Pablo’s Story

I made this two weeks ago, but couldn’t figure out how to upload it. Yes, I know I have uploaded videos before, but I couldn’t remember how I did it. Sigh. Technology is hard. And one more thing: when I say tests are dumb, what I meant is–STANDARDIZED tests not designed with English Language Learners in mind–are dumb. Just wanted to clarify.

Click below for VLOG number two:

www.youtube.com/watch

Forgiveness and Stuff

Easter and I have a crappy history.  It all started back in Easter of 2006 when I woke up on Easter morning, curled up in a fetal position on my bedroom floor, after finding out my then-husband was having an affair.

There are no words to describe the feeling of a deep betrayal, but I will attempt to do so. Yes, there is shock, grief, anger, loss, etc. but there is mostly a bizarre emptiness that takes over you. It’s a realization that the water you’ve been drinking for years has been poisoning you, while you are unknowingly guzzling it, believing it to be clean. And you start to wonder why you believed and trusted the water to be clean in the first place. Could you have possibly known it was poisonous???

However, on Easter Sunday, 12 years later, I woke up feeling much differently.  I was excited to go to a kundalini yoga class that morning at a new yoga studio.  I hopped (no bunny puns intended) into my car and began to drive there.

What happened next was surreal.  As I was driving down a main road in downtown Indianapolis, I spotted a car in my periphery that was moving slowly towards a stop sign at an intersection I was crossing.  In the next second, I felt a devastating impact and held my breath as a car crashed into my back passenger side door.  I spun in my car, gripping the steering wheel, feeling the shock of what in the hell just happened and then finally screeching to a stop, with my vehicle perpendicular to the road.  I looked up, and saw the other vehicle slow down from the impact of hitting me. In fear, I felt myself wanting to make eye contact, but as I was looking at the driver, he suddenly pushed on the accelerator and kept driving.

The next moment was filled with uncontrollable crying as I dialed 911.  (Crying is my jam. It’s just what I do.) A police officer stopped and pulled over next to me.  I assumed he was the one who had been called to come to the scene, but I was wrong.  He told me he had just gotten off duty, but would stay with me until the assigned officers arrived.  He told me to call someone to come and get me, since the car was undrivable, and to begin calling my insurance company to tell them I was the victim of a hit and run.

I continued to let the tears flow, while talking to the insurance company, feeling the release of the trauma and shock as the next two police officers arrived.  I replayed everything that happened in my mind as I retold them about the vehicle crashing into me.  I found myself wanting to apply blame…to someone.  Who would do this?  Who crashes into someone, and just drives away?  Who looks at someone who is clearly in fear and/or pain and just keeps going?  Who floors their gas pedal because their fear of dealing with the hurt they have caused, outweighs the courage to face the damage they have done? 

Since I couldn’t answer those questions, I then looked at myself.  Was there anything I could have done to prevent this from happening?  Even though I had the right of way, could I have possibly anticipated that he wasn’t going to stop?  Why didn’t I get a good look at him?  Why didn’t I look at his license plate number?

And then I started to blame the city:  Why aren’t their cameras at every intersection to record this crap?  Why didn’t anyone come out of their home to help me?  Why was there only one person along the way who stopped to help?

As the tow truck came along, the driver listened in to the conversation I was having with my friend who came to pick me up.  “Who does this?”  I asked her.

“Someone high.  Someone who has a warrant out for their arrest.  Someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license.  Someone…afraid,” she insightfully said.

“Someone who drives a Buick,” the tow truck driver chimed in, as he handed me a piece of the offender’s car he found in the street.  I looked at it.  It was the Buick symbol.  A piece of the person.  A piece of the vehicle which had crashed into me, on this bright Easter morning in 2018.  I cringed, but took the piece of the car as a clue to the piece of my pain.

A week later, I am sitting in the sunroom writing this post to you. At this moment, I realize there is much to be grateful for. I am grateful I am physically okay.  I am grateful for my friend who came to help me and for the police officers and the rental car employees, and for my insurance company.

I look at my daughter, thankful she wasn’t with me, and yet, terrified of the thought that she could have easily been sitting in the backseat at the point of impact.

But overall, now that I have some perspective, what I am reminded of is this: blaming others does not solve problems. What solves problems is doing the work–turning inward and acting on what we are called to do. And what else solves problems is deciding to act with compassion that is founded in truth, justice, and community.

I recall the moment when I looked over at him, and he floored the gas and drove away. That moment, to me, symbolizes all the moments when we look at someone in pain, and choose to keep walking.

We’ve all done it. We’ve all been the guy that drove away.

When we see homeless people on the street and somehow think they are not worthy of our attention, we are the guy that drove away.

When we hear the voice of someone in pain, speaking out about the injustice he or she feels, and yet we ignore it, we are the guy that drove away.

When we choose to not see others as being as valuable as ourselves, we are the guy that drove away.

When we choose to ignore those that we perceive to be different than us, we are the guy that drove away.

And please, don’t for one second, think that I’m “a good person” or “noble” for thinking this way. I’M JUST AS JACKED UP AS EVERYONE ELSE. I’m simply calling the sentiment into the light that “I am the other.”

