inner city teaching · politics · slice of life

The Vulnerable Among Us

I arrived at my student teaching assignment earlier than usual one weekday morning. The kids hadn’t lined up in the cafeteria for the Pledge of Allegiance yet. The tables and benches were still out from breakfast, which many kids ate daily. One of the fifth graders from my class was crying. She wasn’t proficient in English yet so she was unable to tell me what was wrong. So I asked her peers.
“The lunch ladies won’t give J breakfast because she got here after they stopped serving,” a boy from my class told me.
“Can’t J knock on the door and ask them to give her breakfast?” I asked.
“That’s not how it works,” another student informed me. “If you’re late, you don’t eat.”
I looked at J, her dark bob framing her tiny face, and noticed she had tears in her eyes. I asked one of her peers to ask J if she had eaten anything.
A quick “no” was given back to me followed by more tears.
This was ridiculous. She’s here before the bell, but can’t eat. I couldn’t fathom J being hungry until lunchtime. I got up from the table and walked over to the kitchen. I pulled on the handle, but it was locked. I peered through the narrow window. Multiple kitchen workers were washing dishes in the kitchen. I flattened my hand and rapped on the door with force until one looked up. She walked over and unlocked the door.
“Good morning,” I said as sweetly as possible. “I am a student teacher in the bilingual fifth-grade class. There’s a student in my class who didn’t eat breakfast this morning. She is hungry. Her friends said she can’t eat because she arrived after you stopped serving food. I need you to fix her a tray for breakfast.”
The lady from the kitchen said, “I’ll do it just this once. Tell her not to be late tomorrow.”
I wasn’t sure if I was overstepping my bounds as a student teacher. But quite frankly, I did not care. “I’m sure she’ll try to make it on time. After all, she wants to eat breakfast so she can concentrate and learn.”
The kitchen door closed. A moment later, the worker handed me a tray of food.
“Thank you,” I said.
I got no response. She turned around and locked the door behind her.
I spun on my heels and walked over to my student. “Here’s your breakfast, J. If you can’t finish before the Pledge, then we will bring it upstairs. I don’t think Mrs. R. will mind.”
“Thank you,” she said in the clearest English I had ever heard her speak.
“Of course. You need to eat.”
*****
I haven’t thought about this incident much since it happened 13 years ago. However, the memory of the story came flooding back when I watched Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget Director, address the White House Press Corps yesterday. He stood there, justifying what many people believe are draconian budget cuts. He talked about a variety of proposed cuts, such as the ones to Meals on Wheels and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Multiple times I heard Mulvaney ask questions like, “Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?”
The injustice J faced on that winter morning had to do with the time she showed up. But what happens when the error isn’t about timing, but rather is about funding?
Looking at the proposed budget cuts worries me. How about funding for after-school and summer programs, where many children go for academic help and where they also receive a meal? What happens to those kids if that funding gets cut? How about the seniors who rely on meals and visits from volunteers coordinated by Meals on Wheels? What happens when these programs get cut? How about the 68% of children, ages two to eight, whose families watch PBS? What are these families, who rely on public television for educational programming, supposed to show their children instead? As a parent who is picky about the kinds of shows her daughter watches, I’ve gotta tell you that PBS is pretty much it when it comes to quality programming for children.
I could go on about my outrage to the proposed cuts on the EPA, NEA, NEH, and NIH, but quite frankly, I think my time would be better spent contacting my elected officials. Right now, I am horrified by the lack of compassion.
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OBSERVATIONS · politics

Seeing the World in Black & White

Isabelle walked into my bedroom while I was watching the first few minutes of “CBS This Morning.” A story about Hillary Clinton being the presumptive nominee was on. The report featured an excerpt of Bernie Sanders speaking in California. Isabelle seemed unimpressed by what she saw.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Shades of gray don’t apply to the preschool brain, do they? In Isabelle’s mind (& I’m sure many other kids’ minds), they see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys. And apparently, if someone is raising their voice — in Isabelle’s world — they aren’t a good guy.

OBSERVATIONS · politics · slice of life

The Mean Man with the Orange Hair #sol16

I typically shut off the morning news as soon as Isabelle enters my bedroom in the mornings. There’s no need for her to hear about ISIS, deadly tornadoes, plane crashes, etc. However, one morning, several months ago, I didn’t turn off the television. Donald Trump was on the small screen. He was yelling about something. But instead of pressing the power button off, I asked Isabelle, “What do you think of that man? Is he nice or mean?”

“He’s mean,” she responded immediately.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

I believe she said it was something about the tone of his voice. (Clearly, she didn’t understand the scope of the vitriolic message he was spewing, but she didn’t care for his tone).

