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.
In my brain, I had written a blog post just a few weeks ago! School began and the pace of everything got furiously fast and relentless, as teaching and administrating often are. And then came the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Feeling stuck and irrelevant, I was too sad to write or post anything.
There is a collective sadness and heightened state of anxiety, and also a sense of community, among Puerto Ricans everywhere. We have family and friends no one has heard from in Puerto Rico. Some of my closest friends, my colleagues and my students have parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins they have not heard a word from since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
As teachers, we have to keep doing what we do. Our students count on us to be there for them, every day. In a way, it is a blessing because we stay occupied and have less brain space to obsessively think about the sadness and destruction. This week was a great reminder for me of this.
On Thursday, my energy was low and so were my spirits, as were those of many of my colleagues who grew up in PR and have immediate family members there. Still, I had to turn my attention to my class. This year I have the same group of 9 students in English and social studies. As always, there is a wide range of studentship skills, English levels, and maturity. I was feeling frustrated, in particular, with the low maturity levels of some of the students. Right in the middle of us playing Kahoot (which might explain why they were so happy), one student mentioned that she loved my class. It started a chain reaction of others saying, "Yeah, I look forward to coming here!", and "It's my favorite class!". One student shouted out "I love you Ms.Lopez!". Then she ran over to the front of the room where I was and hugged me. I told her she had made my day, and I told all of them I love them too. They really did make my day. Their words and smiles filled my heart and put things back into perspective for me.
That same night, one of my students sent me a heartfelt email in Spanish asking me if I could think of any fundraising we could do at school to help people on the island. She had still not heard any news from her grandmother, but she was holding it together well in school. The next day, I told the class about the email, and I told the student that I had already started planning a fundraiser and would definitely need her help. She smiled, and for the moment, looked somewhat relieved.
In these moments, as much as we need solace and relief ourselves, our students need it even more. Every small gesture counts. Don't be afraid to say something comforting to your Puerto Rican students this week.
Stay tunes for a new blog post every 2 weeks on Saturday or Sunday if I can! Thanks for following.
I am a napper. My family and friends know this about me. Especially in the summer. I nap daily if I can.
Part of my back to school blues every year is knowing that I will not be able to nap, except for on weekends. Some time around mid-August I lose my ability to shut everything out and fall asleep. I get comfortable, ambient music in my ears and eye mask blocking out the light. But it seems I soon as I start to relax and fade into siesta-land, I am startled awake. My brain refuses to shut off. Ideas pop into my head, like a Facebook feed that is constantly on scroll mode.
I've noticed more and more Facebook posts from teacher friends and teacher websites lamenting the end of summer and sharing anxiety about the first day of school. As I go into my 23rd year of teaching this week, I can tell you I still have very vivid anxiety dreams about the start of school. They usually start in late July/early August and are a definite sign that summer is on its way out soon.
In my administrative role, I have been back at school for a while now - in a way I got the anxiety out of my system as I was swept up in the million and one details to help get the school ready for Day 1. But, other things help me get over my anxiety. Here are a few you might try too.
Wishing all the teachers out there an excellent start to their year, whether you are a first year teacher or a veteran teacher!
Buena suerte! Bon courage! Good luck! May peace and love always win.
Dear CF Elementary School,
We're breaking up with you. It's not you - it's us.
The last 11 years have been unforgettable, but it is time for us to move on. You have been there for us since our son first entered your doors as a curious, excited 5 year old boy. Though we had a hard time letting go, Mrs.Wilcox helped him to feel comfortable and cared for right away in her classroom. Our daughters first walked through your doors as preschool students. Their inclusive preschool class was a glimpse of what was to come in their future classrooms: a place for every student to thrive and learn and to explore the world.
Now, at 6th grade graduation, we feel bittersweet pain as we watch our youngest daughter walk across the stage to be handed her graduation certificate. We know the final moment of our break-up is looming. It was inevitable, but somehow, it snuck up on us.
We can still be friends. We would hate to never see you again. From Principal Wiley to Principals Shea and Conklin, you have supported and included our kids and us. Thanks to your wonderful office staff, Angela and Cathy, for always making us feel welcome and loved, and for taking care of so many details for so many families.
CF Elementary, your teachers are dedicated and passionate. From Mrs.Wilcox, Dr.Preston, Ms. Vance, Mrs.Mattone and Mr.Silverstone in the early grades to Mrs.Robinson, Mrs.Donovan and Mr.Prather in the higher grades - you were always pushing our kids to think, create, be kind, be strong, and be proud. The 2 great kids you taught and counseled and loved are off and running; the third is now ready to do the same.
We honor your art teachers, your librarians, your P.E. teachers, your music and band teachers, your paraeducators, your cafeteria staff and your custodial staff. Without everyone working together, CF would not have the same joyful and safe vibe it has.
