Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Raising their voices

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"I read every one. So powerful!"
"These are amazing! Thanks for sharing!"
"I love these!" "These are beautiful!" "This is fantastic!"
"Very inspiring!" "What a great idea!"
"Thanks for doing this!"
"Their stories deserve to be heard!"

Each social media notification and email from a friend or colleagues is another balloon of hope and joy, gently lifting a little more until I'm ready to float away like the house in UP. When people see my students like I see them, they can't help but love them like I love them. Maybe, just maybe, the lawmakers I mailed their stories to will start to see them, and love them, too.

As soon as the President's immigration ban threw airports, homes, and families into chaos that Saturday night, my heart and brain started pounding. What could I do? My students would be upset. How could I honor their feelings? How could we make a difference? My mind drifted back to Inauguration Day, when my friends loved my students' quick reaction notes, and some encouraged me to send them to our legislators. That's what we could do! So much of this fear comes from ignorance. All that Saturday evening, I turned over ideas in my head for a template that would help my students teach lawmakers how hard it is to be an immigrant or refugee, and what amazing young people they really are. People need to understand how long it takes to prepare to come here and be approved, the severity of what many of them are fleeing, and the simple fact that these are innocent, sensitive, hardworking, incredible kids and families! That Sunday afternoon, as Husband kept Sweetie occupied with books and toys, I scrapped my original lesson plans for Monday and designed a one-page template that would help my students get to the heart of these important ideas.

I knew that if I framed it right, my kids would be excited to share their experiences, especially with a real chance to make a difference. Hope and power sparkled in their eyes as I explained that they should not write their names because we would really mail these to our lawmakers. Even so, I was astonished by how purposefully they spread out around the room and settled in to write, some with tear-filled eyes, so dedicated that they spent more than a class period and we had to continue on Tuesday.

When I began reading and compiling their responses, I found that, as well as I know my kids, there is always more to learn. And the more I learn, the more I love them:

You don't just decide you'll go to America and then go on Monday.
Responses ranged from a few months to 12 years!
"there are many gangs in El Salvador"


"India is not safe for girls."
"I can not study in schools because the school bombed."
"Every day people die. The people in my country now like monsters and the schools bad and no future."
"Arbil is better than other place in Iraq because if we go to the other places some people can kill us."
"That was so hard to live without dad."
"My dad has a kidney disease and he is come here to seek treatment."
"Hope to reduce my academic pressure... have a relaxed and happy school life and weekend" (from a Chinese student)
"Every day there was news about a thief who killed someone to steal something from that person. We felt that this could happen to us. People are starving."

"I was felt sad and scary living in Iraq and Syria because of the war. I can't go to school."
"distance my friends, so I can't see long time and I won't be able to school events with classmates."

"But that happened a lot of bad thing I suffered because we walked during the night and we had to cross a big river."
"...to finish our transactions was in Aman it was take 2 h to be in Aman at 7 a.m. We was do that for 10 years."
"We get interview and it is four interviews so it wait between the interviews years and years."
"because Trump became President and he want to kick us out of America that makes me mad and actually he ban the refugees for month so I was happy that my dad is coming, I don't see him for 6 years but now I don't gonna see him because of the bad rule from Trump!"

"happy because my life is preserved from the war / sad because I will miss my family in Iraq."
"I hope still living here because this country is wonderful."
Fear and hope, pain and happiness, education and family. Rugged determination, patience, wonder, and love. From China to Venezuela, the same dreams spread around my classroom.

All mailed off to our congressmen (local and federal offices) and President Trump!
Immigrants and refugees are not numbers. They are kids and families fighting for better lives, and they need our love to be stronger than our fear.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Daddy holding

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Oh, poor thing, she probably wants you!" Several colleagues around the table nod knowingly, exchanging mom looks as I explain that Little Sweetie is home sick with Husband today.

"Actually, she probably wants him! She's been really attached to him lately since she only sees him for a short time each evening."

