Sei sup mmmmmmmmm: ripple in still water.

I wanted to write tonight. I took care of all the things I needed to take care of today and I was all ready to give myself time to sit and write. But I couldn’t. I mean, obviously I could have in a literal fingers-to-keys kind of way, but not in a metaphorical making-meaning(ful)-meaning kind of way.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

I wanted to write about this video I took from JM’s car in Paris this summer.

I wanted to write about something satisfying. Like about taking a group of high school seniors to listen to a conversation with US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on a Friday night and having them come out of the talk and say, “He is all about the Social Contract, isn’t he?”

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But, no.

I suppose if I were a writer, I would say I had writer’s block. But I am not really a writer, am I? Only in so far as one with an Instagram is a photographer, or one who goes to church is a Christian (I wanted to write about the Pope too, because I cannot get enough of the Pontiff.) Instead, I sat. I considered meditating, but I didn’t want to make the cat move, and I sort of suck at meditation anyhow.

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

I turned 45 this week. I sat with that for a while. 45. Forty five. Cuarenta y cinco. Sei sup mm. Fifty minus five.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Maybe that is why I can’t think of anything good to write. Maybe by the time you get to be this age, you are supposed to have a whole bunch of real things to write about, and here I sit with my immaculate home and my two cats and some loud Eighties music in my unbearably hip neighborhood, and no typical accomplishments like husbands and divorces and kids and shit to write about.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

I was born in 1970. Do you know how long it takes to scroll to that year when you are filling out your birthdate on-line? You have to pick your finger up off the touch pad at least twice. That shit is crazy. Nixon was the president and my Grandma M tried cocaine. That would have been something to see.

In 1970 things were pretty fucked up.

I came of age in the 1980s. Do you know how accidentally iconic the Eighties have become? What I know recall about the Eighties could feather your hair. I still love the music, hipsters still love the fashion. We are all still paying for the politics.

In the 1980s things were pretty fucked up.

I got some education in the 1990s: formal and otherwise. Do you think everyone assumes the time they opened their minds is the more relevant than that of others? I don’t know, but a lot of shit happened in the nineties. And then at the end of 1999 the world didn’t end and I think a lot of people thought that was pretty fucked up

I had my mid-life crisis in the mid-90s. Which makes sense because I never really thought I would live very long (which is kind of dumb of me because the women in my family tend to live a very long time.) For whatever reason my mid-life dramz kicked off at 34. It took me about four years to sort that shit out.

Mid-life crises are pretty fucked up.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

On the weekend leading up to my birthday I met someone who is in her mid-30s and appears to be on track to have a midlife crisis just like mine. (Apparently it’s not just movies and politicians from the decade that never go away.) I told her I had to sail away to China to deal with it. She did not get the musical reference, but I am fairly certain she is on board with the rest of it. I predict she breaks up with her boyfriend before the end of this year (not due to my counsel, mind you – I am not a meddler, just a sharer.)

Maybe the reason this birthday isn’t sitting so well with me is that I don’t have anything to be in crisis about because I already got all destructive and ridiculously reckless ten years ago and so it feels empty of purpose. I emerged from my midlife crisis down one Wal-Mart-shopping boyfriend and one suburban tract house, but as my kids would say: I am not about that life.

Life in with the suburbs was pretty fucked up.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

This week was my fifth repatriated birthday. The birthday itself was not particularly eventful, but at this point in one’s life, that seems like a win. A dear friend I have known since the 8th grade said to me, “I hope you feel how much you are loved.” Yes, L, I did. And here I am, in a great city, with great hair, a few new wrinkles, amazing friends, no involuntary responsibilities, and I am alive.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

So, happy birthday to me: good hair, good shoes, wrinkles, and a potty mouth, but crisis free. That’s livin’: L-I-V-I-N.

That seems like a lot to write about.

I’ll get back to writing in no time, I am sure.

Death & Taxes. Or as some folks call it, Valentine’s Day.

