Monday, January 26, 2009


He is straight out of the teacher’s textbook. He looks around the room, always, until I ask him by name to look at me while I address the class. We read a book together in the mornings, before school starts. So far he is willing to listen and fumble with the words that are so new to him in the written language.

I love this kid. He is rock solid character. He is so out of his league. At times, he looks defeated sitting there in his classroom, with his other, much younger classmates. When he is serious he looks sad, this must be why he is the clown. He speaks with a deep frog voice, already becoming a man. He gets right to work, calling me over, asking me how to spell this or that. He is writing about his mom, a 3 paragraph, 4th grade composition assignment. He is at a loss to define any sort of details about his mom’s childhood beyond the city where she was born. So he begins to describe his dad. He says, although he lives with her, he can recall nothing more. Not enough to create the proper, grammatically correct sentences I am requesting.

School, for kids left behind, is some form of cruel punishment. It is here that they are exposed. Their mastery of wit or conversation and charm do them little good as he attempts to write his paragraphs. Some say he is dyslexic. Or his mind has been forgotten by the society that gave birth to him. He tries so hard to read the context clues as we read finding new words with every other sentence. He gets it many times. These kids who show up day after day, they are soldiers. They risk mockery and shame, confusion and blame.

She became a stone with eyelashes wet as I, yet another in a long list of disappointed adults, insist that she can do a massive amount of advanced math problems, an improbability. She doesn’t even know how to protest this gross assignment, so she bows her face and goes somewhere in her mind to find pride in herself to sit there, still. They have so many lessons to teach us, the charming, witty, sweethearts forgotten in a system that draws the line every day of their lives.

There is great success. The world does not tenderly consider the gap in which these students must trounce. They grow, they are willing. They tire and test. There is a resting place for these warriors. There is no need to fail. We are there, we are here. The opportunities abound, if we see them. Easy for me to say, the examples were countless in my youth. Each way I turned, there was success. There might have been failures, but with those came obvious character growth and of course, the safety nets, invisible by those of us who know no other.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Easiest $1700 I Ever Earned

It is called the TEEG Stipend. Either the Federal or the Texas State Government promised to award $1700 to each of the teachers in our social studies department last year while I was teaching in Brownsville. Our department was told that we could earn a stipend for jumping through a few more hoops set by the NCLB puppets last year. Although the application, when downloaded from the district's website consisted of 54 pages, we were told all that was required for the stipend was to observe 4 other teachers and fill out a few forms. It was an attempt to encourage us to grow in our teaching profession.
Observing other teachers certainly helps to develop your skills. My only objection is that each of the 20 teachers in my department were promised around $400 per 45 minute observation. This same governing body tells us that it is far too costly to take PREEMPTIVE measures in order to improve education in suffering districts. How about making class size smaller? Or even enforcing student-teacher ratios, let's just say it is probably a better learning enviroment with less than 40 students per classroom. Or investing time in staffing at-risk programs that cease to exist in the place where there is the greatest need. Some funding is there most often, but what do we do with it? It is obvious. The money is tied up in archaic, unproven, hastily developed bandaids such as the TEEG stipend.
There is another part. I'd forgotten about the stipend since I had been hearing about it at almost all of our faculty meetings for an entire year. I don't know, I guess I must have been trying to do something with little monetary value, so as to not waste precious time at these meetings. Things like pointing out to a 14-year old kid with a criminal record that he was on the same road as the other men in his immediate family: prison. Or I could have been trying to write a lesson, one that would teach kids to think, not memorize, or sit still. I could go on! I digress.
I heard many bored reminders to fill in the forms and turn them in by the deadline. I did observe other teachers, but something happened and my forms were never brought to light! It never occured to me that with all that is lost in that system, that these 4 pieces of paper would actually turn into a $1700 check from Uncle Sam. I thought, ' We can't even keep track of each student's credit hours so they graduate on time, how can this paperwork game be a priority?'. Well, someone, somewhere, with some REAL power, thought THIS should be taken seriously. As it turns out, 2 of my dear teacher friends had $1500, after taxes, directly deposited into their accounts a few months ago. I emailed my principal and he explained that they never got my forms so I was ineligible for the stipend. There you go. Maybe that's why I am disquieted! I had asked this same principal, a few months earlier, if I could observe teachers at better and worse schools in our district. Of course, I phrased it in as ' Your Wiseness' tone as possible! I was denied. Now, when the goverment threw absurd amounts of money at us in an attempt to mend the crisis our schools face, I missed out! There are at least 2 lessons from this. Lesson one; always jump through every bureaucratic hoop, there might be an incongruous monetary rewardon the other side. Lesson two; We are wasting money and our kids are still left to squander.

