Tag Archives: Students

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

This is our last week of school and it’s hard. Saying goodbye is difficult and it’s not something I’m good at. I hold on for too long. I reach out for too long. I grow nostalgic before it’s even time to say goodbye and I let myself feel all the things I’ll miss before it’s time to miss them.

I’ve said goodbye enough times to know which stories will stick, which memories will make me smile and which will strike a chord that hurts a little bit. I’m lucky to have taught students who ask real questions, seek out real answers, and report back what they’ve learned. I’m lucky to have worked with truly good people who welcomed me with open arms and saved me from my darkest thoughts. I will miss them all.

This year was my sixth year in the classroom and the first year I considered seeking out avenues outside the classroom to satisfy my need to make an impact on the world. I’ve got a few more things I want to do in the classroom and we’ll see after that.

This is also the first year I let myself entertain the possibility of all kinds of change because this is year that nothing went as planned.

So I’m saying goodbye to good people, a good place, and the path I was following when I co-signed a lease for a New York City apartment a year ago. I’m thinking about the life I want to live going forward so that I can be satisfied when I look back in 100 years or so. What will I have done? What will I be proud of? What will I wish I’d known?

As my therapist says, “What does your 95-year-old self say to your current self?”

I needed this year because I needed time alone to think, to take a step back, and to make the decisions that make the most sense to me rather than the decisions that I thought others wanted me to make. I needed this year to prove to myself that I am capable of making those decisions and don’t need to rely on the opinions of others. Being happy is okay. Making changes to be happy is also okay. Putting oneself first is okay, too.

My 95-year-old self wants to look around and know that she’s touched lives in positive ways. She wants to see family and friends who are global citizens, who believe in the possibility of improvement for all, who work to help those around them realize a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. She wants to have taught students who are good people, who help others, and who harness their interests and skills to have a positive, meaningful, lasting impact on the world around them. She wants the people around her to know that they are loved, supported, and affirmed as members of a community. She wants nature alive and well, ecosystems thriving. My 95-year-old self wants clean air and clean energy; she wants peace, prosperity, and good health for all.

So what does this mean for me as I am now?

It means that I will continue to learn, read, write, and communicate my aspirations and ideas. It means that I will continue to educate because I believe that the next generation of leaders needs more than they are getting in schools today and I want to give that to them. It means that I am looking to surround myself with people who believe that we can build a world that is better, more peaceful, and environmentally sustainable as compared with today’s world. I want to be around people who push me to ask questions, find answers, and be the best person that I can be.

Change does not happen overnight and it does not happen without allies. Change requires teams with a shared vision and I want to be part of a team making a real impact. That’s what I’m working towards.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” –Hamilton

I hope to live my story and I hope to find people who want to live it with me. If that’s you, post a comment below or send me a message through the contact page. I can’t wait to meet you.

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On Living

Yesterday I thought I saw a former student walking towards me on 14th Street. I felt a grin spread across my face and nearly called out to say hello. And then I remembered.

That student passed away earlier this year. She was shot.

The stranger came closer and I realized they hardly resembled each other. I turned my head away. No one looks too long in New York.


Early last week my mum called to tell me that a dear friend of my sister’s had died. Drug overdose.

I was on the train home when she called and I had nothing to say. After staring out the window in silence for a few stops without seeing any of the stations, I called a friend and asked for help. He told me, There’s nothing to say.


On Friday, I had a conversation with a student, a rabbi’s son, about what happens when God isn’t there or isn’t listening. This child is suffering and doesn’t know why God can’t hear him. He suggested that maybe God has grown too old, too frail, and is now incapable of doing all that God used to do to intervene in the lives of everyday people and propel the world towards a higher plan. My student mentioned that he thought people who believe in God are less likely to commit suicide than people who don’t. Why? I asked. Because even if you can’t live for yourself, you can live for God, he explained. Statistically, I think he’s right, but I said a few words about mental health and the importance of medication for fixing a sick brain, just like medication fixes a sick body. You mean depression? he asked. I nodded. Yeah, he said, I know about that.

My student asked what I thought about a God who doesn’t listen, and I told him I no longer believe in anything I can’t prove. What about air? he asked. You can’t prove that you breathe air. I cupped my hand in front of my mouth, took an audible breath, and blew into it. Yes, I said, I can.

I asked my student how it felt to think that God really isn’t listening, really isn’t anywhere, and really can’t do anything at all. He wasn’t ready to go there. That’s okay. In times of suffering, it’s helpful to think that someone or something is watching and cares.

This I know because I’ve been there.


What makes you good at what you do? my therapist asked once.

I don’t like the self-promotion part of having a career.

I think that kids just want to be treated like people. I think a lot of adults lose sight of that and I try really hard not to.


Last summer, I read an article on one of my favorite blogs about The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. Shortly thereafter, I read the novel and recommended it to everyone who asked for a good book. I’ve yet to see a more moving portrayal about what it means to live and to love.

