On Harvey and helping

Thursday, August 31, 2017

 
Water in the hallway of Lutheran South Academy, where a friend teaches

I’ve lived in Houston for almost my whole life. I lived elsewhere for college, and there have been times I’ve wanted to live elsewhere again (usually during the dog days of summer when I have to drive places with Kleenex wadded under my armpits for several minutes before my A.C. kicks in), but I love this city fiercely, protectively.

I first heard rumors about the tropical storm forming over the Gulf last Wednesday evening. If you would like to know why the decision to mandate a city-wide evacuation is incredibly nuanced and could have been far more catastrophic in the case of Harvey, see my footnote for reading material.

By Thursday morning, my first period students were abuzz with news that the tropical storm was projected to hit Corpus Christi, over two hours away. By lunchtime that same day when I checked my phone, I had dozens of missed texts from friends and family about the storm, now a category one hurricane. My afternoon classes were somber.

“It’s going to be okay, right?” one of my students asked, her eyes wide. “Like, it’s not going to just, you know…” For summer reading, she and many of my students had read Isaac’s Storm about the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, which left between 6,000- 10,000 dead.

“Oh, for sure,” I told her. “Don’t worry. We’ve got way better technology now, and ways to mass-communicate. Even if it hits us directly, we’ll be okay.”

I have thought about that conversation a hundred times since then.

By Thursday evening, my district cancelled school on Friday. I don’t have cable, but the weather radar on my phone app showed a projected path for the hurricane to hit mid-coast Friday night, then travel upwards on to Houston. I packed a small bag and drove to my parents’ house—also in Houston, but in a neighborhood higher than mine—and there we waited for Friday to come.

***

Imagine with me for a moment that your Facebook feed—usually full of grinning babies, squinting selfies, grills lined with slabs of brisket and ribs, dogs almost as cute as yours—is now a parade of the unimaginable.

Imagine that it started with a photo taken from the second story of a friend’s house of dark flood waters sloshing over the wooden interior stairs. Then it was a picture from a neighborhood minutes from yours of a car completely underwater—still on, mercifully unoccupied—its tail lights glowing several feet below water like the huge, red eyes of a giant, mythical sea monster.

Then it was everyone.

Imagine post after post of rising waters, cries for help, frantic questions and pleas thrown into the Facebook void:
“Does anyone have access to blood thinner medication??”
“My cousin is in labor and is trapped in her house—we’ve called dozens of numbers but they’re all busy and the roads are flooded, someone help us!!”
“I just talked to the fire department-- if you’re escaping rising water, either go onto your rooftop or your attic but take an axe with you so you don’t drown.”

Imagine learning that a childhood friend had to be rescued from their roof in the middle of the night.

And then a former coworker had to be rescued in the same way.

And then your friend’s parents.

And then a neighbor.

And, and, and.

Imagine that it is no longer shocking to find out that people in your community are being rescued from their homes this way.

Imagine that for four days in a row, the text thread you wake up to is one in which you and your friends and family are checking on each other to see whose homes have water inside them, who needs help. And when someone doesn’t respond on the text thread, it is no longer absurd to assume something terrible has happened, because something terrible is happening.

Imagine seeing videos posted by nationally syndicated news organizations featuring people from your hometown. These are people that you passed in the halls of your high school, being interviewed by camera crews as they drive their boats down the middle of streets where you grew up searching for those who need rescue, the wake of their boat lapping up onto rooftops.

Imagine people you love spending the night in lines of cots in middle school gyms and cafeterias, churches, the inside of a furniture store. Imagine not being able to get them.

Imagine that during all of this, it’s still raining, and that it will be raining for another three days.

Imagine hearing that one in three homes in your city has water in them.

Imagine that, just when you think the worst is over, the dams in your city begin to release, and you see on the news a helicopter image of the neighborhoods surrounding your school underwater. In some places the only thing visible are the treetops.

Imagine for four days watching the news with the persistent, dark feeling that you’re about to see faces of students you teach or have taught.

Imagine the impact all of this will have on your students—current and former, and their families, their schools.

Imagine, after five days, driving back into the city you love, seeing the devastation firsthand. From the elevated highway, you see what you’ve been seeing on the news, but there’s something about seeing it through a window instead of a TV screen that breaks your heart wide open. You drive past the Target in your neighborhood, full of military vehicles, fire engines, huge search and rescue trucks from across the country—Oklahoma, Lousiana, Nebraska—and this is where you crumble. Your world is underwater and you were gone for most of it. You pull over into a parking lot of a business you used to frequent where there is debris in a neat line on the windows four feet high. You put your head in your hands and cry.

