Friday, May 30, 2008

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Today was Career Day at my school. Again, the intent is a good one, but these things tend to get so tedious! Visitors to my class included a vocational school director, a restaurant owner, an electrician for NJ Transit, a nurse, a bank president, and a lawyer/author.

While I respect and appreciate these people for taking the time to come to our school, most had no idea how to speak to kids. They talked and talked and were all over the place. And my students are English Language Learners, so huge parts of what is said gets lost. However, two of the presenters were successful in catching my students' attention.

The electrician had been a former student of the school and was from the community. He brought his gadgets with him, devices/tools he uses daily in his job. The kids got to hold these instruments, examine them, ask questions. Visuals and manipulatives are so important, especially when working with ELLs. This guy was good.

The lawyer/author made on an impression on my students as well, partly because of what he had to say, and because of what I've been doing all year in class. Ken Isaacson recently published his first novel Silent Counsel and brought his book to class. My students were excited to meet a "real" author. He discussed his studies and career as an attorney and his newfound satisfaction at finishing his book and seeing it at Barnes & Noble. My students had some great questions about why and how he wrote the book. He told my kids to always think "What If?" and that these two words would lead them to write. Many students shared that they too want to be writers. (How cool is that?) Once he left and we had a little down time before dismissal, some of the kids took out their writing portfolios and started new projects. I didn't say a thing. Just smiled.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The icing on the cake

It was my birthday yesterday. My 4th graders were whispering and scheming all morning. After lunch, I announced we would do some writers’ conferences at the back table. I called the 1st student, who came up to me and all of a sudden, covered up my eyes with her little hands while the rest of the kids moved desks and chairs and someone put a CD in the player. The song "Memory" from Cats began to play (sweet) and then I was allowed to open my eyes. They had all gathered around me in a circle, while one of the girls said a few words: “Missy, esta canción es para usted porque siempre la vamos a recordar y porque tenemos bonitos recuerdos de esta clase y porque la queremos mucho.” They were all swaying and humming to the song (this is so movie-ish, I know) and then they stopped the CD and sang Happy Birthday. Then we had cake and chips and a most delicioso flan a kid's grandmother had made.

What do I say, and how do I say what I feel about these kids? Not just because of this particular moment, but the hundreds that linger in my memory – small joys and successes, frustrations, revelations, regressions, discoveries. A colleague said “they really love you” and that means the WORLD to me. Every year, I am teacher, mother, and friend – and then I cry on the last day. I suppose everyone that teaches has a different experience. But I wish to send a message to all who teach… please listen…

Relationships matter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Moving Piano

Black, beautiful, and upright
she traveled in the back
of an old green pickup truck
all the way from Scranton
tied up and secured to the bed
with old ropes and covered with plastic
she was from a Catholic school
where the nuns sold her for cash they used for new books
she arrived to become a gift
from a father to his little girl

Positioned against the wall of the dining room
she became the center piece of aspiration
lessons started in 2nd grade
and year after year
Sister Mary taught scales, chords, arpeggios
serious pieces, duets
and taught a little girl’s hands to softly caress
her black and white keys,
coaxing magic from them

When reminded, the girl polished her
and lined up small statuettes of the masters along the top
on humid days, her musty wood seemed to swell
while the girl played outside,
during winter, she often sat abandoned
while everyone gathered in the warmer parts of the house
she waited patiently for the times when she would catch
the corner of the girl’s eye
and be released, majestic
hours of melody and emotion set free by the hands of a child
who knew the pleasures of song

Pretending to be a woman
the girl’s choices placed boys before talent
fun before future
and before long, the great black queen became
a quiet forgotten love
shamelessly shoved and pulled,
carelessly secured to the back of another truck
and left behind with a stranger
who claimed and displayed her,
did not know how to touch her,
and kept her silent the rest of her days

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lo que te quisiera decir...

Quiero estar rodeada de buena gente
de personas que existen para descubrir más,
de individuales que mueven para mover al mundo,
de almas que luchan para descubrir la luz en otras.

