Published: August 8th 2007July 15th 2007
Anything is possible. Fight the good fight.
When one undergoes radical new experiences and is thrust out of their comfort zone, the first instinct is survival, then comes choices, and finally luxuries. It is this notion that has me holding on tight to the addiction of challenge and its style of teaching...forcing the pupil to look at his basic needs first. Usually I seek this out through travel and expeditions, whether far flung or right in front of me. It would be hard for me to continue to purposely chase another life experience as rewarding and demanding as last years 16-country blitz...but I managed to unearth layers upon layers of intense lessons right in my backyard of Washington, D.C. this past year. Those true and dear to me, I hope these pictures and insights give you a snapshot of my world, one that is grateful for each and every one of you.
Teaching as Warfare
Before I began teaching again, I had come home to a hurricane season of friends and social celebrations. Living with mom and dad was a blessing, and as comedy would have it, felt like 1996 all over again. Once the dust settled, I
was financially broke, reminiscing incessantly, and wandering around through notes, books, internet, and the minds of my braintrusts. When it became apparent that I was no longer living in the 3rd World, the style of life in America prompted a lot of reflection in me as I plugged back into the social and bureaucratic pipelines. I think the struggle that keeps me ignited forced me to seek out a greater dare in something less comfortable. What I ended up finding and ultimately enduring was a challenge that I would have laughed and scoffed at if I´d only known the difficulty and any real idea of what I was signing on for:
In a collection of renovated rowhouses in Northwest Washington D.C. exists an unheralded battleground of hard working and gritty people dedicated to troubled youth, and more specifically: At-Risk African-American boys. I stumbled blindly into a teaching position that ironically taught me the deeper lessons of what us "grownups" and educators try to instill in young people today: hard work, patience, compassion, and creativity built to last. On my first day of teaching here, my very first interaction with a parent was a mother with a house arrest device
locked onto her known as an "ankle Box". I quickly learned harrowing details about my students that are usually reserved for the nightly news or the Metro section of the newspaper. I´d be lying if I said I never wanted to walk away and tuck myself back into my comfy lifestyle and just "let someone else deal with them". Not to be discouraged, not to quit, however...I mean...how could I when these energetic and vibrant young boys deserve at least some consistency and a stable teacher...a strong determinant in any persons well being. When I learned that my homeroom class of 8th graders had torched through 5 teachers in 1 calendar year, I didn´t want to be yet another disappointment and crumble...plus it provided a daily dose of extreme circumstances and a lot of comedy (think rap-videos and 13 year old boys piping hot on all cylinders, especially on the sexual engine). Along with Math and Science lessons pulled from every corner of the planet and out of a hat included: Verbal and physical harassment from students, full blown fights, restraints, pharmaceutical and street drug roller coasters, weapons checks, downtrodden truths, abrupt endings, painstaking breakthroughs, and being the front line
of defense and peacekeeping with some of DC´s roughest and toughest kids. But like everyone, the deeper tale fully explains why a young boy would project such unimaginable grief onto his surroundings and peers. Without going into grotesque and offensive detail (out of respect for my students and the school community), lets just say that it took a radical transformation and a lot of exercise for me to understand the "why" and "how" to deal with the important issues and move forward. Anyone who snaps judgment toward urban black youth or any other disadvantaged class has clearly never been, nor experienced the difficulties that face these populations. It certainly was a cultural challenge to connect and earn respect among kids with such tough exteriors and fighting words. In the end, language barriers were bridged and there was a lot of fun and learning had amidst the torrential stream of drama. Social workers, clinical therapists, mentors, counselors, corrections workers...all funneling 40,000 dollars worth of funding per year into a therapeutic community to serve the special needs of each student.
Boston, the next chapter
Another adventure lies ahead in this great thriving city, where a Masters degree in School Counseling will
be my endurance race for the year. Set to intern at a local Boston public school and then to graduate in Summer of 2008 with a new set of tools to work with.
I will let the pictures do the blabbing, but here are some snippets from the year gone by:
* My part time job in the spring and early summer was as a bike taxi or "rickshaw" around the crowded areas of our nations capital. No pics, just ridiculous birds eye views of the DC tourist and drunkards culture that surely kept me entertained (and fit) until 4:30am on some nights.
* I took 2 trips to Boston (school related) and separate trips to Seattle and Portland (to visit my boys).
* My car was stolen in Maryland from my parents driveway. Just imagine the astonishment of two Japanese friends that were visiting when I told them "Oh, it happens now and then".
* Two family members, my aunt and my grandfather, fell gravely ill this year, only to recover and are rewriting my view of strength and resilience.
* Motorcycle Diary...oh the evolving saga of my Royal Enfield Motorcycle from India. Trips to the
MVA, translator services, Indian Embassy, and more bike doctors...to be continued but the forecast is looking better.
* Gringo Time! Set adrift yet again, this time to Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina with my comrade for more discovery. More on this next entry.
As always, blessings and best wishes to all ye special peoples!
There are more photos below