Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When You Put a Rat Out

One night I heard some shuffling sounds coming from my kitchen. I was in a peaceful sleep, but was fully awakened by the sounds. This was a few weeks after the mouse incident, so I knew what was likely waltzing around my recycling bags. I turned on my light, and looked intently towards the kitchen. Out ran a big mouse. He disappeared. Then I heard a shuffling noise again, this time closer to my kitchen table. I stared intently in that direction. My 'I Teach NYC' book bag was hanging from a chair. To my complete astonishment, a rat head peered out of that bag. Just the head. I gawked for a second, then said to him, 'You are a rat. And you are in my book bag.' He descended knowingly. I kept staring, this time at the spot where his little rodent head made it's appearance. Out he popped again. Just the head. I think he realized he was being watched. Down he returned, no doubt feeling safe amongst my lesson plans. I was too full of adrenalin to consider that he may have hitched a ride with me from school to my house in this very bag. My thoughts were on immediate removal of his being from my apartment. As I walked to the kitchen to grab my broom, I kept a constant eye on the opening of my bag. I knew I only had a few seconds to act. I used the broom handle to lift the bag by its strap, opened my door and walked out with my package, then closed the door behind me. I dropped my bag on the hallway rug, and lifted the flap of the bag with the handle of the broom. Out scurried a six inch long subway rat, and down the stairs he ran. I was appalled to witness this, but pleased with the excecution of my rodent removal skills. I went back inside, wondering how I was going to continue living a normal life now that I knew parasitic mammals had free access to my home. With the help of an experienced exterminator with a strong flashlight, we were able to find the exact location of the point of entry. I could once again breath and sleep in peace. I would say the experience did not change me as a whole. I do check cautiously every time I open the door now to make sure he doesn't try to sneak back in. I wonder when I will start letting my guard down again?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Time for the Grim Reaper

La Mort du Fossoyeur, Carlos Schwabe, 1895

Here is a nice little test I would like to share with you: The Death Test. I was visiting my favorite testing site when I stumbled upon this. Feel free to take it.

At the end of the the test, they ask participants to share a heartwarming story about a loved one who died. Some are less heartwarming than others.

"Uncle Steve: I took my uncle out to lunch one day, at a diner. He ordered a chopped liver sandwich. I have taken many people out for dinner/lunch over the years, but he was the only one that ordered a chopped liver sandwich."
—TS, new york ny

"me and my grandpa used to go fishing twic a month an the month he died we went fishing for our last time a week b4 his death"
—maw, sutherland va

"God grant peace to the souls of Irina, Sergey and Anastasia and all who passed away all around the worldy"
—AAS, Russia

"My father died of smoking related illness. I left my parents when I was 7 years old. We reunited when I was 18... a year later my father was diagnosed with lung cancer... half a year later he passed away."
—s.h, West Covina, California

"The last time I saw him, I was 21 and pregnant with my first child. He arrived, clean shaven (which was rare) and with two long-stemmed white roses... one for me, and one for the baby. That was Easter Sunday, and he was gone before it was June. I still bring white roses when I visit his grave."
—tk, Cambridge, MA

"i was my grandmother's favorite grandson."
—ar, Los Angeles, CA

"My best friend Clavin died at 17 from a blood clot in his leg."
—JN, Piscataway, New Jersey

"My husband passed in Katrina. I didn't find out until i went to volunteer to help the animals (im a vet tech) that where left abandoned or homeless from the storm :("
—K, Southeast florida

"My grandmother taught me to crochet.She was so proud of me."
—CO, Stillwater

"I don't have any heartwarming stories about someone dear to me who is dead"
—KIP, Camp Lejeune, NC

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tough Girls Come From NJ

This photo reminds me of the complete freedom I feel when my mind is 100% present in a task. I walked around the city today with all sorts of anxieties and trouble creeping in and out of my head. Fears of massive failure, letting people down, not being able to pay my rent for the first time ever, not knowing if anything I'm doing is right.. all attacked my insides and stayed in a a lump in my stomach all day. I did what I normally do in these situations, and that is, I tried to keep my head. Work on one problem at a time, if only mentally.
Last week I had run a 5k race in my birth town. It wasn't my fastest time, but it was a race well run. The eventual winner in the women's race and I took turns holding the lead right up until the finish. With about 3/4's of a mile to go, she picked up the pace, and I was so tired, I just tried to maintain the roughly two-telephone pole distance that grew between us. Then she entered the track for the final 100 meters to the finish. She was a local girl, and the crowds came to life. Their cheering gave me a huge adrenalin rush, and I shifted into my sixth gear, which I don't think has been used in a few years. I knew I couldn't pass her, but it was fun closing the gap. We talked afterwards, she was one of the sweetest runners I've ever met. That was an unexpected surprise- kind of like hearing Mike Tyson's soft-spoken voice in an interview after one of his earlier career matches. I guess that is one of the draws of racing: you get to leave yourself behind, and unleash the true warrior within.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Great Balancing Act

