Friday, December 5, 2014

How do I answer?

I, as many teachers, have struggled with how to discuss recent race relations in America. As a black woman I have even more fear that bringing certain materials into the classroom might invoke the thought that I had an agenda. I guess I do have one to be honest. I want my students to leave my class as good human beings. Human beings that understand empathy, kindness and compassion.

This week I had the pleasure of working with my students to try and reflect on what has been happening. We just finished Anna Deavere's play Twilight Los Angeles that focuses on race relations in America during the 90s. We focused on a section of the play, the story of Latasha Harlins. I used this play to look at different sides of an issue within a community. We did not discuss our feelings about what happened in the incident, but moreover issues of identity and how we respond to conflict.

Today we read an unbiased (all my students agreed) article from the NYT on protests around the country involving the Eric Garner case. My students spoke eloquently about their beliefs involving the right to peaceful assembly. Students even pulled out their mini constitutions to see what their rights are. The article mentioned a 15 year old girl from Cambridge and how she helped organize protests at Boston's Tree Lighting. My students were in AWE at how someone so young could have their voice heard. We focused on the power of our voices, importance of identity and  the importance of respecting  all identities.

I was so proud of them. You could see the wheels churning. I hope that they are inspired to stand up for what they believe in someday.

Towards the end of the day, each class read the article, I had a class that asked me a lot of questions. They asked about the events and I tried to give them an unbiased view. I told them that none of us were present during the incidents and so no one really knows. I then had a student with a very concerned tone of voice ask me, " Why does this keep happening?" I told her I didn't know but that hopefully things would change with better communication and understanding. Another student asked, " Why haven't adults learned from the past?" I could not answer this question because I don't know the answer.  The worst part is I am an adult and I am not sure why people are doing what they are doing.

How do I answer these questions?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

To the girl in the back at Zumba

Dear Girl in the Back at Zumba,

I was once you.

I stood in the back stumbling and swearing. In my head I thought  How does everyone get it but me? What is wrong with these people?? Why are they so freaking happy ? These moves are SO hard! I am never coming back. My lungs just might explode. 

I wore all black just like you.

I wore three sports bras so I wouldn't bounce.

I wore a sweatshirt to cover up. ( and almost died sweating more than once)

I didn't smile ONCE (even though the instructor would get in my face and tell me to)

Just like you I came up with excuses not to go to class, even though inside I was dying to go.

My mind became a toxic cesspool of ' I can'ts' and ' I won'ts.'

I felt too fat to dance. I worried everyone, and their mother, would look at me and think, " she is too fat to be here."

Then, something changed. 

I thought to myself, I LOVE to dance and I don't care what other people think. I deserve to be here just like every other person in this room. 

I eventually got the moves. I still have those accidental solos. ( There are no mistakes in Zumba)

I moved up to the third row, then second, then front.

I started to wear color to class.

I bought a VERY supportive but comfortable sports bra.

I became proud of who I was at Zumba. Class was a place where I could act silly, sexy and sassy at the same time.

People started to notice. Not the typical comments of " Did you lose weight?" but moreover, " There's something different about you, but I am not sure what it is." I grew an epic confidence within me that carried me into my regular day.

Girl in the back at Zumba class, You deserve to be in the room. You are worthy of shaking it like Shakira even if you feel you look like Elaine Benes. If you put in the effort you will not only do something tremendous for your health, you will gain confidence for life. Keep dancing and smiling, the rest will come.

See you in class.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Finding the Balance: Being an Educator and a Parent

Here I sit on a Saturday night typing up college recommendations and planning for the week. You see I am a high school teacher. I love my job. Really I do. When people ask me my profession and I answer back, " I teach H.S. English," they look back in horror, cringe and usually slink away. What they don't know is that I chose this profession after trying other things.

Whilst sitting in my dining room typing away I am surrounded by toys. You see, I am also a mother of two. Two small children. Small as in a two year old and a five year old. Yes, I am insane and yes they are both boys. My house is always messy. There are always unidentifiable crumbs. ( Perhaps from a week ago) You may step on a Lego and use profanity. Someone is always jumping on something or hitting someone else with something. Dinosaurs and playdough have replaced my favorite Crate & Barrel bowls on the now present coffee table. ( We had to get rid of it for a while with walkers. Not zombies. Actual live babies walking.)

As I embark on another year of teaching I have yet to find balance. I am exhausted. Most of my colleagues are. The first month is always brutal for everyone. We are so happy to be at school but our bodies have not quite gotten accustomed to the usual academic rigor with having a month or two off. Our students feel the same pain. Luckily though we humans are adaptable and we usually perk up a week or two into October.

Being a parent AND a teacher is exhausting. If I listed my before 7AM schedule to you, dear reader, you might faint. I am responsible for way too many things before the normal waking hours. I am shocked that I haven't forgotten something vital to life at home. ( Only ONCE did I leave a lunch at home! Go me. )
 I love my children, but my favorite moment is after I have dropped my youngest off at preschool ( in a different city than where his brother goes to school or where I work ) and I drive to work music blaring trying to drown my busy thoughts. There is ridiculous amounts of traffic the two exits but those two exits are mine to savor.
When I get to school children come out of the wood work to ask me pressing questions. There is extra help, homework, lesson plans, highlighting, paper clipping and of course parent emails. Organizing, common core, frameworks from our state, time management, video clips, novels, poems etc. Then there is nurturing the connections with our students. Most are reaching out for someone to listen, show them that we really do care about their well being, and of course providing advice.  Sometimes our smile is the only one they will get all day. As I said it is exhausting but  wrapped up in a big crazy ball of awesomeness.

