Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brain



Afore, it shook and rattled.
Hard.

Then danced hereto and fro.
It soared above, so high
It crashed so deep below.

Hard.

Again it climbed,
Again it fell,
Again it rose,
Under this spell.

Upon its last and final decent,
Or so for that it was surely meant,
It dove below the recess,
It sought out the abyss,
Its foundation disintegrated,
For it death, became sought-after bliss.

The muck through which it raked was fetid,
It could not move,
No longer could it fly,
It struggled daily to survive,
But in the muck it so did lie.

Sometimes the sun would peek for
It,
Sometimes it wouldn’t for days.
Sometimes it lay there covered in its own shit,
Staid in the darkness – sans the golden rays.

At last arise it did, to at least the surface dwelling,
Of flight it was no longer able,
It sought to only stay above – and stable.

But roads no longer lay there straight,
They shook again and often diverged.
As it followed one, soon it discovered it was on another.

And so in circles did it go,
From here to there, from to to fro,
But they had not the semblance of the circle
The roads,
They did not even lead back to the beginning,
But further from the surface – yet no higher.

Every first step was bound to be the last,
And so the world did stop,
As it rushed quickly past.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Falling Behind - Notes from the Blacktop

Falling behind

The road falls away,
As do the trees and fields, the clouds
And sky.

Life falls slowly behind,
As the rush comes,
So it falls behind.

Colors pass and blur – they fall away,
Focus remains ahead,
Regardless of the beauty passed,
No matter what has fallen behind,
The focus lies ahead,
The road – the twists and turns
Always look ahead.

More beauty ahead,
Always more than behind,
Colors change again – shapes morph
As they fall behind.
Mountains come and go,
Streams and lakes,
Oceans and beaches,
Farms come before they come,
And pass…
But the road remains.

The road may not always be smooth,
It may be slick from oil,
Wet from rain,
Dirty,
Pot-hole ridden,
Bumpy,
Cracked,
But it is still the road,
and life is better with one than
without.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Teachers Role?

Forethought: I feel like Doogie Howser for some reason… not in the really smart way, just in the sitting in front of a computer typing out shit that happened way.

I was further confirmed in my doubt in wanting to have children when I learned that our Chancellor of schools resigned, and the woman who took his place not only has no experience working in or with schools, but has never been to a public school (nor have her children).

I am trying to picture a school system in which teachers are mandated to do things in the class based not on what is actually best for students, but rather based on what some business oriented calculating machine has determined will best serve the numbers they have to present to some government agency so that they can get more money and buy more glitzy stuff for a school that doesn’t need anything but well trained and caring teachers. I am quite certain that a school does not need HD cameras, I am equally certain that it needs a teacher who will carefully plan a lesson in such a way so as to maximize comprehension and retention of the material presented so that students may go forth with the ability to think and apply this skill to whatever field they choose to pursue. A school does not need flat screen TV’s, however it does need up to date history and science books, modern laboratories, art and music class, and English teachers who understand good grammar and inspire children to read great stories, not just those that are instantly relatable and ultimately worthless.

Our greatest statement of disrespect to ourselves and our world is the state of our public schools – particularly those in NYC.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teachers and Students

On the first day of school, i told my class of 20 students, that there are 21 students in this classroom; I then asked them how many teachers they thought are in the class, and thankfully one student said: “21”.

They were not all sure, not totally convinced of what this crazy teacher with crazy hair was telling them; but as the days marched on they began to witness as my eyes light up at hearing their insight; their own eyes so too lit up when they heard me exclaim what I had just learned – from them!

There is an unfortunate immaturity which possess students, be they 14 or 20, as they enter a high school. There is a sense of safety, especially when there is a good and comfortable environment, which allows their maturity to melt away as they see fit to whine and complain and beg for pity (no words needed). With this constant façade it is easy to forget that underneath lie intelligent human beings, ones who have lived great tales of tragedy and hope and despair and survival and perseverance. These teachers of mine, of ours, fumble like idiot savants through the labyrinth of human interaction and at the moments when they are needed most to snap out of their forced idiocy – there is silence and nothing but their voice, as it speaks the truth and the nature of our reality, is heard penetrating my own concept of truth, my own perception of reality.

For this I thank them; by this I am reminded why I teach.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ADD

The fade is slow.

Not all at once do the lights dim, does the mist envelope.

But slowly.

Clarity is within reach, a work accomplished.

But it fades.

It starts so strong, so crisp – the vision.

It blurs, slowly.

To save the moment, the effort, in come lights!

Bright, all.

They illuminate, they confuse, so bright, and so many, and all at once.

No fade, it blurs.

Decay, the signals meant to drive, the spark is mellow.

Strength fades.

Perception, ability to stay up there, above the mist.

Mist.

Tingling all over, synapse fail, motion fading – perceived, but not seen.

Motionless.

All is left of the lights, is but one.

It faded slowly, but it did.

Stimulus – doubt – necessity – fade – stimulus – directions: too many –

Motionless.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reading, Books, Reflection

Perhaps a not too uncommon moment in a New York apartment: sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the paper, looking out the window over modest backyards, into dozens of windows and up at a crystal blue sky that can only come from a constant wind. In that moment, when you set the magazine down, the cup half way up to your lips, you look out the window – that narrowed perspective of where you are and who you are – and wonder what you need to happen to have it all make sense, what do you need to accomplish to become content with your life and your window.

I saw the event quite clearly: I held up a piece of paper, I’m not sure from where it came and where it belonged, but I know that I did not print it. On this piece of paper, which was printed by someone else for the potential viewing by someone other than me or the printer, were words which I had written. In an era were everyone screams of the death of the printed word, for an author, or an aspiring one, there is still nothing more validating or satisfying than seeing their words published – not on a website or e-zine or blog – but in a book or journal or newspaper. There is nothing irrelevant about a medium which still functions as the true sign of legitimacy. Tears came to my eyes at the mere thought of seeing my words printed; a sense of longing pride to be able to show my students, my family and friends something quite tangible, something with which you could sit at the table with a cup of coffee.

These thoughts came not only because I happen to be reading Time and drinking a cup of coffee while looking out my kitchen window – the night before I spent reading surveys I took of my students on various topics, including whether and what they like to read. There were too many who said that they did not like to read, and even more who indicated that they like spending time on the computer (playing games and such). My heart sank every time I read those words. I began imagining a world where no books were held in hand, where information was digested for what sake I could not define. In this world literature ceased to function as an enricher of lives, an expander of thoughts, as an addition to our own meager experience, as the fuel for our imagination. In this world people read what they needed, and subsequently human interaction dissolved to only what was needed – the bonds that bind us as a species slowly dissolved to a cold co-existence.

Books cannot exist only for the literary of heart and mind – because if they live only for us they will lose the heart of their function – as edifiers of humanity. And we cannot fear teaching “classics”! if students read only what is easily engaging and all about “their lives” then from where will come the growth of experience of great worldly characters? If my Dominican students only read books about Dominican teens, how will they ever become more than just Dominican teens (and adults)? How will they become human beings, Men and Women of and for this world?

