Sunday, December 24, 2006


Being alone isn't always bad. It's stark, though. There is a small stack of divorce papers sitting at my side, signed, waiting to be filed next week. There is something very white and clean and good about them. But stark.

I don't have any roots here. Any family. I left my family when I was still a minor, and never went back. I fled the mountains, the hills and hollers, went back, fled, went back again, and now I am far, far away, never to return as anything but a visitor. I have friends here in The Big City, but nothing that runs too deep, I don't think.

There are two very hard things about leaving a cult. One is admitting that you were wrong, wrong about everything. The other is suddenly having no community. My community dropped out from under me and I've never found anything to replace it. All those years that people spend, during their late teens and then twenties, building up their personal and professional lives, I lost those years. I lost them all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Don't pray for me

It's 4am and I woke up for some reason.

The Jesus stuff at work is making me insane. I don't know why people seem to think it's acceptable to insert their faith into every conversation (both casual and in formal meetings) we have. For all the talk we have about tolerance and diversity, I'm not really feeling it.

Typical Conversation (a template, if you will):

Co-worker: La la la God's plan for me, la la God led me to say this, la la la there's a bigger plan.

Me: Insert statement of not believing in any religion/deity/whatever here.

Co-worker: Oh, I don't believe you. You're just going through a phase or something. I will most certainly be praying for you.

Me: ...

I wonder what would happen if I said I thought all their Jesus stuff was just a cute little phase and that no one really bought any of that crap about the virgin getting knocked and that I would so totally be having my next ten abortions in their name. By "I wonder what would happen" I mean "How long would it be until I were hauled into the principal's office?"

We have not had a single faculty meeting where someone didn't bring up religious matters. Not one. I'm feeling pretty damned surly about it and I know if I said anything, no matter how respectfully phrased, everyone would look on me like I were some sort of crazed puppy-killer. But I'm pretty pissed off that I'm expected to have some deep respect for their religion when they think it's acceptable to tell a thirty year old woman that her non-belief is ridiculous and that they'll be exercising their religious faith upon her whether she likes it or not.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


When my father was a kid, the government sent (Americorps) VISTA workers to West Virginia to help the poor, benighted hillbillies. Denise Giardina's The Unquiet Earth has a scene where aid workers come to the protagonist's school and distribute shoes to the poor, needy students. The kids hate the shoes and don't act properly grateful.

I was thinking about that scene all last week, while my kids were getting presents donated by local businesses. One event wasn't bad at all, it was put on by people of color who were comfortable with the kids. The biggest gifts were presented to the kids like they were things they had won (even though the reality was that we teachers selected the poorest kids to receive the most extravagant items).The kids had to, in a sense, earn their gifts by writing an essay to qualify for the event. It was exciting and didn't injure the kids' dignity. The other biggest gift event, however, wasn't quite like that. All my kids, plus all the kids in their grade and another grade, were given the same gift item. It was nice enough, if unimaginative. The people from the company dressed up all Christmassy and handed out the presents and smiled and took pictures. It was part of my duty to make sure every child said thank you and to try to drum up excitement and holiday cheer and all that. I wasn't very good at that part, I guess. My kids were as polite as they knew how to be, but acted subdued, almost silent. For one thing, I think it was more white people than they'd ever seen at the school before. The kids seem to be kind of intimidated by lots of white folks. It gave me a weird pang to see them get reminded over and over about how grateful they had to be for the gifts. When they had to write their thank you notes to the business, more than a few of the notes had a distinct tinge of sarcasm to them that I'm not sure the recipients will pick up on.

Gratitude can be a kind of sickness. It can make your forehead sweat and your guts twist. It can really hurt to always be in the position of having to be so fucking grateful for handouts, especially handouts from people who really didn't do anything special to get put in the position of the great benefactor. They just happened to be born into privilege, when you just weren't. When you're poor, there are always things that you can't afford to turn down. You have to swallow your pride and accept the handout, even when it comes from someone you hate, someone who hurts you or your community. Or just from someone who has no understanding of you and the only dealing they ever have with people like you is when they are doing charity.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Two years ago around this time, I was in Spain, then Germany. I think I'm always going to miss the castañas and the glühwein.

