My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Women, What are We Good For?


December 18, 2016

Disclaimer: This post contains content that some readers may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.

Dear Readers,

People are more misogynistic than we give them credit.

In 1974 I was attending a parochial (Catholic) school. Most mornings before school, I would sneak into the church to listen to the mass. One day, the priest announced that he needed a young man to assist him, as the scheduled alter boy was unavailable. As no young men were in the church that morning, one of my classmates, Barbara (not her real name) raised her hand and proceeded up to the altar. As she approached, the priest shook his head, “No,” and asked her to return to her pew.

The few parishioners, mostly rosary-carrying, elderly ladies began murmuring. The priest understood that unless and until he conducted the mass, the rosary ladies, who made up almost his entire morning congregation, would not leave. Thus, Barbara became the first female altar server at St. Vincent de Paul, and one of my first heroes. Unfortunately, the rest of the 6th grade students made fun of Barbara for being an ‘altar boy’. Huh, misogynistic?

When racy photos of Melania Trump first surfaced during the presidential race, people felt free to fly their misogyny flag. “Would you want this woman as your First Lady?” was the sentiment the pictures seemed to say. “Hell, yes!” seemed to be the response. In fact, one man I spoke with before the election told me, “If Trump wins, at least he has a wife that most men wanna fuck. No one wants to fuck Hillary, not even Bill.” As if being fuck-able is a qualification for her husband to be POTUS. smh

Conversely, not being fuck-able seems to put a woman out of the running. Hmm, misogynistic?

Aghh! What is wrong with us? idk but middle school seems to be no different.

One of my favorite bulletin boards I display in my classroom is my GOALS board. In years past, my students would color, cut and paste their way to a piece of student work I could post on my board. Today I’m much more savvy. I ask each of my students to send me a selfie so that I may print it. I have the students paste the selfie onto a mock-Instagram frame with the hashtag GOALS. I have them list their goals for the upcoming semester. It is incredible how many of my young ladies refuse to participate. In fact, they would rather take a zero than comply.

I know middle school students are self-conscious and even shy about their picture being taken. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. A few years ago, Melinda (not her real name) told me her mom wouldn’t let her send me a selfie. When I asked her why, she stated that her mom didn’t trust that the picture wouldn’t end up on the internet. Not a problem, I completely understand that.

Months later, I came across a selfie this same 12 year-old had posted on one of her sites. Here was my student in a push-up bra and thong underwear. Yikes! I had to have a heart to heart with the young lady.

This student told me that she liked the attention her picture received. She said that her ‘friends’ really liked how she looked in her picture! In her mind, her ‘friends’ knew better than she did about how to look good. She didn’t want me to put up a regular picture of her because the boys in her class would make fun of it. However, the boys at school who had seen her bathroom-selfie (as I kept calling it) liked ‘her’ and wanted to ‘go out’ with her.

Wow!  Definitely misogyny.  How heart-breaking to think that objectifying females starts so young.

Of course, men are not the only misogynists we have to look out for. Females, both girls and women, have turned misogyny into an art-form. Let’s face it, have you ever heard any of the following coming from a female:

“Oh, I don’t like women!” Or “I like to hang around with boys, not girls.” Or even “I don’t like girls, they’re too much drama!” Um…hello? You do realize you are speaking about yourself, right? I mean if a person does not like females, and that person is a female, it stands to reason that the person, who is a female and who doesn’t like females, doesn’t like themselves…right? Right.

Geez, this is quite a conundrum. But, I think I’m chipping away at the problem a little bit at a time. Having an influence on the next generation of young women is quite an honor, one that I don’t intend to squander. I hope never again to see one of my students posting a degrading bathroom-selfie. Because nothing is sexy about 12 year-old tits and toilets in the same picture.

peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow


student-love

I’m all about the love.

November 16, 2016

*Names in the following post have been changed.

Dear Readers,

Respect is overrated. In fact, at times, it is quite inconsequential. I can think of several nouns I would rather have from someone than the ‘R’ word; peace and love naturally come to mind. Unfortunately, our world is sorely lacking in all three.

When I was younger (much, much younger), I was fond of saying that I would rather my colleagues respect me than like me. And I have always been confident enough in my skills to ensure that my coworkers would do just that: respect me. Boy was I wrong!

For the past year, I have noticed a definite shift in the attitude of my students, collectively as well as individually. There is certainly more bullying and less kindness on display in my classroom. Indeed, I have oftentimes pointed this out to my most unruly classes. The school year is nearly half over and I have finally gotten my students to take me seriously. I’ve had to prove myself over and over again to not only earn their trust, but, yes, their respect as well. But as any teacher of middle school students knows, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And sometimes it’s not my students that are tripping me backwards; it’s my fellow educators.

