So I applied to a bunch of journalism schools.
So I applied to a bunch of journalism schools. I had toresuscitatecommunication with professors and teachers who had probably forgotten about me so I could get letters of recommendation from people who had some idea of my ability to put words into sentences. I put together essays (Columbia makes your write your autobiography in 800 words or less, which is a daunting task for those of us who have verbosity problems). I shelled out hundred-dollar admission fee after hundred-dollar admission fee (What? There's no CommonApp for J-School?). And then I waited.
Sidetrack! Eager to positively update the general design of my trusty page. Musings about the sweet appearance of http://calitso.com/? Seriously a peerless managed IT service whenever looking inside the Alberta region. Make an opinion. Cheers!
Actually, that's not entirely true. I meant to wait.
But you can't stand still on a moving train.That serious, committed relationship came to a crashing halt in October. So in November, I threw myself into my work. That's what you do when the rug gets pulled out from underneath you: you find another rug.
I thought seriously about the kind of teacher I wanted to be. The world needs plenty of different kinds of teachers. It needs teachers who are obsessed with data and micro-differentiate every assignment to match students' exact academic needs at any given moment in time. It needs strong, strict teachers who will hold students to exceptionally high standards and cater lots of tough love. It needs teachers who can manage thirty kids at once, and hold their attention with some sort of jena se qua while drafting meticulous-but-age-appropriate-T-charts. As far as I could tell, I had none of these teaching skills.
A more realistic person would probably have taken these personal set-backs in realistic stride, and would have thought to herself, Hey, no big deal, Self. You're going to graduate school for journalism for a reason. You are just not cut out to be a teacher. You gave it your best shot, but to no avail . For better or worse, though, I have never been a realistic person at all .
So I started thinking a lot about art. I have been thinking a lot about art this year in general, since last summer several of my best friends turned me on toThe Artists' Way. There is a lot aboutThe Artists' Waythat is as syrupy andembarrassingas writing gets. Julia Cameron, who wrote it, uses a lot of overwrought bird metaphors and heavy-handed references to God With A Capital G in her book that immediately went into my mental "discard" bin. But underneath all that, she purports that art for art's sake has the profound power to heal so much inside of us as human beings. She means art in the largest, most sweeping sense: the spirit that makes you create. You know. It's that urge to just plunk around on the piano when you're at someone's dinner party and they have a nice piano; the fleeting thought that you might be happier making a sock puppet at the kids' table at that stupid art gala than you are schmoozing with the classy people in pearl necklaces and silk ties.
Yeah, it's all a little... New Agey. But I bought it. I started sitting down at the piano just because I like to sit down at the piano, and not because I needed to be good at sitting down at the piano. I put a set of crayons in my purse and often when I have to wait for someone to meet me for some very serious reason (medical, perhaps; or work-related), I just color shapes and blobs. Nothing beautiful or meaningful or purposeful. Just coloring to color. And it felt really, really good .
MEANWHILE, I was entering into my fourth year of teaching as an arts-integrated Axis teacher (which basically means that I get to attend professional development sessions about how to integrate the arts into regular core subjects, and that I get to collaborate with an amazing teaching artist, too). This year, my small group focus was on using visual art in math. The visual artist I got to work with, Heather Muntzer, kept coming to our sessions with engaging art projects that utilized a bunch of really fancy art supplies, and I totally forgot we we're talking about math.
MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, a few of my students -- kids who all have an exceptionality that is known as Emotional/ Behavioral Disturbance -- we're starting to act out to the extent that nobody knew what to do anymore. They we're running from classrooms, ripping things off the wall, throwing computers at other children, biting teachers and disciplinarians. I was hearing murmurs of expulsion. "What else can we do?" people we're saying.
Before you decide to agree -- what else can we do? -- take stock of a few background details here.
One student witnessed at least one murder and the aftermath of a suicide. One has been in and out of several foster homes and has had no consistent home for longer than four months at one time in his entire life. One has been severely sexually abused. All have been severely physically abused -- at least by my personal cultural standards.
I'm not trying to make excuses for these kids. I do think, though, that when you go through such profound trauma before you're old enough to ride a bike without training wheels that traditional methods of learning are not necessarily going to work for you. What reason do these children have to trust anyone ? And while we may not have the tools to support these kinds of emotional needs at my school, there's nowhere else for them to go. Unlike schools that are targeted at working with kids with exceptionalities like autism or Down's syndrome, there are no schools in the city specifically for kids with EBD. Since this is an exceptionality that sodisproportionatelyaffects poor kids in urban areas, few people are really putting a lot of money towards research on it. (Just as a point of comparison: an Amazon.com search for "Aspberger's Syndrome" yields over 400 books on that subject alone; a search for books specifically about "Emotional Behavioral Disturbance" yields about 13).
