Wednesday, April 1, 2015
April is National Poetry Month. Every year, my dear friend (and poet Extraordinaire), Mary Lee Hahn chooses a theme, and writes a poem each day. Mary Lee blogs and posts her poems at two different places- YEAR OF READING and a fabulous new poetry blog POETREPOSITORY
This year, Mary Lee has chosen the theme, "PO-EMotions," and will be writing about a different emotion each day. She promises, "This year, I will write a poem a day that either evokes an emotion, or uses an emotion word in the title or body of the poem." If you want to read more about the emotions she will be touching on, go here.
For the past several years, I have joined Mary Lee in writing, as have several others. Here's my first poem. To read Mary Lee's poem, and poems by several others, go to YEAR OF READING or POETREPOSITORY.
I stand at the bottom
of the mountain
the gravelly trail
knowing there will be
switchbacks and skree,
hard hills and heavy breathing
water breaks and photo opportunities
things hard and glorious
are about to begin.
The night before
the first day of school
I wake again and again
oh-so-important first hour,
days spent reading,
the difficulties of long division,
heart aches and hurt feelings
fears and family breakups,
triumphs and tragedies,
wonderings and worries,
I am afraid and excited
things hard and glorious
are about to begin
I gaze at my friend's belly
rounded and full
only a few more days
until she meets
the little guy
who has spent nine months
dancing and growing inside her
she is excited about parenting
first steps and family memories
bedtime stories and blue ribbons
proud moments and prom dates
and I wonder
if I should tell her
things hard and glorious
are about to begin.
(C) Carol Wilcox, April 2015
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
And yet I remember it like it was yesterday.
I had just finished a workshop for first grade teachers.
Required for all of the first grade teachers in our district.
Forty some odd people crammed into a room
that comfortably held 25.
Some people that wanted to be there.
Some that really didn't.
My friend, Deb, who was going to be giving the same workshop later that week,
had come to watch.
We were looking through the evaluations.
Most of them were great.
People had enjoyed the workshop.
Had learned things that they thought would positively impact their teaching.
Felt the workshop was well organized and well presented.
There was one evaluation, however, that was awful.
The teacher had not thought it was a worthwhile experience.
Hadn't learned anything she could take back to her classroom.
Didn't think I had done a good job presenting.
I looked at that evaluation for a long time.
Probably three or four minutes.
And then Deb took it out of my hands.
"Why are you looking at that?" she asked.
"If 98% of the people said that the workshop was great,
why are you spending time looking at the bad one?
You know what I do with those?"
And she took the evaluation from my hands,
tore it into little pieces,
and threw it into the trash.
When I protested, Deb said, "Carol, if you had a bunch of those,
we would need to look at them.
We would need to figure out what to do differently.
But you didn't.
You had one.
Almost 40 people thought you did a great job.
We need to listen to those people."
I feeling that same way tonight.
The past three or four years I have sliced
every single day
during the month of March.
And I've felt really, really great
the last day of the month.
I'm not feeling the sense of jubilation this year.
I didn't make it all 31 days this year.
I skipped a couple of days in the middle of the month.
I wrote 29/31 times.
That's actually not bad.
I sliced about 95% of the time
And I commented on other people's slices,
at least ten every day.
I really did have a pretty good reason
for not writing that weekend that I missed two slices.
There was some pretty major stuff going on with the boys.
And for those days, I didn't have a working computer
and would have had to go to Kinko's to slice.
I started again as soon as I could.
I could have just quit for the month.
and I didn't do that.
I considered doing a couple of makeup slices
but it seemed kind of pointless
I simply. didn't write every day.
Tonight I'm not feeling the sense of jubilation
I usually do at the end of the March.
Instead, I'm feeling like a big fat failure.
I didn't slice every day this month.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Tuesday afternoon. I watch the presenter as she facilitates the district meeting. She is young, probably in her early thirties. Every once in a while her screen saver comes on and shows a really cute toddler, a little guy with dark hair and dark eyes.
She works the room before we start, touching base with each individual teacher. She knows them- knows their classrooms, their principals, their schools. She also knows about their families and takes time to inquire about husbands, children, spring break plans. And there are lots of hugs.
She tells us she has about ten years teaching experience in second grade, in an ELA-S classroom (that's my district's code for teachers who teach English language learners, the S means she is fluent in Spanish and spends part of the day teaching in that language).