"They always want Mommy when they're sick, though!" More commiserating mom looks across the conference room. This whole gender role thing is super out of control! Even though Husband doesn't have to write sub plans and has more time off than I do, and even though I absolutely thrive on putting my whole self into making a difference every day while I'm at school, my colleagues have almost managed to guilt me into feeling bad that I'm not the one staying home today. I feel as if I've broken some sort of unwritten rule that Mom has to be the one to stay home with the sick kid. It's just like when we'd go out after first having her, and everyone would act astonished that Husband was acting like an equal partner in taking care of her. Those first few weeks, we couldn't help but be astonished at the frequency of comments like, "Ooh, he changes diapers?!"

"I didn't want to wake her up when I left, but I'm pretty sure she'll be really excited to spend the whole day with Daddy!" I try not to roll my eyes, because I know my colleagues mean well and are trying to imply that we share some sort of special womanly connection as moms. Forever the fiercely independent tomboy, I don't quite feel it, but I appreciate that they're trying to connect with me.

At the end of the school day, Husband texts me to say that Sweetie is still feeling so bad that they're going to the doctor, so I hurriedly pack up and jump into the car to meet them. The check-in secretary waves me through the waiting room door and a sweet young nurse directs me to an exam room. "She's just the cutest," she gushes, "it's so sad that she's sick!" As I shove the door open, I see Husband hushing me with an urgent finger over his mouth. Little Sweetie is curled up on his chest, sound asleep, sighing huge, heavy breaths.

When my childhood doctor finally comes in, she stirs unhappily, emitting pathetic squeaks and whimpers. "Mommy's here, Sweetie! Look, Mommy left work early to see you!" She stares at me with vacant eyes and starts to cry as the doctor begins trying to look in her ears. "Do you want to come see Mommy?" I offer, and she reaches out for me, but I only hold her for a minute before she leans back toward Husband, shaking and crying harder. "Daddy!" "I think she remembers this place and thinks she has to get shots," he shrugs.

Giving her a final snuggle, I pass her back to him, and she burrows back against him while I settle for patting her arm. The doctor decides it must be a virus, advises us to keep giving her fluids and Tylenol, and sends us back home without any real solution.

"Do you want to ride in Mommy's car or Daddy's?" I ask as we gather our bags and coats. "Mommy!" she mumbles sweetly. "Ok, you can listen to your mirror in Mommy's car!" We walk out, and check again as we approach the cars, since she usually doesn't like when we have to leave somewhere in separate cars. "Do you want to ride with Mommy or Daddy?"

"Mommy!" I open the car door, pull my seat forward, throw my bag on the floor, and reach for her, but she clenches her legs tight against Husband and digs her tiny fists into his shoulders. We glance at each other. "Do you want to ride with Mommy or Daddy?"

"Daddy!" I kiss her and wave bye-bye, and when we meet back at home, she wants to sit all evening on Daddy's lap, while Daddy reads her books and Daddy holds her water bottle. ("Do you want to sit on Mommy's lap?" "Daddy!") And Daddy does, even though he's exhausted from an entire day of holding her and trying to make her feel better.

And after she refuses every dinner choice we offer and then throws up, she nuzzles deeper into his shoulder and mutters, "Hold you. Holding."

"Daddy will hold you!" he whispers in her ear. With teary eyes and shaking shoulders, he hugs her tighter and carries her up to bed. He loves her THAT much! So much that her pain hurts him!

At 20 months old, she doesn't have any ideas about who's supposed to take care of her. She knows we both love her, and she knows that time with Daddy is extra special.

I'm awestruck by how much I love them both.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My students speak

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Best thing I've seen all day!" I grin as I read this comment from an old high school and college marching band friend. I've always looked up to her, and I admire her strength and conviction in so many ways. I feel proud that she loves my students' voices and empowered that, even though President Trump (despite his love for Twitter) will almost assuredly not read the notes we tweeted at him, other hearts and minds have been moved by them.

Scrolling through the list of "like" and "love" notifications, my heart swells at the variety of interactions: colleagues, band friends, college friends, cousins. People I see every day and people I haven't heard from in years. People I absolutely expected to love this post and others I would have pegged as staunch conservatives. But that's the thing, isn't it? This particular president has crossed lines that transcend political beliefs and cut straight through to fundamental human feelings, rights, and experiences.

