Category Archives: education

ms. york

pre-2009 i was not a violin virtuoso, so the damage my stroke did to my control of my left hand is an inconvenience and even a source of amusement at times.

i had not been training for a marathon when i was diagnosed with my brain tumor, so losing my ability to run didn’t force me to re-examine my identity.

i never was much of a fan of the circus, so my constant vertigo doesn’t deny me my dreams of life on a tightrope.

my double-vision hasn’t robbed me of a gold medal in the olympic biathlon.

but you know what i was before the medical drama of 2009? i was a good teacher. i was ms. york, and that meant something.

2nd grade

the last day of my last class at loleta elementary

to finance the second year of my master’s degree, i applied for a position as a graduate teaching assistant in the speech communication department at osu. i was relieved when i was hired, but even though my friends and family were enthusiastic nearly to the point of giddiness about my return to teaching, i wasn’t. now, after the end of fall term, i can see why. i was scared. scared that i wouldn’t still “have it.” scared that i’d have to figure out how to be a person who used to be a really good teacher. because i don’t know that i could have survived that blow to my identity.

lately i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about teaching and classrooms and identity and authenticity. i’ve been “percolating” this post for months, but i haven’t been able to get it right. so i’ll take my own advice and get it down without worrying about getting it right.

several months ago, one of the professors on my thesis committee told me that i should read a hidden wholeness by parker palmer. i tracked it down and read it on the train to seattle a week later. dr. anderson was right – it was exactly the book i needed to read on that exact train ride. it got me thinking about when in my life i’d felt the most authentic. to me authenticity is that place where the circles that make up the venn diagram of my life overlap, and trying to expand that overlap is how i define living a more authentic life. as i read palmer’s book i kept hearing the phrase “room five” in my head. room 5 was the multiage classroom in jefferson, oregon, where i taught for the best part of my teaching career. life in room five wasn’t all fun, but while i taught there i got to spend the majority of my waking hours being myself. and sharing space with other people who were being themselves.

room 5 didn’t spring to life fully-formed like an elementary athena. it was actually part of a chain of things that continues to be created today. my parents have played a big part – sure, their logic and consistency haven’t always made my day, but they made for a childhood where i felt safe and capable. as i’ve gotten older i’ve realized how fortunate i was to feel safe and capable as a young person. i aspire to do what i can to give those feelings to my students.

feeling safe and capable - thank, mom and dad!

feeling safe and capable – thanks, mom and dad!

my childhood neighbors, the charnows, did this amazing job of treating me as a friend without making me need to be more mature (or themselves less mature). it’s hard to describe, but it’s been the way i have built relationships with young people starting with the 3 charnow children, who were born when i was in elementary school.

living across the street from these fine people made such a difference in my life.

living across the street from these fine people made an enormous difference in my life.

when i was an undergrad, i worked at an infant/toddler center. my bosses were merilee and janet. they taught me a lot about child development and communication with parents and families, and also recognized that my instincts with kids were pretty good. their confidence in me helped me increase it in myself. as leaders they worked from the strengths of their employees – i didn’t realize that they were doing that until much later in my work experiences. i started babysitting for janet’s daughter, zari, and in the process became great friends with both of them. my life would be a very different place without the infant center.

merilee left notes like this around the infant center.

merilee left notes like this around the infant center.

and the lives of the people in my classes would also be very different if it wasn’t for my parents, the charnows, and the infant center. I built up some habits and instincts which have influenced the way i approach teaching and classrooms and work.

i started my elementary school teaching experience in a little rural school in kneeland, california. i student-taught in a K-3 multiage classroom, under the guidance of susan adams and her classroom assistant, jim cress. their classroom was a community, and i was fortunate to have it as a model early in my teaching career. i walked in the door every day and knew that would get to laugh and think and be seen. the mrs. adams and jim that those students knew were who they were in their whole lives – those were not invented school personas. they set a tone of appreciation in that classroom, and i am so grateful to have been a part of things. it changed me.

