The View From Here

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No one, including me, thought I’d be where I am right now, which is sitting in my own classroom surrounded by boxes on the last day of the school year.

Maybe it was that kid “lighting up” in my first class, the first day of school that had me screaming internally “Damn…Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”

Or maybe it was reading the explicit notes—addressed to me—that were posted to the pages of my photography books during a lesson. Or having my room broken into, twice. Or having my things stolen…or having a bottle thrown at me. Or sitting in the corner of my empty classroom alone, sobbing, as I texted my family during a campus lockdown while area police searched for an armed assailant at the edge of our campus.

Whatever the cause, the answer to the question of how long this gray-haired, middle-aged white woman from the ‘burbs would last as a first-year teacher in this deep East Oakland high school, was most assuredly “not long” in the minds of everyone, including me.

And yet, here I sit.

Here I sit typing at an empty table, cleared away of the shiny computers many of my students used for the first time ever. Here I sit staring at student work on the walls,  the product of a year’s worth of struggle, creativity, and growth, both my students’ and my own.

I’m not gonna lie…this year nearly killed me. For a person who always does more than is required, working in a school can be a hazardous place. There is always a deeper need than can be filled. Always one more policy to read, one more project to grade, one more lesson to plan, one more student to help. The true challenge for me next year will be finding a balance that enables me to continue to grow in my teaching practice, support my students well, while also making sure I have something left to give my family and myself at the end of the day. Because, let me tell you, that struggle is REAL.

A high school friend, also a teacher, recently posted to Facebook on her last day of school that it was “the only day of the year when everyone wishes they were a teacher.” Everyone envies the long summer break but no one tells you that it will be filled with professional development you will feel obliged to do in order to move over a column on that low pay scale. No one tells you how much “extra” there is to do. No one tells you that you will show up at 7am and leave at 5pm and then settle in at 8pm for a three-hour grading session once the kids go to bed. Regularly.

Even though there were many things in those first difficult weeks to cause any rational person to “peace-out” and head for the hills, there also were many more moments that fed my soul and gave me a reason to stay. Authentic conversations with kids. Proof some learning was taking place by the amazing work students were creating. My classroom becoming a hangout during lunch…a place where students felt accepted and comfortable being themselves.

I’m reminded of that old Peace Corps commercial with the tagline, “the hardest job you’ll ever love,” because it perfectly sums up teaching. It is a hard job. Made harder still by the myriad obstacles you must climb over every day to get to the pinnacle of the profession: low pay, long hours, limited resources, unreasonable expectations, self-doubt…It’s an exhausting climb. For an old newcomer like me, every step was excruciating. But when I look back down into the valley behind me and see how far I’ve come, I have to admit, the destination was worth the journey. The view from up here really is pretty spectacular.

Happy Summer!


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Getting Schooled

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Neatoday.orgOne month from now I’ll be teaching high school in Oakland, CA. I’ll be teaching awesome subjects like digital photography, animation, and game design. I have experience with each of these subjects in my professional and academic career, but next to zero experience teaching them with actual students. Therefore, the reality that I’ll be “on duty” fairly soon has left me feeling a little panicked and underprepared. That specific fear, the one of being unprepared (for whatever potential outcome you want to imagine) is kind of like my kryptonite: I do not ever want to encounter it. For this reason, I’ve put preparations for how to become the World’s Best First-Year Teacher Ever into overdrive.

This morning as I marinated in my cauldron of stress-induced cortisol stew, I started to wonder whether there was a limit to the human brain’s capacity to take in information. Not a limit on intelligence, or of one’s own capabilities per se, but like what happens to a glass pitcher if you kept pouring once the water’s reached the rim. Or what happens when a levee breaks. Or when a blood vessel bursts. I ask with a little anxiety about the answer…So…is there a hard ceiling on how much focused learning a person’s brain can handle? Like, at some point will it just explodeContinue reading »

Still With Her

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img_0964To say that the past week has been difficult is the understatement of the year. Likening the election results to the death of a loved one is an apt comparison. Although still present in their flesh, I mourn the loss of many in my own family, the divide between us becoming too large, ugly, and unwieldy to ignore.

