Friday, January 20, 2017

I Will March

People keep asking me if I am excited for Saturday    I don't know how to respond.  Am I excited? No.  I am everything else.  I am nervous.  I don't like crowds.  I went to school in New Orleans and stood on Bourbon Street during Fat Tuesday once.  Once.  I am five foot nothing, and when I felt my feet leave the ground, I was terrified.  There will be 1,000,000 people at the march in D.C., and I am still five foot nothing.  I am frustrated.  I don't like the cold.  It is January.  I will be outside.  I want D.C. in spring, not winter.  I am annoyed.  I originally thought most of my friends would be making the trip.  They are not.  I am not a huge fan of busses or sleepless nights.  I will be on a bus for 6 hours in the middle of the night.  I am not excited.  But I am going.  Because I must.  I will be marching with my mother.  She grew up in the 60s. This will not be her first march.  She marched so that I would not have to. But Saturday, we will march together.  Because I have a daughter.  She is lovely and bright and filled with energy.  She had an "awesome" day today because, I kid you not, she had a math test.  This excites her.  She is and will be a force to reckon with, and she will never be touched or grabbed or violated in any way, if I have anything to say about it.  But I am tired of turning off the news when she enters the room.  Just the other day, her old school was on the news.  She attended a Jewish Community Center school until she was in kindergarten. On Wednesday, someone called in a bomb threat.  This was the case across the country, not just in our town.  Friends texted me.  They worried about their children, being walked across the campus.  I imagined their teachers, acting silly, trying to distract them from the abrupt change in routine, trying to ensure they felt safe.  My children were not there, and I felt relief, and guilt.  So I will march.  Because this, this new reality is not okay with me.  I have watched my friends in other states post about incidents of antisemitism.  In my naivety, I thought, "How sad, but not here. We will not have that sort of thing here."  We pretend, you see.  We are safe.  We are in a blue state.  I teach at a diverse school, in a diverse town.  My children will never be called kikes, or find a swastika on their classroom doors.  But just a week ago, someone made a swastika in the snow.  It was later turned into a peace sign.  But it did not negate the first iteration.  This is why I will march.
I am a teacher.  A good number of my students attended the inauguration of a president about whom I have grave reservations.  Will he protect their rights and their needs?  Will he allow them to be curious, to question and contradict?  Will there be security and safety for their parents who need it most?  Or will he tweet away their safety?  We have worked so hard to make them feel included, to feel they had a voice.  Do they still?  Will they always?  I will march on Saturday to let them know that if I have a say, so will they.  I will do what I can, what I am allowed, so that some day, they might choose to do the same. Some day, there will still be a place to make the choices that in my lifetime have remained a right.  Some day, there will be a person in the White House who sees them as an equal part of this great nation, who allows them all the chance to live, to prosper, to thrive, no matter who their parents were.  Someday, we will all remember that we are a nation of immigrants first and foremost, that women birthed this nation, and that children must not bear the burden of their fathers.
I am a mother, and a teacher, and a Jew.  This is why on Saturday, no matter my discomfort, in spite of my discomfort, because of my discomfort, I will march. And like my mother before me, I will do so, so that they don't have to.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Pledge

Previously Published in Huffington Post on 11/09/2016:

