Tag Archives: teaching

A city of hope

I have always maintained that my favorite thing about Washington D.C. is the public space: hallowed, holy, set aside for all. It is that demarcation which makes this nation great, the “our’s” which we identify, recognize and choose to hold in trust together.

This was a busy week, Holy Week. Children were out of school, many parents released from work, our electorate at recess as well. But the crowds wandering and the spaces devoid of business as usual did not lessen that sense of space  sacred.

We took  elementary and senior high students alike. Most did not read every marker, some tried. Most did not catch the significance of every symbol, some had eyes more able. Most did not regularly know, name or number the heritage of those swarming about as were we.  But,  all of them experienced that space. I watched them take it in, their eyes stretched down far horizons, their necks craned to capture heights, the breath within them held tighter and longer than their chests’ regular rise.

I watched them experience people, not at war, in shopping malls and upon green malls alike, people whose ideas might be, but whose bodies recognized better angels indeed. I watched them make friends with folks who hold ideals they might (unknowingly) besmirch in yet unlearned jest. And I watched shared humanity water the seeds of humility and understanding.

I watched our kids stretch out their hands to veterans on perhaps their last trips and to vendors not long among us. I watched them laugh with others in lines, and more remarkably, remain in love’s sway with their sibling like companions.

Washington is a city of compromise and sometimes compassion, a place where we can all sense the riches of the trust we have been afforded.

Above all, it seems to me, a city of hope.








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They still love math

I substituted for a friend today, a young woman my youngest daughter babysits for in the summers. She teaches 2nd, yes, second graders. It is an anomaly for me to sub for such an age. They wear me out! It is a battle at times to keep high schoolers awake. That is not so for 2nd graders. At all. ( I might have taken them out and run them.)

Anyway, we wrote out spelling words and played spelling games. We read and drew and answered many comprehension questions aloud and independently. We practiced our penmanship, no I didn’t remember how to make a cursive upper case Q. When have I last written in cursive? And then I taught a math lesson on equality. (Those who know me well are smiling. ) I told them I didn’t know a dang thing about elementary math, how their teacher taught it, etc. I taught seniors, 12th grade math, the best I could do for them was some geometry with a few fractions and decimals thrown in for fun. Their eyes got big, 12th GRADE MATH! Yep, your teacher told me you were very smart and could handle anything I dished out. They nodded, of course. 

I  made them put up their workbooks and just watch. We were going to learn how to do math intuitively. We would check ourselves with counting and regular old math. They were game. We started with the geometry of circles and triangles and squares, learned the relationships inherent. We eye-balled equivalents. Then we counted to check them, and do you know, along the way we learned all about equivalent fractions and how to reduce them. And no one was afraid or shut down or was unable to get it. Because they were smart at math, their teacher said so, and I proved it for them…I just proved it for them.

Later in the day they went to centers, things which I have learned save teachers’ souls, and I asked them what they were playing. “Math games! they are much more fun than word games.” This Word Girl, who just teaches math to those who need more counselor than instructor, had to smile. Math is a mental thing, the game gets gummed up in the mind when you are told how hard it is, how weak your skills are over and over. The best mathematicians I know are intuitive in how they reach their ( correct) answers. They see it first, then prove it with numbers or statements…and consequently their scores.

2nd graders can still see it, like Santa Claus sailing across the night sky or that glorious as of yet unhidden forest. 2nd grade  is the time, now, before it is too late, to let them see and then believe.


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We were painting Powder-Puff run-throughs with the cheer markers in my room, which is always commandeered for such during Homecoming Week. Let’s just say the air was thick with hallucinogenic fumes and thin with plain ol’ oxygen. That is one reason I do not hold class Homecoming Week. Also, as I am in charge of nearly all activities of the week, I run around organizing, counting, putting out fires and getting important things done.

This particular period, I  was overseeing the making of the parade signs and our ink intoxication. The Child I Love and the Child I Am Fast Falling For were manning the markers. They have steady hands and draw good clean lines. When they had finally finished, I called TCIL over. I asked if she had read my new series on my blog about my weekend away. TCIL and I write back and forth for fun and as an outlet to vent or to think things through. She regularly reads my blog.

As she had not, I thrust my Macbook into her hands and sat her against the wall aside me. ( We had emptied all my room’s space of chairs and tables early in the week. ) The floor fit our excursion better anyway.

At school, she alone knew why I was going on my trip, the reasons obvious and not so. She writes with me remember? She shares some of my secrets and helps to bear me up like the other young-guns who are stationed all around me.

She quickly made her way through each post, nodding her head with unspoken approval. Finally, she looked up at me. “I love Callaway, Mrs. Kim. We have a chalet there. I don’t even know how many times I have been…I know this place, Mrs. Kim, I know it. ( In my spirit I heard, “I am with you. there, too.”) And she is. with me. making my days at work . and even away. mean and maybe matter more.

