Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seeking to Understand...and I Admittedly Don't!

At the risk of being misunderstood, I want to take some time to discuss the "undiscussable."  I just read an article found here:  http://m.knoxnews.com/news/2011/feb/13/social-cannibalism-tearing-at-east-knoxville/ written by a brave, black author who had the courage to speak of his experience.

I'd like to state right up front that I am no expert on the African-American experience, urban schools, or how to address the problem of low achieving students and high needs schools.  There, that's my disclaimer.  I'm simply going to share my experience, observation, and ideas.  Boy, I haven't written anything yet, and I'm terrified of speaking freely.  The last thing in the world I want to do is write something that could be perceived as "racist."  I'm already editing my thoughts before I type them and trying to find "neutral" words to express my thoughts.  Afterall, I'm not black.  I'm white.  What could I possibly know?  I have zero credibility to write about this subject, right?  Well, something brought you here to my personal blog, so you can leave now if you're easily offended because I'm going to do my best to express myself clearly without being offensive.

First.  I love my students.  Each and every one of them.  My fourteen champions enter our Locker Room packed down with baggage.  They're nine and ten years old and yet many of them have seen, heard and experienced things I've never encountered in my 45 years!  Most of my students live in poverty.  They receive free lunch and their parents do not pay school fees.  And yet... I know that four of my 4th graders have cell phones.  Okay, perhaps they need a cell phone for safety reasons.  Most of them have Wii game systems and flat screen TVs, many have the TVs in their bedrooms!  This bothers me.  A lot.  Granted, I'm not their mother and it's not up to me to raise these children, but it IS up to me to educate them.  Often my students fall asleep in class.  Why?  I've asked them that question and it's often because they've stayed up as late as they wanted playing video games until 2 or 3 in the morning.  Just yesterday, I had a student report to me that another student said something to her about "fingering her."  No kidding.  4th grade.  How tragically, tragically sad!  Where is their childhood?  Who stole their innocence?  Why are they exposed to cable TV shows, movies, and music that send them distorted messages about how life is supposed to work?  And yet church is important.  Church matters.  It's central to the community.  In my opinion, it's also one possible solution to the growing problem.  Community churches have credibility.  The people who live in the community trust their pastors.  The people in the community do not trust white teachers who come to their school to "change our children!"  They do not trust "religious" white people who look at them as "mission projects" or a way to feel better about themselves for donating their cast-offs to the "poor."  (Cynical me coming out full force now)  Can I blame them?  Heck, no! 

My students grow up fighting to survive.  They fight and argue in class a lot.  Each other...me...assistant teachers...substitutes...no one is off limits.  Why?  The jury is still out on this one.  Most of my students respect their mothers tremendously.  I cannot imagine them talking back to their mothers, and yet they don't hesitate to talk back to me.  I heard something that stopped me in my tracks yesterday.  A respected white teacher in an urban school was told by a student that his family had told him that he didn't have to listen to ANYTHING a white man told him.  I can't help thinking that may be true for white women too.  Why?  It's got to be a lack of trust.  Racism is alive and well and both sides are guilty of it, but somehow we are going to have to put aside our differences and come together in the best interest of our children.  ALL of our children, but especially those children who are painfully behind academically.  There is just too much at stake here.  Get over it, people.  Time is precious and time is wastin'!

I'm interested in knowing what a black child hears when I gently ask him/her to "Face the front and pay attention" that would cause the child to yell, "I wasn't doing nuthin!!"  Ummm, I never said that the child was "doing something," I simply needed him to focus on the lesson at hand.  Confrontation breeds conflict and conflict shuts down the road to learning.  I don't understand this about my students.

More later...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

AES, Part II

Yesterday, I took the entire day off from school.  The "lump" was still there.  My results were abnormal.  My anxious thoughts robbed me of peaceful sleep.  Each time an upsetting thought crossed my mind, I'd tell myself to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything, through prayer and thanksgiving make your requests known to God"

I took stock of my life.  IF it is the worst, then what did I have to fear?  I've lived a great life.  I know where I'm going...but somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I still wondered if I'd gotten the whole faith thing right.  God would let me into Heaven, wouldn't He?  I did accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I acknowledge that I am a sinner and cannot save myself.  I hoped with everything in me that I got that part right.  I even found myself thinking of people I would know in heaven.  Papaw Ebb and Papaw Elbert.  Grandmother King.  Rick Campbell.  Vickie Tharpe.  Dale Mayo.  Would they have time to welcome me?  Would I be scared?  I know it sounds absolutely crazy to have these kinds of thoughts but they were there.

Funny how perspective changes the way you see, hear, feel, and experience ordinary things.  I've enjoyed the taste of my food more.  I've listened more closely to my children and I've given them my undivided attention.  I've appreciated my husband and took notice of the little things he does to make my life easier.  I savored the day.

One o'clock came way too soon and as I headed back to the Palace of Pain, I regretted not having lunch with my kids at school when I had the chance.

