Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wall


Over the past week I've been in the process of moving my whole life from this beautiful little Pilsen world over to our new apartment that Brian and I will live in after the wedding. This is a bittersweet process. This apartment has been the site for my coming of age years, it saw me through TFA ups and downs, and introduced me to some fabulous roommates. I love this place so, so, so much. One of the things that I love about it is a little tradition I started on the first weekend there. It was July of 2012, I had just finished TFA Institute training, and was painfully nervous about entering adulthood, meeting people at my school, and starting to work at this crazy job on August 1st. I decided that a little inspiration and encouragement was just the right thing to focus on, so I took a note from a friend with particularly kind words and taped it to the wall. And the Wall of Kindness was born. 


As any Teach For America teacher knows, one little note of encouragement is surely not enough to help you last through the year :) My Wall of Kindness kept growing; with each wonderful note from a wonderful person I had another artifact of goodness to keep me going. I got notes from cousins, sisters-in-law, friends, students, roommates, people from my hometown, and then even a few notes from that Brian Whartnaby guy started showing up in the summer of 2013. Handwritten notes are something that I value deeply, and I loved the daily reminder of the love I have in my life. 



So, as I had to move on and clean out my room, the Wall of Kindness of course had to be dismantled. It was sad. But it was also great. As I peeled each one down, I remembered the person who wrote it, pondered the sweet words on it, and each one brought a smile to my face. It reminded me to add to other people's Wall of Kindness too. So if you were one of my featured favorites, thank you for helping me wake up and face each day for these past two hectic, crazy, and wonderful years. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Second Fridays


Earlier this month Brian and I finally got to get out in Pilsen and my surrounding 'hood. It seems that winter, finally, is really gone. We walked around for Second Fridays, the monthly open gallery night in the Pilsen Art District. We meandered through studio apartments set up for art displays, sipping wine as we pretended to understand the content. There are some amazingly talented local artists in Chicago, and their work was beautiful. I'm moving to our new apartment next weekend, and I'm starting to get nostalgic already. Nights like these will make me miss living in the city. Good thing we can always visit :) 




Monday, May 19, 2014

Catch Up

I've been looking back at the last few weeks of May and realized that I haven't done too much reflecting, and therefore not all that much blogging. A LOT has happened and many little things have popped up, both really good and sometimes not so good, but I've been hurtling in fast-forward-mode for the past month or so. I have a lot to catch up on. I would say that it would be a lot to catch YOU up on, as a reader of my blog, but that's not quite how I work when it comes to writing. I'm not so concerned with how the audience thinks about my life. Perhaps that sounds a bit selfish, but I process things through writing about them, and so it's good for me to sit down, think something through, and catch myself up on it just by writing about it. It's like I don't know how I really feel about something until I write about it. Then I read what I just put on the paper and that's how I know my opinions, feelings, fears, and desires. Odd, I know, but it's a lot cheaper than a therapist. For now, I'll catch up on that very thing: catching up.

Fancy grilled cheese. The kind that sticks to your ribs. In the best way. 
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with two dear friends of mine here in Chicago: Sam and Julia. They represent my struggle and my sanity here in these two years through TFA. We three started in the very, very, very first day of training together and taught summer school at the same school that first summer. While we all work at different schools, I cherish the chances I get to catch up with them because they've been there from the start. They get it. They always will get it. And they will get it in a way that many other people just can't, simply because many other people just weren't there since the very, very, very first day. I also cherish the fact that they have fabulous taste in restaurants and want to meet me at fabulous locales.

Brian always thinks I say "sammich" because I don't annunciate the D in
"sandwich." I like to argue this point. 
This time was no different, as we met for dinner at the Little Goat Diner, the cafe-style restaurant in the West Loop associated with the blockbuster Girl and the Goat restaurant for which it might take 6 months to get a reservation. Thankfully, this spot had a slightly more affordable venue and a considerably shorter wait. I highly recommend it. We got a spot at a communal table (one of the quirks I love about the place) and gawked at the interesting offerings. Sam and I both opted for the fancy grilled cheese, and we three split some unbelievably good pies for dessert: a PB and J pie, as well as a passionfruit-oreo concoction.

