Today while sitting at a stop light on the way to a tutoring session, I was gripped by the reality of my impending death. I was mindlessly listening to an interview on NPR. Incidentally, it was a repeat of an interview I had heard the morning before. A few stop lights back, I had wondered if NPR replayed interviews. This was an interview with a candidate for governor who was waxing and waning on about his view of the issues. As he remarked how in 150 years, some issue would or wouldn’t be on the minds of people, I had a palatable sense that I was going to die one day. I became very uncomfortable and filled with dread.
It’s not like death had not crossed my mind before. For some reason, I felt the pull of it very clearly. Well…not the pull of death so much as the stark realization that death was coming one day. I felt slightly claustrophobic and alone at that moment. I then thought that my life was somewhat insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I’m a regular person with an outsize imagination, but regular nonetheless. For some reason, I thought of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and his death. He was known, loved, and revered by many. After his death, many mourned, but life went on. Other famous figures crossed my mind, and I thought the same thing. The light changed to green and then I thought that death was just that a thought. I had students to instruct and appointments to make. I entered into the intersection and made a left turn.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. –Confucius
How do you combine a love of teaching, a penchant for writing, and a skill for formatting documents into highly stylized arrangements of spaces, footnotes, and punctuation? I am trying to figure it out.
I am a tutor, an independent ESL instructor, and a copyeditor. Writing is the only activity that does not generate revenue. After being a classroom teacher for almost a decade, I began tutoring full-time both in-person and online. I started copyediting, mostly dissertations, before I left classroom teaching.
This work is extremely rewarding. Working one-on-one provides the opportunity for me to get to know my clients and their unique learning needs. It is truly a journey, especially with my clients in kindergarten through 1st grade who often greet me with pouts. They would rather play than work on skills that cause them to struggle. During those first couple of sessions, I am a detective trying to figure out a way in. As if by magic–really perseverance–they come to enjoy our sessions and that is when the progress begins.
My adult clients are interesting people. Many of my ESL clients have come to America due to a family member’s job relocation, leaving close family and friends. One of my clients has been in the states for decades and is a widely respected dancer in her community. In the dance school she founded, she is the guru to the students who attend her school. I was honored to see the recent dance production by her students. It was heartening to see her life’s work on display.
Because most of my copyediting clients are not local to me, I never get to meet them face-to-face. Reading their research gives me a window into their motivations and the research interests they have invested a great deal of time studying.
I feel particularly fortunate to have this space and time, this flexibility. I hope to use it to devote more time to write during those days and weeks that are not filled with appointments. This work is not work in the sense of something you dread facing on Mondays. It is that work that gives me the opportunity to be of use as illustrated in Marge Piercy’s poem so named.
I wonder about institutions or the people in them. Do individual people create the ethos of an institution or is it the other way around?
I’m thinking about this in relation to the dealership where I bought my car almost 2 years ago. On the day of the sell and for about two months afterward, I felt like that institution really valued my business. When I had a question about the interworkings of this fully electric vehicle, I would send an e-mail to a specialist and he would answer my inquiry quickly and expertly.
The problems began when I started taking my car in for service. That valued customer feeling began to wane quickly. The service advisors as they call them seemed to be glued to their computers as if by their own effort they were servicing everyone’s vehicle with a mouse and the power of their concentration on the screen. After they would call me to pick up my car, it would take another hour before they could see me once I arrived. Looking around the dealership, I began to see that turnover was high. Those that took the jobs were functional yet indifferent to me as the customer.
While you wait, there is a cafe staffed by two of the sweetest women this side of Church street. Their service could almost make up for the service advisors’ nonchalance. “Can I get you a beverage and a snack?” they ask. I smile, accept, and drum my fingers while flipping through my cell phone to read an article or send a frustrated text message.
Recently, I contacted them to set up a complimentary rental. When I bought my fully electric car, my sales person told me I could rent a car from the dealership twice a year for a road trip. The receptionist promised she would have the two sales managers call me about this. I called back in an hour and was told they were looking into it and would get back with me. I know they will not call me back. I will not call back either.
The answer to my question is both. An institution sets an ethos and the people reinforce it (or not). Sometimes one person can make a difference. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will occur at this place. In short, if you are thinking about a BMW, pass Nalley BMW in Atlanta by if you want good customer service.
