Tag Archives: wordcount blogathon 2013

Day 30: I Did It!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

——Nelson Mandela

Dear Readers,

….And we’ve arrived at my last post of the Wordcount Blogathon 2013! Yay! I did it!

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GRATITUDE: Thank you to Michelle Rafter and her team at the WordCount Blogathon 2013 for creating and organizing this awesome experience for bloggers!

Thank you to every single person who read The Way It Is for the past month (and before).

Thank you to every single one of you wonderful readers, fellow bloggers, friends, family, neighbors, other parent activists, artists, writers, and those on the other side of the planet. Thank you for reading and supporting this effort! You’ve got  no idea how incredible it’s been to receive your kind words of support. It has helped tremendously. I honestly  can’t believe I did it! You helped. Thank you!

Thanks to my  amazing husband and son who put up with me and my daily, “I have to post” mutterings,  excessive un folded laundry piles, and all the time I took away from them in order to  do this (plus the activism, meetings, etc.) in between and on top of life’s already packed daily routine. If not for Ringo, our excellent cat, some posts wouldn’t have happened. That’s the truth.

As I write this now, M keeps coming in to check on my phone timer because I promised him I’d play with him in 15 minutes and I keep saying,  “I’m almost done!”  and resetting the timer. Yikes. I need to go.

Leaving you with these few things:

Perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written. Both Sides, Now by the singular Joni Mitchell:

From one of my favorite childhood books, Chicken Soup With Rice by one of my favorite authors and illustrators, the genius, Maurice Sendak:

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My June calendar and laptop:

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I remember getting star stickers for accomplishing assignments at school when I was little. I put one sticker star on my calendar every time I finished a post for the WordCount Blogathon 2013 this June:

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I’ll be returning to a once a week posting schedule which I hope to maintain. I’ll continue to write about education and the goings on in our town, but not exclusively. I’m interested in too many things to pick just one, so it’ll be more of a mix like it was before this blogathon.

Good evening, good morning,
See you again soon.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 29: The intangibles and my time in the desert with students

Dear Readers,

This  post by Frank Nappi from The Badass Teachers Association  is fantastic! I  relate to it in a few ways.  A long time ago, I was an educator /counselor in the Israeli army education branch (Gadna) of the IDF in 1985-1987 for my two-year service. I worked in a poor and disadvantaged rural community in the Northern Negev. Many of the children I worked with had illiterate parents with minimal grade school or no education of their own. They were some of the most warm, welcoming, caring, and generous people I’ve ever met. And they were also suspicious of me, the army, and outsiders in general.  They held patriarchal, conservative,  religious, and superstitious views of society. Women’s roles were  defined as wives, mothers, caregivers, food makers, house cleaners–traditional, old world views that were entrenched in their lives and viewpoints which they had brought with them from the social norms of the day in various Middle Eastern countries.

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They had been placed in these remote settlements, in my opinion, wrongfully set aside and marginalized by the establishment of the country. They felt ignored and for good reason. They made the best of their situation as they had no choice. One family grew flowers. One had fields of radishes. Their homes were small but very clean. They made delicious food and hung laundry on clothes lines outside.

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The women  seemed to work harder than the men, and they showed it in their  bodies which appeared older than their ages, always serving others. They were tired, but never stopped. They always wanted the best for their children.

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When  I entered their homes, I was  treated with respect and the well-known, Middle Eastern hospitality; immediate offers to sit down, and an abundance of food and drink placed before me in an instant. It was considered an insult to refuse and I learned quickly to always accept tea, water, a delicious pastry–something. The children I worked with ranged from elementary school to high school and beyond. I taught in classrooms, in fields, in bomb shelters, around kitchen tables,  on the side of dirt roads, etc. It took a while to gain their trust. To do that,  I made house calls. One house at a time, meeting the parents and grandparents, explaining why I was there. Showing them that even though I was a woman and in the army (which they generally disapproved of), that I was a decent person, that I meant no harm, that I was there to help their children. I  listened to their stories.

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I realized early on that the children primarily needed attention and love along with help channeling aggression and frustration. They needed me to show up and wait for our group meetings even though no one came at first. I told them when I’d be there and I waited. Eventually, they started coming. Just a few, then more, then all the kids that could. We played theater games and role played situations to help them deal with all kinds of issues and problems. I did art projects with them and we played for hours. I had a general curriculum we were expected to follow, but within that, I had a lot of flexibility to do whatever worked with my group. I made sure to follow what was prescribed to us, but I made it as fun as I could, and I often added my own topics or ways of delivery.

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One of the older students was the leader and all the others followed her. She was smart,  funny,  cheeky, and gave me the hardest time. I started bringing a camera to my meetings and visits. I started photographing the children and showing them the pictures. Many suffered from  low self-esteem, so I decided that showing them how I perceived them, how I saw their surroundings (they thought it was ugly, but I saw beauty in it), would maybe help them start seeing themselves as worthy and beautiful human beings.

