Thursday, November 20, 2014

California League of High Schools

November 20, 2014

Last night I was honored as a top ten finalist for the California League of High Schools Region 7.  It was truly a beautiful and memorable evening.  I had my husband and several family members, dear friends, and colleagues there to support me, which meant the world to me.  I had to give a speech--one of my biggest fears--but I managed to get through it without stumbling too much, and I'm quite proud of myself for that.  Since some of my friends and family members weren't able to come celebrate with me, I thought I'd share the text of my speech here.  Just picture me, quavering voice and my signature 'hand gestures' and you'll get an idea of what it looked like:)

Good evening.  I want to begin tonight by thanking the California League of High Schools, my fabulous Learning Director, Jennifer Bump, for nominating me, and my family, friends, and colleagues who are here to support me this evening.  To be honest, I think most of them are here because they think it might be amusing to see me attempt to speak in front of a group of grown-ups.
As my friends know, I am neither blessed with the voice nor the nerves for public speaking.  So when I started thinking about what I might want to say—after the initial panic attack—it occurred to me that it’s okay that I’m not a public speaker—I have found the place where my voice is most at home, and that is in my classroom with my kids.  Years ago my beloved mentor, Mrs. Belman, showed this shy kid that she could speak in a way that could impact lives—she could teach.  Mrs. Belman helped me find my voice, and now, it is my mission, my passion, my privilege, to help students find theirs.
When I first started out in this profession, I taught a group of kids in a remedial 11th grade English class. These kids came to me disenfranchised, disenchanted, disillusioned.  Many were angry and frustrated. We slowly built trust, community, rapport; and they began talking and sharing, and even doing a little writing, though that part was a little slow-going at first. When the first progress reporting period came around, most of them were surprised they were not passing. Several asked me why before class one day.  I couldn’t believe they were surprised.  I said, “How did you think you were passing if you don’t turn in any work?”  The response of one of the students was, “But you like us.  You talk to us.  You listen to us!  In our other classes, no one listens to us, and they don’t like us.  We thought you did.” 
I had an epiphany then—these kids equated being heard—what they perceived as being liked—with success.  They weren’t heard because they weren’t successful,  but more importantly, they weren’t successful because they weren’t heard.  It broke my heart! They didn’t believe their voices had a place in an academic classroom because that’s the message they had been given.  It became my goal to help them find a way to use their voices and their personalities in the academic setting—and enable them to see themselves as part of the conversation, rather than silent spectators in an education that didn’t have a place for them.  It’s the very least we should expect for our kids, to know that their voices matter.
  On the other hand, some of our kids on the other end of the spectrum already have great confidence in their voices.  For those kids, my mission is to help them refine and articulate the voices they are already well on the path to developing. I hope to help them find their place to voice who they are as students, as citizens, as employees, as community members.  I hope to help them discover what they are passionate about, and where they want to make their voices heard in the grand and global conversation.   
Often, finding one’s voice isn’t about finding one’s academic or vocational passion; sometimes it’s about being able to express something even more fundamental.  One example is Tyler:  a sweet, creative and artistic young man who was just discovering his voice and testing, in a safe place, how to use his voice to begintentatively to speak who he was and who he was becoming when he said shyly to me, “Here’s a drawing I made for my Valentine. Do you think he’ll like it?” There was no emphasis on the pronoun “he”.  Just a brief moment of eye contact—did I hear him?-- I think he’d only come out to a handful of his closest friends, but he felt safe hearing his voice speak who he was with me--practicing sharing his true voice and allowing himself to be heard.
            These kids-and hundreds like them who have made my classroom their temporary home on the way to bigger and brighter things—are just like all of us once were.  While I’m trying to remember to teach all my standards and differentiate instruction and build strategies and maintain effective classroom management, my kids are really looking first and foremost for one thing:  Does my voice matter to you?  Can you hear me?  I want the answer to always be yes.  I want them to know that if they find a home with me where they feel comfortable letting their voices be heard and valued, there’s no telling where they might end up.  Artist? Engineer? Construction worker? Public Relations Manager? Teacher? Who knows—maybe even one day speaking in front of a large group of adults.

