FBQ: Friday. Be Qualitative.

“This is an FBQ conversation,” she begins. And her artistry, backed by data, emphasizes the urgency.

The urgency. It is mid-October, and I’ve seen my principal cry too many times in the course of twelve months.

The urgency of children who have escaped a war zone, who have traveled on three city buses to escape their neighborhood school, who have escaped poverty with our food bank, to be on the tips of our tongues as we sit in the come-down-to-Jesus choir room, AKA, staff meeting with bad news.

This isn’t the day after the election when our hijab-wearing girls were too fearful to take a bus to school, when our students of color were threatened by now-openly-racist citizens, when we were lost souls in a city school surrounded by bigotry.

This isn’t the almost-there rating of last year when we met in our usual fourth floor, everything’s-going-to-be-fine lunchroom location.

This is a Friday-the-thirteenth, tell-it-like-it-is, FBQ meeting. The urgent meeting.

We face ourselves and then each other. Is it you? Is it me? Is it them? Is it us?

We argue in the hallway after, fuck the contract hours on a Friday afternoon when we’re supposed to be at FAC. “You know those charter schools eliminate kids left and right. One infraction, gone. SPED? Gone. Detention for forgetting a pencil and you don’t show up? Gone. Charter schools in the poor neighborhoods? Don’t even try to argue, I looked at all the scores last night. RED.”

We are ourselves, wholly ourselves, and we promise to honor her FBQ request.

But this room will be on our minds for the weekend, for the week, for the rest of the year. This conversation, this seeking of solutions. This, what-did-we-do-wrong-this-time question that sits at the back of our minds every damn day when kids don’t show up, when kids say, “Fuck this class,” when kids come crying about their dying mothers, their far-from-home brothers, when kids wish nothing more than one percentage point higher than what they have earned.

“Can we turn the qualitative values of this school–I mean, look how many of you are wearing purple today–into something quantitative?”

FBQ: Family, Be Quiet.

I want to stand up and shout: You can’t measure this. You can’t quantitatively, statistically, mathematically, measure the amount of emotion that drips down her cheeks, that causes me to clench my fists and hold back my own tears, that makes us question the very effort and belief system we put in place with every moment of every lesson we work so hard to place before them.

You cannot measure, quantitatively, LOVE.

Family, Begin Questioning.

Start with:

1) Why do we vilify teachers?
2) Why do we blame students?
3) Why do we quantify humans?

I want to change her acronym. I want to change them all. To mesh the SLO with the CLO, to move LEAP into SIOP, to blend FAC with FBQ. I want to change colors from yellow to green to the beautiful blue sky that hovers over my beautiful school, with its red-yellow leaves just making that blue pop like a world you’ve yet to see.

It’s Friday.

Be Qualitative.

Because you can’t quantify love. And isn’t that what matters?

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Closed House

When I was a child, I always looked forward to my elementary school’s open house night. We would spend time in class creating artwork and projects showing off our classwork for our parents to see. Someone would make cookies to be laid out on plastic tables along the hallway. The teachers would get all dressed up, and they would be waiting happily at their classroom doors to meet and greet the parents.

I was always so excited to hold my parents’ hands, pull them through the hallways, and show them my desk. On it would be a writing sample, a math test, a piece of macaroni art. On the walls would be more displays of student work. The teacher would meander in and out of the room, casually chatting with parents or answering questions like, “What will the next unit be?” or, “How did you come up with the idea to have them make planetary mobiles out of different sized sports balls?”

There was no PowerPoint. There was no outlined agenda. There was not a four-page handout justifying the use of technology, the rigor of content, the guidelines for being prepared in ___th grade. There were no parents giving speeches about fundraising, principals introducing them and cheering them on. There was no gathering in the gym to brag about why this school is different and better than all the others because of this population of students, that method of math, these test scores, this money raised.

The open house, or when I moved to Denver, the back-to-school night, was simply a chance for parents, non-hovering, working (class) parents, to enjoy a small sample of what their children’s schooldays were like, to put a face to a name of the teacher their kids were talking about.

I sit here now at the first of three back-to-school nights of the year. I have just finished my first full day in the classroom, my first full day of balancing between teaching three overcrowded classes, observing three other teachers, covering a class, and having an after-school meeting where I was told, once again, that my ESL students will not continue to receive the support they so desperately need because my course isn’t required for graduation.