There are certain male teachers at school who seem to command respect by their mere presence. Something about a deep, throaty voice and a six foot frame that registers with middle school kids. I was always able to put the fear of God in my own children with my “look”, but it never quite worked with this bunch of students. I’ve even ventured to ask my students why they behave for Mr. Down-the-Hall but not for me. I’m not going to tell you their answers, but I’ve come up with a few of my own.

We live in a male dominated society. Like it or not, men are valued more than women. I try to not let that bother me, but it does. It especially bothers me when Mr. Down-the-Hall undermines my authority in front of my students. Instead of accusing me of dismissing my students before the bell rings, why can’t Mr. Down-the-Hall wait until there are no students around, mine or his, and ask me what happened that my students left early? Why? Because if Mr. Down-the-Hall had waited to ask me what happened, instead of accusing me of letting my students out early, I would have told him that as soon as I turned my back, my students (all but two) rushed the door and were halfway to the bus before I even knew they were gone.

These same students would never deign to pull such a stunt with Mr. Down-the-Hall, they’re too afraid of him. Alas, I am envious of the fear he commands. “If I could just have a teeny bit of whatever he has…” I muse, and sometimes cry. And today was one of those days.

Today was one of those, “I am sick to death of putting up with the lack of respect from pipsqueak, prepubescent would-be reprobates!” And Mr. Down-the-Hall just added to my frustration. I willed myself to stay angry to stave off the tears. “I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home.” Then I began to think.

I began to question where I had gone wrong. When had I begun to be ineffective? When had I lost the respect of my charges, if in fact, I ever had it? All I ever really wanted was respect. Respect, respect, respect. My respect mantra was still looping through my mind when I stopped at Panda Express to pick up tonight’s dinner. My anger began to subside (the anticipation of food often does that to me) and I began to soothe my soul.

Instead of telling myself what I didn’t have from my students, I began to tell myself what I did.  I have my students’ trust; they trust me to lead them in the right direction. I have my students’ laughter; they not only laugh at me, they laugh with me. I have my students’ love; they love me even when I don’t think they do. And as if on cue, I see one of my students, standing in line behind me, with her family. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I was going to pay for my food and quietly slip out the door. It was enough for me to know that I was making a difference in my students’ lives. And, hey, at my age, I can STILL improve my character, I can stop the tears AND the anger, and I CAN be good to myself. Yea me! What had started out as a miserable evening was turning into a pretty good night. And it was just about to get even better.

Lost in thought and heading for the Panda Express exit, I almost missed my student stepping out of line and heading right toward me. She was walking with arms outstretched, smile on her lips, twinkle in her eye; my heart melted. I stopped and we enveloped each other in well-needed hug. We said, “Hi,” and “Bye,” and I was out the door. It was then that I finally let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. To hell with respect, my students LOVE me. And that, dear Readers, is what makes the world go ’round.

peace, ~v.  

 

 

 

 

 


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If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say


May 15, 2015

Dear Readers,

I had nothing nice to write these past five months, so I kept it to myself.  The world has enough unkind words karmically seeking counterparts.  I wanted to balance the not nice words with some nice.  And this post is filled with enough nice words to fill an entire classroom of 7th grade students. 

My first, full year teaching 7th grade language arts is drawing to a close and I want to acknowledge one of my classes.  I have to admit that I have spent the better part of the school year complaining to my sister about this student or that student.  I thought it might be refreshing if she, and you, dear Readers, were to hear about the good students, not just the bad and the…well, you know the rest.  

I credit my last period class for creating such a good vibe prior to my life changing accident last year, that I wanted to, no, I had to come back to teach.  Believe me, I was periously close to never teaching again.  However, my last hour class was the perfect storm.  These are the students who reminded me why I teach.  

I would like to introduce you to Az (sorry Az, didn’t feel comfortable using your real name)    This young man has got the world by the tail and he is going places.  He is a leader among his peers and I am honored to have been his teacher.

Next is his sometime sidekick, Cj.  You will find Cj among the ballers.  He is smart and athletic and one of the most dedicated I’ve seen come through here.

My trusty first assistant Mg is as adorable as the day is long.  She is a hella good creative writer and I look for her to publish some of her fiction in the future.  

Mg’s first assistant is Bi.  Well, not really an assistant, but they are thick as thieves.  Bi is almost as smart as she thinks she is (jk, Bi, you know I love you).  I admire Bi’s willingness to ask questions, even though her peers may poke fun at her.  She is the one I pick to most likely go to a top university.

