Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My brother

I have one older sibling (a brother) named Chris. He and I are just over 16 months apart (Irish twins) and currently live over 2,000 miles apart (distance from Utah to Boston). He comes home as often as he can, but is a teacher who works long and crazy hours so we don't get to talk all that often.

My favorite childhood memory of my brother is how he was the barometer of moods for our family. It was quite conceding at times to have that one person who could set the tone for the rest (maybe it's a first born thing?) but it was truly infectious. What I mean by this is if something was REALLY cool then Chris would REALLY show it and if something wasn't, well, then he'd REALLY let you know. Like when he laughs. He basically has two laughs. A short little polite chuckle, or a full-on laugh that turns his whole face red. Like I said, when he's really into something, he'll let you know.

Some of other memories of us are when our parents were both working and we would get really creative with things to do at home (with our younger sister too). We one time set up a mini-Olympics in the basement and had so much fun because we were totally serious about it with score cards and everything. We also had our good share of fights involving lots of slamming doors and us both out-smarting the other by picking the locks! I think we fought since we were so close in age, and each had the occasional competitive streak in us. For example, I still remember the day I climbed the pole in the church playground and rang the bell at the top before he did!!!, and when our mom announced he was going to playing T-ball I said "me too!" (this is funny because after looking at our photo albums, I now see how I was THE ONLY girl on the team) but we were pretty different throughout middle and high school. In fact we were night and day. Thankfully we both put up with one another, and stayed in close contact throughout college (not too hard to do since we both attended local schools). I now realize he is the one who probably encouraged me the most to think for myself because he was constantly challenging me.

Post-college I moved to Chicago, and shortly after, he to Guinnea, Africa, as a member of the Peace Corps. His departure from the country was really hard for me as I knew communication with him over the next 2 yrs just wouldn't be the same. But, I do have some of THE BEST letters and stories from him, and know that he truly valued the experience there. 

He then safely came back home for about a half-a-year, took me to a Pet Shop Boys concert, approved of me marrying Bart, then found a teaching position in Boston. I'm incredibly proud of his dedication to improve the lives of children through education, and know he is really giving it all he's got. What lucky students they are to have him as their teacher, really. Since I am so proud of my brother Chris, I thought perhaps some of you may be interested in reading an interview I recently had with him....

How did you decide on your major in college?  If given the chance to do college over, would you choose the same major? (side note: I always enjoy asking people this because I think it reveals a lot.)
I decided an English major made the most sense for me because it was the one subject I consistently excelled at in high school and later in college. I never particularly enjoyed reading what one considers to be “high literature,” but I’ve always read. Beyond reading, I’ve always enjoyed writing, creating, and finding ways to express myself.

Also, I’ve always been motivated by failure. When I failed math and science, I turned to art; when I failed my AP art exam, I turned to anthropology; when I earned Cs there, I turned to English, and I’ve never looked back.

2)    When did you first learn about the Peace Corps, and at what point did you realize that it was for you?
After graduating from college, I was fortunate enough to be hired full time at a technical writing/information design firm in downtown Salt Lake City. However, it didn’t take long for the soul-sucking nature of the job (writing and editing to help corporations make more money) to make me question the direction my life had turned. I had visited Europe a couple of times in the previous years and had become enamored with the idea of seeing the world as more than just a passing tourist. I had no ideas beyond that, though.

Then one day at the aforementioned soul-sucking job, I saw a banner ad while browsing the Internet showing some young man standing in front of a dusty mud hut. I decided then that I wanted to live in that hut. I found where the next information session would be held and made sure to attend.

A few weeks later, three University of Utah students and me sat in a small room in the Union building on campus watching homemade videos of four handpicked volunteers each chatting happily with an unseen narrator about the magical life they had carved out for themselves halfway around the world. Each story had a common theme: life is hard over here; you’ll never be the same afterwards, so why don’t you come and join us?

Everything those videos said were true, but the best surprise was that wasn’t the half of it.

3)    Upon returning from the Peace Corps, what was the hardest part of your transition back to life in the U.S.?
The hardest part of life after Peace Corps is the knowledge that you can’t relive any of it—exploring red-dirt trails on your bike, watching the sky from your hammock, the endless conversations with friends—they all feel like they’re from someone else’s life.

Every once in a while, I will remember again that I can never go back, and I will be filled all over again with melancholy.

One thing that has helped has been to write about the experiences. I kept a journal, and I will read through it pretty regularly. I’m always a little bit embarrassed about how much of the time I spent complaining about how boring it was, or about how I was looking forward to coming home. Nostalgia has since wormed its way into my mind, and now I can only remember the time over there with the most extreme fondness.

The other big difficulty with coming home is dealing with the deep-seated need after my return to share my experience with others. I lack the capacity—words or otherwise—to properly convey the experiences or how they had changed me. That’s probably a message I would give to anyone thinking about Peace Corps: be prepared for the fact that you’ll never be able to share it quite well enough to anyone else and that can be very frustrating. I’m better about it now. I’ve done enough other things since coming home that I don’t fixate on it so much anymore.

