Wednesday, December 5, 2012

on googling oneself

it has come to pass that i will google myself from time to time.  sometimes these searches uncover old blog entries from 1999 that i can't believe are still archived somewhere in cyberspace - for they are inane and probably embarrassing, were i to read them.  sometimes i am performing these searches for curiosity, but mostly around the time that i might be applying for a job, to see what potential employers would see were they to google me.   do employers do this anymore?  i'm not sure.  but my students do, i learned last week, when i assigned a memoir to them and preceded the assignment with the story of my leg injury from 2008.  i facetiously mentioned "crime scene photos" referring to the photos that i took of the accident in order to document it, and they dutifully browsed on over to google to see if they could search news stories from the Bronx that would tell the harrowing tale of my violent confrontation with... a midget?  a chainsaw? Edward Scissorhands?  they weren't sure.

in a recent google search, i also happened upon a library catalog of every zine and chapbook i've ever published, which was enormously exciting to me, to know that even if only on the internet, somewhere in history i am listed as an author of 8 books.  time collapsed as these "books" were succinctly described to curious searchers (i.e. me) and i remembered cutting, pasting, drawing, copying and stapling my publications together so many years ago.

two more recent finds that made me a little teary were as follows:

the PBS News Hour report that featured my classroom in 2011...

my acceptance speech for the Courageous Educator award that I received on the morning of my wedding, with my husband-to-be, parents and grandparents in attendance...

moral of the story - i should google myself every once in awhile, to remember some of my favorite life moments, even if no one else is searching for me :)


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

on leaving BK

At the end of what was an incredibly emotional year for me and the entire Banana Kelly community, I began getting emails from my boss that each started off like this: "Due to the closure of Banana Kelly High School..." followed by all the logistical procedures we had to follow at the end of the year. It was incredibly insensitive, when I was literally attending a wake for an educational community that I worked in wholeheartedly, to receive emails reminding us of our own demise.

“Due to the closure of Banana Kelly High School” rings in my ears as "due to the closure of my family" - which doesn't make sense, because families cannot end. The building we existed in, the brick and mortar, was taken from us, but we have always bled our ties out into the streets, and I will be upset with my students if they walk by me on 161st and do not acknowledge that we know one another. (Thank you, Gary Lemons) I still said hi to Rashad on the 2 train last week, who I taught 4 years ago in a summer program and haven't seen since, still remembered his name, because he was and is important to me.

I’ve written testaments before to the ways this school has impacted me, which I’ve read at public hearings and had published in local newspapers as symbols of resistance to the closing of this community space. But as I’m sitting at home in the summer-time, knowing that I will not return to have a classroom there in the fall, I am feeling the loss in a much deeper way. With the contents of my educational life filling up the small room that will soon serve to hold my first child’s firsts, I can’t help to wonder about the fate of my FIRST CHILDREN, at the hands of the DOE. I vow to still advocate for them from afar and support them in succeeding throughout their lives. Because this is for life.

It hurts to make the choice to leave, because ultimately, it will be the children of this community who will lose out again, who will suffer from enduring the rest of their high school years with just-out-of-college educators who will quit and leave in succession. It hurts that their graduation and Regents scores will suffer from the revolving-door that surely follows, which has grave implications on their ability to go to college and train for careers. I believe that we’ve installed enough fighting spirit into them, that they will find alternate paths to their dreams, and push toward them, but they are my children and I worry. Because I am no longer paid to teach them lessons doesn’t mean that the caring can stop. How can you stop caring for a person who you have watched grow, who has watched you grow?

But, as a colleague said, we have our professional and personal dignity, and need to make a decision that is best for us. There is no conspiracy here; which is perhaps even more powerful. We all made choices that are best for us, independently. Very few of us are choosing to return, because everything we loved about BK was enclosed in a few rebel classrooms inside the new republic. Incarcerating, arresting kids, pushing them toward the jail cell and away from the diploma is not how I choose to interact with my children, with my family. We talk of love, honesty, respect and how to grow. We turn fights and arguments into debates and discussions of sociology - why do we act the way we do? What causes our anger, personally and socially? None of us is perfect, but we get to know one another, accept one another and (until last fall) be peaceful with one another. This year was one of violence, and my room became an island of doves with olive branches.

I have an exit letter that I have written to my boss. I hem and haw over if and when to email it to him, as it is harsh and concise, yet includes much-needed knowledge about working with people. He needs lessons in what it means to respect someone. I did not re-apply to the school after we were excessed, and did not apply elsewhere in New York, as I am going to embark upon a career change. It will still be education based, but in the classroom of my home. Now, if you’re keen in senses, you’ve probably realized that I have trouble building boundaries between education and family - as they become intertwined in my life. But it does not make me a better teacher to be cold and disconnected, my students say that one reason they like the way I teach is because I tell stories. I am human, I have experiences that lend themselves well to characters we read about, lessons we discuss. Who I am is a part of how I teach.

