Friday, December 13, 2013

La Capitán

Happy Friday the 13th, all. 

It seems we have already had some frightening news today; keep all in and close to Arapahoe High in your thoughts. I was going to write 'unlucky' news, but unfortunately, luck has very little to do with it. It is time to talk about bullying seriously, and mental illness, and education, and gun control. Just as with so many social justice issues, these are not political issues - these are human rights issues. This is a public health danger, an epidemic as real as any other. If you find yourself struggling with epidemiology, with 'hows' and 'whys' and 'what do we do,' I will be true to form as an ELA teacher: do a write to learn. Find the errors, find the true points, and try to sift through.

Here's an assignment from my mum's notes on Frankenstein.
She alludes to Columbine. When I taught the text last year, however, we had a dozen more horrifying examples, and the photographs of 20 little children. We didn't write, but we did look at this cartoon, coupled with the recent tragedy and this op-ed

We didn't have any dialogue about school violence at Nye this past Thursday. That's probably because in the last two months I've taken a position for the remainder of the school year at a pre-school: I'm an assistant (basically, Spanish-speaking co-teacher) for a class of SPED three-year-olds. It is an absolute delight. Where I enjoyed the spontaneity and randomness of the 'hook-up culture' of day-to-day subbing, I adore the placid constancy of the Phyllis Nye community.

Every day:
* I arrive and walk to the bus. I pick up one of my little charges, often helping him down the tall bus steps. He reaches his tiny warm hand for mine and I ask, "Cómo estás?" He projects an enormous grin out from under his Micky Mouse cap and says, "Bien!" We walk to our portable, where Teacher Janice is setting up play-dough or painting or kitchen, usually "Juanito" or "Cinco Elefantes" playing on the stereo.

* I walk over to Nye and wait for the last bus. When it comes, I usher off our other morning bus student. She walks over and takes my hand and I ask, "Cómo estás?" She just looks at me; she's a serious little critter, and none too verbal. So we walk to the portable, on the way picking up our snack.

* We arrive. We play. We wash hands. We eat.

* We have circle. We sing the welcome song and then read a book or tell a story with a felt board. The greatest successes have been Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Mitten.
(Don't worry. I am always sure to push the progressive agenda - conservatives beware! For instance, while Janice tells that 'Mama Bear made the breakfast' in English, I say that 'they all made breakfast together' in Spanish. In this same trajectory, my girls are often brave, my boys are often beautiful. We have a lot of little boys who like to play with dolls and little girls who like to dress up as monsters. When we play house, generally there are two dads. This is a practical, as well as progressive, move; all the female figurines have gone missing from the Choices dollhouse.)

* We play outside. We play in Choices.

* We come back to class. We make a craft - yesterday, it was egg carton orgugas (caterpillars), and Wednesday it was paper-bag puppy puppets. We glue, we color. We sing goodbye. I walk the four to the bus and we all say, "Hasta mañana!"

It is delightful and beautiful to see little ones learn words, concepts, manners.

In the afternoon, I often go with Janice to the Head Start. Sometimes, however, I'm nabbed for a Nye SPED class, and those are perhaps my favorite days. I think this is because it is a class of very difficult little kids being managed very well. It is incredible to see how little ones thrive on loving structure. Just this week:
* One little boy said 8 intelligible things.
* Another, whose role model is the Incredible Hulk, consistently made sense when he spoke. He also self-regulated enough to remove himself and start doing 'belly breaths' (watch the charming video here).
* Another put a dot on a paper and beckoned me over. He said, "Pequeño!" I agreed with him, and asked him what it was. "Es una semilla." I must've expressed admiration, because he nodded, and then started scribbling on it, enlarging. "Mira," he said, "está creciendo." Well, then.

I also love this class, because we get to go outside with Osiris' class. There's a boy in her class, bright-eyed and gap-toothed, who (with a slight spelling difference) shares my name. He also shares my imaginative sensibilities. For when we go out with their class, we play "piratas." We look at the map, we bellow, we charge and fight ghosts, we gallop on horses and haul great chests of gold onto our ships. He - unprompted by anyone - calls me "La Capitán." Even when we can't all go and be wild buccaneers, we salute when we pass one another.

It is little wonder I am often bodily exhausted when I arrive back home. However, it is the perfect frame of mind (productive, at ease) to curl up and study study study!

Here we are working very hard.

Fortunately, all that remains this semester is my nursing entrance exam on Monday. The verdict? Four As in four classes: A&P I, A&P II, Stats, and Psych. Wahoo! Also happily done? A childbirth class and ongoing volunteering at the Birthing Tree Parenting Library. 

