Skip to main content

The genmai was watery today.

I struggle to be the teacher I want to be because of the teacher I need to be right now.

I'm surviving in the New Orleans Recovery School District where my classroom management consists guerilla tactics. There is no discipline program-there are reactionary measures, but there is no discipline. We attempt positive behavior support, but that consists of what the teachers can afford, and in a district that doesn’t pay you on time (or like this week-the wrong salary), that’s not much.

I know that when I build resentments, I shut down. When I start noticing how indecent everyone is, my Bodhisattva attitude goes right out of the window, and instead of helping, I start thinking- what is help? Am I helping? Could I possibly help?

The long answer to that is: no. I often feel like I’m a storm trooper. I work for a for-profit charter that is making money off of the poor, while pushing a state standardized test that I see de-skilling our work force, let alone depriving citizens from a real education. I can see why one doesn’t abandon the Deathstar- it’s because you’re so dizzy, so caught up in the chaos, you can’t help yourself, let alone others. I can’t fight the system while I teach for an extended school day with no planning. So whether or not I am aiding in this debauchery is a dilemma for me.
But the short answer to that is: yes. I know when I’m doing wrong. Like when I don’t turn in my lesson plans, when I don’t grade my papers in a timely fashion, when I take advantage of the poorly planned schedule, or go off on a child. I’ve crushed as many students as I’ve inspired. I walk in everyday with the notion of keeping it undercontrol, but when you’ve been spit on, or told off, or directly insulted, it’s tough.

I’m better than I was; I’ve only fought two students this year, and hit one in the head with a book. This may sound shocking, but last year a student was arrested while waiting in the parking lot with a lead pipe. Last year, I screamed myself hoarse. Last year, I cried myself out of the classroom while kids called me a "pussy."

This must sound horrible. The fights need explanation, but what can I say? I was attacked and defended myself. My kids are big. Overage. They outnumber me. I’m white, short, and everyone thinks I’m gay. They’ve been thinking I was going to quit since the day I walked in. So when they put their hands on me, I strike back. I’ve only been in two fights this year because I rear naked choked one student and arm bared another. (Of school grounds-in both cases, I was surrounded by adolecents who know no fear and threatened to take my bike) No one wants a shot at the title. I’ve never struck anyone, thanks to Jiu-jitsu.
The book slipped out of my hand in the middle of a rant and hit a student in his head during class.

Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about how I attracted this action. I was really violent all through my youth. The son of a Marine and Sicilian mother, who believes she’s a gangster, who’s own mother was stabbed by her husband, my grand father.
Can I get a, "All my ancient twisted karma..." ?
But I’m a path...I claim progress, not perfection.

And the worst part is, sometimes, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking: "I don’t need this job. I live at a temple, and I know I can live at other ones, and I don’t need this world."
Which is totally contradictory to what I believe a Bodhisattva should be. Also, my teacher discourages "professional monks", arguing that we need to be out in the chaos. He is hesitant to ordain anyone, and I know I’m not ready anyway.

When I say that I want to be priest or a monk, I mean to say that I love the way and the three treasures, that I want to give my life to preserving these things, learning about these things, and that by wearing a kesa, I’m asking for help. I know that struggle is good, I know that I’m right where I need to be and I’m not quitting. I’ve been doing it for two years, and I’m still sitting, still observing. But eventually, I’ll leave this temple and find another teacher. This teacher will strengthen your hara, but neglects the mind and the heart. I’m still giving him a chance and hearing him out, but I don’t think it’s a good match.
But for now, I’ve committed to learning how to teach. It’s a daily struggle, and I’m heartbroken more than inspired. Things don’t always go my way. That’s a tough for me to accept. I’m uncomfortable, like those tough days of zazen, when your knees feel like they’re going to explode.

But I don’t ring my own gong.


  1. Dear Bodhisattva,

    Thank you for your excellent efforts.

    Best Regards,



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Vows and Compass

Being in new Orleans reminds me that my way seeking mind ripened here. Maybe it was the level of maturity my father's recovery actualized. Maybe it was the Ben Wren book I found at Beaucoup Books on my lunch break. Maybe it was my step mom's copy of things fall apart by Pema Chodron sitting in the bathroom.

Later I would witness the host of suffering post-katrina offered to a young public school teacher. How could I help? I took my first set of vows not really knowing where they would lead, like the old black metal compass my dad put in my Christmas stocking when I was about ten. Beautiful to hold, difficult to understand.

Now, years later, I feel a bit subdued as form,sensation, perception, impulse, and thought tag everything, beckoning some purchase for the price of belief. I'm home, but a home leaver. People wonder when I'll move back and being a home leaver means being ready to leave home again and again, which could mean coming back.

How will I actually engage all…