By every measure, Donald Trump is unfit to be president. This is not hyperbole. Despite all the evidence in his past–lack of experience, repeated bankruptcies, tumultuous personal life, sexual assault allegations, racist/sexist comments–that supported his lack of fitness, he achieved enough electoral votes to become the American commander in chief. After becoming president, it is worse than one could imagine.
His words and deeds as president provide much for analysis, enough to fill books for years to come. If I could reduce Donald Trump to one value, the sine qua non, it would be Donald First. It seems very simple, and it is. He is not a complex, nuanced person. His emotional and intellectual development was stunted. By what? I do not know, but now the world is at his mercy. I will not spend time repeating all the corruption, authoritarian behavior, and general degradation that has characterized his “reign.” The deep question I want to consider is this: Why is Donald Trump still President?
The GOP: The Republicans have made a calculation. If they can spin his actions and in most cases deny basic facts, they will hold on to power permanently. Donald Trump will provide cover for them to take away voting rights, fill the Supreme Court with extremist judges, enact policies to benefit the richest of Americans, and do just about whatever they want to do. Why is Donald Trump still President? The GOP will not do anything to stop him.
The infamous Trump base: At a campaign rally, Donald Trump said he could shoot someone and his base would continue to support him. He may not be a fan of the truth, but he was correct about that. The starting point for the base is that Donald Trump is a bastion of American ideals. Anything to the contrary is untrue. Any evidence to the contrary is part of an anti-American conspiracy to be taken down by any means necessary. White evangelicals accept Trump even though his words and deeds go against all he values they supposedly hold dear.
The Democrats: I know Democrats are out of power, but I feel they could be doing more.
The Media: For an industry that thrives on sensationalism, Trump is a media darling. He brings it consistently. Many journalists and pundits report on Trump fairly and accurately. Others seek to normalize and elevate him in.
American Institutions: The courts push back against Trump. Advocacy organizations like the ACLU fight every day to undo the harm he is causing. Unfortunately, the various governmental departments are crumbling under neglect and brain drain as career, non-partisan professionals resign.
America’s future will be determined by how we, the American people, respond at the ballot box as long as we still have the right to vote.
This will be the answer I give when anyone asks me to name my favorite movie.
Black Panther was more than a movie. Watching it was an experience. I was immersed in a different worldview and aesthetic where people who look like me were not marginal but central.
This is a rarity in movies as illustrated by the thirty minutes of movie previews that ran before Black Panther aired. During my first airing, the only movie without an entirely White cast was the preview for A Wrinkle in Time. My second airing included a promo for a television series starring Tracy Morgan, The Last O.G. This sort of erasure of black bodies from the mainstream is as old as dirt.
But I did not fall in love with this movie from a point of scarcity. No, the movie was a masterpiece on its own merit. It had action, drama, suspense, romance, history, comedy, and political commentary.
When the father tells his son the story of Wakanda as the film opens, I had no idea this was Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I assumed it was a younger T’Challa and his father. When the movie revealed this nugget, it made the story more significant. That was how N’Jbou passed down the story of Erik’s heritage and made him into the child from Brooklyn who “believed in fairytales.” These sorts of clever plot devices filled the movie.
Every article I’ve read about this movie has stressed that Wakanda is a fictional place. That may be true, but it is a real place to me. It bridges the gap between my past and present. Slavery robbed African people of their homeland, language, history, and cultural heritage. They were not immigrants. There was no true homeland. In the transition from African to African American, blacks were dispossessed and universally maligned. Chadwick Boseman (Prince T’Challa), in an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, spoke about how this movie gave African and African Americans a sort of common story. I wholeheartedly agree. Many movie goers wore African attire. I donned my earrings and necklace made of cowrie shells and an African print stole.
For me, Wakanda inspired in me a deep pride in my heritage even though I do not know the details of my African ancestors. Wakanda is a metaphor for my heritage and bridges that gap. I am like Erik Killmonger, believing in fairytales.
Only a couple of weeks separate me from the beginning of preplanning week, the week prior to the first day of school when teachers return. Usually around this time of the year, I am ready to return to the breakneck pace of full-time elementary school teaching. This year, however, I am anxious.