In a little less than a week, I'll be headed back to the Heartland for Christmas and New Years. I wish all of you safe travels. And, on the Eve of Sandy Hook, please be mindful. Send a thought or a prayer to those families in Newtown. And please send thoughts and prayers to Trayvon's family, and to Renisha's, and to all the children's families whose tragedies did not and do not make the papers.

And then realize in the midst of all of this, our school of three- and four-year-olds still sings good morning, and learns its colors, and hugs goodbye.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

As the Seasons Turn, Turn, Turn

So, it's been 3 weeks! And perhaps this is a better way to blog and not bore; you get less of the hectic details and MORE of the pictures. So, no complaints, eh?

My first week, the week of the 9th, was:
Monday: SFCC First Aid, CPR, and AED
Tuesday: Farmer's Market and Doula Presentation
Wednesday: SPED EA for an austic boy in kinder
Thursday: (ditto to Wednesday)
Friday: Psychology and then the weekend!

Monday was a trip - our instructor was a former EMT with a flair for macabre humor (don't they all) as she guided us from 9am-3pm. The highlight was probably her wailing falsetto as she belted "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees as we pumped on the chests of our mannikins. To be fair, it IS the exact tempo. Though it was a lot to take in, I feel pretty confident in my ability to make a tourniquet, flush out an eye, and use an AED.  It's also a wonderful (though hopefully never used) skill as a doula and aspiring midwife.

Tuesday started out nice and slow with a bike down to the Farmer's Market. From the pic, you can see I got quite the haul: summer squash, three giant onions, four peppers (4 for a dollar!), a big jar of last year's raspberry jam, and half a dozen ears of sweet corn. The corn farmer, a wry middle aged guy perched in his truck bed, gave his whole spiel to a newcomer to the stand (as was I, but this woman was a little closer to his age range ;). He shucked back the husk and presented a perfect white-yellow cob. He asked her to taste, saying that his late father always said, "If it ain't good fresh, it ain't ever gonna be good." Raw and steamed and sauteed, I'm still enjoying the tail end of this bounty.
The Doula Presentation that afternoon was wonderful! I got to introduce the topic of labor support with a group of 6 pregnant students at the Santa Fe High School Pregnancy Center. They were very attentive, if a little shy, and the lead teacher was just great. I was treading carefully to be highly birth PC, and then she'd ask, "Well, could you explain the cascade of interventions." Well, well, I could indeed. I left my contact info with each student (along with a handout), offering my volunteer services. So. . . we'll see!

Wednesday and Thursday I was an assistant to a fairly high-functioning autistic boy. After the horror story of my last entry, I was so relieved to have a GOOD teacher and a GOOD SPED coordinator. I was given comprehensive instructions and support, and thus had a much easier time. I enjoyed the most spending time whole-class, however. The students were adorable, and caring, and so thrilled with the new knowledge that hour by hour came seeping in. The lead teacher was very good. I found her perhaps a bit strict - kindergartners need extremely clear boundaries, for sure, but also you need to accolade the heck out of them. They just glow! One little girl especially (Marlastar) I felt was always corrected, but her intelligence and kindness not rewarded hardly. Working with her and my charge, though, I had the extreme pleasure of showing them how the index in their little first-reader book worked.

Oh! AND I got a cupcake (with a sweet Transformer ring) at a student's birthday party the second day.

A moment redolent in humor and stress was when the little boy, not understanding the concept of sharing, threw himself upon the ground in 5-10min of sobs after another little boy got 'his' ball. I sat with him quietly, and said, "Okay, now, ______. Are you ready to be a big boy now?" He lifted his head, glared his tear-stained face into mine, and said, "NO!"
I was exasperated, but confronted a similar specter that same night when I was nearly reduced to tears and yowling by the frustration of a math problem in my stats class. The juxtaposition helped me to smile through the situation.
I will also note that this kinder class had an Isaiah, an Ezekiel, AND an Elijah. "No wonder," my dad quipped, "that there was so much brimstone in the little guy."

Week Two (the week of the 16th):
Monday: AP Psychology and History.
Tuesday: 1st & 2nd grade.
Wednesday: 5th grade.
Thursday: HOMEWORK
Friday: Psychology & TFA interviews
Saturday: Celebration For Mother Earth
Sunday: Church fiesta and TFA Interviews

Monday, as you would expect, was an utter treat. I was unsure of whether to sub, being so overwhelmed with work. But, of course, I was able to give the lesson, supervise the students, answer any questions, and still get a ton of A&P coursework done. This shot of me is with The New Yorker article they had to read and annotate for the class.