She helped me this week, in little ways of which she is not aware. She up and left her normal crew stationed and spread out up front, moved to the back of the room with a new friend, near my desk and my weakness the days I was so physically, and consequently, spiritually weak.  It may have been unconscious, but it buoyed me. I felt protected. She checked my eyes several times a day to make sure I was not overwhelmed or somehow in need of help. And everyday she found me at the day’s end to assure me she would see me the next day…that she would be there.

I write about her a lot. She is grace to me…even here at school where I struggle so to sense it. At least once a week, some adult will mention her to me in some fearful way. I don’t know why. She has never caused any real trouble. She does her work well. She is kind and gentle. But, for some reason, maybe her foreign Catholic upbringing or her sometimes less than studious or squeaky clean comrades, she is rarely seen for what she is.

That’s okay. They can have what it is they want: shellac and supercilious spirituality.

I’ll take grace now and with me wherever I go.


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I like everything about it

I like everything about it…except the exhaustion. I like the silly games which I get to make up and not play – I am not a game player. I like the dress-up days…I am all in there. I like the charity money-raising class contest which produces sheer frenzy in the last few hours and minutes…hundred dollar bills and pounds of change fly at me, held out in secret strategies to gain the win. And, I love our rinky-dink little parade through the neighborhood to the church. It is nothing but a joy in good weather…which we were blessed with yesterday.

I love the powder-puff game where the competitive amongst our girls put on a show the varsity would be wise to watch and I even like the homecoming court and queen’s crowning. Most of all, I  like working closely with my team of kids who run the games and make crazy dress-up examples of themselves and race around the building, begging, promising their future services and otherwise finding a way to come out on top of the charity fund-raiser – AFTER – they have bankrupted their own piggy banks , cleaned out their cars and given away their  next month’s lunch money. I love counting fifty pounds of change with them and making signs with hallucinogenic inks with them and seeing them work so hard to make it all fun for everyone. I love these kids…who give a damn. Who won’t win our cool prizes or even a shout out on the intercom. Who won’t be crowned or recognized by the local paper as an extreme athlete. Who work hard and smart and secretly to make everyone’s week as fun as it can be.

Every year, teachers and admin’s ask me to please run this thing called Homecoming. ( No one else wants to.) They thank me, but no one ever asks me why I do so. It’s an easy question to answer: I do it to hang out and suffer the joy with those who care, who get there early and stay so late and really do give until it hurts.

I do it to be with them.


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this boy

Linking up at Amber Haines for the weekly concrete to abstraction study.  Always fun for me. Our word this week is “boy.” Here’s what came to mind this busy, crazy week.

For years he never spoke a word save through that white guitar of his. It sang. He played far to the back on the school praise band team. I never heard him sing a note. I never heard him say a word. But, he always came and played.

Three years ago: the one person I always saw him with moved on, angry. In a random poetry assignment, he offered that his father had just done likewise. It was a rich, tight tale. He gained my attention, full.

Two years ago: I got a shot at one of the Bible classes, was sort of commissioned to work a miracle or two. I choose him for my class. He chose me as well.  We wrote.

Last year: He started to sing back-up vocals in the band. He smiled at me as we passed in the hall.

This year: He was recruited to play with Hannah and Trent in the “big band” at Epoch. He agreed.

This summer: He signed up for EDGE.

This weekend: He came around the corner from the Green Room.  I heard their giddy sounding footsteps and wondered what it would be like to be 17 and playing in such a venue. His smile broke wide as he saw me, his teacher, and maybe more, a  muse…who said when others ceased to…”You can do this, I know you can.”


That deathly quiet boy now leads worship and sings lead, no longer hidden behind those incomprehensibly good guitar licks. He brings me his poems, sets them out, stands back, smiling more. He shares his still hurting heart freely for all of us at EDGE to pray.


I put my arm around Alex’s friend, my ex-student as well, his collaborator in the set. He, too, grins that I have come. I turn and face Alex; his arms are wide for me.

How I love this boy.


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I am linking up here with Amber Haines whose voice rings true and clear, trying with others to find our own. Go read Amber’s post which pulls on us all and the beautiful words of my people, fast becoming friends.


When I was a babe, I sat in my playpen and looked at books all day. I turned and turned the press-board pages. I never sought release. I was a happy captive.

When I was three, My Dada taught me to read – or told me I could. So, I did. We read the funny papers and whatever else he thought worth our time. In his lap, behind that newspaper, I was given my life.