            Thank you.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

You Don't Know Me

November 9, 2014

Something happened on Friday which caused me to post the following to my Facebook page:

It happened out of the blue between classes. I was the recipient of this sage advice from someone with whom I have worked for many, many years, but with whom I am not close—someone I see on campus in passing only a few times a month.   She approached me out in front of my class as I was greeting my students.  Yes, it might have been more productive to actually tell her my reaction, but to be honest I was dumbfounded that she said, “I want you to lose weight for me,” so I didn’t exactly formulate a response to her, other than to say, defensively, “I have been trying!”  It felt akin to cajoling a young toddler to try peas ‘for me’.  I, as you know, am not a young toddler, and so suffice it to say it felt quite patronizing and condescending.

The response from my Facebook (and real-life) friends was immediate and overwhelmingly positive and supportive.  Well, it was supportive of me.  Of her, not so much.  She was attacked and called names, which then made me post this:

And I really do believe it.  I don’t think she was mean-spirited.  I actually do believe that she means well.

But the thing is, her words, seemingly gift-wrapped in praise and kindness, have stayed with me all weekend, ever-present in my mind.  They have continued to plague me, despite all of the positive things my friends said about me in response.  Why do we do that to ourselves—allow one negative voice to rise above the many that cheer us on?  We do though, don’t we?  We allow those to linger and grow louder and more pervasive, and we can forget about the wealth of positive attributes we have.  I am intelligent, articulate, loving, sometimes sexy, sometimes funny, and usually positive and generous-spirited.  I am a good mother, wife, and friend.  But instead of all of those things, I spent a great deal of my weekend fixated on how one person saw me from the outside.

The reality is, my co-worker, that you don’t know me well enough to comment on my weight.  We know each other, but you don’t know me.

You don’t know that I’ve struggled with esteem surrounding my weight since I was a young kid.

You don’t know that I have faced ridicule and even bullying because of my size or shape—long before I was in the particular size and shape I currently inhabit.

You don’t know that a handful of years ago, I started infertility treatments that entailed a long process of daily self-injections of hormones that left me, heart-breakingly, with no baby.  What did it leave me with was a metabolism out of whack and a bonus stubborn weight gain.

You don’t know that looking in the mirror is often a risky proposition, as my worst critic is the one looking back at me.  Luckily, I have an amazing husband who sees me with different eyes.

You don’t know that whenever someone takes a picture of me, I strategically place myself where I am partially hidden.  I do, however, allow myself to be in pictures now, because I want my kids to have those memories with me in them in their later years.

You don’t know how desperately I try to shield my children from inheriting my body image issues.  I don’t always succeed.

You don’t know how often I hear my friends talk about their own issues and negativity surrounding their own figures—women who are beautiful and amazing and healthy.

You don’t know that I have tried—and continue to try—to become more healthy.

You don’t know that I have been walking five miles a day for the past ten months and have been more conscious than ever of healthy eating choices.  You don't know that because of that I have lost 15 pounds so far in the gradual, healthy way that doctors recommend.

You don’t know how proud I am of my progress—and how easy it is to negate it with an unthinking comment.

I know many people reading this will think, “Well, why don’t you do something about it if you are  unhappy with yourself?”  And the answer is, you don’t know that I’m not.  Because you don’t know me.

Just because you know me doesn’t mean you know all there is to know of me, which means you don’t know me well enough to tell me to lose weight.  You especially don’t get to tell me to lose weight for you.

I take that back, actually.  The reality is, even if you do know me, you don’t get to tell me I should lose weight.  I know.  We all know, all of us who struggle with weight at times.  You are not letting me in on some grand epiphany.  Even if you do know me, unless you have M.D. behind your name and I’m your patient, you don’t get a say.  I can’t afford to have your negative voice in my head because it’s far too loud.

Now, can we put this conversation to rest and talk about something that’s really important?  Funding for education, for example? The state of the economy?  The homeless?  We have much bigger fish to fry, friends, than figuring out what dress size I should wear.