I wasn't the least bit nervous for this job interview. First, because the hiring freeze for new teachers was still in effect. I had a hard time removing the ironic expression from my face as I entered the West Harlem elementary school. How can you sell yourself if the merchandise is contraband? On the other hand, my mind was holding on to the hope that despite the freeze, a good principal would know how to cut through the red tape. So I brought my good luck teacher's portfolio. The principal greeted me with a hearty handshake and warm smile. She brought in her vice principal, so I stood up a little straighter- this administration was looking to hire someone today. I opened by letting the ladies know that I was a new teacher. The principal frowned, but then offered that they had a six week substitute position available, would I be interested in that? She told me that the class was first graders, and they were looking for a general ed teacher to work with their special ed teacher as this was a ctt class (collaborative team teaching, as known in these parts). I was interested. I liked that age, and I liked the idea of having another adult with more experience than me in the fox hole. After practically offering me the position, she realized that she didn't ask me any questions about my experience, my background, or my work history. (I have an honest face, that used to happen to me all the time before I started interviewing for teaching positions). I took the opportunity to whip out my trusty portfolio. She turned to a sample of my drama class' work. I had made a worksheet with a one-panel comic of two portly hobos standing on a street corner, with the instructions for the students to create appropriate dialogue. One girl wrote: 'Jose, I'm not feeling good. I think I'm going to have a baby.' Ms. Timmons chuckled, and called across the table to her assistant. 'Ms. Richards-Bouvais, you've got to see this,' and she passed the portfolio across the table. She continued shaking her head, 'Men always gain so much weight in their stomachs, don't they?' We exchanged a little more light chatter, and it was decided that I was hired.
That was two weeks ago. I feel like I have been a teacher for three years, based on the vast depth of emotions I have felt during this fortnight. I have gone from blaming myself, the administration, the kids, and finally the existing teacher for the daily chaos and eruptions that occur in this classroom. There are moments when it feels as though this group will never progress beyond the first grade (and many of them are already repeating it). Some of them are so hyperactive they can't focus for more than a few seconds. All of them are shouting out and running around the second Ms. Davis walks out of the room. I found myself completely overwhelmed the first few days, and am not sure why I didn't quit. I think it was this little voice deep inside that told me these kids really needed me there. So I stayed, and I knew that to make this work, I needed to be supportive of everyone who is involved in making this classroom succeed. I started by letting Ms. Davis know that I would like to share the responsibility of writing lesson plans with her, because she had told me that she had been doing everything herself. She looked relieved, and told me if I would take care of the reading lesson plans, she would be grateful. For any non-teacher reading this, the public school system has become a highly orchestrated and monitored vehicle. Every week of every year in school from pre-K through 12th grade there is specific material to be covered with accompanying performance standards and indicators. This was the third month of the school year, and I was brand new to this class and clueless about the curriculum that they were using, not to mention completely new to working with special ed kids. Ms. Davis was busy with continuing to run the class and handle the multiple behavioral problems. Though we met once to briefly discuss the class itself, I felt a bit unsure of how to 'jump in'. Though I came prepared with my own lesson plan revolving around a children's book I took out from the library, I never found my opening to actually deliver my lesson. Ms. Davis seemed to have everything under control, she led the class through their day with me assisting the best I could. She became completely harried at times, and I felt like I wasn't pulling my weight, but at the same time, it was a delicate balance trying to blend my ideas with what she had already established. Two adult women running a household is no simple task. As I went home one day, walking the 15 blocks from work, I tried to think of ways that I could really help in this classroom. Ms. Davis was obviously frustrated, the kids seemed out of control, and I felt stressed and guilty for not doing my part. I decided that, although Ms. Davis didn't appear to want my help anymore, it was for her own good. I was going to come into class the next day, and gently let her know that if she wanted me to, I had a reading lesson plan prepared. And so I did. She said she would really welcome that, since she was feeling under the weather. I was hoping to do this in the morning, as experience taught me that this class was too unruly to conduct a serious lesson after lunch. I didn't get my wish. On this day, a tired, but restless group of first graders who rarely paid full attention in the morning to their regular teacher was now in my hands.
My lesson was simple. I wanted them to get practice in figuring out the meaning of a book based solely on the pictures. I was going to use Mordechai Gerstein's 'The Man Who Walked Between the Towers', a true story about a man who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on a tightrope. I was well prepared, except for one thing. I didn't know how to deal with the subject of the disappearance of the towers at the end of the book. I decided that this lesson was about reading pictures as a scaffold for reading. I didn't need to touch upon death and destruction as well. I doubted that these kids' attention spans would make it through to the end of the book, anyway.
So I brought the group of 19 onto the carpet. I introduced the book, and let them know what I wanted them to do. Despite half the kids talking constantly to each other, and another small handful scooching every few seconds to a different part of the rug, there were a bunch of kids really excited about sharing their ideas of what was happening in this book. I wished Jameela would stop crying, and Celestial would stop looking at the kid behind her whose foot was bumping into her, but it seemed that if I stopped every time someone was disrupting, I would lose the attention of those who were listening. I continued asking for insights into the nature of each page in the story, every now and then glancing up to see if Ms. Davis would rescue me from the discipline tasks sorely needed. She was sitting in the back, engaging a child who has tendencies to hurt himself. She looked very tired, and was not rescuing me. Despite the lack of order on the carpet, these kids were engaged in the story, and they were giving intelligent answers. Then it came. The page with the picture of the spot where the towers used to be. I could have bypassed it, and no one would have noticed. No one on the rug was born until after the towers came down, so it was my guess that the history was unknown to them. But how could a teacher ignore the opportunity? 'Do you notice anything missing in this picture?' I asked, and felt myself take a quick breath. 'It's a sunny day,' one girl said. 'Yes, that's true, but let's look at the picture from the beginning of the book and compare them.' I showed them the initial picture with the towers standing tall, and then flipped back to the latter page with them absent from the landscape. 'Where are they?' At this point, there were only a few kids paying attention, and a large group had formed a doggy pile in the middle of the carpet. The ones who were listening were now standing around the book to get a closer look. 'What happened to them?' I asked again. Celestial's little face was very serious as she raised her hand to share her conclusion. 'They broke them so he wouldn't walk across them again.' The pictures of the policemen arresting Philipe Petit for his unlawful act of walking the towers had made it's impression. I was amazed by this girl's ability to concentrate and follow my line of questioning in the face of utter chaos that was on every side of her. Despite your environment, however depressed, abusive, or dismal, the extraordinary beauty of learning can still be nurtured. Though no principal in New York City would agree with me, I felt this workshop was a huge success.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It Takes a Village

Returning home from a wonderful celebration weekend upstate with my sister and her daughters, I turned the key to my apartment with a subtle feeling of curiosity. Had my place remained intact during my three day absence? Would there be any surprises waiting for me? I swung the door open, and my eyes were drawn to a moving string on the stove top. I hadn't left that there. I flipped on the light to discover the string was the tail of a pudgy little mouse, who was now scooting his girth and tail down into my front burner. Of all the sights I've seen since moving to New York City last year, this was the most unpleasant. I had never once seen mouse droppings or heard gnawing sounds, so there was no indication that there were mice in my building. All the fatigue of travelling had completely left me, and I was now in a heightened state of awareness. I decided that this mouse simply needed a moment to gather his belongings and make a quick exit in peace. I took my mail key and went downstairs to allow him his space. When I returned, all was quiet. Leaving my suitcase exactly where it was in the kitchen, I called my father. He would really be sympathetic, as he had his own rodent story the day before. As I start to describe the events to him, my little friend darted out of the kitchen and into a pile of books in my living room. I screamed in my father's ear. Then the little guy darted across the room behind my printer. I lept onto my bed, and remained there for the duration of the phone conversation. My father was rather enjoying this turn of events, as he reminded me of my lack of empathy when he was relaying his rodent saga the day before. Of course, his story was quite different. He had set a trap out for the perpetrator after hearing much commotion in his basement, and when he checked the next morning, the trap was gone. Naturally, we were both horrified at the implication of this scenario. My sympathies were for the unknown creature in that case. Of course it was true, in my new unrelaxed state, with concern of unexpected mouse activities, my father now had my full sympathy at his previous predicament. He talked me through different options for ridding myself of this guy, and also threw in a little mouse psychology to allay my fears of a future face to face encounter. I hung up the phone, still standing on the bed. I was truly freaked out, and couldn't fathom ever being comfortable again in my apartment. I decided to act as though the mouse didn't exist. (After putting on very thick socks and tucking my pants into them). I unpacked, made myself a little snack in the kitchen, and even dared to use the computer which was within two feet of the last mouse sighting. I did a search for humane methods of mice removal.
The night passed without a second appearance. I purchased a live trap at the drug store, and walked to a coffee shop. The guy behind the counter was preparing my coffee, and I thought I'd start gathering information on this process. I mentioned to him that I'd just purchased this contraption, and was concerned with the part when I release the mouse into the wilderness, the possibility that he may scurry up my arm. The guy had a blank, slightly pained look on his face, that said, 'I have no interest whatsoever in having this conversation.' Instead he said, 'I have no idea,' and smiled awkwardly. He walked away to put milk in my coffee. Unsatisfied with his answer, when he returned I asked, 'But what would you do?' 'I don't know, I don't have mice.' He scurried off into some hidden corner, giving me a creepy feeling of déjà vu. I sat down with my coffee and my humane mouse trap, and heard a little voice behind me. 'Tamar?' It was my Georgian friend Sophie. It is always so nice to see her, she feels like a long lost cousin from a distant land. She joined me for a few minutes, and of course I had to drag her into the whole mouse drama. She came to life and said she recently had her own experience, where she had set a trap for him, and she was annoyed that she was the one that had to discover it and not her roommate. She also admitted she used to be more compassionate, and as a child, her grandmother was furious with her for setting a mouse free that the older woman had captured in a snap trap. What else can I say about him? In a rare case of me updating my Facebook status, I noted that I was wondering if the mouse in my house was planning a party while I went out on my run. An old co-worker responded that she just got the e-vite. I think personifying this guy really helped take the edge off of the whole concept of having a mouse in my house. So far, I haven't used the trap. I think he was just visiting.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Wazungu in Harlem