My advice to my boss in the exit letter is - be human, let them be human, show them who you are, what you value, what your passion is, and they will respect and listen to you. Not all of the time, but most of the time. It astounds me that he views the world from a very binary perspective - us vs. them, and has not paused to consider the commonalities we have with our students.

This reflection will end with the irony that right after the last day of school, an arbitrator made the decision that the school closings and re-openings were not happening. Banana Kelly will not become CPAL after all (fingers crossed). But perhaps even more bleak is that most of the staff will still be leaving, because despite our love of the kids, it is an inhospitable environment for learning. New textbooks won’t solve a lack of love at home, or generations of drug abuse. They certainly won’t solve the problems of this Bronx community, nor of the racist school system that believes in feeding the prison industrial complex with my children. I refuse to believe that death and jail are the two options for these youth, and choose to educate in a place where other futures are written, not in a place where they first gain a criminal record.

To my students, who I know will never read this, but will have bright futures if it’s the last thing they do... to my esteemed colleagues, who have taught me so much about the craft, the art of teaching... to my island, who have held me together when everything was falling apart... and to my family, everyone who ever roamed the halls of Banana Kelly when Quci was dancing, or Roro was maccin, or T-Skillz was wilin, or Daniel was yelling, or A was saying “ladies and gentlemen, it is now 3rd period... it is time for class!”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Poems for Week 3

One thing that I've learned in the process of doing the Poem-A-Day exercise is that I am horrible with the discipline of writing everyday just because I'm supposed to... but that I have and will always respond to deadlines. Week 3 is here... week 4 to follow shortly, because I feel the pressure to finish them by the 30th. Self-imposed pressure is how I usually get things done, but I don't control how the words come to me. I swear I write them almost everyday, but not nearly as often are they anything worth posting on a website.

April 15
There is life flowing
under the cracked concrete
where the grass is upending
man's footprint. This is
where I will make my
next imprint.

April 16
It is up to me to bring
meditation into this madness,
to keep the peace I seek
between my fingertips,
beneath the skin of belly,
inside the cavern
that contains you,
my teacher.

The roles are reversed
and I will soon become
a student of your academy,
a disciple of your divine order.
I am humbled already by
all that you will teach me
on the first day of class.

The more I know, the more
I realize how deep
learning can really go,
and how I have yet
to scratch any surfaces.

April 17
The sun on my skin
in a crowded park in
the south Bronx.
This is my afternoon,
and where I can take
a breath and see the
beauty of ball hitting glove,
where I see you pushing
yourselves physically,
but even more importantly,
bridging gaps between islands
and learning to love one another,
faults and all.

April 18
you inspire me to see art
wherever I go,
and to make art
wherever I am.
i love your fierce
determination to right
wrongs in creative
avenues of brick
you mortar'd yourself.
i am constantly in
awe of you, PJ.

April 19
dear eli:
all that i wish for you
on the day you celebrate
your grand entrance,
is that there are items
of hilariously wrong
sizes all around you,
that love rings in your ears,
and that music fills you
& overflows.

April 20
Yes, this is disorganized
Yes, this is unfair
Yes, the deck is stacked against you,
Yes, I really care.
You are asking all of the
right questions, and I am
confident that some of you
will join me on this path,
in this fight for justice
through everyday lessons.

April 21
One month and we will
formally thread our fingers
into an eternal knot.
There is no one else
with whom I'd rather
be intertwined.

April 22
Earth mama
moon goddess
dark banshee,
will you forsake us,
who have trashed
your frame in
our own image?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poems for Week 2

Here are my National Poetry Month poems for week 2 -- a little belated as I was on vacation in Detroit and incredibly busy. It is good to feel welcomed at home, then fly home and feel like I have multiple places where I am accepted and loved for who and how I am. I am truly blessed.

April 8
It is warm enough
to have the heat hustle
you awake, but the wind
is a swindler; this is
the time that we all
hopefully underdress...
when we are careless
in leaving the jacket at home
because we are looking
for photosynthesis.
We are budding and
forming our foliage, too.
This year, I will wear
every color I can get
myself into and be the
brightest bird in any nest.

April 9
In high school, James
used to paint at the
laundromat. The unique
machine-controlled swirls
of color must lend themselves
to oil well, because I bought
a painting of his, bursting
with the brightness I wish
everyday could hold.
I don't know if I've ever
seen those hues replicated,
even in nature, and certainly
not in mass-produced dye lots.
I guess laundry day can be
a source of inspiration
and not a chore, after all.

April 10
Time has no boundary
and I have known you
for years longer than the
calendar would mislead
others to believe.
How do I explain to others
that our souls have been
meeting in the ocean
for centuries, that the
first time you said
my name it was in
our native tongue.
Why should anyone ever
have to explain love?