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It worked.  It also gave me chance to hand my camera to the students themselves,  and I showed them how to use the camera. A camera was not something most of them had, so it was a novelty. My father gave me one of his Nikon cameras to use. That was kind of big deal. I was always afraid it would get ruined by the sand and dust that was everywhere, but it survived just fine.

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The students had a blast posing for the camera and thought it was silly that I kept telling them, Just do your thing and I’ll grab the pictures. You don’t have to pose. But pose they did. Showing off bike tricks, running, “Look what we can do!” I praised them for their strengths and abilities and offered support and help where they lacked confidence or knowledge. I often helped them with homework, never doing it for them, but tutoring and helping them arrive at their own answers. The most difficult student came around to me. She loved the camera and taking pictures. Once she accepted me and started changing her attitude, the rest followed suit.

students

Long after I finished my army service, I learned that she had become a photographer. It was a truly gratifying moment.  I wondered if  my work with her had anything to do with her choice to pursue photography. I’ll never know for sure, but it could be, and that’s enough to think about how much one person can influence another when you’re able to  teach in the best possible way. No tests or punishments. Just love,  attention,  communication, and learning to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The information and academics followed from that and were weaved in between the games, playing, conversations about things that mattered to the students. All the topics got covered, but first the work was about building relationships. They had to trust me first. I had to meet them where they were.

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As was written in The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 28: What we’re up against and a woman who stood up

Dear Readers,

I’m in awe of Wendy Davis. It may be slightly off topic to education, but not really if you consider it a civics lesson of the best kind. Her courage,  determination, and clarity are extraordinary and I’m compelled to mention her here. I draw inspiration from her bold act standing up for women’s rights.

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Up Against

This is what it feels like, what we’re up against in our fight against corporate ed reform policies and the new strategic plan in our town. It feels like David and Goliath. It feels like the little guy up against the BIG POWERS THAT BE. It feels like small voices not being heard. There are moments of victory and it feels like we’re making progress and are being heard and noticed. It feels like a mountain that can’t be climbed. It feels like a wall stands before us, impenetrable. It feels like maybe there’s a small crack in the wall.

It feels like parent power, teacher power, student power, must come together to withstand the waves crashing down on us; the impossible race to nowhere; the wall of obsfucation, greed and lies. The reformers’ endless resources, our lack thereof. It feels like the revolution needs a nap. It feels like we can’t stop. It feels like we have no choice. It feels insurmountable sometimes, impossible, it feels disturbing. It feels painful to watch and be in it and fight it. It makes me angry. It hurts we have to spend our energy this way.   It also feels energizing and uplifting to be taking action, real concrete action to change things. It is inspiring and hopeful to discuss education and what we want for our children with knowledgeable, kind, smart, funny, interesting, talented, unique parents, educators, and fellow residents. It’s a relief to have people I can speak with openly about all this.

I won’t ever stop fighting for my son. If we multiply that I WONT GIVE UP ATTITUDE by more parents, that will be the real sea change, the mountain to climb together, the wall to break through —-standing up  together.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 27: The day after and swimming in the pool with friends

Dear Readers,

Last night M cried before going to sleep. “Mommy, will I ever see my class friends again?”

I said, “Yes, you’ll see them. Most of them will be going to your school again in the fall. And friends are friends. We’ll see some of them in the summer. Plus, you have camp coming up, and you’ll make some new friends there.”

M wasn’t convinced. “But, Mommy, I want to know which of my friends will be at my camp. I want my old friends.”

We have these conversations every time there’s  a beginning or an ending. Before school starts, before it ends, before camp, and then by the time camp is over, he’s made new friends and doesn’t want to leave them.

I told him we were going to see one of his class friends the next day. He fell asleep. Finally.

I fell asleep right after him. I woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented. I didn’t know what day it was. After going back to bed and sleeping in (until around 8am!) I felt better. This graduating K business is exhausting. Endings usually are followed by a need to rest. But so are beginnings–all that excitement,  fear, and loss mixed in with  the unknown ahead. Until you know, you don’t know.

We took our cat to the vet today for her annual checkup. I need to call tomorrow morning to get the results of some tests the vet said she needed to run. Ringo has lost some weight. She’s 14 years old. Senior kitty. I spent today trying to not to think about it. I’ll know more when I call in the morning. But of course there’s dread. What ifs. I push it all out of my mind. The same way I reassure M that yes, he’ll  most likely see his friends again, I tell myself, everything will be OK. I can’t even allow the thoughts in. What’s the point in fretting too much when you don’t know and you can’t know until you know and until then, you just don’t know? Being comfortable with unknowns is difficult, and  one thing that works for me (sometimes) is to get very involved in the present moment. Literally, only be here now. It isn’t something I can always sustain, but when I do that, it helps.

