Friday, June 26, 2020

Today

Happy 80th Birthday Flowers
Today

I wrapped up Year 24 of teaching with a Zoom conference with my kindergarten students and their parents.

I'm told that the shared COVID health crisis experience strengthened the bond between all of us and it is a time we will all look back on with a unified pride. Hmmmm.....I'm not sure I needed a pandemic to take this class into my heart.

I actually feel cheated out of my time with them. There aren't many things that bring me more inner peace and happiness than spending time in the classroom teaching young children. That was taken from me 3 months ago.

We (me, my team teacher, Sarah, the students, and parents) made the most of remote learning. Some students thrived, others floundered, yet we figured it out together.

Today

It's my mom's birthday. She would have turned 80 today. She came to me again in a dream last night. I awoke at 3:30 in the morning, smiling from the pure joy of talking with her. It felt good to talk to her. She seemed happy. She said she's sorry she cannot visit more often, but she said she has to wait until the "edvetesments" are completed before she can gain more independence. I never heard of that word. I wrote it down and googled it. It's a mystery. It was kind of her to visit me on her birthday.

Today

I begin something new. My students and their parents allowed me to remain focused on things other than grief these past 3 months. I realize more than ever that my passion, my bliss is teaching.  In the midst of unbearable sorrow, the smiles of my students, their stories, their enthusiasm, and their empathy sustained me. But, I also know I need some quiet time. Time to sit alone and get lost in thought. To grieve.

Today

I sat on my front lawn and watched the clouds go by.

Today

I saw a hummingbird for the first time this year.

Today

A bright red cardinal sat on the fence in my backyard when I was talking on the phone to my sister. She tells me they are a sign that our departed loved ones are near. It's sweet. I know my mom is close by.

Today

A beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived from my friend, Maria, with a card which read, "Dear Gary, Thinking of you and sending you love. She is with you always. Happy Birthday in heaven Beverly!"

Today

It kinda sucked and it was kinda amazing.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Tips From My Mom #18

I never thought I'd be without my mom. I mean, I feared it, but never actually thought it would happen. What would life be without her? That was too much to contemplate, so I stubbornly and arrogantly ignored the thought.

And then, suddenly, it happened.

True to her fashion, she went without fuss. She slipped away quietly while lying on the couch watching television. Dad, sitting next to her in his recliner, didn't notice a stir or a gasp. When the movie they were watching ended he said, "Well, that was a good one, huh Bev?"

Mom did not answer. And from that moment on his world changed forever.

It's been 30 days without her and the loss is devastating. Yet somehow, she's with me.

The morning I learned the news I literally walked into a wall after I hung up the phone. I wandered around the quiet house from one room to another, walking up the stairs and down without direction. I was numb, in shock, full of everything and nothing. After a while, I tried to get some sleep. Tossing and turning in bed, newly scared of everything, I heard her voice in my mind. She said, "Don't be scared, baby. I am here with you. Get some rest." I felt comforted and calm. I did what she asked.

Later, there were dreams. Conversations with Ma. I asked her, "Where did you go?" In my slumber she told me, "I didn't go anywhere. I'm right here." I pushed back because I knew she went away. Although she was right in front of me I asked, "Where are you now?" She told me she was just napping, that she was tired.

My little sister, Jennifer, had a similar dream. In her dream Ma was packing to go somewhere. Jennifer anxiously asked her where she was going, why she was leaving. She told me Ma said, "I'm not leaving. I'm here."

We believe her.

All my life I've worn my mother's love like a shield against the scary things in this world. I believe she continues to love and protect us all.

Through my grieving and mourning I realize that Ma has showered me with enough love to last me the rest of my life. Even if she isn't a phone call away, she will forever be a brilliant light in my life: my mom, my best friend, my champion. Every child should be so blessed. She did so much for all of us, no wonder she was tired. And still, somehow, she continues to assure us that she's still with us. She hasn't left. Not really.

Ma, I love you.

See you in my dreams.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Remote Learning

Taking care of the little ones.
We are here for you.
"You do what you have to do, I guess."

This is a reflective statement my mom uses when thinking back to the early years of her marriage. She was just 23 with three young children (my older brother, Wally, my twin brother, Larry, and me) dealing with financial struggles in a new home far away from everything and everyone she knew.

I'd ask, "How'd you handle it all?"

"You do what you have to do, I guess. And then you wonder later how you did it."

