanity.  The first is that we’ve created a space in our room that is so safe that students can articulate a need to share what hurts them most, and then actually share it.  And the students are not just passively accepting, they are genuinely supportive of one another.  I would like to take credit for this, but the truth is that this is the kind of atmosphere I’ve dreamed of creating and tried to create – never successfully – at my former school.  No, most of the credit goes to the girls themselves.  They’re just beautiful.

I’ve had philosophical (and typically cynical) discussions with friends about the nature of human communication in the age of MySpace.   Those of us who did not grow up with the internet but have embraced it later in life feel the difference between talking with friends for hours on the phone or in person versus texting and messaging them.  We feel like our own correspondence on many days feels insincere and trite by using these handy communication devices, and we wonder what it will be like when generations who have never experienced life without the internet grow up.  I, too, felt a little apprehensive about the prospect, but I have to say the more time I spend with younger people, the better I feel.  So even if they honestly think that anyone is spelled ne1 and write it thusly on their weekly quizzes, there are worse things than that.  Spelling can be corrected if need be, but the lack of a kindhearted spirit is much harder to remedy…fortunately I don’t have to.


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ding-dong Dell

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This morning I arrived at work to find that my classroom had been vandalized over the weekend. Our school shares the building with the Chinatown YMCA and “Chinese school,” a program for recently arrived Chinese students to help them stay connected with their culture. Apparently students from the Chinese school were found in my room lounging on our bean bag chairs, eating potato chips and soda on our reading rug. Someone found them there and ran them off, for which I’m grateful, but they neglected to check the kids bags because in one of them was — or perhaps is still — my school-issued laptop! It was locked in the closet (along with the chips and soda), but the kids found the key in the back of my desk drawer. The room itself must remain unlocked by law: in the case of a fire, the fire department is instructed to lift folks who can’t make it down the stairs from my windows, therefore the room must always be open.

Anyway, the good news is that we know who the kids are so they can be tracked down will hopefully still have the computer on them. The bad news is that last year a teacher had his school-issued computer stolen from his locked classroom but was left with the blame because he left the computer on his desk — he had to pay for the replacement himself. I don’t have $1000. I really don’t want this to be my fate. And though the Chinese school said they would pay for anything that went missing, I worry that something as significant as a computer might fall back to me, that I might be considered to negligent in some way. It doesn’t seem fair, but there’s a precedent.

The thing to remember, I suppose, is that it’s just a thing, and things can be replaced. If I have to be the one to replace it, it’s going to really hurt me financially, but I’ll recover. In, like, six years, but I’ll recover.


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Autumn lays the carpet with a deft sloppiness
the way a five-year old draws her mother in crayon:
there is no likeness –
none –
except in her eyes, and she knows her work is good.
Leaves in the street, in the gutter, on the lawn,
in the way. There is no skill in this,
but aren’t we glad she colored for us?
We kiss her forehead, look in her eyes,
and love her more than ever.
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She’d come to the big city all the way from Kentucky, and she even wore her best red plume panache for the occasion. But Fanny was not amused. There are buildings back home. There are people. What, she wondered, was the big deal?

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Athena, or, Bust

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Just a pic from the Roman Baths.  A taciturn Athena tracking centuries of tourists, my phantom face alive in the glass, with camera.   Bath, England, February 2007

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Sneaking in an entry — still at school, but it’s parent-teacher day/night and I’ll be here until 6pm to talk to one parent.  Of my 12 advisees, only two have grades below 75 so they are the only two who must bring their parents to me, and one already has.  It’s a fortunate predicament to find myself in, and all would be well were it not for the freakish temperature fluctuations here in the city that are beginning to make me feel sick.  I awoke expecting it to be in the 40s, dressed accordingly, but it had to have been in the 60s.  Then came the torrential downpour of rain and a temperature drop into the 30s.  F’real.  So now comes the sneezing and coughing, the headaches and all other maladies that attend to shifts in the weather.  With your immune system attempting to adjust, this is not the time you want to be around large numbers of young people.  So I’m grateful for the small number of conferences I have to facilitate, but damn — all I really want is a cup of TheraFlu and a nap! 

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It’s been awhile…

2007 has thus far been red-letter year.  It gets a bright shiny star sticker on the report card.

Although 2006 brought me an amazing man to call my own, it’s 2007 that really saw that relationship prosper.  To this day I am in love with the most amazing guy — good-hearted and charming, stable, smart and sexy — I’d dreamt about him for years, and now, a year later, here we are.  Just amazing.

And 2007 helped me to find the Capella choir.  Ten months and three concerts down the line, I am still a member and I rejoice after each rehearsal: After a five-and-a-half year hiatus, I am a musician again.  Music is once again a friend, and despite our time apart it hasn’t taken us very long to cozy up to each other.

2007 brought me back to knitting (although I’ve been a little slow on the go about this lately, too — will post some finished projects in a few days and discuss the latest works), and it led me to The Point where I’ve met some dear new friends.  Quirky, eclectic and colorful, dull shall never describe the place or the people in the knitting community here in New York.

2007 flew me back to Bath, England, where I was fortunate enough to spend one of the most memorable years of my life.  Although I was only able to spend a week there this year, I was able to spend that week with my Grandma who had never visited England before.  So even though we visited places that were common to me during my previous stay, I saw them now through her eyes and delighted in everything anew.   It was a special trip, and it allowed me to check in with some old friends as well.

Lastly, but far from leastly, 2007 landed me a new job.  My four years of teaching middle school in the Bronx have come to a end.  I want to say more about that and describe the ending with words like “bittersweet” and “hard,” but no qualifying adjectives can fully communicate the experience, so a future entry will need to address it.  Suffice it to say, I’m now teaching at a high school in Manhattan, and the fact that I’m including this in my list of highlights of 2007 ought to say enough for now about how I feel.  I’ll say more later.

And I promise that I will.  Say more later, that is.  Because of all the wonders that 2007 has wrought, a committed focus to writing is not one of them (Observe: this blog began in, yet has been heretofore untouched since January).  And this is problematic, not only because I tell people that if I were to leave teaching it would be to pursue a career as a full-time writer (whatever that could mean), but because I really like to write and I’m just not doing enough of it.  I have ideas for novels and plays, essays, what-have-you, but they remain queued up at the ticket counter in my head and never travel beyond the threshold of my brain.

The problem is that there’s never enough time — everybody’s problem, right?  What with Boyfriend and Friends and Teaching and Music and Knitting…there’s a lot to take care of, and thankfully so.  Still…  I always promise myself that I’ll use the summer to write, but I never do.  The summer calendar seduces me with its vast emptiness, then it intimidates me with its many possibilities, and by the time I decide what I want to do with it, it ends.  Big tease.

I also daydream about all the workshops and classes I should take that would make me into a writer.  This makes sense in my head, but in reality I’ve attended the workshops, the seminars and the meetup groups, and I write in spurts, but it isn’t consistent enough to be meaningful.

And yet, I still love words, and I still want to play with them.  So what am I to do?

Here’s what: I’m going to write something every day.  For the next year.  Even if it sucks.  2007 will begin my commitment, and 2008, I hope, will continue to bear all the fruit of 2007 and more.  By doing this — I don’t know… — I hope to improve my writing stamina, generate some ideas for bigger projects, and just keep a promise to myself.  This way it will be a legitimate claim when I tell people that I’m a writer, ya know?


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