I don't think I can say the Pledge of Allegiance today.  I teach high school students, and second period, when we all say the Pledge together, I will be sharing my room with my eleventh grade Advanced Placement Language and Composition students.  I have spent the last three months teaching them about the power of words.  I don't think I can use those words today.  I don't think I have any words to speak today that will be good enough or strong enough to quell my fears, or to touch the unnamed fears my students must be harboring.  I have brown skinned children in my class.  I have blue haired girls, and muslim young women.  I have strong women in my class.  I believed that I would walk in today able to speak to that strength, able to hand to them an America that I believed in.  But today, something has shifted, and I don't know how to form the words, to make them believe that I support this man.  He has bullied, and shamed, and hurt so many.  He has divided and belittled and served no one but himself.  He is now America.  As a teacher, how can I support that?  How can I tell them that their America is still alive and well, when we have now seen another country rise up in our midst. The Trump country is one of ignorance, resisting intellect with wild abandon.  The Trump country is one of ownership, of women's bodies, of guns and division.  It is one of dishonesty again and again and again.  It is anti-constitutional, even as he claims to hold up the second amendment.  He keeps the press out.  He holds no belief in the power of discourse.  He is a one man government, who will surround himself with men like him, who would have gladly joined him in his "locker room," and they will laugh together at the world that they are raising, and the future that looks more and more like a past we have tried to forget.
And perhaps that is the problem.  We allowed ourselves to forget.  We believed we were safe, because we had already created a sense of equality in our nation, we had already fought for civil rights, and women's rights, and marriage equality, and perhaps we forgot that each of those rights is not built on a cement foundation. That the wrong Supreme Court addition nominated by this man, can turn each of these successes into dust.  Perhaps we forgot that we still need to fight.  Perhaps we forgot that each of these victories left blood on the battlefield, but clearly not enough.
So maybe I have found my words as I write this out.  Maybe all I say to my students, is that we have to keep fighting.  We have to hold on to what we have built, and not allow it all to be demolished by the many angry people who won their own small minded battle last night.
We will fight for the words, for the language, for our beliefs that still can stand even in the face of this new America, which has risen from the shadows.
My Pledge is this: I Pledge Allegiance to civility, to brotherhood, and sisterhood, and goodness.  I pledge to protect those in my care and those who need my care.  I pledge to support those fighting for my safety and for my ability to share these beliefs with the world at large.  I pledge to love.  One Nation.  Indivisible.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Oh Bon Appetit...You Lost Me

Published August 29, 2016 at Huffington Post

Dear Bon Appetit,
  You may have just lost me.  I have been, until today, a lover of all things you.  I subscribe to your magazine and gush over the pictures.  My husband and I shout recipe ideas over the sound of our screaming children.  "We should make this on Saturday," I'll say.  He'll agree and offer to make a list of whatever ingredients we may not have in our pantry.  We dream up dinner parties  as we page through each new edition.  And I love your emails.  My husband and I race to forward them to one and other.  "Subject: Tonight?"
  But I thought you understood me too.  I thought we were simpatico.  But now, I know, we are as far apart as Earth from the most recently identified planet with the possibility of life.  You just don't get me.  Today, I received this in my inbox: 30-quick-easy-school-lunches-to pack for kids.  I got excited.  My two children go to school.  My two children need lunch.  I need these lunches to be "quick and easy" as I am a teacher, who needs to be out of the house by 6:30.  I do not have time to labor over the oven in the morning.  I require speed and convenience.  I assumed that was what I was getting when I clicked on your oh so tempting link.  But, Bon Appetit, this time, you failed me.
  You gave me zucchini pancakes, and pinto bean and ham tortas.  You gave me vegetarian sushi and fresh herb falafel.  You gave me noodle salad with chile scallion oil.  You were wrong on so many levels, that it became hard for me to click through the slideshow of insanity.  It's not that my children don't like good food.  Well, at least one of them inherited our foodie genes.  My daughter eats raw oysters and crumbled blue cheese.  She loves tuna and avocado sushi.  But she is 6 and 1/2 and does not love spice.  So, chili oil, maybe not so much.  But it's not even the ingredients your recipes call for.  There is nothing quick or easy, or even lunch-box-compatible in these meals.  Is my daughter meant to know how to construct her own tofu summer roll out of lettuce, fresh basil, cucumbers and carrots, each placed neatly in their own adorable container?  And when exactly are my husband and I supposed to have the time to be stirring in "thinly sliced scallions (green parts), toasted sesame seeds, and chopped peanuts" to my daughter's "quick fried rice"?  This is, of course, ignoring the fact that my son eats only cream cheese sandwiches (to which you suggest adding sliced salami and pickles), or Wow butter and jelly sandwiches (because peanuts aren't allowed).  So, forgive me if I'm not seeing how this relates in any way to me, or any mother I know, for that matter.
  It pains me to say, that you may have lost touch with us "normals."  Our kids run around the kitchen island screaming, often naked, with a granola bar in one hand and their sibling's favorite stuffy in the other.  Their lunches consist of basic sandwiches.  These may include the gourmet turkey and cheese, with a vegetable/fruit pouch, and a bar of sorts.  I have bought sandwich rounds (circular bread) so that I don't have to take the time to cut off the crust for my son.  That is to say that our mornings are about survival.  They are about getting out the door.  They are about brushing teeth, wearing clothes that approximate the weather outside, and finding shoes.  Because, god knows, the pair is never together.  The right one is behind the chair, and the left is under the couch.  Or upside down at the bottom of the stairs.  Or under a bed in the wrong child's room.  
  Perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow is now doing your editing.  It is clearly no longer someone in touch with those of us who work, and don't have nannies. Because we are all about the basics.  We are all about just making it by the skin of our teeth through the mornings.  We are not making sweet potato and black bean burritos on a week day.  I'm not sure who is.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Great Divide

