Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Our not-first day

Tuesdays at TWT!
Yesterday was our not-first day. Sweetie's first day of kindergarten in the district I attended K-12 and have taught 13 years in. My colleagues' first day with students. And, although staff worked a week last week, my first day of realizing that my year of unpaid leave is really real. 

After working energetically all summer to hone my digital teaching skills and antiracist strategies, I won't be implementing them this year. No lessons, no classes, no students. 

Because our district's choice to start remotely for two weeks and then move to hybrid learning is not enough for me. I love to teach, and I so badly wanted to find a way to do it this year, but when I held up every scenario to if it would be worth it if my precious girls (especially Sweetie's preemie sister) got sick, it was absolutely not. So Sweetie is attending remote kindergarten for at least the semester (a choice for families but not teachers), and we will all continue to be safe at home, minus the job I love but with our health.

So yesterday, I set up Sweetie's remote work space, not a classroom. 
I talked and played with her and her little sis, not students.
I drove to her school, not mine.
We took pictures outside her school's front doors, but then we went home, not in.
We picked up special curbside takeout meals to eat at home, not at restaurants.
She opened her Chromebook, not a classroom door.
She waved, talked, sang, listened to a story, and raised her hand in Google Meet, not on a rug.
She gave her teacher a virtual hug at the end of class, not a real one.
And after the girls were asleep, I was relaxing and going to sleep early, not planning lessons, creating activities, or communicating with students or families.

But she still giggled, squealed, bounced, and beamed.
I still thought of my colleagues and students (and observed Sweetie's lessons with my teacher-brain ON, not judging but learning and wondering how I can use my skills to support her growth).
We still talked about our day, and it really was lovely that our favorite moments were all shared.

She is still a kindergartener, 2020-style.
I am still a teacher-mom, doing whatever it takes. It just takes something different this year.

And she played with her little sister more than she would have if she had gone to school. We caught a katydid and she brought it to her Meet in our bug house. We had extra snuggles, and I had time to give her an Elsa braid. 

And even though some things were missing, and many things were not as we'd planned, it was a wonderful day, not a hard one. We were excited and satisfied, not disappointed. Our hearts were full of all the ways our day was special, not the ways it was different than it should have been. And we are safe and secure, not at risk or anxious. And while I recognize this is an extremely privileged choice we were able to make, we are also helping our community by doing our part to stop, not spread, the virus.

And the peace in my heart tells me that this is right. 
For us, for this year.

I'm enticed by the possibility of more beautiful, precious, unexpected nots awaiting us.

Friday, May 29, 2020

I will not be silent.

Soooo it's been awhile since I blogged. And it's not Tuesday. But this can't wait. Because every. day. The news is worse. Every. day. we are farther from the America I want to live in. I wrote this on Facebook first, but then decided to just go ahead and make it a blog post:

I don’t know what to say, but I’m not going to let that stop me from saying something. Because as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." I will not be silent now.

I keep waiting to wake up from the dystopian nightmare we’ve found ourselves in, but every day I find we’re deeper into it. In the midst of an unbelievably incompetent (or incredibly evil) response to a global pandemic that’s causing hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths, the president is actively encouraging violence on the same social media platform he’s also threatening to shut down for fact-checking him. Journalists are being arrested on air while police officers who killed on live video walk free. Black protesters calling attention to their right to live are met with guns and tear gas, while white protesters toting assault rifles because their haircuts are more important than other people’s health are greeted peacefully and given more attention than they deserve.

I was privileged enough to not know who Emmett Till was until I was 28, sitting in a National Writing Project class. Now I can’t get him out of my mind, and I can’t believe that so many years later, people are still being killed just for being black. Just because our society is absolutely fantastic at insidiously instilling the idea that dark = bad. That unknown = scary. That not-like-me = threatening.

If I speak Spanish in public, people are impressed; they don’t tell me to go back where I came from. When I wear a mask out (because it’s the responsible thing to do!), I don’t have to worry that someone will feel threatened by my covered face because my skin doesn’t look like theirs, or that they’ll blame me for the “Chinese virus”. If I choose to take a walk around a suburban neighborhood I don’t live in, people will smile and wave, instead of assuming I don’t belong there and calling the police. And when a cop pulls me over because he thinks I didn’t stop long enough at the dead-end intersection stop sign on my way to work, he lets me off with a warning and tells me to keep up my safe driving record; he doesn’t arrest me or kill me.

I thought America was better than this. And that’s part of the problem. Those of us with privilege cannot continue pretending our safe existence is even close to representative of the experiences of most Americans.

America SHOULD be better than this. It CAN be better than this, and it starts with us. But it will take ALL of us.

Even when we don’t know what to say, let alone what to do... we can say something. We can inform ourselves and others. We can hold space for and amplify black and brown voices. (As teachers, we can continue giving our students diverse texts and asking them to do difficult, thoughtful work with those texts. We can teach them that their experiences are valid and their voices matter.) We can vote, vote, vote.

And we can not. be. silent.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


March at TWT!
"I feel bad because no school. I feel boring in the home. I miss my teachers and friends at the school. And I feel a little scary because I don't want sick." K. tugs at her hijab as the rest of the circle nods.

