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“I bet if my life was a movie and you were watching it you would cry, and I bet Ms. P would cry too and Mr. T he might even cry when he watched it,” This is what Elliasha (we’ll call her) told me as we sat and had our daily meeting ever since she had witnessed a horrific life event. My heart grew heavy as I resisted telling her that I hold back tears as I listen to her tell her story and I think about her every night that I go home.

She asked me, “When someone dies, when do you stop feeling sad about it.” My mind pin-balled back and forth as I struggled not to dance to closely with self-disclosure. I was brought back to the day my sixth grade teacher finally put into words what I had felt for so long.

My teacher’s dad had just died and she said something similar to – When someone real close to you dies, people feel sad and the funeral passes and people go back to their own lives but when you wake up in the morning it still feels heavy to breath. Her words, more eloquently spoken,  but freeing to my pocketful of sadness that I carried in my 12 year old heart. A sadness that now shamelessly accompanied my joy.

Now here I was, able to pass on this freeing knowledge that you would always be a little bit sad, even when others had moved on. And… it just didn’t sound that great or promising.

As I struggle to find ways to support children, like Elliasha, I remember that these important words to me did not come from a random person on the street, they came from a teacher who cared about me. I spend a little more energy showing I care and a little less trying to find the right words.

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It’s been a while…. This summer I bought a kitten , got engaged, traveled to Italy to meet my fiance’s family, moved ten hours north to live with the love of my life, went back to college to get my masters, started doing personal care with people who are elderly, grew some banana peppers and did some thinking….

Now it’s the fall.

So about that last part, I thought. I really thought and I thought and I thought about my kids, my students. I thought about what I could have differently so that Lao wouldn’t have gotten a 45 day suspension at the end of the year. I thought about how much I missed Neds daily antics, and Jake’s love for animal books AND my whole third grade class! It was this bitter sweet ending with no caotic new school year start-up to replace these unforgettable relationships. My second year I had managed to create a community of learners and helped to develop these 26 eager, energizing and rewarding nine year olds into self advocates who knew what they wanted. …and now I miss them.  THIS I would have never imagined last November.

Just when I thought the thinking was through, I started learning. I started learning a lot. I am taking this mind altering class on child development. It’s actually the third class on child development I have taken in the third college that I have attended BUT this one is differnt. It’s differnt not only because the professor is a living breathing genisus of children but because everything I saw in St. Louis is starting to make sense to me now. Every time we talk about attachment a different kid pops in my head. When we discuss kids who went through trauma,  I fall into a day dream reenacting conversations I have had with my students about their home lives. I never realized how many of my students were testing me to see if  I cared, or begging for a way to self-regulate their emotions in a way that would enable them to be successful in the real world. I heard their cries and I saw them in a much differnt light than I see them now.

Now I’m thinking and I’m learning (a dangerous combination) and I’m regretting. Like an icecle made from a mad windstorm my heart began to freeze in survival mode the last couple of years. In some ways I think  my heart would have broken if my level of empathy had continued to my years of teaching. Looking back, as I thaw, I wonder who was that person who didn’t cry when she saw the belt buckle bruise on her favorite students leg; knowing she was the one who called his mom the night before. Who was that woman who didn’t demand that the school provide a lunch to the girl whose mom refused to fill out the forms, but instead she passivly aggressively slipped her a sandwich? Who was I to coexist in a school where teachers could be heard saying, “takes a fag to know a fag”  or “I don’t care, I already have my degree” OR “Shut up, you’ll be dead before you’re 16 with a mouth like that,” AND not pull them aside to tell them how incredibly inappropriate it was.   I don’t know.  I really don’t know. I have no excuses to make, just improvements.

I start this school year as an intern in the cutest little elementary school in the North. The other day I pulled a frustrated kid out of class to teach him how to carry using blocks. One – on – One, ha! This is a luxury I haven’t been afforded in two years. Today I sat and discussed with a team of people, who really wanted to make a difference , how to help a kindergartner succede in school. After the meeting the one person explained to me how child development and attachment is playing a role in this child actions. Two weeks ago I watched as a 3 year-old played by herself; her mom says she’s uninterested in other children.  It was explained to me that she was using parallel play instead of cooperative play because like many premature babies she is about 6 months- 1 year developmentally behind her peers. These experiences, combined with people implementing their professional knowledge to better the lives of children are thawing me out and FIRING ME UP! I’m excited to get back in the schools. I am relentlessly arming myself with some dangerous knowledge. Prepare yourself school year 2012!

