Pray and Love.

Cadet: Ms. Kim, did you hear about the boy that drowned on Wednesday?

Me: What? no!

Cadet: That was my cousin.

Me: What?  What?

Cadet: Yeah.

Me: How’s he related.. like, is he on your mom’s side?…

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Boy swept out to sea

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday for a 14-year-old boy who was swept out to sea at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach on Wednesday afternoon.

The boy, identified as Marco Cornejo, was swimming with his father and cousin at the beach near Lincoln Way when the group became distressed just before 4 p.m.

A 17-year-old surfer, Tony Barbero, a junior at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory high school, rescued Marco’s father and cousin.

The father was taken to a hospital in critical condition while the cousin was not severely injured.

Fire and U.S. Coast Guard crews have been searching for the 14-year-old since Wednesday afternoon using helicopters and boats.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Loumania Stewart said after scouring 64 nautical square miles spanning from the Golden Gate to the southern end of Ocean Beach, the search has been suspended as of around 1:40 p.m. Thursday.

Stewart said crews will restart the search if the agency receives any more information.

- ABC Bay Area News Roundup

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 Today was so tumultuous. The day before Spring break, the kids were having a hard time handling themselves. I had training so I had to leave early.  I didn’t get time to properly talk with Cadet.  On my way home, I went back to school to call his home to express my condolences.  Then midway through the rings, I realized my Spanish sucks.  And when I spoke with his mother, her voice was breaking, my heart was breaking, and I’m not sure if the communication was broken too.  I’m not sure if I overstepped my boundaries.  I’m not sure if she knew that I cared or cared that I called.  I wonder if I should have just left it.  But I wanted Cadet to know that even if I’m just briefly interacting with each student, that I care for him as a person, and that person includes the family as well.  BUT, what if that was just selfish of me, to look like a “caring teacher” when I should have left the family alone to grieve?

I wish I knew what to do.  Since I don’t, I pray.  Through that, perhaps I can better love.

You had one job.

Ever since my “you have one job” spiel to my kids, they’ve been pulling it out anytime I make a tiny mistake.

Today we had a lockdown drill, and to confess, I get very jumpy just thinking about what would happen during a fire, an earthquake, and God forbid, a lockdown.  In my first school, I accidentally had my kids get under their desks during a fire drill.  What a fail.  (“That’s what drills are for!”)

Anyway, on my part, I need to lock my doors and turn off the lights.  My hands shook and I swear, I checked the door twice, and muttered under my breath, “We need to figure out a way to lock the doors from inside.”  Then, as we waited quietly, the door suddenly jerks open, and I said, “What the–!” as I locked eyes with my principal.  My automatic assumption was that she had unlocked it to announce that the drill was over, but no!  THE DOOR WAS UNLOCKED!  

Student responses:

Renman: Great, Ms. Kim, we all died just now.

Shrek: You had one job.

Ouch.  But so true.  :( 

And I had felt so noble standing near the door instead of going to hide behind my desk, like I would have wanted to do if there WAS a crazy person walking around our school.

Another crazy thing happened today:  I split up a potential fight.  The weirdest feeling for me though was when I had my hand on the larger boy’s arm and he just jerked his arm out got up and started going towards the younger boy.  But, I was just so angry too.  For me, the biggest form of cowardice/bullying is talking down to or threatening someone who’s younger than you.  It’s just sucky.  Thank the Lord that a teacher walked by and then the principal came.  I forgot this had happened until right now. 

Mainly though, what frustrated me the most is how gossipy my kids get about this.  I wish they would just take the higher road instead of the he-said, she-said thing.  

OH YEAH. Another thing: one kid who was in my room during lunch detention, stuck my girl’s eraser down his pants. That’s just nasty.  And it again riled me up.  Not because of what he did but how excited and voyeuristic my students get about this.  Sure, sure, kids will be kids.  But I think this is why nothing real gets done (from a societal perspective).  Kids and adults, we’re the same.  We get caught up in the juicy tidbits and latest gossip and lose sight of what really matters, so that in the end, the ones who take a stand are the only ones left standing.

I just don’t trust you.