I will let you know what I find in terms of finding a balance. I have started doing yoga again once a week. It's sort of helping but this week I just didn't have the head space to go. The year is young and there is much to learn. On a Friday, after the first full week of school,  I asked some of my Facebook friends ( some of whom are teachers) to complete a sentence. I leave you with their responses.

 Being a mom and a teacher is ______________. 

Very Hard 

The same thing? 


So, SO hard to balance. Y'all who pull it off are amazing!!

Impossibly hard but totally rewarding!!

Who I am. 

Tiring but awesome 

Saying "you need to make a different choice" 756 times a day


very hard

Two full-time jobs 

Exhausting and empowering 


The two most important jobs in the world XoXo 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Age Reflection

And I just had another birthday...(and sometimes we need to take selfies to mark the occasion.)

I have had so much time to think this year about my life. Despite the busy days, or lack there of, I find my brain lamenting on the fact that I am indeed older.  I am by no means old, but for me I am older than I was once before. Time is beginning to fly.  Perhaps with age we think more deeply and more deliberately about what is happening around us  instead of focusing solely on ourselves.

This year I have watched friends give birth to their first children. I have held their little bodies in awe of the fact that they were actually born and here. I have passed on 'mama wisdom' acquired from those who went before gladly and proudly.

I proudly watched some of my first students  from my school graduate and enter the world of higher education. I look forward to seeing what they become.

 I have watched one of my own gear up for kindergarten in the best ways he knows how. I have seen my youngest speak with such clarity about his life stating, " Mama I am very happy." I stand in awe of my children always. ( Even if some days are harder than others)

I just witnessed a very old friend get married to her best friend. In the back row, I cried. I cried because I was so unequivocally happy that she has found a sense of calm and stability in her life. I also cried because we will never be those camp counselors again but have moved to new territory.

I was able to experience graduation with my peers from our master's program. We all sat sweaty palmed, hearts pounding, laughing nervously at our new expensive, well earned empty bound books awaiting that piece of paper.

I have seen my colleagues embrace their students and very important profession by giving their all with literal blood, sweat, and tears.

I have seen women and men transformed by a powerful combination of sweat, smiles and music.

 I have watched myself change. I am not sure that I like it yet, but we are all works in progress. It takes courage to grow up and change. Change can be petrifying and people sometimes dig their heels in for years in order to' not rock the boat.' That's not me. I always tell my students never to settle. Things are always negotiable and changeable if you put in the work. Sometimes its scary, but that is what makes growing up interesting I guess.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who's Afraid of GMOs? This Mom.

Disclaimer: If you fed your child Cocoa pebbles or Trix for breakfast I don't judge you. Those cereals are fucking delicious and you are a better mom than me because you are brave. I am just trying to make sense of this world we live in and choose what is right for my own family. All love. No judgement. 

Confession. I have anxiety.

Fact: Most mothers do. Sometimes it's crippling. Sometimes it's manageable. I am someplace in between right now.

Why? Because we are raising our hearts outside our bodies and the world is a very scary place. We have to try and balance out the bad with the good all while holding their little hands to cross the street.

One of my newest deep fears: GMOs ( genetically modified organisms) in food. I am not so much afraid for me. Confession #2, sometimes I eat absolute garbage. Donuts in the teachers lounge. Ice cream sandwiches, gum etc.  My children on the other hand rarely do, and by rarely I mean I sometimes have to leave the room and convince myself that one bite isn't harming them... I digress. GMOs worry me.

 I worry about their foodless futures. I worry that frankenfood will become all that people can have access to or afford.

 I worry that they will get cancer because of what I fed them and what the government says is ok to put in their bellies.

I worry for the kids at daycare that have processed rice crispy treats and artificially flavored yogurts for breakfast and Lunchables for lunch.

I worry about soy.

I worry about too much dairy.

I worry about whether someone mixed up the conventionally grown stickers and the organic ones because they were drunk at the sticker factory.

I worry that my children will glow because of artificial coloring or worse yet, have brain damage.

I worry that the food in the grocery store will one day actually sprout legs and walk away from us.


I know that there is a ton I cannot control ( like the time my oldest had orange cheeze balls, he vividly remembers ) and I am trying to make peace with that. In any case I am also working to educate myself about GMOs and how to try and lessen their ability to creep into my fridge and pantry.

At our local Trader Joe's today I was speaking with our cashier about GMOs and she mentioned that all Trader Joe's labeled products are made without genetically modified ingredients. My jaw dropped and I almost fainted. She smiled and kept ringing. I thanked her profusely and hugged my baby. This really happened. I put our reusable bags in the car while happily humming, jumped in the car and googled. Then I found this and was crushed. I guess I just assumed ( stupidly) I could take the cashier's word for it. We do need to push the government for labeling. It is the only way we as consumers can be sure that our food is pure and not contaminated. I hope, moreover I pray, that something will be done. In the mean time, I am trying to take deep breaths.

Curious about how you can minimize your family's exposure to GMOs? Here are some tips:

Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Buy Organic whenever possible- I am not a millionaire. I am a teacher. I have to pick and choose what we eat that is organic. Remember the rules about the clean foods and the dirty foods. Organic producers can't intentionally put in GMO ingredients. ( this isn't fool proof as we recently learned with the frankenwheat scare this week)

Use the ShopNoGMO app for the iPhone- While most products ( of companies that give a darn) are labelled you can be doubly sure of your purchases.

Buy organic seeds for your garden- Yeah crazy right? I didn't think of this either. Here is a list for you to read with some wine in hand.

Build a bubble ( rest assured, Pinterest has the DIY) and only eat organic mung beans you grow yourself- I kidSeriously, it's getting out of hand, BUT there are people who care and are fighting. We can each make a difference by waking up and paying attention. Write to your congress people. Call up your mayor. Change happens but slowly, but still can happen.