kneeland

my first teaching position was as the only 4th grade teacher at a small rural school in humboldt county, california. i started teaching as soon as i graduated from college – i was 24 or 25 (about the age that my first students are now – so cool). it was a pretty hard-luck school in a hard-luck community – there were a lot of families living in poverty, a meth problem before very many folks knew what that was, and a lot of parents who hadn’t felt successful in their own school experiences and weren’t sure how to interact with the school system to support their children. of course these didn’t apply to all families, but i found myself drawn to the families and students who most needed my help. i realized that we all wanted to feel safe and capable, and that i could find things to like and respect about anyone who crossed my path. when i modeled that, my students did the same thing. it was awesome. i loved that school and even though i was excited to move to oregon, i was so sad to leave loleta. 

i doubt it

then kegan demant friended me on facebook. it hadn’t occurred to me that facebook would end up bringing the loletians back into my life. when i saw kegan’s name and realized that i was going to have a way to know those former students as adults, i was thrilled. most friend requests started with something like, “you probably don’t remember me, but i was in your 4th grade class.” don’t remember you? i’ve never once been friended by a former student i didn’t remember. i think that comes from the charnows – paying attention is the way to make your world meaningful. there’s always something important going on if you’re paying attention. and from the infant center i learned to focus the majority my attentions on assets not deficits. and susan and jim’s big contribution was that everything was improved if kriste and ms. york were really different names for the same person.

egg drop

when i start communicating with a former student, they inevitably ask me what they should call me. my answer is that they can call me kriste or ms. york – i answer to both. i still call my beloved high school english teacher “mr. pickering.” and he makes fun of me about it.

lately i’ve had an incredible surge in the ms. york department – yesterday a woman i work with pointed this out and wondered if the universe is trying to tell me something.

universe

this summer i finally got around to asking a young woman from loleta about her younger brother, who kept me on my toes (this is a compliment) when he was a 4th grader. turns out that he’s an inmate at san quentin – not exactly what i wanted to hear, but i got his address and wrote him a letter. he wrote back right away, and getting an unprompted letter from his 4th grade teacher blew his mind. his letter was great – i could certainly still see that spark in him that i loved when he was a kid. we’ve written about a dozen letters since then, and he’s gradually painted a picture for me of his teen years and prison and the people who have impacted his life. i really am enjoying getting to know him again, and i’m aware that as ms. york i have a huge amount of credibility with him. i’m not trying to save him or convince him of anything – i’m really just enjoying the give and take of our correspondence. and maybe i remind him how it was to feel safe and capable – he hasn’t had much of that in his life.

a few months ago i got a friend request from a person with a last name i didn’t recognize. i looked at a few of her pictures and realized that it was one of those holy grail people i’ve always wondered about. i get choked up just thinking about it. then i found out that not only did i get to have her in my life again, but she was temporarily living with her brother and sisters about an hour away from me. so a week later i was sitting in a pizza parlor with the family. and the resilience of these people – they had terrible trauma happen in their lives, and have somehow remained absolutely delightful people. i even got to go trick-or-treating with this young woman and her two children.

halloween

loleta – the next generation

i left loleta to move closer to my parents into corvallis, oregon. i got my dream job teaching a primary multiage class (grades 1/2/3) in jefferson, a community that needed good teachers. my classroom was room 5, and it meant something to be from room 5. a new principal came to the school my fifth year teaching there, and when he announced that over the summer he would dismantle the multiage program, i knew that i needed to leave. i couldn’t stick around to see the culture of our classroom taken apart. i am still sad (and a little angry) that i couldn’t stay. i took a job in corvallis, which ended up being a blessing because when my trauma hit that next summer i had a support network where i lived which was critical to my recovery, and to my quality of life.

that year teaching in corvallis also gave me an important analogy for what i was doing in my classroom. a co-worker once accused me of “really encouraging” a student who was a first grader and the embodiment of delight. yes, i encouraged him. i encourage all of them. i think of my classroom as one of those cool rock tumblers that seemed to be running at the back of every classroom in the early-eighties. my job isn’t to make someone into someone they’re not. it’s to smooth some of the rough edges and polish them up. i was able to do some of that with the 3/4/5 class i taught that one year, and i really enjoyed spending the day with the characters who ended up sharing space with me there.

this represents how i feel about room 5.

this represents how i feel about room 5.