I’ve been looking for new schools.  I enjoy being a teacher.  (Maybe my next post will be a list of all the wonderful things about teaching my class… because there are tons).  Yet there are things that I just can’t stand by and watch anymore.  I need to be at a school that encourages collaboration vertically and across, a school that promotes work-life balance, and a school that has a positive environment, or at least discipline.  Basically, no more fear.

On Friday, our PE teacher was fired.  If I were him, this is what my resume would include:

  • - taught six 50-minute sessions of rigorous PE a day, 4 days a week.
  • - started boys’ soccer program where he ran practices 3x/week, tutored boys after school, and coached games.
  • - set a 2.8 GPA requirement that inspired many borderline students to apply themselves, get help, and succeed.
  • - 3rd quarter, boys’ soccer team had many “most improved” awards and honor roll students.
  • - heavily assisted inaugural girls’ unofficial soccer program and coached girls 1x/week
  • - Patrolled front of school 15 minutes before and after school.
  • - implemented school safety drills (earthquake/fire) and ran a safety info session.
  • - did pull-out tutoring on Fridays for students with learning needs.
  • - mentored students with behavioral and discipline problems.
  • - ran detentions after school from 3-4pm.

According to him, he was let go because he was written up once for being late, and was late again this second time.  I believe him, because our school would do that.  It’s frustrating to me that our school micromanages our principals so that they micromanage us in weird tiny things (like homework amount – don’t you trust teachers to give the proper amount of homework?- or lesson plans), but don’t micromanage the larger things like whether or not it’s appropriate to let a teacher go with 6 weeks left of school!

Now, why would this be detrimental?  There is such a large hole, and my students are understandably sad.  Morale is low, and of course, as teachers, this does nothing to assure us of job security.  “Students first”?  Mmhmm.  This is in no way putting students first.  Getting rid of a teacher who could actually connect with the difficult kids, who started a program that actually gave kids an incentive to try in school?

One student and I had the following conversation:

RenMan: “Ms. Kim?  Remember how you talked about Cesar Chavez and nonviolent protest?  What if we did something like that?”

Me: “I don’t see what’s wrong with that.  What are you asking for?”

RenMan: “To get Mr. __ back.”

Me:  “You might get in trouble.  I might have to give you a detention for that.”

RenMan: “I’ve gotten detentions before.  Besides, they can’t suspend the whole school.”

My heart swelled, and I was so proud of him.  And then my heart broke a little that they would want to protest the unjust firing of a teacher but don’t protest our other over-the-top actions (principal made a kid wear a fax machine cord as a belt when he didn’t wear a belt to school, we’ve taken away shoes, we took 4 hours of instructional time last week signing sheets so that we could fake our ASES hours (half the kids signing aren’t even PART of the ASES program), we give detentions for the tiniest things, we have 20-minute lunches)

So kids have been talking, and I’ve been trying to stay neutral because although I would be so proud of them if they took the right steps in nonviolent protest, I don’t want to use overt influence in anything.  On Monday, kids were calling out, “We want Mr. __ back,” “Where is Mr. __?”  I saw my students’ faces, and I just shook my head slightly and said, “We’ll talk” to some of them so that they wouldn’t do anything rash.

That day, she bought the boys’ soccer team pizza for their victory.  I call that bribery.  But great. Boys’ soccer team is now won over.  At the end of the day, most students just moved on.  They’re used to teachers coming and going.

Then today, when my principal did the morning greeting, some of my students still didn’t say, “Good Morning,” back and instead just averted their eyes.  She took my girls aside and spoke with them.

I walked into the office to listen, because I felt they should have someone there.

The gist of the conversation went like this.

Girls:  “Why can’t you tell us?  He was so good to us.  We could connect with him.  All the students are sad.  He was such a good teacher.  He would never hurt us.”

As I listened, I cringed because what they say has merit but they sound so little and so young.  The principal was all cream as she assured them, “I hear where you’re coming from.  You’re still young.  You need to deal with disappointment.  I dealt with disappointment. I need to do what’s best for the students and the kids.  I can’t tell you.  Even if you go to someone higher, they won’t tell you.”

In effect, the message was you have no voice. You are young.

And at this point, I could have added something, but all I said was, “It’s probably illegal too, guys.”