Fear that we will create a culture-less bog of indifference! As our lives become less and less our own, fear with whom, of what quality person, we will be forced to share our existence. And if you so do, then serve to abate this disintegration – read. Not something that can be edited by a hacker or imbecile at any moment, but something that has been created and cannot be undone. Even if it’s wrong, let us learn from how wrong it is, but let us see that this wrong too deserves our study and concentration.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scotland

Deep soggy grass tinted with violet heather, burgundy stalks of trumpet flowers;
The wind incessant, clouds of all types and shapes and heights,
Sandy beach, rocky beach, shale and slate – cliffs.
The slow pace of everything else, as if resisting the winds drive;
Cattle and sheep, northern apples and blackberries;
Everything grows and moves slowly – like the rocks, ancient, glacier carved,
On which people have tramped long before we built walls – though they too still stand.
The wind blows thoughts, one after another, and then all the way through till none more are left,
It’s sweet like peat, salty like the sea, crisp from the mountains, wet from the rain.
A friendly wave while passing, single lane, a tale or two as answers to a simple query,
A hint, a shake, a friendly notice of the weather, and isn’t it a lovely day?
It’s glorious indeed!
A nice day for a walk, I think it will be rather fine still later.
The city’s grip releases, it can’t hold out against the wind,
A smile comes easy and the rush dispels and you don’t mind letting someone pass,
On the street, or on the road, or on the beach, or in a store,
It doesn’t really matter from where you came, you’re drawn to share a dram or pint,
Perhaps a story from some time long gone - of dreams differed or just now realized.
The doors aren’t locked, at night you wonder freely, it’s a bit too simple to consider the alternative,
Beyond the due considerations of those tied to the land and it’s glories – it’s our field, it’s our bay –
We drink from the same stream, be it as whiskey, beer or tea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

i am here again and it is bittersweet. it seems i always come here when there is a great calamity afoot in my life.

here is so much family and the accompanying joy of seeing them, subsequently followed by the pangs of having to leave them knowing that it will be years again before i see them. here is my father, who i met only 8 years ago - the answer to many of my questions about myself (between him and what i am told and see in pictures of my grand father). But these times are always underscored by the pangs of longing afore i even leave, and the dwelling on years lost without his presence, the years lost with my step-dad and the relationship we never had. I am reminded of the grand father who survived 5 concentration camps, was hailed as a hero for the hundreds of lives he saved while there, who wrote a book and started a foundation for survivors... the grandfather it was my destiny never to meet. the sight of an aunt who resembles my grandmother, now gone, and her last few years in a myopic state of reality.

the ever present doubt about faith in anything, and the ever growing hatred for religion; here in the land of Muslims, Christians and Jews, with churches and synagogues and mosques and plaques and monuments and flags - all standing for one thing: death. Founded for the purposes of control, used as a call to murder, organized to exploit the monies of the mostly poor and wretched. Three quarreling mobs screaming of their righteousness and access to god, each the true faith, the true path, each trying desperately to convince you of the better life to come so long as you endure your place and fund their wars and luxuries.

the loneliness in which i always end up finding myself for at least a week of every trip. wandering the streets obsessed with thoughts of the disintegrating life back home, jealous of those who are in the company of others, yet glad to not be the "tourist".

some new horizon always awaits me at home, this time it is a new school. With my first year of teaching under my belt, a year spent in misery because the acceptance of my students and colleagues is to hold no candle to the power wielded by a principal over your very desire to live. Now i find myself looking with excitement to the coming year - new students, new colleagues, new boss, new venue... mistakes made and learned from, ideas for the future, a year of grad school under my belt...

calamities we all have enough that of other's we need not hear... one though, that I think many people share is the dependency on NYC. Oh, the needle in my vain the width of a subway track! It is dirty and far from nature, it is expensive and ridden with difficulties... yet the more i imagine living elsewhere the more it hurts to discover that it may not be possible. Time will tell.

"This too shall pass"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Shasta - Round II



Shasta, round II

The coldest night of my life was spent at 10,500ft at Helen Lake on Mt. Shasta 3 years ago; the second coldest night of my life was spent… you guessed it! Mt. Shasta 2 weeks ago.

2 of the 5 moments that I have come closest to heat stroke were… on Mt. Shasta.

The closest I have come to frostbite (real frostbite, the kind that calls for amputation): on Mt. Shasta.

The two most poignant moments of realization that I am not in the shape in which I should be were on: Mt. Shasta


This has all brought to mind the volumes I have read on mountaineering, specifically in the Himalaya. I love the mountains! The air, the grandeur, the challenge, the vista, the history, the isolation, the camaraderie… they are all reasons to live in the mountains, let alone occasionally climb them. But at what cost do these moments and sensations come? Is that cost too high? Where is the middle ground?

I don’t know if I have ever before questioned my love and pursuit of the mountains, and now that I have, I am afraid what the answer might be and what it might mean.

I know for sure that I don’t want to have to live in a tent for (potentially) months, just waiting for the weather to be right; pissing in a bottle in the tent because leaving would mean my piss would freeze to my member upon release; having no appetite but needing to eat because I need every ounce of strength to survive, not to mention summit; having to somehow hide from the sun during the day, a sun that can give you a 3rd degree burn within an hour; staying warm in an environment which constantly lives below zero, with winds strong enough to blow you right off the face of the mountain; the constant headache and nausea which comes as a result of air too thin to sustain you for any prolonged period of time; the incredibly draining hiking and climbing where you are drenched with sweat while you move, freeze almost instantly when you stop, where there is no joy, only fear of falling in a crevasse or slipping off an icefall or ridge… only to stand on a summit for a few brief moments of ecstasy (moments inevitably cut short by the lack of oxygen, howling winds, and quickly freezing body).

Granted all of this is mostly descriptive of the Himalaya and Denali, but the extremes that we went through on Shasta, which is only 14,100ft, were enough for me to question my part in this endeavor. What is making me doubt my doubts is that I was very much out of shape which made the basic action of walking up slope with thin air a difficult task. But I am reminiscent of my thoughts during the ascent, and I was not miserable, I did not hate the fact that I was there and that what I was doing was hard – no, I was simply short of breath (with every two steps). I think what made the experience tough was the extreme heat of the day and freezing cold of the night; the lack of water; the lack of proper gear… so if I were better prepared would it have been different? Maybe. If I were warmer at night, if we had a better way of cooking, if I could figure out how to mitigate the heat of the day; if I were in better cardio-vascular shape – then perhaps it would have been more joyous.

I’m pretty sure that the experience of Everest is not for me, but I don’t think I can eliminate, as of yet, the rest of the worlds high country.

The experiment shall continue.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What A Ride!




My Teachers, My Students. This is about half of them.


What a ride!!

Sometimes I was the driver, other times the passenger, at no time was it a smooth and easy glide over freshly laid blacktop.

The kids took me for a ride, as did grad school, and the admin, and TFA, and even I.

Here are some things I learned:

The principal is right. Always. Regardless of sense, logic, justice or reality; the principal is right and I am wrong. Even when I am right, the principal is the one who is actually right, and I, I am still wrong (to have thought I was right).

Students today are not the students who were my classmates, neither is the world into which they are headed the same as it was for us– this means that what was true for me, or for the generation before, is not true for them. In fact, all things considered, we don’t want it to be true for them; the truth has perpetuated an unjust society, and to change and grow as a people, so must our truth change and grow.
People need second, and third, and forth chances. It doesn’t matter how many times they screw up, we, as teachers, must be patient and must keep offering ourselves and the world to the student. Because as long as they are in our hands we must do everything, everything, to keep them on or get them on track. And even if they continue to make mistakes for years to come – there will come a day when they will open their eyes, and see our faces and hear our voices, their teachers, and things will suddenly come together. But if we say that the fifth chance is the last straw and screw them and they are on their own, then we undermine our own future as much as our students.

Time is to be managed, otherwise it will manage you (not unlike soviet Russia).

Holding expectations across cultures, races, generations and socio-economic status is ridiculous. I don’t give a damn what TFA or anyone else says. I would never propose that we hold lower expectations for minorities or the poor or disenfranchised, but we can not, not if we want actual results, approach everyone as if they were white middle-class folks from Michigan. It doesn’t make sense – for anybody. This goes back to truth. This goes back to genes, and history, and social infrastructure. If we expect a people who have been controlled their entire lives, denied basic human rights and forcefully marginalized to behave and react the same as those who for hundreds and hundreds of years have had the path of educations and entitlement drilled into them, then we shall continue to spin our tires aimlessly in the mud, and the achievement gap will deepen, inadvertently, but it will deepen. The language of power, the behavior of power, the dress of power, the thinking of power in this country is no less narrow than it was 400 years ago – we just mask it much better – we got better PR for it. If the life path of a protestant, middle-class male is full of more ease, opportunity and choice than it is for anyone who does not fit even one of the aforementioned traits, then we are the same slave holding, religiously intolerant, oppressive and oppressed, single minded, reactionary, entitled, self righteous fucks who annihilated the Natives, who enslaved a people, who exploited the land and the human as easily as the beast. And I don’t give a damn how many hybrid cars we drive and how many black presidents we have.

