NaPoWriMo

It’s National Poetry Writing Month! And you know what that means!

 

It means that school is almost out

But the kids are getting antsy.

As each day gets warmer outside

I have to try harder not to get angry.

 

It’s not that they’re so terrible

But they squirm and want to play.

No one wants to sit still for hours

When outside it’s such a nice day.

 

Sometimes I lose my temper

Though I try to control it a while.

But even when they drive me crazy

There’s always a few that make me smile.

Kiera 001
Alayah 001

911

I called 911 the first time back in 2010 when a car exploded in front of my apartment at 2am.

IMG_0212

Don’t worry, I called 911 before I took the picture.

The second time, it was because my friend was bitten by a bug and didn’t have her EpiPen on her. And I’d like to take this moment to tell anyone who is prescribed one, please, please carry it with you because it is terrifying to watch a friend not be able to breathe over a bug bite.

This week, I had to call 911 for a third time. This time, it was for the police.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in a rough neighborhood school. In fact, as soon as school started up in August, we had a window smashed in the kindergarten hall. Our on campus police officer stays busy, as do the Behavior Management Technicians (BMTs). A surprising number of my students have at least one parent in prison right now, and a few of our 8th graders come and go from jail like it’s a second home. Last year, I had a student steal money from my pocket, and thanks to a student threat and a police report, I now know that a “chopper” is a gun (I thought I was being threatened with a chainsaw).

On Thursday, I left the school at 4:30, stopping to say hello to a former student of mine at the front doors. The school counselor had informed me that his 19 year old sister was murdered two weeks ago by her boyfriend, and I wanted to make sure he was okay, but I couldn’t find the right words to say past, “How are you doing?” to which he said, “Fine,” and left it at that. Without wanting to push anything, I smiled and said goodbye.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I passed a stopped car at the entrance. A woman in the passenger seat put her hand out the window and waved at me. I stopped my car in front of them, thinking maybe they had broken down, but as soon as I stopped, their car moved forward and came to pass me. I rolled down my window as they passed to see if they needed something. The woman in the passenger seat was sobbing and called to me, “Call the police!” but before I could make sense of the situation, the man at the wheel drove off, turning right onto the main road and toward ‘the hood.’

I grabbed my phone and started dialing 911, but then a thought occurred to me: “How are the police ever going to find a moving vehicle? What do I tell them? It was white with a temporary license plate that was too faded to read. The windshield was shattered like someone had thrown a big rock at it and the back driver’s side window was out. But would that be enough for them to find the car?” I had to be able to tell them where it was going!

So without any further reasoning, I turned right, following them into the labyrinth of narrow streets around the school, all the while, listening to 911 ring for so long that I thought I had dialed the wrong number.

The car turned down a narrow street right next to the school and I followed. But as soon as I did, survival instincts kicked in and I realized that this was a horrible idea. I stopped my car. As soon as I did, the white car stopped as well. And then it backed up and started making a 3 point turn.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes. Possible news headlines did. “Teacher killed in her car after calling 911 on a suspicious driver.” I looked around and thought to myself, “I”m going to die. This is where I’m going to die–in a little narrow road less than a block from my school. Will anyone even see me die? God, are you done with my life? Is this all I was meant to live?”

Thankfully, by this time, the 911 operator picked up on the other end and distracted me from myself just long enough to stumble through the sentence, “This woman in a car told me to call 911, but then the car drove off.”

“Okay. Don’t follow the car,” she told me.

“Oh. I am.”

By this time, the car came past me again, heading in the opposite direction. I didn’t know whether I should hide the phone and pretend I hadn’t called 911, or to show them that I had, in hopes of deterring any further problems. The woman still screamed from the passenger seat, “Call the police!”

On the speaker phone in my lap, the 911 operator said, “Can you ask her why?”

Before I could do anything, the car pulled back out onto the main road, cutting off traffic and causing a school bus to honk its horn. ”

“They’re gone,” I told the operator.

She asked me several more questions: “What did they look like? Was there any drugs, alcohol, or firearms? What clothing were they wearing?” All with the most bored sounding voice that made me believe that no police were even going to bother coming. For a minute, I thought about rushing back out there and following them again to make sure something was going to be done. Did the operator not take it seriously? Did she think we were being over dramatic? Will I ever know if that poor woman got help?