Those of us who are
blessed enough to be
in its arms should know
that words fall flat
in the face of forever,
and that the promise of
always is not nearly
long enough to love you

April 11
This place is my heart
living outside of my body.
The walls are made of
the people I hold dear,
the windows are photos
of Huron river landscapes,
of 96 and the Lodge,
of the train station's skeleton,
but the roof is my
protective force field,
sealing weather and
wounds alike.

April 12
what happens when
your dream changes
shape, becomes a dragon
breathing fire under you?
when I can recognize it
in its new form, but the
world sees only differences,
not the sameness of our stride?
when people tell me that
I have changed, that I have
transformed into a new being,
but I still see myself in
every reflective surface?
are we not allowed to grow,
to deepen our desires as
we overflow with all
we now know?

April 13
Sacrifice is a sacred secret,
but we are both burning
with the rituals we have
created, and heading headlong
into uncharted waters.
We can swim in our severed
service of old ideals, or we
can boldly brave the horizon
and remember that risk is
necessary for new rituals
to rise. Let's make this a
perfect prayer, and praise
the miracles within
and without.

April 14
your mind begins to unravel
when you unhinge yourself
from its focus. when you love
others first, you cannot
always remember the details...
but every love takes
precedence over my own
need to be loved. by giving,
i hope to open up new
avenues of reception.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Poems for Week 1

Realistically, I'm not a good entry-a-day person, but I have been writing a poem a day, so I'm committing to a weekly update of poems. Here is volume one, April 1st - 7th. Enjoy!

April 1st
I never like this day,
working in a high school.
It always reminds me of
the cruelty we contain
in our frames. I prefer
days that celebrate
the goodness of people,
not their humiliation.

April 2nd
Being a mother is something
that happens long before
you take first breath.
You are already taking shape
in my memory, as I dream
for you what you might live.
I hope that it’s better
than anything I could plan
for you. I also hope your
dreams do backflips over mine.

April 3rd
I woke up today with
the sun in my veins.
You were in a Dakar dream,
and I watched the peace
you find while resting.
I hope I can bring waking peace
of comparable caliber
to your conscious days.
I hope you know how
you have blessed me,
and how I reciprocate.
I woke this morning grateful
for love in all its forms,
but especially for yours.

April 4th
a community shares the mic
and cafeteria tables in the
run-down multi-purpose room.
faded fruit and
vegetable murals peeling on
the salmon walls do not
reflect the vibrant feeling.
tonight we spoke from
our hearts and from
the bottoms of our
souls, where we store
our morals.
justice begins by
moving our feet.

April 5
Some people warn me
about being burned,
as if the way that I love
is on accident. It doesn’t
matter how much you
take from me, possessions
are not my health - I don’t
guard them with care.
Take my earthly things,
take everything I have.
I will still open my heart
to you. In my opinion,
there isn’t any other
way to love.

April 6
you looked up at the screen
while she was measuring
the radius and ulna,
so eager to hear that first
cry, to have those lungs
take first breath. we watched
the heart beat and i grabbed
your hand, because this
is a long journey
and sometimes
i will need to hold onto you
for balance.

April 7
sometimes the quiet
says what i cannot
effectively convey:
i love your serious ways.
i miss your carefree smile.
i am your interior reflection.
i’ll be your mirror.
i’m there when you need me,
only a phone call away.
i promise i won’t screen your
motives for evidence.
my voice-mail is full.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

National Poetry Month!

I am excited for national poetry month this year, and because I seem to be writing so many essays and manifestos lately, I want to return to my original love and do the Poem-A-Day contest. I'm encouraging my students to complete this challenge for extra credit as well, and I hope a few of them take me up on it. I'm a few days behind so I'll have to catch up... but here are some National Poetry Month resources if you're interested for your own writing, or for your classroom. - Gives you ideas for every day and place to register your blog/website so others participating can read your poems. - is Writers' Digest's Poem-A-Day Challenge - celebrates National Poetry Month.

Here is my first poem -- I'll be back with a few poems a day until I catch up.

April 4th
a community shares the mic
and cafeteria tables in the
run-down multi-purpose room.
faded fruit and
vegetable murals peeling on
the salmon walls do not
reflect the vibrant feeling.
tonight we spoke from
our hearts and from
the bottoms of our
souls, where we store
our morals.
justice begins by
moving our feet.