Even before the election, around the time of the leaked tape, on which an individual supported by the Russians to overtake our government was heard claiming liberty to grab women by the pussy, I started to feel long crusted-over wounds again become raw.

Like many others expressed around this time, I have countless stories of experiencing sexual assault and abuse of power by men. Too many to cover here, so I’ll stick to three.

I’m forty-five years old and one incident in particular is seared in memory, many details intact. So vivid are the sounds, smells, sensations of parts of this incident that I find myself peering into my memory like I’m watching it through a window, wanting to bang my fists against the thick glass and cry out to my four-year-old self and implore her not to follow him, my supposed godfather, to the front of the house opposite ours, our two backyards facing across the narrow alleyway. To go back to the comfort of the picnic. But she can’t hear me, so she walks on, her small hands clutching the too-thin paper plate, already collapsing under the weight of its hotdog and corn-on-the-cob.

As she settles onto the porch, little more than a square concrete platform with steps descending off either side, she can feel the roughness of the surface scratching the backs of her thighs. He takes a seat beside her. For a few minutes, the two sit there in silence, eating from the plates on their laps. She can hear the reverie behind her: her mother’s laughter, the faint sounds of the stereo, a dog barking at the end of the block. Her own house is so close, and yet here, on the front porch of the house across the alleyway, it is quiet. No one else is around.

Just as she is noticing this, her godfather leans over, presses his mouth—which smells of beer— against her ear and says, “I could snap your neck right now and no one would ever know.”

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4AM Fiction: In Her Sixth Year

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d1a1c5e8040d7e35_7820-w500-h666-b0-p0--traditional-landscapeEditor’s Note: The following is very loosely based on autobiographical events. It’s what happens when you wake up and can’t go back to sleep. It’s a writer’s curse, I suppose. I guess I can thank My Muse. And just so we’re clear, this is fiction inspired by actual events, not some coded message about my health. 

She awoke from the dream with a start. One breath before, The Mother had been standing at the edge of the garden, its ivy-covered stone walls curving inward on either side like cupped hands. In the dream, she and Eldest Daughter had been in deep conversation at the garden’s entrance (or its exit, depending on your perspective) when Littlest Daughter, who was standing beside her bed, crying, awakened her.

The Parents’ Bed was reserved primarily for The Parents; however, whenever one of The Children had had an unfortunate dream or was otherwise unsettled, The Parents permitted whomever arrived first to settle into the space between them. The Mother glanced behind her to find that space now occupied by The Son, and recalled that earlier in the evening he had crawled up and over her, so lightly that she had barely even noticed. Continue reading »

Spoiled By Springsteen

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44891_10151371661141457_1238195171_nMy husband and I both grew up at the Jersey Shore, both on barrier islands. I in Ocean City (Exit 25) and he in Chadwick Beach (Exit 82). It’s not much of a surprise, then, that we ended up living in Alameda, an Island City off the coast of Oakland. The need to be surrounded by water is just in our DNA.

A strong desire to live near the beach isn’t the only genetic imprinting that happens when one grows up at The Jersey Shore. There are other predispositions: abiding love for soft pretzels, boardwalks, and soft serve; memories of horseshoe crabs (in decline now due to pollution), jellyfish, and sand crabs; and perhaps the most deeply rooted of all, an almost reverent devotion to the music of Bruce Springsteen.

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I didn’t become a complete devotee until I was in my 20s. It was 1995 and my then-boyfriend and I packed up our yellow Ryder truck and set out from the dead-end street near his parents’ home on our move to San Francisco. Fittingly, Thunder Road played as our wheels took us slowly away from the place we’d known all our lives. Following The Boss’s command: We were getting out while we were young.
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