And that was the end of it — for awhile.

Any time Trump appeared on the news when Isabelle walked into my room for the next few months, she’d ask, “Is that the mean guy?” I would nod somberly. She’s also asked, “Why is he always yelling?” and “Why is he a bad guy?” I’ve done my best to answer her, but it’s been hard to respond in a way that a five-year-old can comprehend.

One day Isabelle overheard Trump call someone stupid. She said, “Why did he say ‘stupid,’ Mommy? Stupid is a bad word!” I didn’t temper my response that time. I told her this wasn’t the way people were supposed to talk. In fact, I probably said too much because she always says “there’s the mean man with the orange hair” (I swear she added the orange hair part on her own.) every time she sees him on TV now (i.e., ever since the day we talked about him calling people “stupid.”)

I never thought Donald Trump would be the front-runner in the Republican race by March 2016! I thought it would be Jeb Bush, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio. Even though I watch “Morning Joe” every morning (and have seen the writing on the wall), I’m still I’m stunned that Trump — who wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of this country, put a temporary ban on Muslims, defund Planned Parenthood, and takes to Twitter to malign people — might become the Republican nominee. My daughter has recognized President Obama on television for the past three years (and affectionately refers to him as “O-bama!”). She has heard snippets of him speaking in a dignified manner time and time again. I cannot imagine how I would explain how and why our country might choose a man who lacks gravitas and spews hatred to occupy the White House. (I hope that day will never come.)

This morning, The New York Times ran, “How Do You Talk to Your Children About Donald Trump? Thoughtfully.” I felt a wave of relief come over me as I read the article since I am not alone in having issues talking about Donald Trump with my child. It’s a thing. Parents and educators are challenged to talk about Trump with  children since so much of how he acts goes against the kinds of things we teach our children on a day-to-day basis.

For instance, Trump’s behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in schools. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Kathy Maher, a sixth-grade teacher in Newton, Mass., said that election years usually presented an excellent opportunity for students to observe the virtues of the American democratic process. But this year, she said, she worries about the school’s mock-debate season, when someone will have to play Mr. Trump — a candidate who, if he were a student, would be sent straight to the principal’s office.

Unlike most of the parents profiled in the article, my daughter is asleep long before the raucous debates have aired. She hasn’t witnessed the outlandish statements Trump (and some of the other candidates have) made. My daughter is five. We shelter her from the news in an effort to preserve the sanctity of her childhood. However, I cannot shelter her forever. At some point, I’m going to have to explain how someone as bombastic as Trump has made it so far. I’m hoping I won’t have to explain why he’s occupying the White House at this time next year. I can’t even allow my mind to go there right now.

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Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

 

media · politics · reading the world · slice of life

Inauguration Day

We don’t watch much TV, with Isabelle, around these parts. Therefore, rather than stay home to watch today’s media event (I call it that since the official swearing-in happened yesterday.), we were out and about with my parents who were in town visiting for the past few days. By the time we got home, it was 2:00 p.m. Isabelle was overdue for a nap, so why not push off that nap for another half hour to watch the Inauguration Day coverage? Therefore, we snuggled on the couch and watched Senator Schumer preside over the luncheon in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. It wasn’t full of pomp and circumstance like the swearing-in, the speech, or the parade, but it was what was on at 2:00 p.m. It allowed me to say, “Hey, you watched part of the Inauguration Festivities back in 2013.”

We watched for about 20 minutes. The highlight was watching Isabelle clapped every time the invited guests applauded for the photographs, the crystal vases, and other things that were given to President Obama and Vice President Biden. However, after awhile, she got tired of clapping. She laid her head on a pillow on my lap and rested. It was time for her to go upstairs for a nap.

As I walked down the stairs after placing Isabelle in her crib, I thought back to January 1997. I had four tickets to President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. I got them thanks to a connection I had at the White House since I volunteered at the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach for a little over a year. However, I didn’t use the tickets. I gave them to four college friends. Instead, I attended my cousin’s 60th birthday party up in New York. My parents gave me permission to skip the birthday party and go to the Inauguration since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. (Did I mention they were GREAT tickets? I would’ve been able to see the President without binoculars!) After a lot of soul searching, I decided to put family first. There would always be another inauguration, right?

One day, when Isabelle is older, it is my hope that we’ll have the chance to attend an Inauguration as a family. When that day eventually comes, I have a feeling I’ll be watching it on a Jumbotron from the National Mall, rather than ticketed seats. And that will be okay because it will give me the chance to tell Isabelle the story of 1997, the meaning of family, and the importance of waiting for the right moment in time.

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Izzy and I watch as Speaker Boehner made a presentation to President Obama during the luncheon.