When I was in the classroom, people would often ask me “why did you become a teacher?” What an impossible question, like asking someone why did you have children? or why did you fall in love? The answer had something to do with wanting
to honor my animal body
to honor story and stories
to honor the beauty in others.
I wanted to make something whole.
Hearing the word teacher, my animal body still responds with exultation. A gate swings open inside; answers gather readily like calves with bells around their necks. Yet at my school’s first retreat the summer before I started teaching, I could only answer this question obliquely: I became a teacher “to show kids things.” For a long time I could not articulate what it was I wanted to show my students.
And then, from the poet Rita Dove, my answer:
I would like to remind people that we have an interior life- even if we don’t talk about it because it’s not expedient, because it’s not cool, because it’s potentially embarrassing- and without that interior life, we are shells, we are nothing.
Claire’s bookmark poem, first grade with Mrs. Gonzalez
Running while female
When I moved to New York the summer of 1993 and showed up at summer camp, Manuel Scratch welcomed me with a challenge: “I’m faster’n you. I dare you to a race. Meet me at the oak tree tomorrow.” As I pushed off from the starting tree the next day, I pushed back voices in my head of my father telling me that women are not as fast as men…and didn’t compete with men in the Olympics…I remember him saying it wouldn’t be fair to us. I must have known this rule didn’t apply to every single contest between particular boys and girls, else I would have told Scratch he’d rigged the race. I could have saved myself the stress of trying.
Instead, I raced at a theoretical disadvantage because of who I was, and unsure what it would mean if Scratch crossed the finish line before me. What quantities or attributes were being compared or tested by the task?
“The making of things can be the sheer joy of messing about and exploring materials. It is also the hard work of making inner images become external forms of expression and communication”
(Gwathmey and Mott, Visualizing Experience p. 1)
*Photo is from elementary school in BsAs, when my mom and others organized an art exposure program (they were known as the Picture Ladies). This is in the middle of work-time, bf and I.
We made puppets over the weekend. They’re pinned up while we brainstorm curriculum connections, and as you can see my puppet grandma is already tuning out…
She’ll tire soon and probably wind up looping her blue purse over a nearby map pin.
Once gramma’s done sharing snacks with the owl, she’ll ride her bicycle out of sight, poncho flapping. We’ll spend the rest of the night wondering why it is that every time she goes on a picnic, her purse gets stolen.
My early experiences with clay (age 6)
It’s hard to tell if you weren’t in my head at the time, but these two structures represent tremendous architectural advances for the care and amusement of pet potato bugs. I pampered those little guys with water slides, heart-shaped beds, multi-story homes and even bay windows. Everything but the dirt and plant matter they needed to survive. These clay sculptures are prized possessions, even nineteen years after I first made them.
The exterior walls were layered white, a sugary coating como un alfajor cubierto de azucar, marca Havana. The rounded outlines of bricks were visible smoothed under those heaps of snowy stuff. The Draga Inn had an endless parapet along which we would press all summer long, sometimes counting doors or chasing neighbors.
Across the street was the Kaplan’s house, built on giant mounts of sod shaped along the lines of dromedary humps. The front lawn was so steep that even if we tried, we could not approach the top this way. So we played safely at the foot of those hills for years, unseen by the two German shepherds who were said to guard the house. Twice a week we would hear the whine of the lawnmower at the top of the hill, watch it being rolled down towards us flung out on a thin filament of rope. At the other end of this bungee cord was a gardener whose face I never saw.
My grandmother’s and my wavy-day beach, Playa Brava, was past the all-healing aloe plants and just over the sand dunes. The surf was roughest here, and it dislodged delicious steamers (called berberechos) with each toss. They drifted past on the swell, brushing cooly over the tops of our feet, across our ankles: largest, size of acrylic fingernails and smaller ones dotting the bank like a baby’s scattered milkteeth. As the wave fell back out to sea, white tongues frothed out through the seams, tasting brine or grinding up against the sand; then each stood itself on end and swelled out at the hinge. Bivalve tongue became a foot, digging for purchase. And for a second the coast wore a necklace of berberechos, a thousand swift jacknifes against the fabric of her robes.