but man i have missed jefferson. this summer i started driving again, which meant that the 30 minute trip back there was something i could do. so i invited my sidekick mrs. (redding) schmidt to meet me at the mexican restaurant for lunch. we talked about authenticity, and she also felt like room 5 was the place in her life where she was her most authentic self. while we were chatting, a young woman brought us a basket of chips. it was katia! she was in the first group of students i’d had in room 5 for all three years. from facebook it looked like her teen years were going pretty smoothly. and then there she was, in the flesh. her younger brother, who was also a room 5 kid, came to meet her there when she got off work. which meant that this happened:

room 5 reunion

i guess that this post has taken me so long because i have a lot to say.

back to the present. now i’m teaching a recitation section of intro to public speaking. once a week a few hundred students, mainly freshmen, go to a mass lecture on theory taught by a professor. she supervises a group of GTAs and adjuncts who teach classes of 20 students twice a week. we get to do the practical stuff, and my class somehow synthesizes all of my interests and skills. i love it. i loved the way my students came together as a group in the fall. thinking about how that happened last term and in the dozen years of teaching before that helped me to be able to label my expectations for myself and my new class that met for the first time yesterday:

111 rules

during one lecture session last term, the GTAs gave short speeches to model the use of visual aids. i told the story about the only toy a student ever got back out of my epic toy collection. i brought the toy jesie swapped for it – next time i’m bringing jesie, who is now a high school student in corvallis. i asked my students to give me feedback about my speech. here’s one i loved:

evil

during one of our last sessions, i pointed out that i have pictures of each of my classes and asked if i could take one of them. they humored me.

111 f13

in the last few weeks i’ve reconnected with one of the room 5 kids. tyson. as my friend deb told him, he’s a legend. i bet i’ve said his name hundreds of times since i left jefferson. we became friends on facebook a year or so ago, and it seemed clear to me that he was having some turmoil in his life. at the end of november i sent him a happy birthday message (he turned 18!) and we started messaging back and forth about our lives, until i did the math and realized that i could just drive to jefferson and eat a meal with him. so we made plans. it was fantastic to be able to sit at a table with him –  i was his captain of his fan club when he was 8 and i still am.

on her wall my grandma florence had the Y page from a room 5 alphabet book we made way back when – “tyson is yelling at ms. york.” here’s the illustration:

original

tyson liked the idea that we update it. my grandma would have loved it.

this time he wasn't actually yelling at me - maturity.

this time he wasn’t actually yelling at me – maturity.

we’ve gotten together every week since then. it has been fantastic to have time to talk about the future and the past and the present – i think that it’s meant a lot to both of us. yesterday he headed to job corps in estacada, which i think will be a great thing for him. i’m looking forward to being a part of it, and glad for the time we had before he left.

then yesterday while i was waiting for a class i was looking through the contacts on my phone and saw a name and wondered if it was my former student noah’s mom. noah spent a lot of time with me when he was a first grader in room 5, and after i stopped teaching in jefferson. then i dropped off the face of the earth. i didn’t tell him what was going on because the plan was that i’d be back up and running within a month or two after my surgery. when that didn’t happen, i disappeared from his life and i’ve always felt bad about it. i wanted to explain that i hadn’t forgotten about him. and i missed him – i really enjoyed his company. we had gotten into a pretty great routine. so i texted this number in my phone and it was his mom! she said that they’re still nearby, that noah is doing great, and that he’s 13 and the oldest of 5 siblings. i asked her if we could get together this weekend. and then like magic i was talking to noah on the phone. i told him a little about what had happened and, empathetic and kind person that he is, he asked me what i’m studying at osu. i suggested that we catch up over lunch this weekend. i said that i’d take them all out, and he asked if it could just be me and him this time and the rest of them can come next time.

so good

kriste and noah circa 2009

so it’s a pretty cool time to be kriste. or ms. york. i answer to both.

Advertisements

MRI cheat sheet

recently, more than one of my friends has had a reason to ask me for tips about having an MRI. makes sense, because if hospitals gave out punchcards for them i’d have earned some free ones in the last few years.

behold the jesus christ tumor. named that by my uncle, because when he showed it to his fellow neurosurgeons they often said, "jesus christ!"

behold the jesus christ tumor. named that by my uncle, because when he showed it to his fellow neurosurgeons they often said, “jesus christ!”

i had my first MRI at the age of 36 – it’s the one my ENT sent me for to rule out an acoustic neuroma as the cause of my gradual hearing loss. at this point you likely know that the MRI actually ruled in an AN. i had many MRIs in the 5 weeks i spent in the hospital in phoenix. part of the tumor is still in my head, so i have an annual MRI to catch any regrown early enough to treat it with the non-invasive gamma knife procedure instead of brain surgery. about a year ago i had a sudden increase of some of my neurological symptoms (vertigo, fatigue…), so i had a few bonus MRIs to see what the problem was (my shunt stopped working) and what to do about it (deal with it).

with those MRI credentials, i’ll give you my pointers/advice/knowledge. with a disclaimer: i’ve only ever had head MRIs.