***

I am unbelievably lucky. It is not lost on me that everything I just described is nothing compared to the trauma of those who lived it. My house and car were left undamaged by Harvey, but it has nothing to do with me or my decision-making (I don’t have flood insurance, for instance), or being “blessed” and has everything to do with chance. The god I believe in is a god that is unflinchingly good and is present in the love that we show each other, not one that handpicks certain special people to spare.

Many of my friends, neighbors, and community were not so lucky. As I write this, much of the damage is still unknown. Many people can’t know status of their homes because roads leading to their neighborhoods are still blocked by five, ten feet of water. The dams protecting the city are still releasing water. I don’t yet know when our schools will reopen.

Houston has been fantastic in setting up shelters for immediate relief of its citizens. Yesterday, I looked up a list of needs for the shelter nearest me, and by the time I checked the list again before heading to the store, it was at capacity for all donations. What I’m more worried about is the long haul, and the needs of people who will be piecing together their lives after total losses, particularly those communities who were struggling even before the storm hit, from Rockport all the way to Beaumont and beyond.

I write this for several reasons. I write it because, even as my city is still underwater, I hear about the conversations the rest of the country is having, judging my city and its people or politicizing the events of the last five days, and I think about how hard it will be when these people one day know a horrible sadness. People who have known horrible sadness know that you can never understand a situation—especially the ones that tempt you with the thought that you would have done it better or differently—until you are in it yourself.

I write this also because I consider so many of my readers family. If you are in Texas and are hurting, know that I stand with you, and if you are elsewhere, know that we desperately need you on our side right now. Many of our students are hurting, and will come to us when schools reopen with a range of emotions we can only begin to predict. Many students will not know how to articulate these emotions. For teachers in this area, who, even in a normal year go above and beyond to make their class a safe and welcoming space, we are stepping into uncharted territory.

And finally, I write because, as someone who sustained no property damage from the hurricane, I am now in a position to help. As I’ve said, much of the damage is yet to be assessed, but for now I think the best thing I can do as someone with a platform is to give a space and a bullhorn to those who need it.

Teachers, readers, whoever: if you or someone you know has funds set up for your students, your homes, your classrooms that were flooded or damaged by Harvey, please comment either on this actual post or on Facebook and I will create and continue to update a list below. There are so many people willing to help who just need to be pointed in the right direction.

Links on how to help/donate:

Adopt a Texas Classroom: info and link to a Google Doc to be directly matched with a teacher needing donations post-Harvey
Bear Creek Elementary Amazon Wish List: needs for students affected by Harvey at Bear Creek Elementary in Katy ISD
Cardiff Junior High Amazon Wish List: needs for students affected by Harvey at Cardiff Junior High in Katy ISD (Ship to: Cardiff Junior High, 3900 Dayflower Dr., Katy TX 77449)
Dickinson Education Foundation Needs: Dickinson ISD
The Galloway School: School in Friendswood, TX that flooded and has no insurance
Flood of Friendship: Gift cards for teachers in flooded areas
Houston ISD Supplies/Donation Fund: Houston ISD
How to Donate to Friendswood, TX: Facebook group with links to GoFundMe accounts, Amazon Wish Lists, local organizations, and and individuals coordinating with displaced families
Hurricane Harvey Teachers In Need: Facebook group for Houston teachers to post needs OR teachers who want to help to be matched with a teacher in need
LSA Hurricane Relief fund: fund to help restore school featured in the image at the top of this post
Mayde Creek High School Amazon Wish List: Katy ISD
Mayde Creek Junior High Amazon Wish List: Katy ISD
Pearland ISD: Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 5, you can drop off or mail gift card donations at the Virgil Gant Education Support Center (1928 N. Main, Pearland, TX, 77581). For more information, please contact Communications Coordinator Lexi Marshall.
South Houston Intermediate Amazon Wish List: Pasadena ISD
Spring Branch Pledgecents: supporting Spring Branch ISD families affected by Harvey
Teacher Harvey Relief: an individual I know personally who is coordinating with HISD and Cy-Fair teachers who are displaced or have damaged homes
Texans Helping Teachers:  Facebook page where teachers can post needs to be met/matched by others


Links for teachers (or anyone) who might need help repairing/restocking homes or classrooms:


Adopt a Texas Classroom:
 info and link to fill out a form to receive help from those wanting to be matched with a teacher
Hurricane Harvey Teachers In Need: teachers can post needs to be matched with other classrooms across the country
Mormon Helpings Hands Hurricane Harvey Recovery: Call hotline to submit work order (800) 451-1954 or (844) 965-1386. These folks are amazing, y'all. You don't have to be Mormon! :)
Teacher Harvey Relief: an individual I know personally who is coordinating with HISD and Cy-Fair teachers who are displaced or have damaged homes
Texans Helping Teachers:  Teachers can post needs to be filled by others


So much love, always,


Teach



Footnote on evacuation reading: 
Read here and here for starters, but also Google it or talk to any human who evacuated during Rita.

