Why Teach

Preschool me. 1985.

Preschool me. 1985.

“You can be anything you want to be…”

We’ve all heard it. We may have uttered it to someone else at some point in time. It’s an incredibly overused clique. A phase we say in an effort to uphold the fairytale of the American Dream. It’s a well meaning thought, but at one point I stopped believing it.

I was around the age of 14 when I decided I no longer subscribed to the  “everything you want to be” promise. My grades in 9th & 10th grade were horrendous. As in, a 0.5 GPA horrendous. I was unfocused, unmotivated, and unlikely to graduate. Some of my teachers had given up on me, as did many other adults in my life. I could see it in the sideways glances they gave me every time I arrived late to class. I could read it on their faces, hear it in the tone they used when speaking to me. But there were a few, who continued to treat me as if I had potential. One of them, Mrs. Callahan, was my literature teacher during freshman year. I think she saw through my act. She might have had a hunch that, even though I feigned disinterest in class as we decoded verses of Romeo & Juliet, I went home at night and poured over the pages of that tragedy, rewriting passages that spoke to me in the lined pages of my spiral notebooks. Though I failed to turn in my assignments, I’m sure I did well on my tests. Maybe it was because of that that Mrs. Callahan treated me as if I had a chance, but I think there was probably more to it than test scores. She took time to check in with me, and to offer after school help, which I sometimes took her up on. I remember how her validation made me feel, during that tumultuous time in my youth. It made me feel respected, and worth the trouble.

Fast forward three years: I was a mother and a Senior in high school. I was on independent studies. My grades increased dramatically, as did my focus. I was a determined student who began expressing my desire to go to college, despite my circumstances. Still, very few took me seriously. But my home studies teacher did. Mr. Coombs worked patiently with me as I inched my way toward graduation. He advised me to enroll in Jr. College, then transfer to a University. He beamed in the audience as I received my high school diploma. And I took his advice. I went on to Sacramento City College and eventually transferred to a University.

My path into early childhood education (ECE) was not an intentional course when I first set out on it. I enrolled in a few child development classes so that I could become a better parent. My original plan was to take the pre-requisites needed for a nursing program. But I soon discovered that early childhood education was what interested me most. So I continued with it, and eventually applied for an early childhood program director permit with the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing. I pursed both an undergraduate and graduate degree in ECE. At age 26, I landed my first job in a school district, and have been teaching ever since. 

Lately, due to various factors including the uncertainty of funding for early childhood teacher salaries in my district, I have been considering pursuing a multiple subject (K-8) credential. Over the summer, I met with many of my past advisors to discuss my options. I was taken aback by some of the responses I received.

“Don’t waste your time on that. If you’re going to go back to school, get into another field.”

“With your level of expertise, I’d consider administration. You’re too bright to remain in the classroom.”

“Have you thought about teaching higher ed, or public policy? You should.”

I mulled over these responses for several weeks, wondering how we, as a society, got to this point. This place where teaching at the PreK-12 level is considered a second-class profession, something that is undesirable and unrewarding. I thought of the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years, and the families who continue to return to my classrooms to visit and update me on their progress. I thought of Mrs. Callahan, and Mr. Coombs, and Mrs. Garcia, my 1st grade teacher who surprised me by attending my graduation party when I completed my M.A.

And though I’ve entertained the idea of teaching college students, pursuing a career in policy, or joining the ranks of administrators, I ultimately listened to my heart, and applied for a credentialing program. 

My loyalties do not lie with test developers, or administrators, or policy makers who have never stepped foot into a classroom. I’ve pledged to serve families, and the students they are raising. I’m ever so grateful for the educators in my life whose belief in my abilities fueled the drive to complete my goals. 

I can be anything I want to be. 

 I choose to be a teacher.

Baby Bookworm, 4 years and counting…(Happy Birthday, Ava Ixchel)

(This is a Re-post of an earlier blog that was temporarily deleted) Originally dated July 28, 2014.329376_2357434422614_1759145749_o
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Bright beginnings. Ava Ixchel, age 2.

Bright beginnings. Ava Ixchel, age 2.

I walked to the library today, with Jacob & Ava. It was too hot to stay in the house, so we trekked a few blocks away to seek relief in the cool confines of our neighborhood hangout.

