Intrepid Girl Reporter

Tuesday, 2/2: some things are just too good not to share
February 2, 2010, 11:01 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, 공부방 (after-school program)

Even when one’s day has made one want to jump off the bridge nearest to one’s house.

Playing Apples to Apples with a third grader named Kevin.

MS. IGR The word is “chewy.”

(Students put down cards.)

MS. IGR (flips one) “The Tooth Fairy.” Hm. Well, I guess I see how that could work, since the Tooth Fairy works with teeth.

KEVIN Also because she’s made of meat.


Saturday, 11/21: living the dream
November 21, 2009, 2:18 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, 공부방 (after-school program)

One of the great pleasures of my line of work is seeing movie cliches come true. Because, as they say, such tired tropes have to get their start somewhere.

DC has a geography competition called GeoPlunge, a team-based contest that hybridizes knowledge of US state facts with the competitive edge of a good game of Spoons. You can probably guess from the beginning of this post, Best Beloved, that we won. I went to watch the competition yesterday at the Museum of American History.

In the best tradition of scholastic competition, my kids – coached by our fantastic fifth grade teacher – found themselves facing off against a number of schools that are near my house, i.e. in the furthest reaches of the bourgeois wilderness. It was exactly the sort of sight one might imagine: both of our teams, entirely African-American and largely from struggling families, against wealthy kids wearing Gap. One school we played had two tiny white kids, both with long, skateboarder/hipster hair, and a black kid who was dressed like Twofer from 30 Rock. One of our girls, a miniscule fourth grader, had her “Are you GeoPlunging?” hat perched atop a high, puffy ponytail. I could not have written this stuff to be more cinematic if I tried.

What really astonished me, however, was the degree to which our kids did not notice any of this. While I mentally added the soundtrack from every educational movie and every inspirational sports film  I’ve ever seen, I heard not a word – not an indication from either side – that the players were observant of any distinctions vis-a-vis class or race. Seriously, nothing. My school did not enter with an underdog mentality; rather, we were the defending champions from last year (and the year before, not to brag or anything). All the trash talk was reserved for disparaging one’s knowledge of which state had the American goldfinch as its state bird (Washington State, in case you were wondering). In short, the competition – to our students – seemed to be so purely about academic excellence that other considerations had finally been erased from their minds.

Am I sure about this? Of course not. But I think I would have noticed something. The real moral of the movie, which I am not expressing very well, appears to have something to do with the degree to which adults project their own concerns, and their own narratives, on kids who, ultimately, want to just be kids without regard to other issues. And, in the words of one of our girls, who wrote this on her GeoPlunge survey: “To bring back the trofy to our school.” (Trofy brought.)

Thursday, 11/12: it takes a nation of millions to hold us back
November 13, 2009, 1:10 am
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), identity

I’m going to preface this with several caveats: Most aspects of my job are terrific. My hours are borderline unbelievable, I get daily hugs and affirmations from the cutest children I currently know, and I get to both play games and problem solve. Compared to other stuff that I have done, this is a cakewalk.

That having been said, I do not think it is unreasonable for me to become frustrated when some of the other teachers and staff confuse me with one of the other teachers who works for my 공부방. This teacher is white. So am I, apparently, which means that it is okay to mix us up.

Except that:

a) I am not white. I am Asian (Vietnamese) and white, aka hapa, aka mixed-race or multiracial. It is not the same thing. I repeat: IT IS NOT THE SAME THING.  I have a unique cultural identity that comes with its own benefits and struggles, and choosing to ignore that is, quite frankly, a bit insulting. My upbringing was neither fully white nor fully Viet. I identify as both white and Asian, not exclusively either, because I’m not exclusively either – the mix is part of the identity. That’s why it gets its own separate classification.

b) I don’t look white. For those readers who may never have met me in real life, I have been told that my ethnicity is generally difficult to pin down, but as I have been told by countless well-meaning adults, “You can tell that you’re something.” Which is cool, because I guess if I was white, I would be nothing? I have black hair, dark eyes, a very Vietnamese nose, and skin that is somewhere between yellow and tan. In the past I and members of my family have been mistaken for Mexican, Chinese, and God knows what else, if that helps.

c) I don’t look anything like this other teacher. She is very nice, and very pretty, but she has at least six inches and 25 pounds on me (which is not an insult – I look like a twelve-year-old). Her skin is white; mine is not. Her hair is a medium brown. We don’t resemble each other in ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM except that we both work with children and we are both under thirty.

