somebody’s son

as a teacher, you have a lot of power…

and, depending on how you use it…it, and you, can either be a force for good or for evil, you know…

a couple of weeks ago, i was in a position to use my power for good…to stand up for a student…something that’s always been important for me…it’s always been important for me because i’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness (some might call it an overdeveloped one;)…i can trace the origins of this kind of mindset and posture back to my youth, back to elementary school…back to one week in elementary school to be exact–the week when we watched the movie ‘roots’ in class…that movie blew my mind…sitting there, watching it, i couldn’t believe that one human being could treat another human being so harshly just because they were a different color, just because they were a different race and culture, just because they had power and the other person was powerless…it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right…that movie had a great impact on my life, then and now…

anyways, here’s what happened in class…

we were watching a video in class and i had called a student up to the front of the room to help me with something…so, he got up and came towards the front of the room…right away, when he got up, a few other students started snickering…that got my attention…so, i looked over…my eye caught an object, a thin strip of paper peeking out from behind the student who had stood up…so, i told him…young man, you’ve got a piece of paper on your back…

[one thing, there are 43 kids in this particular class…which makes it a bit difficult to see what the kids are doing all the time, especially those that are a few rows deep…i wish i could say i was the only teacher in the u.s. that had this problem, but i’m not…and it’s an issue for learning and classroom management–and for student safety…anyways, had i not had him come up to my desk i probably wouldn’t have even have seen it, maybe he wouldn’t have seen it until later]

when i told him that he had a piece of paper stuck to his back, he spun around and awkwardly pulled it off his back…he looked down, read it, then looked up and walked straight towards a group of guys a few rows back…i got up from my desk and followed him…a heated verbal exchange ensued between several young men (the guy who had the note stuck to his back was standing in front of two students who were sitting at their desks)…one of the guys who was sitting at his desk grabbed the piece of notebook paper and started to crumple it up…

when i got to his desk, i said, hey let me see that… 

reluctantly, he gave me the piece of paper…i un-crumpled it and read it…immediately, i looked up (and at the two students who were sitting in front of me) and said (in a low growl), who wrote this?!

one of the boys spoke up…i did…

i looked at him and said, plain as you like, pick up your stuff and head to the clas program…

[clas program = iss]

we resumed class…

when i got back to my desk, i sat down and re-read the words on the piece of paper…

it read: he likes it in the ass

at the end of the class period i addressed the entire class, with a quiet intensity (it’s a register i hit when i really want something to stick), saying…

a student, a person…should be able to go through daily life, walk down the street, and most of all–come to class without being bothered, without being harassed…when something like this happens, there’s usually more than one student involved, i got one of the offenders today, and he’ll be out of here for tomorrow’s class as well…so, if you were in on it, i’m talking to you right now…don’t do it again.

when the class was dismissed, the student, the one who made the mistake of putting that note on his peer’s back came back to my room from the clas program…as i requested…

i asked him, why did you do it?

he said, i don’t know, it was stupid…

i told him, i can tell you regret it…but, just to remind you–that kind of behavior doesn’t fly in here, got it?! it’s serious enough that i’m going to keep you out of class for another day…please don’t do that again.

he said, yes, i’m sorry…

i said, we’ll see…

[and i didn’t say “we’ll see” to provoke him further or to belittle him…i told him that because i’ve told all my students that–on occasion–saying “i’m sorry” is important and does mean something…but, a lot people say it and it doesn’t mean a damn thing…teenagers and adults…so, i’ve told them i don’t want to hear i’m sorry, i want to see it–so, do it different next time!!!]

after he left, i emailed my principal and ‘the other powers that be’ to document the situation and allow them to follow-up if they wanted to…

we’ll see how the next few weeks go…

if i had a heightened sense of justice before i had kids, it has only magnified (x1000) since my own kids came along…i guess i’m like parents everywhere–when i send jack and grace out to daycare in the morning, i want to know that they will be safe and secure…and believe me, it’s a risky proposition, a high stakes game…sending your children out into the world…i want to know that their daycare provider, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults will be looking out for them when i’m not there…i want to know that they’ll be alright, you know…

it’s what i try to do for my students…it’s what i was able to do for the kid who was ridiculed with the sign on his back…

it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right…what happened…he deserves to be treated with respect and with dignity…

because he’s a person, because he’s a human being…

because he’s somebody’s son…

domestic violence awareness month

i would like to dedicate the poem below to the victims of domestic violence…

[i don’t often write poetry, but when i do…it comes out in a style that best resembles ‘spoken word’ or ‘slam poetry’…not sure how it happens…i mean, in my dreams i’ve fancied writing like whitman, lawrence, or kerouac–what student of poetry wouldn’t want to write like those guys? but, in truth, i could never write like that, not even close…it’s all kind of amusing because i rarely listen to spoken word/slam poetry or even hip hop music, for that matter–it’s nothing personal, i’ve got nothing against hip hop or rap…i was just raised on the radio (in the 80s)–and my music tastes are still trapped there–in the long, spray-matted tangles of the hair bands…anyways, i originally wrote this poem for an exhibition called ‘blind date’ that my friend craig joseph created and organized in ohio…i think it’s worth another look on this occasion]