When the double doors opened, a blast of cold air hit us, followed by the familiar smell of…books. Refreshing. The kids ran ahead of me (as it is practically their second home), and I paused for a moment to glance at the flyers of upcoming events posted in the foyer. A sign announcing the library’s 4th birthday hung centered on the bulletin board and caught my eye immediately.

Four years old.

The year 2010 saw two of my life dreams realized during one deliciously hot summer. First, on July 30th, my daughter was born. My fourth child, and only little girl. Second, a library opened four blocks away from our home.

I was in heaven.

I remember the day the library opened. It was nearly a month after Ava was born, August 28th to be exact, and the older children & I were restless with cabin fever. Those of you who have had a nursing newborn can relate, I’m sure. You are a prisoner to the baby’s sleeping and eating schedule for several months and that usually makes outings a little tricky (that’s an understatement).

Those of you who have grown up in the triple-digit Northern California valley heat can also relate…there are days that it is nearly impossible to venture outside, mostly because the temperatures are darn near suffocating.

So there we were, in late August, reeling from the stuffy summer air and the demands of an infant schedule, and suddenly we are presented with a viable alternative to house arrest. And it was in the form of an air-conditioned, kid-friendly palace full of reading materials, mural covered coves, and computers. And books. Lots of books.

Perfection.

We headed over to the opening festivities, little newborn Ava in a baby bjorn on my chest, and the kids at my side, library card applications in hand.

In the past four years, we’ve spent countless hours in that library. Ava especially. When I had to go back to work, her Nana would take her to the children’s events they offered during the day…baby/toddler playtime, children’s story hour, and kids sing-a-longs. Both Nana & Ava forged friendships during those times at the library…friendships that continue to thrive to this day. In fact, Ava met her first official best friend at one of those gatherings.

Some days, when I would get home from work, I’d pack up the kids and  backpacks, and we’d head to the library to tackle homework, research, or just to steal a few quiet moments before the dinner/bedtime madness hour began. Ava would happily tag along, toddling her way in and out of the children’s area, dragging board books into the study rooms, and babbling away as I attempted to sneak in a few pages of pleasure reading to detox from the duties of parenthood.

If you were to pull my library records from this period, they’d tell a story of their own, I’m sure, as our list of checked out books included variations of everything from How to Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night and Fostering Healthy Sibling Relationships to Easy Meals That Don’t Require Mom To Lift a Finger, and Ways to Keep Your Sanity While Juggling Career and Motherhood.

As I looked through Ava’s baby photos the other night, I realized just how central a role the library played in our lives during these past four years. It has been a place of respite and recharging, exploration and entertainment. It’s safe to say we all grew up a little in the comfort of that space.

Happy Birthday, Pocket Library.

And a very Happy 4th Birthday to my daughter, my love, Ava Ixchel. May your year be filled with blessings and books galore, little mama.

In the children's reading area

In the children’s reading area

A random Tuesday night at the library. I think she was almost 6 months old here

A random Tuesday night at the library. I think she was almost 6 months old here

With big brother Isaac at the measuring wall. My intent was to do one of these every month. Well, it never happened hahaha

With big brother Isaac at the measuring wall. My intent was to do one of these every month. Well, it never happened hahaha

Checking out the board books selection

Checking out the board books selection

The ever popular Second Saturday lego block party event

The ever popular Second Saturday lego block party event

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Toddler Playtime with Nana

With big brother Jacob. Another random school night.

With big brother Jacob. Another random school night.

Peering through the "kaleidoscope" window

Peering through the “kaleidoscope” window

Getting chummy with a Burmese python

Getting chummy with a Burmese python

Doing homework? Or trying to, anyway

Doing homework? Or trying to, anyway

Meeting new friends

Meeting new friends

Tech savvy

Tech savvy

Proud (almost four-year-old) girl with her new library card.

Proud (almost four-year-old) girl with her new library card.

Legacies, And the Prices Paid. #Ferguson #TamirRice #EricGarner #JohnCrawford #BlackLivesMatter

Memorial for Tamir Rice

Memorial for Tamir Rice

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”    -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m agitated tonight, as many of you are across the country. I have stacks of papers to attend to and lesson plans to write, but my mind is with the thousands of people across the nation who are in the streets tonight, in protest, in search of answers, solutions, and justice.

