Only an American

I have two jobs now, and they may as well both be full time. Tack these onto my other two previously-employed jobs: full-time mama and part-time college professor. I might as well pull my hair out now, even though the students haven’t yet walked through my door.

Job number one: teaching two classes with new curricula; one I have taught for many years but must constantly revamp because I have the same students year after year, and therefore cannot teach the same content. The other, an honors eleventh grade English, I have never taught, though The Crucible and The Great Gatsby may as well be the plague of my existence. Back to the drawing board, take five.

Job number two: five emails, four classroom visits, three classroom check-ins, two verbal requests, one mildly-sarcastic PD a day. I am a “leader,” a “coach,” a semi-organized mess of a bridge between the administration and the teachers.

I remember when I was in Spain and it rained so hard that people were afraid to drive and I put on shorts and Crocs and walked two miles with a raincoat, an umbrella, and an REI backpack through calf-deep puddles to ring their doorbell. “Karen, eres tu??” “Si, claro.” “Solamente una americana podria trabajar en este tiempo.”

Only an American would work in this weather.

On a holiday.

On a Saturday.

On. Any. Day.

I heard it so many times that it became a part of my blood. Only an American would be told, “You have to have top-notch lessons, no cell phones out for any student, everything must at all moments be tied to the Common Core State Standards… and also, make sure you then check in DAILY with all the defiant/needy/tardy/absent/distraught/crying children to make sure their home life is OK… and also, even if you’re calling home with positive news, make sure you fully document it in the computer system… and also, if students have phones out which teachers are not allowed to take, make sure that you rate them lower… and also, if students are intoxicated, FINE, send them to the dean.”

My former coach stopped by today. “How’s it going? What are you worried about?”

What could I even say?

“You’re not here to coach me this year, so what will I do?”

“I have two full-time jobs and no way to do either one well?”

“I don’t have enough time in the day to soothe the crying soul and alleviate colleagues’ complaints?”


There was no answer. There is no answer. I am a teacher, the underpaid, thankless job that has ten more tasks piled up each year. The Americana, wishing I could be a Spaniard with wine served at faculty meetings at 11 am.

Only an American would endure this world. This hate-filled, hopeless world. This presidential evil, gotta-solve-this-with-our-solvency world. Only an American would sit through five faculty meetings in four hours and come out… just a little hopeful. Knowing that every minute of every day is so filled with business and thought and empathy that, walking down the hall at 13:56, looking at my watch and rolling my eyes on the way to copier trip number twenty-seven this week, my colleague says to me, “I know that look. I know exactly what you’re thinking. It’s almost 2, and there’s no way in the next ninety minutes you’re even going to come close to what you wanted to accomplish today.”

Only an American would endure this.

And so we must. We must teach to the Common Core. We must count how many cell phones students are using. We must think about our own identities and own up to our biases. We must check in with every kid every day and make sure they’re surviving this shit society we’ve placed before them. We must walk in calf-deep puddles to do our jobs.

I have a million jobs now. Being a wife, a mother, a teacher, a coach, a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an attendance-caller, an IC-updater, a cell-phone monitor, a daughter, a sister, an online blogger, a limitless writer.

Only an American would do this. So let’s do this. Let’s start a school year, and, for real, make America great.

For once.

On a Summer Sunday

Our days are filled with real and fake interactions. Online posts, real and fake news, frightening images, presidential non-proclamations. Terror. Hatred.

And love.

Before we begin our individual narratives, let’s take a moment to look at the whole picture. The city neighborhood with a simple walk to the park on a Sunday evening. What might one see? A creek swelling from a two-hours-past downpour, bubbling up with white rapids and ready to irrigate the constant green lawns that make Denver beautiful. A crooked, cracked path filled with walkers and cyclists and girls on scooters.

A pavilion that neither group reserved and yet they both share, the lilt of Spanish words rising into my memory, the Arabic floating past the wafts of hookah smoke from head-covered women. Both groups barbecue their versions of the perfect meat: pork loin on one side, halal beef on the other. In perfect harmony, they laugh and talk and provide a kind of peace one can only find surrounded by greenery.

And love.

Before we begin our individual narratives, let’s take a moment to walk with our families in this park. We continue on, hearing a dialect from an African country (as Ngozi Adichie would say, “non-American Blacks”) in the soccer field; an official game with a yellow-shirted ref and all; ages nine to thirty-nine, experts at passing and kneeing. Further along the rutty path, we see an African-American boy and girl racing their new bikes against each other, against the sunset, against the wind, as their too-tired mama tries to keep up fifty feet behind them. We see another version of Spanish with two girls in matching Sunday-best floral dresses, their father sidling alongside with what must be a silent infant in his top-notch stroller. Two white middle-aged women give us the questioning eye as they speed-walk in the opposite direction. A Middle-eastern male volleyball match reaches full pitch with three quick strokes as the wives sit on a 1970s park bench and watch their children drag their feet in puddles under the swings.

You and I? We can have it all: the setting western sun. The glorious scents of roasting meat and sweet tobacco. The raging creek. The tall pines and thick-as-moss grass. The summer Sunday.

It may have taken me ten years to convince my southern-Baptist-raised husband to open his eyes to a world that includes everyone, all races and colors and sexual orientations and belief systems, but with patience, persistence, and stories like this, he changed his narrative.

In a group messaging stream this afternoon, a colleague begged us to interpret her crazy cousin’s rant about protesters having their guns removed from their homes. She wanted verification of his facts, renunciation of his belief system, support for her own.

We responded. We researched. We proved him wrong.

But did we change his narrative?

He needs a picture, not a fact-check. He needs an image as bright as this one, in a park on a summer Sunday, where all the world’s a stage (and we are but players, thank you Shakespeare). A stage for acceptance, for peaceful coexistence, for every belief system that the world can hold… all trapped within one square mile. He needs to see that America is a quilt, not a melting pot. That we each fit our squares into its pattern, its ravenous waters, tall trees, sultry sunsets. That we belong here, all of us, intertwined for the betterment of humanity, for progress, for the future of our world.

For love.

With a kind smile, a gentle nod, a we’re-in-this-together comment, we can change the narrative. One person, one step, one sunset at a time.

Take my hand. Walk with me. And open your eyes.