Category Archives: Education

Albany XXX

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Amsterdam

What’s up with that title, right? Is it porn? Extra large? Nope…Roman numerals – thirty, as in thirty years since I first moved to Albany.

In August of 1988 I was 21. I moved here knowing not a single person, other than Mary Panza who I was lucky enough to meet when her roommate tried to seduce me find me an apartment in his role as a real estate agent. The summer of ‘88 was hot, so damn hot. There was a heat wave that was unrelenting. I traveled to England and the Netherlands in July that year and I loved every day of dreary, damp weather we experienced abroad.

That first trip to Europe changed my life. It opened so many doors and windows and made me a traveler in a way I had never imagined. I had met a guy on the ferry on my way back to London and was acutely aware that he was great, but that the timing was not. We did, however, make some lovely memories and everyone should know the excitement of a long distance romance. When a man flys into jfk, hops into a rental car and drives to Albany to spend 2 days with you…well, you feel kind of special. I hope you know that feeling.

Albany charmed me from my very first visit when I found my way to Lark St.and enjoyed a fancy brunch at The Beverwyck. Once I got a handle on the size of the city (it’s always felt small to me, initially a disappointment but ultimately an asset), and began connecting faces and names, history and legend, I settled in with interest and made a life here.

Albany has witnessed my greatest joys. I got married here, right in Washington Park on a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. I own a house and pay taxes in the city and appreciate the privilege of both of those being possible because of the education (and degrees) I received from SUNYA. My children were born here and are students in the city school district and, while the education they receive may not be as immediately impressive as the high test scores and college acceptance rates of the suburbs, I do know my sons have learned a lot about getting along with people who don’t necessarily look or think like they do. Lessons in life count too.

I started running, an activity I never could have imagined I’d love, while a student at UAlbany and have run thousands of miles around this city.  I’ve learned to write and take photos and have been lucky to share some of my passions with an interested audience.  The opportunities here have been limited only by my own level of competence.  It’s been so cool, really.

Albany, though, has also been the setting for some of my saddest days. There are places around this town that are absolutely haunted for me – spots that I do my best to avoid because of the personal ghosts. The news, both domestic and international, that I’ve witnessed while living in Albany, has left an imprint as well. Princess Diana dying, the towers falling, the children murdered in whatever most recent school shooting…I can tell you exactly where I was for each of those breaking stories. I’ve shed a lot of tears in this town. Believe it.

After 30 years, I love Albany more than ever. The happiness I’ve known in this city that receives credit for how easy it is to get to places “to which you really want to go,” has far outweighed the heartaches I’ve experienced. I’m not sure what the future holds, (once I hit my 30 years teaching, who knows?), but these three decades have been the most productive, challenging and exciting times of my life and I wouldn’t have wanted to live them anywhere else.

Thanks, Albany xx

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Filed under Education, Europe, Germany, Observations, politics, Schools, travel, Uncategorized

Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Lessons learned

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If you’re lucky to live long enough, life comes with all sorts of lessons. Some are pretty simple, you know, like treat people the way you want to be treated or you get more bees with honey, but other lessons require more experience and perspective. I’ve recently been schooled by the universe and have learned some new lessons that I’m going to share with you in the hopes that you can avoid having your own similar personal education. Tuition free.

  • Trust yourself even when the people you trusted prove you wrong.
  • If a situation isn’t improving, that means something.
  • When two people both want the same thing (together), the efforts exerted to make that work feel much less laborious than when two people are not working to be together.
  • Trying is admirable, but martyrdom isn’t a good look on anyone.
  • Letting go can be: a. Harder than hanging on
    b. Super easy with lots of tequila
    c. A lengthy process
    d. All of the above
  • One day the sun will shine so brightly that your eyes will struggle with all that is revealed.
  • Laughter comes back. You may unexpectedly find yourself humming.
  • You’ll start to forget why it meant so much and begin remembering how much more you wanted.
  • And you will realize that your hands are finally empty and it feels like a gain, and not a loss.

Class dismissed.  It’s going to be an epic summer.

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Listen

Some people find it odd that “my” library is at the end of the wing where the music department has some of their classrooms. When the air conditioning is on we close the doors, but for much of the year sounds from the band room make their way to my desk and I love it. Wednesday afternoons the jazz band plays and it’s my favorite day of the week to listen. Our teachers are so good at what they do – exposing students to music, cultivating their talents, inspiring their efforts. It truly never ceases to amaze me.