I always love the phrase “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” because it’s so … depressing. It would be like telling someone not to get excited about a baby before it was born. Come on! Count the chickens, get excited about the chickens … plan for them to hatch! So this year i’ve had some pretty wonderful chickens and some that just haven’t hatched.

December 13th- age=height

n: what year were you born ms. evans

me: 1985

students: (long pause) you’re 25!

n: i thought you were 31

j: she would be much taller if she was 31.

I like this idea that people become taller and taller with age. At this point I imagined my 92 year old grandma towering 9 feet above me. Earlier that day I was handed serval homemade cards. One which contained two dollars. I pulled the child aside explaining why I couldn’t take the money. He protested saying that his mother knew and he had been saving his allowance.

At lunch recess several boys in my class performed a birthday rap they had been working on for a week. The rap had to be stopped at the line, “What’s the point of being a pimp if you can’t slap no one?” A double negative! I love love love double negatives because there is never any soap in the bathrooms and the kids run out to tell me but they always pause and look up, “There aint… no soap. Wait… there is not … no soap.” pause ” there is no any soap?” It took three weeks and as a class we have perfected how to correctly explain the absence of soap. Unfortunately there still aint any soap in the bathroom!

Would I do it again

Everyone I know has a cousin or a niece or a best friend who has applied for teach for america. They always ask would you recommend it? Would you do it again?

24 years out of the womb, I opened my computer and dialed my father via video chat. Tears streaming down my face I muffled out “they are going to fire me” Stressed out, overwhelmed, underprepared I was drowning in the sea of education with no ship in sight. He came down a couple weeks later. Entering my crazy, dirty, overpopulated classroom of eager to learn students he taught a lesson on writing. The whole class was quite. They listened, they learned… we listened we learned. I had no idea how to teach. I had never seen anyone teach. Except for my teachers who I drastically under appreciated. My parents and their friends became my life line. Encouraging emails from Kim empowered me to go in for just one more semester.

Last week…

“Tell ’em why I hired you.” my principal prompted me.

“I was wearing red shoes,” I replied. It was true… I was hired because my shoes made me stand out. My less fortunate tfa friends who were not wearing red shoes went on to be hired in the public school district. Bogged down with free health insurance, $7,000 dollars a year more, shorter school days, and a month shorter school year; the STL public teachers really didn’t get to feel the true grit of poverty. So my red shoes lead me here and I plan to wear those red shoes out of the school on my last day (july 1st.. maybe the district hasn’t decided yet) with a sense of pride.

“That’s right,” she added. “Last year people kept telling me, fire evans she won’t make it. But I knew if i left you alone to do your own thing you’d figure it out. Here you are a shinning star and I tell them, see I know how to pick them. I never get credit for the people I don’t fire. People just hate me for the ones I fire.” Ah smiling in relief I patted myself on the back. I had created a place of peace in the most unlikely place.

So when people ask if I’d do it again I always say “That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I made the impact that I hoped to make. I do think that when you do Teach for America you engulf yourself in a situation that you can never forget. You will never be able to experience  such an injustice in the educational system of our nation for two years and then go on with your life and do nothing about it. “

I have taken three knives away from 3rd graders. I have been robbed at school; at home but not my car! I have woken up to water leaking on my bed and taught through water leaking through my walls. I have seen my parents in a whole new light and recognized their talent, patience and skills. I have fallen in love with a man I could never be without. I have taught the most street wise, intelligent, compassionate, and eager to learn  third graders who don’t understand why I do not protect my house with a pit bull (that they instruct should be kept in the attic while im home)that I adore with my whole heart. And true to my first word spoken, I still see at cat as the center of my universe. I have changed but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’d do it again but please don’t make me.

It’s Tuesday and we have now read “What’s in store for the future” twice. We’ve made predictions about the future, talked about what people in the past predicted about our future and looked at timelines of events. I was starting to get a little board with the story. I was explaining why we would use solar panels and nitrogen cars when a hand shot up. Like an auctioneer I stopped mid-sentence to see what this young mind had to say. His question was brilliant. It was the kind of question that throws off a whole lesson and makes a teacher wonder if they are speaking the right language.

