Sunday, August 24, 2014

What I Did On My Summer Vacation or (why I haven't posted in forever).

In June, I was going to blog about the end of the school year.  I was going to blog about boxes and furniture as well as all my personal boxes of stuff left in a 3rd floor hallway, to be moved to a second floor room, but probably not being moved before August, and probably being pilfered of all my favorite things and expensive materials.  I was going to blog about going to Toronto with my mom.  In July, I was going to blog about my trip to Santa Fe, Maria Martinez, The International Folk Art Market, and Georgia O'Keeffe.  I was going to blog about finally unpacking and moving into the apartment we moved into the day before school started a year ago.  I planned to blog about my planning for this coming year of school.  I planned to start it all with a big blog about why I decided to stay at this urban school where it is incredibly unorganized, where transparency is opaque, where students are mean to me and one another, where faculty is often unhappy and negative, where resources are limited and where thoughts of returning tomorrow are making my stomach turn in knots tonight.

All those things happened and then some.  I participated in the discourse on the FB art teacher page a bit, but tried to keep away as much as possible from anything teaching related.  I went to my mom's chemo appointments and I did a lot of doctor visits and physical therapy appointments for myself and my foot and ankle.  I spent too much money and probably had a few too many adult beverages.  I had my nails done and went for massages.  I spent time with my partner and I tried to laugh more than cry this summer.  My days and nights were filled with doing things.

Every day felt like a slow race.  A race to fit in everything I wanted to do before going back to school.  A race to enjoy life before the chaos begins again.  A race to forget how difficult my job was and will continue to be.  A race to stop thinking about the failures and try to focus on the things I did well last year.  

The only blogging I did about these things was in my mind.  I even created titles to blogs I wrote in my mind, but not here.  All the mind blog ideas were overshadowed by the one I titled "What Does An Art Teacher Wear To An 11 Year Old Student's Funeral?"

Shamiya was shot and killed on July 19, 2014.  She was with friends, inside playing like they were having a campfire and making smore's in the microwave.  Earlier in the day two 14 year old boys were in a fist fight outside on the street.  The cousin of one of these boys returned that night to "get" the kid who beat up his cousin.  He was told that the one who did beating was not standing in this crowd of boys hanging out on the corner near the house where Shamiya was, but he started poppin' at them anyway.  A bullet went through the window of the house, struck my girl in the head and killed her.

My heart still aches and probably will for a long time.  The media and politicians turned her funeral into a fiasco.  Our principal brought it back to the girl we knew.  She was kind and loving. She wanted so badly to be good.  Like all girls that age, she struggled with confidence.  On our last project she threw the work she had done into the trash.  I made her get it out.  I made her color in the next 3 letters of the positive word design she had drawn just to give it the full chance of greatness.  If she still didn't like it, then I would let her start over.  She returned to me with it completed and the biggest grin on her face.  She liked it and I got to say...See, I told you it was awesome, you just had to give it a bit more love and attention.  Shamiya was in my math tutor group I saw every day.  She is the one who came running back to me at the door, the day before the NWEA testing began, to give me a hug and thank me for helping her learn her math.

Shamiya is the girl who gave me this note at the beginning of class one day and asked me not to read it until after the class had left.  It took me 2 days and a reminder from her about the note to remember it was in my apron pocket.  I had read it at just the right time, when I really needed it after a difficult day.  When I taught in more affluent suburban areas, I received notes and cards from students all the time, but those things come rarely in the impoverished urban community school.  Because of the rarity of getting a letter from a student at this school, I decided it was something special I should keep for a future difficult day.  I had actually forgotten about the note.  Then, a couple weeks ago when I was cleaning piles of school stuff at home, I found it and cried all over again.  

This note was special, but not as special as the girl who wrote it, the girl who will not get to grow up bringing her kindness to a world that surely needs some love and kindness.

Everything I do is important for these kids.  How I speak to them, how I react to them, how I treat them, what I teach them about art and about life.  Most of all, it is important for me to return to them, because so many never return to them, so many leave them via jail, drugs, death, and easier schools.

I had a good summer vacation that was over too quickly.  I am excited to start school, but I also dread walking in the doors of that building tomorrow.  But when I do walk in, I know that while I am there, there will be an angel with me.


  1. Tears in my eyes. I had read your Facebook posts about this awful tragedy, but here in this post you have stated it all so eloquently. Despite the pain, I hope you can still remember to bring joy to your students who need it the most.

  2. Awwww, you just never know who you are going to touch and make a positive impact on. :)