The morning after the election, when I ran to my phone and tears sprung to my eyes at the sight of that horrific headline, I wasn't crying because I would have preferred a different political outcome. I was crying because I didn't know what I was going to say, two hours later, when I walked into my cozy classroom home to face the familiar sea of sweet, brown immigrant faces that I love spending all day with. I felt like my country was telling my amazing, brave, hardworking Muslim, Hispanic, and Asian kids that we didn't want them, that they weren't safe here, that we don't respect or value their incredible stories, that we were better off before they came.

So when I read about Teaching Tolerance's #StudentsSpeak campaign, I knew I needed to use this opportunity to capture my students' feelings and let their voices be heard. I knew it would be difficult to navigate all our emotions on Inauguration Day, and that this would be the perfect outlet. So on Friday, after we studied the inaugural traditions and talked about why America's peaceful transfer of power is so important to celebrate, I invited my students to write a quick note to President (cringe!) Trump.

And they bent their heads, and pulled up their translation apps, and wrote. And my eyes sprouted more tears as they handed me their notes, full of fear and hurt and hope.





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Special Baby

"Bunny. Bunny.
Hug. Hug.
Hugging."

Husband and I grin as we creep downstairs, Little Sweetie's happy-sleepy voice softly crackling through the monitor. She's just started sleeping with a stuffed animal, and she's really enjoying snuggling the floppy purple bunny she chose.

Long shadows stretch across the great room as moonlight streams in from our wall of windows. As we settle onto our velvety brown couches to relax, Husband suddenly elbows me, nodding toward the monitor.

"Baby. Baby.
Special.
Baby.
Special.
Special Baby."

"You're my special baby!" Husband's eyes glitter as he quotes the rhyme from our local library storytime, which we got the rare treat of attending all together since we were both off work for MLK, Jr. Day.
Husband & Sweetie doing "You're my special baby" at storytime. <3
Pure silence fills the house. M&M has drifted off to sleep remembering one of the most loving moments of our day. My heart feels like it will balloon up into the vast expanse of the great room and float right out of those windows into the moonlight.

I hope she always falls asleep knowing that she's our special baby.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Choosing our words

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Oh wow, you guys are choosing great words!" I peer over my students' bent heads as they brainstorm and then create signs for their "one little words" for 2017. My kids are just awesome. Seriously, they're amazing! Oh man, I love this job.

I love sharing pieces of myself with my students, showing them how hard I work to be who I am and helping them find ways to do that work for themselves. Every year, I work more goal-setting into my classes, and every year, I'm less afraid to be unperfect in front of my students. Every time I share about my personal and professional goals with them, I can feel the sparks flying from my eyes, turning into glimmers growing in theirs.

So even in the midst of several dismal days of graduation test retakes (a great way to start off the new year, right?!), we're taking the time to reflect on how we grew last semester as readers, writers, learners, and people. We're analyzing our progress and setting specific goals, but we're also choosing "one little word" as an overarching guide in our journey to be better people in 2017.

For me, "one little word" has been such an uplifting way to encourage myself to be better without putting more stress on myself, and that's how I introduced it to my classes this year. We've already done so much goal-setting work that they have well-developed attitudes about working hard to improve, so it really didn't take much to nudge them towards the right kind of brainstorming to discover their words.

We talked about how resolutions often fail, and why our short-term, measurable goals with plans work better for making specific progress. We discussed how, combined with those specific goals, an overarching, broader intention or word can be a positive force that keeps you driving throughout the year. I quickly modeled how I often brainstorm possible goals and look for patterns across my list, and then turned them loose to do their own brainstorming...

And boy, did they arrive at some powerful words!
 A few of the words that have been chosen so far... others are still working. Love these kids!!!
Look out, world. There are some pretty incredible teenagers in room A2. They speak multiple languages, navigate multiple cultures, and handle untold adversity with strength and grace. Best of all, they're working hard to get better every day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

One Little Word 2017: Anyway

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Wow.
2016.
What an absolute doozy of a year!

Personally, professionally, as a citizen of the U.S. and a person in the world... just wow.

STRONG certainly turned out to be a darn good word for 2016, and it did its job well, pushing me to be better while also taking care of myself better.