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday this year. I am not really wrapped up in Valentine’s Day. Of course, if I say this out loud people seem to think it means I am some sort of bitter singleton, so let me just clarify: single – Yes; bitter – No.

True story,

On this Valentine’s Day (smack in the middle of a four-day weekend – oh yes, you heard that right, a four-day weekend) I decided to take care of some business. After all I was going to revisit my youth seeing Tainted Love with some friends in the evening, so no time like the present. I got my house cleaned up, had a lovely cup of coffee and decided to finish my income taxes.

Ah, the joy.

Funny thing is, I used to really enjoy doing my taxes. Back when the songs Tainted Love sing were actually in the pop music rotation, my taxes were simple, and I always got a nice fat check back from the government. It was nice. But, no more. My taxes have not gotten a lot more complicated, and I certainly have not seen a personal income that rivals even half of my neighbors, but… no more fat check.

What gives?

As I worked my way through the forms, (alright, alright, as I entered the information into TurboTax) I got to thinking, why is it that I pay more than 25% of my income to the government? I am a public school teacher for goodness sakes. What is up with that? I have a pretty small carbon footprint, I am conscientious. I am not wasteful. I do not rely on many public services. As I punched in the numbers I tried to think about it, what was different from the days of “fun” taxes to now?

And then it hit me.

I enjoyed the tax season when I was in my twenties. I was earning money, but not too much. I was not supposed to be making much. Nor was I supposed to be married and procreating and buying large-scale items like cars and houses. Back then, when I was in my twenties, nobody raised their eyebrows (at best) or gave me the pity shrug (much worse) when they heard I was single. I was supposed to be single, and society and the government agreed on this.

Now, in my forties, I am still earning money (not too much, but really, enough), I am still not married, still not procreating, still not buying cars and houses. Basically, still single. However, now, in my forties, it seems it is not just society who thinks this is some sort of unnatural aberration, but the government has decided that I deserve to be punished as well.

It is time for these singleton focused inquisitions to be cool. It is not as if I am dead, people. I am just, single. As if well-meaning pity (is there such a thing?) and general social mockery as evidenced by cat lady and spinster jokes – or this, my personal favorite:

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… wasn’t enough, the government is in on this lifestyle condemnation as well. [ps: Charlie and his fiancé broke up. I wonder if everyone is asking why?]

Yeah, you heard me right, I am being punished for my lifestyle choices. Seriously. Think about it, just because I am not towing the societal line, I pay more taxes. I have no write-offs for dependents, for a mortgage, for my children’s college education to ensure they will be future presidents. It is not right.

I do not want a mortgage. I do not want children. However, I do want a functional society. And I do think paying taxes is sort of like the price one pays to live in a functional society. But as a public school teacher, who frankly gives way more at the “office” than one probably should, I feel like this system is pretty out of whack.

I mean, really, I spend a ridiculous amount of time explaining why I am single to just about everyone I know (and I don’t actually have a good answer that is not a Ron-ism (“A lot of these people have complexities I don’t desire”) and now the government has to get in on the mockery?

That is fucked up.

If all that is certain is death and taxes, even on Valentine’s Day, I’m okay with that as I have paid my taxes and as single as I am, I’m not dead yet.

For what it is worth, for the first time in nearly 10 years, it turns out I do not have to pay extra taxes this year (if TurboTax can be trusted). It appears that what I “gave at the office” (as well as that hefty 25% of my yearly gross) might be enough to soothe the savage tax man.

Now, if only there was something I could do to calm all the people who are so concerned about my singleton status. I mean, really, do we look bitter?

Slow your roll lovebirds.

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Just another blog about another dysfunctional relationship.

I have never been in a physically abusive relationship, but I have been in some seriously fucked up interpersonal collaborations with other people. They all eventually came to an end, so I guess I did something right eventually – or if I didn’t do something right, I still got the necessary results (in spite of myself, as I like to say.) The kind of shit I generally get into falls into a sort of weird passive kind of destruction. I suspect there are a fair number of people who would say I bring it on myself, or I create the circumstances that lead to the drama, either by my consistently poor choices in men, or my tolerance of truly shitty treatment. I like to say I am an optimist. Most of my friends would say I am in denial. Either way, the point is I have a pretty solid repertoire of experiences in which I stuck around and took a lot of costly, painful, and ultimately unnecessary shit.

