We Are Humans. Try to Remember.

for the man at Grease Monkey
 who opened the pit door
 and shouted at the employees,
 “Hey! Don’t touch the tires!!”
 and made a real estate phone call
 and brushed away the employees
 who came to consult,
 who then belligerently insulted
 the client who turned down your services,
 who waved your hand at the employee
 trying to speak to you as if
 he were a petulant fly,
 who pretended that your male.
 macho.
 White.
 Asshole.
 Privilege was the ruler of this Thursday?
 
 I see you.
 I hear that voice.
 And my combat-boot-wearing,
 balding, tattooed companion looked straight into my knowing eyes when you left,
 because
 We.
 See.
 You.
 
 And your voice is dying.
 Your uptight,
 world-is-my-oyster reign
 is coming to its bitter end,
 just as your former client
 informed you.
 
 
 
 

Big Ass Fans

It is the end of August, and we shouldn’t be in school. The mill-levy funding for “air conditioning” was really, and literally, some Big Ass Fans put in some classrooms. Not mine. It is ninety degrees, 5280 feet, and we have the relentless Denver sun bearing down on every moment of every day.

So on the first school year Saturday of summer, I did not go into my classroom to subject myself to that torture for a sixth day. Instead I relished the fact that I am so. Lucky. My house has six recliners in the living room, all of them surrounded by vents, and more importantly, air conditioning.

I spent five hours grading ninety-three essays from three, yes, count ’em, three, classes.

My day is not about essays. It is not about me figuring out how to “track this data” on Schoology without these horrific baseline assessments affecting their grades (factor: 0.00, if anyone needs to know). It is not about my three girls going to the pool with the neighbors all afternoon, or the attempted long walk I cut short with the miniature dog we’re dogsitting, whose breath grew short in less than a mile and whose poor little chunky body had to rest in a freshly-watered lawn before she could go on.

My day is about tomorrow, when we will rise early, pack our lunches, and head to the mountains, five Girl Scouts and a world of heat, and papers, trailing behind us. We will eat s’mores and shop at the mini Girl Scout store and see what life was like a hundred years ago on the Girl Scouts of Colorado’s hundredth anniversary. We will have blue skies and peaks and rivers and cool mountain air.

We will not have Big Ass Fans. Only the accomplishments of this Saturday, turned to Sunday, and a higher altitude. A higher attitude for school starting in August.

And, perhaps, a bit of a mountain breeze.

Surroundings

Surrounded by darkness, we begin our day as teachers. We close the blinds to shield our classrooms from the blaring sun, open our windows with the strength in our forearms, and lay out our objectives for the students to gobble up after their free cinnamon-roll breakfast.

We read the morning headlines and the late-night emails that burden us with the responsibility of introducing these kids to a world we’re not sure we want to live in ourselves. We attend staff meetings bearing more bad news, and not a single soul leaves the brief update with a dry eye.

Surrounded by darkness, the school year begins. It isn’t enough that on the first day the moon literally blots out the sun. Its predecessor of racism, bigotry, anti-semitism, misogyny dressed up with tiki torches and accessorized with flippancy had already left us half blind.

We read letters from students who can’t find a place in their families who prefer siblings, a mistress, isolation over them. Letters that describe escaped wars, bullying, racial attacks, judgments about neighborhoods, gang violence, lost grandmothers. We read letters from students who have suffered more in sixteen years than we have in our entire lives.

Surrounded by darkness, their words filter into the sunlight of the late afternoon, the blinds reopened to let in a brief breeze, a small reprieve from the choking heat. They raise their eyes, their hearts, their voices to promise us they’re fully here, they’re fully listening, they’re fully aware of how safe this place is, of how much we love them.

We stand in hallways cheering them on as they run late to class. We exchange hope through shared lesson planning, whole-child strategies, ideas about how to reach the toughest, the sweetest, the lowest, kids. We reassure each other’s doubts, question the society we must send them to, and promise each other it will get better. We read each other’s words and commiserate, encourage, respond.

Surrounded by darkness, we wait for the sun. We go to bed too late and wake up too early, plagued with worry, with stress, with plates stacked too high and bad news piled too deeply.

And yet… there is beauty in shadows, in the small slivers of light from eclipses that dot the concrete sidewalks outside the school, where everyone has gathered together to be a part of history. In the cool morning before the sun hits the high sky, with impassioned pink cloud cover that draws in its softness a hope that we won’t swelter through unforgiving ultra-violet rays. In the truth of their words, of our words, where we trust each other with the world, with our raw emotions, with an honesty only found in youth.

