Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Intensely Personal

I often find myself picking up my phone or physically turning wanting to say, "Hey, did you know..." and realizing she's not there.

It's crushing to not have the same avenues of enjoying life, so I have to find new ones. My dog Gobi's presence sometimes isn't enough during the heart-wrenching nights. By the way, that was Kalpna's favorite photo of Gobi because Kalpna said it made Gobi look like a girl (ever the feminist). What follows is an intensely personal reflection that normally would be held between Kalpna and myself. I find sharing my thoughts more than just helpful or theraputic--it's essential because otherwise I feel I have no handle on reality. This is just my way of living--I have no judgements on myself or others. Being more open is the least of my recent transformations, it's only the start. Frankly, it's a coping mechanism as I am unable to handle this alone. Every phone call, card, email, text, hug, smile, and thought, all has helped me and everyone involved grapple with this. Life's too important and too short to be private. Besides transparency as a motivating factor for this entry, I might also feel a bit misunderstood--being married to someone who literally gave her heart to the rest of the world was not without it's paradoxical issues. At least I, surprisingly, have no regrets. They made me who I am and her who she was--imperfect, but real.

With social interactions as a positive constant, the journey so far involved first having less-fitful sleep, then an appetite, and finally, the desire to exercise and move around. Now is the unintuitive desire to be ultra-positive. Part of that rests with Kalpna's attitude--her smile was just a window. Though, despite being more positive than I cynically could have ever imagined, there's the ugly side. Joe Biden wrote that when his wife died tragically, he "kept walking the dark streets to try to exhaust the rage." I know exactly what he means. I have felt anger towards old people, smokers, the obese, corporate gimps, myself, and even Kalpna. I have no spouse, no home, and no job. And now I see death everywhere--in the news, and in our routine conversations ("My cell phone died."). The best analogy I could think of as to how I feel sometimes is that it's like waking up in the morning everyday with your dominant arm missing. There's pain, loss of function, but not completely because you can still walk, speak, eat, and do nearly everything you used to.

I keep turning and wanting to tell her that she passed away. And I know exactly what her reaction would be. I know that she would be thinking about her relationship with each and every one of us and the potential left unrealized. I know what went through her mind, what she was trying to do in those last minutes. I didn't have to be there to know this. It's burdensomely clear in my mind.

But, I've learned to be more resilient than I would like to be. Part of that is instinctually being positive now. Life's not all boring, drab, and sad--there are the light-hearted moments, moments that I would never have expected to make me smile.

At Cafe La Taza in the Mission District, while studying for a job interview, Mariah Carey's "I Can't Live" started to play and instantly I teared up and grinned. Earlier this year, me and millions of my internet friends came across a video of an American Idol clone in Bulgaria. I shared the video with Kalpna and she thought it was an amazing example of cultural diffusion that she could show her class. She pointed out the Paula Abdul-look alike and just started laughing. I sang "Ken Lee" everyday for an entire week. I never paid attention to the lyrics, even after watching the video too many times. But now, they are relevant on a whole other level.

In watching the only known video of her teaching this year, what evoked the most emotion was her wrapping her computer powercord at the end of the clip. Everyday, she would come home, open up her laptop, plug it in, and there would be this tangled mass on our floor getting in the way of chairs, dogs, and movement. Gobi even chewed it up a little because it reminded her of a hard string ball. When I needed to power my laptop, I had to sometimes fight with the gnarled growth and made sure Kalpna knew about it. Now, it's what evokes the largest response in a poignant video.

Besides these hidden gems that pop up occasionally, one thing that's kept me going in the down moments is a sort of pocket manifesto of lessons I learned from Kalpna. It's a reduction of who she was that makes sense for me, maybe not you, but that doesn't matter, because I am on my own path and not bitter about it.

Take care...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Memories of Ms Mistry - By Lucy Sundelson

One of the most satisfying experiences of my Freshman year was a trip to Sacramento to protest Governor Schwartzenegger’s proposed education budget cuts. We spent the day buttonholing members of the assembly, touring the state capitol building, and demonstrating. The whole experience happened only because of the determination of Ms Mistry. She raised money; she arranged for the buses, parent chaperones, and meetings with individual legislators; she even bought pizzas for everyone at the organizing meetings with her own money.

Ms Mistry chose a classmate and me to represent Berkeley High in meetings with members of the California Assembly. This role made me feel, for the first time, that I had an important place in my enormous and somewhat impersonal school and could make a difference there. It also made me feel that I had a place in the world.