PB & J pie. And passionfruit oreo. 
Sitting there, stuffed to the brim, sipping the last remains of my Spanish Cava that left bubbles in my nose as I listened to updates, rants, and funny stories, I was pleasantly pleasant. Two friends that are unbelievably smart, kind, thoughtful, and with great taste. Something about making it through Teach For America together will keep them forever in my heart. And my stomach. Because trying a great restaurant is a fabulous excuse to catch up, at least in my book.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Week from H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks

This week did me in. Please excuse the title of the post. Childhood Anna would have been slapped on the mouth for saying that one. My mother raised me better than to allude to that. But it was a rough, rough week on me, and I suppose one of the perks of adulthood is permission to write quasi-vulgar blog post titles.

In some cruel coincidence of the darkest of forces, our school's standardized testing week coincided with Teacher Depreciation, oops-I-meant Appreciation Week. 

The test, THE test, that our kids take in order to evaluate the teachers, happened this week. Can I tell you something that makes me sad? It makes me sad that six and seven-year-old children have the pressure and weight on their shoulders to perform on a computerized test for around forty-five minutes to gauge how well their teacher taught them for around 10 months. It makes me sad that in the last few months, I had to make decisions on what to teach my kids, not based on what I thought they would love to learn about or things I thought that six and seven-year-olds should know, but based on what will help them do well on this test. I was consistently put in a position of asking myself: Should I teach my class based on what's best for kids to learn? Or should I teach my class based on what's best for this test we have to take? More often than not, like most teachers, I settled for somewhere in the middle: I gave them tools to succeed on the test, hiding skills and supplementing here and there so they didn't feel the pressure of it. I couldn't live with myself and give in completely to test prep mode. It's an unfortunate situation we have put our teachers into, particularly our teachers in low-income communities. It's unfortunate that this situation also affects the students who need the most support in the most unfortunate ways. Ha. I say the word: unfortunate. As if it's unlucky, a random force over which we have no control. (Except that real people make decisions about these tests, teacher evaluation practices, curriculum choices, and support services for kids, every single day.) 

Yet here we were. Taking The Test. On Teacher Appreciation Week. That too, was tough. Each day I scrolled through pictures of my teacher friends who were rolling in gift cards from Chili's, trinkets, and handmade cards from their kids. It was a little different for me. No Chili's gift cards happened, I can tell you that. This week, one of my kids said he wanted to shoot me. I had a lot of attitude, rolling eyes, and defiance coming in my direction this week. 

I say this not to complain, but to make the one thing that happened on Friday all the sweeter. 

Here I thought: "This week is it. I am done. I can't come back on Monday, and I won't be able to come back the day after that. I just can't do it anymore." 

That's what God does, doesn't he? Right when you believe that you can't handle it anymore, he gives you grace. 

This Friday, after school, after Teacher Appreciation Week had technically expired, my grace came through a mother picking up her child, who handed me an envelope through the window. It wasn't accompanied by a gift card, a potted plant, or balloon. It was just a card, but it said this inside:

"Often teachers are unappreciated and not recognized for the work they do. Please know that not only do I appreciate you but thank you for all the work you've done with my child and all the other students you work with. You have encouraged her in so many ways and we're so blessed to have experienced your ability to help the mind grow. Teachers are blessings and thank you for being ours. The best statement you said to my daughter was, "I wish I had a classroom full of students like you." She loved that and will never forget it."

That was all I needed. In spite of feeling defeated and kicked while I was down, I know that one mother and one very sweet girl noticed and cared and are thankful that I'm in their lives. I know that one girl knows and will remember that she is smart. And that she is loved. 

And after a week from you-know-where, that was pretty great. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stuff Students Say: April Edition



May means almost the end of the school year, but May also means very very high stakes testing for my little first graders. This week is a big one, maybe the biggest one, for my kiddos and I as far as the school district is concerned. As far as I am concerned, my kids are more than numbers and a 45-minute computer test. So we will just have to agree to disagree, CPS, state of Illinois, and any other interested parties. In the meantime, here are gems from the month of April.

(When I walked over during math, assuming that she was going to ask a question about math.)
Do my hair smell good?

Hey Ms. Gesch you been working out? 

I don't wanna have kids. I hear it hurts so bad and that's why my mom gets mad at me. Because she had to have me and it hurt. So no kids for me.

I can spell "television" and "carpet" so you should be proud of me Ms. Gesch. 

Over the weekend I'm going to IHOP. For pancakes, duh.

You smell clean. You wash your clothes? With bleach? In a dryer?

(After I was gone for a day from school)
I kinda missed you. Okay a lotta kinda. 
(Heart melt.)

I was white when I was born.

(Screamed to me during recess)
Listen to the words I am saying to you. When I get to be 21 I will have my birthday in Hawaii. 

(Reading a book on koalas)
They burned down the forests?! They MEAN!