Thursday, March 25, 2010


My class is doing poems. They were asked to write about the topic of their choice, focusing on SHOWING rather than TELLING things. We spent a lot of time working on imagery and sensory details. They are all written in free verse and were taught about meter and rhyme. For most of the poems, the students chose not to use rhyme or meter.

Where I’m From

I’m from a trash can
Where is isn’t safe
Where the ghetto and the poor
Mostly live, every 30 minutes
I hear the ambulance

I am from a trash can
Where it’s hard to get an
Education but easy to get
A job. This is what I think of
A trashcan

Where I’m From

I come from where it is cold, warm
And hot. From sunny to cloudy to misty
I come from a place where people
Struggle to make ends meet. Where
People live in the street because they have
Lost their homes. Where the innocent die
In blood and the evil walk around
The cruel streets. I come from where
People have sickness that can’t be
Cured. I come from where
People think that war and violence
Is the answer to peaceful world. I
Come from where people think drugs
Are the answer to escape the world
I come from a world of evil.

Where I’m From

I’m from colored people
And Spanish people
Where the illegal scent of weed fills
The air.
Where the f-word
And the n-word are

Used as forms of communication
Was born, where
Grafitti ruins the
Space of abandoned

Where people get shot
For no damn reason
Where the spicy flavor of
Fried chicken is so
Damn good. Where
The occupation of drug dealer is not
A job. Where the
Mayor’s million trees
Program is not working
Where the sanitation department’s
Workers spend
More than half an hour
Cleaning up one part of
The street. Where the
White new Yankee Stadium

Stands. Where
The two, five, six all
Crash through. Where
The Bronx bombers
Won 27 World Series
I’m from the south, south

Where I’m From

I’m from one of the
Five boroughs in New York City,
The city that never sleeps
You can make it here you
Can make it anywhere

I’m from brown brick buildings
With a green apartment door
6 different blocks and
96 buildings

I’m from a wash ‘n’ set
Every two weeks, a hot
Dryer, drying my hair
From being clean, nice
And healthy, rollers in
My hair and my hair
Dropping nice and silky
From hard work on my hair

A well loving educational family
Loves to party, nurture, and shop
To give and take, I love
Them so much.

Where I’m From

I come from the nicest to the rudest
From the loudest to the quiet
I’m from the Bronx
Where people do what they
Feel like without nobody telling
Them what to say or do

I’m just an ordinary girl that
Has dreams and goals but with
People screaming at me ‘yo shut up.’
Or ‘you useless girl do anything
Just get away from me.’ Or you
See men beating women or their
Kids. But this is the Bronx. Like
It or not. Does not matter you have
To deal with it.

Where I come From

I come from hip-hop that pounds
Against my ear drums
And pop that is music to
My ears with a melody of Gaga

I come from love when my friends
And family actually care about
Me, and HATE when I feel
Like killing but I wouldn’t do

I come from my freckled face
Mom with hugs and kisses and
From my quiet dad with nothing
To say to me

I come from the dark Bronx
Where I’m scared to go out at

Where I'm From

I’m from a trash can
Where is isn’t safe
Where the ghetto and the poor
Mostly live, every 30 minutes
I hear the ambulance

I am from a trash can
Where it’s hard to get an
Education but easy to get
A job. This is what I think of
A trashcan

Where I’m From

I come from where it is cold, warm
And hot. From sunny to cloudy to misty
I come from a place where people
Struggle to make ends meet. Where
People live in the street because they have
Lost their homes. Where the innocent die
In blood and the evil walk around
The cruel streets. I come from where
People have sickness that can’t be
Cured. I come from where
People think that war and violence
Is the answer to peaceful world. I
Come from where people think drugs
Are the answer to escape the world
I come from a world of evil.

I’m from the loudness
Coming out of homes and cars
My parents make me crazy from clam
They make me scream and tear.

I’m the caramel color of my skin
From the names I got that represents me
From the talk-a-lots
And attitudes and calmness sometimes

I’m from the spicy food
Where you need to drink water
Spice is in the food and candy
From spicy then sweet or sour

I’m from people that see things
And keep quiet
From looking at nothing to
looking at something
I’m from love to hate
Where either you’re loved or hated
From hurtful feelings or romantic feelings