Ms Mistry’s classroom was always alive with ideas. She got her students interested in current events and politics. We talked about what we read in the newspaper and how it related to whatever we were studying.

Ms Mistry created a comfortable classroom. I never worried about coming up with the right or wrong answer. She had unlimited energy and devotion for her students. She would stay up all night grading papers or preparing for a field trip and come to school the next morning as enthusiastic as ever. She would eat only a bite or two of lunch—once, she told me that her lunch consisted of five almonds—because her students needed to talk to her.

Ms. Mistry rarely complained. Instead she always worried that she wasn’t getting through to some of her students but didn’t see that she made a difference just by trying so hard and not giving up. She was always ready with a hug—with a huge one when I told her that I wanted to be a teacher.

The day before the trip to Sacramento, Ms Mistry drove a classmate and me to a meeting in Oakland. At the meeting, we practiced talking to legislators and planned the trip. She insisted on driving me home, even though it was out of her way. On the freeway, she missed an exit and got lost. It was late, and I knew she had more planning to do and papers to grade, but she kept laughing and said it didn’t really matter.

It is hard for me to believe that Ms Mistry is gone. The loss of her warmth and vitality is truly terrible. It was especially hard for me to come back to school this year because I wasn’t able to see her or talk to her about my classes and projects, or my worries and hopes. However, her loss has made me determined to become the kind of teacher that she was, so that some part of her survives. I can still hear the sound of her voice, and I will go on hearing it for a long time.

The Miraculous Ms. Mistry - By Clio McConnell

In writing this speech, one thing I’ve realized is how many positive adjectives can be applied to the miraculous Ms. Mistry. An almost infinite amount, I would say. She was compassionate, dedicated, diligent, beautiful, charming, funny, enthusiastic, and just generally the most awesome teacher and friend a kid could ever ask for, and I didn’t even really know I had asked for it. Until now, I don’t think I really realized I had gotten it.

Last year, I was in her second period class. She would often tell us that we were great, but that we should really try to make more of an effort to be a core, not just a class. Whenever we weren’t paying attention, she’d just get this exasperated look on her face and go “Second period!” in a voice that gave no doubt that she was lovingly rolling her eyes. It was like she was an older sister telling you to get your hands out of that cookie jar right now… but only after you get her one, too.

For myself in particular, she’d always encourage me to participate more, because she said she knew I had great ideas rolling around up there. Honestly, I did try. It was only second period, though, so my brain was not in full-function mode. I would always point out to her at the end of class when I had made a comment, to make sure she’d noticed. When I did that, she would just smile that famous Ms. Mistry smile and say “See, I knew you could do it.”

For me, this situation is the ultimate case of “you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. Although she wasn’t the type to fish for compliments or expect a “thank you,” there are so many times when I could have or should have expressed how much I appreciated her. Now that I can’t, I hope she knows how much I’m going to miss her, and how much I already regret not telling her how amazing she was at every chance I got.

Selfishly, I wish she was still here so I could have given her a big hug at the beginning of the year and shown her how I look with glasses. In general, it’s devastating that we’ll never get to see how many marvelous things she could have accomplished, nor be a part of them.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to miss her as much as she deserves, but at least I know I’m not the only one who’s trying.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Remembering Kalpna Mistry - By Cathy Dao

I don’t think I understood what teaching was until I met Kalpna. I used to think that teaching was all about encouraging students, but Kalpna taught me that you have to empower them, too. And that’s exactly what she did everyday. The way she mobilized students and parents was magical, and things that I thought would be impossible at a school as large as ours, she turned into a reality. “Impossible” was not a word she ever used. I keep going back through all of our conversations, and I just don’t think it was in her vocabulary. You will hear this over and over again today, but it’s true: She had high expectations for everyone, students and adults, and she held us all accountable. We all wanted to make her proud.

Our classrooms weren’t close together last year. There was a long stretch of hallway between them, and I would run back and forth everyday so I could see her. I think, if I weren’t a teacher, I would have pushed kids out of the way so I could get my Mistry time. There were always students in her classroom during non-class time. They couldn’t stay away, and it’s not surprising why. She helped so many of her students see, for the first time, their self worth and potential, and I know that for many of them, it was the first time they felt that way in an academic setting. She used to say all the time that her work and her students were her passions in life, and everyone knows that there was no one as passionate as Kalpna. She lived her values, and it was truly mesmerizing to see.

