The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Here come the holidays...

I love and hate the holidays all at the same time. I love Christmas lights and music. I love spending time with my family and baking. I love seeing my children light up over things like visiting Santa or seeing Snoopy on Ice.

I hate the fighting that happens because both our families are close and both our families want to see us. I am incredibly thankful for the fact that we are surrounded by people who love us and want to be with us. It is hard to be frustrated with that... but I hate the fighting, stress, and tension it causes. 

And although I kind of like Christmas decorations, I kind of hate decorating. (It's the ING). The process is just exhausting. Vinny wants a Christmas tree like... NOW. We never get one this early, but the funny thing is we were debating on not getting one at all this year. Tiana is into EVERYTHING, and the only place we could really put a tree is our living room, which is our "Tiana Safe Zone." I suggested we get a superyard and surround the tree. If we get a smaller tree and put it on top of a pedestal with a tree skirt, then we will still be able to see the whole thing and decorate it and put the presents ( and plugs) within the superyard gate. But the gate costs like $50, so that plus the tree and everything... this is getting costly sounding, which we cannot afford right now.

It is for this same reasons that I do NOT like Christmas shopping. We can never buy everything we want for everyone we want, and I hate the feeling of guilt of not having a gift for someone we probably should have a gift for. I even doorbusted for the very first time ever this year. Marc has done it a couple of times (oddly, for things for himself- not gifts), but I have never done it. Yet, there I was at midnight at Target, trying to save a mass amount on the drum set my son wants for Christmas. It was a big item I did not think we could afford, but at Black Friday prices we could, so I did. My mom commented that Vinny also wants a bike, but two big items will just not be happening. We are trying to get financially stable this year, and Christmas feels like a big looming black cloud, getting ready to rain on the rays of slight financial stability rising on our horizon. 

I know a lot of people can join with me in knowing what this feels like, particularly if you choose not to overspend every Christmas, yet some of you right now are probably thinking about commenting that Christmas isn't about presents, remember the reason for the season, yadda yadda yadda. Yes, I know. But society has made it about other things. Family. Gifts. Lights. Parties. Etc. Things that cost money and sadly cause stress. And THAT I do not like.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Worth the Wait...

Tonight was our exhibit. Our sophomore students presented a progressive art exhibit with their visual arguments.

This is a project that started 3 years ago when I saw another teacher's work at the Partnership for Global Learning conference. I agreed to pilot the unit the following year- taking her unit and adapting it for my standards and my students. It has grown each year. This year, I really felt the students needed an outlet to display this art, so the exhibit was born.

We also decided to let them vote on the topic this year... and they chose sex... which was awkward, awkward, awkward. I never imagined myself spending so much time talking about this topic in English class.

But there it was, and there I was, and there they were... and well... yeah.

It came out well though. Ultimately, the students learned a lot, and not just about sex, hahaha. There were some beautiful moments tonight. They were actually using the language of our unit, and it was beautiful to hear. I felt like I was successful. Like when one group asked their audience, "So what do you think of our montage and our claim?" and Cristina answered, "I loved how you juxtaposed the music with the pictures perfectly, especially at the end." (Yes, she actually used the word juxtaposed). Perhaps even better was when Carolina pointed out that Tony and Saul's "claim had a great structure, especially how it came around the show that the guy ended up sad again in the end," and then Saul came back with, "Well, we just wanted to show that being pro.. promiscuous.. (looks at me to confirm his pronunciation) is not beneficial in the long run." I was so pleased. I had used that word to clarify their claim when they first presented it to me, and when I realized they didn't know what it meant, I asked them to look it up and then discussed it with them afterwards. Clearly... they learned it.

Despite the very long day it was for us all, it was worth it. Two food trucks came, The Surfer Taco and The Chunky Chiller, and the "gourmet food" atmosphere really made it feel like a special event for the students. While waiting for my chocolate muffin and ice cream dessert from The Chunky Chiller, a student said to me, "It went so well! As we were explaining our views on the way media portrays women as objects, so many of the parents were nodding their heads and agreeing."

It was truly an awesome event.
Here is a taste.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The solidarity of teaching...

I am not a very good friend. I recognize this. I do not like this. I wish I could change this. But it is so hard...

