Sunday, November 16, 2014

Welcome, my students!

This blog is going to gain an audience for a few months, as I attempt to bridge the gap between work and home with my words.  I will be out on a leave and need to communicate with you, so I am using this as a space for communication.  You can leave comments anonymously, or email replies to videos, articles and other posts, and you will continue to utilize the International Poetry Guild website, where I will comment and respond to your writing, too! To me, teaching is reciprocal -- it is a give and take.  This is why I always try to write the assignment you're working on, and also ask you to workshop my pieces!

Anyhoo, this is a blog, which, as we've already covered, is not a reliable source of information, because it is open source -- and is not fact-checked before published.  This is a public journal and I can say whatever I want, whether it is true or not.  But blogs are useful and important in so many ways, they are how I've figured out my stances on many issues affecting people living in this country, and abroad.  I've bemoaned loss and found love, celebrated life and honored death in this space online, and have done so since 1998, when I first went away to college.  I am looking forward to being able to read all of my old writing someday, and to passing it on for as long as the internet (and humanity) are still around.  This particular blog is my published thoughts on teaching, and it started in 2007, when I was in grad school and learning how to teach, so scroll back if you feel so inclined.

Your job is to read these posts, starting December 22nd, and to write a weekly 2 paragraph response to the lessons/songs/ideas/wonderings that are presented here.  Due to the focus of our unit, I will be posting about the media, corporate vs. public media, and what it means to make your own media here.  There are lots of other blogs that you can visit, on about any topic that you can think of, so this is just the jump off.  Do not feel like you must limit yourself to reading what I write; if I post about a topic, go and look for other blogs or news stories that deal with it to figure out how YOU feel, before you respond. I expect you to disagree with me and I welcome every conversation that we will have here.

Yours in writing,
Ms. Lauren

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Leaving a Trail of Blue

               A home is only a home if I paint the walls blue.  This is about you, Walton Avenue, who I have come to love like Warren Road, like Center Drive.  Streets overflowing with what people have let go of, my block a mismatch of aluminum siding and brownstones; this avenue sounds like clamoring to cabs from bars, on the way home from Yankee stadium.  The echoed melodramas of bar-goers were the music to my midnights, talking only as New Yorkers do, their escapades on display for all of the Concourse to see.  I turned my pillow over and tried to get back to sleep.
I used to crave a home where I felt rested and relaxed, but is still where the pulse pushes blood through the arteries of the city.  This was the first home I’d had since a blue room in Brooklyn, on Manhattan Avenue, where four of the best years of my twenties were spent.   My first order of business here  was to paint the walls blue – blue is a forgetting, smells like starting over, and is the most passionate and pertinent color of my life.
This time, one wall around the window seat was adorned with hues of sea, and I meditated on this finally being a home, having just left the crimson fire of anger and the uncertainty of a friend’s couch.  Here I was starting from scratch, and truly putting into practice the idea of prioritizing me.  Sometimes we who teach are also caretakers of many other souls when we clock out of work.  Sometimes we take the world on our shoulders on Tuesday mornings, and have to give it back in the evening.
I signed the lease as a single woman, happy to be alive, reinforcing my faith in the universe.  I meditated on this for months, and when I met him I was a brick wall in the pouring rain – intent on standing tall and alone, even if it means I got soaked.  He asked me to come in from the rain, but I was dancing.  He asked me to dance with him, but I could only hear my own songs.  He was persistent in his asking, telling his friends with subtle swag that he could win me over.   I was reluctant in the rain, but he walked me home when it poured outside, so I relented to a dance.
We will always be a whirlwind of emotions, so we danced like fire through the next year, and were soon posting photos of tanzanite rings (because he knows I will not wear blood diamonds).  Glen Washington was the soundtrack to him dancing through our apartment, cooking chieh bou yapp, and we got married in a language that I do not speak.  Our life opened up like wildfire on dry grass, soon it was autumn and I was packing our lives into cardboard boxes to bring our love to a new state.
We had also managed to create an epic soul along the way back to Michigan.  Mulay Nasir is a hurricane all his own, with untameable curls and dimples for days, he caused me to step back and look around me like everywhere was home, as long as it contains his laugh.  Every window mine to look out of onto the world, every door welcoming me back, every streetlight shining my walk down Highland.  