I remember when I was a kid and none of those places seemed exactly real. Or if they were real, they weren't for people like me. I see this in my students, too. When I tell them I lived in Spain, they get the same look I think I used to get when my French teacher told me about visiting Provence. I think the only place my students have ever been, other than where they live now, is Mexico. But some have never been there, either. Quite a few of them have never seen the ocean. I didn't see it until I was ten.

I'm looking at a winter break alone and I'm trying to tell myself that it will be nice to have a couple of weeks to rest or whatever. But, like someone pointed out to me last week, I'm thirty years old and living on my own for the first time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hazards I didn't even think about

My school is right by the highway(s) and surrounded by railroad tracks. The tracks are a huge pain in the ass because every time a mile(s) long train comes by, you get stuck waiting to cross the tracks. It makes me late for work, it makes the kiddos late for school. I had a good long time to contemplate this yesterday as I pulled up to the tracks right as the engine was approaching and the bars were lowered. But one aspect I never considered was, "Oh, shit, they are hauling some nasty stuff two blocks from the school."

Things hauled by the school yesterday in large tank cars: phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, liquid petroleum gas, and something labeled "technical inedible liquid animal fat - not for human consumption."


I also want to say that this has been probably the worst two days at school since I started teaching. One of my students said he hated me (prompted by my refusal to allow him to strangle himself with his backpack cord). My first inclination was to tell him that it was unacceptable to say te odio to me and that if he needed to say it, then he better goddamn say se odio a Usted, but not only would that have been inappropriate, it'd not have been very in line with my anarchist principles. Hilarious, though. At least, I think so. Goddamn, it has been a bad week.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Too tired to think of a title

I spend my days teaching kids to fill in bubbles. It's so important to pick the right bubble. And to not make any stray marks. Stray marks are bad. This is their life. Follow directions, learn the objectives. Be still and quiet.

Every bit of joy and discovery I can inject in the spaces between those bubbles means something to me. It's just never enough.

I'm tired and very, very cold and waxing a bit maudlin, I guess. I haven't even been drinking. Maybe I should be.

Tomorrow we take the kids on a field trip that will end with them getting Christmas presents. Four of them will be getting new bikes. Three of our kids, all siblings, can't go get presents because they are goingn to go visit their dad in jail, instead. I have been getting choked up every time I think of it. The program doesn't let us collect gifts for the kids who can't attend. I'm not mad at the program, or anything, I am just worn down and everything is really getting to me in a way it usually doesn't.

I have a student whose father has been in jail for seven years. This kid is nine years old. His little sister is seven years old. Every year they tell him his dad is getting out of jail. Every year something happens and he stays incarcerated. I wondered why my student was being such a holy terror lately and then I talked to his mom and she told me that was going on. I had a hard time talking, after that. For awhile.

On an equally dismal note, the faculty had a meeting this week about (what else?) standardized testing. In previous years, recent immigrants were defined, for testing purposes, as students who had been in the States for up to three years. They still took the tests, but their results weren't counted against the school. This isn't just because of language, it's because we get a lot of kids who, for example, were living in a remote village in Honduras and had never attended school before. This year, however, any child who has been in the country more than one year will be tested at the same standards as every other student. In English. We are so very fucked.

Monday, December 04, 2006


So I lied about the signing off for the night part.

I mentioned that Carmen is a G/T child, one of our few. She knows she's "G/T," but wasn't really sure what that meant. I gave it my best shot of explaining it to her. I told her that everybody has their own gifts and talents, that we are all good at different things. I said that she just happened to be very, very good at school. We talked about what the word academic meant (it was a vocabulary word for my class). I told her that since she is academically gifted, that it meant we needed to do things together so that she could be have more academic challenges and use her gift to the fullest.

I was a G/T child. I have incredibly mixed feelings about the entire thing. Growing up working class, female, and Appalachian doesn't mix easily with being academically gifted. Despite the differences in our race and culture, I know a lot of what Carmen will face as she grows, especially after elementary school. It hurts very much to have the mixed love and loathing for your family, your community, to know that the only way you can be successful is to eventually leave them behind. And the people around you are as painfully aware of that as you are. They hate you, they fear you, and they are so damned proud of you, all at the same time. I see it happening to her already.