Of course the teacher was fabulous - he was there in the morning, and explained everything to me, and left me his number for contact in case of questions. His classes were as such that the only question I had was where to leave the slab of Mexican Independence Pineapple Upside Down cake, since several students had brought it to him in recognition of his great teacher.
It was a wonderful gig, but as my mom put it, "Well, great. There's another instance of the 'gifted' kiddos getting all of the goods." Truth. Also, in case you were feeling too optimistic about the Achievement Gap today: 5/7ths of the kids in the AP courses were white. The one elective (non-AP) course he taught? 17/22 were POC.

Tuesday: Well, Tuesday and Wednesday were SUPPOSED to also be sugar days. I signed up to be a kindergarten bilingual EA. Awesome, right??
Unfortunately, the school where I was subbing must've had 12 vacancies. No joke. So, when the vice-principal asked if I could lead teach, I wasn't not going to say no. So, that's how I taught 1st and 2nd grade combined on Monday. It was looney tunes. Sure, the kids made Constitution books and colored them and we discussed the nature of government and played fun counting games and completed worksheets and had silent reading time! But they also cried and ran and kept the noise level at an abominable decibel reading. Fortunately, there were a few darlings who lavished hugs and did exactly what they were supposed to do.

Wednesday, I biked over with renewed hope. Surely TODAY they would me be my bilingual EA identity. Not a chance. This time I got the 'hardest class in the school.' In addition, there were no plans. Yep, you read right. I took a deep breath - the little hellions were at PE first thing in the morning - and then did this:

PE 'til 8.55
"* Literacy / Breakfast
- Journal with breakfast (9-9.30), after brief show don't tell lesson (DETAIL!
- Then read silently
- Brief lesson on adding / subtracting decimals
- Do #1 & #2 together
- #15-26 independently or with a partner
- Go outside and get three rocks each
- Identify, if possible, with charts on wall
- Share with class
- Sort into small, medium, and large (tracing in math notebook)
- Assign them the following prices (small = $1.37, medium = $2.09, large = $3.13)
- Add up your total 'money.' Pool your money with your partner. Take away two rocks.
- Read beginning of several books (Stargirl, Series of Unfortunate Events, etc)
* Do action, setting, character (INFERENCE)
- Do same analysis for "Art School," then answer the questions
Social Studies
 - State / capital flashcards (play)
- Money Matters sheet (summarize in journal)
- Preamble to Constitution (read original and modern text, understand)
- Bill of Rights (choose one and journal why important)
Math game!
Two teams at board
Pass out parent flyer
Clean up
Head out"

Yes, they were still loud and disrespectful, but I wasn't giving an inch. I had worked damn hard making those plans (culling from state standards, the ambiguous pile of stuff on the teacher's desk, and neighbor teachers) and we were going to do them, by God.
Just as we were finishing up the rock lesson (and after confiscating scissors from students who somehow thought because we hadn't made a rule against it, it was okay to 'shave' their rocks and send sparks around), the secretary came in.
Her chagrin made me nervous, and rightfully so. She handed me a sheet of paper. Ah, so it seemed the teacher had emailed in plans after all. Well, then.
So, the end of the day was Stress City. The kids worsened, if anything, and then I had to try and reconcile these new arrived plans with what we had been doing all day. The icing on the cake was that then I did bus duty. "You'll find the orange vest on the peg by the door" was all the teacher's note said. Well, great.
It's no surprise that when my Lyly called and asked a very basic question (concerning weekend plans, I think?) after school, I simply burst into tears. "I'm sorry!" I sobbed. "I just had a really hard day." I made quite the lachrymose picture, standing in a lot of weeds with my bike propped against me.
The day was partially redeemed by one of my first grade tinies running up to embrace me in the bus line, and the secretaries said that they had "heard about me." Oh no, I thought. But apparently, they had heard 'really good' things. What the hull? was my thought. What was this class normally like??

Fortunately, that night I got to unwind with Lyl. She helped me study for my Nervous System exam (YEAH those are flashcards), and we snarfed food and generally enjoyed a brief respite from the week.

That weekend, TFA interviews were good! For the sake of confidentiality I can't say much more, but it was an honor to get to talk with so many expectant (and mostly current) teachers with so much energy and hope.

What I can talk about was the wonderful Tewa Women United's Celebration For Mother Earth. What a beautiful time of fellowship - good food, good conversation, and good music. (highlights were the Appalachian and Maori music) I tabled for Breath of My Heart, and, as ever, it was heartening to have so much love and support for 'Body Sovereignty.'
Lyly came around 2, and we got some fry bread and strolled around the fair. There were hawks and honey, seed networks and some good social dances. A few images:

What a day~

This past week has been another good, another full one!
Monday: 1/2 Day SPED Teacher
Tuesday: Pre-K EA
Wednesday: Elementary Music Teacher
Thursday: homework and meeting with a local midwife
Friday (Yesterday): class, work, and frolicking