I feel a little bit like that right now with the upheaval casued by the Coronavirus. Last week I was teaching in a classroom in Manhattan. This week I'm starting remote teaching from my home 55 miles away (from my classroom), connecting with students who are now scattered across the country.

It's been a challenging, stressful week planning a huge shift in pedagogical methodology. Online classes for kindergartners?! What the hell does that look like? My colleagues and I rolled up our sleeves and immersed ourselves in learning about the various platforms and technology to do this. A week ago I knew nothing about Google classrooms, Zoom, or the many, many, websites and resources seemingly popping up everyday to support our work.

The shift has forced us to be creative. Creativity is something I embrace and the possibilities for what this could be is inspiring me and many of my coworkers. It has solidified us as a community of educators, sharing ideas and solving problems.

Teachers are teaming up to provide ASL versions of read alouds and lessons. My student teacher has adjusted her role a bit to provide support in ways I hadn't considered before. We dive into it all on Monday morning. We have a plan and a platform and hope that we'll figure the rest out as we go.

There is a great deal of talk out there about what this means for the future of education. As state tests are suspended and teacher evaluations are on hold, can we rethink the limits of our current modus operandi? Will the focus on connection, well-being, and individuation to help us reimagine our schools?

However we proceed, for the moment parents and teachers must work together more than ever before. I'm counting on them to help my class of 5-year-olds thrive in this crazy time. We are all going to do what we have to do, I guess.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hamilton's "Dear Theodosia" in ASL

The video for Dear Theodosia is ready to share!

It's the vision of Kori Rushton, an educator at Brooklyn Collaborative and the producing artistic director of IRT Theater. Kori brought all of the elements together: she chose the song, assembled the creative team, and handled all of the scheduling details.

The result is a beautiful version of the song in ASL performed by Kori's high school students, my kindergarten students, and Gabriel Silva. The students learned the sign language using an interpretation by Brandon Kazen-Maddox. I worked with my young students a bit every morning to piece the verse together. Brandon was there on the day of the shoot to support the students and model for them in person.

I am very honored to have been involved in this collaboration. I know it meant a lot to my students who are a mix of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing children with deaf parents. The work supports Kori's passion for celebrating #deaftalent.

Planning is already underway for the next one! Enjoy...


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Perfect


We had a sweet, playful, and engaging visit with children's book author/illustrator Max Amato yesterday. Max is a young artist whose very first children's book, PERFECT, caught the eye of one of my students. This little boy brought the book in to share with the class and it was a smashing success. I was so taken with their reaction that I emailed Max to invite him to visit with our kindergarten and first grade students. Happily, he accepted!

I couldn't wait to tell the students about his response. They cheered and jumped up and down when I shared the news. Once again, I thought how wonderful it is to teach in New York City. Opportunities like these seem more available here.

Max Amato meets the student who brought PERFECT to our attention

Max read his book alongside an ASL interpreter as the children giggled and supplied a charming running commentary. The kindergarten students knew the book, but the first graders were seeing it for the first time. PERFECT is a mostly visual experience about an eraser who wants everything "perfect" and his fun-loving nemesis, pencil.

In the end, the pair learns to work together to create adventure. Max told us that as a child he wanted everything perfect and learned to embrace imperfection. PERFECT was inspired by his letting go. It is a journey that I understand all too well, although I still want things to be perfect.

Max Amato used pencil and eraser to create artwork before our very eyes!

After the reading, Max put a blank piece of paper under our document camera and slowly used a pencil to cover the entire page. He then asked the children what images they wanted to see. Then, he created them using an eraser. And yes, there was applause when he was finished!

The children went off to their tables armed with their own paper, pencils, and erasers to make their own art. As they did, Max autographed books for everyone.

Max Amato signs books for the students

The room was filled with energy and movement - just how I like it. Children were happily invested in their creations. It's a simple way to create art. One that is accessible to everyone. It's messy and smudgy and imperfect, but somehow absolutely perfect. I guess that's the point.

I loved looking around the room to see the children working, hands and faces covered in dark pencil smudges. And then noticing others quietly reading their books, pointing to the words, deep in concentration.

Photo: Sarah Piracha
A child quietly reads his copy of PERFECT. I love this picture so much!

Max's visit has encouraged more children to bring in books to share! Every morning someone is pulling a book out of his or her backpack to read to the class. It's very motivating. Who knows, there may be another gem waiting to be discovered.

Photo: Maria Edwards
The whole crew with children's book author/illustrator Max Amato
*Thank you to the PS347 Parent Association whose generous support made this author visit possible.

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