1. ask if you’re having contrast.

sometimes your doctor will want a particular kind of imaging that calls for contrast. i’ve had two kinds – one where they give you an injection of the dye and then pop you back into the machine, and one where they hook you up to an IV and pop you back in with it hooked up. it’s not all that bad, just a good thing to know before you get started.

once before giving me contrast, the MRI tech said, “after a minute or two, it’ll feel like you wet your pants.” if she hadn’t warned me there is no way on earth that i would have believed that i hadn’t just wet my pants. so if you’re having contrast, ask if it’s that kind.

2. having an MRI is kind of like going to the dentist.

MRI machines are loud. and they require you to keep your head really still. for those reason, the tech will put in earplugs then pack you into the headrest with pieces of foam to keep your head from moving. and then he or she will chat with you. you can’t hear a word of it, and you can’t nod along. so be prepared to smile and say things like, “that’s great!” and hope that the tech didn’t just tell you that he’s having his dog put to sleep later that day.

3. say yes to a pillow under your knees, and a blanket.

don’t be a hero! when the tech asks you if you’d like a pillow for under your knees, say, “sure thing!” want a blanket? “that would be great!” you’ll have a little thing to hold and squeeze if you need them to stop for some reason, but i doubt that the tech will appreciate you using it because your toes are cold.

4. come prepared to nap.

when you have a head scan, you’re only in the machine to the top of your chest. the surface you’re laying on is pretty soft, and if you’ve taken my last piece of advice, you’ll be feeling positively comfy. there’s a mirror right above your eyes, angled so you can see out across from you into MRI mission control, but i say close your eyes and imagine that you’re in a loud sensory deprivation tank. you don’t have to do anything but lie there (in fact, that’s really all your supposed to do), so you might as well relax. the tech tells you through an intercom how long the next scan will be (mine range between 30 seconds and a few minutes – i’m usually in there for about half an hour all together), but if you fall asleep then none of that matters much.

5. get rid of all of your metal stuff

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, so on your intake form they’ll ask you if you have any metal in your body, like piercings. so take that stuff out before you go. leave your rings and necklaces and earrings at home. if you have a piercing that you can’t take out, ask them about it when you make your appointment.

6. don’t watch this video until after you have your first MRI. seriously.

you’re welcome.

creative nonfiction

the pharmacy building is my favorite on the osu campus. i don’t know why. this is my view as i head back home from the coffee shop in the basement of the library.

i’m loving grad school – wonderfully busy. here’s the essay that was due today in my creative nonfiction class. the assignment was to write 1200-1500 words, with an episodic element.

If I Had a Million Dollars

“If I had a million dollars,

If I had a million dollars,

I’d buy you a house,

I would buy you a house.

If I had a million dollars,

If I had a million dollars,

I’d buy you furniture for your house,

Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman.”

~ Barenaked Ladies

When the quick phone conversation with Dr. Benton ended, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was about four in the afternoon, and he had just told me that the MRI I’d had at noon to rule out a brain tumor as the cause of my hearing loss had in fact revealed a very large tumor on the nerve connecting my ear to my brain. He suggested that I speak with a neurosurgeon within the next day or two. Conveniently, I already had one of those – my uncle Yancey. But before I called him, or called my parents, I felt like there was something else I should do next. Unfortunately, sorting through the things I’d learned so far in my thirty-six years of life revealed that I had never been told what you should do when you find out that you have a one-in-a-million brain tumor.

So I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I walked out my front door, across the street, and into 7-Eleven, where I bought myself a slurpee and a lottery ticket.