It’s painful. It’s hard. But it’s a truth worth examining. And it’s what I believe DOES solve problems. The faster we can accept the reality that hurt people hurt people, the faster we can do the work and start to protect those who are suffering in our community.

And the faster we can actually begin to forgive.

ONE. DUMB. CLASS.

This is the story of the day I began to believe I was not a writer.

I was 21 years old, and almost halfway through my junior year in college. I went to a small, private college with less than a thousand students. On this particular day, I walked across the student union, my footsteps echoing behind me. 

The thing I liked best about the union were the echoes of my feet shuffling and the reverberating voices of friends you could hear as you walked through. I have a memory of a day my mom and I walked through the union during winter break when no one was around, and we sang the hymn, “Trust and Obey,” acapella. She sang soprano and I sang alto. Our echoing song gave me chills. 

But, I digress. On this particular day that I formed my belief that I wasn’t a writer, there were no songs and no happy voices that I remember. All I remember was walking over to my mailbox in the union, turning the key, and anxiously pulling out the paper I had written for British Literature, Second Survey. 

This paper had a big, fat, ugly, red C written on it at the top. 

My heart began to race. This was my third C on a paper in this English class, AND I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR FOR GOD’S SAKE! I was an honor roll student–NOT a C student, and I couldn’t bear the thought of committing myself to a field where I was not excelling. I felt a mix of anxiety and anger, as I clutched the paper close to me. 

I decided to do what I always did in college when I was freaking out:  I RAN. 

I didn’t even know where the heck I was running to. I just carelessly sprinted across campus, becoming more winded by the second, as I breathed in the blustery air of Northern Indiana. 

As I reached the other end of campus, I looked up and saw Shoup House. 

Shoup House was not my campus house. But it was a house where a few of my friends lived. One of those friends was an English major. 

“Becca!” I shouted. “I’m going to see Becca,” as if my subconscious knew where I was headed all along.

I ran in, sped up the wooden stairway, where I was greeted at the top by Becca and two of my friends. They quickly noticed I was not there for just a friendly chat. I was there because I was having a moment

“Damn that son of a bitch!! 😡” I yelled, throwing my paper on the floor. 

The girls quickly realized the “son of a bitch” I was referring to was Professor Tom David. Professor David was young, cool, and some girls even thought he was hot. (Gag.) His muscles and boyish good looks appeared fake to me, just like his neatly coifed hair.  During my sophomore and junior years of college, Tom was unfortunately teaching a larger number of classes than normal for the English department, since two other professors were on sabbatical, as I remember. 

Every English class with Professor David was PAINFUL. My upper level English classes typically had anywhere from 15-20 students in them. Tom displayed an obvious favoritism for the outspoken hipster students in the class from day 1. He would start anecdotes with, “Last night I was at the Electric Brew, having coffee with Caitlin and Brad, and we got into this really interesting conversation about the use of imagery in William Carlos Williams’ poetry…” And I would be forced to listen to him name drop the names of the “cool kids” throughout a story that had NOTHING to do with William Carlos Williams.

I simply could not compete with the Caitlins and the Brads. They were badass,  cool, confident, highly-favored hipsters. They loved Tom, despite his preppy cardigans and argyle sweaters, and he loved them.

The non-hipsters in the class, me and my friend, Michelle, sat off to the side in class, furiously taking notes. Todd never called on us, and may have even forgotten we were there, until one of us had the courage to timidly raise our hand, with our voice shaking, heart palpitating, and finally saying, “Um, I think that T.S. Eliot’s use of the objective correlative in British literature is actually used by a lot of screenwriters nowadays,” and mid-sentence we would suddenly realize that Tom David DIDN’T EVEN GIVE A SHIT, and wasn’t listening to what we were saying. And so we would suddenly forget the very important, courageous thing we were trying to say, and end up stuttering as we looked around the room at people who refused to make eye contact. 

And then, eventually, we stopped speaking in his classes. Like totally. We became selective mutes, since we grew  tired of his disdain for us. 

We were also tired of feeling knocked down. Tired of feeling not enough. I was doing everything I could to write a good English paper, but I continued to receive Cs that were covered with negative, red slashes all over my paper. 

I felt like my identity as a writer was being stripped away. 

I had been working as the student manager/director of the writing center at my college. I was responsible for tutoring several students to write papers. I was helping them succeed. Yet, I couldn’t seem to catch a break myself. I felt like a fraud

And this feeling was enough to cause me  to withdraw from my English classes at college and drop my English major, even though I was one class away from completing it. ONE. DUMB. CLASS. With dumb Tom David. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

Not only that, I stopped writing completely. I didn’t write anything substantial for sixteen years. And for sixteen years I felt a certain degree of emptiness–an emptiness that haunts you when you aren’t fully doing what you were meant to do. 

You guys, 

that.

is.

scary. 

It’s scary because I let one person–one teacher–have that kind of effect on my life. And it shows how we, as teachers, play a major role in how our students view themselves.

Tom David (as far as I could assess in my 21 year old brain) thought I couldn’t do it–I couldn’t write a paper worthy of his intellectual time or a decent grade. He showed me through his body language that my comments in class were not worthy of even being acknowledged. 

