8.25.2015

Fasting Again as the War Against Public Education Wages On

I know, I look tired and hungry. 
I'm fasting today in solidarity with #FightforDyett, a community movement in Chicago to save a beloved school.

I fasted during testing in 2003 to protest the high stakes testing and punitive measures of No Child Left Behind. I blamed Bush for NCLB, but as congress revamps the bill this week, most democrats, even the most progressive, continue to support the "accountability measures" that corporate education reformers use to foster distrust in our public schools, shut down campuses like Dyett, and privatize our public education system.

With deep pockets in The Gates Foundation and Walmart's Walton family, the reform movement's attack on teachers and students can feel too big to fight, but we are fighting back. We will not surrender our classrooms. Communities like Dyett are fighting back. Representatives like Mark Takano, a former teacher and public education advocate, are fighting back. Our unions who represent our teachers are fighting back. Our parents who send their students to us and trust their public schools are fighting back. We will continue to fight against the failing school narrative and show that our teachers are teaching, our students are learning and despite what they throw at us this is happening at schools everywhere.

Today I fast, but I also teach. Then, I go home and get my little ones to bed. With an empty belly, I write this hoping that when my kids are ready to attend our neighborhood school, it is still there. I hope the attacks will cease, that our schools will be fully funded and filled with joy and music and play and sport alongside the academics. I hope our schools have all they need, in my neighborhood, in South Los Angeles, in Chicago, and New Orleans. That is what our families and communities deserve. That is what I fight for it.

For more about my fight for public education, explore these posts:

To Test Prep or Not to Test Prep?

Fighting for Democracy: Some Lessons From Egypt

Testing Season Is Upon Us! But It Doesn't Have to Be...

My Take on Waiting for Superman

Testing Fast Anniversary

Thank You Patriots, Our Public School Parents

The Schools Our Communities Deserve

Civil Disobedience

8.17.2015

First Day of School Jitters

Sometimes I worry I won't be able to do it.

Maybe this year, because now I'm a mom of two, because I'm so tired-in-my-bones, because I've become the veteran teacher, because, because, because, I can't.

But every year, well, every year so far, my students have filled my room with energy. They lift me up and help me forget the grief of losing my mother, or the heartbreak of leaving my six-month old at daycare, or whatever else might be weighing me down.

And every year when I ask they share their stories with me. They remind me that mine is just one of so many stories unfolding. Sometimes their stories bring a small smile, or a belly-laugh. Sometimes their stories make me hold my head in my hands. Sometimes I have to turn away and fight back the tears.

I've promised myself I will walk away from teaching if I ever stop loving this job, my students; their stories. So, tonight, as I wait on the edge of another school year, I hope I can do it again. I hope we can all do it again.

Other first day posts... 


7.01.2015

This Two-Kid Life: 2015 Goals Update

Did you notice? Well, it was easy to miss, but 2015 is halfway over.  When I set my goals for this year, my writing, reading, submitting, blogging, and exercising benchmarks, I figured it would be tough. I knew February would put me behind because of the newborn and all, but I figured then I'd be able to catch-up. Ha! Guess what. The baby is still around and so is that three-year-old. So all of you parents with two or more kids (MORE? I can't even imagine) you know that there is no time for catch up. There is barely time for, I don't know, any of it. But here is where I stand now, at the midyear point. 

Steve Jobs quote by Stately Type. 
Writing: I have been writing a little, but not the 5 hours per week I'd hoped for. April's poetry challenge helped me get back to the page so I'm at about 80 hours for the year which is double what I had at the end of the first quarter but still 40 hours behind. 

Reading: I finished 3 more books: Bad Feminist, Sharp Teeth, and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. This brings my yearly total to 6. A book a month? I'll take it, but I'm 12 behind. 

Submitting: I only submitted one thing this quarter so I've submitted 5 pieces total this year. This July however, I plan to get more of my work out there. "Real Artist Ship" after all, well, that's what Steve Jobs said, meaning we've got to get our work out there into the world.

Blogging: I've continued blogging and although I've been inconsistent, I've published 18 posts so I'm only 6 behind. 

Exercising: I've walked or ran 160 miles this year. I still hope to log 40 per month or 480 for the year so I should be closer to 240 right now. If I adjust my goal to 13-15 miles per week I can still make it. 

In A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, one of the characters writes in a journal made from Marcel Proust's novel:  

A la recherché du temps perdu which translates as ‘In search of lost time’ or Remembrance of things past. 

Right now, adjusting to being a mom of two kids, I feel like I'm searching for moments to write, read, submit, blog, and exercise. I'm not going to beat myself up about being behind on these goals. I'm just going to try to embrace this search for lost time and live in every moment. 

5.31.2015

Culmination Address for the Class of 2015

"Make each day your masterpiece."
Coach Wooden and the Class of 2015
Over the past couple of years, a dedicated teacher at my school has founded and grown an award-
winning speech and debate team. This year, she and I worked together to select speakers for our eighth grade graduation using the speech and debate guidelines for writing an Original Oratory. I have been awed whenever I hear these students speak and prepare for competition, and after seeing the expectations for this particular speech competition, I decided to try to write one as well. I haven't made an attempt at a graduation speech since I was in eighth grade, so it was an interesting exercise. I read it to my students this past week because they all helped me through a difficult time in my life. They have, and so have you, so I thought I'd share it here as well.