The new world starts and ends in the classroom; with the teacher; with the decisions we make about how we teach our kids to see, criticize and build the world; and with the opportunities we provide them for applying what they learned.

Finally, I learned – more so I was reaffirmed – that I know so very little. As well as I can speak on the hundreds of topics about which I am somewhat informed, or recall the lessons of the books I have read, or synthesize learned knowledge with experience and intuition: it amounts to nothing at all because it seems for every bit I know, I don’t know a hundred other bits, and the more I see what must be considered, I realize how I am not capable of considering even half, especially not as fast as one must consider things when dealing with people – specifically adolescent students. But I love what I do, and damn-it I’m just going to do the best I can.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

TEACHING: DENIAL


sometimes it feels like this - the weight of the world on my shoulders - the life of every student to some degree dependent on my actions and frame of mind. self centered, delusion of grandeur and significance? maybe, but better that than feeling and acting as though nothing i do matters.


TEACHING: DENIAL

When things go wrong we find everyone to blame but ourselves. This of course is human nature and we are as prone to it as we are to exhaling after inhaling. For the most part this is not so relevant that humans need to address it above all else in order to improve their quality of life, however, if they have any desire to improve the quality of society at large it should be their foremost pursuit. For a teacher, improving the quality of society is a daily task – our negligence of this duty manifests itself tenfold over the course of years. Though marginally recognized by popular culture and academia, the classroom teacher is in fact on the forefront of social (societal) change. Our misconceptions, premonitions and predispositions, as well as our stubbornness, closed-mindedness and righteousness influence the decisions, actions and dreams of dozens of citizens every day. This is not to say that we exhibit all, nor are guided by, all the aforementioned traits every day, but if or when they become patterns of behavior we run the risk of inflicting permanent damage on the very society upon which we will rely to sustain us and propel us into a more meaningful and positive future.
This reflection is a result of my recognition and abrupt and forced tet-a-tet with my own shortcomings as a teacher; my own inability to recognize what my students need to succeed – not only in the form of curriculum but also the in manner in which I manage my classroom – has led to an academic year full of only marginal academic and personal gains for my students. Though this is my first year as a teacher, I cannot help but recoil in horror at the blatant errors I made, over and over again.
I completely misread what my students needed by way of motivation and support, as well as what and how they need to learn. I have fostered some great relationships and have mentored a few students, I think the number of both could have been three times greater had my head not been duly lodged in my ass. I often remembered but promptly forgot what was important and what a good teacher must do for his students in order to ensure their success and growth.

Here is what I learned and what I hope to implement next year – as a matter of daily habit as opposed to momentary and fleeting glimpses of effectiveness:
Students who come from a background of poverty, drugs or violence will not be motivated by threats and reminders that a lack of proper action on their part in school will result in meaningless jobs, continued poverty, few options in life and a predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse. Their self-esteem and sense of self-worth are already extremely low – coming from a rocky middle school and probably elementary education; a lack of parental guidance, familial rifts, incarceration, death and abuse. They do not need to be reminded that if they don’t focus and do their homework they will be stuck working in the carwash. It is hard: it takes patience and fortitude, creativity and resourcefulness to focus on their ABILITIES and STRENGTHS and DREAMS, but doing so will in turn produce such results of brilliant performance and altered life paths that it must certainly be worth the effort and time – if not, why the hell am I in the classroom?
The students with whom I did manage to build good relationships saw past my bullshit façade of the guy who tells it like it is and life is tough and you better shape up or else… they clung to the moments when I embodied my mentors and became if only briefly the teacher I want to be, will be, must be; when I was kind and honest, supportive, flexible, relatable, patient and positive. In spite of my mistakes and shortcomings they came to me for advice, for a talk, to join my club, to write me an email, to cheer me up, to ask me what’s going on with me, to ask about college and what they need… they could have just as easily dismissed me as another mislead, foolish and worthless teacher – and then I would have done the same to myself – but they didn’t, they did not give up on me and that helped me not give up on myself.

I am not worth my weight in cow dung if I cannot apply what I learned come next September. If I am to be worthy of Mr. Ames and Mr. Fenn and Ms. Melby I must take these lessons and bring them to fruition in my classes next year – I must and I WILL.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Attendance



The sea, the wind - the endless horizon: thoughts and dreams have but to spread their wings and there will be no limit to where they will go

Attendance

As the peak of our melancholy from the lack of sun begins to really gnaw on our desires and motivations to do anything, nature comes at us with the medicine: fair weather and sun. Glory to the great mother who caresses our frostbitten cheeks with warm, soothing windy kisses!

As I regale her gift, so I am trodden upon by the attendance record of my students. I have the pleasure of teaching a class which I see three times a week for the last period of the day, I also have the despair of teaching 2/3rd of them. I have some students who do College Now from 7:15am to 8:15am; these same students have to stay until their last class which ends at 4:15p, if they also have Robotics, Track or Basketball, they do not get home until at least 7pm – then there are chores, homework, a bit of relaxation and hopefully some sleep. I’m sure you can imagine which of these gets the most attention, and I am not sure I can blame them. 12 hours is a long work day; to be fair I work no less, indeed I work more, but I am also not representative of most High School teachers. Of course they want to cut out early, of course they want to even skip in the middle of the day, because that way when I am collecting homework they think I will take pity on the because they were not there that day. How wrong are they! And how sad am I that they missed out on so much instruction. I want to desperately for them to learn, particularly the skills that will serve them well in college. Jesus, my whole course is oriented to improving their chances of getting into, and succeeding in, college. But it changes nothing; not the motivational speeches, not the second chances, not the focus of the course… nothing.

On the other hand I have a handful (out of 140) of students who… I don’t know if I want to use the word “amaze”, they are doing what they are supposed to, but in context that is amazing. They come to class, they turn in their work, they engage their frontal lobes, they do not disrupt the learning of others or the class process… they are students, in every meaning of the word. For them I feel worse than anyone else; they are committed, they are ready, but their efforts are deterred by those who force me to slow down or stop, to re-teach, not because of them not understanding, but because they were not there or did not pay attention. But I cannot just focus on them, I cannot let the other slip away, because when they come to me, as late as it may be, my desire to teach flashes at an instant and I want to do nothing but share with them the knowledge that the other students already received. I just can’t help it.

In this way I am like my mother, certainly not one of her good traits. After they fuck up, I still want to help them at any cost, and as a result all they learn is that they CAN fuck up and still get all the benefits as those who worked their ass off to do the right thing in the first place. So I end up spending time I could have used to study, lesson plan, see my girlfriend, or god forbid get some sleep, on catching these kids up, with abounding promises on how this will not happen next marking period. I have heard these promises before I think… oh that’s right, it was last marking period.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fear of the Day


the mountains - my solace - seem so far from my reach that only desperation seeps in along with the fear of never seeing them again...

Fear of the Day

I have no words, I have not been this depressed in a really long time… I did not think a person, who I am not dating, could have such power to make me hate being awake.

The students can make me angry, disappoint me, frustrate me, make me realize my shortcomings as a person and teacher, but I never awake dreading teaching and dealing with them - never!

But the person who is supposed to be there to support me, to teach me, is instead draining the very life blood from my veins.

I always imagined a principal who appreciated different styles of teaching, one to whom only effectiveness is key not the manner of presentation, especially not in the narrow scope of what they believe it should be. I did not think that I would be chosen from among all the teachers at my school to bear the brunt of whatever ails the boss. Everyone has their style and everyone is allowed this… everyone but me. My kids like me, some love me; they are becoming better writers, their English is getting better; they are learning about the realities of the world and how to prepare for it… but it is as though I am doing nothing with them at all because I am not doing it in the way the principal wants.