Monday I was subbing at the same classroom that I wrote about in my last entry - namely, the godawful one. Fortunately, it was a bit better this time! Now, this was still my reception:
Me: Hi, I'm subbing for Mr. ____.
Lead Teacher: What?
Me: (repeat)
LT: (angrily) I didn't know he wasn't here today. Well, that changes things. I guess I'll have to teach now.
Me: Well, I can teach.
LT: He normally teaches first hour. Now I'll have to.
Me: Just get me his lessons. I'm a substitute teacher. I can teach first hour.
LT: Um, NO. (laughs sarcastically) 
Me: Excuse me?
LT: I don't know where his lessons are. I'll have to put something together.
So, she did, and it almost passed muster. Like, there were two different assignments for the 15 or so differently-leveled SPED students. That's ALMOST differentiation.
Later, though, I stood my ground when she was mis-teaching inference. Yep, you read that right. Her way of defining an inference was, "What are three FACTS you know about this picture." A bit later:
LT: Like, you can't say that this is during WWII. That's not an inference.
Me: Actually, I am inferring that this is from WWII. I'm inferring that this is from Berlin during WWII.
LT: (uncertain grimace smile) But that's from your background knowledge.
Me: Exactly. I'm making an educated guess from the architecture, the evidence of bombing, the woman's demographics, and the photographic style. That is an inference. Not a fact.
At this point, she allowed me to help the students in the class.
Anyway, it was still a good experience: though the teacher had no recollection of me from my last subbing venture, the students did. They remembered my name, our inside jokes, and my closest student asked the moment he saw me, "Can we write another story?" I left him an armband as a day-late birthday present. Hope as a little persistent bird indeed.

Tuesday was a romp. I've gone on too long already, but suffice it to say it was delightful. The staff was supportive, we sang songs in English and Spanish, and we played and played and learned. A little autistic boy was calmest wearing a Belle dress (as I quipped to the lead teacher, 'Mira! Es una Bella y Bestia en una persona") and a little girl kissed her friend goodbye on the lips. God love three-year-olds. This is also what their (indoor) playground looks like. 

I'm happily going back there the week after next.

Wednesday I got to WALK a couple blocks to school. Oh, delectable! I taught music from no plans (but again, a pile of stuff to sort through). It was a mixed bag - 5th & 1st grades were awful, Kinder & 2nd & 3rd were AWESOME - but I managed, in each class, to figure out what stuff applied to each class and then create a lesson around each.
We did warm-up dance / rhythm game to Batoumambe. (my own insertion)
For some classes, we did singing to Iguazú.
And for 3rd grade, we did a scarf dance to Arabesque
(click on each song to hear it)
It was a sheer pleasure to get to sing and bang on bongos and dance, especially with a roomful of hugging kindergarteners. It surely doesn't hurt also when they run up, grin, and tell you "YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL!" Well, thanks, Guys.

Thursday I had the opportunity to do a lot of work, ace my cell test, and then meet with a local home birth midwife. It's wonderful how giving this community is - with their time, experience, and advice. It's one more meeting to catalog in my 'soul-searching,' and all of that.

Last night I had a delicious (both gastronomically and intellectually) time with Lyly; we grabbed some delectable Chinese food at, like, non-SF prices (so affordable!) and then had ice cream. Long after we finished our Baskin Robbins, we sat side by side at the table and just shot the breeze. What a way to spend a Friday night. :)

Over and out ~

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sayonara, Old Man Gloom

With a week of narrowly-avoided bear maulings, a public dissection, and watching someone burned at the stake, I feel like I have barely made it out with my 8th Amendment rights secured. To be fair, the dissection was that of a sheep's brain and the conflagration was that of Zozobra. . . but the bear was real. But I get ahead of myself.

On Tuesday morning, I happily biked over to the nearby high school to be a 'one-on-one SPED EA' for that day and Wednesday. I was so content to not have to drive, and also pleased that the sidewalk leading to the school wasn't remotely congested. How lovely! I was chaining up my bike when I heard a security guard shouting.
"Get inside the building!"
I straightened up, shrugged on my backpack. The guard in question was herding the few students in the courtyard into the academic wing. I started for the door as he repeated, "Get inside, everyone! There's a bear on campus."
Well, then. I was more than willing to schlepp inside, especially when I learned that the bear in question was in fact a mama bear AND her cub. It was a legendary night at Colorado College ('09) when my friend and I were on RA duty, there was a bear on campus, it was Homecoming, a terrible ice storm had coated everything in a half inch slick casing, and Safe Ride had ceased to operate in light of the inclement weather. We were convinced that all the inebriated alums were going to slip, slide into the road, be crippled by a passing car, and then devoured by the lurking bear.
Despite the fine weather, I think this must've been the fear of the local police / guards, for I spent the first two hours of my sub gig on ursine 'lock down.' ULD, apparently, consists of allowing any and all students in your classroom to get on their phones, chat wantonly, and generally do whatever they want for the duration. 