West Harlem always feels starkly different to me than the rest of Manhattan. Specifically heading west on 125th street from the A train station. It was the middle of the week around 2 p.m., and there were lots of people walking with a purpose down the busy street. Few of them were white. Facial expressions were tight and strained, ready for a confrontation. I was there to check out the
Percy Sutton 5K race which was to be held that Saturday. Right in front of me was a group of about 20 teenagers. It was a hot day, and one girl, around 15, took her water bottle and sprayed it on the white tank top of a tall, lanky boy in front of her. He walked off to the side to assess the damage, a fiercely sullen expression on his face. He looked pissed, but I think it was mostly to save face with his friends that he walked methodically with an exaggerated anger up to the offender, grabbed her from her group of friends, and held her close as he squeezed the entire contents of his water bottle all over her. This public display of revenge felt like the MO of the neighborhood. Show respect or pay the price. I casually skirted past the entire scene, averting my eyes so as not to be pulled into this drama that had nothing to do with me. I felt my enthusiasm for the race markedly plummet, as my attention to my immediate surroundings suddenly became much more pressing. When I turned north on St. Nicholas Blvd, I was surprised at how desolate the street had become. Originally I wanted to walk through the course to get an idea of what to expect on race day, but between the intense heat and surrounding attitudes of the neighborhood, that idea no longer appealed to me. I compromised and decided to just check out the starting line so I'd know where to go on race morning. I started walking up the street. There was a park to the west of me that continued for many blocks. A wall of trees made up it's perimeter making it appear impenetrable. I believe this was St. Nicholas Park. I walked through it once on my way to City College for a visit. I remember walking up hundreds of stone steps, wondering at the time if there wasn't an easier way to get to the college. As I neared the street of the starting line of the race, I saw two police officers handing out fliers outside the 138th street subway station. I took one. It was an artist's rendering of the rapist who had struck the previous week in a nearby courtyard. This whole thing was starting to take on a surreal quality, and my emotional response followed suit. I dismissed the message contained in the flier I held and later studied at home, and proceeded to focus on the officer's description of the course: very hilly. This race was looking more like an adventure run than a chance to show off some speed. Then again, with the looming threats of violence nearby, maybe a PR was a guarantee.
That night after I'd turned out the lights and reviewed the order of events to get myself to the starting line, I felt a mild panic building somewhere within. I'd never taken the A train heading north so early in the morning. Was I realistically in danger? Most crimes are committed on subways with few passengers. I couldn't imagine many people, other than muggers and rapists, riding the train at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning. There were alternate trains that I was more familiar with I reasoned, but then they wouldn't bring me as close to the starting line.
When my alarm went off the next morning, I decided to take the A train. I knew how to avoid danger, I told myself. Looking as nerdy as only a runner heading to a race is capable of, I went out into the night. It was actually light out, but I'm trying to add intrigue here. I arrive at the A train platform, and there are several people waiting. They appear to be on their way to work. Within two minutes, a train pulls up. I board, and am embarrassed to see half a dozen runners all nerdy like me, all white like me. Embarrassed because I knew that they too were relieved to not be alone in their 'outsiderness'. Instantly I felt depressed that this event, named after one of the first black Manhattan borough presidents, taking place in a predominantly black neighborhood, in honor of historic Harlem Week, like all American running events, would be sorely underrepresented by black participants. Between my earlier fears of being attacked on the subway and my current malaise over the state of racial inequality, I nearly forgot to generate the usual hysteria in the face of running a 5K race. The train stopped abruptly on this thought, depositing us whitey's in the heart of a vibrant community working together to make this neighborhood event a success. There was music playing, race walkers and runners warming up, and the comfortable feeling of pre-race jitters. Normally a New York Road Runner sponsored race boasts close to 5,000 runners. When the races head off the beaten path (read: not in Central Park), the numbers go way down, and it's a much more civilized experience for the nervous runner. Within a few blocks into the race the humidity made it feel like I was running inside someone's armpit. The air was so heavy I felt as though a giant, invisible rubber band was holding me back. As I passed 150th street, I was happy I'd told my friend Mannah to come out and watch me- this gave me incentive to keep a dignified running form with the semblance of a decent pace. Without a personal audience, I would happily have slogged through the course, content with any manner of forward movement. There were some beautiful views of interesting old brownstones and later a river appearing to the east. Was that possible? The last half mile or so of the race was an impossibly long straightaway, and a big moment of truth: I had no energy left, but if I didn't maintain or pick up my pace, I was at risk of not breaking 22 minutes; and that hasn't happened to me in a few years, so I didn't want to start any new traditions. I held my head up and ploughed to the finish line, a hard-earned 21:47. Not a PR, not my goal for the day, but the best I had in me that day.
Award ceremonies for NYC races are not the big productions their upstate counterparts present. Unless you've outright won the race, you have to quietly walk over to a table tucked behind the runner's baggage area, and claim your winnings. I hadn't seen the results yet, but I didn't see too many women in front of me, so I had some hope. I scanned the results sheet, and upon seeing the '2' next to my name, signifying a 2nd place age-group win, I did a mini-celebration dance on the spot. This was my first NYC award in four years! This was one of the medals I wasn't planning on dropping off at the Salvation Army during my next house move.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Chinese Tendencies

