Tag Archives: education

What I am learning



How often I want to visit social media. And the call to be a “voice,” or something.

I see your phenomenological. I raise you EPIPHENOMENOLOGICAL.

How to decide what is worth your time, energy, and money.

How to use the phrase “ephemeral archive” as much as possible.

Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. There is nothing left.

How fraught these spaces—and really all spaces—are with our personal and professional expectations and desires. And the underlying social, cultural, historical, raced, classed, gendered expectations for behavior.

And the ensuing silence.



Direct from the horse’s mouth, or bastardizations of what poetry professors have said–

-Make collages.

-Some people write with music, but I need to write with words around me. I find words.

-Then using a number system, I went through and killed poems.

-I would ask my dates, “Are you happy with your job?”

-Cut this word out.

-Image cul-de-sac.

-This voice feels authentic.

(This last one bothers me.)



By showing up, I inherently pressure the Institution.

Better get used to it.



I realize my life is rather “boring,” that most of the time I am looking for ways to spend time somewhere writing or with people talking about writing or listening to people read or perform writing. That when I look around Boulder, there is not much I feel drawn to do. (Mostly, one has the choice of school, the mountains, shopping. Boulder in three words.)

I think the secret now is to embrace this. How much more time can I reserve for writing– without becoming a complete recluse?


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Filed under education, essays, journal, non-fiction, writing/writers

Thank you from an almost thirty-year-old

When I was 16 going on 17, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. When I was 16 going on 17, I tried to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That year in AP English, my teacher’s comment requesting that he keep my homework musings on home kept the tender embers of desire to be a writer alive. Thank goodness.

4 years later, I re-read Beloved in a Black Studies and literature course. The other young women and I marveled at our brilliant professor, especially as she was young, black, female, and did I say brilliant. That year I was applying for a teaching program and ripping down Teach 4 America posters on campus. My mentor and advisor stopped our meeting to make copies of bell hooks’ Teaching to Trangress. I didn’t know it then, but he was handing me yet another mentor. Thank goodness.

About 9 years later, I was teaching and learning about excerpts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with middle schoolers. I had them playing with Morrison’s language to learn about poetic line breaks. These writers and thinkers paved the ground I walked on, and I kept their work alive, while stoking the fires in my young charges. They taught me how to break open my heart and let them in. They flood me to this day, and I have cried more than ever. Thank goodness.

About 13 years later, I am teaching undergraduates, and today I tacked up a collage of Kendrick Lamar reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes at my desk. Morrison was a poet, who became a professor, who wrote novels, who changed us. I ponder now about my work, my writing, and what’s next for me.

Age is a funny thing. While I am so ready to be 30, I am still 16 going on 17. Still eager, still social introvert, still reader, still laughter, still nervous and moving. But also, I am so not 16 going on 17. Not pining after some baseball player, not wishing to fit in with the right clothes, not wondering about college, not crying under the sheets, not anguishing about my thighs, not writing poems in a secret notebook. Nope. Now I talk too much sometimes. Now I risk not fitting in more. Now I cry in public—all the time. Now I love my body more than ever. Now I don’t wait for no man. Now I write poems in journals and journals and journals. Even read them aloud. Might even call myself an artist or something, sometimes.


Age in a funny thing. When my mother was 3 years older than me, she gave birth to my brother. About a year later, she gave birth to me. When I am 33, I may give birth to a book. About a year later, another. In her thirties, Toni Morrison raised two boys and wrote her first novel.


Age is a funny thing. Sandra Cisneros might call age an onion, layers on layers that you feel at times. I think it’s more like leaves on a tree, shimmering all at once in the wind. And as these leaves flutter and I stare—mesmerized in the sun—I am full of wonder, joy, appreciation. Disbelief.

When I was a toddler, I would cry when given gifts. I would overwhelm myself. I don’t know exactly why I cried at 3. Now at 30, I know I cry because I feel so much. I am full of all those who made me me, as I am becoming me. I am full of immense gratitude that my body cannot hold without release. So I cry. I cry because I am 3, I am 16 going on 17, I am 30. I cry because—thank you.

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Filed under age, essays, love, memory, prose, writing/writers

For the Women

There has been so much going on at work lately. So much, that I can only say, “I cannot even tell you. It’s confidential.”

I can tell you, however, it’s been tough. In all this, I reflect on the people I have leaned on. So this entry is all about the women. The ones who have made this slice of hell not only bearable, but a place for me to walk through the fire with my head held high, principles clutched tight.