Eventually, the ULD was lifted. . . but you wouldn't have been able to tell in my classroom. The phones certainly didn't go away. No academic content was covered the entire day. The. Entire. Day. When I asked students or aides what lesson we were supposed to be doing, they shrugged and continued doing whatever they wanted. Some students went to electives throughout the day,  and together with a super-friendly CP student I instigated writing a story (about zombies & Bigfoot, pretty cool), and for about 15 minutes toward the end of the day they counted money. . . but that was the extent. 
Trying to withhold judgment, I assured myself that it had been the bear. "Tomorrow," I thought, "tomorrow will be a better day."
It was, in that there was probably 30-45 minutes of academic action / instruction. We'll ignore the fact that though the teacher:student ratio was close to 1:1, they still decided to do whole class instruction. When you have a severely autistic kid all the way to a close-if-not-on-grade-level student, there are some inherent problems with whole class instruction. 
I felt superfluous at best, and outraged at the system for a lot of the time.
Some 'high'lights (low lights? darkness?):
  •  The classroom operates a school-wide store where the students sell all sorts of junk food to their peers. This would be okay - a little unfortunate nutrition-wise, but good social schooling - if it wasn't monopolized by several over-makeupped, overbearing aides whose only concern (or capability, for that matter) seemed to be carrying on horsely about the 'Jazzy Café.' They completed all purchasing, planning, and the majority of the actual transactions. Who is supposed to be benefitting, again?
  •  The students are only allowed two electives, but sit in lunch for an hour and a half each day. This is so they can work shifts at the store? Have extra time to eat? So far as I could tell, this was time to eat at the pace of their peers and then chat idly for the next hour.
  •  I witnessed a teacher make fun of a student and the other aides laugh. They asked what class a certain SPED student was in - if you care to know, a delightful, articulate, sweet, easy-going guy - and one aide piped in, "Oh, I think it was advanced chemistry." The other aides cracked up. Oh. My. God.
  •  On the second day, a teacher was trying to get a(n extremely sensitive) student to get out a pencil and write her name on the top of the sheet. Of course, he had to bark his remonstrations at the front of the room rather than sending one of the 8 idle adults to quietly re-direct. Finally, the student said that he had yelled at her, so why should she listen to him? They commenced an argument. The teacher decided he should demonstrate. "No," he said, "I was raising my voice. See, this is what it sounds like. I am not shouting." Then, he shouted, "This is what yelling sounds like." The student in question furrowed up further, but a Downs girl in the front row was terrified and burst into tears. The aides, predictably, sniggered.

These were the silver linings I dredged:
* The students were WONDERFUL to get to know. I got to write stories, chat, help as best I could. One student looked exactly like the former ZHS ELA chair who terrorized me, but she was fortunately as sweet as they come. The student I wrote stories with insisted that I come back for his birthday party at school in a couple of weeks. I got to chat in length in Spanish with a guy who's half Chinese, 1/4 Navajo, and 1/4 Mexican and whose cousin is Noel Torres. The aide sitting near us commented that I should teach ESL and then went back to playing solitaire on her phone.
I also created this awesome poster on the prompting of one obsessed student and then taped it on another student's folder.
I chose Louis, of course, because he was the only one still available. One student had sole dibs on Harry Styles. . . Through all of this 'chilling time,' however, I couldn't help but think and think, as my mother said, "This is their one, precious education." Well, well.
* One aide is just incredible. He has an incredible rapport with the students, sings corridos all over the place, and always has a ready, gentle smile. He shared the 'Cholo mantra' and stories of his first interactions with hippies in the New Mexican mountains in '66. I wish he had felt more initiative academically, but he at least made the students feel loved and safe. As he professed, he feels that the students are truly special, that they have something that we lack, and that he feels honored to work with them. (What's important, is I could tell he was genuine in that sentiment - it wasn't just some Lifetime claptrap.)

And THAT was my subbing experience from the last week. I still haven't decided whether I need to keep my distance for a while or if I want to try to worry my way in. It's just so terribly frustrating - on top of all the enraging things, I felt SO helpless to do anything. I wasn't just a sub, wasn't just an EA; I was a SPED EA, in the same room as a teacher CHOOSING to do nothing. 

On Thursday, then, after a good but exhaustingly long meeting at the birth center, it was highly instructive to get to burn Zozobra. It was wildly cathartic, especially after those two days, to watch Gloom burn to cinders, and then smoke. 

