Being Real

Dear Amy,

You started at South a year after me and came with your two sons, one in college and one a freshman, ready for a new beginning.

I didn’t know you well until I became a Senior Team Lead and observed how quickly, efficiently, and with a few kind-yet-forceful words, you were able to make them line up to spill out variations of vocabulary, tell their research stories, be themselves.

I co-taught with you this year only to witness firsthand what a gift you have for being real.

Being real, Shubitz style:

“If you feel that the content of what we’re doing is just too much, please, take a moment in the hallway if you’re triggered.”

“You know, that kid is just so smart, and no one has ever given him credit for it.”

“I’m just going to sit at this desk in the hall with my cell and call all the kids’ parents whose children haven’t shown up for the final.”

“If I haven’t heard from you today, get ready, because I’ll be calling your name in a minute” (continues to call on every unraised hand).

“You better turn in that process work else I’m not grading it.” (There is no ‘or’ in Jersey speak).

“Let me tell you this story…” Story about Mom, the PE teacher, story about son struggling, story about hunters in Carbondale, story about life in front of you.

“Are you going to grade those papers?” (Five minutes after they’re already done because no one can beat Shubitz).

That curly hair, that slide with “Would You Rather…”, that sincerity. That’s Amy Shubitz. And there is no replacement for someone who isn’t afraid to say it like it is and still loves every moment she shares with her students.

It’s hard to find a cohort for being real. I found it in you, my mother-in-partnership, already-raised-her-kids, listens-to-every-last-woe-of-adolescence colleague.

And I will miss you more than you will ever know.

Thank you for keeping it, being it, saying it.

Everything. Real.

Tomorrow Morning

My husband finishes work at 16:00, but he invited me to dinner in the cool uptown neighborhood where he works tonight. Because he had to “flip a switch”, as the four of us girls teased him, at exactly 18:00, and he couldn’t be late.

And we won these smiles.

Vittetoes Do Campfire

Someone with a camera (my camera) took our photo. A nice white woman with a GoldenDoodle sitting next to us. On a Tuesday in May that should have been eighty degrees but it was only fifty and threatening rain.


But it wasn’t a real threat. It wasn’t an 18-year-old one of my students who walked into an elementary school in Texas to kill three teachers and EIGHTEEN 2nd-4th graders.

Nope. That life, that teacher life, is for tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will rise at dawn, or just when the bluejays call me awake. I will walk my dog two miles through my Denver neighborhood. I will kiss my blue-collar husband goodbye and let my baby daughter drive me to the high school where we live/work. And we will walk into the Italian-brick-National-Historic-Monument of a high school and pretend that we don’t know the kid who could walk into an American gun store and kill the next generation in ninety minutes.

And I have worked for twenty years in this profession where my heart breaks every GODDAMN DAY in an attempt to keep that kid from doing that.

And you know what?

Tomorrow morning, I am going to see my recently-arrived refugee students who spent thirteen years on a list or thirteen harrowing months waiting in line or thirteen lifetimes waiting to come to the savior that is America, and try to explain to them, in my broken Dari/Spanish/Arabic/Pashto… that we are just as broken as them.

Tomorrow morning, I will rise at dawn after a night without sleep, and I will be there for them, trying to convince the boys that the gun store doesn’t exist and the girls that they have a future that includes educational advancement, no forced marriages, and a life that they can create.

And look at my girls.

Let them rule.

Just take a look at the three girls I have raised who have to face this.

Tomorrow morning.

And Biden, you’re going to give a speech? And Governor Abbott, and Donald FUCKING Trump, you’re speaking at the NRA convention this Friday, I hear?

And what the FUCK are you going to say? Thoughts and prayers?

Are you going to be there tomorrow morning, when the blood of eighteen elementary students is still staining our hands? Are you going to walk into that high school tomorrow morning, having that conversation with the kid whose negativity has walked him into the free-for-all, no-accountability gun store that is our nation? Are you going to sit by my side tomorrow morning as I try to make it through another day in a profession that vilifies and disgraces me with false promises and broken souls? Are you going to tell my Newcomers tomorrow morning that this really is the American FUCKING Dream?

No. You are not.

Tomorrow morning, before the alarm goes off, I will be awake. I will take my broken salary, my broken heart, and I will hug my kids. The only gun I will carry, the only bullets out of my mouth, are these words:

I am here.

I am here now. I am here later. I am here tonight.

I am here for you. For a million years.

And I will still be here for you.

Tomorrow morning.

That Smile

Dear Kurt,

The only reason I called you out in front of three or more people at the bar is not because my best friend is married to a firefighter, or that Erika, the calmest and most even-keeled human on earth, couldn’t handle your new schedule.