You have been our community for 11 years. You have loved, nurtured, and taught. You have been there for us. Your sturdy walls made our kids safe; your airy and light-filled classrooms provided them with the space they needed to learn and grow. We were so good together.
We never meant to hurt you. It's just time for us to move on. It breaks our heart to have to say good-bye to you.....Instead we will say "See you later". We have a feeling you aren't gone for good.
The day is here! Your graduation from high school. Every time I see you, you remind me and ask if I will be there, and I say, "Yes! Of course!" You also remind me of what I said 4 years ago: that I couldn't wait to be there to see you graduate, that you could count on my presence. Don't be embarrassed if you hear me yelling your name in the audience when you walk across the stage!
I remember well when you first arrived. It was March, and we had just gotten a huge snowstorm. You had never seen snow. You were living with a parent you had not grown up with. You were adjusting to a new school, new people, a new culture and language. It was a lot to handle for your 14 year old self, but you did it with grace and strength. Your father impressed me with his hands-on approach with his 7 kids. He wanted the best for you and came by school unannounced to check up on you. It was easy to tell him how great you were doing, and how hard you worked.
There were days you cried, and I cried with you. It was lonely for you, a very social girl with many friends back home. Classmates and teachers ignored you - not purposely to be mean, but because they did not know how to interact with someone who didn't speak a lot of English. But you made it through, and on the last day of school, I was sad to see you go, knowing at the same time that you would soar and reach places even you did not know you were reaching for.
When you first came, your career goal was to become a flight attendant. Now you want more. You want to study in the science/technology fields; you want to finish college and get graduate degrees. Nothing wrong with being a flight attendant - but your options were limited and now they are limitless.
I checked in on you often with my ELL colleagues at the high school. You did soar, once again becoming the friendly and social young woman you were used to being, involved in sports and clubs, and a role model for many. You were even exited from ELL in 3 years because you did so well so quickly. I felt pride and happiness for you.
This morning in the paper, I saw pictures of the Senior Prom. Your smiling face was prominent in many of them. Gorgeous, happy, and confident, you looked like a young lady going places. And I know you will go places. I am SO proud of you, for your family, and for your mom, who you left behind, for the purpose of getting a good education and having a better future for yourself.
Come back and visit! And I look forward to hearing about the next graduation, and the one after that too. I will be at those, too, if you ever decide you want me there. Wishing you a happy, healthy future, surrounded by family and friends, and with whatever makes you happy.
May can seem long, but is so chock-full of activities, it tends to go by quickly. At school we have had some exciting goings-on amidst the warmer air, the increasing hormonal activity, the teen angst, and the preparations for transitions.
In a beautiful example of integration, our arts integration teacher (Elena Betke-Brunswick) and one of our ELA teachers (Michael Lawrence-Riddell) collaborated to create propaganda artwork in a sort of counter-narrative to the novel, The Giver. In Michael's words, "the students took on the POV of those two characters and created art to protest the injustices in the community. We made many connections between this work of fiction and how art can influence change in the real world." The idea for this project stemmed from a song that Michael wrote about The Giver. He often uses his own and others' hip-hop music in his teaching. Here is a link to his song about The Giver: youtu.be/UdtBIj-zzn8
I love reading the propaganda posters every time I pass by that part of the hallway. Here are a few of my favorite:
In other exciting news, my school is the first public school in the country to host this exhibit: familydiv.org/exhibits/pioneering-voices/ Our advisories are participating in curriculum to encourage our students to examine and discuss transgender people with an eye to creating empathy and understanding. The exhibit is prominently placed in our front lobby, sending a strong message of support to our community.
And finally, last Monday, my colleague and I revisited one of our small local zoos with the ELL students from our classes. They complained at first that there weren't many animals, and it was a cold and blustery day. However, many of them had never been to a zoo, and loved seeing the animals. When the gift shop opened, we all went in to warm up. The popcorn machine there was the big excitement, and they all got bags of popcorn. We then had lunch right outside the zoo, where there was a children's playground. They ate quickly, then ran to play on the structures, losing all middle school inhibitions. Reluctantly, they came when we called them to get on the bus. As we drove back to school, the teachers in the front, students all the way in the back, we could hear them happily chattering, laughing and listening to music. Another successful field trip!
I've written about parenting before. With each stage of parenting, there are new and scary challenges, amazing transformations, and incredible insights into our parenting and our kids. Now that mine are 12 and over, I find myself missing the days when the biggest problem was not having a snack, or falling and getting a skinned knee.
Now, the problems seem big. They're complicated. And you can't just fix them with a Band-aid.