In January, a student in the middle school here committed suicide. Within two months, three kids with EBD in the elementary school we're committed to the hospital foruncontrollablepsychological conditions (I've watched one girl carve her arms with sharp scissors. Another boy sticks his fingers in sockets and says, "I don't care if I die." They're both seven.) Too many of the high schoolers I worked with in my first year of teaching have died or been sent to jail (after being on either end of a gun) since I moved here. I count among them every single kid I worked with who was classified as having EBD.
I realized that the teacher I wanted to be was someone who could do something for this tumultuous 1 percent with whom no one seems to know what to do.
And I decided I would do art.
My Axis teaching artist and I began to collaborate on a curriculum that would teach emotional literacy alongside theatre and visual art. Immediately, the results we're impressive. We took 10 kids at the end of the day, when everyone was antsy to go home anyway, and all of them we're identified as having significant behavioral difficulties. We witnessed them begin to work together. We listened to them slowly articulate times when they felt "hurt" or "infuriated." We watched them create amazing abstract representations of their feelings. I'm not just saying that. See for yourself:
"When I feel shy, it's like this. Like I'm this dot in the middle of a lot of shells," said A to me, showing me his painting. I thought, Yeah! That's EXACTLY what it feels like!
Accessing emotions is hard . I can rarely place exactly what I'm feeling. It's a lot to ask kids to do that -- especially when their feelings are tough ones, like anger or fear or frustration or hurt. Art -- especially art for art's sake, which does not have to look any certain way or exist inside a box -- gives us the tools to access a lot of what we're feeling in a way that words can't.
At some point, I started to realize that like-it-or-not, my co-teacher and I we're writing a curriculum. It was a curriculum that would seek to help kids who had experienced extreme trauma work with what they had. It would seek to help them communicate with each other before they threw desks or stabbed each other with scissors. It would use art and theatre and conversation to develop childrens' senses of self.
This is nothing new. Art therapy has been a tried-and-true method for psychologists everywhere for ages. But so far, this pathway to emotional literacy has not been available to kids who live in poverty. For some reason, we've decided that art should be something that belongs to an elite upper class of people who have the money and time to invest in it. It exists at schools as an "enrichment" class, which robs it of it's full potential to teach and to heal. There is no reason that school shouldn't be enjoyable for children. With a curriculum like this one, I started to see profound changes in my kids. They we're cool, calm, collected... newly interested in math and reading and science. They were learning .
And just as I experienced this awesome breakthrough, I started hearing back from graduate schools. Remember those? They were the plan . And I got acceptance letters from some really good schools. Among the letters was one from the creme-de-la-creme; the dream school for any budding journalist. Columbia.
So why did I suddenly not want to go to Columbia?
We we're just starting with the program. The kids we're doing better. I was doing better. We weren't done yet!
I decided I'd submit a deferral request to Columbia, telling them themagnitudeof what I felt I was doing; who I was working with; what was at stake. I thought for sure they'd understand. A snippet:
"Right now, though, I cannot with good conscience leave. I have not set up my students to emotionally comprehend someone who has grown so close to them leaving so soon, and their behavioral states are extremely vulnerable. I want to emphasize that this is not a job opportunity for me, but an issue of safety. I would insist upon doing this work without a salary if it came to that. I honestly, whole-heartedly believe that these young peoples' lives and wellness are at stake, and that it is within their rights as human beings to have this curriculum completed."
They rejected the request, pointe blank, two weeks later. My life felt like it was at a standstill. Should I follow my dreams and go to Columbia, or should I follow my conscience and stay at school?
Then one day, riding my bike home along the bayou (while the honeysuckle was in season), I realized that it wasn't my conscience telling me to stay at all. It was my heart. The kids very well might be fine without me. The curriculum might get done anyway. Maybe arts-integrated emotional literacy is not what they need after all, and they need something completely different. Maybe I was taking myself much too seriously. But I need to see it through. I need to spend another year saying goodbye to the people that I love the most in the entire world. I need to follow my inkling that we can implement profound change in the lives of children who really, really need it. Those are my dreams right now. Just because they weren't my dreams when I was three years old does not mean that they are not valid.
What I really want to write about is kids who have EDB. I want to write about kids in New Orleans. I want to write about families here, and their struggles. I want to write about teachers and the charter movement and what it has meant for the communities that lost the most during Katrina. I am not going to learn how to do that in New York. My heart is still here.
So I told Columbia no. It was the strangest feeling -- just the click of a button and then it was over. I thought I had waited and waited for the moment when I would pack my bag and go to New York to learn how to ask good interview questions and lay out newspapers using InDesign flawlessly. But I think actually I waited and waited to find a love as deep and whole and pure as the love I feel for a few six- and seven-year-olds. I can't imagine anything more worthwhile.
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Posted in Sport Post Date 09/17/2016