And I want to keep that up. Keep pushing myself, like I always have, but in a way that's good for me, which is the newer part.

Unfortunately, as 2016 showed us all, the world can pack some pretty big punches, no matter how hard you work to make your very best impact on your very small corner of it.

So this fall, when I ran across a version of the "Paradoxical Commandments" on social media, widely attributed to Mother Teresa but apparently actually written by Kent Keith and used by Mother Teresa, I knew what my word for 2017 would be:
ANYWAY

As I thought more about my word, I remembered loving a song called "Anyway", and when I went to look it up, I learned that Keith's poem was actually one of Martina McBride's inspirations for the lyrics, so my OLW inspirations are tied together perfectly!

At first, I was going to scatter words from each line of the poem around my word in this year's image, but I didn't want it to be too cluttered, and I wanted to add "strong", so I decided to make it more my own:
created on my iPad with Drawing Desk and FontCandy+
I chose sunrise colors this year, for hope and rebirth.
Like the past several years, this will be my computer wallpaper at school.
So in 2017, I will do my very best to brighten every piece of the world I can reach, even especially in the midst of so much darkness.

I will be kind, even especially when others are not.
I will be joyful, even especially when it's difficult to find joy.
I will be strong, even especially when I'm worn out.
I will be brave, even especially when I'm scared.
I will give my best, even especially when it seems to not be enough.
I will forgive those who act hurtfully, even especially when they act unwilling to work for healing.
I will love. Everyone. Even especially when it hurts. Even especially when they seem hard to love.

I love this word because it allows me to keep living my past words... even especially 
when it's hard. I will keep  connecting, keep  delighting, keep being  a spark, keep  loving, and keep being  strong...
anyway.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Kids in the snow

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
"Nohhh!" "Out!" "Ang-yul!" "Boots!" "Ang-yul!" Little Sweetie is prancing back and forth beside the sliding glass door, pointing outside and back at our winter clothes strewn haphazardly on the doormat from our first snow on Sunday. With one hand, I attempt to pull on my snowpants and boots while simultaneously gathering up her scattered fleece suit, snowpants, boots, coat, and mittens. Daylight is fading fast out the window, but I've been waiting for this all day as I watched the fluffy flakes fall. Quickly, I plunk her down on my knee and stuff her into layer after layer. By the time I finish wrangling her tiny mittens down and out the arms of her coat, I'm so hot I consider just leaving my own coat off to go outside, but I throw it on anyway.

"Down-down!" Her little legs squirm as I carry her down the deck stairs. "Wwalk-ing!" She toddles off into the yard, making little "ooh-ooh" noises.

"Ang-yul!" "Mannn!"

"Our snowman fell down, but we can fix him!" I find the intact-but-separated balls from Sunday's snowman, quickly roll them a few times to add some new snow, and stick them together.

"Mannn!" "Pat!" "Hugggg!"

"Are you the very sweetest?" My heart wants to burst as she pats the snowman's shoulder and snuggles up to him for a hug. She just loves everything and everyone so much!

"Ang-yul!"

"Do you want to make a snow angel?" I remember how cute she was when we helped her make one on Sunday, spreading her legs back and forth and flailing her arms, and I can't wait to help her try again.

"No. Mommy!" Her succinct, clipped "no" with a slight head shake is definitely "no", not "nohh" (snow).

"You want Mommy to make a snow angel?" I'd rather have her make an adorably tiny one, but... whatever makes her happy!

"Mommy!" "Ang-yul!" "Make!"

"Ok, you can watch Mommy make a snow angel!" I plop down, savoring the soft cushion of snow underneath me, and start wiggling. As she grins and giggles, I'm suddenly stunned by the gentle beauty of delicate flakes falling onto my face under a backdrop of gray winter sky. It's impossible to be anything but purely happy while making a snow angel! The last lingering bits of school stress melt away, and I'm a kid again, even as I sit up to look back into my own toddler's eyes.

"Do you want to make a snow angel now?"

"No! Walking!" She takes off, little legs plowing through the snow, and I follow. "Weeeee!" Our two sets of tracks crisscross through the pristine white expanse of the yard: two kids playing in the snow.