 

“Is the future real?” The student asked.

“Of course” I replied, “Well it’s not exactly real. I mean it’s what ever happens after now. The present is whatever is happening  currently and the past is what happened before now.”

“The past is my favorite.” Noak shouted out

“The past can not be your favorite…” I was starting to get frustrated ” you don’t even know what’s going to happen in the future!” Now hands are shooting up all over the place. Apparently third grade just started getting interesting for everyone in the class.

“My grandma can tell what’s going to happen in the future.” Dortha adds. I felt like a kid in a candy shop…I wanted to call on every single child. They all had something entertaining to say.

“In the future, will I always be eight years old in the past?” Jactha asked. This was a tough one … now we were getting accidentally philosophical.

“I saw a movie that told what is going to happen in the future. I can bring it in if you guys want to know.” Sim added to the topic of conversation.

“my mom can tell you your future if you know your birth date.” Bradeena told the class. That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to explain the future without insulting students mothers.

Solution- we’ll all get our fortunes read!

Stats

We started off our year strong. My class has turned into a school family. We live, we learn, and we work with each other 45 hours a week. Most of my students can read numbers up to 100,000.

32,ooo,ooo ,is a number that only half of my students could read yet it concerns all of them greatly.

” In the United States, there are 32 million adults with low literacy skills. Nearly one in seven American adults has trouble reading well enough to understand the side effects listed on a medicine bottle.”

“Numbers don’t lie”, I tell the students when we walk out to the buses. Unfortunately these children know that when the United States government builds a new prison, they build the number of cells based off of third grade reading scores. They aren’t going into the suburbs to get these test scores they are coming straight to the hood. These  numbers are statistics that my children have to dodge like bullets from a drive by shooting. There are too many excuses to fail in a place like this but way too many reason to succeed. “Stay off the glass,” I yell walking down the sidewalk. The kids all think this is funny because it sounds so much like grass. Not so funny when it rains, or you’re wearing flip-flops or a kindergartener slips and falls in the glass filled dirt.

People always seemed to be worried about looking older, getting older, being older. Then there’s always that one wise friend whose spent to much time reading Hallmark cards (the one without the funny cartoon characters) that responds, “Getting old is inevitably, enjoy it.” I will never be that friend. I get a kick out of people scrambling to control the uncontrollable. If something is entertaining let it be.

My friend Jessie once said to me in middle school, “Call me when you are 80. You will be the funniest little old woman.” I remember this very clearly. It was in the back of the 2 floor ranch style school where we ran our weekly half mile. I now look back on things I did in school and wonder if the teacher forgot to plan that day. The Winnequah Scramble took up at least a day a week… and fulfilled the objective of exercise. I have never publicly bashed the simplicity of being a gym teacher for 2 reasons. 1. I cringe when I walk past the gym and hear all that screaming 2. Despite my attitude in middle school toward Gym (Physical Education) the instructors deserve some award for the energy and lessons they taught about life long exercise activities. It is pretty obvious one has aged when they are commemorating their middle school gym teachers at age 24. Anyway that day on the running field when Jessie said those wonderful words to me she glorified, not the process of getting older, but being old.

Since that day I have wanted to skip the steps in between. I have sat and imagined myself on a swinging porch swing knitting with a cat on my lap. I have even started preparing for this glorious day. When I was 19 I learned to knit. I say knit because I can’t spell croshae. I knitted a scarf for my previous boyfriend, which he gave to his mother. Regifting is an art of its own. When I was 20 my manager for my job snuck me into a bar. After a couple of drinks he told me about his plastic surgery. He added that I looked gorgeious but could use a little work on my crows eyes. Crows eyes? I had never heard of this. I felt a warm glow spread all of my body as he explained that crows eyes were the wrinkle around my eyes probably caused by smiling to much or squinting in the sun. Since this wonderful news I have avoided buying sunglasses with too much protection and always smile when laying in a tanning booth. When I turned 22 I bought a cat. In preparation of becoming a cat woman I have focused much of my life around this cat. I make sure to bring it up in every conversation. I put pictures of it up on the facebook. I buy it clothing and I introduce it to my boyfriends friends as ‘the love of my life’. I am not a very patient person so waiting for this day when I am old, retired sitting on the porch with my cat on my lap my knitting needles in hand… or maybe a good book, and the love of my lifes arm around me (or paws on my lap which ever it may be) is a trying task. I broke the news to my boyfriend the other week. I was sitting at the bar, trying to act my age, throwing back a couple rum and diets when my eyes started getting real heavy. It was Saturday night and two hours past my bed time, the clock had struck 11. I told him that we needed to go home. This is when I reveiled my plan to get old. He apparently does not mind becasue he helped me figure out how many tomatoes my tomato plant would need to grow in order to make it worth the three dollars I paid for it at the farmers market and created a facebook page for my cat. I think my roommates are on board too because last night my roommate Erica sat and chatted with me about whether or not we should get the cat cage to take louie down to the basement with us in case of a tornado. We got the cage. Erica even check on Karen our elderly neighbor (who is not really elderly I just want elderly friends so I fantasize often that she is elderly) to see if she was going to the basement. No tornado and the tomato plant survived. I might start to pretend to be worried about getting old on my birthday. Just to get those cute little worry lines that Kim always talks about.

