Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

take one poem & call me in the morning ~

I’ve written recently about how politics is personal for me. So is poetry, but it doesn’t come out the same way. And lately, as I become increasingly aware of the futility of trying to get people to see both sides of an issue, I wonder if I wasn’t right to stick with poetry for so long.

I went in to education not to ‘educate’ but because I love writing. I love poetry & language & books & the places they take me. It turns out I also love teaching, but I didn’t know that when I began. I thought loving literature & writing, and knowing a fair amount about both, was enough. It’s not, just FYI…:) There is so much more to teaching than content knowledge, despite what some ‘reformers’ would like us to believe… Experience, for instance. That’s a huge plus.

So I’ve come almost full circle, but in that lovely Buddhist spiral that puts you next-to where you began, a kind of new chance… It sometimes is enough just to love poetry, especially if you’re working with older learners. Because enthusiasm is contagious. And perhaps (just a bit) because I write such crappy drafts. :)

When I share a draft w/ colleagues, friends, students (or all of the above!), I’m always well aware it’s beyond imperfect. And I have years of rejection letters, collegial disbelief, and even professorial disdain to recount: “Why would you write this? It’s crap.” And, “Well, this is pretty weird…

But I still do it. Write, I mean (I also still write crappy first drafts…:)) Because writing saves me from going nuts, I tell anyone who will listen. And poetry more than most kinds of writing, although any will do — even an email! — in a pinch. The reading of poetry also works. Something there is, to invoke that master craftsman Frost, that heals in the form of a poem. When I’m ill, as I was recently, or tense, or grieving, or just bored, poetry is a way to work through it. The reading, the writing, both.

So my prescription for the rest of election cycle? A poem a day — preferably two: one to read for inspiration, and one to write for your beginner’s heart. Try it. I promise it will help…

 

 

America hates teachers: the new normal…?

I’m fashed, my Aunt Bonnie would say. From the French ‘fâcher,’ to make angry, or offend. It’s an old Southern term — probably been around since French settlements.

It isn’t just ‘to get mad,’ however — at least not the way my family used it. If you’re fashed, you’re obsessing over something, tying yourself in knots. That would be me…

And as usual it’s education. A collision of two stories, and a post by my cousin Sally, has left me steaming. The first story is from Switzerland, via a colleague. It simply states that the average salary of a teacher in Switzerland is in excess of $110,000.00. Using a mathematical formula (Purchasing Power Parity) that I frankly didn’t get, Daniel — my colleague — says that in 2012 terms in the US, that would be a scant $79,000.00.

Keep that figure in mind.

The other story was a post on a friend’s (and fellow teacher) Facebook wall. She was reposting yet another  teacher’s frustration at the portrayal of the striking teachers in Chicago. ‘Greedy,’ an editorial in the Washington Post called them. ‘Not concerned about the children.’

Finally? My cousin Sally — who is spending her teacher’s retirement TEACHING. A gifted, committed, passionate teacher. Who says that in today’s climate, she would never have become a teacher… We would have lost her, as we are losing so many of my students who entered teacher training…

So here’s my rant (and warning, I’m pretty hot!): What in the current education reform movement — as exemplified by dollar-chasers like Michelle Rhee –  is about the children? And who of these many reformers has taught in a classroom? Michelle Rhee tore the skin off her students’ mouth when she pulled the masking tape she’d used to tape their mouths shut. Is THIS the kind of mindset we want in our beginning teachers? And yes, she was a first-year teacher. I work with first-year teachers –not one would ever have taped a student’s mouth w/ masking tape. No one I know thinks that is a ‘game.’ Nor would the current education system allow such a ‘mistake.’

As usual, I’m frustrated at the media treatment of teachers, who seem to have become America’s new villains. When the respected Washington Post publishes an op-ed piece that says teachers are greedy, and they already make more than they should, I wonder if anyone at the Washington Post has spent extended time in a k-12 classroom. I wonder if they realise that the classrooms in Chicago often are so crowded that there aren’t enough desks, nor room to put them if there were more. Can anyone say ‘fire hazard’…? I wonder if America truly believes that 90% of Chicago teachers — those who approved this strike — are horrible, greedy, men & women, concerned only about the almighty $…?

courtesy Chicago Teachers Union

And I wonder if anyone in the media has read the extensive research on standardised testing, and how difficult it is to use as any kind of assessment. Even assessment of the students who took the tests, much less of their teachers. My younger son tested horribly on one important test — the test turned out to be WRONG on some answers, and my son is a 2nd guesser. I wonder if Americans have a CLUE how much class time is spent teaching to a test that will not in any way be useful to students outside a classroom.

I also wonder why we feel that experienced teachers are ‘too expensive,’ and want newbies. Do you prefer a brand-new surgeon to one w/ years of experience? How about a mechanic? One just of out of Vo-Tech? Or one w/ national certification from Honda, and 10+ years of experience? A master Lexus tech can make up to $104,000.00. In the US!

So here’s what I’m taking away from this. We don’t value teachers. What they do, we seem to say as a culture, isn’t important. ‘Anyone‘ can do it… It doesn’t need special training (alternative certification in Oklahoma, at least, requires only a bachelor’s degree and a few supplementary courses — not an education degree). Experience counts for very little, and isn’t worth the money. And worst of all? The new ‘normal’ message is this: teachers don’t care about children.