"I feel good because I want to sleep in!" L laughs, as she often does in circle. "But I'm scared for my mom and dad." She switches to Spanish. My dad is all alone in Venezuela, and they don't have the tests there. And nobody in our family is with him."

Our circle gets quieter, that kind of deep, serious quiet that happens when people know they are connected through their inner feelings.

"But Miss Mitchell, what IS a virus? Where did this come from?" T. is in biology right now, but before he came here, he only had a couple of years of off-and-on schooling in rural Guatemala, as did several others in this class.

I feel inadequate trying to explain, especially as I try to echo myself in my second language. "Umm, it's some germs that can be passed between people, and they attack our bodies and make us sick..."

"In Guatemala, there are no tests and no money for medicine," T. looks down. "And they won't want people coming in, so I can't go back." I know he's worried about the little siblings he sends money to.

"I work at the front of my restaurant, and I'm scared! I talk to customers, clean the tables, and clean the dishes." Y. shakes his head. "I'm washing my hands all the time, but... what if someone comes in who has the virus?!"

"What about the people who work in stores?" I., brand new from Guatemala just two days ago, doesn't seem to be afraid of speaking up in his very first circle. "If the stores close, how will they get money? And how will people get what they need?"

"We went to the store this week, and everything was gone." L. jumps back in, even though it's not her turn, and that's ok, today. Anything is ok, today. "It reminded me of Venezuela. It wasn't a sickness, but when the economic crisis came, everybody bought everything, and nothing was left. It was just like this."

"It's not like America," B. jumps in. "That doesn't happen in America."

"My brother sells food, and the other night he was selling food, and a Chinese guy was too." Y.  has more to say. "They were both washing their hands between every batch and using gloves, but when they got to where they were taking the food, the owner threw everything from the Chinese guy right in the trash. Like a thousand dollars, right in the trash."

"I'm scared."

"I'm sad."

"I feel bad."

Around the circle. In English and Spanish.

"What's going to happen?"

I make sure everyone has said everything they want to say and close the circle. They head back to their seats, and I remind them how we'll connect over the next 3 weeks (although, in my head, I know it will probably be longer). I give them some time to explore the extra practice links I've provided and make sure everyone is set up for the tools we'll definitely be using.

I remind them that E+R=O, and talk about how this is one of those big events we can't control, but we can choose responses that will help us get the outcomes we want. I remind them how hard they've worked to learn English this year, how they all said that was one of their most important outcomes, how they don't want to lose the progress they've made. I bribe them with prizes when we return and finally see a few smiles, because I know that as hard as we might try to inspire ourselves by thinking of the outcomes we want, sometimes we all need a little extra boost.

I remind them that our school is working on a way to still provide food for students during these weeks, and tell them to message me if they need anything else, because there's an organization in our community that works to help families get what they need.

Our precious minutes are winding down, and their big eyes are looking at me like they don't want to walk out of our room. A Muslim girl from Kurdistan and a Catholic girl from Venezuela are holding hands, whispering how much they'll miss each other. They're scared and sad.

One of my toughest boys has walked out of class (and back in, of course) at least three times, and he keeps saying he's not coming back to school next year. The other is sprawled on the beanbag pillow, complaining that he's hungry and bragging about how he's not going to do any work over the break. They're scared and sad too.

The bell rings. I go to the door and offer each a hug or high five on the way out. When they think of our class and this day, I want them to remember how much I love them. I want them to remember that our class was a family.

Mostly, the girls give me tighter hugs than usual, and the boys opt for fist bumps. But Y., in line behind a girl, holds out his arms. I remember him trying to use the word "elect" in a sentence earlier this year, and writing "I elect Mrs. M to be my teacher next year." I remember overhearing him two days ago as he told our new student "Mrs. Mitchell is buena onda." I hug him, and his face blooms into his biggest grin. "I was scared," he laughs.

"It's ok," I tell him, and I hope it will be.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Happy too

Day 1 of 31 at TWT!
 "Taking care of you makes me happy too!" As Daniel Tiger's voice bursts happily out of the book, RainbowGirl tilts her head up to beam me a half-toothy baby smile. She sways her whole upper body side-to-side in her patented dance move. As soon as the tune stops, she smashes her pudgy thumb down on the button again, grinning at Daniel in the book this time. Again. Smile. Again. Giggle-smile. Again! Again! Again!

For a change of pace, she pokes out her tiny pointer finger to push the picture of Daniel on the bottom of the page, which is supposed to signal that the reader should push the button. Nothing happens, of course, since it's just a picture of the button. Big eyes stare up at me.

"That's just a picture! Good experiment, though!" I love watching her figure out the world.

She quickly finds the real button again and happily smashes it, beaming when it plays. "Taking care of you makes me happy too!"

As she "dances" to at least twenty iterations of the one-line song, Sweetie runs into the room and flops down beside her. "Taking care of you makes me happy too," she sings sweetly, wrapping her arm around her baby sister and gazing at her with a proud big-sis grin.

They snuggle-read for several minutes, baby sister dancing and big sister singing. The next time RainbowGirl tries to push a picture instead of the real button, Sweetie interjects by sweetly speaking the words of the song: "Taking care of you makes me happy, baby!" She plants a big kiss on her little sister's cheek just as that little thumb finds the real button again to start the cycle over.

"Taking care of you makes me happy too!"

My heart is ready to float up out of my body, because it's true.