However, it was also more than a little eerie. . . Zozobra seems more than a little animate in the way he groaned and cast his head about. When he burned, though it was exhilarating, it was also a little sad. His eyes flickered, and his flung-about arms were tethered to wires. Of course, the wires enabled his hands to move, but it had a sinister look - it was as if he was chained and helpless as the fireworks lit up his insides. Eep!

Despite all the Gloom from the high school, I was back there that very next day (Friday). This, however, was under very different circumstances: I was a guest presenter for the Anatomy & Physiology class! Ah, how fun. (This is what happens when you go to a teacher begging for a dissection kit) In between mini-lectures about the hypothalamus and negative feedback loops, I showed them the different lobes of the sheep's brain and how to perform a midsagittal cut.
It was ideal! Because I had to teach the material, I had no time to be fussy or messy or half-attentive. I was well-prepared and didn't have any time to feel disgusted or sentimental. An attentive, passionate high school class has some of the best energy in the world, and I was privy to surf on it on Friday afternoon. 
This was an action shot as I was setting up for the demonstration. I hope you appreciate that I have spared you the actual dissection pictures.

The weekend has been a delightful whirlwind of Fiestas (YES VEGETARIAN Navajo Taco), the movies, curtain rod installation and other home improvement, homeworking, delectable walks and conversation, and even some fabulous cooktime. Lyly and I created this delicious layered nacho confection (replete with homemade chips), and she christened it Blue Corn Nachagna. It's pretty dang delectable.

Over and out ~

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Babies, Blessings, and Bad Teaching

(NOTE: there are pictures at the end. I promise.)

Happy Tuesday!
I intended to write this post, like the others, right on the tail end of the week. It was full, though, stem to stern, and so I find myself tappling away of a morning. This week - due to labor day, class, and the birth center - I'll sub only two days. But this past week was a full, three-day teaching adventure.

Monday I took off so that I could have a lovely meeting with a local midwife. As a CNM, she could more succinctly address the history of their role in this community, and the progress that's been made. We drank delicious ginger tea, ate ginger cookies, and I branched into new avenues (doula program at St. Vincent's?)

Tuesday, however, was the opposite of 'taking off.' I subbed in a bilingual 4th grade classroom; it was by far the position that had worried me the most. I had trouble falling asleep in that at each last-second-before-REM another word in Spanish that I didn't know popped into my head.
At first, my fears were all founded. I found my way eventually to my hot and remote portable and was then confronted with a pile of 'notes' that consisted of nothing more than an agenda for the day, attendance roster, and sheafs upon sheafs of worksheets (I think the poor kiddos did 6 throughout the day). I was madly trying to print a "Valor Posicional" handout from the internet when the morning announcements came on and I froze.
Those of you who teach elementary school will know why. I myself had two housemates who were elementary teachers last year.
Namely: The morning announcements came on and I had no students. Moreover, I knew from experience that I was supposed to go and get them. . .  but I had no idea where.
Fortunately, the prodigious youngsters who had raced ahead of the pack brought me back to their line, I introduced myself, and we were off on what was to be a fun day.
**HS teachers who are subbing**: Never fear taking an elementary school class. They're on their best behavior, want you to like them, and are lavish with their compliments. In one day, I was told:
"You're cool."
"You should always be our teacher."
"You're pretty."
"That was the best cartwheel I've ever seen." (Context: I was picking them up from recess when a tiny grabbed my hand and escorted me to where they were having 'cheerleading practice.' Oh, dear hearts)
So though there was some decidedly squirrelly behavior - also probably due to the tedious worksheets - and some moments of genuine panic on my part, they were all resolved through the adequate Spanish on my part and the graces of many of the students. By far the highlight of the day was helping them with their 'writers workshop.' It was a far cry from an actual WW, but the worksheet asking them rudimentary questions was a least a small way to learn little snapshots into their lives.