This time of year, our students are working hard to prepare for various concerts and performances and the song selections include graduation favorites such as Pomp and Circumstance, a tune that never fails to make me feel nostalgic. Hearing this song is an audible reminder that the school year is almost over, that it’s time to mark both an ending and a beginning, and it is music to my ears.

The clear delineation of the calendar is one the greatest perks of teaching for me. I’m the kind of person who appreciates a new academic year, a new semester, a new quarter, a new week and a new day because each of these milestones comes with an opportunity to start anew. I’ve always loved flipping a calendar to an entirely new month of days and a brand new notebook never failed to inspire me to attempt to do my best work. There’s always a fresh beginning for which to look forward, something different coming our way.

In the past couple of days two people whom I’ve admired and been inspired by, found themselves unable to survive the thought of another day of living. They were in a place so dark and so sad that they couldn’t see that the next day, or even the very next moment, provided another chance to start again.

As we get ready to witness the commencement of another class of students and send them off to their next life chapter, I worry that we’re creating a culture where music and books aren’t thought to belong together, but success, depression and suicide are. What are we teaching these kids? When do they get to connect – with one another and not the WiFi network? We have dozens of devices designed to facilitate conversation but no one’s really communicating.

We need to slow it down and start listening better. This is a health crisis and we can do better. Listen.

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I like that

2B1BA3C8-94F6-4EDB-BBAF-12E804849B00When I was an undergraduate, studying English and Women’s Studies at the University at Albany, I didn’t often buy prepared food in the basement of the campus center. There was one occasion, though, when I was on campus in the evening for a panel discussion and needed a bite to eat. I walked downstairs and hesitated a moment before entering what was then the grill area of the food services concession. As I stood at the doorway I witnessed the cooks behind the line blatantly eyeing up (and down) each woman. As the women approached the counter to place an order I could clearly hear the men saying “I like that. I like that.” They made no attempt to hide what they were saying, nudging each other and smirking. Did they think they were offering compliments as a side order?

I, being full on a diet of Women’s Studies, stepped up to the counter and addressed the cooks and informed them that what they were doing was unacceptable and they needed to stop. Their response? “What are you? Anita Hill?” This was late fall, 1991 and the news was full of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s testimony accusing him of sexual harassment. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere dealing directly with the kitchen guys, I walked away shaking my head.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the then head of Food Services at the university. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from his office and arranged for a meeting with him on campus. He complimented me on my letter writing skills and we discussed the incident. I explained my position and the concern I felt for 17 and 18 year-old women who might not be comfortable confronting men who were engaging in inappropriate verbal harassment and that campus should be a safe place for everyone. He was sympathetic, understanding and assured me that the situation would be addressed. I never went back to the cafeteria again.

Maybe those men were spoken to and developed a new understanding of what is acceptable in terms of addressing women and professional demeanor. Maybe they have daughters of their own now. Maybe they even now know that we don’t like it. At all.

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Telling the truth – in Albany

We are living in scary times, friends. I don’t know about you, but I feel anxious about the state of our country and the relationships we have internationally. It seems like a long time since I’ve woken up without having to wonder what kind of outrageous statement or action with which Donald Trump has greeted the new day. It simply doesn’t always feel good to be an American in 2017.

Last Friday, though, was a bright spot in an otherwise dark time thanks to the New York State Writers Institute. Their schedule this fall is fantastic and the symposium they hosted over the weekend was absolutely tremendous. Although I was able to attend only two sessions of the event, I walked away with a glimmer of hope and a new sense of pride in my city. Bravo, Paul Grondahl and the NYSWI.

A few observations about the panels I attended:

  • The participants* were smart.
  • The audience was interested and mostly respectful.
  • Page Hall was packed.
  • The time went remarkably fast.
  • It was affirming, inspiring and reassuring.

Check out the rest of their schedule of events. There’s something there for everyone – and it’s free.

*Participants included moderator, Bob Schieffer, Douglas Brinkley, Franklin Foer, Amy and David Goodman, Maria Hinojas, Harry Rosenfeld and Tim Wu.

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