No es suficiente aparecerse.
No vale fingir.
Hay que hacer, pensar, y soñar,
explorar, y hacer campo,
extender la mano y la mente,
demostrar lo mejor de uno,
no defraudar a los demás
ni a uno mismo.

¿Por qué no hacemos lo siguiente?
Busquemos la manera de empujar una a la otra
y no aceptemos la mediocridad.
Arreglemos nuestras cosas para luego no usarlas

como excusas.
Hagamos las cosas correctamente, o por lo menos,

de buena gana.

Las niñas nos estan observando, hermanas.
Estan aprendiendo para luego imitar.
Demostremos lo que hay dentro
el deseo, el esfuerzo, y la belleza.
No traicionemos a nuestras hijas dejando que piensen
que en esta vida solo hay unas cuantas opciones
cuando de verdad hay un sinfín
de posibilidades
para mí, para tí, para todas.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Remember Grape-flavored Bubble Yum?

The adults in the smoky basement
drank beers and whiskey
danced to cumbia, cueca, and BeeGees
came up every now and then to use the bathroom
or to help themselves to the vast spread in the dining room
chips, olives, salads, roast beef, rice, and desserts.

The eighth grade girl sat with the high school freshman
in the breakfast room
awkward attempts at conversation
became easier
when he opened a large pack of grape bubble gum
and offered her a piece.

Unwrapped the candy and popped it in her mouth
folded and refolded the wrapper as she considered
what to talk about next
with this older guy she had just met.
He was… cool.
He smelled great.
Thick, wavy, brown hair curled over
the edge of a white turtle neck,
a cable-knit beige sweater,
dress pants and real shoes completed his look.
None of the boys she knew dressed like this!
And he spoke SPANISH.
None of the boys she knew could do that!

Suddenly his face was strangely close to hers
and then… a grape kiss
that lasted and lasted.
Possibly someone passed by on their way to get some food,
maybe somebody walked by looking for more ice,
and perhaps an adult came up, and went back down

not wanting to disturb the first grape kiss.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hectic week ahead!

What a weekend! I spent it all right here, at my computer, preparing a couple of workshops. I'm presenting them at the NJTESOL-NJBE Spring Conference this week.

One workshop is about, a website I've been involved with for the past four years. It is an excellent English/Spanish website for educators and parents of ELLs. It has been a tremendous opportunity to be part of a group of educators from across the U.S. who contributed to this great resource.

In the other workshop, "Practical and Engaging Strategies for Teaching Writing to ELLs", I'll be showing bilingual and ESL teachers how I get my students excited about writing while they increase language proficiency. Part of the workshop involves getting my audience to do some writing. It's always a risk you take, when you try to show others why you do what you do. Most importantly, I want my participants to walk away understanding that our students can be the most amazing writers, when and if given the right activities and supports.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mami's Lessons: Bath Time

Mami taught her three little girls
that a good bath and some cremita
on legs, knees, elbows and face
were most important
no matter where you were going
or what you were going to wear.

The three en la tina,
the oldest, self-conscious, trying to hide behind a washcloth
the middle one, talkative and entertaining
the youngest, quiet, fearful of the water in her eyes
tired mami
washed their long black hair
the water often way too hot for young skin
buckets of soapy water poured over their heads to rinse out the shampoo
Hold your breath! Too late,
coughing and sputtering
and getting yelled at for exagerando

Three in line, wrapped in thin towels
dripping on the floor, shivering
exhausted mami
squeezed creamy yellow Vaselina into their outstretched hands
reminding them about all the parts they should not overlook

Waiting for her quick hands to detangle, comb, and braid
three sweet-smelling little girls in softly faded pajamas
got ready their camitas
put the day’s clothes in the ropa sucia
and located fuzzy sleeping partners.
Neat parts down the middle of their scalps,
wet pony-tails or trenzas
scrubbed pink cheeks tilted toward their
loving mami
who kissed them sweetly and
pulled the covers up around them.
“Goodnight, mis hijitas.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A restrained rant

Bueno, espero que no haya metido la pata. Me metí en algo con el motivo de forzarme a escribir y crear más. Hay tanto en esta cabeza que quiere salir - y me siento increíblemente limitada en el trabajo. Pero así es la realidad; hay que pagar las cuentas y poner leche en la nevera.

