C & H

It was cruelty that put him here. The cruelties of poverty, of corruption, of one governmental thievery after another. Our government to theirs. Their government to their people.

It was cruelty that put him in a cage, that gave him no choice but to keep on keeping on, train after train, burnt house back home, left-behind baby sisters, parents unable or unwilling to give him what he really needed, really wanted in life.

It was cruelty that led him to my classroom and into the basement “bedroom” of our home.

But today, there was no cruelty. Only the miracle of another turn around the sun. And this eighteen-year milestone is so much more than the tres leches cake my youngest prepared, so much more savory than the two pot roasts we spent half the day cooking, more than the intricately-decorated banner, the piñata he never could hit as a kid.

Today, there was only humanity.

The humanity that bleeds through the cruelty even when you think it isn’t there. In programs established by past presidents that a team of social workers, caseworkers, and even a famous poet worked tirelessly to get him into before his eighteenth birthday, when suddenly, and for completely arbitrary reasons, our government labels young boys adults.

The humanity in lawyers working day and night, in the middle of Christmas and New Year’s while visiting family, who are willing to send emails and make phone calls and answer every stupefied gringo-I-don’t-know-the-law question.

PRO BONO.

The humanity in my friends who sent gift cards, cash, and prayers, to thank me for bringing this boy home.

Cruelty brought him here. But humanity has won.

If you combine C & H, you’ll have nothing but sugar. Pure sweetness.

And that is what I want you to taste as you read this post, as you click on these links. The sweetness of humanity. It may seem to be hiding behind the C, but without it, what would we have?

Certainly not a game of spoons. A party of smiling teenagers. An artist’s pencil.

Or a speck of hope.

Blow out these candles with us. Sing this song in broken Spanish. And relish these sweet dreams. They are yours. They are his. They are all of ours.

And they are sweeter than any cruelty you could imagine. Just taste them. Take a moment to taste how sweet our world could be.

 

 

Migration

I tried to be an immigrant once. I failed miserably because I’m too damn American. A privileged white woman. And because it was so fucking easy just to come home after a year.

In the attempt, I cried for months. I wrote constantly about the struggle of it all. The relinquishment of our family home. The endless paperwork. The cancellation of a dream job for something that was meant to barely sustain a recent graduate, not a family of five.  Saying goodbye to the colleagues and collegiality I had shared for seven years. Saying goodbye to my family, my friends.

But it was just a farce, really. I didn’t fully fulfill my lifelong dream of Spanish fluency because I spent the majority of my days teaching English and the remainder speaking to my English-speaking family. And the money? The dream? The travels across Europe?

Nothing, I learned in those magical ten months, compares to human relationships. The relationships we’d just begun to develop with my clients, my colleagues, my friends in Spain before we had to board a plane and return to our “life.”

I tried to be an immigrant once, to step into the shoes of someone who has to drive across the country for a visa. To find an apartment. A phone plan. A rental car. A school for their children. In their second language.

I failed.

I bought five plane tickets and flew us back to America before we could blink.

Wouldn’t that be nice? To determine, after a time, that it’s just not right? That you could more or less return to your life and be the better for it? That you could pick up right where you left off, master’s degree in hand, Skype-interview-secured position waiting, to the life that you thought you wanted to leave behind?

Well, my students don’t have that choice. They have witnessed everything you can imagine and everything you couldn’t begin to imagine. They have come here with a singular thought: I cannot, I will not, return. I have stepped on that plane, that train, that three thousand miles of pain, to make this dream a reality. 

They come here to relinquish everything about what has shaped them as human beings. Their language, lisping and loving. Their food, aromatic and elegant. Their weather, pungent and tropical, arid and hot. Their religion, every day and every way. Their families. Their communities. Broken or torn, perfect or imperfect, but never enough.

And they know that they cannot look back. That, no matter the circumstance (murdered parents, no literacy, shadows of abuse, a $10,000 bail set on a cousin who came to rescue them from a detention center only to be placed in one himself), they are here. To stay.

