Year 12 & 13: Everything As It Was, Just Louder

I’m into dystopian novels – I know that flashbacks can be exposition. So I could tell you that in January of 2020 several of my 9th grade students burst into my office first thing in the morning, saying that we were all going to die. They had been reading about the spread of the coronavirus in China, and I tried to reassure them with comparisons with the flu. During our daily reading time, I sneezed and they all screamed.

And zooming (eh?) forward, we were all glued to computer screens in our homes. No more reading groups, no more tea, no more lunches with coworkers, just all my students and coworkers reduced to faces or names on a screen. There are still people comparing this to the flu, but I am not one of them.

On the last day before summer break this year, 2021, I was at my students’ outdoor graduation. Fully vaccinated, we hugged each other. We were watching the cases drop & making plans to be back in the building this Fall. I had plane tickets to visit friends and family & attend a funeral. I cried with relief. 

I’ve always tried to end the school year with a reflection – sometimes as students left for the summer, with a classroom still in boxes, sometimes during a mid-summer sufficiently-rested iced-coffee-sipping headspace, and sometimes while diving into the oncoming year. The last two summers didn’t leave space for that – no space left to breathe, and no more breath. Last summer I tried to gather my thoughts, but felt like I was waiting to write until there was something coherent to say. This summer, I still waited for coherence.  I’m still waiting.

Words spent on calls & texts & emails to students & families & activists & voters & elected officials. Drafted statements to boards & quotes for newspapers. Now I’m perched at the edge of a new year without much left to build these last 2 years into something palatable. 

I have to start with a place of gratitude & acknowledgement of how privileged I am.

I am fully vaccinated & did not get sick.

Friends & family got COVID, but no one in my immediate circle of loved ones has died yet.

I worked remotely for the majority of this pandemic, and my husband is working remotely for the foreseeable future.

I was not a classroom teacher. Other than 3 weeks of summer credit recovery, I didn’t have to learn to teach online.

I live with a husband & a roommate so was not totally isolated in strict lockdowns.

I have health care & had access to testing & vaccines. If I had gotten sick, I would have most likely gotten the care I needed.

I saw violence on a screen and not on my body. Even participating in & organizing marches & protests, I was not been pepper sprayed or beaten up by the police.

I do not have children. I did not have to work remotely while managing their remote learning, or weigh the danger of sending them to school.

My employer did not force me to return to work before it was safe. I could make the choices that were best for my health & family.

I was able to speak up – even very publicly critical of leadership – and not lose my job.

I work at a small school & had a strong base of relationships to build on in these impossible times.

My advisory showed up & participated more on Zoom than they did in real life.

Every single one of my English Language Learners showed up for their first day of Zoom school.

My amazing coworkers did everything to make an impossible year possible. Retooled it all in order to teach in a new way. 

We connected with blank screens. We drove food & computers to families. We paid students’ rent. 

We had glimpses of each other’s homes. Met pets & siblings & partners.

Time both sped up & stretched endlessly.

I watched cases bloom across a map. 

I made a thousand different schedules & updated zoom links until I was doing it in my dreams. 

I helped unblock popups in every browser.

I shared a digital rosca with my MEChA students.

In lieu of Christmas in Michigan, I drove to a student’s house to pick up tamales from his family.

My students attended class from living rooms, from bunk beds, from work, from cars, from the family ranch, from hotel rooms.

My students grew in ways that I never had to at their age.

I went in to work with small groups of students in the winter (before vaccines, when hospitals were bursting at the seams) and I had panic attacks every single day.

I talked on the phone more than most years – to strangers & loved ones.

I adopted a dog & dozens of houseplants.

I had a better sleep schedule than I ever have. I also stayed up far too late, watching leaves creep across the walls.

Boundaries blurred a lot this year – I sat in the same chair & looked at the same screen to work with students, to meet my new nieces, to organize Congressional debates, to call and text thousands of voters, to watch the Capitol stormed, to order delivery, to dispatch groceries to others, to organize a union, to scroll through Reddit while watching reality TV.

