Friday, August 26, 2011

I value you.

Happy Friday!

Reporting live from the kitchen table. The students have had the last two days off - so coincidentally coinciding with the Zuni Festival - and we got released a little early from our professional development sessions today. So, I find myself at home a little before 3 on a Friday. Sweet. Sweet.
I plan to clean, explore the festival, love up Checkers, and create my detailed weekly LPs before jetting off to Pojoaque for most of the weekend. After this post, you may understand my need for a little vacation.

The work week itself went well! The batch of personal essays (with a first draft, peer comments, and a paragraph written about its style) about overcoming a challenge turned in by my squirrel nuts were GREAT. Highlights were essays about going to state in the discus, placing third in cross country, and the quest to successfully cook pancakes.
Tuesday I found out during Journalism that our technology - particularly our laptop carts - is impossible to deal with. So they had to handwrite their first drafts while I scurried about from library to front office to phone to the recalcitrant laptops. All but one refused even to log on. I hooked up the working comp to the projector I checked out, only to have it read neither my DVD nor the projector attachment. SO my juniors got to watch me Vanna White the "Avatar" trailer around the room. As I had a sub for my last two junior classes (more profdev yet!), I had to create something that was engaging yet easy to facilitate. So, I gave them an outline and told them to argue that "Avatar" is a better contemporary connection to the exploration narrative than the Mars Rover. I have yet to read the essays, but at first glance they seem encouraging.

Wednesday was quite the day. First of all, it was a 1/2 day - so our 54-minute classes were further truncated to 39 minutes. The sophomores were slapped on the wrists for not reading "The Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" and sent home with an adaptation assignment and a hefty chunk of reading in Fahrenheit 451. It was fun, however, because I used "The Edge of the Sea" as an excerpt on how to properly write a screenplay. I wrote "The Edge of the Sea" when abroad in Ireland, and it was delightful to have my Sinead read by Savannah, my Jimmy by Carlan.
Journalism was whipped a bit into shape by a voting on our paper's name, "The T-Bird Times," and by having to turn in a first draft of the gas leak article by the end of the period. Their assignment? Writing a first draft of an article of the Zuni Fair. One student asked if she could interview a carny. God, I hope she does!
I got a bit of a slap in the face when my 6th-hour juniors walked in and informed me that the sub had not, in fact, followed my meticulously-drawn-up notes. She had to show them the "Avatar" trailer twice and tell them where to find the Mars Rover piece in their books. That's it. Wanna know what she did instead? She had them sit quietly while she ignored all my directions and looked up "zuni jewelry." I know this detail because she left my computer frozen on that page. . .  so 6th and 7th hours were spent frenetically doing make up "Avatar"ing and such. But I still managed to fit in a mini-lesson on there / they're / their. (you wouldn't believe the number of errors attributed to this) I also read two outstanding paragraphs: one a beautifully-detailed vision from the perspective of a Zuni warrior, the other a hilarious parody from the view of one of Coronado's soldiers. "Since we've taught these Indians a new God and new government, I've had time to catch up on my artwork." Priceless. More priceless, however, were the giant grins from my anonymous authors 2nd hour.
When in doubt, read your kids' exceptional work out loud.  It's a beautiful celebratory moment.
So class = great. It was probably helped by the fact that I looked sort of like Sandra Cisneros:
Yes, those are parrot earrings.
My students lavishly complimented my "scarf / poncho / sarape." When they'd ask what exactly it was, I would frankly say, "You know, I think it's a table cloth. But I really wanted to wear it." 
That killed them :)

So Wednesday was also the Family Open House; so I bit the bullet and stayed through from 1-9. Yes, that did mean a 14-hour day at ye olde ZHS. It would've been a fine time - 

However, at about 4.30pm, the librarian came to talk to me. She told me that I should "be careful with that sign on my door." The sign she was referring to, of course, was my "Safe Zone" sign. (that, by the way, has been up since the first day I got my room.) It promises that I am an ally towards all people: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, and questioning. Furthermore, it says I have resources - if I don't have something, I know who to refer them to. It ends with "I value you."
CLEARLY, this is politically-oriented. Dangerous. Incendiary. Probably obscene.
Fortunately, when I showed her that it's just a Safe Space - that I want my kids to feel loved and safe at school - we had a productive conversation. She told me about all the graphic novels in our library. I think we made peace. 
Then the vice principal showed up. Direct quote:
Ms. ______: Yeah, you need to take this down.
Ms. Hudson (me) : With all due respect, Vice Principal _____, why?
She couldn't say. Suffice it to say we had an offensive (to me) but very reserved / controlled conversation. She said - of course! - she had no problem with "it," with "them," but these things should not be in writing. I politely argued that if they were not, our kids would not know they were true. She conceded; she said that people would "be offended" but she couldn't see anything wrong with it. She said it was not what she expected from what "people" had said; but she said I absolutely needed to pass it by Principal H__. Also, I had to get our principal's approval of ANY letters I send home.
You can imagine I was feeling rather safe, having been reported for gay propaganda in my second week of teaching.
After she left, I broke down. Sad Sandra Cisneros running crying down the hall! Fortunately, my fellow TFA-er and friend, Mr. S., took me in a big hug and made me feel like I was in a "safe space" again. I took a big breath, went back to my room, and wrote Principal H____ a letter (he wasn't in his office). I delivered it. Then, I put on Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" as loud as it would. And hell, I decorated:

