Monday, December 19, 2011

Rings

On Saturday, after my last day of student teaching, Jeremy and I loaded up my little '94 Beamer and headed home for Colorado. We've made the drive several times and spent most of the day just chatting about our last three years together.

Three years ago, I landed back in the U.S. in July 2008, met Jeremy back at college (for real this time) and we completed that semester falling a little more for each other every day. In December 2008, we made this exact same drive to Colorado.

Things were different then. I was three years shy of my college degree, Jeremy was just finishing his degree and starting his masters in another state. I was still daily battling an eating disorder, doubts about God, and what had just happened in Cambodia. Jeremy knew it all. He was supportive. He was patient. He was everything I didn't know I needed.
We decided to start dating during a walk through the snowy mountains of Colorado. Then we did the long-distance thing for 1.5 years which taught us a lot about communication, delayed gratification, and learning to ask for needs and wants instead of assuming the other person knows. After that Jeremy moved to Lincoln. We worked a few summers at camp. We made trips to Colorado and trips to Delaware. We kept learning and living and figuring out the difference between how we thought love would look and how it actually is. Learning how to be together. How to compromise. How to support. How to love better.

We spent last Saturday recounting these things: how we've grown, how we've changed, what we're learning, where we're headed. After eight hours in the car, the mountains came into view, and as we approached the turn for my house, Jeremy passed it and kept driving toward the foothills. He drove past my house, outside of town, and parked at a reservoir overlooking the mountains just as the sun was going down. He said we should take some pictures. So we did.


Jeremy put the camera on top of the car and ran back and forth using the ten second timer to get pictures.
Then for the last picture, he came running back, bent down on one knee and asked if I would be his wife.

And I said, "Yes."
And cried.

Jeremy spent the last few months making me five different engagement rings out of wood. Ya know, so I'll have options. Freaking cool, right? He's awesome.

I'm happy.
We're happy.

Pomp and Circumstance

I spent 19 weeks completing my student teaching requirements in order to graduate from college.
That's 133 days.
That's 95 days at school.
That's 95 hours with each of those students.
That's early mornings and countless extra hours of nights and weekends spent lesson planning and grading papers.

The respect and admiration I have for full-time teachers is impossible to describe and important to recognize publicly. Probably some of the most unrecognized and under-valued people I've ever worked with.

I have wonderfully supportive friends who helped me count down the end of student teaching. I started getting underwear with numbers written on them counting down the number of days I had left. Quite sweet. I was stylin'.

Starting with day 5, they read: "We think / you are / so very / very, very, very, very / talented, creative, sweet, fun, great, lovely."

I spent the last day of student teaching wrapping up final projects and playing a whole 'lotta Catch Phrase. I said my goodbyes, gave some hugs, got some sweet gifts, and felt damn good walking out the door.

After I did, my friends threw me a you're-done-with-student-teaching-let's-celebrate semi-formal haystack party. Yay!

After eating yummy food, my other student teacher friend, A.J. and I decided it was time to dispose and properly eliminate of the college syllabi that have haunted us these many years. So we decided to burn them. Crumpling each page would lead to better burning so...

...this led to a paper fight that left remnants of worksheets and calendars strewn around the room in book shelves and under couches.
And there was just so much to be burned it made us happy.


We even made some paper angels.

Then we took that party outside and set the syllabi ablaze. Then danced around the fire chanting.

Then certain people felt the need to take their shirts off. I will purposefully not post incriminating pictures for certain people who kept taking their clothes off and might want to run for president some day.
After the dancing and hurrah-ing, these same lovely friends planned a graduation ceremony for A.J. and I. We wore blankets as robes, were announced as official graduates and strolled through the living room to "Pomp and Circumstance" via kazoo.
There were even diplomas written on napkins.
And speeches.
And as the night ended, I felt tired from a long semester but relieved that it was over.
The reality of the end of college was still settling in, but I gathered that it was indeed true.
And I felt accomplished and celebrated and so very loved.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Filter

I really like TED talks.

Like this one about how the internet has begun catering to what it thinks we need.

Lean "liberal"? Facebook will happily hide your "conservative" friends so that you don't have to see their posts, hear what they have to say, consider their ideas (see where this is going?).