And then the session starts. She is clearly very bright. Knows her stuff. Her presentation is focused and interactive. There is a nice blend of information and activity. She shares the most recent information on our district's efforts to bring in the "Seal of Biliteracy" then moves quickly into demonstrating a technique for integrating academic language into Spanish classrooms.
We end up as partners in a small group and she is oh so kind as I fumble to speak Spanish, modeling, providing vocabulary and sentence stems, giving me feedback about what I am doing well, teaching me a few new words and phrases.
Here's the really fun part of this story. I know this presenter. I have known her for a long time. Ten years ago, I was in my first year as a literacy coach at a mostly Spanish-speaking school in Northwest Denver. It wasn't a high point in my career- I had adopted the boys about two years prior to this and had realized the previous spring that I was not going to be able to balance the demands of an administrative position and single parenthood. I was still sad about giving up the dream of becoming a principal in an urban setting.
At that time, L was a first year teacher. A really first year teacher, having just finished a degree as a theater/music/Spanish major. She had never taught. I'm not sure whether she had student taught. Together, we walked through those first three years. I worked with her on classroom management. Parent communication. I taught her to take running records. To do guided reading. We wrote unit plans together. I substituted the day she got sick in class. She was a coach's dream- full of questions, eager to learn, quick to implement anything she was taught. Two years later, as a new teammate came and L and I mentored her together. I left that school after three years, but we have kept in touch, and I have loved watching her grow and develop into a really capable veteran teacher.
I'm not quite ready to retire yet, but it's good to know that when I am, there are people ready to carry on.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Right here, right now, as the kids at school would say.
That organizational stuff eludes me.
I just can't do it.
It's Spring Break.
I'm not going anywhere.
My house is a disaster.
And I should be cleaning.
I need to go through my closet
and give away a bunch of stuff.
I need to go through the drawer
where I keep all my receipts
and do taxes.
I need to clean out
two teacher bags
the wheeled crate I use to present.
And I need to do yard work
Rake up a bunch of leaves and gunk
I need to pay bills.
I need to clean out my car.
And it all seems totally overwhelming.
That organizational stuff eludes me.
And then there is the errand stuff.
I need to call the apartments where Isaiah lived in Phoenix.
I need to call Public Service and Comcast in Phoenix.
His lease is finally up.
And I need to turn off everything.
I need to call my insurance company.
And take the car for an oil change
And figure out why the brakes are making a funny noise.
I need to call to find out what to do
about the squirrels that seem to have moved into my attic.
And get estimates on the tree in the backyard.
But that organizational stuff eludes me.
And then I need to go over to school
Three years ago when I interviewed for my job
They told me I would be responsible
for the book room.
I've done that before.
I hate it.
But I can do it.
What they didn't tell me
was that the book room
had never been set up.
It was a huge room
with partially built scavenged shelves
And partially unpacked boxes.
A huge mess.
I organized it.
Got all of the shelves put together.
Bought boards at Home Depot
and made new shelves.
And it's been ok.
Not great, but ok.
Earlier this fall
the district bought us
a whole bunch of new guided reading books.
Several thousand dollars worth.
And they are lovely
but we don't have shelf space for them.
I put them in magazine boxes
and put them in front of the shelves.
But I have been told they need to be shelved.
And it will mean moving
every single book
in the book room.
Then relabelling every box.
And we are going to run out of shelves.
And it feels totally overwhelming.
I have a lot to do this spring break
but that organizational stuff
totally eludes me.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
I walk into the library, where we are interviewing and am surprised to see one of our eighth graders sitting at a computer. M turns around when she sees me.
"Dr. Wilcox, do you know how to spell Holocaust?"
I spell it for her.
"Yeah," she says, "that's how I spelled it. I found three definitions and I'm not sure which one is right." She reads the three definitions to me.
1. Great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire.2.a. Holocaust The genocide of European Jews and other groups by the Nazis during World War II: b. A massive slaughter: 3. A sacrificial offering that is consumed entirely by flames."You're trying to find out about Hitler, and Germany, and the Jews, right?" I say, still not entirely sure where the conversation is going.
"Yeah" she says. "I never heard about that before," she says. "I never heard about the Holocaust.
"No?" I say, a little surprised that this smart, smart girl, one of our top eighth grade students, has somehow missed such an important event in history. "I think it's the second definition you want, then."
M continues. "And I don't think anyone else in my family did either. I think I'm the first person in my family to hear about the Holocaust."
I am surprised again. "You are?" I say.