Published at www.huffingtonpost.com 08/2016

When I started teaching English, I thought the job was about the books.  Don’t get me wrong, I was always in it for the kids, but I thought I was going to teach them to love books.  I thought I was there to instill in them a love of Literature.  But more and more I realized that the books were the tools, the wrenches and pliers, and it was my job to teach my kids to use those tools to build bridges between the kids and their world.
More than anything, my students need to understand how they connect to each other and how they can communicate that connection. 
Because, really, isn’t that the problem we have in our world today?  Watch the news.  I dare you.  It’s awful out there.  As the divide between the police and the people they protect grows, as the divide between those who have more and more, and those who have less and less grows, as the divide between the cultures we understand and those we do not grows (even as our world seems to shrink), the thing we are lacking is that basic human connection.
And so I try to teach my students to connect.  It starts with connecting to me.  From the first day of school, they learn my life.  I talk to them about my kids.  I talk to them about my beliefs.  No longer do they see a teacher who keeps her ideologies silent.  I am the first book they learn.  And because of that, we connect.  Then, they connect to each other.  We have discussions and debates.  We talk about the problems in the world.  We talk about the possibilities in the world.  We talk about books, but we focus on how they connect to our world.  What they can teach us about the people around us, and how they can help us empathize and reach out.
I grew up in this town.  I went to high school in this town, left for college and stayed away for another 5 years, and then I came back to this town to teach.  But, this town, my town, could be anywhere in the United States right now.  Every year we grow more diverse, not less.  Every year it becomes more and more important to find ways to sympathize if not empathize, to reach over the divide and find the similarity, the humanity, the “us” in the “other.”  When I was in high school in the ‘90s, my school was mostly white.  My classes were homogenous, and my friends were as well.  The connections were implicit.  Of course, there were cliques.  Of course kids were different from one and other, but my high school photos show a very different group of kids, from those of today.   
Looking around my tenth grade English class today, my former self would be shocked by the diversity.  Just shy of half the class are minorities, and the socio economic status of the kids runs the gamut.  This class is a microcosm of the larger world.  Yet, in my class they work together, in our cafeteria they eat together, in our hallways they mix and match in ways my younger self wouldn’t have thought possible.  So, the connections can happen. 
The problem comes when they leave.  Because though the world looks a lot like our school, the adults in their lives, and the adults they will meet, have not grown up going to schools like theirs.  They never learned to connect.  They learned to categorize and separate.  That is what they know. 
So, perhaps my students will be strong enough to overcome instead of be overtaken.  Hopefully one of the tools they will carry out of this building will build the bridge for my generation to walk over as well. 

Because, right now, all I see when I turn on the news is the great divide.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lessons Learned