I admit, I have never been good with authority, but only when I perceived that authority to be incompetent. Here, where I feel and see that she is more than competent, I still cannot manage to get her to understand that I respect her and what she wants for the kids, and that I even listen and try to implement many of her suggestions. I have never had eyes roll in my direction so often, I have never been walked away from so often, I have never been assumed the worst about so often, I have never been treated so impatiently and never have I been treated as though I am a disease – particularly when I am doing so much good.

The kids see the good, should that be all that matters? They are learning, even after all my mistakes, they are learning, shouldn’t that matter?

The problem is that it’s hard for me to show her much because it has come to the point where when she walks into my room, I shut down and begin to operate on a panicked auto-pilot barely aware of what I say and do; so every observation gets worse and worse, whereas my instruction in reality gets better and better because I learn from my mistakes and apply newly learning techniques and ideas… all this she does not see.

And now I’m afraid that the second year, the one where all new teachers are supposed to start finding their groove and really take off, will not be available for me. I fear that I will not be given that chance. I fear that I have stumbled on the one person who does not give a damn about my natural gifts of working with kids and knowing what is important to teach them to make them successful in college – that moral compass which I have learned to pass on came to me by my very own blood and sanity, but I have it, and I teach them how to use it… but no one cares.

You must excuse my lament, but this is a reality of teaching, I suppose as much as the other things I have posted, perhaps no one before has brought this aspect to light, but I needed to, if only in the hope that if I release my fear of not coming back next year then perhaps it will not consume me…

I just want to teach. It is all I have ever wanted to do. I just want to keep doing it – that and be treated fairly and with kindness. Is that too much for a human being to ask of another? One in whose hands my life lays? I guess we’ll see.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Differentiation


Sometime I feel like these flowers - hanging from a cliff, wind and water beaten, but still trying desperately to bloom and fulfill their life's purpose


Differentiation

Something about today, being just another day, brought my focus on some students who either stare at the wall in a catatonic state or ensure no one can focus on their work or instruction.

I am angry with them, I am disappointed with them, I am frustrated with them… except, today, I realized that I am disappointed with myself.
Should they have their own best interests in mind? Yes! Should they be motivated to change the patterns that have brought their families to and have kept them in poverty? Yes! Should they be decent people and not stand in the way of others learning? Yes!

But if no one taught them, why do we expect them to do it? if the influences in their lives are greater in the opposite direction of education, cooperation and success, then why do we expect they will conform to our expected set of behaviors just because we ask, and explain the benefits of listening to us?

I am a teacher, not a babysitter…right? I was hired to give these kids the knowledge that will propel them to the top and lay the bounty of American opportunity at their feet… right? But do expectations matter if they simply do not meet reality? Is this not one of two main sources of human suffering – unfulfilled expectations and desires? Teaching still is, in many places, a profession where the focus lies dead on learning and achieving higher and higher planes of understanding, where behavior is not the mitigating factor, rather intellect and cognitive capacity determine the heights to which one can soar.

So, this is not my reality, alas, but my circumstance still demands that I impart knowledge and a moral and social compass by which to use that knowledge, onto my pupils; so if they are unwilling or unable to perform in a given environment whilst using certain tools, then it is up to me to create the kind of environment in which they can function and learn.

How exactly am I going to achieve this? I am not yet sure, but at least I know that I must and that what I have done thus far is not the answer for all my students.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reality


I too "got the Blues"

Reality

It has been some time since i have made a post... i think this reflects, more than anything else, the reality of teaching as an emotional, physical and mental drain.
Limp and hungry, i stumble home at various hours of the night and can find no aquifer from which to replenish my energy.

thoughts of writing flicker in my head, ideas for doing romantic things for my girlfriend also come and go, the necessity of cleaning the house and walking the dog make brief appearances in my consciousness... all for naught. The second i step through the door i seek the couch and book or movie; exercise is also far from my decisive thinking which contributes to the downward spiral of energy, desire and motivation.

If the kids are on their game then i am rushing wildly to cover information and get them working; if they are lazy or rebellious it is an equal rush but in the direction of discipline and order; regardless of the students there is always the administration with it's reasonable and unreasonable demands and expectations; this is the daily reality which does not take into consideration graduate school, domestic and interpersonal demands which are as much part of my life.

I find myself 6 grad school assignments behind with only days left to finish them; i find myself at an impasse with my woman who makes no unreasonable requests (be an attentive romantic boyfriend and not a douchebag) which i can only see as unreasonable because anything on top of what i am already doing feels unreasonable (even though it is not); i find myself growing weaker every day, physically and emotionally, because i have not the time or energy to do the things necessary to restore my reserves.

I knew teaching would be hard, especially in the first year, especially when starting 2 months late, especially when you are given no curriculum, especially when you teach 3 grades, especially when your students lie on the entire spectrum of language ability and comprehension, especially when you teach multiple subject all for which you have to find the resources, tools and curricula.... but still, common, a break has to come at some point. Right?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The School Fashion Show


Confident, beautiful, self-aware, purposeful... affirmed.

The School Fashion Show

When the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts, who is to blame? How do you differentiate the success from the failure in a meaningful way?

Our school had a fashion/Talent show the other day; the individual performances were, for the most part, pretty good. However the show itself was as a great a train wreck as Britney Spears post baby. So what is the audience and the students and the teachers who helped them supposed to take away form all this?

The problem was, as you can imagine, in the organization of the show. For those of you who have any theater background this was pretty much a first dress rehearsal as apposed to a show. indeed, it was the very first time that the entire program was run through with all participating members!! I am no professional actor (contrary to popular opinion), nor am I a stage manager, but I know as sure as Obama is our first Black President that you must run through the program as though it were real time at least once before you allow an audience to see it.

The models walked great, the dancers danced well, the singers (the ones who did not act like they were...) sang nice original songs and played original music. However one of the acts did not show up in time, the order of the performances was switched for some reason on the fly (more than once), the DJ took it upon himself to direct some of the models and singers to continue, the principal stopped one of the dance groups in MID-SONG (DANCE) because she thought they were too inappropriate, which they actually were not, the show ran over time and the audience just decided to leave mid-act with two more acts still to follow, no one showed award recipients how to walk or shake hands or where to look, the new light system blew some kind of fuse which could not be replaced in time so we had to use over-head projectors to light the stage (because the system was not checked in time), the time between acts was filled with silence (no music), confusion, talking (audience) and scrambling. Even the damn invitations were only handed out TWO days before the show!!

All I can say is that I am glad I was not an organizer.... though I wish I had been. Can we blame the kids? NO!
The amount of work needed for something like this is more than just one teacher can handle, especially in a school where everyone is over-worked. Yet most teachers did not even know this was going on till the very end and by then it was too late.

What message did we send our kids? What are we saying about the value of preparation, hard work, commitment? What are we saying about effort and team-work?
We have a school full of students who come from homes that are not too dissimilar from this show, where, then, are they going to learn if not here, and if we fail what will become of them?

We curse the circumstances of our students, of their parents, of their needs, of their performance... what about us, as teachers, as administrators? What is the value of them coming to school? If we represent the future and the possibilities of education and career... had I been a students I would transfer, or even drop-out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ESL…ELL…ELA…TESOL…TOEFL…… Just let them learn!


When we feel alone, we will do whatever it takes to remedy that; for an immigrant that feeling never fully fades - be they from a land of poverty, war and discrimination, it doesn't matter: a transplanted tree's roots will forever wind towards familiar soil.


ESL…ELL…ELA…TESOL…TOEFL…… Just let them learn!


Though I have only spent the last few months teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), I have been fortunate enough, through research, experience, observation and conversations with fellow teachers, to gain a certain inside-outsider perspective on our attempt to educate our immigrant students.