They are the brown faces you see on every block building your garages. Hammering  your roofs. Serving your dinner. Teaching your children Spanish. Driving your Uber. Replacing your sewer line. Packing your meat. Running your school district.

Their children are your children. Impatient. Anxious. Determined.

They have come here, across the border, across the sea, across their history, to be reborn. They are no longer Hondureños, Salvadorans, Congolese, Burmese, Asian, Mexican, Iraqis.

They are intertwined into the fabric of our country, building the bridges, picking the food, bringing us hope.

And they’re not in the market to give up. To buy a plane ticket home.

To be me.

How humbling that is, to think of staying, of giving up everything for a different life. Of never being able to return.

Of never wanting to return.

Can you imagine?

And this is why my daughter has made this card. Why I have spent my evening in Walmart searching for gifts that will never replace a loving family. And why I am so heartbroken and so grateful that my students will never be me.

Have you ever tried to be an immigrant? It is impossible to imagine. To describe. To understand.

All we can really do, as her smile suggests, is build a bigger table. Open our hearts. And welcome those who may never have the privilege to look back.

 

 

 

DPS: Three Strikes. You’re Out.

Denver Public Schools is beginning to look like the nail-biting ninth inning of a baseball game with its quarter-century pattern of three teachers’ strikes—1969, 1994, 2019—and I am anxious, as a former DPS student and current teacher and parent, for our district to stop throwing curve balls at our profession.  

I was a junior at Manual High School in ‘94 when I arrived at school and saw my teachers walking the line, holding up signs, and telling me not to go inside. Not knowing what to do, I spent five days, before deciding to leave early each afternoon, in and out of the chaos of auditoriums led by scattered subs, completing pointless worksheets, and witnessing which teachers would cross the picket line.

My teachers were fighting for smaller class sizes, duty-free lunches, more uninterrupted planning time, and a 40-hour work week in addition to a measly 2.15% pay increase. Governor Roy Romer had to intervene in three days of intense negotiations between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and Denver Public Schools.

In 1969, teachers in Denver struck for 14 days over many of the same issues—better pay, better student services, and improved equity in our schools.

So why are we here, in 2019, still fighting the same fight? Why did the Denver school district threaten my striking teachers with $100/day fines in 1994 and, 25 years later, ask the state to intervene to prevent current teachers from walking the line?

Perhaps, like the head of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, DPS thinks we are actors on a “political theater” stage. That we are flooding the streets in #Red4Ed shirts, bullhorns in hand, chants memorized, teamsters and firefighters and construction workers and students and parents in support… to win an Oscar?

What has brought me to this stage?

When we were down on our luck in rural America, my mother uprooted us to move to Denver when I was 11. Contrarily, her own parents had ripped her from Denver’s Park Hill Elementary at the same age 25 years prior during the 1960s “white flight” migration to the suburbs. Always burdened by her parents’ blatant racism, my mother told us, “We’re moving straight to Denver, NOT the suburbs, and you girls will learn the value of diversity.”

Unlike my tiny town in upstate New York, DPS offered me a side of society I’d never seen: racial violence in forced-integration hallways, a Chicano Mathletics coach, a Black science teacher, and a set of friends from multiple races, language backgrounds, and family dynamics. Manual High School offered me a spotlight into the world of LGBTQ acceptance and the privilege of the most inspirational teacher anyone could ever imagine.

That teacher, and DPS, are the reasons I became a teacher and the reason I came back to this district after teaching stints elsewhere. And my mother’s fierce attitude about the value of diversity is why my daughter walks with me into Denver South High each day and takes classes alongside refugees and immigrants, students of color, and every religious belief the world offers. Why I thrive on working at one of one of the nation’s most diverse schools with its Newcomer Center, LGBTQ alliance club, Muslim Alliance, Black Student Alliance, Latino Alliance, and staff members whose faces and backgrounds represent the faces and backgrounds of our students.