I have narrowed down the criteria for my ideal running partner, and have concluded that I will not compromise on this list. No scars, no history of serious illness in the last three generations of your family, and no tooth cavities. Disqualification for those who have runny noses, ringworm, drug allergies or bad breath. The candidate must also possess a pleasant and adaptable disposition. Yes, I am kidding; though this is an actual list of true criteria for a different type of applicant, I would be more insane than previously believed if it were in fact my design. (Though I wouldn't mind if my future running partner possessed a few of these traits, notably fresh breath). During my run today, I made some daring attempts to recruit future running partners en route. It helped that a 20 mile NYRR run was in mid-stride as I started my own private 6 mile loop. I had a captive pool of runners in all different sizes, shapes, and running paces. I was feeling good for the first time all week, having finally adapted a little to the oppressive humidity that has blanketed the city for the first time this summer. I kept passing runners with numbers affixed to them, and didn't see anyone running my pace for a while. Then I passed a water stop, and some guy with a sweated green t-shirt grabbed a cup and sipped on the run. He seemed to be going my pace, so I thought I'd ask him about this organized run. I think I startled him, as he was kind of reticent about giving information. Then I realized that he wasn't a registered runner, and may have been worried I was going to yell at him for taking the water. He said he was doing an 18 miler. I asked him if he had a lot more to go, and he replied, 'Yeah, one and a quarter.' So this guy was probably exhausted from running 15-3/4 miles in hilly Central Park, guilt ravished the whole way for not officially paying his NYRR dues while using their amenities, and now pressured to not only be charming and sociable, but to keep up with this fresh-legged intruder. Since I had nearly the whole park to cover still, I just picked up the pace and left that one behind. Next I saw some guy tuck in from the right and start a jaunty paced jog. He seemed springy and energetic, and had a white nylon short-sleeved shirt on with foreign words on the front. When I caught up to him, he stopped running, and pulled off to walk. I encouraged, 'You can't walk, you just started!' He looked at me incredulously, a pink face dripping in sweat. Hmm, I thought, maybe he had already finished a long run and was just doing a cool down. Maybe he had a severe side stitch and was disheartened to have to stop, and didn't appreciate anonymous feedback in the least. Maybe he was Hungarian and had no clue what I had just yelled at him. And maybe it was time for me to stop talking to strangers. My failure to engage people this day reminded me of Oliver. Oliver was this adorable half Chinese half Russian 4 year old who was having a hard time finding someone to play Lego Indiana Jones with him on the playground. He was a tough and sensitive kid, and usually very quiet. I kept making different suggestions of potential playmates for him from the kids that I knew out there. 'There's Dylan, I bet he would play with you', and then Oliver would say 'OK', and skip off with a cute little smile on his face and approach the kid. He returned empty-handed, but was game with continuing the search. I suggested at least four more potential players, and each time Oliver good-naturedly skipped over to the party, and each time he returned just a little more broken. I had to attend to some other playground drama, and when I returned a few minutes later, I was thrilled to see Oliver had not only found a playmate (his twin brother) but was smiling ear to ear as the two of them took turns pulverising each other in a mock sword fight. I didn't realize Lego Indiana Jones was such a violent game, but it sure made Oliver happy.
By the end of my run in the park, I forgot all about looking for someone to run with. I was really enjoying being in the park and found myself feeling very strong and fit.
So for those of you still wondering what those strange items on that list were all about, here it is: They are amongst the 100 health requirements for would-be astronauts vying to be part of China's next space team, the Yangtze Evening Paper reported today.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Life on the Periphery

Henry called to share a strange incident with me. His voice sounded dark and concerned on the voicemail message. A mutual friend of ours had just introduced him to her new friend Charles, a mortician. When Henry met Charles, he instantly recognized him as the man who has been serving him coffee every Saturday morning in the local cafe for the past three years. When Henry smiled and told him of course he knew him, how could he forget this face, 'Charles' excused himself and politely denied having any former acquaintance with Henry. Henry was extremely perplexed, and upon his arrival home, was able to ascertain the name of the man in question. It was not Charles. It was Andrew Gibb, and he was no mortician. Now I started questioning this man's identity, as that name was familiar to me in an entirely different context: two years ago I had sold my treadmill to an Andrew Gibb, and we had developed an email friendship upon discovering our mutual interest in parasitology. Reminiscing upon that period of my life, I re-read some of the two year old emails we had exchanged. This man seemed perfectly sane, I wondered what would lead him to this false representation of his identity? Why was I spending the better part of a beautiful day trying to figure this all out? With the few hours of sunlight left, I gathered some reading material and headed for the park. I spend too much time alone, I'd finally decided. As much as I cherish my independence and crave my freedom, it's just not healthy to spend so much time alone. Although at times, it looks as though the majority of New Yorkers are most comfortable in their seemingly solitary existences, I think it's mostly a facade. As I wait for the light to change to cross over to Riverside Park, there is an FDNY ambulance and a police van parked across the street, and a group of uniformed men standing around a man sitting on a bench, holding a white cloth to his face. The light changes to green, and if I cross in a straight line, I will be deposited right in front of the injured gentleman. I can see from his posture that he is elderly; he is also African-American. His clothing looks a little worn, and it is hard to tell if he is a homeless man, as he looks like many homeless men that I have seen sleeping on those benches. As I cross, I try to casually walk to the side, so as not to intrude on the moment. I also want to make sure that the man is being attended to properly, so I make subtle eye-contact with him. He looks at me for a second, and he looks like he is going to cry. His lip is swollen badly, and blood is pouring down freely. I feel like I'm going to completely break down and cry too now, so I walk behind the scene. I see a woman with a Jamaican baseball cap staring at all the action. She has dark skin, and her eyes are very attentive and wide. I know she has been following everything that has transpired. I ask her what happened, as I try to steady my voice. She tells me he was running across the street to catch a bus, and he had all these heavy bags. Why was he carrying such heavy bags, she wanted to know. He fell, and that's when he started bleeding. The bus stopped and then it left. I averted my eyes to keep from breaking down, and prodded her to tell me more. At that moment, some men brought the man on a stretcher into the ambulance. I asked her how long he had been waiting for the ambulance, and she said about an hour. I remembered this story my friend had told me recently about a man who had diabetes but was not yet diagnosed. One day his energy plummeted, and he suddenly became very disoriented. He somehow got himself to the emergency room of a hospital in the city. He had been waiting for so many hours for someone to see him, that his condition deteriorated to the point where he looked like a typical dishevelled and distraught street person. He was somehow able to walk to the check-in desk to see if someone could tend to him, but they assumed he was another homeless person, and told him he needed to wait. He ended up dying in the waiting room. This was a man who had a regular job, lived in his own apartment, and was completely functioning and independent. The ambulance pulled away. It seemed to be going very slowly. Dianna and I talked for a while. We wondered what would become of this man. After a while, she packed up her special edition Time magazine with the Michael Jackson tribute, and said she had to get going. She didn't leave for another five minutes. I saw my neighbor from upstairs who always walks her yellow lab mix dog with black leather doggie shoes on his feet. We never talk to each other, but I noticed she was hanging around longer than necessary to cross the street when she was near us. The sun was setting, and I said good-bye to my new friend. She got up to go home, apparently waiting for me to leave before doing so. I walked down the stone steps to be closer to the river. I read some newspapers for a while, and then headed back. When I returned to my previous spot, I noticed my Grenada friend had only moved to the bench across the way. I guess in the end, she really just wanted to be alone.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Quieter Race