The difference is that I will be both a full-time teacher and a full-time PhD student. Can I juggle all the competing priorities? Will I be able to maintain the level of intensity and quality needed to do well in my classes while fulfilling my role as a proficient teacher? (I no longer seek to be an exemplary teacher according to the district’s definition. I have found that the evaluation system is highly subjective.) I am hopeful about my ability to do the juggling, but my anxiety remains. I’ll have roughly a month before my PhD classes resume. My plan is to immediately carve out protected time for my PhD reading and research before classes begin.
I enjoy classroom teaching, which is both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve pledged allegiance to certain slogans for this transitional period–keep it simple, work smarter not harder, leave school on time–I am easily derailed by my “bright ideas,” which usually lead me down a path to overextend myself. Thankfully, I’ve given up my extracurricular activities (e.g., planning grade-level field trips and serving on various committees).
I’ll be back periodically to blog about my experience.
The PhD program began two months ago. The semester ends Friday. I have made it through my first semester. Cue the music. Usher in the guests. Pop the cork…Yawn. I’m going to take a nap.
I am enjoying the PhD program. It is everything I thought it would be: difficult, all consuming, and demanding. Do I have a real sense of its difficulty? I will not be able to answer that question until the school year begins. The test will come when I attempt to be both a teacher and a full time PhD student. I’ve been thinking about what I need to do differently so I can work efficiently–smarter not harder–at work and at home.
Writing is a big part of the program. My first seminar was devoted to scholarly writing. During this short break, I will write, read, and rejuvenate before the deluge of responsibilities begin.
Recently, I read an article on the Farnam Street blog, “Mental Model: Hanlon’s Razor,” that presented a way of orienting ourselves to others. Hanlon’s Razor is a mental model:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.
I immediately thought of my 4th graders. They needed this quote. Developmentally, they are prone to think the world revolves around them and that anything negative that happens to them must be intentional and part of some diabolical plan. When they can’t find something: “Someone stole my fidget.” When someone mistakenly bumps them, “He hit me.” I calmly tell them not to assume someone stole their belongings. “Perhaps, he mistakenly brushed up beside you.” It doesn’t help that he doesn’t immediately apologize after the inadvertent bumping, but that is another lesson. After arming myself with this quote, I share it with my students, explaining each word. I give them examples. As days pass, I often refer to it. It is emblazoned on the board.
One day, I notice my eraser is missing. It is a layered eraser. The soft fabric can be removed when the underside becomes over soiled and ineffective at erasing. There are layers lying around but no eraser. During indoor recess, I recall how certain students love playing teacher using the easel, dry erase markers, and my eraser. I ask one student who loves playing teacher if she knows where it is. I mutter to the class how someone pulled off all the layers and probably threw away my the top. After mentioning the missing eraser one other time, I move on. My eraser is a casualty of one of my students.
A few days later, I escorted my class to the computer lab for. As I was explaining something, I reached for an eraser to clear off the board. The name written on the eraser was mine! Here was my “discarded at the hands of my students” eraser. I immediately picked it up, and basking in my chagrin, I apologized to my students and waved the eraser so they could see. “Oh my, what a great example of Hanlon’s Razor,” I gushed, “It was my neglect that caused this. It wasn’t you!” The class erupted in applause. I’m not entirely sure why they applauded, but I knew in that moment that I had given them the most authentic example of this quote or how not to exemplify it. I, the teacher, modeled the behavior I wanted them to change. I was the best model of what not to do. Maybe they applauded because they had both forgiven me and been transformed in that instant.
Spring Break is almost done. I’ve spent the majority of my time off neck deep in copyediting dissertations, three to be exact. After my last edit, a peaceful satisfaction settles, second only to the receipt of payment. My eyes go numb as well from the intense concentration.
When my time comes to write my dissertation, this practice will only sharpen my own research and writing skills. I enjoy this work. Now, I must rest these tired, numb eyes. How can I when reading and writing are my hobbies and that which I need rest from…
Please consider giving to my Donors Choose project. Little by little becomes a lot… This project will fund 6 devices which will enhance my instruction. We have a bring your own device program at my school, but many students don’t have devices other than cell phones. Please click on the link to get more information. Thank you!