Friday, March 30, 2012

what i miss already about bkhs.

i am used to the pace of a school at 9:05 a.m. - noise building like a wave, crashing into the door of 208. there is always news, abby and marquis, osiris and jonathan putting away their coats. my room is a storage locker, is a place for secretly charging phones, is a place where we think and create and don't always get along. sara or keishnaly are usually first, pick up books and start reading. then you slowly filter in, quietly, sometimes sleepily asking what we're doing. lisa and jarrod make their entrance, eat their breakfast even though everyone knows that you can't eat in here. sometimes i make them go out into the hall, but mostly i just tell them to hurry up and get reading, no jelly on the pages.

i am already a mom, because i know the small things. which kids will only use pencil, which will only use pen. who will come in at 10:25 to strategically miss reading time everyday, mocha in hand (at least bring me one, felix!) which days i can joke around with china, and which days to let her be. when domo will participate and when her agenda is more important than anything i could ever have to say today.

but there are so many things i already miss, after a day of missing work. the way my room is vibrant during lunch, but kids are focused on doing work. melvin standing on a chair to mimic drunken Walter in "A Raisin in the Sun". how three is the magic number of a classroom - it takes 3 warnings for you to change your behavior and get on task. i never like to kick people out, because this room is also yours. while many classrooms are not a democracy (amanda), i try to make mine as much yours as i can. we have all carved out our corners. we migrated to a self-selected seating chart everyday, and eventually learn how to work while near our friends. that will be useful in college.

i have so many memories of just this room, and there's 3 years of 318 to also write down. i will be quite a busy woman this fall, because there are books on my brain and finally some time to write them. but the irony is - i will be writing about the thing i miss, like darius's random poetic moments after rolling around the floor with a basketball, and it will only be weeks before i must be back in the chaos of school. i have chosen you for a reason; there is no other place where i feel so alive. but the balance is shifting and i've learned in these last few months how truly important it is to prioritize myself. i will return to the classroom with renewed spirit, and a whole other reason for living, a new electricity. i am already mom to some (like bree and the softball team) but i will now be mom to one.

this past year has changed me irreversably. i was talking to priscilla about it the other day. the difference from me in 2008, your freshman year, to now, is almost unrecognizable. but that's how it should be - we should ALWAYS be growing, learning new things, challenging ourselves, whether we're in school or not. chasity asked me if i knew the meaning of life the other day, and i said yes. she looked at me like i was crazy and said "what is it?" and i replied "to become happy. to discover who we are, truly be that person and be happy in our lives, whatever happens to us."

this is what i strive for, why i teach and what i've learned from banana kelly. there is so much more to this story - like amelia and joselyn and cassandra - la isla de la verdad, an island that i go to whenever i need to unwind. like travis and jeff, my original sons, like LPS in detroit, playing my grandma's organ and meeting my whole family. maybe they were never all poets (except lechuga and jeff), but they were always up for adventure and full of hilarity. i want to finally screen the whole detroit video before you graduate.

the story of bk has yet to be fully written, and i am not the one to do it justice... but i am happy to add a chapter to the text of a small school that was so ethical because it was founded on caring adults forming a family structure. it carried with it all the drama of a family, all the fights and struggles of balancing work with money with everyone's needs, but i am proud of having been a part of this community, and it must keep living on with us.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


i find it funny that in a monumental year of change in my life, i am unable to pick up a pen. it is not that i've converted to the keyboard, because the pen and paper have always been my first love, but i've been shy about committing words the same way i've committed my life. i am just that astounded by what has changed, by my willingness to open up, accept that i am not always right, not always in control, and grow up. while people have often told me that i am the one that holds it together, i always feel one step away from falling apart, in at least one facet of my life.

but it was time, because from here, it's alllll construction. this is about building - metaphorically, literally, professionally, personally and spiritually. i have always been horrible at holding up the boundaries between professional and personal. i don't know how not to tell you the whole story of who i am. i don't think it's real to pretend that teachers are fractured people without home lives, their own struggles, who have made us who we are. and i don't know how to teach without telling you stories.

so i want to tell you a story. this one is about a home i've held onto white white knuckles for 4 years, a crazy, hectic and wonderful cacophony of students and teachers, who truly do interact like family. unfortunately, our family was separated, because schools cannot be families, too... and we've had to try to maintain our identity, while being told to drastically change. we are losing this battle, but not the war. because no matter where we land, we will stay together. this is how families are. i may not always be around, but i try to be when you need me... and have learned to be vulnerable from you, too. you will come to my wedding, hold my children, tell me how college is going, how you are growing, what you are reading. you are a part of my breath, you are a part of my soul.

i am tired of being told that things are getting torn down. i am tired of destruction, i want construction to take precedence in each and every person's own life, in their passion, in their spirit, their family and their career. i want to sodder in a new degree of happiness, build an extra room for the expansion in my heart. i want to take the roof off my house sometimes, though sometimes i will lay bricks in a threshold, for a moment. i refuse to deconstruct, disconnect, detach, when there's so much room for us to grow.

so let's build, please. because this is for life, and for the growth that is always possible.