The other night I awoke at one in the morning and lay tossing and turning for an hour or so.  Many things raced through my mind as I tried to find comfort in my twisted sheets, but it wasn’t until I got up in the morning that I realized what really woke me up.  Another academic year is over.  I have seen my seniors for the last time,  and have watched them graduate into the lives they will lead; I have said goodbye to my younger students.  This year is a hard one to let go of, but not for the reasons you would think.
I have been teaching for 16 years, and this was the first year I spent any time on the computer searching for another career.  This year marked my moment at the crossroads.  I looked closely at my teaching, at my students, and at myself and wondered if there was anything else that I could do.  I never thought of leaving education entirely, mind you, just pondered where I could be more helpful.  Where I could enact the kind of change that would truly make a difference.  Because, in so many ways, and for so many reasons, I think we have forgotten that that’s why most of us enter this profession.  Yes, the job has changed.  We have become data crunchers and curriculum writers, editors, and re-writers.  We have become “accountable” to everyone and for everything, and the definition of accountability seems to be constantly in flux.  We have been told to raise our standards, make our courses more rigorous, and always to recommend every student for the toughest course possible.  Everyone takes AP English, but no one learns how to craft a letter to his boss, or craft a budget.  All of these anxieties about EDUCATION as an ideal, about EDUCATION as a concept, frustrated me and angered me throughout the year.  I lost two former students to gang violence and blamed it on our schools.  I sat through mind numbing professional development and got angrier.  Nothing seemed to be helping the students I most wanted to help.  What were we really doing here?  What was I doing at all? 
But today.  Today, I think of my students, the ones who struggled and the ones who soared, and I am flooded with joy at my choice of career.  I know each of these individuals.  Over the year, we have laughed so hard together (mostly at my life’s foibles, which I tend to hold up proudly for them day after day).  We have created nick names and in so doing created trust.  We have shared some brutally honest moments in discussing our world and ourselves.  I have learned toughness from some and compassion from others.  And I have watched them work, harder than they thought they could.  I have seen them strive.  In their last days of school, I saw their pride and I matched it with my own, and I knew finally and completely that I should not be anywhere else, doing anything else. I am exactly where I need to be, and this has been true all along.

Not everyone was born for a profession, but I was born to teach.  This is my life’s blood and that more than anything is the lesson of this year.  But even passion is a muscle that needs to be stretched.  When we get too comfortable, it reminds us through its throbbing pain that attention must be paid.  So this summer I will read and revamp and ready myself to attack another year with the emotion and excitement that comes with this renewed dedication to my job.  And little by little, the concept and ideals of EDUCATION will change, because so many of us are working from within our classrooms, in our own small ways to make sure that every child within our reach has what he needs to lead a life of excellence (whatever that may look like).  It’s worth it to remember that by changing the conversation in my classroom, I am changing the conversation in the world.  And that’s enough for this one teacher.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Expectations of a senior

Previously published on www.grownandflown.com

Last week, on a daily basis, my seniors counted down the days and minutes until the end of the semester.  Daily they reminded me that school would cease to matter in 5, no 4, no 3 days and 100 minutes.  Daily I reminded them that I begged to differ.  But I and they knew the truth.  Second semester of senior year is something to be cherished.  It is something to be glorified.  They have worked and studied and waited, and now, today they will be rewarded.  Well, yes and no.  I will still hand them an article to read and annotate.  I will still expect them to think and discuss and write and, yes, work.  But the pressure is off.  I await their smiles as they float, weightless, into my room, and we will start the class by breathing into this next phase of life.  Because, in reality, for the last year and a half, many of them have been holding their breath.  I have watched as they filled out applications, took test after test, bubbling in the bubbles, checking and rechecking answers that grow more confusing the more they reread them, feeling their future weighing heavily on their shoulders, more heavy for the expectations of parents and teachers and administrators riding along.  But today, the boys will stretch out their long legs beneath desks that can barely contain them.  They will lean back into their seats.  The girls will smile and laugh just a bit more freely (always more contained than the boys who can not help but put it all out there, laughter too loud, but impossibly infectious), eyes glittering with the future in their view. 
I always avoided teaching seniors because of this time of year.  How would I keep them interested?  How would I keep them engaged?  As teachers, we crave the carrot on the end of the stick, but what is the carrot for the second semester senior?  It is freedom.  It is the world of adulthood.  These are things I can not give them, and only seem to be making more elusive as I force them to sit in my classroom, and somehow be present for 48 minutes, when they could be sleeping.  But what I have realized in the last two years of witnessing "senioritis" is that my expectations, as they usually are, were misguided.  Yes, they are excited, and impatient, and ready, so ready for the next phase of their lives to begin.  But many are also terrified, and nervous beyond any explanation, and ridden with anxieties as they gaze into the unknown.  Because until now, they have known what every minute of every day would hold.  We have fed to them the routines that shape them.  Each day follows a pattern much the same as the day before down to the minute.  They respond to bells and alarms and ref’s whistles and alerts on their phones.  They are trained to live in this world of understood patterns.
But next year is a world where alarms will ring only if set by them.  Routines will change and parents may not be there to remind them of their obligations to classes and sports and clubs.  They will oversleep and forget and miss due dates and have to address professors and deans themselves.  And they are terrified of who they are being somehow not enough to live this un-tethered life.  Because no matter how much confidence we have instilled in them, there is a tiny part in their brains, that says they are somehow not ready, woefully unprepared. 
So, in my class, we will talk about expectations.  We will read about authentic experiences, and what it means to truly be in the moment.  We will write about their prepackaged expectations of college life, and we will talk about the possible pitfalls of those expectations.  Because life is about what we think will happen paving the way for what will really happen.  I will listen closely to them so that I can find the words behind the words revealing their anxieties, and I will speak to those with confidence and laughter, and I will let them know that they are prepared. They are enough.  And if for some reason, they are not, there are protections in place, and homes and arms ready to offer them what they lack. 

