Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sharp Relief

(Written Friday afternoon.)

The 8th graders are taking their finals in my classroom in the mornings, so I've been teaching in a different room most of the time this week.  Yesterday was my last time teaching in the classroom I've inhabited for the last two years, and at the beginning of class I mentioned this to the 7th graders.

Mistake.   I thought I was sentimental.  Apparently I've got nothing on these kids, especially the girls.

First, during prayer, they produced a lengthy and moving string of prayers in thanks for me and my fellow ACEr at my school, and for our well-being as we move on.

Then they started sneaking up to the board while my back was turned working with other students and writing all kinds of sweetness.  All the while they were telling me how much they're going to miss me and asking if I might come back for their graduation next year.

Then Daniela walks up to me and very frankly, sweetly, sincerely, says, "Ma'am, thank you."

I kept it together just long enough to say, "You're welcome, Daniela," and send her back to work.  Then I went and sat behind my desk and put on my best poker face.

Then Judith looks up and catches the suddenly watery nature of my eyes and says, in Spanish, "Look, she's about to cry!"

They all went, "Awwww!" and got up and surrounded me and hugged me.  And then I lost it.

Then I told them they were jerks, and one of them goes, "But we're your jerks!"

They've been teasing me about it since.  When I got  out of my car with my sunglasses on this morning, Ivette smirked and said, "You know why she's wearing those glasses..."

Today, I taught my last class for the foreseeable future.  I'm sitting in an empty classroom, for once not relishing the peace but wishing for a few more minutes of pandemonium.  I'm pretty positive I'll find my way back to a classroom sometime, but I have no idea how long from now that will be.  This is strange, because if you had asked me even ten months ago if I thought I might not be in a classroom next year, I would have said no way.  And yet, here I go, off to sit at a desk, not working with kids.  It's putting me in a weird state of mind -- I'm not having second thoughts, and yet I am wondering what the hell I'm thinking leaving the classroom.
  My heart aches a little.

Teaching is such a weird occupation, at least for me.  It takes everything I've got, provides minimal or invisible returns, and I love it.  Love it.  It consumes most of my energy, time, and thought, and well beyond my oft-stated belief that education is a human right.  It's the act of teaching, the process of writing plans, being in the classroom, dealing with kids, nudging, prodding, pushing, questioning, challenging them, getting to know them, laughing with them, reigning in my impulsive reactions ("What in the hell are you thinking?!"), pulling my hair out, wondering what I'm doing wrong, trying to do it better, catching glimmers of sanity, the mild shock when a kid suddenly looks and acts a little bit older, a little more mature, and the very normal, unassuming, undramatic* little blip of satisfaction, encouragement, and hope when a kid does well.  Every shade on the human spectrum of emotion, every week.

I'm not having second thoughts about the new job, and I am still just as excited about it as I was in March when I got the offer.  I've no doubt it's where I'm supposed to go.  There are (at least) two sides to everything, though, and the flip side of this coin is very much in focus right now.  This blog is named Theophany because of my constant wonder at the ways God reveals himself in the world, and I have encountered him in the most mundane and profound ways in this profession.  For the last three and a half years, even as I've fought the impulse to beat my head on a desk, I've loved it and felt right doing it.

I have one more final to give and some miscellaneous old work to grade.  I need to tear down and pack up my classroom.  And that's it.  Two weeks from now, I'll be taking up permanent residence in an office at Notre Dame, not a classroom anywhere.  It is the definition of bittersweet.

*This, incidentally, is why I sort of hate most Inspiring Teacher Movies

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Miss List - Edited

(Originally posted May 12.  Updated now and again until the end of the school year. New items in bold.)

In the weeks since I officially decided to take this job at Notre Dame and knew, therefor, that I would not be teaching next year, there has naturally been at least one incident everyday that makes me wonder why in the world I am leaving the classroom.

There has also been at least one moment everyday when I think, "I will not miss that at all."

I think I am actually rather grateful for this, because without the occasional thought to the elements of my profession with which I am not, shall we say, enamored, I would be a blubbering mass of tears and snot at the thought of leaving.  At the same time, if I were to leave teaching and be really gleeful about it, it would cast a depressing light on these last three years (or more, depending how you count), and I don't think they'd want me where I'm going, either.

So it's all about balance here.  As always.  I am the queen of balance.

Thus, below is a list of both "Things I Will NOT Miss" and "Things I Will Miss".  I intend to update this post whenever these things occur to me.  Of course, we all know my posting track record.  My intentions and actions almost never match up.

Things I Will NOT Miss
  1. Eye rolling
  2. 500 reasons a day to give them The Look.
  3. Eau de After PE Class
  4. Finding the work I just assigned.  On the floor. Without a name.
  5. Being asked, "Ma'am, do you believe in aliens?  It's in the Bible," in the middle of a vocab quiz
  6. Having eight kids all yelling my name at the same time and all expecting my full attention right that moment.
  7. Having seven kids simultaneously become unbearably indignant because I paid attention to someone else.
  8. Writing finals
  9. Grading anything.  Especially finals.  Ugh.
  10. And grading late work.
  11. And grading.
  12. Did I mention grading?