We have moved, again.  He complains as he carries a heavy parcel of books, in his thick accent that I have “too much stuff”.  I remind him quietly that I am a teacher, it is a hazard of the job that I fill my life with books and paper.  I am still unpacking my office, which reminds me of the selves I used to keep as my favorite masks, and I still have to paint the walls blue.   My new space is a trek through the universe to a new galaxy, but with my boys, everywhere is home. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

13 years a Tuesday.

this is not the first time I’ve gotten up in Jersey and commuted to my job in the city.  it is not the first time I’ve been to the World Trade Center since 9/11, though I avoided going downtown for years.  this is the first time that I have commuted via the PATH train through the rebuilt tunnels under the collapse.  i will never forget the smell.  it didn’t stop filling my nostrils every time I stepped outside until after Thanksgiving. The fires burned for months, our lesson still simmering beneath our feet.

it is not that first anniversary that I have been a mother: last year I was knitting my hushed meditations in Michigan.  But it is the first time I have carried my child toward the past and asked him to look.
It is important that we see the world. Ms. Sampson’s quote the other day spoke of the decision to separate ourselves and I have been thinking about how we divide and categorize ourselves, how we make arbitrary separations by the color of skin, by the god we pray to, the languages we learn to express ourselves inside of.

all of us seek to be happy, to be free, to choose our lives, be captains of our own vessels, and our pursuits will produce change, will produce distance between you and others.  It is our job to warm the distance, to keep reaching out despite the desire to distract us.

13 years later and I want to cry with how little the world has changed.  our sights have been set on a new enemy, but the war is the same.  our president has a different face now, one that I voted for and believed could possibly change the direction of this country, but his message of domination, of destruction across the world, of “not tolerating terrorists” remains the same.

america, we have not learned our lesson.  I will keep teaching, I will keep speaking, I will keep writing tirelessly, with no audience, because I need to believe that my voice means something.  I need to rock myself and my son to sleep at night with the hope of a better world, a vision for peace that is not passive, but that we can be active participants in a world we shape with our hands.

9/11 means immense sadness, followed by a community of new yorkers that I had never experienced before, and will never experience again.  It means constant engagement with others in the fight to teach on and teach ourselves into a place of understanding.  It means reading and research and understanding america’s role in the middle east as complex, as oppressive, as dominion. It means loss of life, from the folks on the 102nd floor of Tower 1, to the US soldiers deployed to defend our “freedom”, to the Iraqi refugees and Afghani civilians who were killed in our blind pursuit of justice by elimination a shape-shifting enemy.

but it also means recognizing the humanness of each person I meet, speak to, see on the train, pass on the street, see in the news, or never hear about, but has the same goals of respect, of being sustained by life, of living to see 25, of freedom, of passion, of love and direction in an aimless world. It means teaching toward a vision of humanity where empathy is crucial to our daily lesson plan.  as many things in my life unravel themselves, I am finding myself in both/and situations instead of either/or, and i am welcoming the shift.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

can't keep running awayyyyyyy....

the crazy thing is, i feel less in charge of motherhood when he's two than i ever did when he was a baby.  it is often written in the literature that you eventually move into rhythm and things fall into place, but the terrible twos are a grand canyon away from me figuring anything out.  i feel more like a failure these days than anything else, because i get upset, have to remove myself from the room and come back to it, composed, ready to talk about why.  he doesn't care about why.  instant gratification is our first language, and i am always worried that i have babied him, spoiled him by learning fluency in this language first.

but how can i not?  i hear stories of children being bombed in a school in Gaza, being beaten by their peers on the slide, being bullied until they'd rather not live through this, being shot by police officers just for being themselves, and sometimes the only reflex that i have is to give in and say yes.  to hold him and tell him that he is valued, his life is important.  too many people have said no, pulled triggers on the education of our youth, and i remember reading something that Kate sent me a few months ago about why our country hates its children.  how can we, a "developed nation", allow our students to go with a sub-par education, poisonous food, violent streets and not enough options?  how can America starve its own children of the knowledge they need to succeed and survive?