And I believed him. Even though he was ONE PERSON. 

He was my teacher. And now that I’m a teacher myself, I try to remind myself of this experience as much as possible, because it keeps me focused on the task at hand: teaching my students to BELIEVE they can GROW academically in their abilities.

If I don’t believe that, how will they?

I have the opportunity to show my students that the most important part of learning is growth. I modify instruction and student work, while looking at students’ data over time. Each child is unique and has a specific set of challenges and abilities. As they grow and improve through hard work and practice, they gain self confidence. 
Oh my god, I think I need to say that again. 

As they grow and improve through hard work and practice, they gain self confidence. 

That, right there, ⬆️ was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I dropped my English major when it got difficult, because I didn’t know that I could improve anymore. 

Anyone will quit something he thinks he sucks at, if he doesn’t believe he can improve. Anyone–adult or child.

Now, I don’t blame Tom David for my decision to quit my English classes. I was the quitter. I was the one who gave up. I was so intimidated by him that I didn’t ask for help, nor did I get a tutor, because I was too proud. That was my choice, and I learned from it. 

And what I learned is actually invaluable–I learned that I have INCREDIBLE power as an educator to help my students develop beliefs about themselves–beliefs that can set them on a positive trajectory for life. And the first belief I want to instill is that it is through hard work–not just being smart, that one accomplishes the work that he or she was born to do. ❤️

Me (in the red) and a bunch of other non-English major college peeps, doing our non-English major thing.

I See Children

Judging others will never give us the outcome we are seeking. 

I am an ESL teacher in a public school. What that means is that I teach children (who are native speakers of other languages) how to achieve proficiency in the English language. 

I do this while simultaneously encouraging them to continue to maintain proficiency in their native language. Yes, you read that correctly–I want my students to be bilingual. I understand and value the gifts of bilingualism and biculturalism. I do not ask my students to leave their cultures at home. I do not ask them to change who they are, because these children ARE GIFTS, I tell you–GIFTS to my school, my community, and our country. I only ask that they come to my classroom ready to learn each day and rise to the high expectations I have for them in their academic achievement. 

I take this responsibility seriously, because shaping minds is serious business. I teach every child that walks into my school who qualifies for my program. I do my best to guide them on the path to proficiency in speaking, reading, listening, and writing in English, while providing them access to a rigorous curriculum and critical thinking skills. My program is not a remedial program; it is an acceleration program. 

I love what I do and my students inspire me to be brave everyday, because they are some of the bravest people I know. They show up to school and do the next thing and speak truth, even if their voices shake or if they don’t yet fully know the language.  

My students come from varying backgrounds, which I may explore in another blog post at some point…

But today, I want to talk to you about my students who are refugees, or whose parents are refugees. I have students and/or their parents who come from war torn countries. They have seen things that you and I cannot fathom. 

Have you ever taken the time to hear a refugee’s story? 

If not, you may want to consider googling, “experiences of refugees,” and see what comes up. 

Because most of us have NO idea what a refugee has been through, unless we have taken the time to let our brains and our hearts explore that uncomfortable place. 

This would mean exploring uncomfortable emotions, because there’s nothing comfortable about fleeing war. There’s nothing comfortable about uprooting your entire family because you are, quite simply, afraid for your life. There’s nothing comfortable about seeing and/or experiencing murder or rape, or to live in constant fear of what may happen. 

Each of us have our own ideology about what is right or wrong. Each of us have values and needs that are important to us. I know it can be hard to see another’s point of view; but when I see judgment aimed towards people, simply because of their birthplace, or their country of origin, or religion, my heart aches.  

Maybe that’s because I see children. I see children who have seen things or know about things that are absolutely FOREIGN to us, #nopunintended.

Today, a student from Nigeria handed me a book he had written last night. I told him I wanted to learn about Nigeria. He knows I like to write, and that I value writing. So he gave me a book which had several sentences and pictures he drew. Some of the sentences were illegible (we are working on this), so I asked him to read the book to me. 

As he was reading a page, he paused. 

“This page has a bad word,” he said. “I had to erase it.”

“A bad word?” I asked. 

“Yes… It was the word… The word, kill,” he said, bowing his head. 

He read the page to me. It said, “In Nigeria, some people don’t know who their families are. They come to you and then you are in the hospital.”

I wasn’t understanding, so I asked him to tell me more. He explained that there are people “who can’t find their families and don’t know who their families are… and they try to kill you. And you have to go to the hospital.”

I don’t know this particular student’s exact circumstances or those of his family. But what I do know, is that he has pieces of knowledge and knows things that you and I know nothing about. He knows about war and displacement first hand. He has a frame of reference and understanding of our world that is beyond our bubble that we live in. 

We need to become informed. And that doesn’t happen through the media. It happens through books and research and hearing people’s stories first hand.

I had the gift of hearing this child’s story today. In fact, I have the gift of hearing all of my students stories EVERY day. I want to share that gift with you. That’s why my students and I are starting a blog. The first entry will be up this weekend. And it will be their writing. They are the future. They are writers. They have something to teach us. 

And it’s hugely important.