So why am I, why are DCTA and the majority of Denver’s 4,600 teachers, fighting against our beautifully diverse school district? Because we have been negotiating our master contract for 15 months. Because the voter-approved ProComp pay system, unlike any other district in the state, offers shifting and unpredictable bonuses and pits teachers against each other depending on the “priority” label the district assigns them. Because the reform movement has gripped our city and shut down all but three of the comprehensive high schools I grew up with, charterizing the rest and stripping teachers of public retirement pensions. Because DPS spends millions on administrative bonuses instead of on teachers’ salaries.

Because I could never afford to live in Denver on the salary I earn today.

Because I have 28 students with one to two essays due EACH WEEK in my latest University of Phoenix class, my second job that pays $225 a week on the occasional basis that I am granted a section.

I keep this job to fund the $2000 I’m paying, in addition to doing hundreds of hours of work, to try to obtain National Board Certification, the only possible way for me to get a raise in Denver without investing thousands of dollars on a third degree.

The disheartening reality of what every teacher I know does to survive is that we must jump through every hoop imaginable to make ends meet.

We teach summer school. We do home visits. We coach. We spend our own money on advanced degrees with the hope of improving our instruction and earning mediocre raises.

This is on top of the 50 or more hours a week we work to plan and teach lessons, grade papers, collect data, counsel students in trauma at lunch and after school, and attend meetings, sports events, professional development, and student recruitment events (because we have to sell our schools now).

So, when my state, my “blue” but really purple state, calls us actors on a “political theater” stage, I am at my wit’s end:

“Criticizing the most recent teacher pay bargaining session as ‘political theater,’ the head of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment urged the Denver school district and its teachers union … to work harder to find common ground” (Chalkbeat).

Was it theatrical that we gave up the tenth evening in as many weeknights to wait for our district to come to the table with an actual proposal rather than a cost-of-living increase already in the budget?

Was it theatrical that young children stood behind the fraudulent superintendent with signs begging her not to deport our teachers after the HR department more or less threatened their right to strike?

Was it theatrical that we have negotiated for 15 months, yes over “philosophy disagreements” because the PHILOSOPHY OF OUR DISTRICT IS TO SHUT DOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, TAKE OPPORTUNITIES AWAY FROM STUDENTS OF COLOR, AND GENTRIFY EVERYTHING FROM NEIGHBORHOODS TO CURRICULUM?

What has brought us to this strike?

All the hours. All the years. All the goddamn blood, sweat, and tears that have been put on stage for the world to see: failed negotiations, ignored community voices, and livelihoods on the line.

For political theater of the worst show you will ever wish you didn’t buy a ticket to see.

Your time is up, DPS. Three strikes. You’re out. It’s time for the teachers to earn the respect they deserve, for the students to have equitable access to education with teachers who will stay in Denver, and for the curtain to close on this performance (pay).

 

My Heart Breaks

Students,

I am going on strike tomorrow. I hope that you come to school, are respectful towards your substitute teachers, get your breakfast and lunch, visit the food bank on Thursday, and keep up with what your teachers have posted on Schoology.

I’ve heard the district will not allow us to access Schoology or emails this week. I am so sorry that I will not be able to respond to any messages from you. Please come see me outside the school if you have any questions about anything. I will grade all of your hard work when I get back.

We all know this is more than grades. This is more than a few assignments. This is more than a week of school.

I love you, and I want you to understand that when we see inequity in our world, we must stand up to it. That is why I’m striking. I want what is best for you, the students. You need teachers who will continuously stay at South. You need a school and district that values students over dollars. You need a chance to see that corporate greed cannot, and will not, define where you graduate from.

In Solidarity,

Ms. Vittetoe

Fly Us Home

Wanting a better life for her family, my mother uprooted us to move to Denver when I was 11. Contrarily, her own parents had ripped her from Park Hill Elementary at the same age 33 years prior in the 1960s “white flight” migration. Always burdened by this blatant racism, my mother told us, “We’re moving straight to Denver, and you girls will learn the value of diversity.”

