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.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Day as a Containment SPED Teacher; My Day as a PE / Health Teacher

First and foremost:

After I explained to one of the janitors that the classroom where I had subbed (today) was unlocked, he thanked me and said "que tenga un buen fin de semana." He then laughed when I realized that it was indeed Friday and grinned mightily, wishing him the same. Yes, yes, it's offish: it takes TWO days of teaching to be grateful for a weekend.

Thursday was my first day of SFPS subbing. As I alluded in my title, I was one of four SPED teachers / aides in a classroom of four autistic students. Oh! Great, you say. That's 1:1. Piece of cake, no?
This was the text I sent to Lyly at the end of my day: 'Phew. I've been drooled on, sneezed on, had my hair yanked, dripped on by a rogue boy in the shower, and had my toes rolled over by a boy on a tricycle. Haha!'

This was all true. By the end of the day, however, I readily gave my contact info to the main teacher when she tentatively asked if I would ever sub in her classroom again. I suppose part of it is SIS*, because there were definite low points. I remember thinking - "Did we miss lunch?" and then realizing it was barely 11am. My cute outfit (not pictured) underwent some modifications: I removed my earrings so they wouldn't be torn out, I put up my hair several ways, and I had slavered jeans and Cheeze Ball crumbles all over my purple shirt. It is also disconcerting to have to facilitate learning with a student who doesn't always recognize his name.

But it did have a meditative quiet to it, too. We were slow-moving and patient. We sang songs. I redirected and redirected and redirected, and then lavished praise when my student matched the velcro that we were / weren't going outside at that moment and didn't respond with screaming and hair yanking. Since it was 80% orienting to social cues and routines, all we had to do is repeat and repeat. Match numbers, letters. Pick up the backpack. Close the door. Jump on the trampoline. Pick up the backpack. Match numbers. Place placemat. Pick up backpack. 
And so on.

A huge takeaway, of course, is that the theme of this post is an enormous paean to containment SPED teachers. I'm not going to say anything stupid like, "Those poor children!" or "Those poor teachers!" Pity is a tiring emotion in the special needs world. But admiration I will give. I am unfazed by physical disability; my older brother had severe cerebral palsy, and I well know that brilliant intellects can find themselves housed in less than obliging bodies. I stand in awe of those, however, who dedicate their days to working with the severely intellectually disabled. And I mean DAYS. Whole days. My five-minute lunch was spent scarfing a sandwich and a few strawberries; there wasn't pressure placed on me from my colleagues, but I knew that with my meal they were short-staffed. No breaks for specials, for meals, for recess. 

I mean DAYS: when the main teacher was pulled into a meeting, I was swinging the student (on the therapy swing) I was working with. There were two other aides, and still somehow a student managed to run into the bathroom, strip completely naked, and jump into the shower. He had messed his undies and was taking great strides to try to clean them. They were forgotten, however, when I was toweling him - and he spotted an earwig. "BAHH! BAHHGI!" And then we had to snuggle the earwig for a while. 
All of this transpired in the last ten minutes of the day, of course.

And that was day one.

While the cat did this, I breathed deeply and then signed on for another day of subbing.

Day Two? 
Today, I went to Capital High School and was a PE / fitness / health teacher. Though I got ready all in good time, I was still late. It's the traffic! As surely as I'm not used to city driving, traffic is such a novel concept. For instance, it's 3.7 miles from our trailer to ZHS. It's not quite 5 miles from my house to Capital High School. The trip to ZHS took about 7 or 8 minutes. The trip to Capital took close to half an hour (once I got parked). 

All the same, the day generally went well. I walked around the track with the PE and fitness students, though the 6th hour abjectly refused. What does one do? Especially when the other PE teacher is also a sub and the permanent sub who came to 'help out' shrugged and said, "They're bigger than we are." Well. I hadn't ever really thought of it that way. 

The highlight (and low point) of the day was simultaneously 7th hour health class. Oh, Lordy. Let me set the scene a little: all of my classes were near or far above 30 students (26 - 38). Health is largely a 9th grade class. So, 30-some freshmen. 90% or so Hispanic, but some stray melikas and one kid named Abdallah. Small classroom. Not enough books. 85 degrees or so. No windows. 

At the most chaotic: Abdallah had a brown bag dino puppet, two students were calling out to me ("Mrs. Jacona," wtf?), Habram was whispering "maestra!", half of the students were dutifully finishing the assignment, another hunk sat chattering (having finished), and Priscila belted a bolero. No joke.
It's definitely not what I would want for classroom management for my own students, but it was a start. For instance, they all got at least most of the assignment done. AND, each table presented one aspect of how surroundings can influence your health (there was a media table, an environment table, etc). It meant keeping them after three minutes, but hey! It got done. And I got to speak Spanish!

OH! Other highlight. The permanent sub asked if I was "Spanish." I suppose if my surname was Jacona, that would make more sense. Hudson, not so much.

Last, I had TWO preps today: though I definitely projected my voice more and sweated like a mad wildebeest, I also had two and a half hours to work on my anatomy & physiology, read NPR, eat, and relax. Pretty chill.