It makes me nervous. I don't want my own bubble. I need to feel uncomfortable.









Vending Machine

"We're interested in showing the students that teachers are human beings," she told me. And I nearly clobbered her in hugs.

This is what my two female reporters (one of them my student) said upon interviewing me this morning for the school newspaper. They are writing a piece showing four different teachers, at four different stages of their professional/personal lives. I am the rookie: the student-teacher. They also interviewed a relatively new teacher, five-yearer, ten-yearer and such.

They asked me questions about the adjustment between being a college student and being a "teacher." They asked about juggling my college load and my high school load. They asked about why I wanted to become a teacher and how the experience has been on a scale of 1-to-10. They asked about what I do outside of school and my classroom pet peeves.

One of my biggest pet peeves this semester has been the students who treat me like a vending machine. One that--with a begrudging nickel of their effort--dishes out homework assignments, grades, and discipline. They see me as a teacher and nothing else. I am only worth what I can produce, what grades I give them, and how much I let them get away with in class. These are the students that are hardest for me to interact with because it feels like they've put me on another level that they might've assumed I wanted to be on. I am teacher. They are student. It turns into a battle instead of a relationship.

The curiosity of my interviewers about what makes me human, reminded me of the same respect that I've received from several students this semester.

The ones who are conscious of my identity as a person (not only a teacher). I treasure them.

Students who recognize that I am just a college student, a few years older than they are, doing my best to finish school and do so with some sanity.

Those who risk breaking the code of student/teacher conduct in the hallway by actually making eye contact, smiling, or waving.

Those who ask, "How are you doing?"

Those who don't whine and complain about the expectations in class because they recognize that I am not actually trying to pick on them, we're merely fulfilling the expectations of the curriculum. It's not personal, it's class.

Those who smile.

Those who take part in discussion as if they're interested. As if they care. As if what I have to say matters. At all.

I don't expect every student to love every minute of our time together in class. Truthfully, in high school, I wasn't always great at seeing my teachers as whole-people either, at granting them the respect they deserved as human beings. So I don't get horribly frustrated when they do the same to me. However, I greatly appreciate those who do not and I will most definitely remember them when I leave.

In five school-days.

Five-freaking-days.

Yay.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Every Girl, Every Boy


I am a feminist for the above-mentioned reasons and many more.

My boyfriend, Jeremy, is a feminist.

My two male cooperating teachers are feminists.
Many of my guy friends are feminists.
My sister is a feminist.
My brother-in-law is a feminist.
Many of my professors are feminists.
Probably every one of my friends and family are feminists (whether they know it or not).

(Check out my friend, Mindy Liebelt's, complete book of pictures here. It's a wonderful project of hers that deserves a look. Or two.)


Extreme feminists make me nervous. So do extreme conservatives, extreme liberals, extreme Christians, and extreme Muslims. When we associate a group of people with only the most extreme version of the people in that group, we are doing them--and ourselves--a huge disservice. We are smooshing everyone together as if all New Yorkers are exactly the same, all Mormons are exactly the same, all Mexicans are exactly the same, and all men are exactly the same. It's not fair and it's not right.

Feminism became a dirty word because it was associated with only the most extreme versions of the word. These over-generalizations led to name-calling them "femiNatzis," and painting them only as bra-burning, angry women who were anti-male, refused to shave their armpits, and were a threat to people everywhere. Really? What a sad, uneducated way to view an entire group of people out to do a lot of good, simply because the extremists of the group got all the attention and publicity.

A feminist is a person who believes in the radical notion that women are people too.

Radical, right? I know.

If you believe that your mother/sister/daughter deserves to be safe, educated, valued, given a voice, and paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work, you are a feminist.

Just about every group has negative connotations/stereotypes these days. There will always be some crazies wherever you go:
Feminists are anti-male
Men rape
Women are too emotional (and horrible drivers)
Hippies are druggies
Activists are angry
Christians are hypocrites
Muslims blow up buildings
Catholics molest little boys
Republicans are close-minded
Democrats are anti-Christian
Americans are selfish
Mexicans are immigrants

So, should I just avoid all of these groups of people because there are unfortunately some negative stereotypes associated with them?