Wednesday I was biking off to a nearby mid school as a SPED EA. This was another fun day, largely spent escorting a few perky girls to their English, chorus, and PE classes. The highlight, however, was helping out Arturo (name has been changed). He's a 7th grader with Cerebral Palsy, and exhibits all of the tenacity and good humor one would expect. He ranked as a little behind his grade level, but I wonder if this is a learning disability as much as the scourge of low expectations, which plagues SPED students far more than any other. I found him witty and a whippersnapper. Fortunately he was my wingman, because I found myself in one of the worst classes I have ever witnessed.
As I wrote to my mother that evening, "She just put the kids' curiosity and creativity into a mortar and pestle and ground it like she was doing perverse alchemy."  Another friend, when I described the classroom, marveled sadly that she was "killing the joy of learning."
They were both true. I actively witnessed this teacher quash curiosity, undermine adolescents' confidence, exhibit zero creativity in a lesson, and shoot down a student making an excellent text-to-self connection. It was infuriating and very sad. I left mourning for the students and mourning for the teacher.
I think her failure was trifold: that in management, that in content, and that in student rapport. I feel that if you have an inkling of two you can be a decent teacher. But her management was yelling at students to 'pay attention' and 'get it right' and 'stop that racket'; the content was two workbook pages of underlining nouns and answering stock questions from a third grade level paragraph about bats; the student rapport was nonexistent. When a student - and an angry, loner-ish type at that - reached out with a cool comment that she had once cared for two bats, the teacher had the opportunity to acknowledge the connection, commend her compassion, question what kind of bats they had been and whether they ate insects or fruit. No.
"You! Stop talking. Go to the corner and do your work." I kid you not.
Arturo and I counteracted this negativity by chatting about bats, what makes a mammal, and what my supper plans were for the evening. To be fair, at least the teacher didn't ignore Arturo like I have seen happen so many times before. She was the same unpleasant pedagogue for him as all the rest, which was a blessing. I don't think we could've mustered any saccharine pity from her.
Also the same, I aim to sub for her sometime in the future.

Thursday, my final sub day of the week, was back to bilingual - this time 6th grade social studies. As I learned first hour, the teacher had left the school for a different position. She had 'planned' at least until the end of the week - the students were assigned to copy vocabulary terms from the glossary for 50 minutes.
This is the first time I said "No." I didn't throw the plans out the window - that would've been irresponsible, no matter how tedious the assignment - but I refused to leave it at that. They were taking down vocabulary regarding different modes of government. So, this is how the class went instead:
- I introduced myself in Spanish and English.
- I did a mini-lecture on Syria (in Spanish), starting with its geography and Arab Spring. Most of the students didn't know it was a country, and none had heard about the weapons violation or our precarious position of war.
- They had a mini-discussion with their neighbors: using their information, should we attack Syria? Why or why not?
- We took a vote. (Every class was sharply, often vociferously, divided. I explained that this is how things were shaking down in our government too.)
- THEN they took down vocabulary terms. I gave them two minutes a term, we did CFUs for each, and that way we rocketed through the list.
A highlight was certainly when a student came up shyly said how 'awesome' it was when I demonstrated speaking with a Spanish accent (Thiudá Estao for Ciudad Estado) because she speaks with a Colombian accent. "Oh," I replied, "Qué suave! Eres de Colombia?" 
"Nah," she said. "I just like the way it sounds."

So there.

This rip-roarin' week of teaching (not to mention taking classes) kept up the pace with a fun first Psych class AND visits from three friends. Much good food and company (and dancing!) was had by all. 
Also, my friend and I created this mural with my flower pictures!

Annnnnnd, we found the perfect mounting shelf for Gerburg Garman's lovely Ondine. Of course the shelf was curbside, ready to be picked up as trash the next morning.

Also wonderful was the grand opening of the Breath of My Heart Birthplace. It was a successful event, full of excellent conversation, delicious frito pie, and that BEAUTIFUL new birth room. Check it out!

The birth room! (I removed the paint tape and scrubbed that door frame!)What you can't see is the gorgeous big tub. [These photos courtesy of

Fellow doula and aspiring midwife! We were talking, I think, about her path to midwifery?

We all ate, drank, and were merry, and at the celebration's close we had a lovely ceremony in the new room. A woman gave a blessing for the birth center and for us all. She invoked the Creator, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and we fanned cedar smoke to the four directions.

What a prosperous beginning for a beautiful place.
Over and out ~

Friday, August 23, 2013

Heaven, Jesus, and Eden; Or, The Nature of Grief

It was second hour on Wednesday. I was subbing for a film teacher at Capital High, and so I found the students a familiar and endearing breed of quirky. Before we began The Artist, I took roll. I generally got through the names, though it's always a gamble whether "Hugo" is "Hew-go" or "Oo-go," for instance. After I finished, I raised an eyebrow and addressed the class. In the background, George Valentin and Peppy Miller jitterbugged silently.
"Guys, we're in trouble." The class, with varying degrees of interest or alarm, looked up. "It seems," I continued, "we're missing Heaven, Jesus, and Eden."

