It has been A WEEK Wait - is it really only Tuesday? Yes! But it's not your average week. Yesterday was Halloween Eve, today is Halloween, and tomorrow and all week is post-Halloween (sugar comas, candy wrappers all over school, sticky hands). Language differences, disparities in behavioral expectations in different cultures and schools, social-emotional ups and downs all combined with the excitement of Halloween to make my small class "spirited" as a very kind and diplomatic colleague said. Or, as I said, it was a sh-- show.
It is a hard thing to admit, feeling like a failure at the job you have been doing for years and that you really do love. I don't know a single teacher who does not feel this way at times. And yet, we keep coming back and trying again. I would wager that other teachers have had these thoughts too: why don't I have a job where I go to an office every day and do not have to deal with 12-14 year-old people? Is there another job that would not keep me up at night as much, worrying about my students and planning different ways to engage and teach them? Why not sell perfume in the cosmetics department at Macy's? What if I drove a truck, like my hair stylist recently left the salon to do? Open roads, good money, travel?
Now, I know that every profession and every job has its ups and downs, its challenges and its hard to deal with people. Still, there is something about teaching that drains and exasperates a person.
So, why do we do it? Besides the fact that we need to continue getting a steady paycheck?
Because I get to come to school on Halloween and be Glinda the Good Witch and the kids totally get it.
Because I see the joy and excitement about coming to a new school and learning English, and making new friends in the face of my newly arrived student from Cape Verde and it keeps me going.
Because my student who is separated from her mom needed my shoulder last week to cry on.
Because my class can sometimes be a much-needed refuge for my students, who are holding it together despite the many adverse situations, family challenges, and trauma.
Because sometimes your students call you "Mami" and it doesn't phase you.
Because your students might come to your door on Halloween night and happily say, "Is that you Ms.Lopez?" and it makes your day better.
Because if something doesn't work out or go the way you planned, you go back to that classroom over and over again, and you try different things until something does work. Eventually, something will work! At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Wishing all teachers out there a calm day tomorrow. Happy Halloween!
My friend Julie and me at school today
"Perhaps my favorite of these words is saudade, a Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again. My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: 'a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.' "
I love this word, saudade and feel like in my soul, I get it - I understand that longing for something, that nostalgia for something that maybe never happened or something you didn’t experience. The Gallegos of Galicia, Spain have a similar word: morriña; in Spanish there is also the word añoranza, which is like a yearning or longing.
The millions of Puerto Ricans who were born and stateside might feel the same as me about the beautiful nostalgia of Puerto Rico. I've never lived in Puerto Rico, though I have been plenty of times and have strong connections to family, friends, and places there;. My mother never lived even there either, though she at least grew up in a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood to Puerto Rican-born parents. They came to New York as “pioneros”, one of the first generations to make the mainland their home. I also lived in Brooklyn and in Queens, but then grew up in mostly white Belchertown, MA. Luckily I had many connections to our culture and to the language, and as many stateside Puerto Ricans, claimed my pride in being Boricua and passed that pride on to my kids.
My real and imaginary memories of Puerto Rico are intertwined with my saudade. Memories of palm trees swaying in the heat, of singing and dancing from one door to the next during the Christmas parrandas. I remember family visits that lasted hours, the adults drinking coquito or Cuba Libres. I remember the warm bath water of the beaches and the thick density of the rainforest. The coqui’s beautiful chirping is music to my ears, and I dream of holding one in the cup of my hand until it leaps away. I see the fruit trees and the jibaros, or country folk on coffee plantations, straw pavas on their heads to shield their faces from the sun. I feel the downpour of rain on my head while my parents and I wash the heat off our bodies. I feel my stomach churning, riding in cars up impossibly steep and narrow roads with breathtaking views and sheer drops off to the side. I hear my Titi Sara stirring condensed milk into my cup of cafe con leche, and when I bring it to my lips it is like tasting heaven. I feel the freezing water coming out of a pressure-less shower head refreshing my sticky body. I can call up the content feeling of rocking in a hammock in my soul. I cook as if the sazon and sofrito come out of my own veins to give my food the rich, unmistakable flavor of our food.
Some of these memories are very real, from many trips taken to Puerto Rico and time spent with family. Some are very real, but are not from time on the island, but time spent with family in Brooklyn. Some of these memories are not memories at all but wishes, or words from books and song lyrics come alive in my head.
My saudade extends to Spain, where my dad’s family is from too. I think I have successfully passed on this remembering and these feelings of both places to my children. Even though they are now 3rd generation Puerto Rican (and 2nd generation Spanish), they feel connected to both places. Thanks to a soul-filling trip to PR last year, and many trips to Spain, they will now have some of the memories, sounds, and sights to carry with them for a long time. On the flipside, they will be like me: always missing the other place.
The recent hurricane and the devastation in Puerto Rico have reactivated my feelings of saudade. I feel deep sorrow, profound sadness and anxious worry for my island and my people. Tears roll down my cheeks when I see what el Yunque looks like post-hurricane. I instinctively want to fly down and help - though I know it is impossible and probably not actually helpful. I feel pain for those here who are still waiting to hear from loved ones, and for those who are suffering, who have lost everything. Rage overcomes me when I see the president of this country lobbing paper towels off to crowds of people, flippantly. Those paper towels can’t come close to wiping the countless collective tears of Puerto Ricans.
I also feel joy and pride when I see how the same people sing and rejoice and rebuild and help one another by cleaning debris, cooking, and serving coffee to their neighbors. I am moved by the strength and resilience of my people. My love for them and Puerto Rico overflows; the giant Puerto Rican diaspora is united as one. My saudade is as strong as ever.