Lately, I have been feeling some familiar feelings along these lines. But this makes no sense because I am in a really good place right now… my life is feeling really balanced, I am doing all the things I want to be doing, I have amazing people in my life, and great adventures awaiting me. And I am totally and completely single, so, what is this niggling feeling about? Why do I constantly feel judged, criticized, pressured, put down, and taken advantage of?

Last week as I got on the train to go to work I was thinking about this precise conundrum: Why did I feel like I was in a bad relationship?

[One week ago, on the Richmond Line]

I was grading papers – as I often do because, no time. A woman sitting next to me asked, “Are you a teacher?” I looked towards her and said, “Yes.”

“It must be a tremendous amount of work,” she continued.
“Yes.”
“It is so wonderful what you do. So important.”

At this point I looked at her. Smartly dressed. Some sort of security badge attached to a lanyard (only mildly complicating her attire), and, most notably to me, she seemed to not be schlepping a metric shit ton of work back to the “office” with her. I considered this as I looked at my huge bag, which I have made a conscious New Year’s resolution to carry on my right shoulder from now on because at least I should have symmetrical lateral deltoid, trapezius, and middle back pain.

“I have the utmost respect for teachers. Honestly, so much respect,” she said as she made a move to get up and exit the train.

“Thanks,” I said.

I looked back at the papers in front of me. They were shit, frankly. After weeks of covering the topic of world exploration and completing an insanely complex simulation, my sophomores had been unable to take the time necessary to form complete sentences that could express their ideas and knowledge about what they had learned. And it had been so much work. It was still to be so much work.

The man sitting across from me said, “So you’re a teacher? Me too.”

I looked up at him. He looked nice, like we all try to, but he was tired. And not just like, ‘I could have used a couple more hours of sleep,’ tired, but wholly fatigued. Although his freshly pressed shirt and kind face belied it, I could see it behind his eyes as he looked at my heap of shit, and then his own.

“What do you teach?” He asked.
“Social studies,” I answered.
“English.” He replied.
“Ah.” I nodded.

He told me where he taught and asked me about my school. We traded some comparative details, and then he said, “It is really hard, isn’t it?”

“What, the work?” I asked.
“No, all of it.” He said.
“Yeah, I guess. Yes.” I said.
“You know there is a war on teachers,” he said. “We are at war. And we’re out there, on the front lines. But, no support.”

I looked at him.

“Think about it,” he said. “We’ve got to protect and grow the most important resource, the kids. And everyone agrees, they are so important. But they don’t give us any support. They lay down their strategies from far away – imagine someone doing that in a real war, not listening to the field general. Anyway, and there we are, taking all the hits. No flak jackets for us.”

“She liked us.” I joked about the woman who had exited the train.
“They all like us,” he said. “That doesn’t pay my rent.”

I got up to get off the train and said, “Yeah. It is a war.”

Another man standing next to me, who had been listening, said, “Well, you can always quit.”

I looked at him and got off the train.

I walked towards school and thought about the morning commute. I couldn’t decide what would be a better theme song, this one, or this one because these are the things I like to fill my head with when life seems too real. Of course, neither of those songs work because what teacher on the planet works from nine to five?

Are we at war I wondered? Is it bigger than my own dysfunctional relationship with work? I work in the most highly respected and singularly devalued (literally) profession in the world. And more and more it starts to feel like the proverbial oldest profession in the world. (Except then we would be getting paid better.)

But I worry that this will sound shrewish, or that people might misunderstand and think I hate my job and say things like the guy on the train: ‘If it is so bad why don’t you just quit?’ (Obviously those folks are unaware of the complexity of abusive relationships, but whatever.)

The thing is, I do not hate my job. In fact, most of the time, most days, there are things I absolutely, without qualification LOVE about my job. I am not sure I could find a day where there is not something, even if it is infinitesimally small, that made me think, ‘Yeah, okay, this is good.’