Last weekend, in an attempt to connect with local runners while simultaneously celebrating the completion of my first real public school teaching job, I joined in on a group of 11 other hearty souls for a ~200 mile relay race in Vermont. It was the sort of adventure that brings city-dwellers a little uneasiness, as we had to make do without our covetous staples: sleep, privacy, and 24-hour artificial lighting. Adapting to the awkwardness of travelling with strangers was made easier by our common goal: run your leg, let the next guy run his. Try to run fast. Try to be pleasant. Try not to stink too much after, because it will be noted and likely blogged about at some unknown date in the future. Rinse and repeat, two more times. So that's the short version. I just read three longer versions written by my teammates, and don't want to risk accidental plagiarism, so I think I'll stick with what I've got. So coming home was the strangest part of all. Now what? Sort of like post-marathon apathy, this big grand exciting event in Vermont was over, and so was my beautiful teaching job. (It is summer break, I reminded myself, though the younger kids I worked with would surely be in favor of year-round schooling.)
So having raced three times over relay weekend, (a 4 miler and two 5 milers, one run at midnight) I was sort of in racing mode, and ready to go again. The only problem was that physically my body was barely able to jog slowly. One day I went out two miles and had to walk back. I didn't feel tired or sore, but I just couldn't run anymore. Despite this, the two races that were coming up this weekend kept playing in my head. Mentally I was really ready to race. Saturday rolled around and I got up early to watch race #1, the Gay Pride Run. Despite the extreme humidity, the top four runners came flying down East Drive in Central Park to finish in some phenomenal time under 24 minutes. For five miles. Wow. It is always exciting watching races, and discovering and cheering for people I know. I thought I saw a friend finishing, and I walked towards the finish to say hello. There were so many runners, I lost track of my friend, but then discovered something that really distracted me: each finisher received a rainbow missile popsicle. I walked across the street, half searching for my friend still, but I couldn't get the thought of obtaining one of those popsicles out of my head. I had never seen that kind before. It looked like it had a lime flavored coating on the outside, wrapped around a rainbow swirl of flavors inside. I really had to have one. I walked back to where the volunteers were handing them out. It didn't look like they had enough for all the runners. I looked longingly one more time at some racers enjoying their treats, and realized that it wasn't meant to be for me. So I ran my little training run, felt like my legs were coming back, and decided that I would run race #2 the next morning, the Hope and Possibility 5 miler, for athletes with disabilities and able-bodied runners. I woke up in the middle of the night with the Michael Jackson song 'Miss You Much' in my head, and then heard that song in real life a few seconds later on some one's boom box in my neighborhood. I wanted to acknowledge the singer during the race somehow, so that morning I stuck some craft letters on my good-luck Kenya tank top: MISS YOU MJ. Off I went to the 110th street subway station, this time with 'I'll Be There' firmly planted in my brain's turntable. In Central Park at 7:30 a.m., one hour before the start of the race, there were many vans parked near Tavern on the Green unloading athletes and race participants in wheelchairs. I saw a woman around my age looking very fit and sprinting. As her figure receded in the distance, I noticed her black prosthetic leg attachments. I heard an announcer introduce Trisha Meili, the famous Central Park Jogger from the brutal 1989 attack. It sounded strange to hear his game-show host voice say jovially, 'And here she is, The Central Park Jogger!' She had a surprisingly big and strong voice, which made me happy. A handsome man asked me if there were corrals in this race. We started talking a bit about training and racing, and then I had to remove myself to focus on the total anxiety that sometimes overcomes me before a race. This race was much smaller than the one the day before, so it was possible to line up close to the front. I took a good spot, re-affixed the letters on my shirt that the air's moisture was loosening, and felt calm. It was good to be on a starting line again. I smiled to myself. Some guy in the front had turned around and was staring intently at me. It was my friend Gael. I felt my face start to smile at him, then instinctively stopped its course. I looked back at him with a blank expression, then we both looked away. Gael had written me a really nasty email some days before, so nasty in fact, that I actually felt sorry for him. Clearly he was projecting something that had more to do with his own issues than anything I could have incited in him. Unfortunately, words can have better staying power than Michael Jackson tribute letters on a humid day. I tried to put my mind in a neutral place. Somberness replaced my previous pre-race giddiness. The horn went off, and the race begun. My first mile felt like work, and then my pace and energy died. I knew that I might not be recovered still, so I tried to change my mindset from race mode to 'getting a good workout' mode. The finish line was in sight, and I kicked to get under 37 (37! I have run 1/2 marathons at faster paces than that!) As I gave my final kick, there was Gael cheering me on with a big smile. In my spent state, I thanked him and smiled genuinely. I walked to catch my breath. Someone handed me a bag of pretzels. (Pretzels!) I stood to the side as finishers walked by to the baggage claim area. Three young women who had just finished the race were laughing and enjoying themselves. One called over to me. 'Kenya! Kenya!' she said excitedly. Turned out they were all from Kenya. One of them commented on my DIY graphics. 'Aww, MJ.' They all took a moment to make sad faces, and one did a sort-of moondance. The one who called me over looked at my arm and pointed. 'You're getting goosebumps!' Why is it only foreigners seem to notice things like this? We talked for a while, then went our separate ways. I liked the low-key aspect of this race. I felt like it was OK to run slower. Today it was OK to just be.

Friday, June 12, 2009

No Child Left Behindathon

Who remembers the famous Felix Unger speech about the word 'assume'? I am starting to take on the same view of the word 'assessment'. In between creating a transportation museum with the kids, tying eighteen pairs of sneakers several times a day, singing lively rhythm and movement songs for 40 minutes when our broken down CD player insists there's 'no disc', ensuring everyone in my classroom is getting all of their spiritual, educational, creative, and intellectual needs met, a stack of report cards waits to be completed. By me, I believe. Since taking over this pre-k class at the end of April, I've pretty much been left to my own devices. I have no complaints with this, as I am used to being the captain. However, had the swine flu scare not robbed my principal of much precious time, I believe I would have been given more instruction and encouragement on this one task which is pretty much the nation's barometer for the educational health of a school. So rolling about the recesses of my brain has been the contents of those odd-sized manila envelopes quietly resting in a rusty file box in our locked closet. One day several weeks ago, I asked my para Ms. B. if she knew where they resided. She unlocked the closet, ferreted around, and provided me with the treasures. I leafed through the first four page document hypnotised. Wow. That's a lot of information to gather on one kid. I wondered who was going to assess these eighteen kids in June. I tried not to think about it too much, because I had a lot of other things to focus on that were in my mind a lot more important and immediate. So that's what I did. Then two weeks before the end of school, one of the literacy coaches hands me paperwork for assessing the children's ability to rhyme. I think I was starting to understand where this was all heading. Still trying to keep an optimistic view that some mythical report card assessor would be called in (possibly from the 1,000+ absent teacher reserve pool), I started the preliminary efforts of a person attempting to conquer the first step of a very long race. Armed with a two page document simulating benchmarks on their last term's report, I brought Alyssa out into the hall to begin the testing. We're not supposed to call it a test. Just like 'time out' is not 'time out'. That's corporal punishment. The concept can be the same, but you must rephrase it. My 'time out' is called 'think time'. Anywho (!) Alyssa smiled at me suspiciously as I ruffled through the right set of papers for her. She often does that, but she had a good reason to this time. Halfway through her identification of the alphabet, she started adding terse but polite comments to her answers. I pointed to the 'r', she recited, 'r, please'. She was getting annoyed with the predictability of this game. She also didn't much care for my placement of an 'X' on her missed letters. Do these kids really need to have a sense of failure as they're working on their emergent reading skills? She was frustrated when she didn't know a letter, and when I asked her what it was, she started replying with a cute little smile, 'nothing'. Then it was time for her to demonstrate her ability to write the alphabet. After a few letters, she told me, 'I don't know how to do that, but I can make a smiley face.' I let her draw a smiley face. When I asked her to retell a story, she started telling me about the Gingerbread Man. 'The Gingerbread Man.. HMMMM, HMM HMMMM HM HMMMMM'. George Costanza popped into my mind. Alyssa was done with these shenanigans, and wasn't humoring me anymore. I didn't blame her one bit. Where was the section on the report card that indicated 'Smart enough to rebel against being treated like a statistic'? I love the whole school environment, the dedication and good intentions of the teaching community- but students are individuals with diverse abilities to process information and demonstrate their knowledge. Why do we have one test for every student across the board? Isn't it sort of like a shoe store offering size 7shoes only? Your feet are a size 10? Adapt. I would be in big trouble if that were the case. I don't know what the answer is. Tomorrow I am going to run a 5k race on a very humid day. Maybe something will come to me magically. And maybe those report cards will fill themselves out. And maybe I'll break 20 minutes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Haiku for You

H1N1 meets R2-D2

I'm sick, so are you,
she transmitted through her blog.
Porky said, 'That's all, folks!'

Friday, May 29, 2009

An Interesting Day

So many great snippets of life and dialogue overheard, that I need to get some of it out of my head and onto some written format before it gets buried underneath months of mediocre dailyness. OK, so I'm sitting near the rear door of the #4 bus heading to work at 7:30 this morning, when a yuppie family boards the front of the bus. Dad heads straight for the back, alone, and mom stays up front with her two tow-headed boys. The older one is about 6 or 7, and he is giving an impassioned lecture to his mother. The bus is full of workers and students, silently partaking in their morning ritual. His voice is the only one heard. 'Why did you do that, mom?! Why did you make me run through the red light? I could have been hit by a car!' The mother must have replied, though not audible to the rest of us. 'Just to get a bus? You almost made me get HIT by a CAR so you could get the bus??' he said incredulously. Snickers from the back of the bus, as we imagined the kid calling his lawyer. I actually felt sorry for the mom. The kid would not let up, and his rant continued to be the sole voice on the bus. 'Imagine yourself, having a terrible time, and someone made you almost get hit by a car, JUST TO GET A BUS!' Now I started feeling sorry for the kid. The way he expressed his anguish made me jealous. The mom must have been doing something right. No idea how that one ended, as my day as a pre-k teacher was about to begin. I have been with this class as a replacement to their teacher who went on maternity leave since last month. It's kind of amazing how much there is to learn about children when you go from being a non-parent to suddenly being responsible for the growth and education of 18 four and five year olds. The parents bring their children directly to the classroom in the morning, so I try to talk with them a little. One mom shared with me that her son did not get accepted into a gifted and talented program. I was shocked, since this four year old was able to identify by name the pygmy marmoset (my favorite primate.. well, the Golden Lion Tamarin is up there too, now that I spotted one at the Central Park Zoo) from the library book I read to them yesterday. Another nail in my coffin for educational assessments. And then the day continued with tears (little girls claiming other little girls saying they were not willing to be their friends); my bossiest Leo girl, who loves to communicate by whispering directly into my eardrum, crying inconsolably sorrowfully- shaking her head quietly and muttering, 'I just want to go home.' When she finally told me what happened (another girl jumped in front of her in the lunch line), we coerced the apology from the perpetrator, and the victim was once more enjoying her pizza and chocolate milk. One boy, who smiles and waves at everyone in greeting upon his arrival, inevitably falls into at least three crying fits a day. The last one happened at the lunch table. 'Damien, what's the matter?' I asked. 'Alyssa did this to me.' And he mimicked a person bobbing their head from side to side with their eyebrows raised. This gesture has caused him tears before, and I just sort of accepted that it was insulting, but now I was really curious: what did that gesture mean? He couldn't tell me. Neither could Alyssa. I had to do some more probing. I asked Damien what he had said to prompt it, and he told me that he informed her that he got a second chocolate milk. I looked over at Alyssa. Then I understood. That's the gesture that signifies, 'And then what?' There really is no great response to that statement. After lunch is quiet time, reading a few books, and then nap time. For some reason, there seems to be the most potential for utter chaos during this time, and I'm still honing my craft with fixing this. What's funny is, these kids really love being read to. Even though it seems like their attention spans are shorter than five minutes, if they are engaged in listening to an interesting book, I can keep them audience for 15 minutes. Today they were cranky and moaning about being mooshed together, and I couldn't get that zen quiet that I like. So I dug deep down in my bag of tricks, and commanded them to rest their hands palms-up on their crossed knees, and chant 'OMMMMMMMM' with me with their eyes closed. Nobody questioned this, and it actually worked! They were om-ming away their shifty behavior, and in perfect form to listen to 'Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock'. I'd go on, because a lot more interesting things happened in my day, but it's your turn. How was your day?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

In honor of National Poetry Month.. (prizes for the first to name the poet)

"Si Tu Me Olvidas"

Quiero que sepas
una cosa.

Tú sabes cómo es esto:
si miro
la luna de cristal, la rama roja
del lento otoño en mi ventana,
si toco
junto al fuego
la impalpable ceniza
o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
todo me lleva a ti,
como si todo lo que existe:
aromas, luz, metales,
fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

Ahora bien,
si poco a poco dejas de quererme
dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

Si de pronto
me olvidas
no me busques,
que ya te habré olvidado.

Si consideras largo y loco
el viento de banderas
que pasa por mi vida
y te decides
a dejarme a la orilla
del corazón en que tengo raíces,
que en esa día,
a esa hora
levantaré los brazos
y saldrán mis raíces
a buscar otra tierra.

si cada día,
cada hora,
sientes que a mí estás destinada
con dulzura implacable,
si cada día sube
una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
ay amor mío, ay mía,
en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
sin salir de los míos.

"If You Forget Me"

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists:
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loveing me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You Need an Alternate Exit

Ten minutes back in my apartment from a great one week trip to Texas, and pure panic sets in. The dance with the cute, sweaty-palmed cowboy, the thrill of finding deep-fried okra at a Texan dive called Dickie's BBQ, the strong bonds of female friendship renewed thanks to my awesome travel partner- not even the taste of a running comeback in the form of an unexpectedly fast marathon time on a hilly course could wipe away the fact that I'm living in the city, I have no job, no prospects, no direction- and it's just me here to get through this. Instead of unpacking, I drowned my fears of the future in mindless searching on the internet. Going to sleep meant having to face the morning and a life that expected some drive from me which seemed to have evaporated. The next day my friend Andria tells me she's in town, and she's got my olive oil. She threatened to buy me some when she learned how expensive my daily habit had become since moving South. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd already adapted to canola. Wow, she lugged one of those heavy 4-quart tins of olive oil for me? Life was already starting to turn around. We were trying to incorporate a fun get-together out of the olive oil drop-off event, but the thought of dragging that container all over the city was starting to depress me again. Then I found it: A free comedy show in Williamsburg. Perfect. Andria and my olive oil were relaxing in her sister's homey little apartment not far from there. I emerge from the 7 train to a freezing 35 mph wind in my face. Immediately a short blonde woman stretches her arm out and hands me her camera. 'Hi', she says with a heavy nasal Brooklyn accent, 'Can you get a picture of me? Try and get those buildings in there, too.' I don't mind, as my friend is not here yet to meet me. The wind promptly snatches the cover of my newspaper and whips it down the street, too fast for me to chase. Darn, the cover was the best part of this paper today. It was the one with the bizarre story of the woman whose 17 yr old chimpanzee mauled her bestfriend, and forced her to kill it. I took a few pictures of Brooklyn lady, and then noticed my fingers were completely numb from the cold. I told her I'd have to bow out of the job. She forgave me, and as I descended back down to the subway station to avoid the wind as I continued to wait for my friend, I heard her unsuccessful attempts to recruit new photographers. My friend arrived and we walked many blocks to her sister's subletted apartment in Greenpoint. They were making fried chicken and rice, and there was a relaxed, warm atmosphere. Of the four girls in the apartment, only one was employed, and that was in a funeral home. I asked Lea, Andria's sister, who was not employed, if she was stressed about it. She said she was, but she did not look the least bit stressed. Somehow we got into a conversation about depressed people, and she said they were annoying. I was intrigued with her laissez-faire attitude over a community that's familiar and confusing to me. I asked her how she dealt with them. She waved her hand and rolled her eyes, and said, 'Oh, they're easy. You just gotta keep 'em busy.' I thought about every depressed person that I ever knew. She was right! They didn't seem depressed when they were busy. I opened the bottle of French Gewurtraminer I had picked out several weeks earlier. I was curious if I had picked a winner or not. I was kind of heartbroken the last time I'd found a Gewurstraminer that I'd loved, and then found out the winery discontinued its production. I could tell from the first sip of this new one that my luck was indeed starting to change. Sweet clover and tea roses danced in the air. I wished there was someone there without a stuffed nose who could appreciate it with me, but the girls said they liked it. We rushed off to our comedy venue. Ah, the crowds in Williamsburg. Reminded me of Berkeley in the '90s. Gentlemen with James Dean perfect hairstyles, pinstriped longsleeved shirts, and smoking clove cigarettes. (Outside, of course). The bartender was wearing an oversized red-striped dress, thick horn-rimmed glasses and not one stitch of make-up. She smiled at me when I ordered my drink, and reminded me of a shy church girl. What a culture shock from the jaded set in Manhattan. I really enjoyed the first comic the best, laughed the hardest- but it was the last comic with his forced audience participation bits that probably made my night. I discovered that hipsters, despite appearances, do not all have their acts together. Underneath the smooth veneer of hipsterity often lies one more unemployed New Yorker. OK, so fast-forward to the next day. Back in my little bachlorette pad, once again checking the pages of craigslist for that elusive teaching job. I come across an appealing gig. Someone offering to do all the paperwork to get me registered as a family daycare worker in my own apartment. Hmmm. Do I really need them to do that? I investigate further, and find a number of an office where you can apply for a license to work in this field. I leave a message, and receive a return call within 5 minutes. This is very surprising. The woman tells me she's from the office of family daycare registration. How many kids was I looking to care for, 4-6 or 6-12? Sounds like a Kentucky Fried Chicken order. I opt for the smaller size, wondering how I can bring more than two children to a park? Do I tie them together? On the kibbutz in Israel they would stick them all in a shopping cart that they called an aggala. As I'm imagining my new life as Mother Hubbard, Luz on the other line asks me if I have an alternate exit. Hmm. Well, sure. I have my front door and my windows, those are alternate exits. 'Do you live on the first floor?' she asks. 'Well, not technically,' I answer, 'but my apartment is considered 1A.' She pauses. I can feel her smiling. 'Are you on the street level?' She asks to humor me. 'Well no,' I answer slowly, 'I have to walk up a little flight of stairs to get to my apartment.' I then walk over to my window and look down onto the sidewalk below. I imagine passing kids out the window during an unexpected fire. 'It's not much of a drop,' I tell Luz. We both laugh, and then as soon as it begun, my new career has ended.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