I think of my friend who made the time to talk on the phone. Who asked questions to prepare me for the ones I would be asked. Who clearly said, you are doing the right thing.

Another friend who said the students will thank you, eventually they will understand what a big thing it is for someone to stand up. And I smile to think of her tough-as-nails attitude, when she said, if you need lawyers, give me a holler.

Yesterday, I went out with another friend, and we reflected on our positions as Asian-American women. She began to reflect on her experiences as a middle school student in a private school and her experiences with teachers and parents there. It brought us closer to think about how migration, language, and other forms of social capital have shaped us. And when my friend saw the chamomile flowers a student picked, she reminded me, one day that student will look back and remember you.

(Also, we both got to dress up, and there is nothing better than feeling good one’s own skin. Oh, to be in a body.)

I even think back to the professor whose class involved blogging, which led to my current WordPress account. I thank her for pushing the boundaries and offering classes that no one else could think of nor facilitate the way she did. I remember our shy tongues when we saw how she graced the classroom. I imagine the fires she’s walked through to arrive at her magnificence. I think about my 6th grade math teacher and her tough love. But always, we knew it was love. I picked flowers for her on my way to school and cradled corn snakes in her class. I think about how important it is to know that you are cared for because others work for you.

Oh yes. There are great men in my life too. Thank you to my colleague who has been a solid rock at work. Whose politics and morals extend into every fiber of his actions and words. To my friend this morning, who I drove to the airport, finally taking a long-awaited and much-deserved trip into the future of his dreams and fight for food justice. This friend’s gentleness reminds me to be there for myself, and when I am ready, the work will be there. As he handed the keys to the car to me, he handed me my own trust that I can always get myself back home.

Thank you and peace.



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Filed under education, gender, love, non-fiction, prose, race

Teaching: An emotional task analysis

5:30-6:00AM Turn off your cell phone alarm repeatedly, get up only when NPR starts to play on your clock-radio. Brush your teeth, get dressed, pack your lunch, and walk your dog all in the next hour.

7:10AM Leave the house…

7:15AM You get to school.  The sky is grey and it is misting, but you are happy.  From your car, you lug a pink crate composed of 2 reams of paper, your lunch and a mug of tea while carrying your book bag.  Try not to spill on yourself as you wonder if this counts as your workout for the week.  It does.

Realize you are the first teacher at school.  The empty hallways greet you in their morning calm.  You love this.  This makes the morning grogginess worth it.  The custodian crosses your mind- How do they feel about their work hours?

In your classroom, you make printouts then head to the copy room.  Make small talk, do mental math to make varying sets of copies, all while running the day’s lessons through your mind: when to pass out the handouts, is it better to have groups of fours or twos.  Sometimes pedagogy is made up of classroom management strategies.

8:00AM Prep your boards with dates, homework, intros to the lessons.  You have exactly 15 minutes.  Take your scheduled pee break (yes, this is reality for teachers).

8:15AM Medieval History. Welcome students in.  They are just as groggy as you were an hour ago.  So endearing in their hoodies, or newly straightened hair, or—sometimes—new clothes, inching into the room and blinking their eyes open.  You are reminded that no matter what, they are someone’s babies.  You love them too.

Half of them are late.  You teach and coach.  Your first period is a breeze today.

9:17AM Medieval History. Give the context to the lesson, remind Dee to stay quiet and respectful (for what feels like the tenth time before she is sent out), scan the room for students chewing gum, make eye contact while speaking, and check if Dan has his foot behind you to secretly trip you as you give directions.

Finish up your lecture while keeping an eye on Dee who is still waiting outside for you to check in with her and talking to students wandering the hall.  You are frustrated but sad because you know her actions stem from parenting at home, which stems from who-knows-what kind of history from her mother.

Sign off on students’ work, answer questions, motivate students to do their work.  Stand by John who reads below grade level and is unmotivated.  He wrote at the beginning of school, “I motivate myself.”  And obviously it’s not working.

You are frustrated but getting loud or aggressive does not work with your students, who are well-trained at mirroring it back or diffusing it with disruptive jokes.  You remember the two silent students who are grade levels behind that you did not get to check in with today.  But time is up.  You are wiped out.  Your body feels it.  Make last announcements and dismiss the class.