When I was four, my mama enrolled me in the church pre-school across the street. I went the first day, all excited at what I imagined they would teach me. I raced back home and splayed the pages of the new Readers Digest.  I could not yet make plain sense of it, so I quit. Then and there. Went back to studying with the Master and Sargent of my studies.

Soon, I could read most everything our librarian put before me. And I took to holing up in corners and crevices with my borrowed books.  They transported me and taunted me and tangled me up inside the way good stories do. They became my best friends, until I found my people who loved books as I did.

I say I want to write books, tell my stories… stories I have all lined up in queue, waiting on me, to be me enough and brave enough and able to give them attention enough to hear well the ghosts I must consort. The sense of them standing there, reminds me…Don’t forget…You forget things, now. Don’t forget, hurry to them. 

I drove all around the home to half of me this weekend. I heard some of those ghosts whisper hoarsely, “Tell it, sugar.” I thought of turning farther south, driving dirt lanes for forensic clues of where those whom neither me nor my parents ever knew died and I was really born. I’ve never set foot on any land they lived upon, it was of course, in another’s name. But I wonder, and sometimes I think I might find it, in my mind if not on a map.

A few years back, I sat with Brother Rick, Alabama’s Keeper of the Story. He charged me plainly, “You have to write those stories. They will die with you. Those folks deserve better.”

I know that is so.

Friends you may find here, in these electric pages, wait on me…my Aunt Bea and my Pop, my mama’s little war-time town, my young-guns, my nemesis and my Nana.

I have a few things to finish, first. But, my stack is shrinking.

Books defined my first years. It is my prayer that they will my last.


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Jumpin’ Jack (hot) flash

“Today we played our energy game. Everyone became a country and labored to gain the energy each would consume in a  year. Various forms of energy were sequestered all about the room. Forest fuel low to the ground, hydroelectric required a bit more of a reach. Wind and solar were born on high beams just a jump away and nuclear was settled high above our somewhat demonized sanitizer machine. ( If you get near on a day bad, you can get contaminated…) We built a shrine to fossil fuels, set an altar, lit candles to NOW and paid our penance: one jumping jack per unit required. We did lots of jumping jacks  in our “the air ain’t running ’cause man can heat up but not cool off the earth” room. It was hot. Our 25 bodies quickly made it hotter. Add a few thousand jumping jacks, 25 lit candles and an Alabama afternoon and you have quite an object lesson.

As the parade to the cleaner resources and fossil altar continued, the more and more hungry mouths sought satisfaction…I saved the US and China for last. China jumped and jacked forever and then cleared the decks of available fossils fuels, save just a few still on the open market. China jumped high to get all the nuclear possibilities…they will be constructing  a great many more plants soon. China garnered all the open market oil…and much which the black market in Congo, Columbia and Equatorial Guinea give up. Finally, China sat down to grow more populous and hungry.

The US was last…she quickly scooped up our home production wind, water, sun…and stared at the wall of oil, gas, and coal before her…”How many units do I need?”

“498,” I answered.

“Mrs. Sullivan, that’s a ton of jumping jacks. I don’t want to do all those. And even if I pay for them, those sources left are too high on the wall for me to reach. What else can I do?”

I looked down the exterior wall, then high to the rafters…solar and biofuels were draped elegantly along them. It was a tough leap, but she was a gifted and skilled jumper. She glanced at them and then ran her eyes around the room…they opened wide. Slack, sweltering students sat caressing their candles,  their energy receipts on the floor before them.

“I can get them, they won’t see me coming,” she whispered.

I shrugged my shoulders. She took off and snagged most of their energy before they could even sit up straight.

The game was over. 

I asked the students to tell me about the energy I had metaphorically placed about us. “Why had I put forest low to the ground? Why was hydroelectric just slightly higher? What was the danger of pursuing the even loftier goal of nuclear energy? Why was wind energy above the door? Why was biofuel just above hydroelectric? Why were only rich nations allowed to worship before the  fossil fuel altar? Why the jumping jacks? Why did we light the candles at the altar of Now? And finally, what were those sheets of red – biofuel, and yellow – solar, material all on the outside of our windows?

They looked at me shocked. In sight and just outside was enough energy for everyone, more than enough. One girl offered that she had noticed it.

“Why didn’t you go get it?” I asked her.

She said, “I knew that I would have to get up and walk outside to get it. Too much trouble, you know. ”

“It would have stopped the game, all of you would have been winners,” I replied. The jumping jacks would have been over, forever…  the air restored to normal temperature… It was right there.

Dumfounded stares.

“Why didn’t you all see it, get it?” I continued. You can get that. You can get it.

For those of you who ask, “Can we?” Take a look. Here. Here. and Here. Then  I suggest you go to TED and find another 100 or so equally interesting energy ideas that work now or very soon will.

Let’s lift our eyes from our worshipful stare and look up and out.

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