When I was a kid, my parents and I spent many weekends in a cabin two hours east of our home in a Los Angeles suburb. The cabin had no phone, no TV. It had a swing and decks of cards and bird feeders and trails in the “wilderness” down the driveway. In the nearby town of Big Bear, across the street from the Italian restaurant where about once a month we ate a 5-course meal with cheese and apples for dessert, there was an arcade. I traded in my allowance for tokens, passed by Ms. Pac Man and shooting games and the contraption that would flatten your penny and give it back to you with a bear where Lincoln had just been, and spent all my money on Skeeball. I waited all month to hear the sound of the wooden balls rolling down the chute after I put in my token and pulled the lever. The scuffed balls were the perfect fit for my hands, still a little sticky from garlic bread.

I didn’t play Skeeball for the blue tickets that folded out of the machine at my feet. I played for the thrill of watching the ball move away from me at just the right speed, just the right angle, to jump the concentric circles and disappear down the hole marked 50.

It is true that, in each house I’ve lived in since those days, I’ve set aside some space in my mental floorplan for the happy day when I become the owner of my very own Skeeball machine.

Since I sold my car a few years ago, I’ve become a frequent bus rider. The stop down the block from my old house has a shelter, and now I live a short walk from the Transit Center, where each bus line begins and ends with its own refuge from the rain. But this being the Pacific Northwest, in other parts of town I’m often soggy when the bus arrives. While riding bus 6 through my old neighborhood I’ve often admired a wooden shelter, clearly build by someone on the block. A few times I’ve gotten off at that stop just to spend thirty minutes sitting there in that safe haven until the next bus comes by and stops for me.

As I’m carried around town, with the freedom to gaze out the window that I didn’t had during my two decades as a driver, I imagine organizing residents and business owners to build shrines to public transportation at each stop along each route. In my mind I can see these sanctuaries most clearly when it’s raining.

My walk to the other side of downtown often leads me through my neighborhood used book store, usually in search of titles in the trashy paperback series I read to clear my literary palate. This summer I repeatedly found myself drawn to a hardback book with a book jacket the perfect shade of yellow, which I put back on the shelf because I couldn’t justify spending close to thirty dollars on a book when I had a bookcase at home filled with titles I’d yet to read.

The day before I headed out of town on an end of summer adventure with a friend, leaving behind a season of strained family relations and ushering in my triumphant return to a college campus, there I was back in the bookstore with the yellow book in my hands. I decided that this was the time to give in to temptation, so I bought it.

In my rhetoric class, I’ve learned that they call what happened kairos – the right place at the right time. My agnostic friend Jesse calls it synchronicity – paying attention to things that seem to happen for a reason without giving them any kind of divine meaning. This is How, by Augusten Burroughs, turned out to be exactly the book I needed to read on that very day. I never had to use the flap of the jacket as a bookmark because I read it straight through; I inhaled it. I immediately re-read it, loving its weight in my hands, thinking that it wouldn’t have meant quite as much without the security of its thick cover. On a trip that included time on three boats, it was just the anchor I needed.

I grew up in the suburbs – it was a steep walk to the black metal mailbox that tilted on a stand with four others at the end of my driveway. When I’d go with my parents to the post office to buy stamps, I was captivated by the orderly rows of tiny doors, each with their own small lock. I grew up to become an habitual letter-writer, and I still find myself fantasizing about adding a tiny key to my keychain, blithely filling out change-of-address forms in my imagination.

One of my pen pals, Meghan, is a friend from a summer I spent as an exchange student. Meghan lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where she minds a lighthouse and her two spirited sons, not to mention her recent reanimation of the tiny schoolhouse in her village. Just what I would expect from a woman with a 2-digit post-office box number.

Each autumn I send out dozens of Thanksgiving cards, with gratitude for the people who bring good into my life. In the last year I’ve become friends with Jessica, who lives in my same city. I asked her for her address, and when she responded with a two-digit PO Box number, I decided that the time had come for me to channel my envy into figuring out how to get one of my own. Maybe Jessica and Meghan can write letters of recommendation for my application.

I buy exactly two lottery tickets each year, and always on the anniversary of that cardinal MRI (my ‘Scanniversary’). One I include in a letter I write to Dr. Benton, with gratitude for saving my life. The other I allow myself to slowly scratch with a penny from my pocket, like Charlie peeling away the wrapper on his precious bar of chocolate.  He opened three Wonka bars before he found the golden ticket  – maybe I’ll allow myself two more lottery tickets next year.

oh man, i love this book.