When it comes down to it, it is all about our expectations after all.  If our expectations are realistic, then our reality will not surprise us with its sharp edges when we fall.  

Mom-nesia

It is amazing the amnesia (mom-nesia?) that hits at the end of most days. Consider this: We are on a family vacation with my parents. On Monday, my husband and father went to play golf.  My mother and I stayed with my two kids, who are 5 1/2 and 3 years old.  The day was pure insanity from the get go. There was screaming and toys were broken.  There were tantrums and tears and punches and bites.  Some from the kids, others not so much.  We did not make it to the beach until 11, though preparations started much earlier.  My mother adores my children, always and forever, until she has had enough and reserves the right to close her eyes, sigh, and leave them to me.  She's earned the privilege of ignoring them at their worst, and then some.  But I digress; by noon, I felt I had lived through three days at the very least, and there was so much time before the monsters went to bed...My 3 year old's horrible behavior continued unabated and when I finally cracked, it was the sand throwing that did it.  Though that was the least of the problem behaviors of the day. I picked him up, put him in the wagon and dragged him back to the house (by the handle of the wagon, not by his sandy locks, though I was tempted), where he refused to nap for 45 minutes. When we woke up from our much needed nap...something had happened.  The air had shifted.  My chest felt suspiciously lighter, like it wasn't holding back the screams of generations of mothers.  I could breathe, and looking over at my son, I noticed that he too felt it.  He was giggling and suddenly I was laughing and there was a ball and toys and playing and merriment and when my husband got home and offered to watch the kids while my mom and I went out to dinner, I actually found myself protesting!
I mention all of this, because, as every mother knows, it is not an anomaly.  Every mother suffers from (sometimes debilitating) mom-nesia.  It gets in the way of our drop offs, and time outs.  It gets in the way of dinner reservations and drinks with friends.  It is a problem.
There are points during many of my days, when all I want is space to breathe.  All I want is time away from my attention needing, constantly fighting, mommy calling, children.  But by the end of a nap, or a glass of wine or a hug-cuddle-tickle session, mom-nesia kicks in again, and all seems right with my crazy little world.  It is not news that we forget the pain and horrors of childbirth, but no one told me about the day to day forgetfulness that allows me to continue this job.  Oh yes, there are moments...moments when I want to get in my car and drive.  When I want to scream and curse and shake and growl.  When I want to just give up.  But then we are on a beach and they are running after each other and laughing. They are lying in the wet sand, letting the waves crash over them, and they are pure unadulterated joy and I can not imagine any other life.  There are moments when we are in our house amidst a chaos of toys and they are moving chairs and stuffies and blankets and jumping and spinning and creating rules that make no sense to my adult ears, and I am entranced on the stairs, for once not waiting for the next shedding of tears, or the next scream, because I am seeing their hearts and loving their noise and I am thankful, so thankful for the now.  And the screaming of five minutes ago, which was so intense and angry is just...gone.  But the most amazing element of this psychosis (if it's not listed in the DSM, it should be!) is that when I do get away, when I take my husband up on the chance for a drink or a day off or moment alone, when the babysitter has been hired, or playdate arranged, mom-nesia really kicks in.  The scene may be blissful; I am on a terrace, high above the sea, glass of white grenache in my hands, crab dip at my fingertips, and a confidant across the table.  But I am thinking of their smiles, and that freckle above her right eyebrow.  I am wondering if they are engaged or zoning out.  Are they missing me or playing at a high pitch, mommy far from their minds?  And when given the option for more time away, or time to go back, the psychosis answers for me.
Take me home.