I’m from people who have dreams
That come true
Or don’t work out

Where I am From

I am from Yankees games in the summertime
And playing first base and Kelly Park
I am from chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone
And the smell of fired chicken and white rice
I am from a closet overflowing with bright colored t-shirts
I am from pictures of myself on the walls
I am from girls I wish I could date
I am from a sister who makes me crazy
I am from a little brother who looks like me
But he behaves better
I am from a dad who always be in my school
And teachers who get me in trouble
I am from math tests that I get As on
And a best friend who calls teachers ‘redneck’
I am from football afterschool
- I am the best at catching
I am from hip-hop music and basketballs bouncing
I am from the coquies and bacalao
I am from leather gloves that play baseball
I am from schoolwork and essays and homework
I don’t do
I am from Xbox360 game systems
Call of Duty
I am from the Bronx and Puerto Rico and I.S. 217

I Am From

The sound of kokees
The tase of Samba Brazillian Steak
The sound of spongebob in the morning
Waking me up at 8:00 am
And being yelled, “Senaida Marie from
My grandma on weekends and “Senaida Marie
Ramirez” when I’m late to school.
I love the smell and taste of my grandmom’s
“papa con huevos” and “arroz con leche” from
My other grandmother.
I am from concrete on 174th street and
People getting mugged in the corners.
I am from a place where I’m scared to walk out at night. I am from
The spooky streets of the

Where I come From

I’m from a place where as soon as
You get off the train or bus you smell

I’m from a family, a very big family, with plenty
Of children and adults

I’m from a family where there comes a time when everyone knows automatically to be
Well that’s when my mom comes around

I’m from tall people, thick women with
Big butts and busty breast

Where I’m from

I’m from the loudest block
Where people are crowded.
I am where you see black and white and tan.
I come from people in the corner
Selling iceys and patellilos
I am from the people in the street selling drugs.

I come from a middle class family
I am a spoiled brat
I am from the loudness
And from the crazy gossip

I come from “what you looking at”
To people so judgemental
I come from a violent place
Where people fight, to get killed
or to get high

I come from a house full of
People being loud.
Nephew being annoying – all the time.
All I see is mama cooking
For the family to get us full.
I come from the sweetest family
But loudest block


Love is a connection
Which includes communication
Talking all day until my battery dies
When my phone charges I wish time flies by

Love is a chemical reaction
Test it out to see if that is your attraction
Feeling little butterflies in my stomach
Just by texting 1000 x 4

Love has memorable pieces
Which include hugs and kisses
Makes me feel different emotions
Like smiles to frowns
Because from loving you to missing you

Love includes loyalty
Which sometimes makes me feel
Like royalty

Where I'm From
I am from an older brother who
annoys me
I am from talking on the phone
I am from "she talks too much" and "she could do better."
I am from bad grades and being a
good girl
I am from my mom always coming to conferences
-yelling at me to do better.
I am from being a good friend to
people always counting on me.
I am from "you're out" "strike"
I am from grilled cheese, juicy snack wraps, salty french friends,
to the tomato sauce pizzas on days we don't want to cook.
I am from "hola", "hello" "que ases" and "hi"

Love Poem

I’ll always be beside you till the very end
Wiping your tears away, being your best friend
Love you for your warmth and sweetness
Love you for your humor , too
I love you especially just for being you
And if you cry a single tear
I promise I’ll cry too


You were always there
When I needed you
We played
We protected each other
And helped each other

We always compete
In school
Outside the yard
But the next year
You disappeared
I left elementary school
Without you


The sound of arguments at night between
My parents wasn’t the best nights of my childhood
They’re separated now and I thought it
Would be better
Know I have sobbing nights
The comfort of hot chocolate
And hugged by pillows was the best
Having to live in two separate
Listening to my iPod, traffic
Noise, trains going but I feel
As if they trying to cheer
Me up and say it’s okay
Trying to cheer me up with dance classes
Hip hop and salsa I
Was still sad.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


There is a girl in my class who is a little bit out of her mind. I’ve taught her for two years, and won't hesitate to say that she is truly nuts. She knows it, I know it, her mother knows it, and the rest of the school absolutely knows it. Her name is Alex. She is tall, pretty, and entirely erratic. The administration doesn’t reprimand or correct her for fear of her reaction, and most teachers would rather allow the outrageous things that she does slide than risk an explosive confrontation. 'Picking your battles' with her generally entails not picking any battles.

Last year she threw a full water bottle at a teacher, calling her a ‘skinny b**ch’. She mutters under her breath - long, angry rants. At her science teacher, who she really despises, she will scream repeatedly that she hates her. ‘I hate this teacher, this class is boring that’s why I hate this teacher, she so skinny, she’s a b***h, she’s just mad because her mother don’t feed her.’