I can disassociate myself from every group of people that has any flaws (for fear that it will reflect badly on me), or I can be part of the group while working to change it and make it better from the inside out.

I am a feminist because I want equality and freedom for men and women. It's worth it to me to take on the title "feminist" in spite of some people's uneducated stereotypes. Because I know better.

And, as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Space

Men are often encouraged to take up more space.
Women are often encouraged to take up less space.

Men "should" be big and muscular.
Women "should" be petite and willowy.

Men "should" speak up.
Women "should" stay quiet.

Men "should" be bold.
Women "should" be soft-spoken.

Men "should" be aggressive.
Women "should" be kind. And smile.

I find myself regularly torn between wanting to be a culturally acceptable woman and wanting to be who I am.


Sometimes, I want to take up less space. I want to float into a room in a wispy gown. I want to be shorter than my boyfriend. I want to weigh less. I want to be less. I want to blend in. I want to be quiet. I want to let men dominate the conversation, the room, the hallway, the gym, the road, the political forum, the church, and the sports arena. And they do. I'd rather just take up less space because that requires a lot less work.


At the same time, I want to take up more space and I end up feeling bad for it.
I want to enter a room confidently. But somehow that's un-feminine.

I want to be taller and weigh more than men, especially when I feel threatened or afraid when I'm alone with them. But somehow, I'd be too big.

I want to be more. But somehow that's asking too much.

I want to stand out. I want to speak my mind. But then I'd be labeled a "controlling bitch." Because that's just what culture calls women in power.

I want a place in the conversation, the room, the hallway, the gym, the road, the political forum, the church, and the sports arena. But then I'm just being too needy.

I'd rather dare to take up more space because that demands more of who I was made to be. But unfortunately that is challenged every step of the way.



It seems difficult to "win" in this model and I'm not sure what winning would look like. Recently, I've been watching and reading a lot about gender. I'm better educated and more frustrated than ever. The most important resource I've encountered recently, is the film Miss Representation.



You really should watch this movie.
Because we can't be what we can't see.

I think the "moral of the story" is regularly assuring myself that it's okay to take up as much space as I need. It's not okay by everyone's standards (good thing I'm not a super-model, a politician, a movie star, or any female figure in public view). But it's okay by my standards. On a good day. Sometimes.

I can have a voice.
I can challenge authority.
I can dance and move and play.
I can lift weights.
I can stand up and speak out.
I can write a book. And be proud of it.
I can wear what I want.
I can be a size 10.
I can eat what I want.
I can be proud of myself.
I can take a compliment without disagreeing with the person giving it.
I can have confidence in my skills and abilities.

I can hold my ground as a woman--proud of the space I embody--even when it feels like I'm wrong for doing so.

Because as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

I. Know. Better.

History of The "F" Word

A brief history lesson (from my limited point-of-view):

A hundred years ago, women began questioning this assumption that they should take up less space more in the public forum than ever before. They wondered why they didn't have the right to vote or own property. They wondered why their voice wouldn't stand up in court compared with a man's. They wondered, then they got angry, then they took action.

Feminism grew from the radical notion that women are people too. If you believe that (man or woman) then I'm sorry, you're a feminist.

I say, "I'm sorry" not because I think it's a problem. But because of all the negative associations that have come with "the F-word." As there are many kinds of Republican or many kinds of Christian, there are many kinds of feminist. I don't have to hate men and burn my bra to be a feminist. I just believe in people. I believe that women and men are people. Equal. Good. Worthy. Period.

Women fighting to "take up more space," to have a voice, to have a place in society, threatened some people. In the film Tough Guise, Jackson Katz outlines how the twentieth century has been really tough on the white, middle-class, heterosexual male. The power they had pretty much dominated up until that point (um...for thousands of years) was being compromised and many men did not approve. Because first women wanted to voice, and then black people wanted a voice, and then heterosexuals wanted a voice. Now the white, heterosexual man had two choices: hand over some of the power or fight to keep it. There was backlash. There was blaming and name-calling ("feminatzi" anyone?). There were lies spread that feminism was to blame for the downfall of the country and that we should just keep things the way they've always been (notice it was the oppressor doing all of the talking).