Hoy en la escuela pasamos un día demasiado caótico. Alguien tuvo la idea de hacer un "desfile de palabras". Claro, la idea era bonita, tenía su buen intento. Pero, con tanto que hacer, algunas no estaban preparadas. Me dió pena presentar el proyecto muy a la rápida y los chicos sintieron la presión. Pero cumplimos con el asunto, hicimos la presentación, y todos contentos. Al fín, temo que pocos alumnos entiendieron el motivo. Y ese es el grán error que cometemos en la escuela ultimamente- hacemos por hacer o porque nos obligan.

Well, I hope I haven't put my foot in it. I've gotten myself into something with the intention of making myself write and create more. There's so much in this head that needs to get out - and I'm feeling incredibly stifled at work. But that's reality; you have to pay bills and put milk in the fridge.

We spent a chaotic day at school today. Someone had the idea to have a "vocabulary parade". Sure, it was a nice idea with good intentions. But with so much to do, some of us were not prepared. I felt bad during my brief explanation of the project and the kids felt the pressure. But we managed to complete the task, we made the presentation, and everybody was pleased. In the end, I'm afraid too few students understood the point. And there is the biggest mistake we make in school these days - we do things for the sake of doing them or because we're told we have to.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Goodnight Sam...

He was 70, maybe 80
when his wife lay dying in the hospital
and it was our turn to make sure he got to bed OK.
I let myself in after dinner
noticing the cat’s moist food had dried up,
the refrigerator was left open,
and something smelled in the trash can.
Sam sat, as he always did, in his chair by the living room window
reading the newspaper by the light of a lamp
in a short sleeve plaid shirt, khaki pants
his black framed glasses perched neatly on his nose.
It was my job to tell him it was time to get ready for bed.
He seemed insulted by my being there,
folded his paper, made two, three attempts to get up
and upon steadying himself,
shuffled off to his bedroom while I
washed his plate, glass, fork and knife
opened a can of Friskies Buffet and
gave the cat fresh water.
I sat in his wife’s chair and waited
looking around me, at photos of a young couple,
mementos of World War Two
and a collection of knick-knacks placed on faded cream-colored doilies
while he paced back and forth from living room to bathroom
in boxer shorts, white undershirt, brown socks
pale sagging skin
and disheveled white hair.
I made him nervous I know,
it breaks my heart to remember.
“Are you leaving yet?”
“Yes Sam. Goodnight,”
I locked the door behind me,
cut through the back yard
and went inside where I continued to watch him
from our own kitchen window
until he finally turned out the light.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day...

Felíz día a todas las que pertenecen a este club especial...
de verdad es una bendición.
Sepamosla guardar siempre así .

Happy day to all who belong to this special club...
it is truly a blessing.
May we always regard it as such.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


“When you were a kid what were your wantings?”
asks my little boy
while I cuddle him close in the bottom bunk.
I smile.
His word is unconventional, accurate, and simple.
My wantings were
to be important,
to be loved, and needed,
to mean something to someone,
to change the world in some way,
I say.
“Well, here I am!”
he proclaims, as he props up his curly head
and looks squarely at me.
Yes, there you are.
I have what I was wanting.

Mi hija

Somewhere out there is a little girl
with hair and eyes like mine.
She belongs to someone else now
and that’s OK, but
I dream about her.
A sibling to my real son,
she loves notebooks, pens, and paper,
her room is filled with books,
and her belly with bread
that we’ve learned to bake together.
She begs me to brush her hair at night.
I know what she looks like and
I can smell her
Barbie, vanilla frosting, and lip gloss.
I wonder if she would have made me a real mother.
My son has a real dad,
a parent I can’t compete with.
My boys leave me out.
I feel like my little girl would have held my hand tightly
and would have thought I was the most amazing mom ever.
Kelly, Marisa, Sophie
she’s had many names
but always the same soul
that has found her way to this earth and ended up in the arms of another
lucky, more deserving mother.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Driving the bus

Conduzco un autobús
de los grandes.
Estoy a cargo de varios.
Antes de partir me aseguro
que todos esten bien sentados, asegurados, cómodos.
La ruta nos llevará por calles nevadas,
cuidades pobladas,
campos verdes,
carreteras llenas.