Surrounded by darkness, we begin our day as teachers. We pull the blinds shut, open the windows, and wait for just the right moment to let in the light.

Surrounded by darkness, we wait. The breeze builds up, the moon blocks the sun, the heat seems inescapable.

But there is always just the right moment to lift the blinds. To hear our collective suffering fill the air, to see their eyes lifted to the sky, mesmerized for what may come, to be right here, only in this moment, letting our light surround our darkness.

Closed House

When I was a child, I always looked forward to my elementary school’s open house night. We would spend time in class creating artwork and projects showing off our classwork for our parents to see. Someone would make cookies to be laid out on plastic tables along the hallway. The teachers would get all dressed up, and they would be waiting happily at their classroom doors to meet and greet the parents.

I was always so excited to hold my parents’ hands, pull them through the hallways, and show them my desk. On it would be a writing sample, a math test, a piece of macaroni art. On the walls would be more displays of student work. The teacher would meander in and out of the room, casually chatting with parents or answering questions like, “What will the next unit be?” or, “How did you come up with the idea to have them make planetary mobiles out of different sized sports balls?”

There was no PowerPoint. There was no outlined agenda. There was not a four-page handout justifying the use of technology, the rigor of content, the guidelines for being prepared in ___th grade. There were no parents giving speeches about fundraising, principals introducing them and cheering them on. There was no gathering in the gym to brag about why this school is different and better than all the others because of this population of students, that method of math, these test scores, this money raised.

The open house, or when I moved to Denver, the back-to-school night, was simply a chance for parents, non-hovering, working (class) parents, to enjoy a small sample of what their children’s schooldays were like, to put a face to a name of the teacher their kids were talking about.

I sit here now at the first of three back-to-school nights of the year. I have just finished my first full day in the classroom, my first full day of balancing between teaching three overcrowded classes, observing three other teachers, covering a class, and having an after-school meeting where I was told, once again, that my ESL students will not continue to receive the support they so desperately need because my course isn’t required for graduation.

I sit here now in a two-hour sit-and-get presentation following (already completed) twenty pages of paperwork stating the same information, following daily e-mails about everything my daughter is and is not doing.

My child was not allowed to come.

I sit here now thinking of all the papers I need to grade for my second job; of my oldest daughter who started high school yesterday and is no longer speaking to me because everyone she’s met so far has asked her to follow them on Snapchat and I won’t allow her to have Snapchat; of my husband’s (so rare) harsh words about a carpool miscommunication that we were forced to exchange in the rush out the door, the rush to get three kids to three schools because “school choice” matters; of the letter Oh Nih Shar wrote to me about how she made bad choices in high school just like I did (as I confessed in my letter to my students)–and how grateful she’d been two years ago when I sent students to track her down and tell her (in cards and letters) we loved her even if she had to marry at fourteen.

I sit here now thinking that everything in this PowerPoint is information I’ve already heard in the paperwork and the forced (or your wait list spot will be lost) parent orientation in the spring, and didn’t I CHOOSE this school, and do you need to further convince me of its value?

I sit here now as a twenty-first century parent, a twenty-first century teacher, wondering, for the love of God, what have we done with our world?

Whatever happened to hands-on projects and cookies in the hallway and simply putting a face to a name?

To kids being accountable for their own work without us helicoptering over daily e-mails?

To teachers dressing up, slapping on a smile, and just offering a casual, kind word?

I sit here now in this closed house we call a school. This place where we’ve set impossible expectations for our students and their families. Where we are strapped not only with too much homework for sixth grade, but also too many technological addictions that leave our kids feeling left out, where schools only feed the fire by providing them with one-to-one technology.

This is the first of three for me. It is the second day of school. I am not home to fully (with text citations, I promise!) explain to my daughter why she can’t have Snapchat. To mull over TEN late-night emails and calls about my middle child’s detention, later cancelled, for our second school of choice. To make sure my youngest has packed her spork and sleeping bag for her upcoming camping trip.

My daughter is not pulling me down the hallway, excited to show me her pastel drawing. She, like the rest of us in this inundated-with-endless-information society we have created, is probably at home playing a video game or we-chatting with her friend in China or trying to figure out her standards-based math problem on Google Classroom.

And I am not there. I am here, in this closed school, wishing that a two-hour PowerPoint justification could transform into a two-minute meet and greet. That we could just trust that our children’s teachers are doing the right thing. That they could just trust us to raise them with the best intentions.

Wishing that we could have an open house. Not a closed society where choices burn us and bore us and take us away from things that truly matter:

Our time.

Our children.

Our happiness.