I also am pretty good at my job. Now here one runs the risk of sounding like a jackass, but I am a good teacher – not that you would know it from the evaluations I have received at my most recent school – but I choose to look at more holistic and empirical data from nearly 20 years and 2,000 students and their people. And I am a good enough teacher to know when I have done an excellent job, and when I have sucked. And both have happened, and both eventually make me better at what I do.

Am I in an abusive relationship with my job? The more I thought about that question the less sure I felt. I thought about the other teacher on the train. It is not *my* job… it’s education. I am in an abusive relationship with my profession.

That just might make it a war.

According to someone on the web who thinks they are an expert here are some signs you might be in an abusive relationship:

  • A sense that you have to fit into someone else’s perception of what is right or wrong in order to be loved. √ Well, this certainly speaks to the enforcement of current education policy and of course the teacher evaluation process….
  • You feel confined. √ Let’s face it, people who go into teaching are probably relatively okay with structure, but the limits placed on teachers recently regarding movement, salaries, or even day-to-day things like extra duty certainly feel confining.
  • There is always something to fix in the relationship. √ Never good enough. And everyone let’s you know this. Daily. Just read the newspaper or turn on the news.
  • Your needs are not met in one way or another. √ I know it sounds redundant, but how are we supposed to get by on these salaries? Or even if we get by, how can you feel good about the hours and hours you put in such a “respected” profession when you make pennies on the dollar to all the private sector professionals around you?
  • You’re never going to be good enough. √ Never. “Those who can’t do, teach.” “Teachers are lazy.” “Teachers are brainwashing our kids with their liberal agenda.” (I am always curious how it can be both.) We give too much work. We don’t give enough work. We do not grade fast enough, or give enough feedback, or are too critical. *Sigh*
  • You feel trapped. √ This is an issue, but not because of fear, because if you change districts or states, you lose all your retirement and years – yes, in my profession you actually can lose years of experience. That is the weirdest thing I have ever contemplated, in a professional context anyhow.
  • You find other ways to satisfy yourself to keep your mind off how unhappy you are in the situation. √ Most teachers I know struggle to find the time to do anything for themselves. Until they hit the wall then it becomes necessary to ensure this reality. I am not sure this is bad… unless it is just to avoid reality. It certainly has been.
  • When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s horrible. √ Truer words have not been written about my profession.

According to Psychology Today these are the signs you are in a dysfunctional relationship:

  • Assignment of Blame √ The problems in education are systemic – even a cursory look would tell you this. Regardless of this, all the players in the game look to point the finger. Usually at the teachers.
  • Threats of exile or abandonment √ It is the pink slip way of life.
  • Dominance/Submission √ The system’s way or the highway.
  • Grudges √ Yep.
  • Ownership √ Yep.
  • Disloyalty √ Yep.
  • Winner or Loser Arguments √ When people believe it is a zero sum game, this is what happens.
  • Snapshots versus moving pictures √ Did I already mention the teacher evaluation process?

Well, that certainly looks dysfunctional. I recalled the train conversation again. We are at war. And it is not me against my school, or my administration or my kids or their parents. We are at war against a society that has intentionally devalued education (insert conspiracy theory of choice here). We are at war against a system that disparages anyone who wants anything for free, but expects teachers to provide their services thusly.

This is not a dysfunctional relationship because it is not a pas-de-deux. It is a war because the participants on both sides of the equation are legion. It is a war. We are at war by choice or circumstance.

We are at war. Without a defense budget, without support, and we are fighting an overwhelming and ironic adversary: ourselves.

This is ridiculous: A resume.

I have been a high school teacher for coming up on 20 years. In that time I have worked with students ranging in age from eighth to twelfth grades. And what have I done?