En el espejo retrovisor
los pasajeros se cansan, se aburren, se frustran.
No los entretengo lo suficiente.
Los obligo a observar demasiado.

Algunos se bajan,
algunos sueñan con los ojos abiertos,
otros miran con los ojos vacíos, sin ver lo que quiero que vean.

Desanimada, desilusionada
miro por todos lados
buscando el hueco
a donde debo meterme.
Me arrepiento de haber salido así
con tantas ganas,
sin haberme preparado para fallar,
dejando que vean mi dejadéz.

Giro el volante
doblo por aquí, por allá,
deseando que se acabe el viaje,
el tanque casi vacío.
Hasta que veo una personita
que me saluda desde lejos.
Me acerco más, y más.
Llego por fín y
es un alma que me necesita.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Change we can believe in...

I'm hopeful.
Obama makes me listen, and I'm paying attention like never before. He has managed to remain himself in this process, takes the hits and forges ahead.
On the other hand, Hillary the "shape-shifter" (so appropriately named by one of my faves on CNN) flashes her fake smile, waves a hand in time with the music, and turns me off with her false "sincere" words. Uggghhhh.

On another note, its amusing to see Donna Brazile on CNN after having met her in person. Once you meet someone "famous", they do seem so much more real somehow, I guess. Cracks me up when she calls Lou Dobbs her "boo". Still waiting to see who she will endorse.

Honk if you love CNN!

Monday, May 5, 2008

La hora del té

Las cinco de la tarde
en casa de mi abuela
un foco alumbra la cocina verde
los azulejos de la mesa, frias
encima un mantel de plástico
y sillas vacías
esperando a que nos reunamos
para la hora del té.
Copas, tazas, platitos
de diferentes juegos,
cucharillas sencillas y otras finas
azúcar y sobrecitos rosados,
mantequilla, queso, mermelada
y pan.

Glorioso pan
que acaban de traer
en una bolsa,
la que siempre va colgada en la puerta.
Todos los días esa caminata
a la panadería
para traer el pan que tanto llena.
Agua hirviente para el té
“O prefieres café?”
pregunta mi abuelita.
A las cinco de la tarde
mi abuelita
con las manos hinchadas de artritis
me sirve un quemante té con limón
con tanto cariño en La Paz.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Commute

Before travel mugs were invented
(or before they knew where to get them)
the girl and her dad took real ceramic coffee mugs
with them in his little grey Dodge Colt
for the 45 minute trip down 287
every week-day morning for eight months.
Polo cologne and aftershave,
clean-shaven with a perfect moustache,
handsome in his
crisp dress shirt and tie,
he zipped down the busy highway
bringing them closer to the old neighborhood
to catch the bus
to her high school.
He promised her senior year would be uncompromised
even though they’d moved far away
to another town.
The morning news, weather and traffic updates
kept him awake and alert
while she dozed in the passenger seat,
lulled by the heat and engine.
She’d awaken just in time to see her schoolmates at the corner
staring at their breath in the chilled air.
Chau papi, and a kiss
until she would see him again at 3:30
when he would come back for her
after a tiring day of teaching rude rich kids.
Moody, tired, hungry
the return trip seemed longer and
she couldn’t keep her eyes open again,
leaving him with the radio for company.
Wake up hijita, as he turned the corner on to their street.
She’d gather up her book bag,
and their empty coffee-stained mugs,
he’d collect his briefcase and suit jacket from the back seat,
and the mail from the country road mailbox at the front of the drive.
Inside, they’d retreat to opposite ends of a huge house
to meet again in the morning
for the 45 minute trip down 287.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


My son is moving away from me
far enough so that
he no longer tells me
everything that goes on in his head.
Today, he wakes up in tears
refusing to say why.
I know it’s a dream
where his heart’s been broken.
As mine does
again and again,
as this man-child moves away from me
inch by inch
year by year.