This week has been preposterously big, though I didn't quite realize it until I recounted it last night to my parents. When teaching at ZHS, the weeks naturally coalesced into units. Though day-to-day subbing is nowhere near as demanding as teaching, it does creep up on you. I think this is because the days are so self-contained, they don't really form the shape of a week. For instance:

Monday and Tuesday I worked as an inclusion SPED aide at Aspen Mid. I went to classes with a low-level academically but high-level socially girl (let's call her Bella), helping her with her work and generally doing odds and ends around the classroom. It is funny to think that my hand-lettered daily schedule signs may stay up on the boards for weeks or months to come - a clash of transience and continuity for sure.
I really enjoyed being Bella's aide, though with four other adults in a class of 9ish students (varying abilities, but not atypical mid school students), I had the luxury of feeling a little superfluous. It was enlightening, however, to peer into other classrooms from a different perspective. One of the elective teachers, for instance, was in many ways a swell teacher! She had cool projects and clear management. However, there were a couple of times when Bella's hand was the only one in the air. She did not call on her. I'm sure too she won't use Bella's monochromatic self-portrait for the rainbow they're building. 
I suppose that this was still better than another elective teacher, who referred to Bella as 'this person' and just let her do whatever she wanted. But, then, she spent a majority of the class threatening the students shrilly, so I suppose Bella wasn't an exception.

Wednesday I was the film class teacher. Just delightful. I mean, come on - I watched The Artist, hung out with performing arts peeps, and devoured Serena. No complaints.

Thursday (aka yesterday) I picked up an oak filer in Mesilla for Lyl's trailer, then headed up to Breath of My Heart Birthplace. Oh! And I had a Craigslist present for them. Earlier in the week I had found a brand new seat hammock for $25. Um, yes. This is roughly what it looks like:
(Can't wait until it's installed in the birth room!)

 It's generally an exciting time, what with the birthplace's ribbon-cutting ceremony next week and our groundswell monies coming in soon. This is me tabling at the Rio Arriba Health Fair last week. (photo nabbed from 

(Michelle told us to look like we were 'working super hard')

The midwife to my right is Jessica, who yesterday super graciously invited me to a home visit of the family of a two-week-old baby who she delivered at home. They too received me generously, and it was a delight to get to see how a "medical" visit could be conducted so informally, thoroughly, and pleasantly.

Now, today, I've lopped off a day as a high school chemistry / biology teacher. I don't know if I would've taken the job if I had known just how much chemistry was involved today. There's nothing to make you feel ridiculous like not remembering gunk like 'sig fig' rules; though, as a plus, I did gradually remember scientific notation and the like. 
However, it was generally a relaxing, though freezing day. At one point in my two preps (these Capital folks are spoiled!) I contemplated draping my canvas lunch bag over my shoulders to try to warm up. 
I tried to immerse myself in The Last of the Menu Girls, but I fear it seems like one of those books where very little happens. It's a legitimate form! But just as entirely plot-driven books bore me, so do books where it is little more than impressionistic memories fraught with symbols and snapshot metaphors*. Give me a good, gorgeous book in the middle. Recommendations?
Anywho, the day went very well. I found the students largely very respectful and attentive, though 7th hour was a veritable mess. Like, actually. What. A. Mess. There was yelling, and pencil breaking, and eraser throwing. It was all good-natured, but good-natured like a poorly house-trained puppy that is also teething and probably a shepherd mix. We managed to get work done, but I was highly ready for the weekend.

The first few hours of said weekend, however, have been decided lackluster. I spent the better part of an hour at Target wearily deciding between two backpacks (and then choosing another). Came home to a bag of Checkers' cat litter open on my front steps - a stunningly non passive aggressive way for my landlord to tell me that this morning I spaced taking the bag to the trashcan and left it by the fluff's litter box. I tried to recuperate the evening by a trip to the library - perhaps to get Pale Fire?? and certainly to return AshMiseducation of Cameron Post, and Serena - but discovered it closes at 6 on Fridays. Mayhap after this I'll just go to bed.

But then again, there's always putting things in perspective, no? 
Rewind back to Monday.

When I first met the lead teacher at the SPED classroom, I was a little taken aback by her brusqueness. She leads a tight ship, and possesses a commanding presence - neither of which are bad things. But she seemed relentless and stinging at points. I was trying to acclimate when one of the co-teachers sidled up to me and murmured, "She just lost her partner to cancer. She had been fighting it for a year. We had the memorial on Saturday."
"This Saturday?" I mouthed, wide-eyed.
She nodded, and made a movement with her hands that bespoke complete sympathy. 
The lead teacher shouted, high-fived, guffawed, made good-natured but off-color jokes over lunch, and generally plowed through the day.
It struck me, then, how in her coarse humor and jean shorts she was managing just as gracefully as an austere madame in widow's weeds. More than a message of putting things in perspective (which is certainly did), it was a heavy reminder to reevaluate convention and norm. It leaves one with a highly subjective view on what is 'right' and 'good.' But as Mary Oliver reminds us, we do not ultimately have to worry about that either. We only have to announce "our place / in the family of things."
May we all do our best at that tall order.

Over and out ~

* Unless it's Marguerite Duras. She can do whatever the hell she wants and I will love it.