I may be an "urban disease," but at least I have the coolest-looking room in the school.

But the rest of Wednesday was great! Actually. I met 11 families of students and they were all lovely people. Their kids are fun variations of them.
That evening my principal came and talked me. He told me I was "fine," and that I hadn't done a thing wrong. If he could have any complaint - and he "had to look" for something amiss - it would be to mention other factors: race, ethnicity, etc. I said, "Absolutely, Sir!"
Once I can approach my door without arousing suspicion, I'll take a picture of my door: next to my safe spaces is a pink star. It says: "all races. . . all religions . . . all backgrounds. . . all opinions . . . all dreams! I value you"

Thursday, Bigoted America struck again. This time, unfortunately, it was my chair that came. I choose not to delve fully into the unpleasantries of the conversation. I will say that she claimed that the "single-sex" relationships were quite well-accepted in our community (wrong, at least at ZHS) - but that those relationships were different. "In Zuni culture, friends can kiss each other and it doesn't mean anything. They don't - do - anything!" By putting up a sign, I am introducing a new, "urban," concept to these "naive" kids. 
She conflated it with the recent introduction of GANGS to Zuni. 
Me = "I'm sorry Ms. _____, but are you comparing gang violence to love?"
Her = (shouting) NO!
She said that I would create a situation of intolerance in the school my sign. Because I have it, kids will start saying that "there are faggots in our school and they go to Ms. Hudson's room." 
I think that was about the point where I started crying. And I mean crying. Like, snot, tears, sobs that racked my entire body. I felt actually poisoned, actually hurt by her words.
She tried to comfort me, saying she wasn't trying to upset me; she just wanted to let me know that the administration would be offended. Then she tried to touch me. I was shaking so badly she stopped that. I told her - again, with "all due respect" - that I'm glad she was trying to help but that I needed her to leave me alone. 
She said no. 
I said, "Please leave. Your words hurt me more than you can imagine."
She left. I closed my door, turned off the light, and made my own safe space. 
I spent the day in sessions, trying to blanket myself with other TFA-ers. To be frank, I felt wildly unsafe. 
That afternoon, my principal visited me again. An exhausted, defeated feeling came over me. Then, he said that he wasn't sure if it was appropriate, but if he could he would like to apologize for the way people have been speaking to me. 
What a man.
He said that it's just new to them - he's been having a heck of a time explaining to them that it's a part of a lot of health curricula in the country, that safe spaces are a growing trend in the US. He said that we just needed to have "thick skin" about the whole thing. If anything happened again, I was to tell him. Until then, he told everyone that if they had a problem, they could come speak to him.
I thanked him; I apologized for causing such a problem. 
Principal H_____ = What? Don't apologize. This is in no way your fault.


Epilogue (to this heinously-long post):

Last night, I walked next to the ZHS float in the Zuni Festival Night Parade. I, along with a few faculty and more than a few rowdy kids, walked down 53. We threw candy, we cheered; we were hemmed in by two traditional dance groups. It was like the C'ville Christmas parade meets a powwow. Unreal.
At one point, I heard, "Hudson!"
It was several of my students. They cheered wildly and one said, "I already finished my essay!" I said, "Awesome!" She said, "I'm going to text you." (in response to my no-more-excuses-I-gave-you-my-number-so-call-me convo) I said, "Please do!" 
Also great was meeting Shanice's mom and giving candy to Savannah & Emily E. The former was wearing a box she had painted like a panda. Go figure. 

If I have learned nothing else this week, I know that I am more determined than ever to be a present, active, committed teacher. My kids will succeed because they are excellent and they are safe.
I value them.

-- this post dedicated to Forbes' 11th most influential woman and to Equal. Sometimes I miss you more than I can say.


  1. you sound like a fabulous teacher!! stay strong, lady


  2. Sounds like a hell of a week. You are a warrior, Alix, and I have so much respect for you. Keep fighting the fight, and know that you are amazing and kids need you!