And then it occurred to me: Those people had come from our school parking lot. Chances are, one or both of them had a kid in the school. Was one of our students going to go home to that? Whether it was a domestic dispute, abuse, rape, or kidnapping that I witnessed, chances are one of our students was going to feel the consequences of it.

I cried and prayed my way back home to my safe and peaceful apartment (not the same place where a car exploded), wondering what was happening in my student’s homes that night.

 

My One Word 2016

My first week of school in 2016 is done and I have to say, it wasn’t the torture that I thought it’d be. It actually left me with some hope, realizing that my students are growing.

Of course with it being January and all, I had to offer them up the challenge of My One Word. So after some brief discussions about what they want to be better at this year and what qualities they admire in others, they came up with these,

DSC00934

 

which we posted on our classroom door so that every time they come in, they are reminded of their own commitment to work on being better at ______ (loving, grades, anger control, football, drama free…).

My own word is up there as well: First.

I knew it had to be my word as soon as I started thinking about My One Word. But I didn’t want to commit to it right away. It would require me giving up so many things that I would rather come first, first. But over the past year, I’ve built up a lot of laziness and a lot of idols that needed to get sloughed. Not only was it a very obvious sin in my heart, but it was really starting to affect my life. I had been having more and more issues with prioritizing things correctly and would instead just do what I want to do with the excuse of, “I work hard enough as it is. And this ‘first’ can really be put off until later.” By the end, I wasn’t giving my best effort toward anything because all of my ‘firsts’ were taken over by a lot of ‘I want this now.’

Instead, this year I’ve committed to focusing on what should really come first (It’s not that hard to figure out what that is at any given moment) and to take everything in the baby steps of “I’ll do this first.” I don’t have to get bogged down with all the things that need to be done throughout the day or week or month, but I know that when I put the right things first, then the necessary things will get done.

Of course, my first ‘first’ needs to always be God–throughout my day. Because it is only by His will and through His strength that any of my other ‘firsts’ will be worthwhile work.

If God doesn’t build the house,
    the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
    the night watchman might as well nap.

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
    and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
    giving rest to those he loves?

-Psalm 127:1-2, The Message

Ode to that Gluttonous Mosquito

His stealth would make ninjas envious
His attack was swift and sure
He flew in below my radar
Staying close to the floor.

It was the end of his season,
He was the last of his kind.
With a voracious appetite,
He attacked multiple times.

Even after the symptoms started
I couldn’t find him there.
He was a crafty survivor.
He knew to hide just where

My view was blocked,
And so I thought, for sure it must be a flea.
Or a whole flea colony, perhaps.
I counted the bites past three.

In a moment of panic I tore at my skin,
Wondering how I became infested.
More bites appeared on the other side
Of my leg–I had been bested.

Until finally I gave up scratching,
And started to search for a cure
Something to kill the army of beasts
I was positive was lurking down there.

That’s when he finally revealed himself,
Slowly drifting away from the scene.
His wings could barely hold him up,
And his path was beginning to lean.

I watched the fat thing go,
Staring at him in shock.
He struggled to keep himself afloat
With his belly full of my stock.

I could almost hear him laugh at me,
And I knew he must be smiling.
I had never been so pleased to know
The shortness of life for a mosquito.

Crayons and Cockroaches

Cause I ain't got a pencil

First thing every morning, a herd of boys come in to my room slapping each other’s hands with gang handshakes and putting off their work with every excuse in the book. “I don’t have paper;” “I lost my notebook;” “I don’t have a pencil.”

In an effort to teach them responsibility, I don’t hand out pencils like I did last year. Most of them will eventually find what they need to do their work, whether that means digging deeper into their book bag or getting it from their friends. Most of the time, the “I don’t have a ____” excuse is a cheap trick to procrastinate.

But one particular boy crushed my heart. He never had a pencil, but he was always anxious to get some kind of work done. He would beg me for a pencil. And cruel as I was, I gave him a crayon. I thought, surely, the embarrassment would help him remember to bring a pencil, or the frustration of writing with a crayon would motivate him to find a pencil from someone.

Instead, I watched him write with crayon day after day until I caught him bent over his paper with a tiny nub of a crayon to finish his classwork.

I gave him a pencil, certain that I’d be loosing all my pencils to him soon enough. But at the end of the class, he gave it back, restoring my faith in my students.

