Jun 3, 2016

Teaching in the City: Lessons on Race

Apparently, I only blog at big moments in my life anymore.

I had intended to chronicle my year as a teacher in the City but to be honest I was exhausted every night -- emotionally and physically. I felt like I spent more of my day breaking up fights than actually teaching and honestly felt as though I was in survival mode since, oh, September. That's not why I went into teaching. I have NEVER hated my job. (Actually, that's a lie... I didn't much like the preschool I worked at before Strictly.) I have never dreaded going to work on a daily basis. Everyone kept saying, "One year in the city is worth two or three anywhere else." It better be...

I learned a lot about my teaching style this year. Things I need to do better in my next school and position... Different classroom management techniques, how to better implement guided reading and guided math. Those are all lessons first year teachers learn, right? I just hate that I learned them there, in a school where QUALITY is so desperately needed. I almost feel like my kids were my guinea pigs, and in the neighborhood where I taught, that was a huge disservice to them.

But what's most important that I learned is about race. Race is a BIG topic right now in St. Louis, and it has been ever since Michael Brown was shot (7 miles from my school). In a way, the discussion that has begun has been healing, but in many others it hasn't. It's honestly something that hasn't been touched on -- not in a real authentic way -- well, ever.

I don't believe it was a coincidence I worked at this school this year. At the beginning of the (school) year, I attended a racial equity forum with several of my colleagues as well as other teachers in similar schools. Being an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter (if you're my friend on Facebook ad haven't picked up on that, you haven't been paying attention) I had already begun to learn about how our systems play into racism and classism in our nation. This forum opened my eyes even further. We discussed how the concept of Race came about, as well as having times to speak openly and honestly about our experiences with racism. I realized there that race isn't spoken about in our region because if you're white and you talk about it, you're racist, and if you're black and you talk about it, you're playing the victim. It couldn't POSSIBLY be because you're wanting to fix things.

Anyway, we discussed things from the GI Bill not fully extending to black soldiers to housing regulations that led to white suburbs and "white flight." We discussed white privilege (yes, it exists, and if you're white shaking you're head and saying, "No it doesn't..." your privilege is showing) and wealth and a whole host of other things in the 2 days I was in attendance.

And you know what? The very kids I had signed on to teach were affected on a daily basis by laws and rules and attitudes that date back DECADES. I am ANGRY over it all. I'm trying not to get on my soapbox about it... I'll save that for another post. But let's just say, you should pay the $5 to rent Race: The Power of Illusion on Vimeo, and you should listen to this episode of This American Life which addresses the Normandy/Francis Howell transfer issue, and you should subscribe to We Live Here which focuses on the St. Louis area, and you should learn about the blatant segregation going on in our own city via the Delmar Divide. Truly eye-opening stuff.

Around January of this year, a small group of people at my church have become involved in racial reconciliation in our community -- tough to do since the very existence of our county is due in large part to white flight in the 90's and 00's. I brought a unique perspective to the group, working in the environment that I do, with the people I do (100% black school, 100% free/reduced lunch... I was one of 5 or 6 non-black teachers in my building). The whole process, combined with the racial equity forum, was convicting. You learn things about yourself in these circumstances You discover attitudes you didn't know you had and conditions of your heart that you didn't realize were there. It required a LOT of introspection and a lot of truth-telling on all of our parts. Some people couldn't handle the revelations they made of themselves. Others saw it and embraced it -- not in a loving and good way, but in an empowering I'm-going-to-change-my-thinking way. After all, you can't fix a problem until you admit you have it.

As for me? I grew up in North County. My grade school was fairly evenly split and one of my best friends in early elementary school was a black girl. I never considered myself a racist. Honestly, I'm not sure I do even now after all the discussion and dissection. But I did realize the attitudes I'd picked up from society. The expectations I had about my kids and about my role as a white teacher in a black school. I didn't want to go in there with a Messianic attitude, but I realize now that I did. Not because I believe the kids need ME to save them, but that they need someone to save them.

That's why we go into teaching, right? To nurture our kids. To show them that they are capable of ANYTHING they set their mind to. To be a constant source of goodness and kindness in their lives. That's the attitude I would have taken no matter where I taught, but in the City it was... magnified almost. And it was probably the biggest source of stress. I wanted so desperately to connect with my students. To show them that I was THERE. That I wasn't leaving, and that I believed in them. In truth, I think I managed that with about 4 students. Maybe I succeeded with more than that, but I'm not so sure... It wasn't obvious anyway. And for a while, most of the year in fact, I took it personally. I tried not to. I told myself I wasn't. But I did.

