Saturday, July 9, 2011

“Hidden Feelings”

There are feelings here that can’t be hidden any longer.
Forever trying to force them down, I find they’re growing stronger.
Is this a tentative friendship, or the clumsy lover’s dreams?
Am I experiencing love; is that what this confusion means?
I’m lonely when you’re gone, and resigned when you are here
because you’re always far away, even when you’re near.
I can’t tell where desire ends and where the lovin’ starts.
Is this what the fairy tales mean when one gives away one’s heart?
I want to touch you softly, to talk with you and to share.
I want to say a simple phrase, just “Darlin’ I do care.”
I'm not asking for eternity; I’m just hoping for one day.
For I need a chance to show to you the feelings I’ve hidden away.

Copyright 1977 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, July 8, 2011

“Over the Fence”

Dixie trying to get Paul to throw her Frisbee

Dixie at 8 weeks
            Years ago, the boys next door would vault over the cyclone fence that we have on one side of our property to play with our dog, Dixie. They’d dash around the yard, trailing a toddling Paul behind them, waving an old blanket to entice Dixie into the chase. An athletic dog, Dixie would zoom in sharp spins around the boys, gather momentum, and make wild leaps through the air. As she grabbed the blanket, she’d twist in the wind, torqueing her body and sending the boys tumbling across the grass. Dixie loved her Frisbee. She learned how to throw it herself, sailing it prettily from one corner of the yard to the other. Occasionally, it would float over the fence and land in the yard next door. A good problem solver, Dixie never wasted time with futile barking at the Frisbee. Instead, she’d come straight to one of us; hit us with her paw until we did the “What Dixie? What do you want? Show us?” routine. She’d bound back out the door, taking us straight to the fence.
            The back part of our fence separates our yard from the elementary school in our neighborhood. Over the years, we’ve returned home to find basketballs, dodge balls, baseballs, and footballs all labeled with the proud school name. Sometimes, the teachers would send a couple of the kids to our house to pick up the balls. Most of the time, we’d get home from work and place the balls on the other side of the fence, tucked up by our gate so the students would find them waiting the next morning. In all the years we’ve lived here, we’ve only had trouble twice with students kicking down fence boards. Most of the time, the children respect this wooden boundary.
Hackberry Trees!
            On one side of our back yard, two Hackberry trees decided to take root on the neighboring property. For years a rental house, no one ever cut the trees down, and they’ve pushed against the wooden fence, causing it to have a permanent wave. One of these days, we’ll pull this fence down and zigzag a new fence around the trees. New neighbors purchased the house and filled their backyard with rose gardens and trellised nooks, and they want to help us build benches that wrap the trees. We’d take one; they’d take another.
Koi smooching with Sarah
            Now-a-days, we don’t have boys climbing over the side fence, and remodeling at the school shifted the playground to where balls no longer fly over the back fence. However, conversations do float across these borders. I chat with my neighbor about her new grandson (maybe someday he’ll scale the fence), her husband’s recovery from his stroke, or the latest adventures of Koi and her small dog, Sarah. My neighbor on the other side, a chef by profession, delights in sharing many of his favorite dishes. Occasionally, he’ll pass plates of food over the fence, which definitely beats the balls we used to get.     
Favorite place to chat over the fence!

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, July 7, 2011


            The small silver service bell sits right next to my mother’s bed, allowing her to shift in the night to strike it with ease. Right next to the bell stands the baby monitor. It transports the metallic “ping” into our bedroom. “Ping” resonates through our house during the midnight hour. “Ping” sounds along with the doves right as dawn breaks. “Ping” nags us into movement at half hour intervals before the alarm ever rings. “Ping” demands immediate attention day or night.
            Some days, I toy with the idea of removing the small bell from its stand. I picture it escaping from its perch, tumbling to the floor, and hiding among the bed ruffles. Other days, I visualize myself, hammer in hand, and a wicked grimace on my face as I pulverize, with utter satisfaction, the small bell because I can no longer bear to hear the insistent “ping, ping, ping, ping!” On days like today, when I’m rested and Mom’s content, I recognize the importance of the “ping” for it represents her continued ability to communicate her needs. As much as the demanding little bell sometimes irritates me, I know its silence will come with great sadness.  

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

“Ugly Clothes”

            I’ve decided our societal woes reflect in our ugly clothes. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Anyway, the women’s fashion trend to bare all and show more correlates with the growing tendency to bare all and show more in other aspects of our lives. I suppose if you’re willing to display cleavage and pierced belly buttons, it’s not too difficult to display personal affairs. We revel in the anorexic displays of our movie stars and models as we scour the Internet and television for the exposed bones of these celebrities’ shortcomings and private relationships. I look at fashions from previous time periods—long, flowing gowns with layers of decorum, and note that the privacy of previous generations extended beyond dressing habits. Perhaps we opened Pandora’s box and when skirts shimmied up the thigh, bathing suites shrunk down to thongs, and underwear became optional.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

“Mush Brain”

Mush brain plagues my life tonight
Muddled thoughts flitter left and right
No awesome philosophies
Just jumbled and meshed harmonies
Flights of fancy tether down
Tremendous insights run aground
Imagination is rust
Creativity dries to dust
Mush brain plagues my life tonight
Leaves me hopelessly without sight

 Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, July 4, 2011

“What Would Atticus Do?”