They Can Smell Your Fear

These past two weeks I have been pushed into the abyss of teaching. One of my assistant principals announced firmly that I would be covering classes for teachers conducting individual student assessments outside the classroom. I glanced at the schedule she handed me. Uh-oh, there were 4th and 5th graders on this list! I was not used to big kids or big kid lessons. Even second graders had an air of smugness to them that made me miss the unjaded little kindergartners. Suck it up, Tamar. Sooner or later you're going to have to start dealing with the adult world again, and upper elementary kids were as good a place to start as any. I walk into Jordan's class, and she hands me a perfectly laid out substitute teacher's lesson plan for the two hours I am to be with her 4th graders. Things look easy enough, until I get a glimpse of a two page lesson plan on Deforestation. She tells me this will be easy, just go over it with them on the rug, take as much time as I want to explain anything. I nod and smile as she heads out the door to start her first assessment. There's a slight problem. I don't really have any idea how to talk about Deforestation. I feel like a Seinfeld character. Yeah, I know that I can write-off many expenses when filing taxes, but what exactly am I writing-off? (OK, I have been doing my own taxes forever now, so this is just an analogy.. for other people, who really don't know about their write-offs. Not that it's an indication of great intelligence, just to illustrate that we do some things as adults for too many years without really questioning what it means, and then it's too late or embarrassing to ask.) No real time to panic about looking like a fool in front of twenty 9-year-olds, (no doubt, there will be plenty of opportunities to accomplish this task properly),as it is attendance time. I actually have had this bunch of kids before, and they are not particularly obedient with substitute teachers. I decide to have them tell what one food they would choose to eat for the rest of their lives if they had no other choice, as they answered to their name being called for attendance. They seemed interested in this challenge, and had fun with it. Somehow, it still took three times as long as it should have to complete this daily task. The future of the rainforest was going to be discussed after library. I lined up the troops and marched them upstairs. I decided to stop every time they became disorderly, to establish authority. I wanted to ensure that they would be listening attentively when it came time for me to bluff my way through an environmental discussion. Yes I recycled, yes I conserved water, electricity and paper- but those important facts and connections explaining the benefits of saving the rainforest were just not at the forefront of my mind. Surprising, really, given the amount of rainforest saving coffee I've drunken in my lifetime. Yes, I know, time to widen my horizons and put down my Bob Glover book for a moment. So in the library, I notice something remarkable. Tessa and Jean are sitting together and laughing! (Quietly). Two months ago, when I subbed for their class, Tessa was crying her eyes out over Jean and another girl excluding her. She even had me go over and speak with them, because she was positive that they were talking about her. When I agreed, Jean defiantly informed me that Tessa is the one who starts the trouble, as she is constantly telling lies about her, and that she has no intention of ever talking to her again. I learned then that regardless of how hurt a child appears to be, that it is entirely possible that they brought it on themselves. It is amazing how blind we can become to our own undoing in social situations. Seeing the two of them together getting along was uplifting. Not enough to power me through my upcoming social studies test, but a slight push in that direction. So after I gathered the troops again, we trotted down to the classroom. I didn't give them a minute to start taking over the class with their potential for social debauchery. I called them directly to the rug. My game plan was this: a certain astrophysicist involved in demoting Pluto from planet status, was recently quoted as saying he received a lot of hate mail from third graders over this reclassification of a beloved planet. Yes, they have strong opinions, and are eager to voice their concerns over causes. (Even if those opinions are the result of educators prodding them to think persuasively). So after reading a few dismal statistics on the rate of deforestation, I mustered up my best Greenpeace canvassing voice, and asked the troops: 'If I told you there was a way for you to make a difference in our future environment, would you want to help?' The troops were ready and willing. That meant that they would listen to the lesson for another eight minutes without trying to beat each other up and get me off topic. It turned out more than half the class already is actively recycling. We had an interesting discussion about the hypocrisy of saving paper by reading the news online, as electricity is then generated. Not knowing which was more damaging to our cause, I said in my best teacher voice, 'Excellent point, let's continue.' OK, I didn't really let that one slide. I admitted ignorance, and suggested they investigate this further. I am not too sure what this group learned from my presence that day, but I certainly learned from them. I left their classroom with a reinforced view of the power of enthusiasm. I got excited talking about a global catastrophe that they can help reverse. Not to mention saving my dear little friend the Pygmy Marmoset from falling into extinction.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Person is a Person No Matter How Small

It's my last class of the day, and the hardest one to keep motivated. It's Saturday, and before they enter my classroom, they've already had music, Chinese, and English classes. Now they have Ms. Tamar for their third grade reading and writing class. Jeffrey told me one day his Chinese teacher is mean. I'm much nicer than she is. I notice he feels very comfortable interrupting the class with questions completely off topic. I imagine the Chinese teacher not putting up with that at all. I'd love to watch her in action, maybe pick up a few pointers. I must admit, English intimidates me. The grammar, the syntax..literacy in general instills a subtle fear in my heart, so I totally understand when these kids need to digress a little, and I often indulge them. When I ask them to turn to page 18 of their Essential English workbooks, Jeffrey asks me what year I was born. Clever tactic. I have discovered all kids are fascinated with discovering their teacher's age. I just don't feel that they need this information. But Jeffrey's question leads me to want to test his mathematical abilities, so I tell him. 'You're that old and you're not married?!' he asks incredulously. I laugh. The other kids are shocked as well. Susan tells me, 'You have to be married!' 'Why?' I question, quite curious as to where this will lead. 'Well', I can tell she's just made something up on the spot, as she often does when answering questions, 'the government says if you're not married, you have to sleep alone.' My mind races for an appropriate response to this interesting logic. 'Well, that's good, because then I don't have to hear anyone's snoring.' And with that, we start reviewing the homework from the previous week. The kids were tired, and Jeffrey keeps interrupting with questions, and he was starting to wear me down. Near the end of this one and a half hour class, I ask Alice, one of the quieter students, a question. Jeffrey blurts out the answer. I yell at him a little too harshly to let her give me the answer. That was the first time I yelled at any child this year. I feel guilty, and hope he isn't insulted. Immediately he and several other students say in unison, 'Her brain will shrink if you don't let her answer!' I was surprised they were quoting me so readily- that was something I had told them three weeks ago, and they still remembered it. I guess there were no hard feelings with Jeffrey. He had several more questions about Barak Obama, the crash landing of the disabled plane in the Hudson last week, and if the KKK was still in existence. I told him if we have time at the end of class, we can discuss all that, in addition to his questions about my time spent in Israel. When it was time to leave, I was taken with how small this boy was as he exited the room. He probably has more opinions about our current economy crisis than half the people I ride the subway with everyday, and yet he couldn't be more than four feet tall. I am really lucky to be here, I think to myself as I turn off the light and head out into the frigid night on a small street in Chinatown.