I sit here now in a two-hour sit-and-get presentation following (already completed) twenty pages of paperwork stating the same information, following daily e-mails about everything my daughter is and is not doing.

My child was not allowed to come.

I sit here now thinking of all the papers I need to grade for my second job; of my oldest daughter who started high school yesterday and is no longer speaking to me because everyone she’s met so far has asked her to follow them on Snapchat and I won’t allow her to have Snapchat; of my husband’s (so rare) harsh words about a carpool miscommunication that we were forced to exchange in the rush out the door, the rush to get three kids to three schools because “school choice” matters; of the letter Oh Nih Shar wrote to me about how she made bad choices in high school just like I did (as I confessed in my letter to my students)–and how grateful she’d been two years ago when I sent students to track her down and tell her (in cards and letters) we loved her even if she had to marry at fourteen.

I sit here now thinking that everything in this PowerPoint is information I’ve already heard in the paperwork and the forced (or your wait list spot will be lost) parent orientation in the spring, and didn’t I CHOOSE this school, and do you need to further convince me of its value?

I sit here now as a twenty-first century parent, a twenty-first century teacher, wondering, for the love of God, what have we done with our world?

Whatever happened to hands-on projects and cookies in the hallway and simply putting a face to a name?

To kids being accountable for their own work without us helicoptering over daily e-mails?

To teachers dressing up, slapping on a smile, and just offering a casual, kind word?

I sit here now in this closed house we call a school. This place where we’ve set impossible expectations for our students and their families. Where we are strapped not only with too much homework for sixth grade, but also too many technological addictions that leave our kids feeling left out, where schools only feed the fire by providing them with one-to-one technology.

This is the first of three for me. It is the second day of school. I am not home to fully (with text citations, I promise!) explain to my daughter why she can’t have Snapchat. To mull over TEN late-night emails and calls about my middle child’s detention, later cancelled, for our second school of choice. To make sure my youngest has packed her spork and sleeping bag for her upcoming camping trip.

My daughter is not pulling me down the hallway, excited to show me her pastel drawing. She, like the rest of us in this inundated-with-endless-information society we have created, is probably at home playing a video game or we-chatting with her friend in China or trying to figure out her standards-based math problem on Google Classroom.

And I am not there. I am here, in this closed school, wishing that a two-hour PowerPoint justification could transform into a two-minute meet and greet. That we could just trust that our children’s teachers are doing the right thing. That they could just trust us to raise them with the best intentions.

Wishing that we could have an open house. Not a closed society where choices burn us and bore us and take us away from things that truly matter:

Our time.

Our children.

Our happiness.

Refocused

with a broken fridge,
 limitations on dry ice,
 and carpool circles
 
 to pick up daughter
 from uncalled-for punishment,
 my Monday sucked ass.
 
 driving home in rain,
 she told me the whole story
 and other teen truths.
 
 then shared her essay:
 perfectly satirical
 (writer at fourteen)
 
 the rain flooded us
 and we laughed until we cried
 knowing that truth hurts.
 

I Cry for his Loss

i cry for the card, for his loss,
 for his Iraqi-Syrian past,
 for all the burning hours of summer school
 where he committed himself
 to finishing high school in three years.
 
 i cry for his words, for his loss,
 his inescapable self that has hidden
 a kind face in a chaotic classroom,
 his sly smile catching my every
 snuck-in witty remark
 (even when no one else could).
 
 i cry for the system, for his loss,
 shuffled by our government’s wars
 between homelands that stole his home,
 for his pride in Iraqi architecture
 that he may never see again.
 
 i cry for his future, for his loss,
 for how unequivocally kind his soul remains
 after all he has witnessed in twenty-one years,
 for his brothers who wait under his watchful shadow,
 for our country to give him a chance.
 
 i cry for his words, for my loss,
 to not have his presence in my classroom,
 to have the nicest thing anyone’s
 ever written to me
 disappear with a graduation ceremony.
 
 i cry for the world, for their loss,
 for robbing refugees of their rights,
 for keeping the beauty that is him,
 that is within all of them,
 from sharing their strength
 with all of us, inshallah,
 for a brighter tomorrow.
 