There are certain areas in which we are committing great crimes against the most vulnerable of our citizens; I was surprised to discover that some of these areas are in “progressive” New York City. Because of zoning and cultural/racial clustering there is a number of schools that find themselves pretty homogenous in their immigrant/native language constituency. This fosters and environment where kids are free to communicate in their native tongue thus integrating socially yet falling behind academically. For most adolescents the former is significantly more important than the latter, particularly when they do not come from a background of education (themselves or their family). We see this in schools all over New York, however in other areas with immigrant populations schools are oft not equipped to provide a meaningful learning environment – yet they do not give the students the opportunity to naturally, and by necessity, acquire the language but instead shove them into quasi ESL programs which function more as ineffective special-ed classes.
Though the rate of acquisition varies and is dependent on a number of factors, the reality for most human beings is: if you are put in a place where no one speaks your language – you will learn that language! You will have to in order to survive. The more immigrants cluster and create self-sustaining communities the harder it is for them and their kids to acquire English, particularly if their local school are similarly populated.

I am a fan of bi-lingual education, like I am a fan of communism: it’s a really good idea, but its execution rarely holds true to its ideals -- making it a false hybrid – ineffective and detrimental. True bi-lingual education occurs when half the class speaks one language, the other half speaks another and the classes are taught in both at a ratio of 50/50. However most programs either do not have the heterogeneous population necessary and/or are not staffed with fluent, competent professionals who truly spend 50% of their time on one language. The result is another crutch for the English Language Learner (ELL), a crutch that more often than not holds them back as opposed to supporting their academic rise.

These are but some of the issues prevalent in the ESL community; the question of course becomes: how do we adapt our teaching to accommodate this type of grouping, or, how do we change zoning policy to restore a balance and allow for effective, dynamic learning experiences?

For my school the answer is obvious, it addresses the only question over which we have control; but what about the rest of the schools?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Final Return

They never seem to mind, the gulls, whether there is food for the bipeds, whether there is hot water... all they need is a salty breeze


This is another excerpt from the stories investigating immigration. This one goes many years before anyone even thought of it though. As I will eventually show, the seeds for immigration are sown generations before the actual act, this is a look at one such seed:

The Final Return

Suck, suck, suck…suck…,…,…suc…........,....
Barely breathing herself she lifted the now lifeless form from her breast. The little she had left she tried to give, but at some point he had no more strength to take another drink of her watery depleted milk. She buried her face in his tiny ribs; there were no tears – she was too dehydrated; but dry heaving sobs shook her so violently that her diaphragm had a spasm which stopped her breathing all together. They lay, mother and son, on the spotless parquet, curled and motionless. After some time her muscles released and her lungs swelled again, but she was not conscious for it. When her body was lifted by neighbors and carried down the stairs she could not recall the smeared passing of walls and doors. She did not remember her son being wrapped in a towel and taken out behind her. It was not until her body was shaken awake by the train did any sort of recollection re-enter her memory. Shiku-shik, shiku-shik, shiku-shik… slowly the train wound its way east, around the blockade, it headed to the Urals where the war was nothing but a story in the letters of the local boys conscripted to place their bodies in the way of enemy bullets with the hope that the latter would run out before the former. Whoever survived a day wrote a letter home proclaiming his love of country, his willingness to die even though the wounds are not so bad and the spirit is high and that mother, you should be proud that I am protecting Mother Russia and helping rid the world of Fascism. In the Urals life went on, there were quotas to fill for production, there was no time to sit and grieve – work will set you free.

She could not for the longest time recall why she awoke one day in the sun and crisp mountain air of the Urals. How did I get here? Why did they send me here? Where is my husband? Is he alive? Is Leningrad destroyed? Where is my son? Where is my son? WHERE IS MY SON?! But there was no one to answer her, though there were hundreds of people around, to most her voice was a distant echo, something surreal from the world where people were warm, had bread and water and slept without fear of midnight shelling. To those lying around her the only reality was the burning in their guts, the blood in their mouths from parched lips, the immense pressure in their skulls at which they scratched with whatever strength they had – just to relieve it for a moment.

Slowly, after someone put softened bread through her mouth and after awakening from sleep that came of natural exhaustion, she began to remember; images commenced their flurry and finally settled into recognizable formations. She saw the communal apartment, the tiny room where she lay after the factory shift was over, caressing her bulging belly. She saw the kitchen she shared with 5 other families, the toilet, the shower which would refuse to run hot water, even in the rare instances when the government allowed it to flow. She saw the emptiness that filled the bed for most of the year, remedied only once every few months when her husbands train brought him back to the northern capital. It was on one of those fateful returns that the seed would be lain, the seed that would drain her of her last reserves of strength, the return that would burn in her mind the last image of her husband – hero of the Soviet Union, First Order of Lenin – a model communist and soldier, we thank him for his service to his country, we are sorry however that there are no more bread coupons available for you, we know you are pregnant, we know but we cannot help you, trust in comrade Stalin and remember your husband died for him and for you.

"расцветали яблони и груши, поплыли туманы над рекой..."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Nude - My Fear









I just noticed that I have not yet really discussed my photography in this blog; I supposed I haven’t discussed my photography anywhere for some time now. A couple of years ago amidst an artistic crisis (and a financial one) – I sold my cameras, and lenses, and flashes… all of them!
What would possess me to do something like that after 10 years and thousands of shots later?

Well, a creative block that lasted shorter than I perceived, but what at the time seemed like 2 years; I neglected to recognize that some of my favorite shots came from that time. This was also a time of repeated bouts of unemployment due to stupidity, pride, hubris and some more stupidity, which left me on the short end of the being-able-to-pay-rent stick. So instead of sucking it up and trying to get some commercial work, or going back to personal training I sold all of my shit!
One of the frustrating points always came when I began to think of nudes. In my head I would have visions, I would see the light, I would see the pose, I would understand the purpose and meaning behind the image. But whenever I even touched a camera it would all fade. I have gone through the trouble of getting the model, scoping the location, determining optimum natural light and timing the angle – all to freeze when it came time to direct or aim.

The viewfinder would go blank.

I would get confused, I would stumble, I would misdirect, then manage to get a couple shots off only to be confirmed of my incompetence when I got home to look at the proofs. I couldn’t figure it out; I have shot almost every style of photography and I never felt out of place, except at those moments when natures glory was before me, waiting, needing to be captured and sung.
For an artist this moment of impotence is the ultimate drain of creative and life forces; afterwords you feel limp and dejected, with only the desire to curl up on the couch and empty your mind of anything and everything.
But lately I have had a reawakening of the desire to shoot the elusive nude. I tremble at the thought of doing it, but I feel as though I must; perhaps this will be the key to re-opening photography as an avenue of my artistic expression. I have only to attempt and find out!

Have any of you felt this way?
How did you get over it?
Any thoughts on nude photography in general?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

TFA poems, chants #2


Imagine this scene, but on a school bus after a day of teaching and learning in the sweltering heat. As exhausted as we were we often found the energy to sing and chant.

As promised here are some more chants, medleys and poems from TFA summer institute:

(by the way m143 was the number of our school during summer student teaching)
Some of these are meant for the kids, others i wrote for our mentors, instructors and each other.

Call and response, or group chants to the tune of “mama, mama”:
We drive so far to teach our class, but with our kids you will not mess.
We backwards plan all day and night, cause we save time and do whats right.
m-1-4-3 we are the best, we mind the gap and all the rest.
Our expectations have much height, for our kids futures we fight! Fight! Fight!


Student oriented mama, mama chants:

We don’t come to class so late, we work smart and graduate!
Working hard we want no rest, we came here to pass the test


CS stands for Curriculum speacialist, she was our teacher, this is a song I wrote for her appreciation day:

CS appreciation song (Billy Joel: we didn’t start the fire)

Sarah sosby from CO, givin us a path to go, back planned, striving hard, making it work.
Teach the babies, pass the test, minor problems, all the rest, we don’t need them we will solve them, we will change our mindset!