So, the men who felt that their space was being invaded (by women, blacks, and homosexuals) wanted to compensate, and they sought to take up even more space. Jackson Katz lays this out particularly well in his critique of the media's portrayal of men. The size of the biceps and guns of actors in action movies and action figures have grown exponentially (much the opposite of Barbie's ever dwindling waist-size. Coincidence? I think not.). Pro-wrestling took off in bigger and badder displays of masculinity. Rap and rock lyrics have taken on a harsher, more misogynistic tone than ever before.

There's much to fight for and never enough fighters ("the work is plentiful, but the workers are few"?). I so appreciate brave men and women who refuse to make sexist comments, perpetuate discrimination, and to believe that sexism is any different than racism. If anyone is being discriminated against, we are all losing.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Martin Luther King Jr.

I might as well just go ahead and get this as a tatoo because I have a feeling I'll be referring to it for the rest of my life:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
-Niemoller


I am a feminist because it would be impossible for me to be anything else.

I firmly believe that when most people actually learn what "the F-word" means, they can't deny that their daughters, their sister, and their mothers deserve nothing less.

And they are feminists too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Four Percent

Ten days until I graduate college.
More importantly, ten days until I am done with my student teaching.

All semester, as I've talked with teachers about the difficulty of dealing with some students (their attitudes, their complaining, their work ethic and such), I've gotten similar answers:

"Meh, they're just kids. They'll grow out of it."

"They're adolescents."

"What did you expect? They're teenagers."

"The behaviors associated with minor mental illness, substance abuse, and adolescence all look the same. It's hard to tell them apart and easy to misdiagnose."

This doesn't say much good about the state of some of our youth. I don't think this is a recent phenomenon that I was unaffected by 5-8 years ago. Yet, only now, it totally perplexes me. Hearing what teachers have to say about the norms associated with this age group makes me sad. Aren't we giving up on them? Shouldn't we expect more? Shouldn't what one teacher calls "egocentric impulsivity" be harnessed? Tamed? Managed? Can we save them from this self-centered, irrational roller coaster? In short, shouldn't other teachers be as equally bothered by this as I am?

Experienced educators have, not only thick skin, but a better understanding of the development of human beings than I do. Most of them are parents. This might have something to do with it. Because they seem so unaffected and unconcerned with the attitudes of the teenagers they encounter day-to-day.

For example, today in class a student was doing her chemistry homework while I was teaching. I didn't actually notice, but Ken did. He took the piece of paper and put it on his desk to be given back at the end of class. A simple move to get the student on-track and focused on the task at hand. I thought. She rolled her eyes, pursed her lips tightly together, glared straight ahead, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and remained absolutely silent and apparently disgusted for the next 40 minutes.

This blows my mind. Of course, you can't be so obviously disrespectful and ignore what the teacher's trying to teach, but to her, this was an abomination. An infringement on her rights. An outrage. To her, this was nearly the end of the world. Or at least the end of the next 40 minutes (which might as well have been her world).

When the bell rang, there was no reasoning with her. No talking. No conversation about why Ken just might've been trying to keep her focused. No. She was pissed and wanted to be pissed. Congratulations.

Things like this drive me crazy. I want to sit them down and say, "Really? You're sixteen years-old and this is what you're throwing a tantrum over (a lost assignment, homework, a quiz, for the classroom to be quiet)? Do you see how this is helping no one? Not me? Not you?"

I don't understand it, yet, I know my own irrational behaviors.

Such as, one morning a few weeks ago, I decided to write down what was stressing me out about school. It came down to this: of the roughly one hundred students that I interact with every day, there are about four students in particular who frustrate me to no end. Four percent of the students I encounter each day cause about 95% of my stress. I've been letting the minority rule me.

I can't change difficult students. I can't make them see that what they're SO angry about in this moment is really not a big deal. But I can focus on the fact that ninety-six percent of my students are pretty descent. That other four percent may be ornery and make me want to hit myself in the face (with a cast iron skillet), but at the end of the day, they are only four percent.

They are only four percent.
They are only four percent.

Yes, alas, I'll need to repeat this numerous times in the next ten days when that four percent threatens my sanity and my sincerity toward the other ninety-six percent who make me smile, who work hard, who don't complain, and who have brightened my day. Every day.