This time as I made my way in the doors, I wondered if this would become a regular thing for me.  Would I be coming here so often that I'd become familiar with the details of the building?

Check-in was very similar to the first time with the exception of the number of people in the waiting room.  There must have been at least 20 men waiting there.  Some were dozing; some were watching TV, some were reading; a couple were playing with their phones; and two or three were just wringing their hands.  I missed Tom and wanted "my man" to be there with me too.

I read a quote on the desk of my "insurance card" lady that read, "You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than by what others say about him."  Have I said more good things about people than bad?  Not lately.  I've been so critical. My tongue can be so cruel.  Tame your tongue, Amy.  Shut your mouth.  Conviction.  Got it, God.

I was called back to the changing room after a short wait.

Awkward, Embarrassing, and Scary...but Worth It!

I've been avoiding my blog for a few days because I wasn't sure I should tackle a topic this personal in such an "open" forum.  In the hope that baring my soul may encourage someone else, I'm going to just put it out there.  (Inside, I'm laughing right now because I'm thinking of my unintentional puns).

Two weeks ago, I found a lump.  Yep.  A lump.  There.  I can still feel the blood drain from my face and my pulse rate increase even as I think back on it.  Maybe I had imagined it, so I checked again.  Yes, it was still there.  Definitely still there.

I was immediately filled with fear and regret.  Eight years ago, when Sam was born, my doctor told me it was time to get a mammogram.  At 36 years old, I needed to "baseline" and he gave me the name of a reputable center along with his referral.  But I didn't go.  I didn't even make the appointment.

At my yearly "big girl" check-up that I only went to for the purpose of getting my birth control pill prescription refilled, he told me the same thing.  For THREE years he stressed to me that I simply MUST get that baseline mammogram, but I did not think it was important.  Until I felt "the Lump."  At that point, it became critically important...and it was too late.  What's that he'd told me?  A mammogram can detect breast cancer up to three years before a lump could be felt?! 

How stupid, foolish, and arrogant am I?  What makes me think I'm immune to health challenges?  What makes me think "it could never happen to me?" 

After processing the reality of the possibility of breast cancer, I resolved to call a doctor first thing Monday morning.  My doctor had closed his practice and his office phone number was no longer in service.  I called a doctor I knew from having taught his children.  Fortunately, I was able to schedule an appointment at 11:15 that every day.  Relief, desperation, and panic mixed together and I told the office that I needed to leave school immediately to go to the doctor.  I admit it.  Tears came. 

I called my mom and she went with me.  Bless her heart.  I hope I can be there for each of my children like my mom has been there for me. 

My doctor was unbelievably wonderful!  He was patient, understanding, caring, and comforting.  After "checking me out" he told me that he did not suspect my lump to be cancerous, but...yeah, he said it too...I needed to get a baseline mammogram to be sure.  Trust me, I made my appointment that very day!

One week later, I made my way to Knoxville Breast Center.  As I walked through the frosted glass doors, I was struck by the "feminine feel" of the office.  At check-in, I was given a vibrating pager and told to have a seat.  I barely had time to sit down before the pager started shaking.  I was told to keep my pager, but go to "room 5" - a computer check-in area behind a sliding glass door.  I answered the typical questions and passed over my insurance card.  Try as I might, I couldn't help noticing the "boutique" stocked with wigs, padded bras, etc.  Just the sight of the room full of fake heads with various wigs was enough to sent chills down my spine.

Within seconds, my pager alerted me that "they" were ready for me again.  This time I was ushered to a dressing room and told to use baby wipes to remove my deodorant, undress from the waist up and put on a lovely blue-green gown.  Once I was "ready" I could wait in the "screening waiting room."  Here we go...I thought to myself.  In the back of my mind, I knew that this day could very well change my life forever.  The "funny" emails I'd received about mammograms played through my mind.  Yeah, I'm getting ready to smash my breast under a car's tire...or maybe just slam the garage door down on it as hard I could...not so funny now to be sure!

Again, I had barely sat down when I was called into another room.  Judging from the equipment in this room, I was in the right place to be tortured.  And I was.  No kidding.  It hurt.  A lot.  A whole lot.  BUT it did not last long.  The technician took several pictures of both sides.  Modesty went out the window.  Personal space?  None here.  The entire process took about 10 minutes.  I was told the results would be mailed to me in a week to ten days.  Okay.  I done. 

Sore, tired, and somewhat relieved, I dressed quickly and headed out the door.  Admittedly, I thought to myself that "that wasn't so bad!"  I never, ever should have waited to get that done, simply for the peace of mind that a good result promised.  I was amazed as I drove out of the parking lot that the entire process took less than 30 minutes!

Then last Friday, I got the results in the mail.  They wanted me back.  Something on my pictures seemed out of the ordinary, but they did not suspect cancer, but wanted to get more information.  Seriously?  I called and made the earliest appointment available.