Things I WILL Miss
  1. The "I Get It!" look!
  2. Giving them The Look.
  3. The look on their faces when I give them The Look
  4. Being asked, "Ma'am, do you believe in aliens?  It's in the Bible," in the middle of a vocab quiz
  5. The chorus of voices that responds in perfectly trained harmony of cadence when I say, "Good morning, 7th grade!" ("Gooood mOOOOOrning Miiiiss-Ciiiiis-neee-roooooos!")
  6. The (rare) moment when pandemonium breaks out in class because they're excited about something.
  7. Telling a senior who went to my school years ago and who I did a mission trip with that he should turn down MIT for ND, and Penn is a good third choice.
  8. Pretending I knew the Yankees had won before Jose walks in the door high-fiving me.
  9. Having an excuse to get nerdily excited about a poem (I'm trying to get them excited... really...). 
  10. Looking at a kid in May, remembering how the same kid was in August, and being struck speechless by how proud I am of said kid for coming so far.
  11. Guillermo yelling, "Ma'am, I love you!" every time he leaves my class or sees me in the hall.
  12. Kids coming up to me after they finish a book I recommended and saying, "Ma'am, you were right, that book was so great!"
  13. Realizing after the fact they enjoyed and connected with an activity I thought at the time was a disaster.
  14. Field trips and seeing the kids in a different context.
  15. Messing with their heads (Example: "You'll be fine.  Unless of course you fail."  "Yh-- Wait, what?"  "What?"  "Ma'am, what did you say?!"  "George Washington.")

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I Leave Gchat Open

My sister is home sick and it's my planning period.  This gchat conversation just happened.

: lol
12:03 PM omm that was HIlarious!
 me: figured you'd like that :)
  On a scale of one to "Uggggggghhhhh gross blaaaaah", how are you feeling?
12:04 PM Melissa: pretty good. just coughish
  btw, omm is oh my meatballs
12:05 PM me: i thought it was a typo
  wait, why would anyone say oh my meatballs???
 Melissa: 'gosh' is just used to death. + i <3 meatballs
12:06 PM me: did you invent this phrase?
 Melissa: yes.
 me: Of course.
 Melissa: XD

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"That Showed 'Em"

My friend Ginna, whom I respect and admire more than I have probably made known to her, send this:

This book sounds interesting:

This is my favorite part of the review of the book: "In an otherwise largely celebratory forum on the pill at CNN's website, Republican strategist and book publisher Mary Matalin cleverly and jarringly wrote: 'Packages of portable liberation ushered in a generation of women determined to break free from their inferior patriarchal oppressors. And how did they manifest their superiority? Their freedom? Thanks to The Pill, by casual, drive-by sex. Whoa. That really showed those stupid boys.' "

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I am About

"For me," Canada said, "the big question in America is: Are we going to try to make this country a true meritocracy?  Or will we forever have a class of people in America who essentially won't be able to compete, because the game is fixed against them? [...] There's no way that is good conscience we can allow poverty to remain the dividing line between success and failure in this country, where if you're born poor in a community like this one [Harlem], you stay poor.  We have to even that out.  We ought to give these kids a chance."
-Geoffrey Canada, as quoted in Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes. Emphasis mine.

Confession: I have a little bit of what might be called survivor's guilt, or something akin to it.  Statistically, kids like me -- Latinos, children of immigrants, and immigrants themselves -- have a higher drop-out rate than any other group (17%, while white youth are at about 6%, and Latinos make up 40% of all drop-outs).  Those who do finish high school are still less likely to attend college, and those who do are less likely again to finish in four years, if they finish at all.  Meanwhile, here I sit four days from having my Master's Degree conferred and a month away from working for a university (and not in the dining hall).  I've spent a lot of time pondering the fortunate happenstance of my upbringing, the features of my childhood that planted me squarely on the road to higher education.

As far as I can tell, it was pure, unthinking luck on my part.  I happened to have the father I have, to live the places I lived, to have certain opportunities plop themselves in front of me.  I spent most of my childhood, nomadic though it was, in middle-class white neighborhoods, and I got all the perks that come with that.  I am where I am now largely, maybe primarily, because I got lucky as a kid.  Other kids not so different from me are struggling because they lived in a different neighborhood and got a different education.

Second confession, related to the first: that hits me as incredibly unfair, and it sticks in my craw.

There is much debate on why the poor are poor.  I'm leaving that debate aside for now, because it is entirely irrelevant to my point: no one in their right mind or with a mustard seed of compassion is going to blame a third grader if she can't read.  No one can possibly blame the five year old from a working class family because he starts kindergarten already at a disadvantage compared to his middle class peers. You might be able to place responsibility for an adult's situation in life on the adult because, of course, choices have consequences and people do make some truly terrible choices.

The thing is, there are a lot of kids out there suffering the consequences of someone else's choices.  A lot of these kids aren't squandering their opportunities, they don't have opportunities.  That's not okay.

This reality distracts me during faculty meetings and catches my wandering thoughts when I drive down the road.  I high-jack conversations at parties to talk about it.  It's why I'm moving up to Notre Dame and passing on any of several possibilities to stay in Texas near my family (with whom, as you must know if you've read this at all, I am totally obsessed).  Because the piece of dirt a child lives on should not determine what is and is not available to her. As a human being, and especially as a Catholic, there is no way I can sit comfortably in my good fortune when so many children in my own country are effectively being denied a decent education.

Because every kid should at least have a chance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One line that makes me think

I think we've all wondered about this: when you pull up to a light and there's someone there with a cardboard sign and a cup, what do you do?

I share the concern that by handing some of these people money, I might be providing their next fix and perpetuating an addiction.  It's happened at least once: in college, while waiting for a friend at a train station, a woman came up to me and said she was almost out of gas and she just needed a few dollars to be able to get home.  I gave her whatever bill I had in my wallet.  After my friend emerged and we were on our way, he mentioned one of the employees inside warned him about a woman who hangs around at night asking for gas money, which she does not spend on gas.  I fumed a bit.

And yet, I am never comfortable passing those people by.  I do it rather frequently.  But it's never a good feeling.

One of my little siblings' godmother (were the type of family where you eventually lose track of who exactly is godparenting who) says, "What I do with my money is between me and God.  What they do with it is between them and God."

And today I read this article -- which is great on several levels -- that includes this line:

Jesus didn't say, "Feed the deserving." He just said, "Feed the hungry."