For my first blog entry, I should start with an introduction. My name is Kelly Finlaw and I live/work in Washington Heights, which is a predominately Dominican neighborhood at the top of Manhattan. From early September through late June I teach art to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in the New York City Public School system. I say that I am a teacher and this is true in the technical sense of the word. But, the truth is that my students teach me more than I teach them.
I will start my journey into the blogging world by stating that I am completely against blogging. I love to write. I love to read. I write for myself, poetically and ignoring all grammatical rules. I read books about things that I care about. The day-to-day/how-to/shop-here-not-there blogs are of no interest to me. Having said that, I will be obeying all grammar rules, blogging regularly, writing academically, and sharing my day-to-day life with you. Sometimes, in life, we have to conform to the world around us. For me, this means being technologically savvy so that life around the world feels less far away. I will still be poetic, though. It is that fine line between conformity and identity.
It is the night before the last day of school. Usually, I am preparing to say, “goodbye” to my students and colleagues for a two month vacation. Usually, I am beginning to feel a certain level of anxiety about how I will occupy my time until September. I don’t do well when I am bored and teaching has me on my toes for ten months of the year. It is the other two months that push my limits. I can handle a week of open space. I can even handle two weeks. But two months of blank canvas overwhelm me.
On this particular evening, I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed for completely different reasons. My summer will not be spent roaming the streets of New York, sitting in parks, soliciting my skills as a henna tattoo artist, reading books, playing with my niece & nephew, or listening to the waves collide with the Jersey Shore. Instead, I will be in the Dominican Republic as a teaching artist with BuildaBridge. I will travel to the Dominican Republic as an “Artist on Call: with BuildaBridge, International and working with The Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana. I will be helping to implement an educational program for 5-8 year children living in the Bateyes just outside the city. Over the course of my 4 weeks in The Dominican I will be working towards four main goals.
- Identify students that have the greatest educational/behavioral needs and assess these students, working with staff on how to best meet their needs on a holistic level.
- Work the staff that is already in place in order to train them to be more effective in teaching in the BuildaBridge classroom model for education that is trauma-informed, hope-infused and children centered with the purpose of building resilience in children.
- Create a curriculum that ties art and core subjects, especially math. This curriculum will be given to the staff so that it may be implemented in the program for future use.
- Prepare an evaluation based on the experience and through observation that can provide recommendations for further educational development of the program.
I am beginning my seventh year as an art teacher in a Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan. I fell in love the first day. Ever since, I have dreamed of going to DR (that’s short for the Dominican Republic, for anyone that may have thought I was referring to my general physician) and now it is finally a reality. Yet, I am still anxious. This anxiety does not come from the fact that I am headed to a country where I am not fluent in the language, will be away from home for six weeks, miss my family, miss my friends, or start to feel restless. I could easily address those issues.
I am anxious because I am afraid.
I care so much about what I will be doing, but I don’t feel equipped to do it well. I don’t know that I can give these kids, these teachers, and this program the depth of what they deserve. This scares me. I don’t like to fail. I don’t like to be average. And I don’t want to be anything less than the best for the kids and people in this program.
I know that I will learn as I go, just as I have done in every other aspect of life. This time, however, I only have a few short weeks to learn enough to give my best.
I know that I will come back a different person. I know that I will come back more prepared for my own vocation in Washington Heights. This will not be enough to feel successful. Success will come if the people that I work with feel more equipped, more empowered, more prepared, and well-loved.
So I head to bed, ready for one more day of school, feeling anxious for different reasons than other late June evenings bring. Yet, I know that my anxiousness never added any minutes to my days, and perhaps, a certain level of fear is a good thing. Fear, at least in this case, comes from a heart that cares enough to miss some sleep in order to blog. Hopefully, that will translate between cultures and languages in order to give the best version of myself.