4)    What do you miss the most about Utah?
If you’re just talking about the state itself, no, I don’t actually find myself missing that much from Utah. Watching the Utah Jazz, I suppose. The mountains are nice, but so are the ocean, trees, and green of New England.

The only thing keeping me coming back to Utah is to spend time with family. The fact that I’m able to get back at least twice a year, if not more often, for a good enough amount of time means that I remember everything I liked about living in Utah, and everything I didn’t.

I wish I could spend more time with everyone back home. Or better yet, I wish everyone just lived here in Boston. Life would be much easier!

5)    What do you tell people about Utah when they give you that look? (I remember when I was living in Chicago and everyone was telling me I should get an Illinois drivers license, but you said for me to keep my Utah one and proudly represent Utah)
I say strange things, apparently.

I don’t actually get much in the way of looks or comments anymore. Occasionally, the clerk or whoever will say “Huh, Utah…” when examining my license, but I rarely indulge them beyond a half-lidded “yep.”

I’m used to the stereotypes and conversation starters about the state at this point, and I rarely get offended by any of it, since I spent most of my life in Utah feeling like an outsider who never quite fit in, so I see where they’re coming from.

Having been outside of Utah for most of the last six years, I recognize that Utah is a strange place. Just think of its history: it was founded as a religious enclave by persecuted zealots just looking to stay out of the rest of the world’s way.

Hmm, sounds a bit like Boston.

6)     DId you ever think you would become a teacher?
Not really. I don’t recall being much of a teacher or mentor to you or Jenna growing up, nor did I ever distinguish myself as much of a tutor in school. I don’t really know where it came from.

I started developing an appreciation for explaining directions and processes clearly and deliberately by working as a technical writer. As I was preparing for the Peace Corps, I tutored an Iranian refugee for about a year, and I began to apprecaite the immediate joy in helping someone learn to do something they struggled with learning on their own. Those were both important moments for me.

Once in Peace Corps, I quickly found that I had some natural talents conducive to teaching; I didn’t mind working hard so long as I saw and felt the success of my efforts (e.g., seeing a lesson I labored over the night before help students learn a difficult concept). I also have a good presence and confidence in front of a group of people from my experiences with debate and drama.

After a year back in Utah and France as a student, I began to miss teaching. As my time in France neared an end, I began looking for opportunities where I could teach again without having to go through an arduous certification process. Charter schools were, thus, a natural draw. I applied to schools in Boston and DC, and I was lucky enough to be hired at one of the best charter schools in Massachusetts, where I teach fifth-grade English today.

7)    What do you enjoy the most about teaching?
            I answered what I personally enjoy about teaching in the previous response, so I’ll address how teaching aligns with my personal philosophy.

Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school closes a prison.” Today, Hugo’s statement is juxtaposed with the deplorable reality of public schooling in our country today: Most criminals are high school dropouts, and most inner-city high schools are drop-out factories. Has Hugo erred, or have we?

When schools fail in their mission to raise a generation of educated children, these children soon find themselves as disaffected adults marginalized by cruel economic factors that ensure their lives are spent in poverty. The results of this broken system ripple beyond crime rates, inculcating apathy in entire communities that we see as neglect, broken families, crime, and substance abuse.

We hold up our schools as passageways out of what the poet Norma Landa Flores calls “labyrinths of food stamps, loneliness, and want,” yet it is in these inner-city schools where children are taught the lessons “give up” and “why bother.” Next to the state-mandated standards on reading, math, science, and social studies, there sits another curriculum, more insidious and not often publicly voiced. The lessons of this curriculum manifest themselves in the ways in which bullying and disrespect are commonplace, truancy is tolerated, teachers are apathetic, learning is optional, and students are held to low standards of achievement—because this curriculum teaches that that’s all we can expect from them.

I don’t believe that is what we should expect from any student, regardless where he or she was born, and regardless of the color of his or her skin. We know, as a society, that it is in the inner-city schools filled with vulnerable populations where this disaffection takes root. Good teachers can make all the difference. I’m trying to be one of them.

8)      Who's the most influential teacher you ever had and why?

            Mrs. Osborne, my third grade teacher, taught me that learning can be magical and exciting. She was the first teacher I had ever had who loved me.

Mrs. Spackman-Moss, my AP English teacher, didn’t love me, but she taught me how to write like I meant it, and didn’t accept anything less than my best.

I always find something interesting to learn from you Chris. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions; I REALLY enjoyed all of your responses!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Kate - One word about this post: AWESOME! What a cool idea! You and Chris have the gift of expressing your thoughts clearly in your writing. I especially enjoyed the part about family olympics! (We used to play "track meet" at the memorial hall :D)