I have taught World History, World Geography, US History, European History, American Government, Comparative Government, Economics, World Literature, American Literature, Language and Composition, General English, Creative Writing, Identity and Society, even a little P.E. here and there. I have developed and supervised student internship programs and study skills classes. I have taught courses in the IB program(me), AP courses, A Levels, remediation courses, test prep courses, language acquisition courses, and done private instruction. I have even done some adult education. I have been an athletic coach (basketball and track & field), and academic coach (forensics, speech & debate, Academic Olympics, Mock Trial.) I have planned, organized and supervised field trips, out of state trips, over night trips, and activities for my students. I have developed and implemented curriculum in several subjects. I have been a department chairperson. I have served on site councils,  in boosters clubs, and on teacher mentoring committees. I have never had issues around classroom management, or discipline regardless of the location or demographics of where I have worked. I have supervised student teachers, I have trained teachers in curriculum and methodology. I have piloted programs integrating technology into secondary schools. I have presented papers at professional conferences. I am certified in TESOL/TOEFL and taught over seas for nearly six years. I have an MS in Cultural Geography. I have had my work published, I have been featured on television as an innovative educator. I have given radio interviews about integrating controversial current events in the classroom. I have written hundreds of letters of recommendation. I have traveled the world, largely on my own. I am culturally aware and literate. I can communicate with all kinds of people, really well. I can write. I am well-read. I am incredibly efficient. I have an insane work ethic and I absolutely get shit done.

As far as what else, I suppose you could ask my former students. there are like 2,000 of them out there. They might have some things to add.

So why are there no jobs out there in any field outside of the classroom that I am “qualified” (at least on paper) for? I love teaching, but I would like to do something new. Something a little unusual. Maybe something unpredictable. Something where I can actually earn a salary that is commensurate to my experience, abilities, and work ethic, or at the very least have the chance to negotiate a salary based on these ideas. It is ridiculous to think that teachers cannot do this.

Help me find the perfect job. I am ready.

Seriously. All suggestions welcome.

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I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

“Are you interested in Education Policy?”

Most of you are well aware that I have been dealing with somewhat of a professional crisis of faith recently. I have been teaching since 1995… and that is a long time. Especially because I never really thought about being a career teacher. But then, here I am.

People ask me (often) why I got into teaching. It was not totally random, but not unlike a lot of other teachers I know, in some ways I arrived here by a process of elimination. And I am not sure that is a good thing. No one chooses teaching to get rich (which is good since you won’t.) No one chooses teaching to get famous (some do, which is a little odd, and far more likely in Asia.) No ones chooses teaching (anymore) for respect, because although it consistently rates among the most highly respected professions in public polls, teachers are actually not well respected in our current societal structure. No one chooses teaching because it is easy (and those that do, the famous “June-July-August” folks, are probably as dumb as you might think, and not only because summer break is not inclusive of the summer.)

So why do people choose to teach? I chose it because I like school. I like learning. I like seeing how other people see the world and reinterpreting how I see the world. I chose teaching because, truthfully, I like teenagers. I find them funny (in a sometimes tragic way), I find them honest (in their confusion and search for an identity and purpose), I find them to be the new frontier – for better of for worse. I also looked at teaching as a viable career because when I began teaching, the modest salaries included benefits and a pension. Today the salaries remain modest, the pensions are an afterthought, and the benefits are a substantial portion of the still modest salary. I thought teaching would give me a wonderful vantage point into a changing world. And that it would allow me to develop the interests I carried with me from forever: Travel, photography, writing, reading. I also had some teachers who showed me first hand how with a little push someone could open my eyes and my mind beyond anything I might have imagined.

It sounded, at the very least, like it might be a workable fit for an appropriately angsty 20-something who had commitment issues and dreams far bigger than a cubicle could provide.

But nothing stays the same.

Now I find everyday a bigger challenge as teaching takes a back seat to protocol, numbers, meetings, and more meetings. And more meetings. And more.

In an effort to meet the increasingly (or at least increased awareness around) diverse learning needs of an increasingly intellectually diverse student population, the majority of teaching time is now dedicated to standardizing delivery methods and structures. And yes, it is as counterintuitive in practice as it is when you read it here. So, we constantly talk about how we can improve educational results without ever talking about what we are teaching or why – only how. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

And in spite of all the talk, the results keep spiraling downward: test scores get worse, remediation in college increases at alarming rates, student interest diminishes, content covered evaporates.