The elementary school I attended, as a child in the 1980s, had a significant class divide. The presence of the wealthy children ensured that there was a gifted program. My IQ made me one of the few non-wealthy children in the program. The program was fucking awesome. With the exception of my college Spanish classes, I learned more from the elementary school gifted program than I learned from anything else at any time during my education. The set up was that once a week we were bused to another campus along with gifted children from every other elementary school in the district. It was rather collegiate in a way, we had some required core classes to take and then we could sign up for numerous electives. Core classes were one unit of research skills, one unit of foreign language, and one independent study per year. Electives were things like ancient Egypt, impressionist art, chemistry, technology and computer programming, logic and problem solving, sketching, advanced mathematics, and typing. Through the gifted program, I discovered that I had a talent for language. I never would have had that exposure otherwise. It was like that with a lot of students, we all discovered abilities that we never might have found, otherwise.

It is getting late (for me, at least), so I guess I should wrap this up. Something I have learned as an educator is that there are so many ways of being intelligent. There are so many gifts a student can have. It wasn't fair that, just because I tested above the IQ cut-off, I got opportunities that kids with an IQ under 132 didn't get. Fast forward to the present day, to my classroom. It's not fair that Carmen isn't getting all those opportunities that I had as a gifted child. And it's not fair that all the other kids aren't getting to explore their talents, either. I keep finding myself daydreaming about what I would do if I came into a huge sum of money. Most of what I daydream about includes taking my kids on trips and paying for them to take the $125 per session art classes at the place down the street from my house. How sad is that?


In the month since my husband has left, I haven't regretted him being gone for a single moment. This is a very good thing. This is one of the best things ever.

There is nothing like being free.

A Number of Things

I'm overwhelmed by everything lately. Yeah, I know. For a change, right? Anyway, I'll ramble a bit before I sign off for the night.

This is a testing week. It's a common assessment for our region. Today we tested in reading and language arts. I tested Corazón on grade level, without modifications. She passed with a strong score. I am going to save every goddamn thing she does forever and then push for her to get out of special education next year. This is totally off-subject, but last week we discovered that her hands and feet are bigger than mine. She asked me to try on her boots, so I did. They almost fall off my feet!

My Carmen got a freakin' 98%. It's her first year in an English classroom and she outscored every child in the grade. I'm so proud of her. She qualifies as 4th grade's only gifted/talented child. I asked her last week, if she could learn about anything she wanted, what would it be? She told me that she would like to read a novel with me, but didn't know which one, so could I please pick a good one. I was obsessed with ancient Egypt as a child, so I am going to try The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It was one of my favorites. I'll see how her English goes with it. I am so goddamn proud of my girl.

I am worried and sad about Esperanza. She got commended scores last year and is without a doubt very, very bright. However, this year she is screwing up, big time. I am pretty sure that it's at least 75% emotional. I have no idea what to do about that. I am going to start sending her to another teacher she likes a lot for some extra tutoring and hope for the best.

I just realized I never talk about my boys. I only have two boys with me during the day, the rest are in special education (more than half my students are special ed). Alejandro and Amado. It took a long time for us to warm up to each other, but we have a good thing going, I think. They are best friends and have a sly, sneaky, oddly subtle sense of humor. I am sort of obsessed witih octopuses, so I have a few stuffed ones in my class. They sit up on a shelf (we call it the ocean) with the other monitos (stuffed animals). Amado likes to put one of the octopuses on his head. He calls it his thinking cap, and lets the tentacles hang down all around his face. Both of my boys talk about gang violence and shootings in a very casual way. I worry about them a lot. Alejandro's brother(s?) is/are in bootcamp right now. He talks about it with a mixture of unhappiness and longing that makes me hurt.

My kids have filthy mouths. They really do. It cracks me up. On a more serious note, I honestly do believe that they are (partially) just exploring their new language skills. But they also enjoy feeling naughty. What the hell, who doesn't? I secretly love hearing what they come up with. As long as they aren't trying to hurt or intimidate anyone, I seldom interfere. They have kind of caught on to that, too.