Waterfall, dwarfed.

waterfall, dwarfed 1

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What to do the day after you leave teaching…

Try to write a long-overdue blog post about the end of the school year, but fail. The emotions are too complex. The parts about the kids and the work itself and whether you made the right decision and why come out sounding hackneyed. The parts about why you are leaving are too bitter at worst and too confused at best. You haven’t separated out your own personal shortcomings from those of the system or of the school, so leave it. It’s not something to write about yet. Worry about not being able to keep your promise to the kids to come back and coach robotics next year, because of the souring of one particular relationship that might lead to a complete separation from the life of the school you helped found. Six years ended with a cold goodbye and a handshake. Know that the kids have had promises broken before. You aren’t the first and won’t be the last. Reflect that the schools themselves are a broken promise to these kids, even the better schools.

Think about the workshop on suicide prevention you were required to attend three weeks before the end of your teaching career, and how you said, at the end, that you thought you could recognize warning signs and would take it all very seriously, but the fact of the matter is that more than half the kids, arguably, have witnessed trauma or experienced pretty troubled relationships and could probably use some counseling, but it’s not an option: even those in crisis sometimes have to wait months. So really – you didn’t say this part out loud – what the hell is the point in being educated again and again about how to identify kids at risk and get them help when there is no one available to provide that help? It’s triage, the guy leading the workshop acknowledged.

Wonder how it all came to feel so personal, and how, if you want to make a difference on this earth, you are going to have to get over this tendency to hold everyone and everything to an unreachable standard. Not personal in the sense of, oh-the-kids-are-so-troubled-I-can’t-bear-to-look; it’s personal in the sense of letting things bother you far too much: all the little policies that feel wrong, all the breakdowns in communication, all the how-to-run-a-school stuff that could be different and better. It’s knowing an entire brilliant, enthusiastic, committed staff has been alienated and that each of those people will leave, sooner or later, and it probably didn’t have to happen, and that’s heartbreaking. But for you, it was time. Wonder if someday, you’ll be patient and wise enough to return or even to lead a school.

Feel like this post is swinging towards the irretrievably negative and that wasn’t the intention. Remember the hug a girl gave you on Wednesday when she said she’d miss you so much, and the explosive smile on a kid’s face when you told him that you hope his new school will work out for him because you know he’s a really good science student and not to throw away that ability. Cross your fingers that he settles down, stops fighting, and doesn’t follow his three male role models to violent death or prison. Think about the games you played with the kids on the last day of school, all the summer camp stuff you taught them and how they sat for hours playing and how you baked a cake and had a party with your advisory and they helped clean up with only a little prodding and then you danced to Fergie with them and a boy came to the door and saw you dancing and his mouth kind of dropped open and everyone laughed. Know that there are a thousand-odd kids out there who learned a lot of science, and that when they come back from high school they have grades in the 90s and are talking about science careers, and that 8 years is a long time and a lot of impact even if it isn’t the fabled 25-year-life’s-mission.

Wonder about the future. Feel excited about new projects, especially when you’re with your new colleague or in your new office or picturing the events you want to organize. Feel excited about a new, less-grueling schedule. Feel exhaustion rippling through your bones, your skin clammy with woke-up-too-early-because-it’s-so-hot stickiness.

Call all your doctors and schedule long overdue appointments. Turn your organizing energy, once reserved for sixth grade team leadership, to planning a Batman marathon before the new one comes out and a picnic in the park when Feist is playing and three days of beach next week and your writer’s group meetings. Consider signing up for another writing class. Think about visiting IKEA so that the next time you move, you’ll have even more furniture. Think about DSLR cameras and plane tickets to China or Thailand this winter. Realize you seriously need to spend some time walking through green landscapes. Ask friends about borrowing a tent. Wonder if that guy is ever going to call back or if he just isn’t into you. Fill your calendar with free music and outdoor theater and festivals and movies on rooftops. Listen to your cat snore and lick her lips in her sleep and wonder what she is dreaming about. Clean your room. Go to the gym. Go to the bank. Write some thank you notes.

Breathe.

Go see some falling water.

Talk to you later, everyone.

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Dizziness

Check out this week’s Diagnosis column in the Times Magazine, enjoy the suspense before reading on.

I absolutely remember myself – and most of my friends – having that lightheaded, dizzy feeling upon standing up.  Since everyone experienced it and it went away in seconds, no one ever worried about it, but nor was it ever explained.  And I never noticed that it pretty much went away post-adolescence (then again, in my teaching life I rarely sit down for long periods of time).  So interesting to have both an explanation and to realize that in extreme cases, it could actually be quite scary, as it was for the patient in this column.  And the fact that it happens after a growth spurt makes so much sense…

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What I did when I turned thirty…


(actually, I haven’t turned thirty yet… not ’til Wednesday). Enjoy! :)

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News of my death…

has been greatly exaggerated. I’m feelin’ you, Mark Twain. All my posts lately are about how busy I am, and how that’s what’s keeping me from doing any real writing for you… but there will still be plenty of writing next year, and much of it related to education, too. More on that late-June-ish. And if what brings you here is not the education stuff at all, there’ll be who-knows-what dropped at a dark barker. If all goes exceptionally well, there’ll even be pieces published on real, tree-killing, high-gloss paper.

But yes, it is goodbye to teaching. Or at least, goodbye for now. TMAO says it’s a false promise to leave indicating one’s possible return when that might just be a rationalization or a fantasy or something. But teaching science has been good to me. It’s been full of challenges, adventures – dead lobsters, dead crickets, LEGO robots, homemade musical instruments, and more, and let me meet a few hundred interesting people who are fast on their way to becoming adults.

I ran into one of those young people on the bus the other day. He was in our school, perhaps illegally, in the very first year. Illegally because he was supposed to get services that we couldn’t provide. He was kind-hearted, didn’t read or write all that well, loved science but could be infuriatingly lazy, drove us up the wall, and thrived at the same time. He’s a junior in high school right now, teaching chess to little kids at a camp this summer – he always was a super-star chess player – and was talking about taking the SATs and the Chem Regents and starting college visits pretty soon. He wants to be a chemical engineer. How do I capture what it feels like to sit on a bus next to this young man, talking about his future, thinking back on the three years that I taught him, knowing the long odds for a kid from the South Bronx, a Dominican male with special needs, becoming an engineer, and yet knowing that he is already far along that path and can now see it unfolding in front of him. This kid is going to make it, and I played some role in that, and what’s simultaneously remarkable and reassuring about it all is that among the students who have graduated from my school, he is not an exception (I don’t have any data to back this up, just a few anecdotes and a sense). (The fact that he wants to go into a science-related field is just icing).

But it’s been a hard year, and the eighth hard year in a row, and at a certain point this winter, every cell in my body was telling me it was time for a change, physically, mentally. Time to make space in my life for healthier relationships, for the trazillions of interests that I have besides education, for pursuing writing in a serious way, for slowing down and redirecting my energy, at least for a while. I’m turning 30 next week: I guess that’s part of it. And then I saw an opportunity, and soon there was a job offer, and then I accepted, and then I told my boss, and then I wrote a resignation letter, and here we are. My new team met yesterday for a few hours, and reality got a bit realer, some initial planning was sketched out… well, I really can’t share more than that but be patient!

Still, I wish I could annotate this post in multi-colored post-its and add all the things that I’m leaving out (for now)… thoughts about why teachers stay and why they go, about my own personal reactions to stress and whether the problem is me or the job or the particular version of the job that happens in certain kinds of classrooms and schools in the city, about where I hope life might go next and the ten-thousand things that might come as next steps. I’m leaving, but I’m not going anywhere.

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Me me me meme…

Me me me meme

This is a flickr meme that I found through Nancy. The pictures are not mine, but represent my favorite results for searches for (1) my name (2) my favorite food (3) my high school (4) my favorite color (5) my celeb crush (6) my favorite drink (7) my dream vacaction (8) my favorite dessert (9) what I want to be when I grow up (10) what I love most in life (11) one word to describe me (12) my flickr handle.

For notes, photo credits, and rules, click on the mosaic and it will take you to flickr.

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Scientists who want to be Baptist ministers…

Saturday night, a friend and I attended the Music & the Brain event at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.  The gospel choir sang several numbers that got your hands clapping and head bobbing.  The minister of the church gave a short introduction, followed by Brian Greene (of Elegant Universe fame, and the organizer of the World Science Festival, of which this was a part).  Greene was the first to say that though now he is a Jewish physicist, he hopes to be reincarnated as a Baptist minister.

Several first graders from the Thurgood Marshall Academy gave short presentations about important African-American scientists and doctors and the prejudice they had faced or overcome in order to do their work, and then there was a libation ceremony, pouring libation to the ancestors.  A member of the church explained the ritual and invited us to respond ASHAY (sp?) as the libation was poured, and then to call out the names of ancestors who have been important in shaping who we are.  People started calling out names.  Quietly, because I felt both drawn to and shy about this ritual, I said my grandmother’s name.  She went to Wellesley College and would have been proud to see how far her grandchildren – but perhaps especially her granddaughters – have come in our lives.  She would be voting for Hillary Clinton, for sure.

Then Oliver Sacks spoke.  He writes incredible books about neurology, for those who don’t know, and has a new book called Musicophilia which I very much want to read but haven’t bought or borrowed yet.  First he said that he, too, wouldn’t mind being a Baptist minister.  Then he talked briefly about different ailments and how music can help people – from freeing people with Parkinson’s disease to move and communicate, to helping Alzheimers’ patients, and others with memory loss, to unlock memories.  He talked about singing Happy Birthday during his first meeting with patients with aphasia – loss of language – and how they can often sing along with it, even those who have not spoken in several years.  Music can be used, though it takes a  long time, to encourage neuroplasticity in patients like this, so that other parts of their brains take over the lost functions.  There are musicians who have lost their memories of everything but music, those who move with a jagged gait but can play sonatas on the piano.

The evening was a strange and fascinating mix of religion, science, art, bringing together people with diverse interests and making connections between us.  Most of the audience had probably never been to the church before.  Many of those who were from the church primarily to hear the choir might have been introduced to Oliver Sacks for the first time.  I learned about the pouring of libation and a bit of the history of Gospel music.

Lingering question: there was a guy in the audience, near the front, whom I could see clearly from my seat in the balcony (the church was packed to overflowing; we sat in the windowsill).  He was probably in his thirties, longish, wavy red hair, thick black glasses, reddish beard.  I am so certain that he’s someone I’ve heard of, perhaps an author whose books or articles I’ve read, perhaps an up & coming young scientist whom I’ve seen featured in some article or another.  But I can’t for the life of me figure out who he is.  My friend agreed that he looked familiar… anyone?

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