I’m in a class at Sacred Heart and we talk a lot about compassion, which is obviously something that I – like most people – could use a bit of work on. Of course I have no idea what sort of backgrounds everyone involved comes from, and I should work to learn more about why they insist on considering me interchangeable. But I do feel aggravated – I can’t help it – because I know everybody’s name, and in order to tell them apart I look at things like height and hairstyle and eye color, not just race. Because that is how you tell people, both of the same race and of different races, apart. And to not even be willing to do that – well, it just makes a job that is already pretty stressful even harder.


Wednesday, 11/11: it’s the great Marxist, Charlie Brown
November 11, 2009, 7:20 pm
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), politics

Up to this point, I have blogged an impressive (impressively narcissistic?*) nine times this month – that’s once per day. Evidently frameworks don’t always work for me, as the last time I tried to do NaBloPoMo I gave up after maybe three days. I did not make it to the computer yesterday, which may actually have been for the best, as frustrations at my work – where I am now no longer allowed to offer academic interventions to most of the lowest-level kids, as they are not going to boost our school test scores** – came perilously close to causing my brain to boil out of my ears. It’s best to keep those sorts of emotions off the internets.

So I’ve spent most of this dreary day talking to Communists, asking them why they have not elected a president in the US ever. Well, questions along those lines. I had the good fortune to speak with Vijay Prashad, who has one of the best book titles I’ve seen in a long time and whose child (maybe a toddler?) I could hear in the background. Perhaps it’s reflective of my sheltered reality that it felt like a throwback to discuss the proletariat. I’d like to work on a personal essay on this topic myself – as has often been discussed, I have a complicated familial relationship with leftist ideologies, and Neutral Milk Hotel has already given me a title. I’m in Starbucks, where I was driven out of a table by a man chewing but not smoking a cigar (white) and his mustachioed friend (black) so they could play cribbage (wood-colored). The scene was weird, and weirdly heartwarming, enough that I almost didn’t mind. And now I’m giving my brain a break before moving to article #3, and then grad school essays? I only have time these days for a relationship with my MacBook.



*That word took me about two minutes to type.

**Let’s be fair here: my principal has done some very impressive work. And we are judged/funded by the number of kids we get over the hump – not the number of kids we get from really low to just sort of low in terms of test scores. But I still have a real internal problem with the idea of not devoting at least a few of our resources to second graders who don’t know the alphabet. Even if they are, quote, the teacher’s responsibility. We are all part of the beloved community.


Friday, 11/6: Ms. IGR on the ringworm prowl
November 7, 2009, 1:38 am
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program)

Today for breakfast I ate a chocolate and two packs of fruit snacks from the bag that was left in my office. The neat thing about these weird pseudo-gummies, even though they are sort of gross, is the diversity of flavors: according to the package (and my mouth), there’s peach, raspberry, and green grape in addition to boring old strawberry, orange and purple grape. My current diet reminds me a little bit of this exchange from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, a favorite of both Miguk Oma and myself:

Michele: Have you been losing weight?
Romy: Actually, I’m trying this new fat-free diet I invented. All I’ve had to eat for the last six days are gummi bears, jelly beans and candy corn.
Michele: God, I wish I had your discipline.

Today wasn’t notable for much with the exception of two new cases of ringworm. Ringworm is not as bad as it sounds, but it is still Pretty Gross. Gross enough, certainly, for the teachers to say, “Uuggh.” In front of the kids who have it. I’m not going to pretend that I am totally innocent in this area. I got one of our kindergartners bandaged up so that she wouldn’t spread it, and as soon as her mother got in, she started yelling at me about how I shouldn’t cover it because covering makes it spread. And I was like, lady, that doesn’t even make sense. That’s what I said in my head. What I said out loud was, “We…we were worried she would touch it.”

