Thursday, April 6, 2017

My birthday is coming up. Here's what I'd like.

These two have both had babies now. Somebody just...just slap a sepia filter on this one.

Despite the fact that I'm a twin with an older sister, I was the first child to leave home. I was accepted to several graduate programs; because I had to pay my own way, I chose a school in the midwest that offered a tuition waiver and a generous teaching assistantship. My parents are the loveliest people on Earth, so they forked over the money for plane tickets and a hotel room, and they both took a week off work to journey across the country with me. Together, we checked out the school, found me an apartment, and enjoyed the temperate summer weather. Obviously, I was bit nervous about starting a new chapter in a strange place, but my parents helped me view it as an adventure.

On their last night there, they took me on a dinner-and-a-movie date. We made the awful decision to see Toy Story 3. These movies are all about toys that belong to a little boy named Andy; in the third installment, he's a teenager preparing to leave for college. The tear-jerking finale is Andy's beloved toys waving goodbye to him as he drives off to his new life.


After the movie, my parents drove to the front door of my new lodgings and made no move to get out of the car. Worse still, they were eerily quiet. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Aren't you coming?"

My mom replied in the strangest, stiffest voice: "We're not getting out of the car."

This was it. They were flying back to Pennsylvania early the next morning, and I wouldn't see them until Christmas break. And they were trying to make the separation as quick and painless as possible.

I walked through the door of my apartment and started crying. I already missed them so much that, less than an hour later, I was calling my dad and sobbing in to the phone. It sounds stupid, considering I was going to Victorian literature classes and teaching writing to freshmen, not heading off to war. But you have to understand: I grew up in a very close-knit family, for better or worse, and we had never truly parted. Up to that point, the farthest any of us had gone was to a state school an hour or so away, and we usually ended up back home with our bags of dirty laundry on the weekends.

 Here's a picture from my Graduate Going Away Party featuring my fiance. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that I used to wear jewelry. (I guess he's cute, too.)

It was necessary, though, for me to grow up, and for them to adjust to the fact that their kids were getting older. I called several times a week, I flew home twice a year, and in the meantime, I finished my education and met some wonderful people. Eventually, I came back to Pennsylvania, and I've been here ever since. I figured my family had gotten the whole "leaving the nest" mess of emotions out of the way.

So imagine my surprise when, in the summer of 2016, my brother left home one morning for his new job down south and my mother and I broke down crying. I mean, we had the decency to wait until he'd driven out of sight--we're not monsters--but we were weeping. I think I even clung to her a bit, like a heroine from one of those Victorian novels I'd read in graduate school.

Again, we have adjusted. My brother calls and tells us about how different things are in his new home. He's particularly flummoxed by the accents--apparently, our last name has a completely different pronunciation in the south. And since we're both teachers, I always ask my brother about his students. What are they learning? How are they doing? Are they enjoying class? Did he come up with any cool new projects?

That's my brother's niche: coming up with fun projects and games that will engage students and help them grasp the material. My favorite might be the marshmallow-flinging trebuchets he had them design. ("That was...probably a bad idea. I'm still finding marshmallows all over my classroom.")

What's not my brother's niche, however, is remembering the mundane but necessary parts of adult life. This includes completing tax forms, and for a K-12 teacher like my brother, they can be a real headache. My brother's school district offers him a fund for buying classroom supplies; a few months ago, he'd told me that he'd used up that fund and was "buying this and that" with his own money. Out of curiosity, I asked him if he'd kept a receipt for every classroom material he'd bought out-of-pocket, since these purchases are supposed to be tax-deductible.

"Yeah, I actually added them up," he told me over the phone last week. "Can you believe I spent, like, five hundred dollars of my own money for their project stuff?"

I swear to you, I nearly choked on the cookie I was eating. "Five hundred dollars?! Are you serious? How is that even possible?"

I could almost hear him shrugging. "Science projects are expensive."

I tell you this, my wonderful friends and readers, because my brother is not the only teacher who has done it. Via Facebook and blog posts, I've seen many of my incredible K-12 teaching friends request boxes of age-appropriate books, packages of art and drafting supplies, and donations for field trips or classroom materials. They've proudly shown off posters and activity charts they'd made for their students with supplies they purchased themselves. And while they've lamented ballooning class sizes, helicopter parents, and the weekly onslaught of paperwork, they're proud and honored to help young people learn.

Despite these troubles, most of my friends will tell you they are well off. At least their schools will pay for some supplies, will cap each class at 30 students, will give them access to a computer to update their lesson plans and gradebooks, etc. Others are not so lucky. They work in schools that are falling apart. They teach with outdated textbooks; their students sit at dilapidated desks. Gym class has been cut from the schedule, not because the district think it's worthless, but because they can't afford the necessary rec equipment. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (I won't lie, typing that made me die a little inside) arrived at work this past February and joked, "Now where do I find the pencils?", several American teachers were quick to point out that this is something they struggle with daily:

Awkward tweets aside, I want to help teachers across the world. I want to ease the financial burden many of them shoulder and help them provide the best education possible for their students. In my country, one of the best ways I know to do that--besides being politically aware and outright obnoxious--is by encouraging people to donate to Donors Choose. This charitable organization allows you to directly fund classrooms and school projects across the United States.

Some of you have offered to send me presents or products as a "thank you" for maintaining this blog, or to celebrate my upcoming 29th birthday. While I am grateful, I ask that you instead consider making a donation to a Donors Choose project. It doesn't have to be a large donation; even $10 helps. You may certainly make the donation to a school in my area (Pittsburgh), my field (Humanities/Language Arts), or in my name (Renee), but that's in no way, shape, or form necessary. Do you want to help a school near you buy calculators with a donation in your grandfather's name? Please do so!

If you can't make a monetary donation, I understand 100%. Instead, would you consider giving Donors Choose a boost on social media? You can send them a shout out on Twitter, add a link to your blog, post a link to a project you support on Facebook, whatever works for you. Don't worry about linking to this blog or this post; that's immaterial. Just get the word out about Donors Choose. Heck, if you find a project you'd love to see funded, leave a comment here and tell us why you support it. Supporting education in any way you can is the greatest gift you can give. (PS: You don't have to tell me about your donation or your shout out, either, if you'd prefer to be anonymous.)

There's another birthday I'd like to mention. In June, this blog will turn 5. I can't believe I'm still rambling about makeup and capitalism on this little scrap of the web, but here I am in 2017, as crotchety and be-lipsticked as ever. Thank you again for five wonderful years.


  1. As a student, I am always appreciative of the efforts made by great educators like you. Happy birthday and thank you :)