Wednesday, October 22, 2008


How lucky am I to have a husband that not only is an amazing man, but also a fabulous cook? Most of the time I cook or we cook together, but when it comes to anything Italian I let him do his thing. I stick to grating parmeseano reggiano, making a salad, setting the table, and plating the food (fail-proof tasks). Last night Jonathan made pumpkin tortellini with browned butter, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and pears with balsamic and parm. Simple yet incredibly delicious. My minor contribution was homemade peasant bread from the Favorites Ivory Family Cookbook (very yummy, highly recommended). This was one delicious meal, thanks to Jonathan!!

The lighting in my apartment isn't the greatest, but you get the idea:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Playing Teacher at Parent-Teacher Conferences

I have become very good at faking it. Besides classroom management and basic content knowledge, much of teaching is learning to role play. By "role play" I mean acting in the way you think a teacher should act. This includes a gambit of gestures and phrases that I have harvested over the years by being a student. Such tricks include: pausing mid sentence to invoke a controlling silence, pinching the skin between your eyes and sighing to demonstrate disappointment/frustration, and counting out loud to expedite readiness ("Don't count, Eunice, I hate it when you count!"). The more time I spend in the classroom, the more expert I become in these teacher tricks.

But this week I was faced with the big beast, which sucked out all of the authentic teacherness I could generate: Parent-Teacher conferences. Let's face it, high school kids are easily manipulated. Right now, many of them think that I am an albino Jewish male from the Dominican Republic who speaks passable Spanish and knows Usher. Only one of those things is true, of course, my friendship with hip-hop star Usher (though you could make a case for me the albino thing). Parents, however, are more discerning their their students, so convincing them that I was a real-life, know-what-I'm-doing, I--have-appliqué-sweatshirts-that-celebrate-my-authentic-teacherness-complete-with-felt-apples-and-funny-buttons teacher would be difficult to do.

So I put up science posters in the room, placed a bag of mini snickers in a petri dish, and wore a professorial blazer (minus the elbow patches). A slow, but steady stream of single moms and older siblings came into the classroom, and my attention began to change from my own feelings of inexperience, to a more complete view of my students and their lives.

I have always known that my students had it rough--that is mostly why I applied to Teach For America--but it didn't really come together until I sat down with some of my students' parents. Parents struggle to raise good kids no matter where they are, but in the Bronx it is even tougher. Gang members aren't some invisible group of black sheep--they are everyday students in your classroom. They want protection from empty troubled homes, and loneliness. Violence is not a video game warning--it is evidence worn on puffy faces as marks of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of my students are failing, but most of them are coming to class, and even if all they get is a little refuge from the outside by half-listening to some white guy talk about cell division, than something good is happening.

But, really, something much greater is happening. In talking to students and their parents, I realized that all of them are trying to make it. Parents want their children to do well and to behave, and most students don't want to disapoint, but something gets lost-they become distracted or discouraged. Most parents are struggling to make it on their own--they were mostly single moms working multiple jobs and raising teenagers who are only half their age. Multiple times I found myself saying, "These parents are so unlike my parents!" But they ARE like my parents. They love their children and are doing everything they know how to make a tough life a little more livable.

I want so much for their children to make it--to really make it, not just to pass my class. It is so challenging to try to be a fragment of positive inertia for developing students, and yet so sweet to try! They need positive, yet honest encouragement. And that, you can't fake. I'm learning to do that, and I am learning to love it.

Don't you just love New York in the fall?

"You've Got Mail" is one of my favorite movies of all time. We live in the heart of the Upper West Side, where the movie takes place, and every time I watch the movie now I feel like I'm living the life of Kathleen Kelly (minus the love story via email, owning a children's bookstore, etc). Take a stroll around our neighborhood and you'll see Cafe Lalo, Riverside Park, Central Park, Broadway, and all of the scenes from the movie. I love it.

One of my newest favorite lines is, "Don't you just love New York in the fall?" With fall creeping in I can truly say I do love New York in the fall, and I couldn't agree more! The city is filled with crisp air, beautiful trees, and all things fall. Not to mention, it's also the time to switch out the wardrobe and pull out sweaters, boots, scarves, gloves, and hats. It might be my imagination, but I feel like people are happier in the fall, especially on the subway. I no longer find people shoving me out of the way to get on the air conditioned train and get out of the nasty heat underground. Now the warmth is welcomed, and the battle to be the first one on the train is less intense.