Of course, blame is distributed with reckless abandon as well: it’s the kids! It’s the teachers! It’s the public school system! It’s the parents! It’s the lack of funds! It’s the lack of materials! It’s the lack of space! It’s the competition from overseas!

But, it is usually the teachers.

Universities blame the high school teachers (and in my experience often rightly because I can say categorically I have been pressured to pass students who have ZERO business getting a passing grade because there is a general sense that it will be more damaging for them to fail than to allow them to pass and move on. There is logic there that I simply cannot grok, but someone is buying it and selling it.) High school teachers blame the middle school teachers (again, I have to say that I have been very confused to meet high school sophomores who cannot read or complete basic math… do not even get me started about reading a map, or writing a complete sentence… so I can see why this blame shift occurs.) Middle school teachers blame the elementary teachers (how are kids matriculating from grade six without the ability to read or hold a writing utensil?) And then elementary teachers blame… well, I am not sure who they blame, they are an awfully nice bunch and sadly sit at the end of the teacher blame train. Is it the fault of the parents? Can you blame parents for not emphasizing education and supporting their kids’ educational progress when they are working three jobs and still cannot pay the rent? Or maybe might be deported at any moment? Or perhaps are taking care of a large extended family? Or are homeless? Or hungry? Or do not speak the common language? I am not sure, but that feels… wrong.

The other night my cousin innocently asked me if I would be interested in Educational Policy as a new career direction.

My drink came out of my nose.

Education needs more policies like I need an attitude adjustment. In other words, yeah, new policies might help, but not until the real issues around education (and my attitude) are addressed.

Trying to develop solutions to problems whose root causes you cannot identify is not only futile and a total waste of time, it is actually damaging. Not that I am a nihilist (I really am not) but this whole American education thing needs to be rethought.

We live in a society where intellectualism is not respected, but reviled (forget the reverence of days passed). We live in a society where intelligence breeds suspicion. We live in a society that no longer values traditional education. And while the first two conditions I mentioned make me sad, the third is where this whole conversation needs to start.

Americans see little value in traditional education. It is not getting them anything that they currently value (like high paying jobs and lots and lots of stuff.) If you have a conversation with high school students about college these days, they see little point in taking five years (because it is so hard to get the requisite courses) to incur crippling debt (that will go on and on and on) without any certainty of finding a job that can shoulder their financial burden, let alone that might be fulfilling in some other way.

And maybe traditional education is the problem. If we live in a society that thinks knowing Shakespeare is pointless, why in the hell are we still pretending it matters in school? If Americans think that knowing history is useless, then I ask you, how am I supposed to demonstrate that it matters to a generation of kids who are supported by society at large in the belief that I am wasting their time? Not that I agree with this, but I am old fashioned (if not just old). If the trend now is job training, and that is what people want, why on earth do we keep pretending that a traditional liberal arts education matters?

I do believe that knowing how to think, and reason, and having the mental endurance to solve problems and make new inquiries is important. And many people may say they agree with me in theory, but I am in the minority in reality I assure you. I regularly have students and parents (and even teachers) telling me that the kids should learn what they want to learn (I don’t even know what that means…) and school should basically be an apprenticeship program.

I get this. I do not agree, but I certainly understand. It is the age old classist dilemma that an education is a privilege of the rich – those who can afford to dilettante-ishly wile away the days contemplating philosophy and existential conundrums. And as such, it offers little to the general improvement and mobility of society. Again, I disagree, but I understand the position.

I remember in the 90s (and this is still a very real issue today) there being a ton of discussion about recruiting teachers of color and improving retention in secondary education. Someone asked me why I thought we were having so much trouble acquiring and retaining teachers of color. I looked at them like they were stupid, because I really thought they were. Why? Because if I am a first generation college student facing a pretty serious loan burden, why on earth would I ever go into education when I could go into computer science or business and actually contribute to my family’s and my own well-being? In fact, were I a parent in this situation I would never encourage my child to go into education. This is why professional educators are by and large so homogeneous – we are a group of people who can actually (barely, frankly) afford to be teachers.