10:14AM  Medieval History.  Welcome students in.  You sit down, trying to see how students will react to your silence and “disappearance.”  You are checking how well they have internalized your entrance procedures.

You teach the lesson for the third time.  Teach and coach.  Get interrupted multiple times by a phone call, an administrator, and a counselor looking for different students.  Keep Al on track although he’s intent on staring out the door at the locker search for marijuana that the administration has embarked on.  Mary and Tim are still talking to each other and not getting much done even after multiple reminders.  You take a deep breath.

Almost there…

Lisa makes a peace sign and kisses the air while the class stares.  You make a face, mimic her and the class gets to joke as you dismiss them.  “Oh and do your homework!”

11:11AM “Free period” or “prep.”  Get your student helpers set up with grading work.  You realize your breakfast was just two sips of tea so you eat as you grade papers.

Tidy up your room and converse with your assistant principal about the students you saw earlier who may have stashed marijuana in their lockers this morning.  Your co-workers joke in your room and one delivers a soy latte.  SCORE.

12:04PM Lunch.  Students come in for help, a quiet space to work, or they are there to joke with you.  “My special children,” you call them.  Realize you did not fully prep your 8th grade lesson and take care of that.  Meanwhile, questions keep flying your way—the colored pencils?  The sentence-starter sheet?  Where do you live?  Hey, I’m going to bully you.  They all need and want attention.  You try.

12:44PM Book Club is for silent reading, luckily your 8th graders make this possible (usually after a ruckus entry full of horseplay and gossip.)  Two or three of them will stand by the door with you to heckle you with joke and questions like “You’re so beautiful.”  “Did your tattoos hurt?”  “Do you know Mey from AYPAL?  Are you friends?”  “Do you have a boyfriend?”  They are ridiculously friendly and you wonder about boundaries.  Yet you’ve successfully never given out your age nor dating status because “it shouldn’t affect how you treat me,” you say.

Review your 8th grade lessons while making sure your students are reading and if possible try to “read” your book.  Answer the phone, write passes for students getting extra coaching, and check the hallway for students skipping, being sent out of class, or just being disruptive.  Keep your eye on the time!

1:04PM U.S. History. Fumble through your lesson because you feel it’s a little lacking, but you’re not sure what is missing.  A student calls out, “I’m bored.”  Get distracted because this disheartens you.  Pick back up mid-sentence.  They are calling out too much today.  Frustration.  Frustration.

Supervise students’ partner reading and answer their questions.  Get more frustrated as you see students are not grasping the reading as much as you hoped.  Admit to a student you are irritated as you check if all the pairs are “re-teaching” each other what they just read.

End class with admitting you are irritated because you take your work personally and this is the second time you’re teaching this moment of history.  And this wasn’t as good as you had hoped.  You tell students you needed them to teach and support each other.  Grasping for words, you notice the Assata Shakur quote in the back of your room, “We must love and support each other.”  You read this to them and remind them that the class is about this too.  You dismiss them to their next class with that sentiment.  At least you feel proud about this part of the lesson.

2:01PM U.S. History. Welcome in your last group, who have been through 6 periods.  Today, most of them have run 8 or more laps at P.E., they have screamed and yelled during lunch, and have read and wrote and created.  They drag their feet as they enter and you can relate.

Start the same lesson again, simultaneously thinking of changes you can make this time around.  Lead your students through an example and get excited when talking about the Fugitive Slave Law and its similarity to immigration policy today.  Hope they understand the point you made about Arizona and Alabama.

The lesson goes a little better.  You get to explain to students hard at work that John Brown was a white man who was an abolitionist!  And that senators beat each other up in Congress, in relation to tensions over slavery!  Crazy country!

Students are excited and you notice one of your Vietnamese students translating the readings into Vietnamese for her partner who has been in the country for less than a year.  Your heart is warmed.

Class dismissed.

3:00PM You should be able to leave the building now, but students wander in: “I lost my project.”  “What are you supposed to do with the writing section?”  “Can you proof-read this?”  “Can you show me my grades?”

Later, exhausted, you sit for a minute next to a student waiting for her phone in the office.  Joke with her and then wish her a good afternoon.  “Be a good… woman!” she tells you.  Chuckle as you walk away realizing that she said that because you told her class about how “girl” and “boy” was used to disrespect men and women of color.

You never allow yourself to stay past 4pm.  Besides, your room is rowdy because the after-school program uses it for their tutoring.

