Biting Heads

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org

I’ve officially retired from my teaching position. This year I am doing some volunteer work at my same school in reading intervention. Some days I miss the everyday joys of teaching fulltime, but most of the time during this pandemic, I’m just thankful I don’t have to walk through all the crazy 2020 is throwing at teachers. Like this week the teachers prepare for their first student-led presentations on Zoom starting tomorrow, plus a visit from the BQA, the Ministry of Education’s quality assurance assessment. Both are adding to the already stressful nature of teaching in-person and virtually–in four different class groups. Some of my colleagues are teaching two grade levels–eight groups, four classes a day, with over a hundred children total.

So, today I am thankful that beside the Coronavirus stress we all carry, I only have mild stressors in my life this year. Like yesterday it was forgetting to get the grocery list from one of the people without a job we were going to serve through the outreach team. When I realized I had neglected to call her two days before, I made a quick call–no answer. So I made initial contact with a text. I copied and pasted and sent her a previous message I had written earlier in the week, but I forgot to edit it, so I sent the wrong name in the salutation. OK. That blunder was embarrassing and causing me momentary stress as I was trying to delete it before she saw it, and also make contact with her to get her list before my team went shopping in a less than an hour.

Enter my husband for lunch. He went to the kitchen sink and saw the morning breakfast dishes filling the dish tub. Next to that was the previous day’s dishes piled high in the dish drainer, puzzled together precariously.

He took a deep breath and sighed as he started to put the dishes away. Again he breathed–maybe yoga breathing–trying to compose himself and not say anything. But after a few deep breaths and sighs, I exploded.

I responded. “What is wrong with you? Stop breathing. Do you want me to do them? Just stop showing me how angry you are with your self-righteous deep breathing.”

He, “I just have a short time for lunch today.”

“OK, stop putting the dishes away. I said I would do it. I will. Can’t you fix your lunch with dishes in the drainer? How many times do you have to shout at me with your breathing. It’s obvious you think I should have done the dishes, oh high and mighty one. What is wrong with you? Why don’t you act like Jesus? Would Jesus put the dishes away? Or would he just fix his lunch while smiling and greeting me pleasantly? Blah, blah, blah.”

I thought of the quote about getting bumped and having what’s inside spill out–it could have been love and grace, but in my case this day, it was anger and sarcasm.

Fortunately, at this time in my life those outbursts are rare. I couldn’t help but think about the stressors in my life just a year ago, even before the pandemic. Teaching school is a never-ending flow of creativity and learning, sweet relationships and assisting young people in growing as learners. Yet, there is an everyday barrage of extra administrative requirements that don’t seem to help children, as well as unfulfilled hopes and unmet expectations, daily to-do lists never completed. I know over my years of stressed-out teaching there have been many outbursts like this directed at my husband, but also at others. I am not very sanctified when I get bumped, which I think is a true test of my character.

Before my husband went back to his office, I apologized for biting his head off. He, of course, accepted and offered his own, as well. I am so thankful we do not stay angry at each other.

My First Seven Jobs

Suleika Jaouad‘s The Isolation Journals has been a lovely way to find writing inspiration this Covid-19 season. This week the prompt was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s essay called “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.”

Prompt 114:
“Excavate the long-buried lowlights of your résumé and jot down a list of your first seven jobs. Then pick the most surprising, disastrous, or absurd, and spin it into an epic tale.”

My First Seven Jobs

  • Babysitter
  • Thumbtack packer
  • Office worker in my high school office
  • Hallmark store retail clerk
  • P.E. aide in middle and high school
  • Geography research assistant
  • Staffing Clerk

So, lots of unique and unforgettable memories come up when I peruse the list of my first seven jobs, but one that stands out today is being a P.E. coach and assistant teacher in a small Christian school just starting out. My roommate was a teacher at the school, and I was recruited to help coach and assist in P.E. classes. Oh, my. To say there was a bit of a mismatch in my skills and the position would be an understatement.