For the past few Saturdays Jonathan and I spent the majority of our day in Central Park soaking up the lovely fall weather and watching the leaves begin to change. We are beginning to understand why people spend so much time's New York's backyard, an escape from the craziness of city life. We are truly embracing that idea after weeks filled with late nights at work, running around, and always being on the go. Here are a few shots from our visit to the park a couple weeks ago. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm spoiled

Jonathan spoils me! He promised he would replace our camera, but he didn't say he would go above and beyond to get a camera I really, really wanted. I was so excited to come home from work today and find a couple boxes on our front door. Guess what I found inside? A Canon Rebel xsi!!! YAY! I wonder what we'll be doing this weekend...

Monday, October 6, 2008

September rolled, October gold

I can understand why New Yorkers wouldn’t mind having a perpetual fall season here—somehow the crisp, autumn air is a perfect match for the bustling city. Whether walking from the subway to school in the Bronx, running through Central Park, or stepping out for a night on Broadway, autumn not only brought sweaters out of the closets, but a hominess that imbeds thick layers of memories each moment. The green is blotching into scarlet and amber patches, and stretched shadows are accompanied by a tired, golden haze. Autumn in New York is the sweet, yet somber finale before a dreary silence.

But, change comes, and change stirs the heart. As Jamie and I have started our respective jobs, we have found the change is heavily blanketed by challenges. This month, Jamie moved from working with the sales team for Redken, to being placed with the Global Marketing team for Redken. She delivered a flawless presentation that caused the entire executive board at L’Oreal to stand agape for ten, stunning minutes. Jamie has become the poster child for L’ Oreal, and, while juggling work responsibilities, has been part of their recruiting team at NYU. I think they make her wear a shirt that says, “More than a pretty face…I make beauty fashionable” OK, maybe it doesn’t say that exactly, but it could. Besides working on the ever-posh 5th Avenue, Jamie is also an avid church-goer (Mormon), yoga-doer, and smile-bearer. She is constantly helping someone out—mostly me.

Me. Well, I am a teacher in the Bronx. Last month I told you a little bit about my first impressions as a teacher, and why I think there is good evidence as to why they live 30 years shorter than the average person. The past month has been full of trials and triumphs. As part of my school’s curriculum, I was responsible for taking 15 ninth graders for a 3-day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. None of these kids had been in the woods, and I wouldn’t have minded if they never would have returned. It was rough from the get go—all day long I was the receptacle for high-pitched whining and circular complaints. The first night was full of me getting up and telling people not to urinate on other people’s tents and to retrieve another student’s socks from a high tree branch. The second day was full of the same groans and complaints. I was beginning to catch on that actually liking the camping experience was not cool, and hence I was very not cool by trying to help the kids enjoy it. I am OK, not being cool, but not being followed, is no bueno.

The second night, something magical happened, not long after dinner. We had just finished cleaning up a batch of dirty rice and beans (with real dirt), and putting the food in bear bags, when a large, ravenous deer bounded into camp. The students, who had never seen a cute, brown-eyed doe before became hysterical, screaming bloody murder. Several were in tears calling for mommy. After some time, I was able to tell them that deer eat grass and are about as harmless as caterpillars (this analogy failed because the students are likewise terrified of caterpillars).

Camp became quiet, and then the best thing that has ever happened to me while at Bronx Lab appeared: a large Black Bear trampled through the brush 20 feet from camp. The Bambi screams of ten minutes previous returned to their unhealthy Decibels, and the bear, initially stunned by the warm greeting froze, and then sauntered back around. The students were in tears, begging to go home. And me, the uncool, white teacher, was grinning from ear to ear. Not to sound blasphemous, but I had a God-like experience where I came to understand a bit why he likes to see us humbled. And these kids were humbled and obedient….for about 10 minutes.
From the trip, the students came united in their feeling of how uncool I am, and the uber traumatic event of seeing deer and a berry-eating bear within 20 minutes of each other.

Hence, I have latched on to this anti-coolness appeal, and have become the chess coach at my school: a science teacher, chess coach, scrawny white kids from the West…it doesn’t get much uncooler than that, and that is what makes me a great teacher. As one of my ninth grade advisory students put it today, “Mistah, do I have to like you? I hope not, ‘cause I don’t!” For a moment I was stunned, just like that black bear. And then I smiled at this rare compliment. Quickly, I turned away and began pumping my fist in a celebration of my uncoolness.