11 Teacher Memes That Make Me Feel Weird

Thursday, February 16, 2017



I will start this post by saying that I love teachers and I am one. I think they're funny and smart and strong and powerful, and I will defend them and what they do forever.

Next, I will say that after a brief Google search, I found a LOT of memes about teaching that made me feel weird. Please note that this is not because there is something wrong with the people who created these memes, and is entirely because there is something wrong with me.

Here we go.




1. 

The visual I have with this one is a parent putting their hand on my arm and saying, "Most people find you kind of dumb and unimportant, but some children who don't know any better think you’re amazing, LOL! Hugs!"


2. 



I would like for them to not forget what I said. 


3. 



This made me laugh out loud, especially the idea of giving this to a kindergarten teacher since they teach children who have ONE NAME TO REMEMBER. Also wouldn't it be funny to make one that was like, "They may forget your name, what you look like, and everything you taught them. They may forget your entire personality and that you are a sentient being. They may forget having ever stepped foot in your classroom." And just end it there.



4. 


I know this is meant as a rebuttal to someone saying, "Why would you want to be a teacher since they make no money?" but I only ever read it as "Pay me nothing! I am a robot teacher and do not eat or need housing beyond my storage closet where I recharge, boop beep bop." 


5. 




45 is the number of seconds I sat staring at this meme intensely before I got it.



6. 



Um, excuse me, Mr. Kazantzakis? This bridge would like to know if collapsing is mandatory?

Additionally, my next yearbook picture will be in this pose, I've decided.


7. 


“There you go, Johnny. You are no longer the ignorant fool who walked in my room last September. I’ve healed you! You can thank me with a Starbucks card.”


8. 



Here’s how I would improve this one: "Teach like a pineapple. Have a thick skin, but let people slice you up for parties. Remember that you are not great on pizza."

(This is why I don’t make memes.)

Also, I’ve been teaching for seven years. WHERE ON EARTH IS MY CROWN AND WHY DO OTHER TEACHERS HAVE THEM.

Also (again), does this mean I don't have to be sweet on the outside?


9. 


Love the sentiment. For sure would have gone with a different metaphor.


10. 

But what if your heart is made of books?! 


11. 




NOPE to this illustration and to the romanticized idea of my profession killing me. Goodbye.


That's all for today.


Love,

Teach

The 6 Most Important Things I Learned This Year

Saturday, December 31, 2016




Before we get started, I just want to make it clear that I have no idea what's going on with the above image I created myself. Is it outer space? Bokeh? Up-close Christmas tree? Who knows. One thing you will not see on the following list is "how to choose images for blog posts."

But here are six important things I did learn.


1. I learned to rethink charity. I watch a lot of TED talks (typically after I binge watch some trash TV as a way to absolve myself), and this was definitely the one that stuck in my brain most this year. It changed the way I think about charity, giving, creativity, and even many aspects of my own job. If nothing else, you will never think of overhead costs in charities the same way again.



2. I learned about loan forgiveness for teachers. If you’re a public school teacher and have graduate or undergraduate loans and don’t know about the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, educate yourself! Depending on what and where you teach, you can get quite a bit of money forgiven. I got around $9,000 shaved off my grad school loans, and I think that’s one of the smaller amounts. Also, I had heard that you can’t get both the Teacher Forgiveness Loan and the Public Service Forgiveness loan, but it turns out you can, just not at the same time. It’s all very confusing and the applications are an eye-roller, but it's all definitely worth the time and effort.

3.  I learned that Carrie Fisher said this. 


4. I learned that I have so much more room to be kind. I think if I’m honest with myself in the past few years I have begun to feel a little arrogant about my ability to be kind. As a teacher, I have a soft spot for the kids whom others would find unlikeable or challenging, and can, for the most part, handle defiance and personal insults from teenagers with what is for me an all-time high level of patience and gentleness. This has even carried over to the way I deal with certain adults who annoy or insult me personally. (P.S. If you want to get some practice having patience for adults who hate you, just start a blog or online platform where you share opinions.)