First, a word about my long and winding road to a bachelor’s degree. I worked my way through college in a part-time job.  (Albeit it was a much easier job when California State Universities were tuition-free and unions were stronger.) I mostly took 12-15 units a semester while I also worked to pay my living expenses. I was a business administration major for a while, with plans to be a high school business teacher (inspired only by my infatuation with the young hunk of a business teacher I had fallen in love with in high school). But then the required-reading Wall Street Journal newspapers piled up on the dining room table during my first econ class. I had no intention of reading them, so I dropped that class and changed my major. The infatuation gone.

I was a Liberal Studies major for a while, which I loved. You get to dabble in everything. I had the idea of being an elementary teacher during those semesters. Gradually, I decided, though, to be an adapted physical education teacher. I had loved an internship I did at a state hospital in the P.E. department of their onsite school.

Therefore, I changed my major to P.E. and took all the science, kinesiology, exercise physiology, and other foundational and theoretical courses in the physical education program, along with some special education courses. However, at the end of that, I was finally left with most of the activity course requirements. That meant for each one-unit volleyball, swimming or basketball class, I would have to spend three hours a week in activity courses. My full-time job for a semester or two would have been playing sports. Now, that wouldn’t be all bad, but deep down, I was not a P.E. teacher. I was not a coach. I was not even an athlete, in the committed, all-out way, that had I been, I would have welcomed taking all those activity courses.

So, I changed my major yet again. I looked at the units that had been piling up in my transcript. Geography was the department in which I had accumulated the most units. I took those courses purely out of my love for geography. I have always loved it, since childhood. I looked at the program in that department, and planned my schedule. I took two more semesters taking solely advanced-level geography courses. It was the best year of my six-and-a-half year journey through college.

Which leads me to that job as P.E. coach and assistant teacher. Fortunately, I was surrounded with mentors in that job who were dedicated and committed “coaches.” They were good role models for me to see what I was not. I remember taking time to teach the girls about aerobic exercise, teaching them to take their pulse, helping them calculate their maximum heart rate and check to see if they were in the 80% range after their runs around the field. I loved that. I loved the math, the science, the teaching.

However, I was also a coach. Junior high softball and volleyball, and assistant coach for basketball. Oops, at that point in my life, my greatest knowledge of basketball was that in high school I could shoot really good layups, and I was a statistician for the boys’ basketball teams. The stats job was mostly so we could ride the bus with the team. I hardly knew the rules of basketball when I played myself. I was a poser as far as this team sport went.

In my first outing with the basketball team, I was assigned to be one of the officials. Each team had to provide one official, so our coach surely felt it safe to assign this job to her new “P.E. major” assistant coach. They gave me a whistle. I ran around the court trying to stay out of the way of the junior highers. I gave the ball to students to throw back in, feeling powerful. I followed the lead of the other official and began to feel like I could do this.

In one of my first solo whistling acts as a ref during that game, I blew my whistle nice and loud and called a three-second violation on my own team. When I did that, I immediately knew something was wrong. The wind collectively dropped out of the whole scene. Fans, players, parents, coaches stared, open-mouthed. Everything stopped. I felt like I was being pranked or pranking the stadium on Candid Camera. I really didn’t know what had happened. The coach came out and had a little conference with me, explaining my faux pas. Our player had been shooting and rebounding when I blew the whistle.

“OK, I learned something,” I thought to myself. I made it through the rest of the game, with a lot of grace extended to me.

I actually stayed in that position for two years during college. I appreciated all that I learned during those years, but I don’t regret not becoming a P.E. teacher. Since then, I’ve coached a lot of softball over the years, and love it, actually. Softball is my game. But believe it or not, the abundance of P.E. units on my transcript has always said, at least on paper, that I am certified to coach K-12 sports. Lol!

America’s Medical Leadership

Last evening my husband and I walked to the pharmacy for anti-itch ointment. My husband chatted with the pharmacist for a bit. They talked about pre- and post-covid prices for rubbing alcohol. They discussed how long they each thought covid would continue. Then the pharmacist asked if we had seen the video from America about covid and how it wasn’t actually as bad as we are making it out to be.

My husband and I looked at each other, wonderingly. He pulled out his phone and turned on What’sApp to show us the now infamous video of Dr. Stella Immanuel.