The article contains a quote that has been saved on my GoogleKeep ever since. de Botton says,

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

That’s what I’ve been reminded of this week. That we’re all fragile, that life is fragile. That we’re all holding ourselves together to get from one day to the next and that allowing others to simply be, to breathe freely and deeply, is perhaps the greatest act of compassion we can perform for one another. An act in which we merely stand by the sides of those we love, holding their hands when they need it and letting them go when they don’t.

We are all these incredibly fragile beings. This acknowledgment should give us permission to err, to be forgiven, and to grow, both together and apart, as friends, partners, lovers, and just as people.

We are all doing the best that we can. Knowing this means going easy with one another, as de Botton suggests. Understanding and accepting others for who and what they are then comes from a place of genuine care and concern for well-being. It means meeting individuals where they are, not where we think they should be.


You act like there’s no one left
Alive in the whole city
Well maybe the end is upon you
And what then?
Here, repeat after me
It goes, I won’t stop loving
I won’t stop loving
You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to play well
You don’t have to fix everything
All by yourself
Now don’t laugh ’cause I just might be
The soft curve in your hardline

-“Hardliners,” Holcombe Waller

Whoever you are, whatever you need, I will go easy on you. You’re safe here.

On Being You

Heard:

Teenage girl screaming.

Seen:

Boy holding girl’s backpack over the railing protecting pedestrians from the East River. Boy has a backpack of his own.

Heard:

-Stop, stop it! Stop!
Crying.
-Say you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry!
Screaming.
-I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!

Seen:

Boy dangles backpack closer to the water.

Heard:

Screaming.
-I’M SORRY!!!


A conversation. Student begins:

-I think I’m going to make you a card at the end of the school year.
-Thank you, but that’s completely unnecessary.
-I know, but I think I will. Doing things to make people happy makes me happy!


Seen:

Man holding woman against a brick wall, yelling, hands waving.
Woman trying to move away.
Man blocking woman with his body.

Heard:

A slap.

A conversation. Young woman begins:

-Should we call the police?
-Shit, he grabbed her bag again.
-Call. We’re definitely calling.
-Calling.


A conversation. Student begins:

-How’s your day going?
-Oh it’s great, thanks, how’s yours?
-Mine’s good. I’m glad yours is good. As long as you’re smiling!


Seen:

Teenage boy and girl in a headlock. Both are spinning around, out of breath.
Passerby slows down, offers a long look.
Boy lets go of girl and girl responds in turn. Both laughing.
“She’s looking at us!”
Both run off, still laughing.


Some of these interactions are months old, burned into my memory like a muscle that grows stiff in the rain. Unwelcome. Uncomfortable. Troubling.

Others are newer, fresher, still turning over in my mind. Still trying to process what I’ve seen and heard, said or done.

“Doing things to make people happy makes me happy!” I smiled. I waved goodbye. Wished him a good afternoon. Realized my heart rate had gone up. Realized I was afraid.

Because such a sincere statement delivered with such obvious joy had brought me right back to the boy threatening to drop the girl’s backpack into the water, months earlier. I’m sure everything was in that backpack. Her schoolwork, her wallet, likely her phone. Would he have done it? In a moment of raging hormones, a crying girl, and feeling a surge of power . . . would he have done it?

And, just as pressing, how would the girl have responded? How did she respond to the threat once her bag was safely recovered? Did she walk away, never to speak to him again? Did she express her anger that he’d take advantage of her trust? Or did she let him back into her good graces because being with someone is better than no one?

The man yelling at the woman tell us that no, someone is not always better than no one.

The teenagers laughing as they play-wrestled tell us that affection can come in many forms.

But the fight between the man and woman tell us that affection, or what we perceive as affection, can sometimes be dangerous and even deadly.

Seeking first to make others happy sometimes comes at the expense of oneself and one’s own best interests. For this reason, I’m concerned about the student described above. He’s what we label “vulnerable”, which can have many meanings. He does fine academically but remains on the periphery of his grade’s social circles. He relates better to adults than to his peers, usually staying after class to chat, often walking down the hallway in conversation with an adult. He doesn’t seem to mind being alone and often spends recess indoors when everyone else is outside.

His comments remind me of myself in a lot of ways. Doing for others is a salient part of my identity, but I also know that it’s okay to say no. Over time, I’ve learned that sometimes putting others first can be detrimental to personal happiness and growth if engaging with others’ interests comes before acknowledging my own hopes, dreams, and desires. Coming to that realization has been a bumpy road and while a little bruising is okay, I’d like to spare my student (and anyone else) some of the scars that have resulted along the way.

Not too long ago, in a dark time of self-doubt and uncertainty, a friend reassured me that I was doing fine. “You do the best you that you’re capable of and if you make a mistake, you learn.” That message has played on loop in the back of my mind for months now. It has become a mental rallying cry, a checkpoint before making decisions, responding to others, or trying to challenge the status quo.

And that’s what I want that man and woman, those teenagers, and all of my students to know. That’s what I would have liked to say. Do the best you that you’re capable of and learn from your mistakes. Keep track of who you are and who you want to become. Everyone else can wait.