The weight of this pandemic is too big for this small screen. I have accomplishments, & hopes, & disappointments, & plans. Just not here, & not today.

Starting tomorrow I’ll be back in the school building every day. Vaccine in arm, mask on face, heart in throat.

P.S. – Dang, wordpress did different things to their editing format and I hate it. Forgive any wonky formatting.

Routines Remembered

Bercianos

I’m thinking a lot about routines. There are small things that were part of my life just a few weeks ago that now seem irreparably lost – cups of coffee & chats with strangers, our usual spot in the bar for trivia night, the assortment of people I saw every day: students roaming into my office during break for snacks or conversation, coworkers stopping by to check in about students, vent, or gossip.

I have been at home for approximately 16 days so far, in a weird limbo that isn’t quite free time, isn’t quite a full work schedule. None of this is quite like anything we’ve experienced before. I’m building and rebuilding my routines from scratch. As a teacher with relatively vast expanses of time during summer breaks, I know how necessary structure is – I tend to go bananas after about two days of break and have to make some kind of plan. However, this time there are other complications: a global pandemic, state & federal guidelines changing by the day or even hour, and a new level of exposure to both a constant stream of media and a constant undercurrent of existential dread. I know in order to get through whatever is next I need to intentionally organize my time.

In several ways I feel prepared for this task. For the first 17 years of my life I was homeschooled in a tiny farming town, giving me plenty of practice in handling loneliness & isolation. I also spent several years seriously considering a religious vocation and spending extended visits with various religious orders to discern which was the right fit – some of them cloistered but all adhering to a monastic schedule. Even though I intentionally went in other directions, what I carried with me will help me get through, especially my love of reading & writing.

More recently, last summer I spent 15 days volunteering at an albergue (pilgrim’s hostel) in a tiny town in the North of Spain. I’ve been thinking of those two weeks a lot recently, and the weeks I spent walking the Camino before.

The Camino has its own routines, the most ancient being the act of putting one foot in front of the other, beginning from various points across Europe & ending in Santiago de Compostela. Although the destination has remained the same, it isn’t necessarily the bones of St. James that pull people from all over the world to make the trek. It might be the routine of the walk that draws people, a routine both individual and communal. Getting up early. Bandaging your blisters. Hoisting your pack onto your back. Greeting others with a Buen Camino. Filling water bottles. Getting your pilgrim credential (like a passport) stamped at churches or bars along the way. Washing your clothes at the end of the day.

Ever since walking the Camino in 2012 I knew I wanted to volunteer as a hospitalera – the volunteers who run the donation based accommodations along the Camino. Volunteer hospitaleros are assigned for 15 days in an albergue, changing shifts on the 1st and the 16th of each month. These municipal or parochial albergues, run by towns and churches respectively, which are simple lodgings run by a small fee or a donation from the pilgrims who stay there each night. Many have communal meals. Almost all have bunk beds.

I signed up for a two week commitment last summer, because I knew I had the time off as a teacher and because we were trying to get pregnant, and I figured my free summers might be numbered. Soon after I got my acceptance letter as a hospitalera, I got other news: a diagnosis of uterine cancer. A rapidly scheduled surgery and the wonders of modern medicine meant that I did not have to put my summer plans on hold, although other things in my life were put more permanently on hold. By July I left for Spain physically unscathed (plus five small scars on my abdomen, minus one cancerous uterus) but determined to use that time to process.

Now I can see even more clearly how that time was a gift. I’m self-quarantined, borders are closed, and the Camino has slowed to a trickle as Spain has shut its doors against the virus.  I’m looking at photos and I’m thinking more about those routines, turning them over and over in my mind, and sharing some of those here, if you care to join me. Read more of this post

Cancer Lists

This year I’ve been writing more than usual, even though not much makes its way here. I’ve felt compelled to gather handfuls of things as they slip past, and to tell a variety of stories: stories I can’t tell elsewhere, stories I don’t want to forget, stories that are small but feel big, stories I don’t understand yet.

So I’m going to share a little bit of that here, with you.