Seriously.

And so the problem perpetuates (leading to the bullshit sayings like ‘those who can’t do, teach’) persons of privilege who had a chance to delve into their education because they could afford it go into education and try to share the coolness of said experience, and the rift grows as the student population becomes more and more disenfranchised with ivory-tower teachers.

Of course, I am speaking from my own experience and I am not in the mood to back my empirical evidence up with data right now. Maybe another day. For now I will just say this: writing more policy to improve results in a system in which the clientele is completely disinterested in seems pretty much like a total waste of time.

So, do I want to go into ed. policy? Hell no. But I would sure like to understand the shifts that have occurred in our educational priorities… better yet, I would like the ed. policy makers to take a look at these, because then maybe they would start developing some policies that actually addressed the issues at hand.

If traditional education is out, and job training is in, then so be it. Let’s stop trying to force the old system into new standardized tests. As I said, I am not a nihilist, but I predict acknowledging this shift would bring about the same results. Let’s have a specialized, apprenticeship program for our national education policy and just let that play out. At least for a minute we would be being honest about what is going on in education in this country.

On Teacher Evaluations: Or how to potentially commit professional suicide in less than 1,500 words

You can’t oppress someone who’s not afraid anymore. 

I wrote this post just under a year ago. I did not share it because… well, I thought it mattered not to. I still felt afraid I guess. But the struggle to do what I do, and to do it well, continues to grow everyday, and becomes more and more challenging at every level. Yet, my salary, benefits, and incentives do not grow, in fact are reduced and eliminated regularly (hello 35% increase in the cost of my benefits next month!) 

Now I no longer feel afraid. I feel frustrated, and ready to do something different rather than continue to try to improve a system that doesn’t want improving, or simply has a different end game in mind. I don’t know what that will be. In fact, I have absolutely NO idea what I might ever do outside of teaching because I never really gave it any real thought because I loved teaching, and I was good at it, and so why would I have?

I still love teaching. It is just so rare to be able to actually focus on doing that with everything else that has become a priority in American (or at least Californian) education. Recently, one of my team teachers said to me, “You should teach college,” which is an insult when levied at you by another high school teacher… it is code for “You do not really seem to have it in you to deal with the kids so why don’t you go sit somewhere in an ivory tower and contemplate your belly button along with your outsized intellect.” The funniest part of my colleage saying this to me, is he was party to the criticism levied at me by the “evaluator” described below who said I try to teach too much material and would be better suited for tertiary education, and told me that it was an insult (like I needed to know this.)

I don’t know what I might do next. But my times, they are a changing’….

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I had another “professional evaluation” on Tuesday. My administrator (actually one of two administrators who have been assigned to me because apparently I need double administrating) decided he would assess my teaching during my first period sophomore World History class, on the first day of the new semester, after a three day weekend. Because, what a great time for a quality demonstration of academic pursuits and endeavors.

Seriously.

And the more I thought about this, the unscheduled evaluations and the purported purpose behind them,  the more I realized, I am just not playing this game anymore.  Through, truth be told, there are some who have said I was never all that good at this game in the first place. [I am reminded of  the reaction of my illustrious graduate advisor Paul Starrs, on my contemplations around pursuing a PhD… ‘Well, I am just not sure you would fully appreciate the structure of the social science world at that level….’] But through this entire rigamarole at my current school, where they simultaneously offered me a permanent contract AND said I required further evaluation [really? REALLY? If I am that suspect, why are you keeping me around??] it has become more and more clear that the purpose of the Professional Teacher Evaluation has absolutely nothing to do with assessing or improving pedagogy. In even suggesting this, my disinterest in improving my methods is assumed. Which only further substantiates the fact that you are simply not paying attention.