And the principal latched onto that right away.  And it sucked.  Because all I wanted was for the girls to calm the mutinous looks off their faces.  To smile.  To not SHOW how they’re feeling.  To not be SO transparent.  To not be SO trusting.  Because it DOES take two to tango.  And right now, Principal, you ain’t tangoing.  You are taking advantage of the fact that they’re young and you get to lord that over them.

Then she says, “You can always talk to me, girls.  You know I’m here. But also, no rolling your eyes – that’s attitude, and you need to watch that attitude.  That could be a suspension.”  She covered this with this motherly concern.  In my head, I’m boiling.  How dare she.  That’s a threat.. to my top-top – can teach themselves algebra – top girls.. who of course, would fear anything disciplinary.  What a way to quash people.

At the end of the day, it’s true.  It’s his word against the school’s.  And the school legally is not allowed to give the reason.  (But then, WHY in the news, do we always hear about the reasons for teachers being fired?).  So maybe that’s not fair that I’m just taking his word.  But then, you know what? It’s always about trust, and at the end of the day, I just don’t trust her.

I later did go over to her office to smooth things over.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I just think, they’re not really rolling their eyes, they’re just upset and very transparent about it.  Don’t worry.”

“Yeah.  It will blow over.  Yesterday I was really nervous, but not today.”

.. and then it hit me that she was nervous too.  This whole act is an act.

 

I taught Animal Farm today, and as we looked at Squealer’s arguments and why the animals would agree with Napoleon, I used examples that sounded similar to my principal’s words.  Just like Napoleon, our school uses future fear, current fear, ignorance, and bribes to our own advantage.  At the end, who suffers the most?  The kids.  What’s worse is they don’t even know it.

 

words

“Stop!” said the old man.
Douglas pulled up and turned.
Mr. Sanderson leaned forward. “How do they feel?”
The boy looked down at his feet deep in the rivers, in the fields of wheat, in the wind that already was rushing him out of the town. He looked up at the old man, his eyes burning, his mouth moving, but no sound came out.

“Antelopes?” said the old man, looking from the boy’s face to his shoes. “Gazelles?”

The boy thought about it, hesitated, and nodded a quick nod. Almost immediately he vanished. He just spun about with a whisper and went off. The door stood empty. The sound of the tennis shoes faded in the jungle heat.

Mr. Sanderson stood in the sun-blazed door, listening. From a long time ago, when he dreamed as a boy, he remembered the sound. Beautiful creatures leaping under the sky, gone through brush, under trees, away, and only the soft echo their running left behind. 

Parents

I guess I’m lucky because at my school, we don’t have very much parent-teacher interaction.  Most of it is mediated through the front desk and the principal.  Yet, sometimes it would save me much time if I could just explain to the parent right away.  And, I think it would be good practice.  

Today, I saw a lady sitting in the office and I smiled at her.  She then beamed at me and nodded so I looked at her quizzically trying to place her.  She greeted me by name, and I responded with a smile and a hello.  She then introduced herself as Tutor’s mom (Tutor is a boy from the other class who comes into my class twice a week to help his best friend out in math.  He’s a sweet, sweet boy, and I wrote him a rec for some after school programs).  She shook my hand warmly and said that Tutor is really happy that I’m at our school – that I’m calm and gentle, and she thanked me for writing his rec and for being such a good teacher for him.  I was super confused.  “Did you mean Mr. —?” I queried.  “No, no, you, Ms. Kim, you!” 

I think I felt super warm fuzzies.  Apart from a really sweet card from a rather introverted girl, and a hug from a teary mother who was leaving our school to move, I have never had a parent or a student ever thank me of their own accord (I don’t count the “thank yous” after the awkward parent meetings where I have to be present to present my case on why their child is failing or how their child has crazy discipline problems).  

Then I laughed because honestly, the other 8th grade teacher is the calmest, most zen man I have ever met.  I admire him so much, and yet I know, I will *never* be him.  He told me he used to lose his temper a lot when he began teaching, but I don’t believe him!  So to be described as “gentle” and “calm”…  Well, I’m thankful that he said positive things about me when he didn’t have to, and that his mother said those things when she didn’t have to either. 