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This story starts on a January morning in pre-dawn light, in the middle of another kind of narrative. I was standing in the airport holding a screaming 2 year old, while TSA patted down his mother and his older sister watched quietly. I explained in Spanish to the woman exactly what the agent would do during the search, but my attention was also on the kid I was holding. He had been screaming for most of his time with me, I think mostly at the frightening novelty being put in a car seat for the first time. I was there to guide the family through the airport and onto a plane (also for the first time.) In TSA, I rocked the 2 year old, trying to distract him with the peripheral details – ghostly shapes of luggage gleaming blue on screens, other passengers looking at us. He refused to be consoled, and the hard candy someone gave him fell out of his screaming mouth to stick onto my sweater, where I found it later. Read more of this post

Year Eleven: What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

I just wrapped up my 11th year teaching, and this is my 11th pause to look back at the expanse of a school year. I’m in an entirely different place.

In the past, when looking back on the year, I’ve written pages and deleted half of them. I’ve sometimes struggled to sanitize my experiences of working in public education in order to create something for public consumption. Exhausted by the school year still lurking behind me or looming ahead of me, it can be difficult to pick out the positive bits from the year. This is pretty normal, I think, and why teachers have the “summer off” – to recover, and to be able to face the next year. (This is also what the weekend is for, if you are lucky enough to have one.) Over the past decade, I was also looking at job postings every Spring, even when I did not want to leave the school I was at. I was never sure I was getting a contract, or I wasn’t sure what my salary would be and if it could cover my rent and my commute, or I wasn’t sure if I could do another year, or I wanted to keep doing what I was doing but needed a temporary or after-hours job to make ends meet. Again, I think this is a normal part of teaching. Even when we love what we do and want to continue, this is not a profession of stability.

That’s not where I am this year. I’m not looking for jobs. I’m not deleting paragraphs. I’m not bracing myself for next year.

After ten years of teaching Spanish, this was my first year out of the classroom. I started a new role at a new school, as a full time EL Coordinator at a small project-based high school here in San Diego. There were a lot of new things this year, and it’s hard to sum it up here. No day was exactly the same, and was often unpredictable. Teaching has never been a predictable profession, but in hindsight some things were pretty consistent in the classroom: I was with certain people at certain times and certain places, with consistent routines in each situation. This was not the case this year at all.

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My first day of my new job involved some impromptu beekeeping. Like I said – not predictable.

Read more of this post

Ten Years: Doors Closing, Windows Opening

This year marks a decade of reflecting on my teaching. As has been my trend in recent years, I’m reflecting on the past school year after the summer break is over. I spent most of my summer traipsing around Europe and the East Coast, followed by an unusually early beginning to professional development.

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Emblematic of this year: Leaving late, taking the bus. (Not so much the rain.)

On the last Sunday night of summer vacation (that is, the Sunday Nightiest Sunday Night of them all) the oppressive humidity of an early San Diego heat wave didn’t help my insomnia. I lay awake for hours. I had trouble envisioning what the school year would be like, so my brain had trouble fixating on any particulars. For lack of specific anxieties, my mind wandered back over the last ten years of teaching. In the hazy darkness of insomnia it’s not thoughtful reflection or measured analysis that tends to happen, and on this night it was was the faces of students that floated to the surface of my mind. Lots of individual faces… over a thousand now, I think? It was the lost faces that stuck on the surface, as they often do: Students lost because I never found the key to what made them tick. Students who wanted nothing to do with anything I tried to offer. Students lost to inescapable things in their home lives. Students lost to cancer and suicide and house fires and car accidents.

(OKAY. This might be a pretty dark way to start this post. With that said, I am currently in a good place. So bear with me. It gets better.)

Last summer, as usual, I had a list of goals for this year. I worked hard and intentionally on all of them and achieved few, in part because of the unexpected twists and turns this year. Looking back at my plans for long term vertical planning of a TK-12 program makes the past year look pretty bleak from where I’m standing now, since the Spanish program has been cut entirely. (Again, bear with me! Everything is okay!)
Read more of this post

Calendars

A cop, a barista, and a teacher
walk into a coffeeshop on a Friday in June

and for him it’s his Tuesday
and for her it’s her Monday
and for me it’s the Friday of the Mondayest week in my whole career.