And so as I sat and looked at the evaluation I would have to sign, always with the option to write a written response/rebuttal that no one reads and means less than nothing, I decided I would do my very best Lisbeth Salander and say nothing and just sign the damn thing. Which would be better than opening my mouth, because if I did you could be sure nothing good would come of that.

What would come of that would be something like this:

You are not interested in seeing how good of a teacher I am, or helping me become a better teacher. You are interested in “catching” me. Catching me not using the precise language, strategy or technique du jour that you have prescribed across the board for a faculty of 200.

If you were interested in understanding my teaching you would interact with the material, talk to the kids, ask me questions about what I am teaching, look at the products….

In a nearly 20 year career I know that I have actually taught some kids valuable things. Academic things to be sure, but also about social currency & fluency, and how to use the academic knowledge they glean in school out there in the real world. And this has been important, especially in schools heavily populated with students most people call “at risk”… and I call interesting.

I have acknowledged my students’ life experiences, (what we used to call schema but I’m sure you have some other word for it now) and I have allowed my students the opportunity to be authentic in their learning and related experiences, not forcing them into a sentence framed cookie cutter way of experiencing and expressing everything. Through permissible authenticity the kids I have taught have been able to see how what they bring to world can be modified and customized to fit and work for success, but fundamentally remain the unique and interesting people they intrinsically are.

Sure there have been kids I did not reach and did not like me – an AP Lit student who plagiarized his entire senior project (and then convinced an administrator that it was because he was unclear on the objectives of the assignment and believed he had done what I wanted – and she bought it! ) comes to mind, but those numbers are far fewer than those who I made laugh, work hard, think, write, read, complain, and DO WORK all along the way, in an often archaic and sometimes ineffective (childish and stupid) American high school system.

But you are not interested in knowing these things. You do not want to know if I am effective – or affective. If you did you would look at the results I achieve with my students in your programs like common assessment and literacy (the top in the school if you are prone to quantitative analysis. You would look at the work my students are doing in the larger world with technology, in spite of embarrassing tech limitations. You would look at how I handle and manage my most vulnerable kids after school and outside of the classroom through any number methods.

But you don’t.

You come to see seniors in the afternoon before vacation or finals. You come to see sophomores first period on the first day of a new semester. You hassle me over minutia – you don’t like art on the walls. My calendar is not up to date enough (time passes you know?) You ask me to use different colored dry erase markers. You want to know why my white boards aren’t cleaner. And you put this in my professional evaluation, which purports to evaluate how I TEACH.

You say my class is too hard when I challenge students and lacks academic depth when I “scaffold.” You are unaware that the fluctuation in rigor actually moves kids through a super rigorous and fast-paced curriculum by building confidence and then creating opportunities to take intellectual risks. The ebb and flow challenges them and creates a safe place that builds trust and lets them explore their metacognitive abilities.

You say I must check for understanding by having every one of the 30+ students in every 58 minute class period practice individual oral expression; and in the same breath you say ‘Give them time to think!’

But really, the problem is bigger than your lack of interest in my actual ability to teach teenagers, so that just makes the whole “professional evaluation” that I am not going to read but will passively sign, even less meaningful.

The thing is, our kids need to want to learn, and we’ve created a society in which – for many reasons (incompetent schools, myopia, ignorance, ill placed priorities, an emphasis on wealth over substance, a refusal to acknowledge that the achievement gap cannot be fixed until we give historically disadvantaged or low achieving kids and their families a minute to actually think about school without worrying about a million other things like survival) the education we are selling is not being bought.

So, when I teach kids who are uninterested in a traditional education I have to find different way to show them it matters. This is not done with your sentence frames. It is done by modeling successful, tenacious behavior. This behavior manifests itself in most of the things you cannot stand about me: how I dress, how I speak my mind, how I laugh at myself and with others, how I incorporate material or methods that borrow from pre-existing interests to hook kids, how I use language to express complex ideas/speak, and how I maintain my authenticity in the face of your unyielding demands to make me leave that all behind.

And by the way, if that means they hear me use a swear word once in while… I think they’ll survive.