It’s the same with friendships, beginnings, endings, transitions, comings and goings, all life’s separations. We need to tell ourselves that we’ll see our friends again. That our cat will be OK. Until we know differently, we have the hopes and wishes and that moves us forward. It’s as if we must choose to be happy about what is NOW, what is good right now, until we’re confronted with news that might shatter that. We’re  here now.

M was thrilled to invite his friend over to play in our little pool this afternoon. It was proof to him  that he’ll  still see his friends. A person needs concrete proof sometimes. Or maybe often, that what’s  real is real. Saying it is one thing, but a six year old wants to see it in action. Until then, it’s just words. When will we get there? And then we get there. When will my friend be here? And then they arrive. And they are here. Now, it is real. And the fun begins.

The afternoon passed with M and his friend playing and splashing and laughing. The other parent and I chatted in the shade and kept an eye on the kids. It was easy. Not all play dates are, but this one was. Every time we make a connection with someone, it feels good. Since it’s been almost three years since we moved here, we’re still new in town, but every new friendship makes this feel more like home, and makes the thought of what is happening here feel harder. Because know we know more people and care about more people. Nothing is hypothetical anymore. It is here. It is real. The friendships are real and what threatens us is also real.

And it all comes down to that. People. Friends. Our cat. Having fun and being silly whenever possible. So, I hope, I hope that the work I’m doing with our parent group here in town will have an effect and that we’ll  change things for the better.

I know that kids learn when they can  move around and DO things. So, I’m not worried about “summer learning loss.” Children need to play. They learn best through play. They need some unstructured time where not too much is planned and they can just BE.   I’m certain M will learn a lot this summer.  But mostly, I hope he has fun. I worry about the future but I’m also determined for us to have a happy summer. To not go into future worry about what might happen, but instead, to keep our eyes on the prize, to take every step we can to create change, and to allow ourselves to enjoy our lives as best we can while we fight hard for  our schools.

I’m glad M told me he was sad about missing his class, about it ending. And at the same time, he’s really looking forward to the next step. I don’t know if there’s a way to not feel this ambivalence. I’m not sure life is any clearer when you push one feeling aside for another. It’s  just one step, one splash, one friend at a time. And it’s quite possible to be completely thrilled one has finished something big,  and  at the same time, deeply sad that the something big is over, and you have indeed finished it and are moving on. Graduating.

Nemo said, “Keep swimming.” That’s what we’re gonna do. Keep swimming.

Thank you again and again to all of you for sticking with me through this crazy month, for posting,  liking, and encouraging me, and to the recent newest subscribers–welcome. Just a few more days of the WordCount Blogathon 2013, which will end on June 30.

Good night and good morning,

Elana

Day 24: WordCount Blogathon Haiku Day–We Stand Strong.

 

Berkeley state of mind

Dear Readers,

It’s Haiku theme day on the WordCount Blogathon 2013.

I’m loving writing a short piece!

This is my message to the people who are trying to steal my son’s
education. And it is also for everyone who is attempting to steal from all our children in public schools across America; And for all those who abuse and hurt children and students, parents, and teachers  with high stakes testing, over testing, standardized testing, and terrible reformer-deformer education practices devised by billionaires who are greedy and corrupt and who are enriching themselves and destroying people’s lives on the backs of our most neediest and vulnerable citizens. These people should be arrested for crimes against education,  children, and democracy. But in the meantime, here’s my Haiku.

You came for children.

We won’t let you take them down.

We stand strong in front.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 23: Thanking My Teachers Near and Far

Dear Readers,

Sorry, I didn’t have time to add pics. And this is  a bit long. But here you go. A bit from Israel and my college days and years.

I was at the end of 4th grade, on May 8th, when my family left the US and immigrated to Israel (also known as making Aliya; a word in Hebrew which means  to go up. We landed dazed, confused, jet lagged and wearing matching denim jackets circa 1976. It was hot.

We lived on an Ulpan on a kibbutz. My Hebrew teacher on the Ulpan on the kibbutz (a focused period of immersion into Israeli  culture and language for new immigrants designed to help one get over culture shock, learn the language). Plus  the experience was  supposed to help my parents decide if we want to live on a kibbutz permanently. I was ten when we arrived. I knew maybe two words in Hebrew. My teacher was patient and kind. Many kids were cruel to us, but when the teacher was around, I felt safe.

We ended up moving to Jerusalem after six months on the kibbutz. I started 5th grade in Jerusalem. My teacher was lovely. Welcoming, supportive, gentle with me. I was “adopted” by a group of kids who taught me how to speak Hebrew without an American accent. They walked me to and from school. They helped me learn how to be an Israeli. I was the only English speaker in my class. I had to learn the language fast, and I did, as children do. No one tested me. I was treated with kindness and generosity. I was given time and endless patience.