Today

Just over a year ago my mom underwent surgery. It was eighth grade field day and I received text updates from my sister as I watched my students soaking in the sun and pools. I stood with my feet in the grass enjoying a few final hours with these students, but my mind often drifted to my mom, hoping for the best.

Over the next few days, Mom’s condition worsened so I flew up to Oregon to be with her and for the first time in fifteen years, I missed Emerson’s graduation. I sat in a cold hospital room while my students crossed the stage, making their way out of my classroom and into the world.

That is when I began months of missing, missing the students I never said goodbye to, and missing my mom who never recovered and crossed over a few days later. In these months of missing, I lived in the memories of the past. I remembered many moments with my students from the school year, and I remembered a lifetime of moments with my mother.

I was still remembering and missing when this school year began. My drive home was always the hardest part of my day. I used to call my mom each day as I drove home and as I navigated the busy LA streets, those streets bore witness to many tender moments of grief. At school, I missed the familiarity of my former students and thought of them as they started at high schools all over the city, hoping only for the absolute best for all of them.

But as the days and weeks passed, as summer gave way to fall, I started to move into the present. Instead of grieving for my mom as I drove home from work I began to think about what she might say to me today. As I got to know my new students, they brought with them joy, curiosity, and new stories to share.

Great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

I needed these words to remind me to let go of all my yesterdays and begin again to live: today. I needed these words to help me remember my mom and my former students, to allow them to continue to teach me, but I needed to stay grounded in the present, to be here: today.

Emerson also says, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Today this might be easier to do than every other day because today is your graduation. Today we celebrate all you have accomplished; all of your hard work and perseverance but isn’t that what every day is? Hasn’t every today been built on all of the hard work of every day that came before?

Yes. I am the sum of all of my days, as are you, but I will try to let go of yesterday and live in today, in the present, in the moment, with you, the people who with me share these days, these experiences, these moments.

While I was with my mom in her final days I read Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being. In it one of the narrator’s states: “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

My mom was a time being and because she continues to be with me, she is forever one of my time beings. You, every one of you, is a time being, as are all of my students from last year and the year before that. You are all my time beings as are all of my students yet to come.

So as you cross this stage and graduate into a new chapter in your life, I urge you to live each day. Let go of yesterday, be done with it, and make space in today for all of your time beings. Stay present in your life. Remember the past, learn from it, and then let it go. Coach John Wooden says, “Make each day your masterpiece.” I cannot wait to see what you create in your lifetime of todays.

5.10.2015

Happy Mother's Day

A year ago I posted this poem for my mom for Mother's Day. This was before the prospect of losing her became real just a few weeks later. The last line, "who will never, ever leave" haunts me a little, but when I wrote it I knew I would likely lose her in my lifetime. I also knew her influence would stay with me forever. In her absence, I've found this to be absolutely true. So even though you aren't here in the flesh, Mom, happy Mother's Day to you. Here's another poem for you :)

Dishonesty

From a very young age I knew
the one thing my mother hated most
was a liar.

Maybe that is why Mom and I
sometimes fought
sometimes had difficult conversations
about race and gender and politics.

She surely didn’t know
how her request for honesty
from her children
would one day backfire.

That her daughter would call her
on her white privilege ceaselessly
and casual conversations about network tv
would evolve into heated debates.

And now I wish I had been a little less honest.
Maybe a little dishonesty
would unburden me from so much regret today.

5.07.2015

National Poetry Month: & the Words In-Between...

A few of the poems this month didn't quite fit into Death, Life or Work so those became "the words in-between." Here's one of those poems that didn't quite fit, a history in haiku form...

Family complete.
History Haiku

A winter night
in LA thick with cosmos
and love at first sight.

Moved here for some boy
but I stayed in this city
all because of you.

Single apartment
a futon and a circle
commute. Our courtship.

No-ring proposal
A summer evening wedding
Baseball honeymoon.

We didn’t know how
to be married but were good
at pretending house.

We buried ourselves
in truths and somehow became
perfect together.

First there was the pup
and then a daughter. A bite
and we lost our dog.

Unexpected loss
brings our baby boy to us
family complete.  

5.06.2015

National Poetry Month: Work Poem

Writing Death, Life, Work, & the Words In-Between was work. And writing it reminded me of all of the work being done by so many. And in that work, there is the attempt to find balance. Here is a poem about breathing in the space of all that work.

How to Find Balance

Up early.
Feed the little one.
Hold him close
and try to enjoy
these fleeting moments.

Breathe.

Get up and shower.
Hope the baby is still asleep.
Eat breakfast with
the not-so-little one.
Let go of the princess shirt
and princess necklace
and princess conversation.

Breathe.

Steal a few moments
to write
a few words.
To capture
and see the world
in all its beauty
and tragedy.

Breathe.

Drive to work.
Drink the coffee.
Start checking off
the list of to-dos
before the students
enter the room.
Smile.
Be kind.
Teach.

Breathe.

Pump.
Because the little one
is still so little
and this is the time
in the day when
you are connected
even though he
is far away.

Breathe.

Return to the to-dos
and the students
and ignore the noise
outside the classroom
that distracts from
the real work.
Pump.
Eat. Coach. Teach.
Drive back home.
Pick up the kids.

Breathe.

Attempt to enjoy
these fleeting moments.
Hold them close.
Feed.
Bathe.
Laugh and play.
Brush and read.

Breathe.

Go to bed early
because tomorrow
is another chance
to balance it all.