Snow March

because we need this:
 desertification looms
 just beyond the bend
 
 (Trump looms there as well,
 where the ninety-degree March
 made some record highs)
 
 and so? a snow march
 to keep precipitation
 where it belongs: Earth
 

All of Me… for All of Us

The email arrives at 2:18, one minute before the last bell and the rush to professional development that will rob me of my time and steal what little time is left to revise my latest paperwork dilemma (the endless paperwork dilemma of being a teacher in the twenty-first century).

This is the rush, the constant rush, that is my afternoon: students stopping me in the hallway to ask what they missed when they were gone, teachers commenting on the lack of grammar present in all writing and instruction, a line for the only staff bathroom nearby, a snakelike maneuver through the after-school net of kids clinging tightly to the last moments of the school day, a quick conversation in the shared bathroom about a shared student who told a teacher my class is his favorite, the rush back to my room to pack up my bag, gather my things, and make it to the classroom on the other end of the third floor.

All in ten minutes.

All after giving up nearly my entire block of planning to meet with a student and her family about an IEP, after waiting for a translator who never showed up, after discussing her math skills, her joy of writing, her absenteeism, her prom dress (donated by a kind soul who managed to find a sheer blue scoop neck that was made for her).

And after an hour of mindfulness with a video that has scared the shit out of me about my failure to raise teens in this day and age, about the addictiveness (equivalent to alcohol) of phones and social media, I must begin my afternoon rush: late to pick up my youngest, a dash across town to gather up the carpool, a dash back to discover two unpaid water bills by our tenants, to receive two flustered calls from the insurance agent about the dent in my Pilot, to break up three arguments over whose doll is whose, and to finish that damn SLO data nightmare before my midnight deadline.

All in sixty minutes.

I have ten papers for my online class that I must grade by Saturday. I have twenty emails I haven’t checked. I have a stack of paragraphs waiting for editing. I have dinner to cook and children to coerce into completing chores and finishing homework.

And I don’t have time for this.

But I do it anyway. I place the delinquent bill on top of our MacBook for Bruce to see. I finish my tea. I gather my keys. I call my girls. The oldest defiantly stays, but the younger two join me for the trek back.

We stop for fast food noodles and make it in time to see the art show. Riona googles over the sculptures, the pottery, the mixed media. Mythili eyes the graphic arts.

And then the choir concert. The show begins with all the choirs onstage singing a song from five decades ago, and Riona comments (quite accurately) that they must have picked a song from when the choir teacher was little. I can almost feel a collective groan building up inside us all as the song nears its end. But then I notice how many of my students are on stage, and I simmer down, because they are why we are here.

The cute emcees crack song-related jokes between each song. And what follows is nothing shy of amazing.

Soloist after soloist take the stage with voices as smooth and luxurious as anything you’d hear on the perfect pop radio station. A mix of modern and foreign, old and new. Belting out all ranges of the scale from the highest soprano to the lowest baritone.

As I sit with my wiggling girls in the front row, screaming and clapping when they hit those high notes, tears are ever present. I let them fall only two times–when the smaller-than-the-rest special needs student sings a solo in the choir’s interpretation of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and when PoeMuLayLo takes the stage.

Hers was the paragraph I put up on my screen for the past two days as one to model, one to look up to.

Hers was the voice I heard singing in Karen last week, the lilting pain of persecution so clear even if I couldn’t understand the foreign words.

She has been in my class for three years, with her bright eyes, her kind smile, her desire to bring every piece of writing to perfection, to never put up with anything but the best from even her seat partner, to quietly be a calming presence that no one would ever think to cross.

And here she stands, her accent gone, the American song spilling out of her as if she wrote the words herself, and I can do nothing but try to capture one last piece of this magic before I have to say goodbye to her forever.

I’m not thinking about the emails. The papers to grade. The endless tasks that make up my afternoons of teacher-motherhood.

I’m thinking about only her luxurious voice, about the music that connects us all, about how much I will miss her.

“She’s leaving, isn’t she, Mama?” Riona whispers to me, seeing the tears linger on my cheeks.

MuLai belts out the chorus of “All of Me” one last time as I nod my head, unable to answer.

Right now, in this moment, there is no rush. No snakelike maneuvers. No wishing to be somewhere else.

There is only her voice. John Legend’s song. And All of Me.

Here.