Under a Crooked Candle

The generators hum and the neighborhood is more lively than I've heard it in days. The power went out a few hours ago across the entire island. I write this under a crooked candle's light. When we lose power, there is yet one more division between the classes. There are the tourist divers at Anthony's Key Resort. They hardly would know what happens locally, especially when the power goes out. The resort has a private generator. It was this generator which made the excited Congo line possible a few months ago at the resort when the power had been out for 2 days due to road blocks and exasperated street protests of the hike in electric rates.
Then we see the next socio-economic class, those with generators for home or business. The short-term tourists usually flock to these illumined businesses for emergency vacation dinner supplies. When the lights go out, the island is 'oscura'- obscure darkness.
Then there are those whose lifestyle is completely undisturbed. They cook at an outside fire pit and hang their clean clothes to dry in the trees. There is a family that lives like that on the beach. Their simple dwelling is flanked on either side by $100,000+ vacation homes. They hold out.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

“It is not in getting what we want, but in wanting what we have”

In the airport, waiting to return to Honduras, I am thinking already about my stuff that seems to be strewn all over the United States. My dog in Alabama, my personal possessions in Texas and my car in Missouri. Where will I be in 5 months? What about all of my stuff? Things, objects, materiality comes and goes. We invest so much of ourselves in these temporal ideas and belongings. When they break or disappear, or become obsolete, we worry. We pay taxes on them, buy maintenance and cleaning supplies for them, rent storage units for all of this stuff. We have grown so familiar to constantly increasing levels of material comfort. We stare at the television talking to us, inviting us to feel a void, a loss, a threat of losing this comfort.

We defend our standard of living- it’s one of the greatest in the world. But one question comes to mind. Are we better off for these things, this comfort? Maybe it’s like when we are kids and if we behave well on our dreaded doctor’s visit, there is a cherry flavored lollipop waiting for us as we leave. If we follow this often unspoken and unidentified expectation to behave properly, as an adult, ambitious career, gated communities, retirement plans, following credit card payment schedules, then we reward ourselves at the checkout. I cannot judge or chastise anyone, I am a product of the same grooming.

I once found a quote that I brandished outside my classroom door in Brownsville from some anonymous smarty pants. “It’s not in getting what we want it is in wanting what we have.” Maybe it’s a condition of our animal humanness, we always need to strive for something to keep us hunting and gathering or facing rush hour day after day. If we already had everything we needed, then what would be our purpose? So we listen to all of these well strategized and researched marketing messages in our media telling us that feelings of sadness, loneliness and regret can be removed with this patch, pill or potion. Can you see them? These layers of unfulfilled expectations and emptiness?

This sort of dissatisfaction exists everywhere I’ve seen capitalism without rationality or forethought. I’ve chased escape down the clearance aisles of the sunglasses section at the Marshall’s department store. In Honduras, I was told by someone in possession of multiple houses and cars in different countries that $12 per day is a decent wage for his worker, a father feeding a family of four in the slums. I’ve been robbed by individuals I was teaching, all of us struggling to make sense of this materialistic rat race surrounding us all over the globe.

Now for what I think is the great part. Choice. No matter what material pressures seem to be controlling us, our actions and words, absolutely nothing, no one can control our thoughts, reasoning and perspective. We can resist blindly following some unauthentic expectation for our lives. Our resistance relies upon our desire to be whole and connected. It requires a look at what makes a high standard of living for the individual. If we seek something that is not accompanied by a receipt, plastic bag or credit card bill then we have a choice to be different.

Friday, January 2, 2009

La Lucha- The Struggle

If we are to write a new history, the youth must unite in the struggle towards victory.

Somehow I ended up in Beautiful Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador
Sightseeing Solo

Isla Isabella, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Las Gringas y El Amigo

Isla Isabella, Galapagos

La Luna ( Extinct Volcano)

Galapagos, Ecuador

Sea Lion pup born minutes before

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Chu-Chu, El guia

Banos, Ecuador

Vulcan Tunguraghua

Quito, Ecuador
The Basilica

Tena, Ecuador
The Rainforest