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!'