I am a Latina. I identify as a woman of color. This is the personal lens through which I view the issues facing my community and nation. I was born in Southern California and raised by Chicano parents who are socially conscious & activists at heart. I was weaned on stories of a time when my grandfather and his friend were chased down and threatened by two drunken white sailors during the Zoot Suit riots of 1943 simply because they were Latino. They barely escaped with their lives. I was told of how my grandmother  walked along the Main Street of her little town, past signs in store front windows that read “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.” I heard tales of my father’s frustration in the early 80’s,  when he was passed up for a promotion into a management position, later to find out that someone on the hiring panel assumed he had cheated on his exam because, “How could a Latino score that high?” Perhaps they overlooked that fact that he held a perfectly legit Ph.D.

I still remember the night my mother came home from my back-to-school night and recounted the audible gasps in the room when the new 2nd grade teacher was introduced. Some of parents got up out of their seats in apparent disgust. She was a first year teacher. She was black. The year was 1987.

Somewhere between my upbringing, college courses, and real-life experiences, I was discouraged from using broad frameworks of understanding when contemplating societal issues and their many intricacies. And because of that, the newsfeed in recent weeks has been so incredibly unbearable. As we’ve watched events of Ferguson unfold, John Crawford killed in a Wal-Mart,12-year-old Tamir Rice gunned down in a play yard, and Eric Garner’s justice denied, we’ve simultaneously been flooded with soundbites/images/memes/explanations that seek to oversimplify the profound complexity of the issues at hand.

In the past few days there’s been a running dialogue in my mind, as I answer the statements of those who believe that the recent events are nothing more than a handful of isolated incidents followed by overblown reactions of rowdy citizens. Some are insistent that we are living in a post-racial time. That the race problem is all a figment of some hyper-active collective imagination. So tell me, how does one even begin responding to ignorance?

Racism is real. And if discussing it makes you uncomfortable, imagine how it feels for those on the receiving end. The ones whose daily interactions are shaped by it. The ones whose lives are impacted by it in the most insidious of ways. Racism is real. It is not some imagined problem manifested in the minds of those who can’t let go of the past. It was not erased when segregation was outlawed. It was not magically eradicated the day we inaugurated a black president.

No…racism is alive and well. It is the ugly legacy left behind by forefathers who believed that the worth of a person of color was somehow less than theirs. It was this belief that allowed them to justify the enslavement, lynchings, prejudice, hatred, and fear of entire groups of people. It has been passed down through generations, and penetrates our institutions and communities in red states and in blue. It becomes glaringly apparent during times such as these, as evidenced by internet trolls and cable news hosts taking liberties to spew vile over-generalizations and stereotypes in their efforts to justify the deaths of fellow citizens. It is the responsibility of all of us to call it out if we can, and fight back against it whenever possible.

In the two decades since the passage of momentous civil rights legislation some things have changed. Some have not. While it’s true that the personal racial attitudes many Americans have improved for the better, the ideas and prejudices from before still persist in the hearts of many. And while legal segregation ended, coupled with the expansion of social interchange and voting rights, the systematic and pervasive character of racism in the United States persists. Law-makers, judges, authorities, gatekeepers and landowners are disproportionally white, and if you think that doesn’t have an effect on the way things are run, the opportunities given, the advancements denied…think again.

Racism goes hand-in-hand with domination, and provides the social and philosophical justification for debasing and degrading people on the basis of color. It is sustained by both personal attitudes and structural forces. It is both brutally overt and invisibly institutional.

Every now and then, I like to think I have the luxury of being able to push thoughts of race to the back of my mind for a day or two at a time. I live in a city that, in 2002, was determined by TIME magazine to be the most integrated, diverse region in the nation. Sometimes I think the residents here get spoiled into thinking that our reality is the norm. It’s not as if we don’t have our share of issues here, it’s just a little easier to overlook sometimes. But it doesn’t take long before I am reminded of the ways in which race touches our lives on a daily.

