Our students are pretty amazing. Not only my students, or students at my school. Our collective students in the U.S. It has been amazing to see and hear students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School speak out in all their anger and sadness, about the recent shooting and how fed up they are. They are inspiring.
This school shooting has been the tipping point for many students and teachers. Students across the country are organizing walkouts, sit-ins and protests. I applaud them. They have had enough, and they're right! No student should have to be afraid to go to school. No teacher should wonder if today will be the day they will have to protect their students from death.
The day after this shooting, the anxiety among my colleagues and in the school building was palpable. The sense of caring for each other was, too. I stood in front of the room after my students had left, and looked around the classroom, planning. What would I do if it did happen in my school? I'm lucky to have an exit right next door, but that would require me taking my students to the hallway first. I looked out the window. Below was the loading dock and bus repair garage. If there were a bus there, I could help the kids out the window and tell them to jump on the bus below. If there were no bus there, I would tell them to jump anyway because a broken bone would be better than being killed.
What kind of crazy country do we live in where these are the thoughts a teacher has on a daily basis? What is wrong with us?
It's unfathomable to me that the president actually agrees and is taling about the idea of arming teachers as a solution. WHAT? Pure insanity. In what world is that a reasonable solution? The day that I am asked to attend a shooter training and arm myself to go teach is the day I will leave teaching/education.
I love walking down this particular hallway in my school and reading this display. Each time I notice new descriptions and I am struck by the honest and proud proclamations the students make. Our students are capable of so much. We need to continue providing for them the safe spaces to continue exploring, learning and growing - not spaces they will be afraid to go to. Teachers: this is the time to make ourselves heard. Let's defend our students in the best way we know how: by educating them and others and encouraging them to speak out and stand up against senseless violence and against a crazy government that thinks it's okay to arm our teachers, but cut special education funding.
I sit, inefficiently multi-tasking the night before going back to school after a much-needed winter break. Distracted by season 2 of "The Crown", I try to focus on the week ahead. Multiple emails to be addressed, classes to be planned, and schedules to be coordinated....and some of it actually does get done, but here is what happens as well.
Watch episode of "The Crown". Begin voyage down Google rabbit hole:
who is in the royal family .....line of succession .....why is Prince William in the line of succession, and his children, but not his brother Prince Harry?......why "queen mother" and not "mother of queen"......does the Queen watch "The Crown"?......Princess Margaret husband - bisexual photographer......Jackie Onassis and the Duke of Edinburgh flirt....names of Queen Elizabeth children....
Break for short (1 hour) nap.
Make tea and a smoothie upon waking up.
Add chia seeds to smoothie. What are chia seeds anyway? While drinking tea and smoothie, look up:
what are chia seeds....chia vs. flax seeds....recipes with chia seeds.....DIY chia exfoliating face mask......where are chia seeds from.....
Plan a little, answer a few emails. Help daughter with essay about the code of chivalry. At the New York Times website, watch a short film about a Syrian refugee in L.A. to possible use in class. Watch a little more of "The Crown" while you contemplate exercising, but the dog snuggling on your feet has made you immobile.
Ask "Alexa" some questions so you don't have to actually move your fingers on the keyboard:
"Alexa, what is the temperature?"
"Alexa, what is the question of the day?"
"Alexa, tell me a limerick."
"Alexa when is the next snowstorm?"
Soon it's dark out. The early and frigid start of tomorrow's school day looms large in your mind. Nothing to stop it now! No delays for cold weather here. Here's to the next 6 weeks everyone! Hang in there until February, or whenever your next break is. Happy 2018!
It's been a few weeks since my last post; this brings us to the long-awaited Thanksgiving break. Finally! At 2:20 PM tomorrow, you may need to cover your ears from the deafening cheer of teachers celebrating at my school.
As all school breaks do, this one comes at the perfect time. Just when you think you can't hear "what are we supposed to do?" or "why are we doing this?" or "I can't find my ______" one more time, the break arrives.
In both sides of my job - teacher and administrator - I have noticed student behaviors ramping up a notch. The behaviors, complaints, and meltdowns always get worse before a break. There are students for whom school is a safe place with routines and regulations, a regular meal, and people who care about them - even though these students can sometimes show us their worst behaviors. Maybe school is the best place in their lives. Maybe home is scary, or uncertain, or chaotic.
So, for this Thanksgiving, I wish every teacher and administrator time to enjoy their families and other loved ones; time to rest and rejuvenate - and to get ready for the stretch until the holiday break (because it will be a crazy, nonstop blur!) Take time to do things for yourself, whether that is a manicure, a hike, or a lunch with a friend. Take naps! I will, for sure. We need these breaks to help us keep going. We need genuine down time, and real self-care. I will be practicing getting better at that myself, and at the same time giving thanks for all I am so lucky to have.
On a curricular note, at this time of year, I always teach my students about the first Thanksgiving, including Thanksgiving myths and what Thanksgiving may mean to North America's indigenous peoples. It is important to keep in mind that this is not recognized as a happy time for many, especially for the first Americans. Here are a couple of resources to check out:
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.