We didn’t start the gap, its been widenin for as long as we’ve been,
We didn’t start the gap, but we will invade it and we’re going to fight it.

Sarah, sarah shows us how, doing SRAR and BLOOMS and more, Academic - Impact - Model, plaaning pitfalls. Our plans and goals are met, a feasible, ambitious set, practice matters, vision setting -uuup all night.
expectations with much height, no one’s future will we slight, Biases are blown away, sarah what have you to say?

We didn’t start the gap, its been widenin for as long as we’ve been,
We didn’t start the gap, but we will invade it and we’re going to fight it.

How the hell are we to know? Sarah sosby told us so, check-in, good bye, work around the clock.
Drinking dunkin, get no rest, thinking bout our kids success, 7th grade, 8th grade, time for high school.
Now that we are glad and spent, cause our kids to college went, time for rest, pump my chest, hang out at the board walk.
But one image springs to mind, its our sosby up all night, making posters, making calls, bringing kids to schools halls!

We didn’t start the gap, its been widenin for as long as we’ve been,
Sarah didn’t start the gap, but she’s been here long, so we’re singing her song, her song, song…

Sarah, sarah sosby, she’s our great CS, and with her you don’t mess,
Sarah sarah sosby, her babies are so bright, and for them she does fight.
Sarah sarah sosby, and we’ll take it all in, cause… good… babies… we’ve… been
We didn’t start the gap, its been widenin for as long as we’ve been,
We didn’t start the gap, but we will invade it and we’re going to fight it.


Mountains

Tall and proud
Ancient temples
Where the gods reside
I’ve been there hence and
Long to be there since
That fateful day when on their tops
I stood, breathless, tired, with air too thin
And lungs so hungry, I gazed over the vastness
Of this magic place, where but one thing matters: survival.

TFA



I love shooting musicians. The synthesis for me is quite outer-worldly: I cannot live without music, it is my inspiration and support and release; and photography is my primary form of artistic expression (until i get good at writing), whose expression is a necessity for maintaining an internal equilibrium. That and I like getting into venues for free :)

TFA

So as many of you know I came to my class via Teach for America; an amazing organization with a very clear sense of purpose. As with any endeavor of great proportion there are a number of factors and units which do not get as much attention and are hence not as successful as others. On the whole though its mission is inspiring and whatever its faults and shortcomings it continues to bring positivity, hope and achievement where before there was despair and failure.
Everyone in TFA has to go through a summer institute of intense preparation before they can start teaching the following fall. This institute is intended on preparing you in 6 weeks for what “normal people” take 4 years and 6 months of student teaching to prepare! Stop and think about that for just a minute….
Got the picture?
Anybody want to wager on how many hours of sleep we averaged?
No? Common, give it a shot, just think, given the aforementioned data, how much we slept…
Ok, lets see how close you were: 2-3hours per night
Because it is an average this of course meant that some nights we slept as much as the luxurious 5 hours! And then some nights we did not sleep at all. Fun!
The hours we spent awake were filled with seminars, lesson planning, teaching, lesson planning, reading, research, classes and food on the run and then a little more lesson planning. Our minds were engaged 24 hours a day – which did not make for restful sleep.
For 6 weeks I slept in a dorm at St. Johns out in Queens; I came home only on Friday night and went back to institute Sunday early afternoon. During that day and a half that I spent at home I had to do as much as possible to remind my girlfriend why it is worth it to stay with me, though I was as distant as a 1950’s traveling vacuum salesman.
In retrospect, considering all I learned, all the time my mind was spent engaged in figuring out how the hell to teach my group of 8th grades, all that was achieved, and even more that was not: I would rather go through Marine boot camp than ever have to repeat TFA summer institute again.
It was a scarring experience, the result of which was me still being under-prepared when I entered my classroom for the first time. I had general ideas about things, but that is not good enough in the day-to-day of teaching.
With all that said it, as any stressful and PTSD inducing situation, gave fodder and inspiration to brief bouts of creativity. With your kind indulgence I would like to share these with you now:
These are some of the poems and chants that I came up with during the 2-3 minute intervals that I allowed myself for breaks:

This is a tough one. It’s a medley of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. It may take a couple of tries to make sense, but trust me it does J
Queen medley (Bohemian rhapsody, we will rock you, we are the champions)
Is this the real class? (lead)
Is it just fantasy? (lead)
Caught up in institute, no escape from reality. (lead)
Open your eyes, look up at your class and seeeeeee, (chorus)
They are so bright yea, they need no sympathy, (chorus)
They need Just math all day, English all night, (lead)
Working hard, working right, (lead)
Anyway you choose your future, so it will be, for you, for you… (chorus)

Mama, we’re 1-4-3, we work relentlessly, we plan so purposefully, (chorus)
Never, is it too late to cry: “im gonna take control of my dear life”. (chorus)

Mama! Ooooo, im gonna pass the test, cause 143 is the best at (chorus)
Teaching me all I need to know, to be a citizen of this here world. (chorus)

we will, we will, teach you! (chorus)
We will, we will, teach you! (chorus)

Buddy you’re a scholar, you’re a reader and a writer, workin it hard to make college some day!
You got brain like mad, your movin’ ahead, gonna put all haters back into their bed.

We will, we will, teach you!
We will, we will, teach you!


We are the teachers my friends...(lead)
and we’ll keep on teachin to the end…. (chorus)
Our kids will learn yea, cause we’re 1-4-3 yea, (chorus)
we work relentless, (chorus)
cause they are our students…. To the end….. (chorus)


This is a poem I wrote the last week at Institute:

ITS BEEN A ROUGH RIDE
Its been a rough ride and
At moments we sank,
There were but a few on whom
We relied like a plank,
To get us over, to remember our dream
And that of the students, willing to dream.

So we grasped real hard, to strong arms extended,
We thought of the moments where despair seemed un-ended,
We marched forth with purpose, tenaciously driven,
Expecting the best, and no less being given.

Forthright on the mount we shall stand arm in arm,
Our brothers and sisters with whom our war wages on,
There shall be no rest, and no obstacle burden,
Such that our desire shall under-foot be trodden.

A difference we make, and seek in the midst,
A glimmer of hope and a prospect for bliss.
A time we shall make, by the sweat of our brow,
A time where we all shall sing our true vow:

Forever, pledge I, shall I toil and fight,
Against such injustice, no matter its might.
Alone I am not, my brethren abound,
The cracked bell shall toll that victory’s ours!


I will post some more tomorrow.
Let me know what you think!

Monday, March 22, 2010

American History X - a Success


Right or wrong, there are still places and people who look to the printed word - for its teachings of the past, for its stimulus of important discussions, as a source and impetus for thought and consideration.

American History X


“class, we are going to watch a movie together; this movie happens to be very violent and graphic, it’s got a bit of nudity and sexual content, but that is not what it’s about. It is about something that you do not know a lot about since your experience of America has been mostly confined to post-Giuliani liberal progressive, almost suburban, New York. There was a time when you could not walk down certain streets if you were of a certain color, and after a particular hour your chances of being robbed, kidnapped, raped, beaten up or murdered increased exponentially by every passing minute. The fact that this is not longer the case is good, however it has put a warming and diffusing filter on the reality of American race relations in the rest of the country.”

“Lincoln may have “freed” the slaves 140 years ago, but Blacks were not truly free and equal citizens until well into the 1960’s. This transitional period of 100 years has created an atmosphere of distrust, hatred, violence, inequality and prejudice; elsewhere in the world those hundred years gave birth to a number of leaders who made Nationalism a government supported and executed concept. These leaders, particularly Hitler, I hope you remember reading about him with your History teacher, right? Please say yes.”