(6/8/2018 – Last entry from my red journal)

end of the journal

Mi Noveno Año: Small Victories, Big Dreams

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Estoy de acuerdo.

After nine years of teaching, I am appreciating again the process of reviewing and reflecting at the end of the year, and reading back through almost a decade of reflections on teaching. I like to do this at the beginning of the summer, but over the years the reflection process has crept across my summer… and here I am, writing just before school starts again, during the first week back at school, finishing it up during the first (long!) weekend of the school year.

Wrapping up my 9th year, I reached some milestones: Read more of this post

A Sense Of Place

I write less and take fewer photos here in California than I did in Michigan. Maybe because any energy or time for communication or artistic expression is already monopolized in other parts of my life. Maybe it’s because I don’t need to work as hard to find beauty as I did in those long, grey winters. One sunny afternoon feels like the next, and my sense of time isn’t as rooted in fireflies / changing leaves / numb extremities / slushy roads / crocus buds.

This year I have been teaching a photography club after school. Maybe “teaching” is the wrong word because mostly I’m just handing cameras to kids and leading them rambling explorations. They climb trees, lie on the sidewalk, climb up into trees, and cluster around any available tiny leaves, unique garbage, cute dogs, and interesting patterns.

Their perspectives on the world make me more aware about my own, as I sift through the digital residue of the last few months. I’ve been in San Diego for almost three years – long enough to have routines and connections, but not to outgrow a feeling of being a newcomer. Pulling up roots can be so fast, and regrowing them so slow.

I love reading novels with a strong sense of place, and after 3 years in this place I have more senses than I have fully formed thoughts.

Cloudy May mornings.
Radio telling me about the texture of the ocean.
The bend of pelican wings above me (not quite echoed on my shoulder blade.)
Jacaranda purple pooling on sidewalks.
Palm trees bending and crackling under jet paths.
Smoke creeping over dry hills.

I can recognize the songs of humming birds & the scent of jasmine.
I am waiting for my lemon tree to produce fruit.

Year Eight: Growth vs. Grit

A new home.
Yesterday I lay on the floor of the lunch room at school and surveyed my eight years of teaching from that angle. On a floor or flat on my face can feel like the right perspective for this expanse of time. I remember lying on the floor of my empty apartment, my first year of teaching and my first year of living by myself. I remember sleeping on the floor of my first classroom, trying to gather myself together for a long commute home in the snow. I remember sunnier afternoons in Spain, where two other teachers and I lay out mats on the floor in the music room on during afternoon siestas, for un poquito de relax.

Eight years brings me here to San Diego, where we finished our two weeks of teacher prep with an hour of yoga together. Stretching and moving and lying still among a big group of my coworkers was good. For some reason I think it helped get me into an emotional place where I can actually reflect on my school year, which I try to do each summer. Maybe the equivalent of mental stretching.

As a not-new-anymore teacher, I keep checking my pulse: Am I growing or am I just surviving? The end of last year was hard because I didn’t know if I was doing either. It was an exhausting year, and the exhausted end of the year is not the best place to recognize growth. In the midst of growing pains is also not the best place to recognize growth, and there were a lot of growing pains (both as a school and as a teacher.)

And now… I’m here, and I’ve grown. So here I am with some wordy lists and some listy words (because that’s just me.) Read more of this post

Permeations

Summer! For the last few months I was completely erased by work, and as soon as I emerged and found the bits of my life again it was to take it all apart and put it into boxes.

Now there’s a new apartment in the same new city, open windows and walls that feel permeable, air that feels heavy and skin rubbed thin, borders crossed alone and familiar flight paths overhead.

Last summer was quiet and I had too much time to think. This summer is filled with voices and plans and radio waves and the moments of stillness have been rare. I’ve been teaching a bit (but not Spanish) and meeting new people (in Spanish) and meeting old friends in new places (in Hungarian & Croatian, but without remembering any.)

I’m shelving books by color instead of by contents and writing/remembering/thinking in pictures rather than words (again.)

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