What I am Learning about How to Be A White Ally

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This will come as a surprise to no one: I am white. Though that’s never been a surprise to me, I have never been so aware of my whiteness as I am while living on the outskirts of Harlem. I confront my whiteness every day.

I try to be conscientious and introspective about my identity. I want to acknowledge my whiteness, and in so doing, I must acknowledge my privilege. I do not feel defensive about my privilege. Acknowledging my privilege doesn’t mean that I was lazy, and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard, and it doesn’t mean that I haven’t earned my spot at Columbia. It simply means that I was in a system that was engineered for people like me to thrive. Perhaps most importantly right now, it means that I can walk basically anywhere in the United States and not fear that I will be accused of a crime. It’s ok to acknowledge those things. It doesn’t hurt me to acknowledge that these privileges exist.

What hurts is that these privileges don’t exist for everyone.

An Unfiltered Look at my Entryway

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Yesterday Jeremy and I were sitting on our couch and facing the door to our apartment, and it occurred to me just how much of our life was currently represented by the debris in our entryway. Since yesterday, even more life has happened, making our entry way admittedly messy, but authentically so. Did I want to clean before photographing? Desperately! But that would have negated the time spent (or lack of time spent) flinging our coats off and casting off our boots because our radiator is hyperactive. It would have fed into the social media perfection machine. To clean would be to edit, to cover up the life that hides in the small moments. And my title promises that this is unfiltered, and it’s not clean either. 

Dearest Utah

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Utah Valley experiences something called “Inversion.” It has something to do with the Great Salt Lake and pollution. Scientifically, I can’t explain it to you, but imageistically, it looks like you are peering into the distance with a pair of glasses covered in soot. Inversion feels like crunching six or seven flecks of sand between your teeth. Inversion is like bugs on a windshield hiding a really great view.

End of Year Earmarks

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It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.

(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).

To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.

And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.

I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.

  1.   Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
  2. By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
But today, I simply must. I must write about Michael Rudin. He is a metaphor for all the other many wonderful students that have made this year worth it.

He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.

Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.

I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.”  A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.

I won’t embarrass the student by posting my favorite poem, “English Class,” in its entirety (even though it’s insightful and perfect and made me cry), though I will include the charming refrain: “In Penrod’s class is a chance to learn.” I won’t detail the joi de vivre I experienced as I thumbed through each of his earmarked pages. I won’t belabor the pride I feel for this student (and all of my students’) ability to feel the world.
 
But I will share this one tenderest of moments of my own experience with Youthful Thoughts. Michael Rudin had about 50 poems, and had earmarked about 20 of them for my perusal. And then, I came across this:
To you, this is nothing. An unbent earmark. Big deal.

To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.

I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.

I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.

I am reminded everyday why I continue to teach. 

An Insight into Anxiety

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I wouldn’t ordinarily blog about this so candidly, except that I love the candid and real people out there. I love the people that share without asking for pity. I love the people that post pictures of their perfect little cupcakes one week, and then their disaster of a house the week after that. So in an effort to be relatable and, frankly, for a little catharsis, I give you….

My Exhaustion is Thorough, but Not Expended.

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Dear Blog,

You’ve never been less important to me. Did you know I have a million other priorities? Did you know that I feel guilty for even clicking into blogger at times like these?

Did you know that my exhaustion has never been so completely thorough?

Did you know that I feel like every ounce of extroversion I have ever felt has been sucked from me as though I have been strapped up to “The Machine” in The Princess Bride?

Did you know that there are students that aren’t very nice? Did you know that there are some students who argue with teachers? Did you know that students don’t believe that reading is important or even relevant to them?

I have a suspicion that you did know these things, Blog. You sat with your wry smile thinking about my silly optimism, knowing I’d fall of the grid, knowing that teaching would consume me, knowing that there was a cruel world out there that I was refusing to see.

But guess what, blog? I bet you didn’t know about Thompson* (name changed), who stayed after class too tell me that he was a mute, and only talked to nice people, but felt like he could talk to me because I was a nice person?

I bet you didn’t know about Marissa* with her piercings and her teeth decals and her earnest desire to succeed at English, even though it was her second language.

I bet you didn’t know about Brad*, who told me I was a good teacher at my deepest moment of secret need.

To the Thomspons and the Marissas and the Brads out there, you are the reasons I teach this week. Thank you.

I’m a Sharer.

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I’m a sharer. When I say that, I don’t mean like, “Hey, here’s a bite of my sandwich;” more like, I tend to share personal details a little too readily with an slight dose of hyperbole. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. My sister’s blog is titled, “And Then Some” for Heaven’s sake.

100.

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I feel like I’m Isaac Mendez learning to paint the future without heroine. What’s that? You mean you haven’t been watching “Heroes” reruns on Netflix because you have a real job and you go to real school and have a real life? …Me too.

Just not right now.

Let me explain what I meant by the simile. One of my major roadblocks to becoming a “real” writer/blogger is that, before this summer, I could only write when I had “Writer Fingers.”When my “muse” of sorts with me. And lots of times, my writer fingers would come and go during the ebbs and flows and tidal waves of homework. Most days I didn’t have writer fingers, but when I did, I could usually tap out a blog.

I’m not sure if I will look back at this summer and think that I was incredibly accomplished. I feel like I cooked a lot. And I baked a lot. And I kept the apartment clean(ish). I read lots of books, and I got some unit planning done. I beat my first video game (Harry Potter Lego Wii Years 1-4).

Sadly, it doesn’t look like I will finish my novel (But not because I haven’t been diligently writing! But through the act of writing, I learned that there’s A LOT more plot/themes left that I had originally designed, and the book will be better for it).

I may still plan the best high school curriculum the world has ever seen, but right now, not knowing my students is a little crippling to this effort. Also, I’m just such a noob.

Also, I did not cure cancer (to be fair, I wasn’t trying).  And I didn’t start that blog with my friend Kristi, which I am still sad about, but know that it was my fault.

But I did conquer my crutchy belief that I could only write when my muse was with me. This summer, I’ve forced myself to just write. My novel. Lots more blogs than I usually do. And with the friends I’ve made, I’ve been grateful.

…But at least this summer I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve made friends!

*This post has been edited because it appears that I have committed a blogger faux pas. Hahahaha. To be honest I’m amused by the rules that I’m woefully ignorant to.

PS: A sincere, sincere thanks to those of you who have donated to or shared the Aurora Shooting campaign. We are so close to our goal. I feel so grateful for you all.