(this needs a clever transition here)

i am nesting again - building branches of a home with so much material, and trying to make it bright and bold.  i am trying to take care of the space where we are ourselves and no one questions us (dr. angelou).  i am droppin' revolution (sekou) on the floor as i scrub and clean the kitchen, again.  taking care of a home is consistent job, and this is another of my insecurities.  but i am not a housewife, except on weekends, and this is not a book that closes with happily ever anything.  this is real, and it is messy, and it must be cleaned.  that is a home, and i am bowing my head everyday, because the disaster is a blessing.  it is loving the color of time, and spending a day to reinvigorate your apartment, while he sleeps.

Monday, August 4, 2014

lost in dilla, found in outkast

the reality of transition was sitting on my front porch, greeting me this morning.   child in mid-tantrum because he forgot his toy in the house, locked door, tumbling too many bags in my arms.  i often wonder the determinations people make about me when they see me at the corners of my life, making decisions quickly with too much resting on my brain.  our across-the-street neighbors have told me our antics are their entertainment on slow summer afternoons.

near tears in the frantic moment -- i paused, found key, opened door, let him in to retrieve Mickey Mouse, who he carries around like another limb, retrieved his ball from under the hostas. i took a breath, shoved assorted extra things into the car.  walked down the street with him, to briefly let him roam before confining him into the carseat. mornings are not pretty right now, but my life very much relies around routine, and i am always nervous about the shift to a new routine.  but this time, i am shifting another human being's routine, intentionally.  and i don't take this lightly.

none of this is taken lightly.  moving is never easy, but it's always only been me before.  this is the first time that i leave, and i take someone with me who is deeply connected to my family.  and i have to figure out how to keep the connection strong, how to strengthen it from afar.  it has been a struggle, these past two years, to meld my families together - that of choice with that of blood.  the struggle is ongoing and fierce, at this juncture.  we do not like to change, and we rear our fear when someone asks us to rethink what we've always known to be true.

but i refuse to choose between family.  we do not choose one another in a blood family, but we must love one another unconditionally.  this is my definition of family = unconditional love.  loving beyond faults, letting people breathe and be themselves, sometimes in their tantrum-rage glory.  just like you did not choose me, you did not choose him - why can you not find it in your heart to bring love out?  you know that it will only multiply with the giving.  i will show you what i mean.

so, i am going, but i will continue to show up.  i will continue to be there, because my love for you is unconditional.  you may not always love the choices i make, where and how i operate my life, but it is mine, and you are part of it.  you can't get rid of me that easily.  but i also promise you this.  i am the black sheep, and i have learned how to embrace my position on the fringes -- and operate outside of the boundaries of normalcy.  i will always question everything, risk everything, and sometimes lose, often fail.  but i am never really gone, we are always right here, and i will prove to you how bright our love can feel from afar.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

today i am sankofa, i must look back to move forward.  from 2002, i was calling to you, just waiting for you to formally accept the challenge.  nam myoho renge kyo. 

*as always*

of books thrown from balconies
onto white streets, of sheets
closing over one body.

we kept the lights on
throughout violent storms
of vacant arms,
bringing hush to a close,
saying goodnight.

it's not my style to leave
without waking you, so
i wake you from far away,
with my metal door latching.
the sounds of the ways i wish i want.