Now I itch all over. People who know me in real life, this is totally psychosomatic. I promise. I will not give you fungus. Unless you ask for it.

I also had dinner and drinks with one of my FB friends who lives in the city and who has become one of my favorite people around here. It was nice – peaceful, really – and allowed me a distraction from the thought of children you can’t even hug.


PS: I saw the temperature gun today, and it revealed that the temperature in my office has gone down to ninety degrees – eighty-seven, in some parts. The gun wasn’t as neat as I had hoped, but it was still pretty cool.

Thursday, 11/5: lockdown
November 5, 2009, 11:36 pm
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), media

I wore the least amount of clothes that could still be considered professional today at work. That sentence took me maybe four tries. The older secretary in my office came in and said, “You know, the man came in yesterday with his little temperature gun, and he pointed it in here and he said it was one hundred degrees!” Which proves that I was actually underselling my situation yesterday, and also leads me to wonder what sort of gun takes a temperature. Because I want it.

No major disciplinary incidents today, thank God, probably because one of the teachers put the entire cafeteria on silent. I realize that this is a cultural thing I just have to get around, but it’s so jarring to hear the teachers yell like that – the assumption is that because they’re kids, they will inherently try to get away with something, and so you have to do a preemptive strike (in this case, ensuring that everyone enters the cafeteria and puts their heads down). I didn’t like that outlook as a child, and nothing much has changed, but I realize that I’m also biased because my parents rarely, if ever, yelled at me in that sort of habitual manner. Yelling was reserved for when we really screwed up and was served with a healthy side of guilt. Anyway. You’re probably thinking: isn’t this your program? To which I must reply: But it isn’t my school. This was done by decree of the principal, who – to be fair – has taken a school with a lot stacked against it and turned it into a success, and she is the final word on this matter. It does make me feel sort of – well, I suppose emasculated is not the right word, but something like it.

Today was a mostly terrible day for mostly the reasons stated above, so instead I’m going to refer you to a much happier matter about which I also wrote.

Wednesday, 11/4: let us now praise (un)famous (wo)men
November 4, 2009, 11:23 pm
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program)

I should probably make a list of things in my life that are going okay tonight. It’s preferable to the alternative, although the alternative might be easier.

  • new roommate gave me leftover homemade Indian food and it was better than pretty much anything I have ever had in a restaurant
  • have successfully written every day since ScoopDaily launched (all two days)
  • received mandolin case in the mail
  • ScoopDaily is not blocked on my work computer (yet), which means I can blog during work hours
  • Evernote (I know, I know) allows me to take notes for blog entries at work and access them at home in a user-friendly way, thus rendering all of my procrastination potentially productive. PPPPPPPPP. I am not much of an adherent to any sort of productivity methodology, except for the fact that I like to accomplish things, but I am really loving this. On first glance it doesn’t seem particularly useful, but it essentially allows you to create different sections for different projects and things you are working on and then dump everything you find and think about into those categories. Which is sort of like the file setup on your computer, except that instead of having to save everything using different programs and in different formats, you can just clip it. It’s sort of like a giant interactive bulletin board. Is it weird that this reminds me both of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Ghostwriter?

My office – and I do have an office, unlike many of my less fortunate coordinator peers – is, as I discovered today, on top of the school’s boiler. Yesterday, when I was out, the heat was turned up. I am a floor sitter, like most four-year-olds, so I already knew that the heat came from the floor, but today I was reminded of this fact when the temperature in my office rose to – I am not making this up – about eighty-eight degrees. The secretaries in the connected office kept yelling, “MISS [IGR]! COME ON OUT OF THERE, MISS [IGR]!” Whenever I emerged, they expressed their concern that I might fall victim to heatstroke.

Also, disciplinary incidents today:

  1. 4-year-old girl said “fuck your butt” (1)
  2. 2nd grader made other 2nd grader bleed, claims she was bothering him first, it becomes obvious that his stutter prohibits him from telling teacher when other people bother him, although not from cursing (1)
  3. 3-year-old boy yelled “oh shit” (1)

Which is how I found myself chugging a second bottle of soda (!!) and scarfing abandoned fruit snacks as the program wound down, hoping no one would come into my sauna of an office and wondering what country I was really in.