Would you believe that teaching is a really lonely profession? I have been more and more reminded of this lately. It sounds strange, since I am surrounded by people all day long, but it gets very lonely. So much of what I do is by myself, and it consumes all of my time and energy. I sit up here on my couch until the wee hours writing lesson plans and exams and what not, and it is by myself, after the family has gone to bed. I feel like I am always racing with the clock, the calendar, etc., and there is never enough time in the day, week, or month.

Working in my classroom with my students is my passion, and there are such great moments. Today, something so beautiful happened. Today, I refused to answer any questions or assist with discussion, but merely guided students through a reading analysis chart (which they had prior practice using)... and an amazing phenomenon, which I almost did not think possible, occurred. At the beginning of class, I asked them to journal their responses to two Blake poems they read for hw. The majority of them said something along the lines of "It is about child labor, and it is sad, but other than that, I don't get it." But by the end of class, they were explaining the poem to each other, summarizing the story and asking good questions. One student asked, "Why are all the poems about God?" Another student answered, "Because they [the people in England in the 1800s] were mostly Christians." Then another girl said, "But I wondered that, so I just looked it up, and it said that William Blake only went to church like three times in his whole life." Another student answered, "Well, maybe THIS [pointing to the poems] is why he only went to church three times. How could he believe in a God that would let this happen to innocent kids?"   Wow... I thought. Wow...

This may not seem like such an amazing conversation to you, but what I see from this, is that my students learned how to learn this week. They learned how to get through a difficult text, and not only comprehend, but actually analyze, using their heads, each other, and their resources (including their cell phones, which many of them used to Google words or phrases while they read... I love teaching in this day and age). Ah... I live for these moments. 

Meanwhile, I live in relative solidarity. I have my English department friends. We plan together as much as we physically can, but there is so much to do that there is so rarely time to just shoot the breeze. I spent a good 10-15 minutes just chatting about life stuff with friends at work today and it felt SO good. My job is so stressful that it feels like every conversation is about something that needs to be done, and so little life discussion happens. This can make for a very lonely life.

I try really hard to have and sustain friendships, but when I have so little time to put into my friendships, it is hard to build and maintain the close friendships like they do. Don't get me wrong... I am grateful for the friends I have and happy for all of them. And I blame no one but myself. 

I just wish teaching allowed me more time for deeper relationships with my friends. Teaching can be very satisfying... but sometimes I think doing it well makes me very lonely. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

No more quarters

Vinny's television watching is monitored by money now. It helps us ensure he doesn't spend his entire life watching tv. He gets 10 quarters a week. A quarter buys him 30 minutes, so this ensures he doesn't watch more than 5 hours a week. The quarters do NOT roll over, but if he has extra at the end of the week, he gets to put them in his piggy bank to save towards buying toys or other things he wants. The hope is that he will learn that time is money. Believe it or not, he appreciates the structure. He actually told me, "Mom, Ben [friend at school] doesn't have quarters and he watches tv all day. He's going to be dumb. But not me, 'cause I have quarters."  Okay... my bad, probably shouldn't have overemphasized that watching too much tv will make you dumb, but hey... at least the point was made. 

Anyhow... so this week, he ran out of quarters. This is the first time he has run out of quarters. He is usually pretty good at making them stretch, but this week he overspent. So this morning, he comes in and says to me, "Mommy, did you know that Jack in the Beanstalk is On Demand?"  
"Yes," I reply, "Do you have any quarters?"
"No, but I'm not gonna watch it," he replies, "I just thought you might want to watch it."
"Oh, well thank you," I laugh. 
"You don't want to watch it? I'm not gonna watch it," he insists, "I'm just gonna be in here playing with Tiana. You'll really like it. It's on demand." 

Hahaha.  That's my clever kid. Figures if he can't watch tv, he will just try to find a loophole. He is SO going to grow up to be a politician.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts on Banking

I've had a very frustrating week with banks that has made me actually consider the "move your money" movement. When I first saw it, I rolled my eyes and thought, "as if." Although I do, in some ways, agree with those who blame the economic downturn partially on banks, I also think people need to look at how complex the situation really is and what a huge part of society banks are. Everyone can't just pull all of their money out of major banks and expect it to be okay. While it may be an overly simplistic metaphor, I just keep thinking of that scene in "It's a Wonderful Life," where they all rush for their money and George Bailey has to beg them all to reconsider and realize that their money is in each other's houses and that's just how it works.

If we want to fix the economic crisis, we need to focus on lasting reforms that prevent banks and other companies from taking advantage of stupid people who overspend without thinking. And realistically, we need to make it a priority to raise up a generation of children who don't expect instant gratification without thinking of the consequences. But I digress...