"Yeah," she responds. "My dad and mom never finished high school. They don't know about stuff like this." Then she seems worried that I will think badly of her family. "But they are really smart," she says. "My dad is a really good mechanic. And my mom knows a lot about people. She's really good with people."
"There are all different kinds of smart," I say. "It sounds like your mom and dad really are smart people."
"There are a lot of websites for the Holocaust," M says, eyeing the really long list that has appeared on the screen. I look over her shoulder and see that the second or third one down is for the National Holocaust Museum.
"Try this one," I say. "I'm sure that will be a good resource."
"Did it really happen?" M asks. "Why do you think people would do that to each other?"
I tell her I don't know, that I am sometimes surprised by how people can be so incredibly cruel.
"But what did they do in those camp things? What were they? Did they just work?"
I try my best to explain, as simply as I can, in the two minutes I have, a little about concentration camps. That people were taken there against their will. Because of their religion. That sometimes others who helped the Jews were taken too. That all of their things were taken away. That the conditions were horrific- crowded, no beds, no food, no heat, families split up, etc. That many were killed. And that others died because of the conditions.
"And is it true that they killed people in the showers? Did they really do that?"
I think she is talking about gassing people. I try again to explain it.
My principal comes in on the end of the conversation, all ready to interview. She stops long enough to give M a hug. "You doing ok?" she asks, completely unaware of the Holocaust discussion, and referring instead, to a difficult family situation that I have only heard rumors about.
I can tell that M is not quite done with her research. "Do you have a computer at home?" I ask.
"We don't have internet," she says.
I tell her she can go to the library and use the computers for free.
"I don't have a card," M says. "The computers were down when we went to get one. We have to go back again."
"Maybe you can do that over break," I say.
I head into the library to interview and M heads out the door.
And once again, the reality of life in an urban school completely breaks my heart. A smart kid. Bilingual. Good grades. Plenty smart enough to go to college. With a family who loves her.
And yet a kid who doesn't have an extensive pool of background knowledge. Or the resources to acquire it. That can't even get the system to work well enough to get a library card.
And I wonder, for about the millionth time, about this land of opportunity.
Friday, March 27, 2015
bird’s nest graces
and half a world away
lost soul slams plane
into mountain range
and robs world
of joy and love and gifts
one hundred fifty others
might have left
and yellow daffodils
that has been
brown and white
and crazed killer
carves girl baby
out of pregnant mama’s womb
defames name of God
do not reflect
and six-year-olds giggle
at toes and underwear
black dog knows boundless joy
when leash comes out
spinach white cheese pizza
leaves slightly garlicky taste
on my tongue
and empty rooms
and the ache
in my heart
and there are no tears
left to cry
And I wonder
how so much perfection
Thursday, March 26, 2015
I arrive around 10
for the 10:30 docket time.
The boys do not arrive until 10:28.
The walk across the courtroom with their sister.
I have not seen them for two weeks.
They do not make eye contact.
They look thin and I wonder
what they have been eating.
Both boys need haircuts.
The judge calls our case numbers.
There are three.
One for each of the boys.
One for their sister.
I sit on one side of the podium.
The boys sit on the other.
The judge tells me that I can decide
whether they should come home.
Now. Or in 30 days. Or sixty. Or 90.
Or six months or a year.
I want them to come home right now.
I want to feed them.
I want to send them for hair cuts.
I want to hold them
in my arms and comfort away
all the hurt of the past few weeks.
Instead I draw a deep breath.
Wipe away a tear.
I still have not heard apologies.
I know, despite what they say
that they are still smoking.
Pretty much every day.
Neither has a full time job.
I feel like I need to say something.
"When I adopted you in 2003
I say, "It was forever.
And it is still forever.
But I am not willing to live with addicts."
And so I say, "90 days."
"I was living with her before.
And now we are basically homeless."
I wonder what is happening with his father.
Later I hear rumors that Isaiah
is living with an older brother.
The judge does not blink.
"Ninety days," she says firmly.
Isaiah says nothing.
Accepts his fate.
The boys' sister does not want to see me again. Ever.
She just wants to stay in touch with her brothers.
And that is fine with me.
I sit alone as the clerk finishes copying the paperwork.
The boys are across the courtroom.
Then I head to the car.
When I get back to school
I call the boys.
I am not supposed
to have any contact
but I cannot stand it.
I need to tell them
I love them.
Sometimes love is way too hard.