In my second class, I have a student that comes from a very troubled home. I found this out after I met his grandmother at a mid-morning conference. She came in smelling like stale alcohol.

One day he came to school with cockroaches. They came out of his backpack in a swarm–abandoning the old food smashed at the bottom of his bag. The incident earned him the name “cockroach boy,” and sparked an investigation into what kind of home life he has if his bag could gain such an infestation with little notice at home. He received a new backpack right away, but the rest is still ongoing.

Neither of my stories have resolutions. The first boy still asks for something to write with every day and the second boy is constantly getting pulled out of class by his social worker.

When I see this sort of thing every day, its easy to say “I’m so thankful that I don’t have to go through that.” But that kind of “us and them” is much too distancing. I am with them every day and I don’t want to push them away and think that what they go through is something outside of my world because I have a direct effect on their world.

Instead, let me say I’m thankful to have each of my students in my life. Through them, I am constantly reminded how much of an effect my actions have on the people around me. Evey day, my students train me in the art of forgiveness which means starting each day as if yesterday didn’t happen (and sometimes it’s starting each moment as if it’s the first); patience which is waiting without a heavy sigh for a new moment to come; and tone and word choice which is learning what it means to speak all things in love–not anger, or exhaustion or frustration.

An Ode to Inner City Mothers

It’s a little early for mothers day, but I have to do this.
When I first started teaching, I was only 10 years older than my students. When a few of them started calling me “Mom” or “Auntie,” I bulked and made it clear that I was not that old. Now I’m between 15 and 17 years older than my students and I still can’t swallow the idea of being any kind of mother. But when I meet my students mothers, they are my own age. And more often than not, they have more than one kid.
It stuns me every time. When I first heard that one of my 15 year old students was a father and that his mother had had him at 15–the concept of being a grandmother at the age of 30–I couldn’t fathom what that meant for a home life. But it’s a scenario that is all too common in the inner city.
This is not said to shame anyone. On the contrary, I want to honor the mothers that somehow provide for a family against so many odds.
One mother, in particular, deserves the praise. She can’t possibly be more than 30 years old, but wherever she goes, a trail of 7 kids follow close behind, complete with two sets of twins. With no husband to help her (or anyone else that I have ever seen or heard about), she somehow finds a way to provide for her small clan of kids. I can’t imagine how many hours at what kind of job she must have to do so.
But if that wasn’t enough, her tribe of children are not the most docile kids. Her oldest son is one I like to refer to as the mad scientist. With the right tools, he would destroy the world. He’s smart (ridiculously smart) but there’s no kind of trouble he won’t get in to.
The next two oldest in the family are twin girls, also highly intelligent. One is known as the angel and the other is clearly the evil twin. It’s important to be aware of which one you are talking to.
The rest of her kids are in elementary school, and I have not had the pleasure of knowing them. But my point is this:
This young mother not only finds a way to provide for all of these little mischievous geniuses, but always makes sure to come to every parent-teacher meeting, with her train of little ones behind her.
On open house nights, you will see her walking the school hallways, going from one class to the next and taking time to talk to every single one of her kid’s teachers, listening to them list all the horribly disastrous things that her kids have done in class, so that by the time she reaches me, her eyes are red with tears and her body slumped with fatigue. Her children, too, are tired and dragging each other through the door. Each one is responsible for taking care of the next youngest. The mother will drop into a chair tell me she doesn’t want to hear one more bad thing about her kids.
Nor do I want to tell her one more bad thing. I am in complete awe that she would even take time out of her day to come and talk to me, when most parents ignore us completely.
So I search earnestly for something good to say about her son. And when I manage to find just one kind word, she smiles and straightens up with pride for her family.
She makes my night. She inspires me. With the weight of so many things stacked against her, she puts in the effort to care about each and every one of her children and their education. And that is why I have to honor her.
But it’s not only her.
With this new school year underway, I’ve already spotted other mothers like her coming out to meet the teachers at open house with a small clan of kids in tow, each child looking after the next youngest in line. The mothers have a long night of meetings ahead of them, but they’re there.
They are symbols of strength and diligence in the community–working against the push and shove of adversity and hardship. Very few people acknowledge them and the exhausting dedication they exude. But someone should.

Autumn is Here

Someone whispered the word “fall” and suddenly, this:

Someone is excited for the season.

Someone is excited for the season.

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