I was probably the first white person these kids came into contact with on a daily basis, I realized in about March. Their neighborhood is black, their church is probably black, their family is black... What they see on TV and might hear in their homes about white people is, no doubt, not always positive. ESPECIALLY in light of the spark that is Ferguson. While I never heard much -- if any -- anti-black rhetoric at my house growing up, I know there were white families that spoke ill against black ones. And I"m sure the opposite case is true. My kids were coming to school with preconceived notions of me, a white woman, and treating me differently than the black teachers because of it. Just like, subconsciously, I was probably treating them differently too. We all do it. It's... ingrained in us, I believe.

I'm determined to be one of the people who stops it. One who doesn't shy away form the issues, denying the existence of white privilege or feeling guilty for the benefits I was given just because I am white. Yes, the circumstances are far from ideal. But let's fix it. Talk about it. Get involved. Interact with people who don't look like you. Read about social issues that affect poor black neighborhoods through a lens that isn't colored with the attitude of "They can get themselves out if they truly wanted to" (because I PROMISE you, it's not that simple). TAKE A STAND. The reason nothing has changed is because NO ONE is willing to TALK ABOUT IT.

It won't be pretty. It might even be a little painful. But it's necessary if our region and our nation is ever going to heal from our racial wounds.

May 29, 2014

It Is Beautiful

Its 2:40am.

I've been tossing and turning, up every hour since I went to bed at 10:30.

I've given up, for now, on finding sleep.

We say goodbye tomorrow. To a husband. To a son. To a brother. To a teacher. To a coach.

To MY brother.

On one level it doesn't seem real. Like this is a dream. That this man isn't gone. Not Will. He had everything. And now we have nothing.

Nothing but memories. Stories. Photos. These are great, of course, but not as good as the real thing.

I've had people remark how strong I have been. The truth of the matter is that it's not MY strength. I am broken. Shattered. Angry. Confused. So full of emotion that I don't know what to do.

And yet...

I'm also filled with love. Hope. Strength. Courage. Peace.


"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." (Psalm 42:11)

My brother put his hope in God. I put my hope in God.

What is His plan? I have no idea. It seems unfair that he would be taken so early. That he would leave behind a wife and a family who love him and miss him. That he would put his life on the line as a Marine overseas -- twice -- only to be killed in a traffic accident.

I could choose to be angry. I could choose to cry uncontrollably. I could shake my fist and scream at God.

He would listen.

And then He would give me His peace. Because I know what my brother is doing right this instant. He is praising the Lord Most High. Right at His feet.

For some people, tragedy shakes their faith. Rocks it. Overturns it, even.

But not me.

I will cry and be sad, but I will not be shaken. I will be strengthened. I will be lifted up on eagle's wings, filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Because it's all I can be. My trust in God's plan is stronger than any tragedy. In my weakness I am made strong because of Him.

I can't explain it. I can't tell you why having faith is easy even when it's not. Even when you're angry and hurt.

The truth is that I see a tiny sliver of the plan that God has for my brother's life. For MY life. But I know there is one.

And it is beautiful.

Apr 24, 2013

Aaaand I'm Back.

....With a whole lot going on:

The Good
I had a job interview with a local elementary school last week. They have several openings, so my chances aren't too shabby. I haven't heard anything yet, but I'm praying for patience and trusting that if this is the job for me then I'll get it.
J and I have decided that we're taking a vacation for our anniversary next year! One of my 101 in 1001 is to return to the B&B where we honeymooned, but I decided to one-up myself and go all out. We've decided to go to Orlando and hit up Disney World. Neither of us have been and it's not far from the beach (the Gulf OR the Atlantic). I absolutely cannot wait.
I'm headed back to NYC in just about 5 weeks and I've already bought 2 Living Social deals for the trip -- one for a twilight sail around Manhattan and one for a trip to Coney Island, which apparently has been built back up since Hurricane Sandy came through.