In high school I had one extraordinary teacher for  Hebrew Literature, Raya. She was beautiful, tall, with dark olive skin, shiny, long black hair, and she wore the coolest clothes. I wanted to be like her. Composed, graceful, smart. Hers was an  advanced level class.   I loved it and did well. She was intelligent,  tough, and challenged us to push beyond what we thought we could do. She believed in me. In my ability to write, to be a reader, to understand literature, or life.

When I was around 16 or 17, the year before I’d graduate, family problems left me deeply troubled and I dropped out of school. She reached out to me repeatedly, and finally one day she offered to take to me to lunch, and I accepted. We spoke at length. She said, “You have a gift of a good left and right brain. I cannot let you waste that. I can’t let you   waste your mind. I’ll  help you catch up. You need to come back to school so you can graduate. I promise to help you.” I decided to go back. And she was good on her word and helped me. I spent hours going to her house where she tutored me in the months of material I’d missed. I caught up.  I got to my senior year and I graduated and passed everything except Math.

When I went to college in the US starting at the age of 22, after the army, after traveling in Europe, I enrolled at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. I went using Pell Grants, student loans, and a few odd jobs. I was also broke.  I was a theater major/ dance minor. I took a remedial math class (great teacher) and passed. I had a few excellent teachers there. When I was going through a rough patch my dance teacher held my shoulders in her hands, looked me in the eye and  said, “You’re  going to come out of this on the other side and you’re going to be OK.” It was soul restoring.

I couldn’t keep going to school full time, pay rent, and eat, so  since I had to support myself, I quit school when I finished that semester in order to  work full-time. My theater professor and I had become friends.  Dan always encouraged me, writing me excellent recommendation letters whenever I needed them. A champion. He said “You’re a great student.” It meant the world to me.

A few years later, while working at Sesame Workshop (then Children’s Television Workshop), I got full staff benefits which included tuition reimbursement for undergrad course study related to my job or company. I signed up for part-time classes towards my B.A. at The New School for Social Research. I did one year there and then my job was cut and I had to drop out again. I had a great screenwriting teacher and got good grades, which I had to do keep at a certain level in order to qualify for  the tuition help.

In 2002, I went back to school for one final try, and at age 38, I finally graduated from SUNY Empire State College, the Manhattan Center in NYC. There, I had the great pleasure of working with an outstanding teacher and mentor, Shirley. She literally held my hand and helped me figure it all out. She was also my lit and writing teacher and her classes were a complete joy. The two years I worked to complete my degree were some of the most fulfilling and rewarding. I wrote all the time. I was   in the most incredible writing groups with amazing writers who I became friends with.   I did this with the generous support of my husband. Because of him, I was able to work  part-time and focus on school without fear of losing financial security, food, or shelter. It was a revelation. I graduated in 2004 with a B.A. in Creative Writing and the Performing Arts. My   lifelong dream of graduating from college came true. It remains  one of my proudest accomplishments. I couldn’t have done it without the moral and financial support of my husband.

I would not be standing (or sitting) here without the many teachers who I’ve had throughout my life. I would be remiss  not to mention my gifted improv teacher, Christine. One of the funniest people on the planet. She helped me return to my roots of improv (first done when I was 15 and in Israel), after I had a crisis of confidence and was going to quit performing all together somewhere around 2004-2005. The fun and laughs and growth I experienced with a group of hilarious people  was pure magic. Needless to say, there were no tests and I didn’t need advanced math skills. For the record, I can balance a checkbook, stick to a budget, and can compute sale percentages and mortgage calculations. Up to a point anyway.

Good teachers give their students things that cannot be measured on a standardized test. The  ones who reach down to pull a student up from the depths of despair are doing a job that is life saving. No one can tell me that the teachers I learned from didn’t save me. They all did. The believed in me before I  believed in myself. When I believed in myself they pushed me harder.   I believe in the power of teachers to transform the lives of their students and I want their respect and autonomy restored. I want them to be allowed to teach and be themselves. The good ones save people on a daily basis.  I know they saved me. My gratitude for that will never end.

Good night, good morning, and thank you!

Elana

Day 22: Hiding under the covers

Dear Readers,

Sometimes I feel like hiding under the covers. If I didn’t have my husband, son, and cat to be there for me and love; If I didn’t have friends and family encouraging me; If I hadn’t found the group of parents I’m working with to fight back against the hostile corporate ed reform takeover happening in our school district, I’d feel like this all the time.

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When you’re up against this.

And you wish there could be this

One is thankful that   atthechalkface exists and that they’ve  posted this.

Thank you for being here. You’re helping, too.

Good night, good morning,

Love & peace,

Elana