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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'm only 28 years old. Ten o'clock at night should not feel late, but it might as well be 2am, my eyelids are so heavy. My days have been long lately. It was "back to school night" last night, which made for a twelve hour day at work. By the time I opened my laptop to begin reading narrative essays, I was already drained, but I forced myself to get through at least fifteen stories before hitting the sheets.

I picked up the reading again after dinner tonight. The reality of my job hits me hard sometimes. I am reading about a kid who could not afford to replace the sole uniform shirt he owned, which a bully ripped in the process of beating him up. I am reading about a family who eats only rice and beans for dinner night after night. I am reading about a boy who lost his dad, a girl who lost her sister. And I'm only on like the 30th story of 120.

 And then I get a request from a student asking for a recommendation letter for her deferred action application. Few could be more deserving than this sweet, hardworking honors student. But few teachers could be more tired than this incredibly exhausted woman. When I first looked at her email, I didn't initially respond.

But integrity hits me.

I am brought back to New Orleans, back in February of this year, when I attended a conference where I heard an amazing speaker, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, speak about compassion. She spoke about the verse where it says, "At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with compassion because the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Mark 6:34

Compassion. Jesus saw the people. He saw their helplessness. And his heart was moved. And you know what he did?  He fed them. He performed a miracle, feeding the crowds from two loaves of bread and five fish.

I am no miracle worker. But I see the people. I see their helplessness. When Rev. Alexia Salvatierra shared stories of injustice, she convicted me greatly with facts about how few people actually speak out against injustice. All year long, her words have consistently resounded in my ears. 

I see it alright. I see the injustice. I see the the harassment and the helplessness of those marginalized by our society. But do I do anything about it?  Do I really do anything? Am I truly moved with compassion?

I can't speak for my past, but I can speak for my present. I'm tired. My throat is parched with the ever-thirsty feeling that comes from talking all day and not resting enough at night. I feel the lack of sleep and the pressure of my to do list in the tension at the base of my neck.

But there's a letter I must write before I go to sleep.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week Two of Year Five

Yup.. Year Five. This is my fifth year teaching.

Last week was my first full week of students, plus, I was hosting two very young Chinese exchange students -- nine-year-old little boys, who called themselves "Charles" and "Andy." They were very funny. They were typical American little boys. They like sweets and playing outside. They procrastinated on their homework. They tried to stay up late, playing with toys in the dark after I told them to go to bed. I took them shopping at the dollar store and they bought secret agent kits with little orange pop guns. They were very confused about why they couldn't bring them to school the next day, but in a gang area, even bright orange plastic guns are no joke.

Vinny did not get along very well with these boys. It was nothing they did. They were just typical boys, and well... Vinny isn't really a typical boy. It was his constant irritation at their "misuse" of his toys (they weren't doing anything wrong, he just thought they were), and his misunderstanding of how boys play. They would be wrestling with each other, and Vinny would come running down the hall yelling that they were fighting. I'd run in and find that they were laughing and just wrestling around on the floor like little boys do.  Sigh. What am I going to do with my sensitive little boy.

It was a rough week. For various reasons I have had a lot of meetings during my prep time and after school, and it has been really hard for me to get fully caught up on my planning and grading. I feel like I am racing and racing to get ahead, but there has been no time at all. Every day I have in my head, "Okay, I'm going to work really hard and get ahead today," and then stuff comes up and I never get there. I'm working SO hard lately, but just not catching up. I like to be planned several weeks ahead, and right now... I'm like a couple of days ahead at a time, which is really rough. I mean.. I don't even have TUESDAY exactly planned yet. Yikes.

This weekend, we took the kids to the fair on the train. It was adorable. Tiana thought the train was super exciting. Both the kids were really well behaved all day, which was such a blessing. Tiana even went on a few rides. She really loves "horseys" right now, so she had fun on the carousel, and there was a little kid version of the swings, which she loved too.  It is kind of funny to me that I have TWO kids big enough to go on rides right now. Standing on the sidelines with Marc, just watching, felt really funny. Most of all, Tiana loved the piggies.  It was funny. She kept saying, "Awwwwwww.... how cute."

I am going to try really hard to get ahead this week. It is going to be a bit crazy because it is tech week for Vinny. He is in a production of the Sound of Music this week. Marc is volunteering, but I am not, so while I will not be "free" and available to do things this week, I should be able to get some work done. Hopefully. I NEED to get ahead for my sanity.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Snapshots of Week One

I survived the first week back. In fact, I more than survived. As I strolled to my car today, I barely noticed the weight of my purple tie-dyed tote bag. Although it is filled to capacity with papers to grade, the week has been such a joy, I almost don't care that I have hours of grading and entering ahead of me.

I was dreading having a 9th grade advisory class this year, as I typically do not particularly like freshmen, but for a mere 45 minutes a day, particularly at 7:45 a.m., I am almost enjoying their meek, yet eager, obedience. Each morning, they file in quickly and sit down quietly, and as the bell rings, they stare at me like young deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.  It is such a drastic change from the seniors I had last year, who would saunter in 10 minutes late, talk loudly over the announcements while I shushed them repeatedly, slowly finish their breakfasts, and eventually, begrudgingly, take out materials to begin working. 

Drama switched to fifth period, and the music teacher and I are co-teaching it, which I am unbelievably excited about. I can hardly believe what we have built. Today, while Jasmin lead vocal warm ups from the stage, I stood at the edge of our two rows of students. They filled the "pit" area of the auditorium, standing shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall. There are nearly 70 students in our musical theatre ensemble. When I think back to Fall of 2009, when I sat in my small upstairs classroom with 25 students, mostly juniors who had enjoyed my English class the prior year enough to come back for an elective, auditioning students who had never acted before, it seems unreal that we have come so far. I mean, during our musical theatre mind mapping activity on Thursday, I had students who were listing Broadway shows they'd seen, and the names owswsSf method acting greats like Stanislavski and Strasberg. Could it be that I have actually developed a true academic theatre program?  I think so.

And then, there is sixth period. This past week, my colleagues and I were talking about how tough sixth period is. By sixth period, teachers are exhausted. The kids are antsy. The patience and sunshine I usually start the day with fade significantly by sixth period. The past two years, my sixth period has been drama, which kept it fresh, but requires a ton of energy. I managed to survive on passion and caffeine. When I thought of what it would be like to teach another English 10 class after drama, I could not imagine how I would possibly have enough energy.

As it turns out, I must have done something nice to the counselor or something, because my sixth period is pretty awesome. I have bright, refreshing students in that class. As it works out, most of my sophomore drama students are in the class. We (the drama students and I) come out of 5th period full of energy and excitement, and it seems to carry over into sixth. I am able to sort of "play" with this class, and it works out well. I actually really like them. They may turn out to be one of my favorite classes.