The Bad
J didn't get into Moody. He's handling it well. I think I'm more bummed than he is. So that means we're staying in STL. If I get the job, though, we will be moving, just further west more toward where we both (will) work.  Which isn't entirely bad, just new.

The Ugly
My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer recently. My dad isn't taking it too well. But her spirits are way up, so that's good. It's just stressful because I'm the power of attorney and executor of her will and everything. In the meantime, I have to also deal with my dad's rantings and ravings. Pray for me, folks, because my stress level keeps rising.

Otherwise, everything is going well. I hope to hear about my job by the end of the week!

Dec 14, 2012


I was 13 when Columbine occurred in 1999. I recognized the weight of the situation, especially because I started high school a few years after. But I didn't worry about it. The likelihood of it occurring at my school was slim.

I was a junior in college when Virginia Tech occurred in 2007. Again, I recognized the weight, and signed up for my college's text message system. But I didn't worry about it. What happened at Virginia Tech could never happen at Lindenwood.

But today. Oh, today. Today my heart is broken.

One of the reports I read said that the shooter's mother was a kindergarten teacher. Which leads me to believe that when he shot her, he shot her class. Innocent 5 and 6 year olds. Guys, I teach PRE-Kindergarten. Which means the kids I taught LAST YEAR are the same age as some of those kids. And some of the kids I taught in the 2s are in Kindergarten. When I read that, my heart shattered.  This. Hits. Home.

I cherished the snuggles I got this afternoon from my students. I hope you cherished the snuggles you got from yours.

Oct 5, 2012


My girlfriend Kait turned me on to Sevenly this summer. They sell a different shirt each week supporting a different cause. The shirts cost $22 and of that money, $7 is donated to that week's charity. It's a great way to support charities I believe in while getting super cute shirts, and providing a conversation piece.

In June I bought this one supporting Feed My Starving Children. There was a huge effort in Colorado last summer to prepare food packs for children all over the world who live in hunger. I think this was the second shirt they offered after I discovered them.

In July they teamed up with Autism Speaks and I knew I wants a church because I love the charity. And because they matched every donation 200%. Which meant for a $22 shirt, $21 of that went directly to the charity. Oh, and it's my favorite color. ;-) (Yes, that is Paulie under the covers behind me.)

Today, October 5, I bought my third Sevenly shirt. This fulfills my 101 in 10001 goal (#101). Yay! 

The cause this week is breast cancer awareness. Five years ago I could honestly say I knew one person who was affected by this disease. Now I can say I know several. My aunt, my childhood best friend's mother, two women from my church... In fact, one of my best friend's mother died of it last fall. I'm affected now. And so I knew I HAD to buy a shirt. the National Breast Cancer Foundation's mission is to provide life-saving mammograms to women in need. Most types of breast cancer are not only treatable, but curable if they are caught early enough. Help save a life. Buy a shirt!

I obviously don't have a photo of me in the one I ordered today, but here it is on the model:

So, what are you waiting for? Go check out Sevenly and buy a shirt today!

Sep 2, 2012

Pinterest Success!

This makes Pinterest project #2, helping to fulfill number 5 of my 101 in 1001.

When I found this pin, I fell in love with the idea. Over the past year I have really gotten into necklaces and earrings and it was getting kind of crowded in my bathroom. Originally all of my necklaces were hung on 3 cup hooks behind my bathroom door. Which made for a lot of tangles in the morning -- annoying. I was desperate for a better idea to store my necklaces in a way that made them easily accessible and viewable.

This is my "pinspiration:"

The frame I used formerly housed a mirror. I unscrewed the back and pulled the mirror out...

...then I began the hunt for chicken wire. I like the squared wire the blogger used in the photo above but I could only buy it by the roll, and there was no way I was going to buy $12 of chicken wire when all I needed was about a square foot. So I drove. And I called. Seriously, I went to Home Depot, True Value, Lowe's, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and a local farm supply store. At this point I had to go to a dentist appointment, so I called one other place: a local farm co-op. Success! They sold chicken wire by the foot. It took me a week and half to get to the shop, though, but it was worth it: I paid 44 cents for my chicken wire. Suh-weet!

I bought the dowel at Home Depot for 98 cents. So for roughly $1.50 (I already had the frame, and the hooks, and the spray paint I used to paint the dowel black), I had everything I needed. Then it sat. And sat. And sat.

Until today.

Isn't it gorgeous??