Well, I must be away: it IS a Friday, after all. Time to seize the night!**
Take care, and stay posted.

Over and out ~

* Subbing Invincibility Syndrome: like seriously. All you have to do is give your darndest to a bunch of kids for ONE day. Staff expectations of subs are generally preposterously low, so it's easy to feel like a superstar for doing the most rudimentary things. 

** By 'seize the night' I mean have supper, maybe dessert, and go to bed early.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

60 Books

Hello, hello!

This promises to be a short post. For one, I think I've gotten out all my current anatomy & physiology textbook woes for now. I've forded through the multitudinous chapters on body systems, and am now finally sailing through reproductive organs. So the irritation has mostly folded to teenagey innuendo. So far, so good. :)

I just wanted to have a quick post announcing the end of my literary year (August 10-August 11). It corresponds nicely with the end of many fiscal years, but really marks a complete calendar year since I began my second year teaching. For the past year, then, I've kept close track of what I've read - first to model for my students, but increasingly for my own curiosity. 

(This was also a rudimentary self-review for my statistics course in the fall)

The verdict: 60 books.
The breakdown?
YALs = 18%
Nonfic = 10% (but overrepresented in my top books)
Books by women = 62%
Books by People Of Color = 27% 
Books with 450+ pages = roughly 25% 
Re-reads = 12%

Annnnnnd, the superlatives:
Funniest? Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen
Cried the Most? . . . all of them? Perhaps A Prayer For Owen Meany (Irving) or The Carhullan Army (Hall)?
Couldn't Put Down? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

And then my favorites! (categorized by having at least a 9 of 10 and by NOT being a re-read, and ordered chronologically in my year):
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angiers
Bee Season by Maya Goldberg
Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Meghan Mayhew Bergman
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Best American Short Stories 2012 ed. by Tom Perrotta
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Pushed by Jennifer Block
We Band of Angels by Elizabeth Norman
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan 

I'm currently and happily devouring Karen Russell's Swamplandia! Tomorrow will be a day of lesser reading, though, I predict: IT'S MY FIRST DAY OF SUBBING.
Though I've been perennially bad at updating regularly, I will do my best to share reflections after I try a host of different classrooms. For tomorrow? SPED paraprofessional at a magnet school. Well, well.
Wish me luck?

Over and out ~

Friday, August 2, 2013

Not an Object

Hello from Santa Fe! 

It's a lovely August morning; I've been largely much enjoying my metropolitan life, rife with local food and lots of biking. My parents visited for five days this past week, and that was a delight of food (restauranted and home-cooked), Goodwill & Craigslist hunting, and generally exploring the fringes. Due to my as of yet frustration and ineptitude with downtown driving, we mostly skirted the metro center. I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but you have to remember, I am accustomed to relaxing rez driving: everyone pulls out from their dirt lots, goes 20mph, swerves around the various animals in the road, and then parks in another dirt lot. It's the life. 

I also have had the privilege to become a volunteer for the up-and-coming Birth Of My Heart Birthplace, which will open soon in EspaƱola. The name comes from a phrase in Tewa ( Navi pin haa un mu), emblematizing its culturally-responsive concept. 

I am so excited to continue working on the organizational narrative; as well as helping out, it is infinitely helpful to my discernment and path. The research on different birth risks (C-section, lack of breastfeeding, PIH, SGA, etc), has also made it painfully clear how present - and linked with race & SES - disparities are in wellness in our country. Along with the Achievement Gap, we have the Health Gap. Figure in the Legal Gap of civil rights (in the wake of the shameful voting-down of the VRA), and it's a veritable chasm. Troubling but important work, indeed.
A small excerpt from the "Causes" section I've written, this one concerning Nutritional-Related Disorders in Pregnancy:

Though there are accessory catalysts to each of these conditions (some of which unknown), PIH, 
gestational diabetes, and anemia all result in some part from sociodemographic factors. As above, race is linked with SES is linked with health; women of color are disproportionately affected by the effects of poor health. For instance, anemia is linked to smoking, PIH to type II diabetes, and gestational diabetes to being overweight prior to the pregnancy. (Adebisi, 2005)
(Reem & et al, 2012) (Li & et al, 2013) (Berkowitz & et al, 1992)

I have e-mailed the Teen Parenting Center at Santa Fe High, so hopefully I will be able to work / volunteer with student-parents there. I would ideally work as a volunteer doula; as I've written before, the politics and justice and healthcare of teen parenting is something I am very passionate about.

I've additionally written The Birthing Community of Santa Fe, hoping to be able to assist / volunteer at their organization in exchange for sitting in on their prenatal classes; it'll fulfill my DONA requirement, but also be great to get more experience with the Birthing From Within approach.

As you see, at this point I have largely thrown my various hats into rings - doula, substitute teacher (with ID badge!), writer - and so am waiting for responses. I spend my days biking, reading, studying Hole's Human Anatomy & Physiology 13th ed. (I am taking A&P I & II in the fall), and rationing the fabulous Orange is the New Black.  
Though it is a little dry for summer reading, I have generally very much enjoyed my daily portion of anatomy and physiology. I have just finished chapter 15, and so this afternoon it's onto the Lymphatic System. Other than the baffling endocrine system (ENDLESS hormones!), it has generally been a sensical and interesting read. I have also, numerous times, been thankful to my AP Bio course. Though I took it six years ago (oh geez), it's refreshing and delighting to see how quickly so much of it comes back. 