But what I’ve discovered in 2016 is that I don’t have nearly the same kindness and patience for a very specific sliver of humanity: adult bullies. This year, both online and in person, when I’ve heard or read about adults who proudly silence the voices of those who already struggle to have their voices heard, I lose my actual mind. All patience and gentleness disappear like a cloud of Febreze, and my immediate reaction is to want to say whatever I can to make the bullies feel small and stupid, which, news alert, is also bullying. I know what righteous anger is, and I respect the people who can channel their righteous anger into action, but I can assure you my anger towards adult bullies is not righteous and is very much a “I would simply like to crush you now” kind of anger. Perhaps the closest to kindness I get with them is not responding at all.

So although I haven’t learned how to practice real kindness with adult bullies, what I’ve at least done is recognize that I have a huge deficit in that area. I need to remember that I’m not a truly kind person if I’m only kind to the people I think deserve it.

5. I learned to make the best holiday sangria. For years I’ve been making sangria for my family for Christmas. Using a combination of online recipes, I've tweaked my sangria based on what sounded good or what didn't work the last time, and this year, I did it. I perfected the recipe. It’s not too sweet, not too red-winey, and with just enough cinnamon and winter fruits. You’re welcome.

Ingredients:
1 bottle red wine
2 c. cranberry juice
1 c. apple brandy
2 c. ginger beer (ginger ale is fine but I find ginger beer to be more gingery)
1 orange, sliced
1 pear, sliced
Arils from 1 pomegranate
1 c. fresh cranberries
3-4 whole cinnamon sticks

Directions: Combine all ingredients except ginger beer in a large pitcher the night before you plan to serve it. Add ginger beer just before serving so as not to lose bubbles. Drink. Spit whole cranberries from your glass at your older brothers when they least expect it and laugh maniacally.


6. I learned that “fake it ‘til you make it” is extremely real. After I wrote my last post, which detailed how negative I’d become this fall, I was determined to change my attitude at school. I can’t remember if it was the very next school day or several days later, but at some point I saw a student full-out sprinting in the hall, so fast that his hair flew madly behind his ears.  It wasn’t even a passing period between classes—this kid was just unapologetically booking it down the hallway. My immediate reaction, as it had been lately, was to be grumpy—to stop the student angrily and say something shame-y about rules and his age and how he should obviously know better. But instead I challenged myself. I dare you to deal with this running fool with as much positivity as humanly possible.
           
“Hey!” I shouted. He kept running. “HEY!”
 He turned and rolled his eyes, knowing he’d been caught. I thought briefly about what to say to him, and decided on a plan of action. I began walking toward him frantically.
“How much time do we have?” I asked.
“Huh?”
“I said, how much time do we have? Before they get here?”
He scrunched up his face, utterly confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well you’re obviously running from a zombie attack,” I said. “There’d be no other reason to run that fast in a middle school hallway, right?”
“Oh,” he grinned sheepishly. Then, seeing that I was waiting, he continued. “Yeah. They’re, uh, like ten minutes away?”
“Thanks,” I said, winking. “I’ll get my crossbow from my car.”*

Showing grace to the child who was way too old to be sprinting down the hallway did a weird thing to me. It made me furiously happy, as Jenny Lawson would say. I was practically giddy walking back to my classroom, as if I’d discovered something awesome like a bag of peanut butter M&Ms in my coat pocket or that it was Thursday instead of Wednesday. It made me want to do more gracious things, to challenge myself not just to be positive but to be as kind as possible in other situations that would have normally driven me bonkers.

So I did.
           
Don't get me wrong, I still had my grumpy moments between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, but for the most part, those two weeks were drastically different from before. Making a conscious choice to be kind and positive was a game-changer, along with the other things I decided to do from my list.

(By the way, I’m aware that “fake it ‘til you make it” won’t work in all circumstances in teaching or in life, especially when your professional situation is burning you out. I’ve been there. It’s brutal.)




That’s the end of my list. If numbers 4 and 6 make you think that I’m anywhere close to a model citizen, just email me and I’ll give you a list of some of the things I’ve thought, said, and done this semester and you’ll take it back immediately.

Let’s all be kinder to each other and ourselves in 2017, even if we catch each other sprinting in the hallways (which still makes zero sense to me).


Love,



Teach


*I do not keep a crossbow in my car.**

**I do not have a crossbow.


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