Thursday, August 31, 2006


That's what I'm feeling like today. Am I the only person here who is trying to think about how to develop a scope and sequence that isn't just topics and what to do for a semester? I don't have time to do what I was trained to do (and barely remember, let's be honest)--develop a scope and sequence of conceptual units that spiral skills upward over time. I don't see that in what I'm getting for this American Lit course at all. And I don't know how I'm going to teach this if I'm not doing what I'm trained to do. Yikes.

Now it's on to learn how to beg for stuff on Donors Choose. I'd like to beg for a few dozen reams of paper right now. Two schools are allotted six reams of paper a week. That's handouts for 800 kids. Those reams will disappear quickly.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My Whole Life Changed

...and so did this blog. I just started my first day at my new job, teaching English at the School of Social Justice on the Little Village/Lawndale campus.

School/campus web site:

click on the tab for Social Justice.

Yesterday I spent half a day at the Chicago Public Schools New Hire Center trying to get on staff. There was a snafu about my position between the board and the school, but it got fixed somehow.

My first question to my principal, Rito Martinez, this morning was, "So, am I hired yet?"

"You're staffed," he told me.

Some folks at CPS central office know. Best comments were:

Arne Duncan, CEO: "That's a gutsy move."
Peter Cunningham, communications director (excuse me, director of external affairs):
"Wow, my life just got a whole lot easier."

Mine just got a whole lot harder, I suspect. There's a lot of work to do here. I have a relatively light load--four classes of 25 students, two preps. Sounds like the suburbs, right? But I haven't taught in 10 years, I have a more-or-less weekly elective I'm cooking up from relative scratch, and while one of my English classes seems to have curriculum in place, the other is much less fleshed out and I don't feel really supported by my partner.

So I have work to do.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Aldermanic Challenger???

I found a flyer in my mailbox last night for a lady who plans to challenge Shirley Coleman in February. Alas, I've forgotten her name at the moment. All I can think of is Joan Crawford but I bet that's wrong. (No, she's not Mommie Dearest, at least one hopes not.)

Anyway, we'll see if she has any substance.

Cool Link

I found this blog today, written by a woman from the Dominican Republic. She's a teacher and a novelist, and she's a lot better at posting photos than I am.

If you'd like to see what Marshfield Avenue might feel like in the DR, check her out.

Apparently she has to pay off the garbage guys to take her trash. We've yet to sink that low on Marshfield, but who knows??

Pandillera (Gang) Marketing

...or...When the Souls Come Marching In: The Latin Souls, that is. Apparently somebody got out of jail while I was in Colombia and the Soula are back in action. They have taken to graffiti marketing--there's a lot of new Souls graffiti along Marshfield Avenue, most notably across the railroad bridge above Marshfield at 48th. The rusty railroad bridge has panels that exactly match the number of spaces needed to write "LATIN SOULS" in white spray paint. Look out Madison Avenue, here come the homeboys...

Of course at least three of us have been calling 311 and the alderman's office to get Graffiti Blasters out there, but nothing has happened yet. Alderman Coleman has her meeting tomorrow at her church west on 50th. Guess I'll have to get up and go.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I never wrote about what happened the night I got home to Chicago. Dawn and I had a long catch-up session out on the back steps. I got the impression she hadn't had too many people to talk to while I was gone, and lots of things had happened that piled up in her mind. So she put them out there.

Boy troubles, friend troubles, family pressures, just feeling lonesome. Eventually she was crying and hugged me and said, "You are my mom."

I hugged back, but I said, "I'm not your mom, honey. Maybe your aunt."

Everybody needs a grownup friend who's not their mom or their dad, right? But I sure wish I spoke better Spanish, because I'd like to be a better friend to Dawn's mom, too.

Dawn's really wishing her mom could be more of her friend. She'd like to talk to her more about boys and problems and being a teenager. But from what Dawn told me, I think her mom is afraid if she acts like a buddy she won't be a strict enough parent to keep her daughter out of trouble. But if her daughter doesn't have a buddy, she'll act up and get in trouble.

I understand that dilemma very well. It's actually a lot easier to talk to teenagers about their problems when you aren't their parent. Even being their teacher is harder than just being their friend. There's less pressure to have all the answers or do exactly the right thing. And there's less worry that if something goes really wrong you'll be held responsible. It's bad enough being held responsible by your own conscience, at least if your conscience is anything like mine.

It's been hard to decide whether to encourage conversation about teen problems. I don't want to say things that would counter whatever her parents are telling her, but I know my experience of teen life is a little closer to hers than theirs, in some ways. I know what kids are up to and I know how kids who aren't up to it get through that time. But I've been deliberately holding off on letting the conversation get anywhere near sex until she's 15 and officially come of age in some way.

Despite my resolve, we got there, at least a little, on the back steps two Sundays ago. As I suspected, she hasn't done anything I would disapprove of. My standards are probably less strict than her parents (she's not allowed to date until she turns 15 and my sister was dating at 14--I wasn't!), but they are stricter than the U.S. average (we're all Catholic here). But I'm a big believer in forewarned is forearmed and I know that sex education in CPS is not very good, generally speaking. I also think there are things a grownup friend can say that don't get said enough in classrooms, about love and respect and having your own bottom line that nobody can push you into crossing.

She'll be 15 in two weeks or so.

Meeting Ricardo

I'd like you all to meet the man who got me to go to Colombia. (Or at least one of them.) Ricardo Esquivia is a lawyer-turned-organizer who has created some very impressive church networks and NGOs. He is currently working in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia, which is a flashpoint on the touchy subject of paramilitary demobilization. Part of the reason I went on this trip was to get to meet him. I've heard a bit about him and his work over the last few years.

A few years ago, one of a number of times when Ricardo's life was in danger due to his work, I received a request to write letters to the Colombian government on his behalf. It was a big moment on this trip when he talked to us about his experiences surviving night raids and arrest. Afterwards I was able to thank him for the opportunity to make his acquaintance. Over the last 15 years I've written a lot of letters to a lot of different countries hoping they might help save an activist's life, but Ricardo is the only person on whose behalf I've written whom I've ever met afterwards.

Here's a photo and article about a peacemaking award he received last year:

This link, to an interview in which he talks a lot about water, has a photo of him with Barbara Gerlach, a UCC minister in Washington who helped lead our delegation:

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