Academic journal article JCT (Online)

The Dividing Glass: A Conversation on Bodies, Politics, Teaching & Loss

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

The Dividing Glass: A Conversation on Bodies, Politics, Teaching & Loss

Article excerpt


MENSTRUAL BLOOD" IS SCRAWLED in red Sharpie on ripped and wrinkled chart paper. It hangs on the far wall by the incongruous grand piano. Decontextualized, meaningless, provoking, it stands unashamed between Antigone essays and "Where I'm From" poems. Its limp body was strung up by a teacher to bear proof of student work, of meaning-making in her class. Instead it droops, a corpse of student malaise in red ink. Ms. Pindyck's classroom is marked, signed by the female body and perhaps it is rightly so. The chart paper is not hers-a remnant of the health class the period before. It is an assignment incomplete.


I am alone in my classroom. He is taller than before and out of uniform. He has on a baseball cap, yellow and with a sticker still on it. Hats are forbidden. I am annoyed by his presence. His voice and body boom in my space-loud, happy, intrusive.

"Yo, Ms. Nicci! How was your-Ms. Niccolini, you got so fat! You are so FAT!

What happened? Did you just eat all summer? What did you eat?"

"I ate everything," I laugh and fold my arms underneath the new, fat breasts of which I am suddenly ashamed.

Maya and I taught in Brooklyn together for three years. Daily we made our way to and from a small 'high-need' high school serving the fraught designations of an 'at-risk' and 'disadvantaged' student population which according to demographic data was comprised by an 86% African American, 12% Hispanic, 1% Asian and 1% White/Other population. Each morning we'd leave the safe and brownstoned refuge of Park Slope, traverse a purgatory of Hasidism, and arrive in a beautiful and viscous entanglement of graffiti, funeral parlors, wind-blown shopping bags, and bacon-drenched bodegas.

And children.

"Where's Brownsville?" "I've never heard of it." "Where is it?"

"It is just 15 minutes from here," I'd tell people when they'd ask where I worked.

An elision, a non-place, a gap on the map. Forgotten reaches of Black America.

In the panicked calm before school or the chest-crushing fatigue after, the battered frame of my '95 Corolla became a steel confessional box. Together Maya and I shared our fears, and joys masked as fears, we talked of sisters and mothers, poetry, lesson plans, abortions, and fathers. We discussed our bodies and our Whiteness, Juliet and Romeo, the Regents, and always our students' Blackness. I learned about Sukkot and modesty, about women who shave their heads for husbands and beautiful, radical mothers who shit on the floor in private, political reckonings.

In Teaching by numbers, Peter Taubman (2009) laments "the screaming absence in education of any attention to the inner life of teachers" (p.3). He poignantly argues that the Age of Accountability is "certainly impoverishing the intellectual lives of teachers and students" (p.5) and creating a climate where schooling and learning are "cast as immune to the unpredictable... immune to the unpredictable swirls of emotions and private meanings circulating in a class, the contingencies of autobiographies or the complexity of situations" (p.174). With state and federal mandates pushing data-driven instruction and replicable models, increasing attention is being given to educational research that documents the easily quantifiable and observable aspects of teaching and learning, yet "Ignored are the minor shocks and pleasures that penetrate the psyche and color and shape whatever happens in a particular class on a particular day" (Taubman, 2009, p.174). Rather than avoiding the complex and at times contradictory desires, histories and affects that circulate within multicultural classrooms, this paper seeks to explore how our personal and political 'projects' simultaneously haunt and animate, cripple and enable our teaching lives.

Like the peeling interior of my beat-up Toyota, the pages that follow bear witness to a conversation between teachers, a conversation that like that old car hurling through Brooklyn is mobile, perhaps even errant. …

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