I cannot wholeheartedly get behind the "move your money" movement, because even if it did get large enough to make a difference, I don't believe this difference would be positive. Do we want big banks to hurt? PEOPLE work at big banks. And 99% of those people are not "big bankers," if you know what I mean. My best friend works for a big bank. Three of my family members work for big banks. If the big banks hurt, the people at the top will not hurt. They will lay off the people at the bottom, making people like my family members hurt.

In addition, my mortgage is with Bank of America. I have no control over who my mortgage is with. If you know anything about home loans, you know that even if you refinance, your loan gets sold, and you usually end up with one of the big banks servicing it. If Bank of America has to lay off employees, they will lay off employees in every area, including mortgage. Do I want customer service to suck more? Do I want to force them to export more jobs, so that I have to deal with someone on the other side of the world every time I need to have my escrow account analyzed over the phone? No... frankly, I do not. Big banks may be making some sucky decisions, but convincing the world to move their money is not the solution.

That said... I am angry nonetheless. I feel like banks did nothing but make my life difficult this week. On Tuesday, Chase refused to cash a check for a drama thing. It was over such a tiny stupid technicality too. They insist that I deposit it and then they will "release" the funds at midnight. What is the point? They will not have the funds from the other bank by then. Do you just want to keep making me come in? I am not available during business hours every day. And it is not my money- it is school money- so I didn't want it in my account. The bank manager would not budge.

For this reason, I usually cash school checks at the bank that the checks are written on, even if it means visiting several banks. Well, one of my major sources of fundraising writes their checks from Bank of the West. In the past few months, Bank of the West has started charging a $5 fee to cash checks. This is ridiculous. Even Wells Fargo hasn't stooped so low... yet. To try to avoid the $5 fee and an extra stop, I attempted to cash the check at my own bank, only to run into this stupid "must deposit" bull. It makes me so angry. I don't have all the time in the world to spend doing school banking, so I decided to just deal with the fees and attempted to just cash it at a check cashing place next to Chase, since there is no Bank of the West here in town. The check cashing place couldn't cash it, since Bank of the West now refuses to verify funds (so you have to go in there, so they get to charge you their $5 fee I am sure). The check is actually still in my wallet.

In addition, the very simple online banking payment I am trying to reverse is turning into a ridiculously complicated issue too. I made a payment to Tiana's day care. They sent the day care a check. I pulled Tiana out of day care, so they gave me the check. I went to the bank to just get the cash for it instead (since it is ALREADY out of my account- has been for weeks; that is they way online bill pay works), but they are making me do a stop payment and deposit the money in my account. Sigh. I did this on Tuesday, and because of the holiday today, the money is still not in my account and probably won't be until Monday. That's almost an entire week. This is ridiculous. I am starting to feel like they do this stuff on purpose.

I used to get free checks and free cashier checks for the $20 a year we paid for our "premium" account. Now I don't get either of these things for free. When I tried to cancel the "premium" fee for our account, I was told I cannot do so without closing my account. Geez.

I don't want to abandon big banks. I don't think it is the answer. But man... these stupid policies sure are starting to tick me off.

Super Star

So, Vinny is the "super star" at school next week. He is VERY excited about this. He gets to bring a picture of our family on Monday, an object that starts with the letter of the week on Tuesday, his favorite toy for share time on Wednesday, his favorite story to read to the class on Thursday, and a small trinket for each student on Friday.

He is completely set on brining his SnowWhite book on Thursday. Vinny has always loved loved loved Snow White. He got a Snow White doll for Christmas one year (much to the chagrin of my father) and he loved it so much. This is not a girlie princess obsession though. He doesn't want to BE Snow White. He wants to marry her. He tucked the doll into bed with him and kissed her good night.

When he was two, we waited in line for almost an hour for him to meet Snow White at Disneyland. The pictures were priceless. It was like watching a teenage boy with his first crush. She kissed his cheek and he just about melted. He showed everyone he met that day his kiss. 
I am hoping that revealing his princess obsession to his classmates does not cause him any problems, but I appreciate that my 5-year-old boy is proud to be himself, and I have to believe that his confidence and self-esteem will continue to magnetically attract friends as it always has. 

