Sunday, February 28, 2010

The cositas we carry...

Those who follow my blog know, or have figured out, that I am of Bolivian descent. Papi came to the states in the early 1960s, and brought my Mami over on their wedding day in 1966. I know that they both brought cositas (small things) with them to give a Bolivian toquecito (touch) to their new American home. These familiar items - among them an aguayo, a monolito, pictures of the cantuta and the city of La Paz, and many, many record albums of Bolivian music - were how I came to learn about my ethnicity.

My love for Bolivia grew during my childhood, kindled by my father's determination to take my siblings and me there every summer. The months of July and August were an endless adventure of cousins, day trips, family celebrations, music, succulent foods, sunshine, Sunday mass with the abuelitos (grandparents), and every eye-popping color of the rainbow. My childhood was rich for those experiences.

The Ekeko, pictured here, was also an object of "Bolivian-ness" I recall seeing now and then while growing up. Relatives would give these small dolls to my family as we left to come home to New Jersey. This little guy carries tiny possessions, miniature foods, and paper money - all symbols for the things we hope to never have to do without.

My parents recently returned from a trip to Bolivia, and brought back my very own Ekeko. Only this time, it's the female version of the small god - an Ekeka. She carries of course food, clothing, money, as well as kitchen tools, and a cell phone. She also rides a bike, holds her baby under one arm, and carries her husband on her back. A small dog runs by her side.

I love this cosita and place her on my bookshelf. She makes me smile. I imagine she's also lugging a laptop somewhere in her bundle, a bunch of books, bread and chocolate, and of course an iPod loaded with the heart-filling music of Bolivia.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Student to Teacher

I taught one of my favorite lessons today, and was reminded of how exciting it is to take children to the next level. The lesson was part vocabulary, part poetry, part metaphor, part Black History Month, part "this is your teacher telling you she wants you to keep trying".

We read this poem together. I choked up on the first read, as I always do. Hughes does that to me. We then read it in parts, we role-played, we talked about message and meaning, and the poet's use of the vernacular.

No, I don't teach high school English. I teach 4th grade English Language Learners.

"Did you like this poem?" I asked as the bell rang for lunch.

"Oh YES Miss! That's how my mom talks to me!"

"Now THAT's some good advice he gave in the poem."

"I LOVE how you read that Miss!"

"Can I keep the paper Miss? Can I memorize it?"

"Let's do another one tomorrow Miss!"

Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967)

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Passion becomes a problem...

An educator/blogger I've been following asks Where is the Passion?

It's a great post, but I felt a bit guilty when I read it. I had just posted a few days ago about how OVERJOYED I was that we had gotten a couple of snow days. I was that tired and frustrated; I needed a break.

It also felt like Mr. Anderson was writing about me. I'm that teacher who has become disillusioned. I've been thinking I can't keep doing this head-butting thing much longer.

If I were one of those folks who does what their told, enters and exits the building at the sound of the bell, doesn't speak up for the kids, doesn't speak up for the parents, and thinks "it is what it is" - well then, I wouldn't feel this way. School can be a lonely place when you're the only one sweating real issues.

I'm an idealist I guess. I still dream about pushing my kids up and out, guiding them to love books and words, learning together how to connect within and outside of the classroom with all of the tools we're fortunate to have. I can't look at school as a business, and I can't stand to hear another person tell me to "just lay low" and "do what you have to do".

That's too easy. And yet, when you let passion drive you, you get like me - overly contemplative, stressed out, and becoming bitter.

Thankfully, when I get to school tomorrow morning, and I see my kids' faces... passion will get a kick in the rear and fire up.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Day - a Teacher's Best Friend

Back in September, I wrote one of those "I'm frazzled!" posts, and haven't recovered since. Nothing has changed. In fact, things may have gotten worse.

I don't know that non-teachers would ever understand the incredible relief and joy I felt when school was cancelled for the past two days due to snow. I wasn't the only one stuck to the television and weather websites on Tuesday night, crossing my fingers, thinking "Please, oh please... please let's have a snow day!" I imagined I could hear my colleagues shouting YESSSSS! in to their phones as we got our snow chain calls late that night.

How shameful, you might think. Teachers have it easy, you might suggest. After all, teachers only work until 3, have summers off, and enjoy several holidays built in to the yearly calendar. So why the giddy excitement over a snow day?

Classroom teachers have it bad. I'm serious. It's gotten so out of control that the "teaching-is-my-life" mantra I used to wear like a badge, has become "teaching's gonna kill me, and lots of the folks I work with." I'm not exaggerating. Spend a day or two in my shoes and see what's happening.

Were it not for the pure satisfaction in watching children grow as readers and writers, the eye-opening discoveries that occur in math class, and the simple sense of community that comes from relationship-building, I would have totally lost it by now. However, in the scheme of NCLB and the desperation of local administrators to raise scores, time spent teaching and learning has decreased dramatically, while test-taking and useless transportations of paper have taken over.

I teach after school twice a week, and on Wednesdays I stay after for the required monthly staff meeting, as well as one or two additional "staff development" Wednesday meetings, often at the whim of my principal. On the two other days, I stay in my classroom after hours to clean up, and to be honest, to catch up. One school day can result in an enormous mess on one's desk, with no chance to get to it during the day. During the week I reach my home exhausted, with no desire to do much of anything. And yet, you can find me at my desk, after dinner, doing school work until 10 or so.

Typically, I spend most of my weekend at my desk in my chilly basement, grading papers, doing research for my lessons, locating appropriate reading materials (I don't have enough books at my students' reading and English levels), calling parents, and marking the numerous district assessments I am obligated to give - as well as completing special answer sheets and tracking sheets and data sheets. I also spend the weekend preparing fundraisers, planning and organizing parent workshops, and completing referral forms. I should not leave out lesson-planning, which is the most time consuming of tasks. Those that wish to control, rather than see what and how we teach, require pages and pages of descriptive lesson plans. (My principal has not stepped foot in my room even once this year...)

So yeah, I wanted these snow days. I prayed for them, danced, chanted, and wished for them.