But profiteers — they care about $$. NOT about our children. I want to know: who set up this new normal…? And what can we do to change it??

 

‘it’s just stuff,’ or, the important things ~

A very nice man hit my little bluebird car Monday… <very sad face> It was an honest accident. He wasn’t moving when I began backing out of my parking space — he didn’t even have his back-up lights on when I looked in my rearview mirror. And when he did back up, my little sports car was too short to be seen over his truck’s TALL tailgate. Neither of was going fast (exiting a parking space in a shopping mall??), but he still managed to totally crumple my left rear fender… Sigh… But no injuries, of course, and it’s just a car…

Have I mentioned how much I love my 11-year-old car? It was my Ph.D. present from my extravagantly romantic husband. I had seen it parked in a Borders parking lot once, and said it was my dream car. It still is. Like me, it has mileage (more than 100,000 of them!). But that’s okay w/ me — she’s still the best car in the world.

I’ve only had two real accidents in my whole life. Plus one tiny fender-bender where someone hit the car behind me, pushing it into this same car’s black rubber bumper. It was such a small thing I never even bothered to get it fixed. So I’m kind of vague on the whole ‘what to do when you have an accident’ protocol… I got out of my car, looked at the rear end — where I thought Mr. Truck had hit me — and was (for one brief happy moment) delighted to see no mark. Whoohoo! Then I saw the fender… :(

It looks like crumpled tissue…:( The wheel well is cracked on the inside, and the fender no longer seals against the door. But this isn’t really about my poor little car. It’s about the fear nice Mr.. Truck  showed when he came to check on me & my car. It’s about his concern for me, and my concern for his fear…

Mr. Truck is Mexican — possibly Mexican American, but most likely not a citizen. Probably (he had no driver’s license to give me) not a legal immigrant. His English was sketchy, and he had an insurance receipt from a group I’d never heard of (nor has my insurance company). I’m betting nice Mr. Truck was driving a company car. Lucky for him, there’s barely a scratch on it. I make this leap of faith because Mr. Truck looked absolutely terrified when he first engaged with me: middle-aged white chick in crumpled Beemer… I can’t be sure, but I’m thinking he didn’t anticipate that I would pat his arm and tell him things would be okay…

Note: my sister asked me, when I recounted this story, ‘Did you pat his arm? I bet you did.’ And I had to confess: yep. I patted the poor shaking man’s arm. Sheesh. But I also wrote down the tag on the truck, his phone number, his address, and his name. I’m not STUPID, just worried for his shakiness.

Yesterday, when my husband called Mr. Truck’s phone number (at an apartment in our neighbourhood, known for not being picky about who or how many live in the apartments), a man w/ even less English expertise than Mr. Truck answered. Glen tried to tell Mr. Truck’s friend that we were going to pay for the repairs on our car, and not report the accident. I was worried about Mr. Truck, and Glen was worried about our rates going up. As usual, we’re a match made in heaven! Mr. Truck’s friend kept telling Glen: Mr. Truck working; Mr. Truck working. No matter what Glen said, Mr. Roommate responded ` Mr. Truck working. 

And I’m sure Mr. Truck is. And I”m also sure he’s worried, wondering what will happen next. We had hoped that we could spare him uncertainty, let him know he was off any hook he might be worrying about.

I don’t tell this story for approval. I tell it because I cannot imagine being adrift in a country that uses your labour but affords you no measure of security or protection. A country whose economy depends in large part — as Arizona found out when it enacted its heinous anti-Mexican laws — on the flow of bodies across our southern border. I can’t imagine it; I can only pat Mr. Truck’s arm, and be glad we can afford to fix my little blue car.

It’s only a car, right? It’s not freedom, or my youth, or my native language or culture. It isn’t leaving my home to go to work to help my family. It’s only a present, commemorating an accomplishment. And it’s not nearly as important as any of these other things…

 

 

a ‘sunny’ disposition: love, warmth, & beginner’s heart ~

I absolutely adore sunlight. Don’t get me wrong: I also love rainy, foggy, and cool wet days. Not sleet, so much, or ice (especially on roads!). But the sunlight — it make me want to stretch out like a lizard on a flat rock and just bask…

It’s no wonder, then, that to have a ‘sunny’ disposition is a compliment. No one made a song called ‘You are my thunderstorm,’ even in droughts…

When I was a college student, my two old ladies — Grandma & Aunt Bonnie, who lived together only a few blocks from my dorm & later college apartments — used to call me their sunshine. “Here comes our sunshine!” Aunt Bonnie would say when I came over (practically daily!). I loved them dearly; they were my lifeline while my parents lived overseas. I would sit in the tiny living room, on the scratchy horsehair sofa, and feel as though the room was full of sunshine. Not mine, but theirs ~

Something there is about love: it warms almost physically, like the late  fall sun on the deck this afternoon. I’m thinking that’s what it means to have a sunny disposition ~ to offer love easily, to all of those we meet. That kind of accepting, joyful love relaxes us the same way the September light leaves me drowsy & happy.

I’d like to believe that Grandma & Aunt Bonnie could feel the heat of my love for them, as I felt warmed and comforted by theirs. I’d like to believe that I brought them as much happiness as they did me. But somehow, the love we take seems always more than what we feel we make…

 

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