Now, you can expect some angry posting on here once I arrive at Chapter 23 (Pregnancy & Birth); I look at it whenever I'm feeling especially ensconced and confused to reassure myself that I really do know quite a lot at least of certain parts. Mostly, it's a pleasant romp of fetal states and maternal health. But then I see a line talking about episiotomies being done to 'aid healing' more than a tear and the enjoyment ebbs. News report: tears heal faster (jagged edges adhere to one another much more easily, and do not rip further as easily as cuts do). The only thing that is easier is suturing them.

Anyway, that example is representative of the thing I do find sometimes problematic; the book is written so entirely from a physicians' point of view. What's the problem with that? you say. Indeed, it's a text designed for those up-and-coming in the health field. My issue is that the extreme polarization can lead to a lack of empathy and even to the objectification of the patient.

Objectification, true, we generally think of in sexual and patriarchal terms, but in this case, the text is objectifying the patient in the form of case studies. (For a working definition of objectification, go here.) The book has little half-page sections inserted into the body of the text; they're case studies that closely correlate to the content of the chapter. The object of them is to familiarize students with a certain condition. It just reads as coldly clinical when these people are given names and symptoms in a paragraph, and then often die in the next one. 

From a utilitarian perspective, this makes perfect sense; the point of the book is to be information-rich, not a novella of people's lives, wishes, personalities. There aren't enough pages to give justice to a single life, let alone the dozens in the book's case studies. But doesn't it seem superficial, then, to include their name and then nothing else? Why not leave the case studies in hypothetical terms? I have no idea if Carl, who collapsed from an embolism and died several days after his flight, was a real man. But it seems an injustice to him, to have this clinical remembrance, much less formal than a four-line obituary. It's like the authors sought to impress upon the reader the importance of the material by implicating a life, but then shied away from addressing the patient as anything but his assemblage of relevant parts. It's an assumption, instead of the 'immortal' desires and dreams of an individual, of clinical dissection and eventual mortality. A blogger posting on Medicine and Objectification puts it well when she says: "Seeing someone as merely as a 'case' makes it very difficult to view a patient as a whole person with complex needs and desires. The result is condescension, fragmentation, and silence."

 Is there a viable alternative? I would argue absolutely. Here it is:
Okay, okay. I realize this isn't a textbook textbook; forgive me, but I'm not well-accustomed to medical texts yet. But, if you've read old Ina May's book, you'll probably understand what I'm getting at. Before the explicit chapters on anatomy and prenatal nutrition is 125 pages of birth stories told by the women themselves. They write about their pain and pleasure, joy and frustration, and almost always there's an accompanying picture. There are stillbirths; there are hospital transports; but most of all, there is an autonomy I have not seen in my anatomy and physiology textbook. How hard would it be to have the case studies written by the person depicted, or one of their loved ones? Now that would be an experience in the intensely human, as well procedural, world of medicine. 

Ina May goes further, though. She writes in her introduction: 
          It almost goes without saying that the birth stories told in Part I differ from those of most American women. Overall, the stories are too positive; there is too much talk of joy, ecstasy, and fulfillment. These stories do not describe the usual proportions of forceps, vacuum extractor, or cesarean deliveries that are representative of these interventions... Given these differences, you may wonder whether these stories, and the overall experience of the women whose births were attended by my partners and me, can have any significance for you. If the women who shared their birth stories were special beings, the answer would be no. But if it is true that the women who gave birth at The Farm are much like other U.S. women in their intrinsic physical capabilities - and I am certain this is the case - then our experinces do have something to teach. Enfolded within the stories are lessons that can empower you, too...

In other words, Ina May not only humanizes her 'patients' (and she would never use that rhetoric), but she also finds commonality with them. We too, she assures, can empower ourselves to make health (in this case, birth) choices by ourselves. She counters the 'condescension, fragmentation, and silence' with respect, community, and dialogue. What more can we ask for?

This sort of industrial objectification is everywhere: in our food, in our commodities, in our politics. Just a few days ago I saw this meme on Facebook (the x and text is my own, obvi):
Clearly, this is going for the shocking, silencing factor. Other than the gross oversimplification of Planned Parenthood and the Choice movement (that, as a Pro-Choice doula and midwife-to-be, I seriously resent), the true disgust comes from the objectification of the woman. I added "Where is this woman's face" because it drives the point home: Who is not the person here? The creators of the meme, supposedly PersonhoodUSA, are invoking the viewer's sympathy for this fetus. But in doing so, they objectify (condescend, fracture, silence - even behead!) the mother. Her autonomy, dreams, wishes? Gone. Foregone.

But before I get too glum, I think of the alternatives to polarizing discourse. For one, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and every local grower everywhere are staunch arbiters of the dialogue of how our country gets its food. 

And when I see a meme like that, I think to myself.
May every child be:
* Wanted & Needed.
* Prepared for.
* Birthed with dignity.

What more can we ask for?