4:00PM You’ve escaped!  Use the next few hours to walk your dog, cook/heat dinner, shower.  If you have the energy, talk to a friend on the phone or look at your email.  If you are lucky or foolish enough, decide to have dinner with a friend on a weeknight.

7:00PM You really want to do something mindless like look at girly fashion blogs or puppies…  But you have planning to do.

Ok, who am I kidding?  You waste an hour staring at facebook and tumblr.

8-10:00PM Try to limit yourself to 2 hours of planning.  Stare at the pile of grading you brought home and wonder why you even try.

11:00PM Ignore the pile of books you haven’t touched in weeks.  No judgment.  Get ready for bed now because it took you longer than you wanted to prep for the next day.  Journal for yourself and nod off.  Imagine people- people you like, people you love, those you miss, those who were here last and those you wish could be here.  Maybe if you weren’t so busy… so tired…

Get up and realize you can edit a poem or email something related to your grassroots group.

Go to bed too late.

Repeat at 5:30AM.

* * * * *

Note- It even overwhelms me to look at what I wrote, and this account does not even include very much about the more directly intellectual part of our work (like the planning and grading).  A teacher’s day is long and full of mental and emotional multi-tasking.  It is physically exhausting as I never sit down while teaching.

However, I want to make clear that I do not write this in some attempt to publicize the glamour of a teacher’s supposed martyrdom, nor to pity myself, and not even to complain.  I am only comfortable writing and publicizing this now because I’m ready to teach for a few more years.  Maybe this means two years, maybe it means ten.  I write this because when you wonder why I am cloistered during my weekends or unavailable, you get it.  I want you to know why, when you ask me about teaching, I have no straight answer.  It is because my job and how I feel about it is as complex as the typical day I just outlined.  I write this because if and when this country/community truly discusses what education means, we cannot forget about valuing the personnel doing the work.


Filed under education, love, prose, race

Letter to black boy

Dear Mr. Jackson,

You will never receive this letter.  You are 13 years-old.  Your mother has cancer.  Your 19 year-old sister has two babies.  The teachers tell me you used to flip desks when you got upset.

But you know this already.

You play basketball and I crack up on the inside because you are adorable in your over-shrunken jersey.  The kids laugh too when they see you’ve outgrown your jeans.  The hem flops just above your worn white sneakers.  You love wrestling.  Even with your stick-thin legs and ashy knees.

On days after I send you out of class, you walk back in at lunch to ask about work.  You smile and joke like nothing has happened.  Sincerity seeps from between your cracked lips.  I joke with you because there is nothing else to do.  You have the whitest teeth that play in concert with your firework eyes.  I am distracted by the light show on your face, and I realize this is your apology.  When you leave, I am in tears.

You cannot say what you mean, so you act it.  You never asked me to teach you anything.  You wandered in my class, when I first started, on a rare day you did not have detention, proceeded to tell me how you did not even know the lady who taught you for two weeks in September.  You told me you love to write stories.  You write in your journal everyday, told me how thick they got with words.  You never asked for anything.  The next month I signed papers to teach full-time at your school.

I assigned you Black Boy for extra credit.  (Shit, you needed it.)  I want you to find– like Richard– a purpose, a world of words- a home there, your self-worth.  And like you, I don’t say what I mean nor do I ask for anything.

Except, Mr. Jackson, you need to return my copy of Black Boy.  It’s been years now.


i usually don’t share much with my white colleagues about my feelings for our students.  words like “cute,” “sweetheart,” even “brilliant” do not go far enough to describe them nor to express my love for them…  instead i write ish like this when i should be grading their papers and doing other soul-numbing work.

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young students deliver police report after homicide shooting

young students deliver police report after homicide shooting.


cars whizzing by at speed of light

whipping down neighborhood streets

round corners

kids get mowed down quicker than lawns

i dodge carcasses and

ghosts on my drive to school


andrea- short-haired, scarred face

a beauty with brain

tumor battered eyesight

accident prone and

crackling laughter for days


drea and her friend

stare from bus stop

man gun-in-hand enters scene

in a passing sedan

he slows to meet his mark


my two black girls

greet sirens and meet policemen

complete homework, return to school

nothing has happened

they say.


i learned recently of the form called the american sentence.  17 syllables, haiku-like, ginsberg-inspired. find out more here. the first line is an american sentence, based on a shooting that happened outside my workplace as i was finishing up my work for the day and students were still leaving school.

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Filed under education, poems, race, violence