For some reason, Alex likes me. This in no way makes me exempt from her tantrums. She tells me she 'hates me to my guts', she asks me to 'shut up,' she tells me to leave her alone. She breaks rules that it wouldn’t even occur to most people to break – rules I wouldn’t even think were worth breaking. She operates with complete and utter disregard for the school rules, systems, and procedures. She comes and goes from class as she pleases, she trespasses on the property of the elementary school that we share a building with, she fights with her friends and her enemies alike.

Last year, she was the cause of my worst day, which says a lot when you compare it to the many bad days that preceded it in the year. We were taking a final in the Spring. The class was unusually compliant, all sitting in silence, taking the exam seriously.

“Miss, I need help,” she said.
“What do you need, Alex?” I asked
“Sex.” She replied casually.
“Okay….how about something that I can help you with?”

She came to the front of the room and looked for a pencil in her bag. Not finding one, she stood, walked over to a small boy, and punched him in his face. The provocation for this remains unknown, but because it was SUCH a good day and everyone else was being SO good, I decided that rather than handle it in the class, as I had learned to do, I would call for security to remove her so that the students could finish the test.

As I picked up the phone, she grew enraged and began screaming at me.

“I’ll kill you, I’m gonna come to your house and kill you. I’m gonna trash your car and your boyfriend’s car and your house.” I remained calm, as these outbursts were unnerving but not entirely out of the ordinary. I told her to sit down, and she took desks and began to flip them over. She took chairs and threw them across the classroom. She took every book off of the shelves and threw them on the floor, before knoccking over the bookshelves. I called security again, and no one came. I called the principal, and the administration, and was unable to reach anyone. I went next door and got another teacher to come help, but when she came, Alex cursed at her and told her to shut up. Two other teachers came and left, trying to get her out, failing, and leaving to find security.

Alex unplugged the phone from my wall, and smashed it on the floor, taking the broken parts and hiding them around the room. She broke into my locker and began filling her pockets with my things. She flipped over the trash can onto the floor. At this point Mr. M came upstairs to my room and saw the mayhem. I stood in front of the door telling Alex to return my things to the locker before leaving the room. She pushed me out of the way and disappeared.

This was the first, and only time that I cried in school. This wasn’t really the worst thing that had happened all year, it was mainly a culmination of many many crazy, unbelievable incidents that made me feel overwhelmed and unqualified and alone. I was outraged that no one had come to help, that for 15 minutes this had been allowed to go on.

I went to her suspension hearing, and her mother’s only question to me was about how exactly her daughter had pushed me.

“You SAY my daughter pushed you…but did she shove you with her body, or did she use her hands, because there’s a big difference you know.” This question shouldn’t have surprised me. Earlier in the year a girl had cursed me out and told me she was going to slit my throat. When her mother came in, her primary concern had been whether she used the f-word, or just called me a white b****, because in the hierarchy of profanity, one is much worse than the other.

Needless to say, Alex wasn’t punished; she was suspended for 2 days. To top it off, she was placed back in my class this year. Still outrageous, she’s less destructive than she was in the past. I now teach her for 5 periods a day, and she generally shows up for no more than 2. She’s essentially illiterate, writing pages and pages of indecipherable nonsense. Some days she is highly agreeable, coming in, sitting down, taking copious notes. Other days she puts her headphones on, and curses me out if I ask her to take them off. She makes racist comments all the time, quickly laughing and apologizing, assuring me that in fact she likes white people. She cheats as though there is no rule against it, and is aghast when she continues to fail.

I dreaded having her. I complained that after the incident at the end of last year I shouldn’t have to have her. I mentioned her well-documented history of verbal and physical violence towards adults and students as a reason why she should perhaps not continue be in our school. The first month of school I avoided even going to any part of the room that she was in. But then, slowly, I overcame it. I got over how much I disliked her, and how angry I was that she was in my class. I tried to teach her.

She’s still failing and she’s still in the wrong setting. She needs a one-to-one ratio of teacher to student to keep her in check. I’m probably not making any difference in her life at all. But in some way, I’d like to think she’s taught me. By forcing me to face her every day and not get worn down or upset, she's tested and pushed me in a way that no other student has. In some small way, hopefully, the act of surviving her has helped me to grow.

Monday, March 1, 2010


People have to make themselves believe that the things that are happening to them are normal. This is a survival mechanism that allows humans, as a species, to endure; and yet it cripples us in so many ways. When something horrible happens, or is happening, how do we survive? We convince ourselves that it is normal.