 

I had to teach on MLK Jr. Day

[PROLOGUE/WARM-UP]

…because it is my school’s belief that Martin Luther King Jr. would be more honored by our  work at school than by our sleeping in and relaxing. The cynical side of me says, “Bullocks!” and thinks that this is yet another demonstration of asserting power for the sake of asserting power.  But I’m glad I went to school today. (I sometimes wish that during breaks, I could take my students on trips.  Or just do little things.  Like garden.  or paint the walls.  Or set up a dodgeball tournament.  We could do homework together during breaks, and they wouldn’t feel bored and at home.)

Today at school, I got to talk to a student.  I was making copies, and I saw him in the room across mine.  Head buried in his arms.

Now, I’m at a charter, so I’m not sure what the rules are, but I patted his back with my left arm as he cried into his arms.

A tough weekend. Family fought. Sister left.  This goofy kid who strutted in at the bottom rung of middle school and told all the 8th grade girls that his name was that of a high-profile rapper.  Tall for his age, his mom chose to hold him back because she wanted him to be ready-ready for middle school.  She felt he still had some growing up to do.  I got to know him because he never does his homework, but he holds his head high and greets me anyway.  I can’t help but laugh at the little mischievous curve of his mouth, his full cheeks, and beautiful bovine eyes.  Girls would kill for lashes like his.

Today they trembled under the watery weight of his pain.  He looks so big, but his heart is still so tender.  In a few years, he’ll learn to be like his older siblings and mask that hurt.  But today, we were able to acknowledge that crying is okay because it shows us that we’re hurting.  And pain is good because it’s a signal that something is wrong.  And God forbid the day when we witness and experience wrong but do not have the physical wherewithal to acknowledge it.

I had him write his feelings, which seems so cliche but it also works.  Kid might hate writing for school, but he’s willing to put his thoughts on paper.  His thoughts are simple, yet I forget the truths he pens.  Families are not supposed to be broken or hurting.  And he wishes he could make it all better.  I asked him what he could do to help the situation, and he said he could do better at school.  And that simple answer tore at my heart a little because for these kids, they truly believe that doing better at school is their ticket.  It’s because that’s what we say all the time.  (But is that even true?  It’s not the golden ticket.)  We discussed what his good qualities were, and I was glad that he knows his strengths.  I also suggested  that we don’t need to suppress our sorrow, but at the same time, sometimes doing something else helps to ease the burden.  It was a gentle hint for him to return to class.  When I came back, he was gone.

At the end of the day, he casually knocked on my doorframe.  “I’m better now, Ms. Kim.”  His friends were nearby and he was on his way home.  “Good,” I responded shortly.  He smiled and turned lazily away, backpack slung over one arm.  Then I went back to tutoring chemistry. Today I hope he remembers that someone cares.

 

2014 Resolutions

This past month was hard.  I had a “friendship breakup” and some other relational difficulties.  I’ve always read about how we should avoid toxic people, but I also felt that God teaches us to love the ones who are most difficult to love.

Lately, however, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten more and more outraged and things that I witness or hear.  To a point where no longer do I trust God with the final outcome, but I have to run my mouth myself.

Also this year, I just see it as a continuance of alienating myself and building hedges.  I’m warm and outgoing enough so that people just assume that I am an open book.  But, I don’t think the path I’m following is healthy.

I’m wondering if I’m just the toxic person.

So in thinking about this, I have three resolutions:  (Using the SMART Goals system I use with my students: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound).

1) Prioritize truth in my life by returning to the study of God’s Word – 20 minutes in the morning daily by doing a simple workbook on the characteristics of Jesus Christ.

2) Guard by heart by guarding the words in my head and in my mouth, especially when no one is around me.  This year, I’ve started to use profanity in my mind and when I’m alone.  I need to nip this now – and I’ll do so by replacing garbage with truth (Eph 4:29).

3) Practice forgiveness.  I confess, I don’t really know how to do this specifically, measurably, attainably within a time limit. 

 

I think in taking care of my whole person, by starting with my core, my soul, I can truly be an instrument of grace for those around me.  As of now, I realized that I’ve just been working out of my own strength.