The Heart of Abigail Lowe

I

Abigail Lowe clutched
the totem
in her hand
she held it
tight
white knuckles
bright
she raised it
to her brow
and began to pray

Lady Trinity,
come with your power
deliver me

II

She looked at the
picture
of her wedding day
spinning on
the dance floor,
full of life
back when she was young
and beautiful-a prize
back then she had
a great vision and wonder
as she looked up
to the moon and stars and skies
about her life
and all the good times
that would surely arrive
at her
doorstep
but years came,
and years went by
her time spent
brutally chastised-
didn’t take
too long to
realize
that all those pretty
day dreams
well, they just
up and
died

now
when she looks
in the mirror
the faced framed
before her
is not alight or alive,
instead it
holds the portrait
of one darkened and
deprived
with her only two
mementos
of this life-
a pair of
black eyes

III

He had boarded up
her heart
and drove nails through
her soul
stripped her bare
so far from whole
left her hollow
like a
black hole

now
a space exists
where a
dark star sits
where no glow
emits

where her human light
used to jump and glimmer
like fireflies
on a warm
summer night
but tonight,
looking at her
insides
is like
looking
at a jar
filled
with lies

IV

The police came
a few times
and took him to jail
but he was back
the next day

then later
she ran to shelter
far away

but it didn’t last

people whispered
behind her back
couldn’t understand
why she always
went back
but like most things
it was so simple
to say those words
from a safe distance
hard to see
that she was trapped
like a magnet
to the dark
force
that always
pulled
her back

V

A friend came by
the other day
said she knew what
could fill the blank
inside

she had a Bible in her hand
and told her ‘bout
a man
that would save her
right where
she stands

but she politely declined,
and said,
‘It’s nothing personal-
but, I ain’t running
to no man
of any kind-
to rescue me
from this
dead-end life’

VI

So, she went
upstairs
above the kitchen
to the bedroom

packed her
suitcase
with all her favorite things
clothes and
an old coat
pictures, shoes and
faded notes

sat on top
and clicked it
shut
lay down
naked
then looked
up

and she prayed

Lady Trinity,
today, I’m
leaving
the bad place-
can’t wait
to look
upon
your smiling face
know you’ll
pull me close
let me feel
warm and safe-
and hold me there
forever
in your
eternal embrace

Lady Trinity,
I am coming, I am coming.

spiderman and other freaks…

i remember when i was trying-out for the soccer team at william mitchell high school in colorado springs, colorado…it was back when i was a sophomore and a transfer student to the district…at this time in my life, i was so small (and skinny)…not the hulking, hunk of chiseled beef you see walking the streets of minneapolis nowadays;)

back then, i was so skinny that they used to call me spiderman…i mean, it was crazy how freakishly small i was–if i turned sideways, i would disappear (my super-power)!  note to world: self/body image issues are not unique to girls/women…and let me tell you–no guy, at any point in their k-12 school career, wants to be “that small”…

anyways, back to the fall tryouts…it so happened that i made the jv soccer team…and once that was established, the coach went about training and evaluating us further…to see who would be in the “starting line-up”…

i remember one day during our training, another sophomore (a guy who kinda looked like an older version of the evil kid from the omen-the original 1976 classic…which still holds up as one of creepiest halloween movies of all-time!) who had also made the jv squad…made a comment directed at me–he said, ‘this guy doesn’t realize he’s too small for the team’…walking right behind him came a senior/varsity player (a person who looked to be a fully grown man–as evident by the 5 o’clock shadow he was sportin’ at 3pm) who said, “he can play” (matter-of-factly) and continued on his way…funny thing was, that same senior was one of my club team coaches from the summer before (i seriously thought he was an adult when he was my coach:)

well, training went on for a few more days before our first game and i worked hard (encouraged by the words of the senior/varsity player/former coach)…and the other sophomore made a few more jabs…then, game day finally came…

on game day, the jv coach had us all huddled up as he went over the starting line-up & the game plan…and he called my name, i was starting at right center midfield!  one name he didn’t call was that of the guy who had been taunting me…anyways, i started that game and every remaining game that year–while my nemesis rode the pine…when i walked out onto the field, i looked back at him and smiled–my face, my posture, and every nonverbal part of my being…if translated…said one thing: what’s up now, bitch?!

the words “he can play” were big for me…heartened me, gave me strength…in that moment, my former coach was lookin’ out for me and i appreciated it then (and now)…and that lookin’ out is something i’ve tried to adopt in my own work with kids…especially, with kids on the margins…you know, the ones the rest of the world calls freaks

happy halloween!!!

sincerely–your friendly neighborhood spiderman

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