Now …I’m off to smile in the sun.

(conversation going on gchat currently with my sister:

Elena: J
I don’t know what I should do with my life
me: i want to retire live on a porch with cat and knit
Elena: I need to figure out if I want to go to more school or what
I think I might train for a marathon or something)

A child asked me once to start calling me him lil Wayne. I sometimes honor request like these because it entertains both me and the students. Lil Wayne does not like test becasue he seems to truely believe that he does not have a brain. So this time around I decided to station myself in a chair next to this very small child (who some teachers refer to as angy face… because he is always looks angry/ punches lockers and people). The problem with L.W is that he is not only a mischievous  angry little stinker who does nothing but distract other kids in the class, he makes me laugh. He makes me laugh when I should be angry. He makes me laugh when he should be testing. He makes me laugh when he should be learning. I enjoy this little ball of terror. Once someone dropped a quarter that rolled down the hall. He ran after it yelling “I got Mikeys quarter!” It was funny becasue the biggest kid in the class was chasing this little guy around the hall BUT I had to resist laughing and catch him. Yes, he has to be caught. SO L.W gets real angry taking test. He flicks off other students says discusting things  to girls (he hates girls. He hates working with them. He hates them driving his bus. He just hates them. He does not mind female teachers… I think from lack of options) and last time punched someone to get out of it. I am sitting there as we sound out words. He is doing pretty good so I leave him. When I come back (30 seconds later) he has “all sorts of questions that he needs my answers too.” They ranged from “when do I eat” (which he knows because we frequently have lunch together) to “do the janitors eat… ?”even stretched as far to “when do doctors eat? If people die all day maybe it’s becasue the fat ones eat to much.”  L.W’s humor always has a slight insult in it. I like this. The fake proctor wanted him kicked out of the room for distracting people.  Later in the day he told a girl go “suck his d***” I sent him to the buddy room for time-out. He got kicked out of their for disrupting them. LW will continue trying to get kicked out. The fake proctor will continue to try to kick him out. I will continue to try to teach him to read. This whole cycle will continue for the next week.

I don’t really know the end. I know that more african american men are in jail than college. I know that they build prisons based on third grade reading goals. I know a whole lot of worthless statistics that won’t convince LW that he has a brain or even get him up to third grade reading level. I know he wants to be a boxer when he grows up. I know that I am trying to teach him to contol his anger and when he told me that his mom said that he is not to fight back but stand there and let people punch him, my heart dropped. … even though that’s what I’ve been trying to teach him. That plus how to mediate his problems with his peers verbally.  I just don’t know if we should take away the little bit of fight this little guy has left in him. Maybe he’ll be a famous boxer someday and not an inmate.

Kim sent me an encouraging “don’t give up” letter that is much appreciated. Like the children, I find that I also need all the encouragement I can get. It included this poem to read with my class everyday. I’ll try it tomorrow.

” I am Somebody. I am Somebody.

I am somebody;

I am somebody;

I am somebody.

I am capable.

I am lovable.

I am teachable, and I can learn.

I can do anything when I try.

I respect myself.

I respect all others.

I will be the best that I can be each day.

i will not waste time.

My time is valuable.

I am precious.

I am bright.

I am somebody;

I am somebody;

I am somebody. ”

My roommates just commented that I am very lucky that I have parents who have a background in education and can give my encouragment, insight and support. I AM lucky… and thankful.