Jr was my second semester assistant.  I wasn’t sure if his, um,bathroom habit was for real, or just a ploy to get out of my class.  Maybe I made him nervous.  Nevertheless, he holds a very special place in my heart because he was never embarrassed to ask me to sit with him at lunch.  Kv was also at that same lunch table.  Although, Kv didn’t spend as much time at our (listen to me, “our”) lunch table as he should have.  Let’s just say that detention sometimes includes lunch.

Now for my silent but deadly crew: Ax, Le, Mo, and Yz.  “Still waters run deep,” comes to mind when I think of these four students.  Ax is one of the bitchingest (is that a word?) artists I have seen at such a young age.  Too bad I never warranted a drawing (LoL).  Ax draws because he has to draw.  For him, drawing is life.  He is art.  Le is too sweet for his own good at times.  I fear that someday, somewhere, some you-know-what will break his heart and I will have to go find her.  Seriously though, Le has a heart as big as anyone I know.  

Mo. is my kindred spirit.  He is like me, an outsider, not wanting to go in, but not wanting to stay on the fringe.  I pray that he finds the peace he is seeking.  Hell, I pray I find the peace I am seeking.

Yz could stand to have a bit more confidence.  She is smarter than she gives herself credit for.  The same is true for Gi.  These two young ladies are just the two to lead the next generation of strong, smart, beautiful Latina women.

Now we come to one of the beauties: Jo.  Jo too often sells herself short (no pun intended).  Yes, she is short, but, she doesn’t see the beauty that I see.  The quality that Jo has that I most admire is her loyalty.  I would love to have such a friend.

Ar is one of the cutest, most energetic young ladies in the school.  She is a lady with a bit of a rebellious streak.  She hardly lets it slip, but it gives her an edge.  I would love to see her roller-skate!

Tl warms my heart because he will always be a kid inside.  On his birthday, he came to class wearing an Olaf backpack!  For a 7th grade student to walk into class with this backpack was, to me, the sweetest thing I could have seen.  I hope he always keeps his little boy outlook on life.  

Of all these students, I admire Er the most.  I can never understand nor imagine speaking two languages.  Er can.  In fact, Er can speak, read and write in English better than most native English speakers.  He may be quiet, but I predict that he will make a great big roar when he is released into the real world.

De is one of the quirkiest white-boys ever.  However, as he tells me, “But, I’m black on the inside!”  Great kid with a great smile.  I owe you a book, De; I hope you are around next year to receive it.

Finally, I will never forget Eb, Je, and Mg.  These three, assistant Mg, beautiful Eb, and funny Je are the epitome of why I came back to teach after my accident.  The day of my accident, these three were the perfect trio with the perfectly executed lesson.  Theirs were the three faces that went before my eyes shortly before I wound my way up the mountain stretch on my way to, well, you know.  Knowing there are students out there like these three made my coming back to teach worthwhile.  Three seemingly different students, from three different backgrounds, with different friends and interests came together that afternoon and opened themselves up to learning.

These are the reasons I teach, dear Readers; these are the reasons I teach.  Peace, ~v.


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But For the Grace of God


July 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am feeling quite humbled today.  Yesterday, I briefly allowed myself to wallow in my grief.  Today, I am thanking God that I have so little troubles.

Yesterday my students began writing personal narrative essays, today I began reading them.  I do not know why I am surprised at the content of the essays, but I am.  With the exception of the short time I taught in the Middle East, I have worked at diverse, predominantly lower income schools, including two boys’ prisons.  And the personal stories I read about are the most heart wrenching stories I have ever come across.  Today was no exception.

I am not going to write specifically about my current students.  However, I will give you some idea of what I have run  across.  I have taught students whose parents have abandon them, turned them into drug dealers, and turned them out (prostitution).  I have taught students whose parents have initiated them into gangs, and I have taught students whose parents were the ones to beat them out of the gangs.

I have taught students whose parents have allowed their “friends” to have their way with them (sexually speaking), and students whose parents themselves have had their way with them.

I have taught students whose parents have been arrested, imprisoned, shot at, and shot up in front of them.  I’ve had shoeless students and I’ve had homeless students.  I’ve had them all, dear Readers.  It breaks my heart.

I have taught students who have lost siblings, mothers, fathers, and yes, even pets.   They write about it all.  Most of them have also lost their innocence.  So as I was reading my students’ essays today, I came to a realization, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I am blessed.  I was fortunate enough to have been given a strong foundation through the guidance of my family.  I have been given the will and the strength to have survived not even half of the things I have read about in my students’ essays over the past 15 years.  Okay, so I’ve suffered a loss, a big loss.  But I can do this, I will get through this.  If some of my students can live through the things they have had to live through, well so can I.

I have taught students who have lost just about all they have to lose.  But the one thing, the one thing I can honestly say about my students, past and present, they have never lost their spirit.   A girl could learn a thing or two from that.  Peace, ~v.