I think about my own kids and the various issues we have had. I would say we're a middle class family. We have a certain amount of privilege, being a light-skinned educated Latino family. We have resources, or we know how to access them. We speak English. We have a community, family nearby. We are mentally stable. We can afford therapists if our kids need them. Being an educator, I know the educational lingo used when talking about kids and learning. I can communicate well with other teachers and administrators. And yet, it is still so challenging to be a parent. When our kids have problems, we want to help solve them. When they hurt, we want to take away the pain.
What about the kids whose families can't cope? Don't speak English? Don't have the resources or know how to get them? Don't know how to navigate "the system"? Don't have community supports? Are focused on getting food on the table? If it's stressful for me, how must it be for them? Sometimes, I roll my eyes at the cray things parents throw at as and demand of us as teachers and administrators. But really, when I am able to put myself in their shoes, and imagine their world, I am able to change my perspective a little and build empathy for them. No wonder parents let the ball drop in different ways. No wonder kids come to us so needy. No wonder they have issues with coping, too.
I have been trying to flip my thinking in this way. Even when I do roll my eyes or let my mouth open in disbelief, ultimately, empathy fosters understanding and patience, and sympathy, and that is worth a lot.
Last week at our staff appreciation lunch each staff member received cards written by the students. An exercise carried out by our parent-guardian organization, the ones I received this year made me smile and chuckle. It was interesting to read comments to me as a teacher and others as an administrator for the first time.
This student's spelling is not great but this made me laugh. I think it might be one of my ELL students who wrote it, so it's ok the spelling is off.
Even though it sounds a bit generic and like it's from a student who doesn't really know me, that's ok. I'll take it.
I think this one is from one of the recently arrived students. This is a girl from El Salvador who traveled here with some older cousins. Once she got over the border, she spent 2 months in an ICE detention center. Finally, she made it here and is living with her aunt. She left behind a brother and her parents so she could come get a good education here. In El Salvador her parents couldn't afford to send her to school.
This is the only comment I got that had a student's name attached to it. I wish the others had had names on them so I could thank the students.
Wish I knew who the "we" is in this one.
And then there was this note. I have a feeling I know who this was from.....a young 7th grader who needs frequent (daily) reminders to take off her hat.
All great reminders that what we do every day is appreciated by someone at some point. They often don't tell us out loud, they may even act completely nasty as they push us away, especially in middle school. One thing I have learned over the years is to not take it personally when that happens. It's almost never really about the teacher. It's usually about something else: feeling inadequate, some friend drama, family problems.
Teaching is weird in a way: you put all this work in, and you often won't know the end results. We just have to keep on doing what we do, knowing that we are affecting and influencing kids' lives every day, whether or not we are thanked for it.
March continues to be THE. WORST. MONTH. EVER. for public school teachers. And it's not over yet.
March is long. No breaks, no 3 day weekends. We are preparing for MCAS. The weather got gorgeous, sunny and warm, and all the snow melted, only to cover everything in white the next week with one of the biggest snowstorms of the winter. Too cold to take our students outside every day after lunch, and all that teen energy is simmering, about to boil over.
Here's some of the "fun" we have been having at my school this week:
- I had a student screaming the f-bomb right in front of me
- I saw a student being dragged down the hallway "in fun"
- A student yelled "I don't even like you!" in my face
- A whole table of students looked at me like I had 3 heads because I told them to stop throwing food at their lunch table
- A student told me that 2 different teachers called her annoying in the last 2 days. I didn't ask if she thought it was a pattern and or tell her that she ought to look inward to figure this one out
- Lots of nasty looks and eye-rolling
- Also lots of parent phone calls and emails asking parents to help us remind their children to be respectful and follow simple rules
- Parent complaints about various things
That is really just the tip of the iceberg.
We have also managed to actually have fun this month. We began "Cafeteria Karaoke" in our lunchroom. I made a playlist, we had students sign up, and amazingly, students actually sang. I was impressed - at their age, you could not have paid me enough to do something like that. My co-AP broke the ice by singing the first song, "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey - but so many students joined in, he was not the only one singing for long.
In other fun events, my colleague/co-assistant principal was honored in a fundraiser last Saturday. For his 37 years as a music teacher, he deserves it.
In my own class, we went deeper into our study of Australia by learning about Aboriginal Australians and the Stolen Generation. We watched and discussed the movie, "Rabbit-Proof Fence", about 3 girls who are taken from their homes to a settlement where they are forced to speak English only, and learn British culture while they are made to forget their own. My students were very into it and were able to understand and discuss, and empathize with the Aboriginal girls in the movie.
So, March is hard, and March is long. And even though it is technically spring, it feels a long way off. Just keep in mind that soon enough it will be warmer, we will start to smell and see flowers and feel the warm sun on our shoulders. Then we can start complaining about the heat and the insects.
Happy almost end of March, teachers!