Sunday, January 29, 2012

I've Come A Long Way, Baby...

Tact is one of those social skills that I've had to work hard to cultivate. I have a reputation for being the kind of person who says exactly what is on my mind: good, bad, or indifferent. As I've matured, I've learned that every thought doesn't necessarily have to be voiced, every opinion isn't meant to be shared, and every comment by someone else doesn't warrant a reaction.

This weekend, my maturity and ability to bite my tongue were put to the ultimate test. I spent the last few days at a professional conference with a group of people that I'm not particularly fond of. At this conference, there was a young woman with a big afro. As a naturalista myself, I always notice other women rocking their natural curls, and she was no exception. Anyway, as I sat with this group of colleagues having lunch (all of whom were middle aged whites, except for my one friend), the young woman with the big afro sat at the table behind us. One of my colleagues looks the woman up and down, then turns to me and says "Danielle, if you ever let your hair get that big I'm coming after you with a weed wacker!" "Yeah," chimes in another. "Don't go walking around looking like you've just stuck in your finger in a socket."

Immediately, the words "Bitch, what the fuck did you just say to me?!?" flashed in bold letters across my mind, and it took everything I had in me not to let them tumble from my lips. The old Danielle may not have said those exact words, but she would not have hesitated to unleash a few words equally as venomous to address this blatant display of ignorance. She would've gone on a rant about how this young woman had every right to rock the texture and size of hair that God intended for her to have, and not subject herself to a ridiculous chemical process to uphold an outdated European standard of beauty. She would've chastised and criticized her colleagues for ridiculing a sense of freedom and empowerment that they clearly didn't understand, and probably secretly feared. As I began to open my mouth, another voice spoke up in my head. "Don't get mad're with these people everyday, you already know how incredibly stupid they are. Is telling them off really worth your breath or energy? Will sharing the fact that this statement offends you make them any less asinine? You know better than that..."

I smiled to myself at the second voice, and gave both my colleagues a dismissive look as I continued to eat my lunch. There was an awkward silence at the table for a moment before someone else decided to change the subject. I gave myself a metaphoric pat on the back for all the self-discipline that I didn't even know I had, and for finally learning the importance of the phrase "silence is golden."

(Sigh) Five more months....


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

So today has been a particularly long day...trying to contain my 80 kids and their rowdiness after a long weekend, teaching after school program, and dealing with issues that come along with coaching a group of hormonal cheerleaders has me feeling beyond drained. These are the kind of days when I just want to crawl under the covers and pull them up over my head. These are the days that make me wonder what the hell I was thinking when I left my cushy marketing/PR job to get in the trenches and teach. On these days when I need a little inspiration, I turn to one of my favorite poems to make me smile. I couldn't have said it any better myself.

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?


Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Real Women Do

I love when I have teachable moments with my students. You know, those moments where a slice of real-life is presented as an opportunity to share a piece of knowledge or wisdom that can be applied to everyday life. Anyway, as I was having lunch today with a group of my female students, the topic turned to shows we like to watch on TV.

"My all-time favorite shows are Bad Girls Club and Love and Hip-Hop," one of them said. This was followed by a chorus of "Girl yeah, did you see the one where Chrissy beat up Kimbella?" and "Ooh, how about the one where Kimbella threw that glass at that girl?"

"Wait a minute," I said. "Out of all the shows that could be your favorite, why do you love those two so much?"

"Because they keep it real and they don't take no mess, and if they don't like somebody they do something about it."

Now, I'm not one to judge, because I definitely tune into these shows to watch all the ratchetness and drama unfold. The difference between myself and these girls is that as an adult, I'm able to grasp the fact that these "reality" shows aren't reality at all, and that what I see on my television screen isn't a reflection of how I should behave in real-life.

"So you think keeping it real means being loud, rude, and disrespectful, or going up to somebody and just starting a fight with them because you don't like them?"

"Sometimes," one of them said. "But mostly it means standing up for yourself and not letting people push you around and talk about you no matter what."

While I hate giving my sixth graders lectures, I just couldn't let this one go. And so began my tirade on what real women do.

Real women carry themselves with dignity and respect. Real women know how to express their ideas and communicate their needs and expectations to others without having to curse them out in the process. Real women know that conflict resolution means looking for constructive ways to resolve an issue, not throwing things or putting your hands on people. Real women work hard for what they have, and don't rely on others to give them the things they need or want. Real women realize that their actions have consequences, and they accept responsibility for the choices they make. Real women promote love by lifting others up and not tearing them down. Real women...

I stopped when I realized the futility in what I was doing. Trying to explain something so important to a group of 12 year olds was like pouring water into a bucket with several small holes. The words would stay there for a little while, but eventually they would end up leaking out onto the ground.

No, I couldn't explain this one with words. The best way to teach them about real women was to continue being one. Hopefully, something will rub off in the process. In the meantime, maybe I can persuade them to watch more Disney Channel and less VH1...LOL