In also preparing for this super star week, I set out last night to find the family picture we took at the luau in Hawaii, since it is the most recent picture of all of us together. It had gotten buried in a pile of Vinny's school work somehow, and it took me almost 45 minutes to find it. Our house is crazy clean right now (because my mom is a super human- my house is never this clean when I am home with the kids), so I couldn't figure out how it could have gone missing. In searching for it, I did, however, find my work keys. I had been looking for them ever since we got back from Hawaii, and on my wild hunt for the picture, I found them on top of the fridge. What the heck... how did they get there?  At least I found them.   :-) 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Last semester, for various reasons, mostly students not following through with their responsibilities, the show we had planned for drama fell apart. In light of the Broadway trip we were planning and many of my drama students graduating, it was a hard blow to take.

Drama this year had almost 50 students. Less than 20 of those were returning drama students. I was worried about being able to produce a quality show. In so many ways, it has felt like starting from square one. Without Brenda to run the business end, without Steven to just rely on for tech, without John to count on to rally and inspire the actors, I felt sort of alone

But boy did they pull it off. Although the veterans were few, they were strong. Samantha became my new right hand woman. She was usually one step ahead of me. Not having Steven forced me to actually learn the logistics of how tech actually works and gain some confidence in the booth. My new sophomore techies stepped it up and demonstrated some pretty awesome professionalism. Luis lead the "let's give it our best" rally by constantly overacting, forcing everyone to just try to match his energy. Despite some bumps in the road, the final product was amazing.

I love these kids.    <3

It's gonna be another tearful graduation come June.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ch ch ch ch changes...

Chaotic week, but good things happening, and at just the right time. 

This has been a terribly chaotic week for me. Being a teacher, I have some points where life is really calm, some where it is middle of the road, and some where I drown in responsibilities and tasks. The past two weeks have been a period of drowning, but particularly this week. 

On top of it being Halloween, we are in the final tech week of my drama students' show, my English students are in the final week of their biggest project of the year, and I had probably the heaviest load of work for my Master's program so far. Most weeks have been relatively manageable, but this week was intense. Tons of reading and two papers due in one class, presentation due in another class. Yet, I have a pervading sense of peace and calm that is rare in my life, even when it is not quite so chaotic. 

Why?  Mom. 

Having my mom here is amazing. In a week like this, I am normally scrambling to pick up the kids on time or make arrangements for someone else to. I am normally pretending my house is not a disaster and promising myself to clean it over the weekend. I am normally hunting through laundry baskets for things to wear.  Not any more. 

Mom is here in the morning. Tiana is usually still sleeping in the morning when I leave. Mom does Vinny's homework with him. Mom does my laundry and puts it away. Mom cleans my house. She even scrubbed the fronts of my cabinets and fridge. While I am at work, Mom texts me pictures of Vinny playing in the leaves outside. Mom wraps the present for the birthday party Vinny is attending on Sunday. Mom made dinner so it was ready when we got home last night, and Mom cooked dinner for my family tonight while I was at school until 10. Mom is clearly an angel sent from heaven to keep me from losing my sanity. 

There is another new change happening as well. We have a new church home. 

We have kept very quiet about this for necessary reasons, but over the past few months (since July), Marc has been interviewing at a Lutheran church here in town. It is for a youth pastor position, which is Marc's passion and gift. It will be so nice for Marc to feel like he is in his element again, but I too am excited to have a church family again. 

It is hard to feel like you are part of a family at a large church. Even if you feel like you are comfortable there and like you belong there, it doesn't feel like a family in the way a smaller church does. This isn't a tiny church, but it is small enough and definitely has that family feeling. I especially knew it was a fit because of Vinny. You can tell a lot about people by the type of children they raise. The first time Vinny went to Sunday school, he had a good time. The second time, when he walked in to Sunday school, all the kids cheered, "Vinny!" When they escorted the children back to us at service for the ending, he did the robot down the aisle to where Marc and I were sitting. No... I am not kidding. The next week, when we were not going to that church, Vinny said, "The kids at Sunday school are going to miss me. They'll say, 'Where's Vinny?'"  The fact that my son felt he was wanted and was going to be missed solidified my decision about this church.   :-)

Although this means our family jumping back into full-time ministry and all of the hours and interesting things that come with it, at this time in my life, I very much welcome it.  With Marc's current job, he has little flexibility with his hours and from April to August often works 55-60 hours a week. This creates a lot of stress for us, so a more flexible schedule is going to be nice.  It is also going to be nice that Marc will get to put in the hours he longs to put into ministry and it not be in addition to another full-time job. Yea!