(as always)

is not a truth held to lips
quieter than anything on my skin,
there is more hush to me
than there used to be.

fold over, unhinging
my back from my you's,
cascade down and lightning, later.
repeat home until home
leaves for elsewhere.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

why grit resonates with me.

my organization has been focused on grit this year, or the idea that teaching students how to persevere through difficult times is a coping skill that is connected to success.  our field-based research and practice has revolved around how we ourselves, as educators, become gritty and model this character trait for our students.  Angela Duckworth is the leading researcher on this concept, and she has written and spoken extensively about her findings.

i have a personal connection to this concept; my Finnish heritage informs much of what i do, and our national identity revolves around "sisu", which means "tenacity", translated into English.  we pride ourselves as a country on our resilience; throughout history the Finns were repeatedly conquered and have had to fight to maintain our sense of identity, our land, our language and our livelihood in the frigid climate near the North Baltic Sea.  my grandparents tell the family stories that their parents told them of the old country: of difficult fishing seasons and hunting for scarce game in order to keep their families fed in subzero temperatures.

this is why grit resonates with me so much - i've been taught this character trait through my family, and it's become a part of my life and outlook.  when i taught high school, we talk about coping strategies and how they can get through tough times by using humor, the creative process and other outlets for dealing with anger, grief and depression.  my next entry will be a final project for a class i'm taking, about how i'm applying character education to my classroom, and grit is the trait that resonates with me so clearly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

gemini rising

there are simultaneously two things happening in my mind.

1) mourning the decision finding Jordan Davis's killer not guilty.  this part speaks of the unspeakable pain and suffering of losing a child, that so many people experience daily in our collective past.  the system is not broken, it is functioning exactly as it was designed:
On the Killing of Jordan Davis

2) envisioning a future of peace and non-violence.  this part has to exist, or i would be catatonically depressed at the state of our nation and of our world.  the violence seems unceasing, but i have to believe that it is possible to make change.  for me, it is just one person at a time.  my contributions are small, but i am vibrantly, electrically overjoyed about the blessings i have in my life.
Pharrell Williams - Happy

it is difficult to have these things co-exist, but one thing that i have learned this year is that life is not either/or, it is both/and.  it is moments like this when i remember that i am a gemini.   good morning. :)

Monday, January 27, 2014

the kitchen table

i am learning more about the other side of education than the one i knew at Banana Kelly.  i often say that education does not only happen in classrooms, it happens on softball fields, and hockey rinks and soccer pitches and front stoops, and kitchen tables.  though i was a coach and after-school educator in my past, i have mostly worked in classrooms or computer labs, and have access to lots of materials that can help me help kids.  so while my job as a teacher is challenging, i do have resources at my fingertips.

i am learning about home - and educating at home, as well as at work.  because it is easy to come home from teaching and vegetate.  i will often lay like broccoli on my couch and imbibe the d-i-y attitudes of folks on HGTV.  but my son raises his hands, asking to be held, and wants to continue learning when i get home.  i need to find the patience and energy to begin a new lesson, the most important one of the day, after my energy is completely spent.  we are writing, drawing, dancing, moving, listening to music... i am starting off slow.  but i want to be organized enough to come home with a daily lesson, something to share with my favorite student (who is already schooling me on life and what's important).

i plan to send m.j. to public schools, because i am a public school educator and i believe in it.  this will be a struggle within my family, but i'm confident in my ability to supplement and enrich what he's doing in school and provide growth opportunities at home.  recently i've started to toy with the idea of teaching him at home, though it's not a foreseeable financial reality, i know that i could teach him well and raise a conscious, aware and critically thinking child.  but he also needs socialization, and i am an interloper at heart, i love to be within institutions so that i can examine and deconstruct them.

i've also been interrogating what my next steps are, and i miss the classroom endlessly - but i want to change the shape and nature of where i work and who i serve, as i'm not where i want to be right now.  i want to work with incarcerated youth next, as there is a location where unconditional love is needed.  i want to travel, often.  i want to see the world and continue learning how to become a better teacher. i don't want to be an administrator.  i always want to work directly with students.  and i want to retire from teaching and become a DJ, spinning in the barn on our farm.  but i hope that the farm too can become a place for teaching, because i will never retire from my desire to grow.