Friday, March 30, 2018

Talkin' Baseball

            The two Syrian men smiled at me from across the table. I was their ESL teacher on this Saturday morning, and they were ready to learn.
            We began with a review of basic conversation; I’d write down the phrases, and they’d repeat them out loud.
“How are you?” / “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
“Can I help you with anything?” / “Yes, I need a job.”
            We moved on to verbs (to be, to have) and nouns (desk, table, chair). I am an English teacher, which is not the same thing as an ESL teacher. Many of the regular ESL teachers at this refugee-assistance program were absent on this Saturday morning, as it was also the day of the March for Our Lives. So I was doing my best, and these men were working hard.
            At one point, I decided to write another conversation question on our yellow legal pad. It was a simple query:
“How about those Yankees?”
The men said the words aloud with me, but had no idea what they meant. I wrote down the word: “Baseball.” They pronounced it together: “beis – bol.” I asked them if they enjoy football, or soccer as we call it in the U.S. They said yes, they do. Baseball, I told them, is America’s original sport. Our national pastime.
            I showed them video clips from baseball games, and they were intrigued. We didn’t have time to review all the rules and terms, but I told them to keep an eye out for baseball. And if someone asks them “How about those Yankees?” or, dare I say, “How about those Mets?” I advised them to respond, “I hope they win this year.”
            It’s spring, and this weekend brings us the start of baseball. So dare to dream. Every team is technically in the pennant race as April approaches. It’s the season of opportunity.
            These two Syrian men didn’t know a thing about baseball, but they know a lot about starting over. They’re familiar with new seasons in life. They’ve lived that, for sure.
            We finished our ESL session, and one of the men gathered up the notes we’d written together on the legal pad. He tapped his pencil to the paper. “Baseball,” he said. That’s right, I told him. Baseball.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Thirty Minutes

            It was just 30 minutes. There and gone in an instant. But in a newsroom, so much can happen in a half-hour.
            On this Friday afternoon in March, after two snow days and a delayed opening, the student-reporters for our school newspaper hadn’t met since they’d sent out this week’s paper to the printer on Tuesday night – a half-day ahead of schedule, in preparation for the snow. The paper had been printed on Thursday, and we had somehow managed to get it in our hands and deliver it during our shortened Friday homeroom. But now, at 2:15 on a Friday, we had a half-hour to focus on the stories that lay ahead of us.
            Two of my students were hard at work on an in-depth inquiry into why so many schools in New Jersey and America are still segregated by race. Another two students were planning interviews for a story about the different positions parents take with regard to substance use by their kids. Still another pair were working on a follow-up story to our coverage of teens and e-cigarettes, with plans to interview adults who profit financially from teen use of these devices.
            Another student had written a first-person essay on what this school paper means to her, to be published in a new local magazine that had asked for contributions from us. And another student was working on the latest in her podcast series on immigration.
            And, of course, there were the sports. Two of our sports editors were creating a giant NCAA Tournament bracket on the staff whiteboard to keep track of the men’s basketball tourney throughout March Madness season. And they were planning to preview the games in our paper, along with a story on how the recent NCAA basketball scandal has impacted the outlook fans have toward the annual college tournament.
            Another student was taking photos, some to accompany the magazine piece, and others to be used for publicity. Publicity was in order because one of our staff members had just been named New Jersey High School Journalist of the Year, with a nice scholarship to go along with the honor.
            Still another student was preparing to cover the event taking place this Wednesday morning at high schools across the nation. The nationwide organizing body is calling it a “walkout,” while others are using different terms: remembrance, assembly, protest. Either way, it’s been prompted by the shooting in Parkland, Fla., and is part of the powerful student dialogue on gun control taking place around America. The student covering this event will have just an hour to write her story, as it’s taking place during our Wednesday morning deadline. She’ll follow that story by traveling to Washington, D.C., 10 days later to cover the nationwide march for gun control.
             So, as I was saying, 30 minutes. There’s a lot to do. A lot to talk about. A lot to plan. But my, that newsroom was humming. You could feel it.