A few weeks before the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, My two eldest boys and I traveled up toward the California/Oregon border for a weekend trip. We stayed at a hotel that provides a complimentary breakfast for its guests. In the morning, we joined several dozen other families–all of whom were white–in the dining area and began to eat. Within minutes a restaurant staffer approached our table and asked if we were paid guests at the hotel. People stared. Without a word, I left the room and made my way to the front desk, got a copy of our room statement, and brought it back as “proof.” She turned around without so much as an explanation. We were the only ones singled out that morning. Other than being irritated and a bit embarrassed, no real harm was done to us. A small price to pay for traveling to a small town, right? For being brown?

For others, the stakes are much higher:

The price Tamir Rice’s mother paid certainly was. She lost her son.

John Crawford’s young children lost their father.

Eric Garner’s widow lost a husband.

Michael Brown lost his life.

Racism is real. This is how is manifests in our world. This is the price that is paid.

This is how we respond.

Not one more. We can’t breathe.

In Solidarity.

On Functionality and Punchlines

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“A little rain never stopped anyone…except of course those who never learned to dance through puddles…”

The other night my ex came by after work to drop off some stuff for the kids. The kind of belongings they always carelessly leave behind: that one crucial page of homework, the stuffed animal they can’t sleep without, or the warmest jacket they own (the night before the temperature happens to drop 10 degrees). It’s a good thing we live 4 blocks apart from each other.

On this particular evening, he walked in to find me running around the kitchen, attempting to balance a phone between ear and shoulder, while halfway  participating in a conference call. I might have been simultaneously loading the dishwasher. Or perhaps I was finishing yet another load of laundry. Actually I think I was doing all of these things. What I do recall though, is that there was a half chopped pile of vegetables on the counter waiting to be thrown into the chili which was patiently simmering away on the stove. I nodded toward the cutting board and he instinctively jumped in, finishing what was left of the dinner prep and confidently putting the lid on the pot while muttering a few cooking tips under his breath. This was the kind of thing that used to irk the hell out of me. Not the help, of course, but the constant need to correct whatever I was doing. Nowadays, it doesn’t irritate me in the least. In fact, it’s become a running joke between us, and I often find myself looking over at him during our interactions and thinking, “You know? I’ve really come to like this guy.”

Sometimes it takes prolonged distance to learn how to appreciate someone all over again. Years ago (long before ex and I separated) I had picked up a copy of Iris Krasnow’s “The Secret Lives of Wives“, which explores the many ways in which women find happiness in their relationships over the long term. The wives interviewed tell of everything from separate summer routines in order to maintain space and individuality, to open relationships and affairs. But the passage that I remember most was the one in which the author almost jokingly states,”I am like many aging wives, content for two days, sulking for four, frequently perched on the flimsy line that separates love from hate from a fistfight.”

Yes, oh yes. We knew that feeling well. And I despised it. No one wants to live in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and contentment. Married or not.

Prior to our split, I had never known adult life as a single woman. And to be fair, at 22, he was almost as young when he met me. This isn’t me saying that people shouldn’t commit when they are of that age, or that couples aren’t capable of overcoming some of the obstacles we faced in our relationship. This is simply me stating that, for us perhaps, we didn’t have the space, opportunity, and freedom for growth that we both needed in order to self-actualize.

Now that we do, we’ve become better parents, and co-parents as a result. Which, if you ask me, is a really nice perk as it makes all interactions much more pleasant. We both trust each other’s parenting choices and decisions, as we know that we act with the children in mind. We’ve learned to check in with each other frequently throughout the day in order to remain on the same page as to their comings and goings, upcoming events, and small daily triumphs. There is no arguing, or resentment, or battles over insignificant things. Thankfully, we’ve moved past that. And I do mean thankfully.

Sometimes I start to think about how unconventional our situation is. It might, from the outside, seem impossible and foreign. But a few weeks ago, during a family reunion, I turned to see my parents (who have been divorced for 13 years), waltzing away on the dance floor. My mom’s head was tilted back, mid laughter. My dad wore his giant cheesy smile, the one that indicates that he’s about to drop a groan worthy punchline to some variation of a joke we’ve all heard before. I watched them dance past tables filled with extended family—all of whom are unique and non-traditional in their own way— and I realized why it’s perfectly normal for me to proceed in this co-parenting relationship the only way I know how: with love, and laughter, and cheesy punchlines to get us through.

You know, some parents get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time and they can become better people. Much better mommies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear.

-Mrs. Doubtfire