            Whenever I hit a dilemma in life, whatever the problem may be, I’ve always found resolution by asking one simple question, “What would Atticus do?” Some may think it silly that I base decisions and actions upon how I think a fictional character would respond, but what better guide than that of Atticus Finch?
            The other day, a friend brought an article from the local newspaper to my attention. The article’s topic deals with the high school drop-out crisis within San Antonio. A colleague I’ve worked with for many years made a very disturbing statement, inferring a link between the high drop-out rate among male minorities and the “high number of Anglo older female teachers trying to build relationships with these boys and they’re not connected. The teachers aren’t culturally responsive on how to meet the needs of these young men.”
            This statement struck such a discord within me that I’ve taken several days to process this generalization. You see, I am an “Anglo older female” teacher. I spent more than half of my teaching career working with minority students. I’m offended that some administrator could possibly believe that I couldn’t meet the needs of my students.  On one hand, administrations promote litanies on The Almighty Test Score, requiring teachers to disaggregate data in a multitude of ways. Eventually, individual students get lost in the numbers and highlighted codes. Yet somehow, classroom teachers hold onto the most important piece of information—the names, and faces, and needs of each student.
No administrator knows how often I sat one-on-one with a student to come up with an alternate assignment. I didn’t tell my principals every technique I used to reach troubled students. They didn’t know about a deal I made with one student a few years ago. This young man turned in nearly perfect work day in and day out—if it was an assignment completed during our class period. Any work assigned at home? He never did it. By the end of the first six weeks, I noticed his barely passing grade could have been an A if he would only do homework. A private discussion revealed that he worked six to eight hours each night and lived in his car. So I made a deal with him. He had to continue to do high quality work during class time, and he could forget about homework until he had a place to live. Of course, I talked with his counselor to make certain she knew his situation, but I never stepped into the administrator’s office. I didn’t realize that I should have made certain those in the office knew that I was “culturally responsive on how to meet the needs” of this young man. I can recount similar steps taken for many students for every year I taught, and I know other “Anglo older female teachers” whose devotion to their students’ successes makes my efforts look minimal.
Students drop out of school for many reasons, but I don’t believe the age or ethnicity of their teachers ranks among the top causes. Students come into the classroom carrying luggage loaded with unbelievable items. Yes, the “Anglo older female” may not have personal experiences living for six weeks in a car. We may never sit at the dinner table and do lines of coke instead of eating the evening meal. We may never deal with a parent in prison and all of our male relatives in gangs. We may never have been forced to kneel on gravel until our knees bled. However, I didn’t have to personally experience the horrors endured by my students to understand the compassion necessary for me to do my job. My age, race or socioeconomic status had nothing to do with my ability to stand in another person’s “shoes and walk around in them.”

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, July 3, 2011

“Teacher Bashing”

            “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” All of us have heard the idiom. A few of you have said it. Some of you may even believe these words. I doubt when George Bernard Shaw wrote the phrase in Man and Superman, he expected his personal prejudices to belittle generations of teachers. These eight words have made it easier for people to hate those who educate. Well, maybe not hate—but the shifting attitude directed toward American teachers saddens and frightens me.
            When I entered teaching thirty years ago, I intended to stay in education for only four or five years until I attended and completed graduate school. Something unexpected happened. I loved teaching. I enjoyed opening the minds of my students as we read 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye. The years I taught Psychology, we reveled in Freud and Jung, paid homage to Skinner, and recognized the importance of Maslow. It didn’t matter if I taught seventh graders to listen to their inner voices when they wrote, or if I helped struggling seniors finally figure out rhyme schemes. I loved the vigorous demands on my creativity and intellect that teaching imposed each and every day.
            During any typical day, American teachers must relate to their students (some years I had 150 students per semester) and to the parents of these students. They must juggle Federal laws, State mandates, and District policies along with principals and peers. Some days, I came into contact with overt two-hundred people. And all of them wanted or needed something from me. They needed my intelligence, my attention, my guidance, my firmness, my determination, and my heart and soul. So you see, teachers are those who can.
            The recent trend to blame teachers for society’s shortcomings troubles me. Disrespectful words and attitudes within our media spill into our school hallways. Parents and students feel entitled to special treatment out of a sense of superiority over the instructors. I know not all teachers are excellent. However, I worked over the years more with exceptional instructors than with unskilled teachers. Burn out is a real problem within the profession.  I’ll admit that my last two years, I wore a whistle around my neck and blew it in the classroom because groups of students behaved no better than dogs. Actually, they didn’t behave as well as most trained pets—they didn’t know how to sit in a chair, how to stay, how to be quiet, or how to show respect (for anyone). These behaviors didn’t suddenly start when these  twelve-year-old students crossed the threshold into my classroom. These behaviors began long before I ever entered these children’s lives.
My job, though, went beyond teaching my students the nuances of literature and the delights of writing. I had to teach them (and many times their parents) consequences for their actions. I maintained high standards for my students, but I provided the support they needed to reach those objectives. Many times, it meant I didn’t give second chances. I sat in parent-teacher conferences and told mothers, “No. I will not take the assignment late. We spent five class days working on this assignment. I sat down with your son each of those days to help him do the work. He made the choice to refuse my help. He must learn that doing nothing is not a choice he can make in my class.” I didn’t have a high failure rate. The thing about difficult students is that once they realize resistance is futile, they begin to do the work. These same students will play the system for as long as possible if they sense weakness.
I’ve pondered over the reasons for the slander of my profession and the anger directed towards educators. I’ve decided that it must be easier to blame that horrible seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Chapman, for a daughter’s slapping her mother’s face. It must be easier point a finger at her and yell and accuse when your son fails six out of seven classes (even P.E.). It must be easier to befriend your child as you walk away from the school in an Us versus Them camaraderie. It must be easier to lay culpability upon an entire profession than to accept responsibility within the family. And our politicians feed this abusive attitude and encourage the bashing because they need an enemy that’s real and solid—not poverty, not broken homes, not drug or alcohol abuse, not violence.    

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman