Kindly reminding the Tate Modern that it opens at 10:00 not 10:01.
After 12 years here and 18 years in this public school system, today was my last day. I’ve spent 35 years in public schools in the U.S., sometimes as a student, sometimes as a teacher and many years overlapping as both.
Today was bittersweet as I said good-bye to friends who have been like family for many years. Last week was a difficult as I spoke with so many wonderful young people for, likely, the last time. I feel I am abandoning the institution (public schools) I have defended and praised almost all my life. I am also looking forward to the change I have chosen. I hope it is all it seems to be: more time with students, less testing and a better life-balance for students, teachers and all staff at my new school. Only time will tell what teaching outside of the U.S. will bring…please stay tuned…
As a teacher, I cannot imagine armed people setting fire to my school and surrounding buildings, stealing all of my students, forcing them into trucks before driving far away. Later finding out that the students were sold for $12 each to be sex slaves for strangers and that my government would not act, not even to make a statement to condemn the actions of the terrorists. I cannot imagine the anguish and pain I would feel, as an aunt, if this happened to my niece. There is no way to fathom the anger and pain mothers, fathers and families are feeling in Borno, Nigeria as this is exactly what happened to
234 326 of their daughters on April 14, 2014 (276 are still missing).
The terrorist group, Boko Haram has has claimed responsibility for abducting the (Christian and Muslim) girls. Boko Haram, reflected in their name, is against western education and has attacked girls seeking a future through education before. Oddly these hypocrites, so against western education, use tools created and developed as a result of western education: bombs, automobiles, guns. They use their tools primarily against what frightens and threatens them the most: girls seeking an education.
To think that this is an isolated incident is incorrect. To think it doesn’t matter because it’s ‘not my child’ negates the connections and responsibilities we all have to each other, especially our children. To think this is an event so far away ‘it could never happen near my home’ is naïve. Many Americans believed terrorism was a ‘foreign problem’ until 2001. We already have weekly school shootings and there seems to be little concern about that violence until it comes to our own neighborhood. I have no wish to be alarmist but I have a great desire, when children are taken from their school and sold into slavery, for people to be infuriated, shocked, saddened and ready to act. I know I am.
Americans should contact Congress and urge them to support the Nigerian girls and their families during this international crisis. Ask senators and representatives what their position is regarding the abduction and sale of girls. At the very least, request their support for Senate Resolution 433 (bills-sres433.pdf) so the girls and their families can begin to have more support from the international community.
We lost two more students this week. It had been a while since a similar tragedy had struck our school but all the sour, painful, deep emotions came back quickly as if they had never left.
I shared the following excerpt on perfection with some of my advanced students. I asked them to highlight the most important ideas within the three short pages and we would discuss their thoughts the next day. One of the first comments was from an eager young woman who struggles with idea development. She said,
“I really liked reading this because I have never thought about not trying to be perfect“.
Bayles, David and Ted Orlando. Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Santa Barbara: Capra, 1997. 29-31. Print.
My prematurely grey hair leads to unexpected moments:
-New students pull me aside and quietly mention that I have some paint in my hair.
-Every person who has cut my hair in the last 10 years tries to convince me I should dye it.
-Quizzical looks from strangers when the age of my face doesn’t quite match up with the age of my hair color so they stare. Sometimes for way t o o l o n g.
-A supportive student who tells me “grey is the new punk, ms.” while raising a fist in support.
- A 16 year-old former student stopped by my room before 7am to tell me all about his “favorite, most-amazing birthday yet!” which he spent with his family in New York City. Plays were seen, parked were explored, new foods were tasted and the subway was a joy ride—a weekend all planned by him.
- One of my freshman students is so paralyzed with fear and anxiety that she has to sit alone, with her back to the class. She is unable to walk around with others when we look at work, has not participated in any critiques and leaves class 5 minutes late so she doesn’t have to walk in the hallway to lunch with the other students. The other day she slipped her work on a table to be assessed by other students, joined another table (albeit at a far corner) to hear a discussion and another student selected her work as the most accomplished in the class. After a lengthy description of all the positive traits the work contained the other student asked, “but what is the work about?“. I said I could tell her but wanted to know if the artist would like to explain. We waited a moment and in front of a silent class a clear, loud, steady voice—that none of us had ever heard— thoughtfully and confidently explained what the work was about. I haven’t seen a repeat of that unusual confidence since that day but we both (along with her case manager, therapist, counselor, mom and tutor) know that it’s there.
- Another freshman girl was surrounded by giggling students in the hallway and she later entered class with her long hair pulled towards her face and braided under her chin. She created her hair sculpture beard with the help of a friend before her first class and had decided to wear it all day. I wasn’t surprised by her quirkiness but impressed with her bravery and her fine braiding skills. When our tv production students came in needing someone to say a line for the film they were shooting (to be shown to the entire school next week) I asked BBG (braided-beard-grrl) if she wanted to volunteer. She jumped out of her seat, walked confidently to the front of the room and asked, “What would you like me to say?” as the mesmerized class watched her in silence. She finished her lines, stroked her braid-beard and as she walked back to her seat, the class erupted into cheers for her.
ENTHUSIASM. BRAVERY. CREATIVITY. CONFIDENCE. COMARADERIE.
I have missed you all. Welcome back
Fall is my absolutely favorite season. I get to start over each September with a new (and sometimes returning) set of students. The weather is nice, the colors are beautiful and there is excitement in the air. It may be our last “hoorah” outside for a while before winter sets in and in the U.S., Halloween and Thanksgiving are favorite holidays for many.
This year I see these leaves as worn out, dried up and having seen better days. I am in a funk…that I know will pass, I just hope it moves on sooner than later.
Tonight is my 20th high school reunion. I am not going for a variety of reasons but to be polite let’s just say it’s too far away (because really, it is). I began my Saturday by going to work, surrounded by sketchbooks, drawings and sculptures that need to be graded as the end of the quarter is near. There were too many meetings last week to get to any of them. While I sat at my desk, willing the bug-ridden, poorly-designed digital gradebook our school is piloting (along with, of course, dozens of other new programs) to please, not only open but actually save the data I enter, I thought: Is this really all that I dreamed for myself twenty years ago???
In a way, the answer is yes. I did want to teach and I do enjoy most of the adventures of being a public school teacher. I work at an amazing school, with great colleagues in my department and teach in a classroom that rivals some of the best facilities I spent time in during my university days. I found the diverse students I sought when I moved away from home. I have learned how to surmount the initial confusion and difficulties I encountered when being surprised by the variety of special needs in every public school class.
What exhausts me is: the endless stream of new programs we are required to be “experts” about within a month of school starting, the changed-every-year standards for teacher evaluations, too many long meetings where powerpoints are read, the administration team who admits, “I’m really not qualified to evaluate you” yet they make $20,000 more than I do and cannot reply to one email, the community who chides teachers for being lazy when we scheme every waking hour the ways we can assist kids, the business people who see schools as potential money makers no matter what damage is done to children are the same people who say teacher-paychecks are too fat, helping to raise kids (which is fine) but being yelled at when all the issues a child arrived with at school aren’t “fixed”, worrying over the students who are neglected, or addicted to drugs, who are depressed, bored because they are more advanced than their peers or just dealing with all the craziness of being a teen.
I’m happy to be an adult and to not relive my teen years today but I do need a break from work. A nap would be nice too.