“yes Mr. T”

“praise the lord! So this particular leader has spawned a movement across the world; white supremacy got itself an idol. You may have heard of skinheads, neo-Nazi’s, the KKK… these are all people who don’t think you have any business being here – you are a drag on our society, you are the cause of your own poverty, you bring disease, unemployment and violence, you pollute the pristine wombs of white women and you stand in the way of the progression of the white race. Did you know that about yourselves? This movie certainly represents the extreme manifestation of these sentiments, certainly not all “white supremacists” or racist would ever act to such a degree or even say such things as you will hear here, but they do represent a real and living sentiment shared by millions in this country, and the second you step out of New York, whether for college or work, you will discover just how real it is, and it is very possible someone may call you a nigger, not hire you, exclude you from a club or try to beat the crap out of you.”

This was the introduction I gave to the movie. We then proceeded to watch as the America flag was associated with exclusion, racism and inequality, as well as justification for all these things including murder. We saw the swastika; we heard kike, nigger, spic…; we saw everyone but the "poor victimized lower-class uneducated protestant scared" person accused of all things wrong with this country – we saw this done in very convincing Rhetoric.

What followed was an amazing discussion, filled with analysis and discovery, synthesis and problem solving. Brains were working, engaged, interested, scared, confused… My students (who are, for those who don't know, are all Black and/or are immigrants) own hatreds and prejudices were, not directly, brought to light; there was recognition and realization. What is important is that in light of all this there was no surrender to the difficulty of a situation, nor complaints about the need to engage a greater than unusual amount of their brains in order to really understand what is going on, as well as how and why the film was shot in that particular style.

After many failures and false starts we, as a class, found success. We had to employ a familiar medium, though not ADD inspiring as other movies, but a moving picture non-the-less. The class was fantastic, it was everything I envisioned an English class should be like… but it was not stimulated by reading a book, and that deflates me to no end.

Am I wrong? Are we coming to the end of the printed word, its importance, its use as a source for RELIABLE information? Can I not engage them sans violence, sexuality and “strong” language? Do the classics really no longer hold any of the valuable lessons they did in the past? Can Dickens tell us nothing? Nor Tolstoy nor Hemingway nor Byron nor Wilde nor Fitzgerald nor Shakespeare?

I hope you guys have some answers!

Is there a book with which you, other educators, have found success in the aforementioned degree? Even if you are not a teacher, is there a book you would recommend? Something that has meaning, something that can teach us about life… something that can stimulate good discussion and engagement.

I can’t wait for your ideas!!

Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Autobiographical 1 - an investigation as to the cause...


An average, everyday stroll would bring this sight as the closing crescendo to the symphony that is normal life in St. Petersburg

So far we have looked at the now and the adventures of the recent past; this is a look back, way back, if you will indulge me in my composition of an autobiographically focused look at immigration and refugeeism. This is only a rough draft of the start of chapter 1, the introduction I posted in:
http://blacktop-blackboard.blogspot.com/2010/02/journeys-with-no-end.html
is the opening to this collection of writing.

Untitled 1 - Autobiographical Investigation

It seemed the brightest day in memory; buildings aglow with that ever-fleeting sub-Arctic sun –blues, yellows, raspberry reds… the waters of the Neva glittering happily, refreshed after days of nothing but the gray of clouds to reflect. Yet the room seemed empty, cold, devoid of light and joy – it embodied a sense of “gray”. The walls were bare, as was the bed and the kitchen counter. We were lucky, we had our own kitchenette; though I don’t recall having our own bathroom, I did much of my pooping in a plastic toilet placed in the middle of our one room apartment whenever I had the need, so I did not pay much attention to the lack of facilities. One room, one happy room for my mother, grandmother, grandfather and myself to share; never cramped, never annoying, never intolerable… just happy.

After two years, of which I do not recall anything, my grandfather passed away leaving us an “abundance” of extra space. I don’t remember how he loved me, I don’t remember the soft of his long beard, the twinkle in his honest smile, the pain and tears he caused my grandmother (by way of a trait I would eventually inherit). All I remember is that there was no constant male presence in my life for the first 8 years, then a distant, strained and ill-fated one for the next 14. My grandmother did her best to make up for that, I am not sure whether intentionally, by representing the communist ideal 24 hours a day. Up at 6am to sing the national anthem along with the radio (I loved that part), then a breakfast of oatmeal or buckwheat, then to walking outdoors, learning to read, learning math, riding a bike… there will be no idleness! If ever I would exhibit my, now well developed and embraced, sense of laziness, there would be the callused from 40 years in a factory hand to remind me of my duty as a young commy to never commit the sin of idleness (or religion or democracy or the desire for justice).

“you don’t want to read? Well, one who has not put in a days work does not deserve bubbly water. You will still swim in the freezing waters of the Black Sea, but not for fun, only for your health, then we will go home without staying at the beach so that you can think about and consider perhaps learning to read sometime before your 4th birthday”

“but babushka, I love bubbly water, I will read tomorrow, I promise! I really want it! I really love it!”

“do I have to repeat myself?”

My ass already felt the kinetic potential of a hand that never required a belt to be effective.

“no”.

I am no child prodigy, but I learned to speak, read, multiply and use a toilet before Einstein knew how to wipe his own ass. This is no credit to me, but to the lack of options which abounded my life. I don’t recall having any animosity towards this lack however (I was after-all a good soviet boy), I was happy in my simplicity, in my handful of toys, handful of clothes and handful of food options. I sought only the smile from my mother, the lack of woopin from my grandmother and the occasions when my mothers friends would gather and I would be witness to a congeniality and love that I have since after craved – needed – yet was never able to find. Sitting under the tables laden sparingly, but what seemed bountifully, encircled by doctors, engineers, scientists, actors, writers and directors; aglow with love and respect and creativity and friendship; I would bask in the emanating warmth, laugh at the jokes I could understand, follow the stories and the poems and the songs often written for just that occasion – a dinner with friends.

Though we were poor I knew no hardship, in part because I did not desire anything that my mother would have to tell me we could not afford, and in part because my mother never revealed our poverty to me. Our lives, as they were, seemed not only the norm but the ideal. My grandmother and I would even go to the Baltic or Black sea for the summer; we would stay with relatives or in small rented rooms, and we knew of no luxury in the traditional sense, but we had plenty of our own – then, fresh fruit and milk and vegetables and bread were a luxury. As simple as it all was it was still beyond what my mother could ever afford (grandmother by then was retired), I did not know at the time, in part because I did not know I had a father or that one was needed in order to conceive me, that my father supported these yearly summer excursions by selling the cases of cognac he would receive for taking patients ahead of the line and those that other doctors were afraid to anesthetize (the beauty of free health care was embodied in the multi-month long line you had to wait for even the simplest procedure).

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ones Who Got Away


It too seems to be reaching back, maybe one last chance, one last flutter before the last leaf descends to its final form in dust, and its branches shiver unprotected from the Pacific breeze.


The Ones Who Got Away


We are often left thinking about the ones from whom we did not get that last kiss, to whom we did not explain the last concept in writing, from whom we never got the sign that they care.

It is often hard to bear the fact that that moment will never come again, that your last chance is gone and you may no longer affect that person (nor they you). My lips have burned from the lack of the final kiss, the last goodbye… my heart still aches from the hug my step-dad never gave me and the one my real dad never could when I was young. But could there really have been a last time that would satiate this thirst? Fill this void? I fear not. Every last anything is never the last you want.

This feeling is now growing its vines around my throat again – my fear grows that June 28th will come, I will say goodbye to my students for the last time and I will not have a chance to clarify again how to make a strong argument in the difficult expository essay; I will not have another chance to show them which information to extract from a reading and how to induce meaning from it; I will not have the opportunity to remind them again about the importance of keeping their work organized for the sake of saving time and performing better in college. And every day from which they drain precious minutes by coming in an yapping instead of taking out their work, by going off on nonsensical tangents during instruction, by not taking notes, by not paying attention, by talking during instruction… the minutes fade, the days go by – race by! – closer and closer to graduation, until I will have nothing left to say, until all remaining questions will go unanswered. Questions unanswered!