I attended Merrill and Cole middle schools and Manual High School, the latter two hosting the burgeoning Denver School of the Arts.

Unlike my tiny town in upstate New York, DPS offered me a side of society I’d never seen: racial violence in forced-integration hallways, a Chicano Mathletics coach, and a set of friends from multiple races, language backgrounds, and family dynamics. DSA offered me a spotlight into the world of LGBTQ acceptance and the privilege of the most inspirational teacher anyone could ever imagine–Mrs. Jana Clark.

Mrs. Clark and DPS are the reasons I became a teacher and the reason I came back to this district after teaching stints elsewhere.

Because Denver is my microcosm of what the world could be. What my mother wanted and what I was lucky enough to proclaim: I am a DPS graduate. I am a DPS parent. I am a DPS teacher.

DPS represents our world. Its teachers represent DPS.

Listen to the teachers. Their right to strike is your right to make this city the one we want to fly to, not fly from.

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My Livelihood is ‘Political Theater’

I have twenty-eight students with one to two essays due EACH WEEK in my new University of Phoenix class, my second job that pays $225/week on the occasional basis that I am granted a class.

I haven’t taught this particular class in over two years, so of course, they’ve changed the entire syllabus, I have to read two different textbooks, and I need to update all my rubrics. Also, all of the online discussion questions have changed, so I will need to respond to thirty different questions with a new set of thirty 200-300-word responses.

Part of the reason I keep this job is that it’s online, and I can squeeze it into (every possible free moment of) my day.

Another reason I have kept it, at the moment, is to fund the $2000+ I’m paying, in addition to doing hundreds of hours of work, to try to obtain my National Board Certification, which is the only possible way to get a raise at this point in my career without investing thousands of dollars and hours in another degree (I am MA+30).

The disheartening reality of what every teacher I know does to survive, every teacher who isn’t lucky enough to marry rich, or at the very least marry someone with guaranteed job opportunities and a forever-steady income, is that we must jump through every hoop imaginable to make ends meet.

We teach summer school. We do home visits. We spend our own money on advanced degrees and credits with the hope of improving our instruction and earning mediocre raises.

This is on top of the fifty or more hours a week we spend planning lessons, grading papers, counseling students in trauma at lunch and after school, attending meetings, sports events, professional development, and student recruitment events (because we have to sell our schools now).

So when my state, my “blue” but really purple (perhaps leaning red) state, calls us actors on a “political theater” stage, I am at my wit’s end:

“Criticizing the most recent teacher pay bargaining session as ‘political theater,’ the head of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment urged the Denver school district and its teachers union Monday to work harder to find common ground — even as he expressed skepticism that the two sides would reach a deal” (Chalkbeat).

Was it theatrical that we gave up the tenth evening in as many weeknights to wait for our district to come to the table with an actual proposal rather than a cost-of-living increase already in the budget?

Was it theatrical that young children stood behind the fraudulent superintendent with signs begging her not to deport our teachers after the HR department more or less threatened their right to work?

Was it theatrical that we have negotiated for fifteen months, yes over “philosophy disagreements” because the PHILOSOPHY OF OUR DISTRICT IS TO SHUT DOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, TAKE OPPORTUNITIES AWAY FROM STUDENTS OF COLOR, AND GENTRIFY EVERYTHING FROM NEIGHBORHOODS TO CURRICULUM?

And. Just. Like. That.

All the hours. All the years. All the goddamn blood, sweat, and tears have been put on stage for the world to see, chart-paper and all, chants in the background, livelihoods on the line.

For political theater of the worst show you will ever wish you didn’t buy a ticket to see.

Even the Sunset Says So

Is there a prettier Denver sunset than this ‘red’ sunset over teachers rallying to strike??

I don’t know what you were thinking, DPS. Did you not realize you are a district in a union-led hotbed of liberals???

Did you think we were going to sit down and shut up??

We’re going to rally. We’re going to win.

Even the sunset says so.