Screenshot by Houston Chronicle from YouTube

He emphasized, “From America.” And it was amplified by the president of the United States. What a time we are living in!

My husband told the pharmacist that he tries to listen to the CDC and WHO and trust that they are giving more measured guidance. He agreed, but of course, we had no indication that he was going to delete that video and not share it with the next customer when the subject came up.

Then this morning as I was writing this post, I received a text message in a WhatsApp group with the same video clip showing the ever-present Dr. Stella telling no masks were needed because there is a cure for covid.

America has become a very different world leader under this administration.

I prefer the wisdom in this video by a Kenyan health official:

Just Breathe

Slice of Life Tuesdays

 

 

 

 

 

Just breathe. Take a moment to remember what life was like three months ago. Driving or riding in traffic for hours a day, being late to meetings, having another meeting after that one, going shopping and to restaurants, entertaining crowds at home. Working too many hours.

It’s not like that any longer around here. Most of us have had at least some relief from the busyness that Jonny Diaz’s song mentions:

“Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life
Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life”

However, now there are new stressors and a different crazy life schedule. There are so many people with children home 24/7. That cannot be easy. So many people working in the healthcare field, with the dangers and stress related to that work. Most all of us have worries in multiple areas–financial, health, travel, and “What-does-the-future-hold?” questions. Maybe something we can all do more often is just breathe.

“Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe”


Our church prays together at 7:00 p.m. each day (virtually, that is). It was my turn to write our Covid-1900 prayer guide today. More here. 

#Verselove Helps Me Confront Myself

So many slices of my life lately are reading and writing poems.

Who knew?

My first time ever writing a poem each day in April happened because of quarantining in this Covid-19 chapter of life. Having just had a successful 31 days of writing blog posts for Slice of Life, I decided I might give poetry a try in April thanks to this inspiring post by Glenda Funk.

And I succeeded. It was a rewarding experience and has been helping me process life events and news. Now, this week poetry is helping me confront my own complicity in white supremacy.

Say His Name–Ahmaud Arbery

“Come, son, grab your gun
There’s a black burglar
Bounding ’round the block”

In this land
Two armed white men insist on their
right to defend themselves
While one unarmed black man
is not allowed to exercise the same right
Or to exercise

State laws made to justify
Two people
Chasing,
Confronting, and
Killing
a person
they’ve never met.
Usurping duties of
police, court, jury,
and executioner.

As long as the two
are on the safe side
of the racial contract in ‘Merica
they will be exonerated.
Always
Assumptions of white innocence
Always
Assumptions of black guilt
Always

Americans implicitly know
Who are bound by the rules
And who are exempt
Would your son be allowed to jog
in a new neighborhood?
I know
You know

All men are created equal
(If they are white and own property)
Crooked creed

All men are created equal
(But some are only 3/5ths equal)
Crippling creed

Codicil in invisible ink
Yet penned visibly in red blood
On black bodies

Murder is illegal
But fine for white people to
Chase down and kill black people
If they have decided
that those black people scare them
Cowardly creed

These injustices
Push the racial contract into the open
Then it’s up to us to choose
Do we embrace its existence?
Do we contest its existence?
Do we deny its existence?

Hang on, white men.
Hang on, power-hungry,
To your fading entrenchment of
White political power to
“make America great again”

Father and son
Chased a “burglar” jogger
Shot him dead.
Acting in self-defense?

No.
Arrested and charged with murder
Because of national outrage
(But absent the video, then what?)

Centuries overdue,
But now is the time
for more
national outrage,
America.
It’s time for a
Courageous creed

Many words and phrases in this poem were found in the first half of this article in The Atlantic: “The Coronavirus was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying”

#Verselove is continuing during the year for five-day challenges each month. I am so excited that the May #verselove 5-Day Monthly Open Write starts on Saturday this week. Kim Johnson will give us some delightful and challenging prompts. Everyone who wants to will write a poem in response to the prompt, however they interpret it or want to stray from it. Then the community of poet-teachers reads and comments on the others’ poems.

You are all invited! Join us starting this Saturday through Wednesday. It is a healing and empowering activity for this stressful time. (Click for the sign-up form.)

I made this comment on a #Verselove evaluation last month.