And so they will be stuck in a lecture hall, yet another cash cow for the college, no more mind paid them than what is the bare necessity for them to graduate and get out. Who will care then? Who will work 18 hours a day for their success? Who will be understanding and supportive and committed and invested? The professors who teach out of obligation? The TA’s who teach out of a need for tuition reimbursement?
It is not even the end of my first year, but as much as I plan for tomorrow, the lost yesterday gnaws at my sanity, begging to be brought back and given a second chance,(mista). I wish they could grasp that yesterday will never return and all the second chances in the world will not make up for knowledge tread upon and ignored from lessons past.

I try to do and say the things I wish were said to, and done for, me when I was their age, thinking that my path would have been less rocky given the knowledge, so theirs will be more evenly paved… but I fear a Wrangler with an 8 inch lift will have a hard time navigating the road they are building for themselves.
I just hope that during one of the tire blow-outs or burnt transmissions they will realize that consulting a guide and choosing a better route will save them the trouble, money and time that will otherwise drain them until they are embittered, old, poor and full of regret.

It has been some time since I have included a poem. Here is one from a few years back:

Frames

The Frames of brick model my perspective.
I see in tones of brownish red, black, tan...
The sky,
the sun as it rises between the high-rises to my east.
I see planes overhead, their dull drone bouncing to and fro,
my frames.
I see the clouds, tinged, shifting;
I see them framed from the heavens,
brought to earth and within seeming reach,
just climb high enough
on a side of the frame.
I see faces of colors and shapes, variety abundant in this great... frame.
A frame of mind... a state of mind... New York.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Attention


Lights flashing, horn blowing, crowd waving... a pause between notes, not the string of sound, contains all the spirit of the tune.


Attention


As I was trying to watch a video on-line I received the following message: “ you have watched 72 minutes of video today”, “please wait 54 minutes or click here to enjoy unlimited…” .

And what else would come to my mind besides my kids? You know, that whole “work-life” balance I wrote about a couple of weeks ago… yea, I can’t even not think about my students when I am trying to watch a damn show on-line. Anyway…

I am no expert at on-line anything, however I am pretty sure I know why this site would do this:

They are counting on the fact that their target market has a well developed ADD from being too accustomed to internet connectivity speeds of greater than 35kb/sec and commercials that flicker images at a rate of too many/sec. What this means is that these impatient lads will either opt to buy the unlimited package or get the hell off the site and stop taking up the bandwidth. They certainly do not expect a person to WAIT for the 54 minutes to continue viewing; well, they did not expect a broke-ass teacher who has papers to grade while he waits patiently until he can resume viewing, to take up their precious bandwidth. Ahahaha! Mwahahaha!

So, back to the kids. If basic marketing strategy for this form of entertainment is aimed at precisely the target market which abounds my classroom, then I can deduce that attention spans are being actively and purposefully shrunk by our mass media conveyer-belt-Jewish-mother like feeding machines. Information is more available than ever, though it is less reliable than ever, and no one under the age of 21 can possibly be hassled to go to a library and retrieve valuable, reliable information – information which takes more than 20 seconds to absorb. Unfortunately, until Google gets off its ass and takes over everything we know and do, most books are not yet electronically available – not the ones you need and definitely not for free!

This makes an academic writing class (based on non-fiction research) a hostage to information available on-line and the innate (or threatened) desire of the student to find it elsewhere.

So far the class is hungry, scared and there is little sign of negotiations making any progress.

How do we slow down and still keep up?

My students look only at bullet points, time-lines or headings; they find main ideas and think them details, they write only what comes to mind the moment a question is posed or information presented – they do not stop to think whether what they are writing is relevant or even accurate. They glance over paragraphs, they seek out websites that provide summaries, summaries, summaries; they love to read paraphrased thought, as long as it is shorter than the original text, but they are not willing to stop and paraphrase themselves.

“but mista, you give us mad work!”

“mad work? Guys I’m here to get you ready for college, this is nothing compared to what you will be expected to do when you get there (if you get there).”

“yea, but we aint in college mista”

“who?”

“mista”

“who?”

Air sucking through teeth as though a piece of corn has lodged itself in there and is hanging on for the long fight, “sir, we aint in college”

“I know, but don’t you want to learn this now, make mistakes now, with me here to support and teach you, because I care, professors for the most part do not. The college will take your money, give you an F along with no credit and send you on your way! I don’t want that for you”

“yeah, but, we already get homework from other teachers”

“…”

“we don’t have time to do all of this”

“I assign you work for a week that a professor would assign you for a day! You want to go to college don’t you?”

“of course!”

“then you can appreciate that I am trying to keep you from falling behind, failing classes, getting placed on academic probation, losing your grants… IDON’T WANT WHAT HAPPENED TO ME, TO HAPPEN TO YOU!”

“…”

Slightly deflated, “anyway, this is not empty work, this article is from a university on how to write well academically, you want this information, just take the time to read it, it’s not even that long…”

“fine”

One week later: “please take out your homework…, …, … one person?! Where is the rest of your homework?!” “do you guys even want to learn anything? Should I just play a video?”

“yeah! Yeah!”

“FUCK!”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Interstate Nowhere


A lonely road in the hills of Judea


Interstate Nowhere


I ride.
I have ridden.
I ride.
I have seen.
I have seen not.
I have been removed.
I rip through the current, I see nothing. I go somewhere,
I’ve been nowhere.

Completely removed from the living and the breathing I have traversed a significant part of this country. I traveled 1200 miles to New York City, only to have seen the paint, yellow and white; the reflection of my light in the signs, green, blue, brown, red… ensconced in leather, surrounded by metal and concrete, others encased in cheap Japanese plastic.

I rode.

Alongside of them who have no idea of what or who they are, from where they are and where they might be going. I knew where I was going, they knew not that of me.
I passed through Wisconsin and have seen no cheese.
I rode through Illinois and saw only the silhouette of Chicago as the foreground, shadow covered opening act of Lake Michigan’s glimmer that night.

Do people live there?

How hath those towers arisen so high, and by whom?
I passed through Indiana, steel mills all around yet I saw no steel, I saw no glaring furnaces; the sweat drenched faces of men on their eleventh hour were as hidden to me as green lined promenades of the countless universities, the students… the composition of the state was to me an enigma, I believed that there must be some substance to the sate, but it exists in the minds of other men, to me it is just a story, one which I must believe but have no foundation on which to create an opinion, a bias, a love or hatred, Indiana passed me by.

As did Ohio.

As I entered the green, rolling hills of the Pennsylvanian valleys, big dips in the road, big winding road, fresh air, rivers, independence, where it was conceived and brought forth to the nation, the place from where we said: “let us not be ruled by some unseen, unheard force…” and yet I did not see and I did not hear, other than the gentle roar of my machine as it climbed yet another hill, I know not of what that fateful day has brought to the descendants who still live, somewhere here, in Philadelphia perhaps, in Pittsburg, in Erie…
The road gradually turned into New Jersey, I did not notice. It was just as hilly and winding as before, I smelled no difference, I felt no difference, I chanced upon a sign that said “welcome to New Jersey” and so I knew where I was.
Locked into the interstate, locked by semi’s driven by faceless men, surrounded by cars with faceless drivers, some mothers I’m sure with screaming kids in the back, some doctors on the way to an emergency, a lawyer just off from court, some mechanic analyzing what could be wrong with my black steel horse as I roared passed him…or maybe there were no people at all, maybe there were no cars, maybe I just got to New York by way of my imagination, perhaps there is nothing between here and Minneapolis.

How can I know?

The interstate has blocked from me all knowledge of our land, I am no more full of memories and insights, stories and dreams than when I left my house with my mother standing in the door step waving me off.
I traversed one half of my beautiful country, so diverse with…I don’t know what -
I wish I did - the interstate brought me nowhere.