It’s because you once won an award for that smile on your face.

It’s more than a smile, of course. It’s your whole soul, put on perfectly honest display for the 175 (or whatever the number might be) of students who cycle in and out of your classroom each year.

It’s a smile that leads more than a hundred teachers to scream on a sidewalk for three days begging for a better life. A smile that brought her to you for a secluded wedding in the New Mexico hills. A smile that calms the hearts of a sixteen-year-old broken heart, a sixteen-year-old’s questioning of the world.

You can’t win an award for something that isn’t genuine.

And I hate that you won’t be the other end of the Sche-… Germanic name that is our department. That you won’t be the first to tell me I’m talking too much or the last one to throw in the lunchtime joke.

I hate that you put those numbers of students up last year and I hate that you know exactly what they don’t mean and that you had already completed your EMT course before those numbers were even posted, because you were unhappy.

And the last thing that a winner of the Smile Award needs.

Is to be unhappy.

So instead? Instead of me telling you my children’s drama, instead of seeing that beautiful, award-winning grin?

I want you to be happy. To work your two-and-four-day schedule and say goodbye to us (but leave us Erika, please), and keep winning those awards.

Those awards she didn’t give you: patience. Truth. Leadership. Accountability. All the goddamn buzzwords that you curse and yet live by. Because you are the teacher and leader that everyone needed and never had.

Because you are genuine, and I love you and hate you and want to be you all in the same smile.

And you deserve to put that smile on your face like you mean it. And I know you mean it.

Stairway F

H was in a mood today because she wasn’t feeling well, and we all suffered. She called out her former friend and said she wouldn’t participate in the therapy session (though she did) during the first class, and in the second class, she sat in the corner and wrote in her journal and did her work without a word.

When it was time to visit the school food bank before trekking home on the train, she was definitely not up to it. I looked at my recently-arrived Afghan girl whom H has been escorting to and from school every day, and H looked right back at me. They were both standing in Stairway F, not Stairway R, the one that leads to the food bank.

“Well… are you going to wait for R to go to the food bank?” (H’s sister and brother had already fled the premises and were five blocks down Louisiana Avenue, halfway home).

“We’re going home. She can’t go home alone.” It might have been a dirty look H gave me, an exhausted look, a middle-child look.

H is from Sudan and doesn’t speak R’s language. But she lives five blocks away from her, and even though the train takes an hour to bring them both to my school, I convinced R’s caseworker that it was worth her staying, that we have a food bank and a newcomer program with three hours of English and two hours of math and a summer program and therapists and patience, and this Sudanese family that lives five blocks away who could show her how to take the train… But what they wanted was an escort, a female escort, who would make sure that she would be safe.

(When we were learning past tense verbs yesterday via a story about a man who had a bad day, my para talked H through her horrible story about her bad day, where, just like the man in the story who missed his bus, she missed her train because R was late. And H is never, never late. And she nailed those past tense verbs, her long braids that her sister entwined spilling down her back like a river of emotion.)

I had to let them walk down Stairway F. (It was just a few years back that I discovered how many stairways are in our building. They go all the way up to X, if you were wondering how a school built a hundred years ago with three additions tries to fit the world into its walls. Stairway X is in the 1987 addition with the new gym and its fancy foyer and its secret passage up to the third-floor batting cage.)

I digress.

I let them go, and I walked the rest of my class down the second-floor hallway to Stairway R, to the food bank where my most-recently-arrived Afghan boy told me the whole story, through his broken English and broken heart and the translator app on his phone, about the series of scarred slashes on his arm.

“The Taliban?”

Scars so deep that they are still pink, as if cut by a suicidal knife, as if done yesterday. He has photos on his phone from the day of the event, less than a year back, when he was working in a pharmacy that the Taliban decided to bomb, shattering the glass on all the windows, sending the glass into his forerarm, his shoulder, his soul.

“Can you walk with me through the food bank and show me how to get the food?”

The patient Wash-Park mother was making a list of new students. He didn’t know just how to add his name, but his verbal skills are over-the-top amazing.
“How many people are in your house?” I asked because the form asks.

“Twelve. In two rooms,” he informed me, holding up two fingers to prove to me he understood.

“How many children? Adults?”

“Eight children and four adults.”

And before we had walked through, before we had picked out chai tea and lentils and halal meat and handfuls of fresh vegetables, filling not one or two, but three bags for him to carry across the city on two city buses, H appeared in front of me, cutting the line with R, exhausted and sick and putting her arm around her, making sure that she had as many bags of food that she could carry home to her huge family, and…

That is what it is like to teach Newcomer English. Find your H, take the right stairway, and fill your bags with food and hope.