We must reduce cognitive dissonance – which means we either must change what is happening or we must change what we think about what is happening. It’s amazing the tricks a mind can play on itself – the things we can convince ourselves are okay.

Women get beat up by their boyfriends or husbands, get cheated on, get disrespected. In many ways it is easier to change the way that you view that behavior than it is to change the behavior itself. And so they decide that this is normal. That this man isn’t bad, he’s reacting in a way that is understandable.

The problem is that it sticks with you – this idea of normal. You take it with you into the future, into all experiences that lie ahead of you. Once not trusting someone feels normal, you stop expecting trust. Once it feels normal to struggle, to be sad, to be lonely – you can convince yourself that anything more is extra.

I have been thinking a lot about the things that I have made myself consider normal – the things that quietly lower my expectations every day. All around me are students whose expectations are low – who believe that it is normal to not go to college, to live in poverty, to drink expired milk and to go without dinner. Talking about relationships, my students have convinced themselves that women getting beat up by their husbands, or cheated on, or left, is par for the course. They may not want marriage, because they don’t want this for themselves, but they don’t consider that there is another version of marriage.

In some ways, all of us adjust our expectations. And we must. It’s no way to go through life – always questioning why things are they way that they are, always wanting more. And yet, the people who change the world – the ones who really make a difference, are the ones who look at the way tat things are and ask why. There is an enormous strength required to ask this question – more than we give credit for. And it’s hardest when the circumstances are your own.

I can look at my students lives and ask why. Why is it that it is socially acceptable to be illiterate? Why do parents let their kids join gangs? Why are seventh graders having sex? Why, why, why? A million things that I can look at and question – but can I do the same in my own life?

It’s dangerous to accept bad things a normal. Until you ask why, you can’t fight for something better, can’t realize that you deserve something better. And yet, it’s equally as dangerous to open that Pandora’s box of want.

For me, and my friends, those I see around me, perhaps there was a time when you believed that you deserved more, and you have lowered your expectations, let go of that idea and embraced the possible. But what if, as in the case of my students, you never expected more – you’ve never even dreamed of better. How then, do you redefine normal?


There is something alive inside of them, possessing them, fighting to take over. You can see it in them, walking into school all wound up, buzzing with an energy that isn’t their own. It is as thought they have to fight against it every day – a battle between themselves and this unknown entity. This is adolescence, and when the fight is won, a human being emerges.

They enter in 6th grade, wide eyed, ready to be influenced, still looking for affirmation and affection from their teachers. Then, slowly, they are infected – perhaps by the 7th graders – with some mysterious being that creeps inside of them and consumes their energies, their thoughts, their beings.

This morning on NPR, they talked about a study that was being done to examine why teenagers act the way that they do. Perhaps there is a biological, sociological, more empirical study of the transformations that take place. But as an adult, spending two years immersed in this middle school world, this idea is the only one that seems plausible.

As seventh grade begins, they are lost – much of them disappears, the familiar, easy childlike demeanor, the trust that they wander through life with, the curiosity and excitement. They are possessed by this other being – perhaps it is hormones, or just some other type of internal struggle, but for a year I watch as they come into class filled with a nervous energy, reluctant to sit down, easily angered, defensive about everything. They struggle to have a conversation without raising their voice, and seem to genuinely have no control over themselves.

Then, slowly, at different points for them all, they make peace. They settle into themselves, and they once again resemble people. To an outsider you may not see it, but I watch as a level of calm has begun to slowly rest on my students.

For a year or two they have disappeared, causing their parents to come in perplexed, claiming that they don’t know what has happened to their child – they can’t imagine why they are acting this way, this is nothing like the son/daughter that they raised. I used to not believe them – I thought they were trying to escape responsibility – which perhaps many of them are. But I have see 6th graders turn into seventh graders, and become lost in this struggle to figure out who they are now that their body has been warped by puberty, and their friends have shot up at various speeds, and their interests have diverged and reunited. They are lost in a mess of 2 day relationships, classes that require more work, more thinking, peers that are getting into a lot of trouble, choices that they suddenly realize are theirs – not their parents’ – to make.

And then I watch seventh graders grow into eighth graders, and very slowly realize that they are still themselves, that they are not kids anymore, and that that’s okay. They discover themselves as some sort of individual, and begin to view the choices they make as a privilege rather than a burden. It is as though they have killed that beast that lurks within them.

Surely there is much more growing up to do – there will be many more struggles, many more opportunities for self-discovery and development. But this is the first, and the hardest, and as I look around my eighth grade class, I see that some of them are emerging with a sense of self that they didn’t have before.