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To Cutie, With Love

30 Dec

I called my mother cutie when I was little. I don’t know how the name started, but it stuck until I became an embarrassed tween. She loved the name, and any chance to retrieve a piece of her little girl, as I was her youngest of three.  But even though I grew up and cutie turned to mommy to mother and back to mommy, and we went through leukemia and lost my mother three years ago today, I still remember cutie and the way she smiled when I used that nickname.

I often had hoped that while going through her things I would find a letter that she had written to me and tucked away, something that I could treasure and read over and over again. But as her closet was packed away last year and drawers emptied out to charities, no such letter was ever found.

When you lose a loved one, it seems you often think back to the moments you were not gracious to that person even if you were gracious many times over. These times play out in your head and break your heart as you wish you could go back and relive it with a different outcome. One such time was when she gave me what I deemed  at the time an old-fashioned, over-sentimental music box that I would probably not use. It was of plain brown wood and played the old hymn “How Great Thou Art”. I dug out the box today from my closet just to remember it, and to reclaim an old memory. This time though I realized that the top of the box had a pre-written inscription, a letter if you will that read:

Dearest Daughter,

I’m so proud of you.

You’re a blessing.

From God above.

Your a precious daughter and friend.

You have filled my life with love.

I found my letter. The one I always wanted to find. To me, from cutie, with love.


The truth about teachers…

21 Dec

There are bad teachers at Yale, I am sure of it.

I would wager that at every school, university, private or public, you are sure to uncover some educators whose intentions may be less than honorable. Perhaps they began as ideological rookies with dreams of changing lives or maybe they just chose a profession, maybe they were even good at it once and stuck with it through the years with no great passion. But this can be said, of course, of most professions; doctors, lawyers, plumbers, accountants, politicians. And yes, teachers.

Now that the political climate for teachers has become tumultuous and some of the country has pointed its fingers at public school teachers as the ones to blame for our failing system, my graduation date has arrived. I now have a Master’s in Education and am certified to teach Elementary and English Language Learners. I was not a teacher. I worked in television production and marketing for almost 10 years before realizing that I wanted to do something more. And I don’t want to do it in a private school or a charter school, I actually want to work in public schools, Title 1 even. I can assure you that I am not doing it for the summer break. That whole two months (that is often exaggerated to three in the media) turns quickly into six weeks as required school retreats, professional development, and cleaning and setting up classrooms for the following year are added into the equation. I also didn’t go back to school for the “easy hours”. When teachers arrive at school, they are immediately on and remain on until the end of the day. So no 30 minutes of coffee and checking emails. No leisurely strolls past the water cooler. No 10 minute walk around the corridor. No long lunch break (20 minutes usually). No bathroom breaks- gosh I only have a year’s experience and already I have experienced holding it for hours. No Christmas bonus.

Guess what? I don’t care so much about tenure or bargaining rights. What I do care about is that people realize that teachers work, and they work hard. I promise. I have seen it first hand as a student teacher. I have seen teachers pull money out of their own pocket to buy books and supplies for their classrooms. I have watched as teachers wished for more for their students, and then made it happen through grants, fundraising and again, just taking money from their own paychecks. I feel like many of the naysayers who are chunking all teachers in to one category of lazy, overpaid and ineffective, are the same ones who may think that a teachers classroom comes fully stocked with paper, posters, a class library, technology, and supplemental materials that link to state standards. Teachers buy these things. Principals pull strings, apply for grants. If the school is lucky, the parents hold fundraisers.

So why do we teach? For me, it is because for years I woke up complacent about my job. And the truth is that it probably didn’t really matter if I showed up.  But education is a field where you are not allowed to be complacent. When you get to school, you see the faces of these students; some neglected, some discipline problems in need of structure, some that admire you for things you don’t see in yourself, some that ask you questions you don’t know and force you to dig deeper, some that inspire you, and all that need you.

I am writing this because as I begin my career in 2012, I want teachers to get a clean slate. A new day just like we provide for our students every time they enter our classrooms. I hope that love and understanding for teachers returns, and not from the students because it never subsided, but from adults, parents, press and government.

There are great teachers out there too, amidst the bad ones. Those are the ones you should remember, those are the ones who are going to save education.

There’s No Place Like Home

20 Feb

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard”-

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz, 1939

When I was little, every Friday, my parents would let us eat popcorn out of leaf shaped plastic bowls and drink Coke Classic. We would stay up late watching shows like The Incredible Hulk until the inevitable Dallas theme song began to play. That’s when we’d be shooed off to bed, often getting piggy back rides up the stairs or singing in our matching PJs.  I loved those Friday nights when something simple like being able to forgo our milk for a soft drink made us giddy.

One special movie our family watched every year was The Wizard of Oz. We’d see commercials for it as the date came closer and teem with anticipation as the night approached.  Year after year, even in black and white, it never got old.

Sometimes I would put my moms red kitten heeled dress shoes on and pretend I was Dorothy as I shuffled through the house. One such night, my brother and sister decided that they would pretend they were the flying monkeys as they pursued me through the kitchen. Thanks to my vivid imagination, I felt as if I actually WAS Dorothy being pursued by the monkeys.   I would scream with fear and shuffle faster, heart thudding in my chest, as they got closer reaching out to grab me amidst shrieks of laughter.  This became something of a common occurrence if ever I pulled out the red shoes. 

Our love of The Wizard of Oz even manifested itself into family chores. Specifically, the yellow brick road, which would be cleverly incorporated by our dad when it was time to rake up all the leaves in our big backyard; shaded by pine, maple, and magnolia trees. Down the middle of the yard we would clear a “yellow brick road” and the entire family (and dog) would skip through the piles of leaves down the trail as we sang, “We’re Off to See the Wizard”. My mom would even do an incredible impersonation of the cowardly lion’s “Put ‘em up, Put ‘em up” as we laughed and asked over and over for her to do it again. And sure enough, by the time we “arrived at the castle”; all the leaves would be raked and ready to be bagged.

When I think back to times like this I realize what an incredible childhood I had. And I miss it and my parents. If only I could put on the pair of red dress shoes that I now own and tap my heels together three times to go home again, even if it is just for one afternoon.  It seems that for many, the search for our heart’s desire often leads us home; what we truly treasure and what we’ll truly cherish at the end of our lives probably happened in our own backyards.  One thing’s for sure, Dorothy was right; there really is no place like home.  Luckily, even if it’s just in your mind or your heart, you can always go there again.

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