It took a month of working together for us to become friends. She came into my classroom after school one day. I thought she was going to ask me about curriculum or students, but instead she asked me if she could tell me about her life and her family and her goals. It was such a strangely personal request, but she explained that she needed to work in a place where she could be herself, where she could be open about her beliefs and her visions for the future. She told me her goals were to become the best teacher she could be and to establish a reputation for herself in the community, and even though she had only been teaching for a month at the time, she had already reached those goals in my book. At the end of the conversation, she said, “I know you don’t like to be touched, but can I have a hug?” And it is that closeness and need to connect with others that made her so special, and I would learn later that her warmth and compassion - and her affinity for hugs - run in the family.

I used to think last year that as a “veteran” third year teacher I was the one supporting her. But looking back, I realize now that she was the one taking care of us all along. She was, to put it simply, the best friend and colleague a teacher could have.

Whenever I was doubtful that we had enough time or resources to pull off a project or event, she would call me up and say with boundless energy in her voice, that famous Kalpna voice, “Come on, Dao. We can do it. I feel like you and I, we can do anything together!” And that’s all she would have to say. I know she said those words to others – I heard her say them to her students all the time – but it didn’t matter. When she said those words to you, it made you feel special. And I really believed that with her help I could do anything in the world. As a teacher, to have that kind of support and inspiration in your life is immeasurable, and it has been so hard trying to figure out how to go on without her.

I had lunch with her the day before she left for the Philippines, and I was upset at her and I think she knew. She had promised me that she would take some time to relax and take care of herself, but I knew she had been working. She tried to deny it, but there were two new units for our freshmen that didn’t exist two weeks prior. But she smiled and plied me with coffee and churros to distract me, and said that thinking about the upcoming school year and all the possibilities that lay ahead was what made her truly happy.

Then she told me about a book she wanted to write. She wanted to interview as many grandmas as she could because she really believed that the grandmas of the world were the real source of wisdom, the keepers of history. She said that she had shared the idea with her Fulbright friends at a training, and they all said, “Do it! Write it! Make it happen!”

And then she looked at me and said, “How come we don’t tell each other to follow our dreams? How come no one says that anymore?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And she said that we would have to say it to our students in September, teach them how to believe in themselves and in each other. So I’m going to pass on her message to all of you now. She wants you all to stand up for yourselves and for what you know is right, she wants you to follow your dreams and make them happen. And don’t let anyone tell you ‘no.’

Friday, October 17, 2008

Video of Ms. Kalpna Mistry Teaching at BIHS

Kalpna Mistry BIHS from Sidarth Khoshoo on Vimeo.

Remembering Kalpna Mistry - By Candice Meyers

The following was said at Ms. Mistry's Berkeley International High School Memorial on October 16, 2008:

Our family connection to Kalpna started with her last name. In those first weeks of freshman year, our daughter came home really excited about her new global studies teacher, Ms. Mistry. To my untrained ear, it sounded like “Mystery.” Who was this mysterious Ms Mistry? We wanted to meet this woman!

So on back to school night, I got there early to see this mysterious first period teacher. When I walked in, no one else had arrived. It was just Kalpna and me. And instantly, I experienced something that I know many of you have felt: I had found a new best friend. She was so warm and so caring about my daughter that she made me feel like she could really see what was special about my kid. As a parent, who doesn’t love that in a teacher?

As the year rolled on, I worked with Kalpna on field trips and speakers and I started to see that she uncovered that special core in each of her kids. On one field trip in particular, she convinced a bunch of kids to compete in a health issues debate over at SF State. Let me just set up the picture. We had to leave at 6am on a Saturday morning. That’s 6am. Now I knew a lot of these kids. 6am and these kids rarely went hand in hand. But when 6am rolled around, they stoically crammed themselves into the carpools because Ms. Mistry asked them to do it. Later, as I sat there in a crowded auditorium watching the awards ceremony, I was really watching Kalpna. Every Berkeley High kid who was honored immediately looked at her. It was almost as if each was saying: “Hey Ms. Mistry, I did this for you.”

So when the phone rang last August, needless to say, my entire family was crushed. We had lost a best friend at Berkeley High. We felt that close to her. And, as I talked with a lot of other parents, they all told similar stories: about working with Kalpna on events, about receiving great emails from her or an evening phone call telling them not to worry about their kid. It became clear to me that the only mystery about Ms Mistry was how she did it….how she made us all feel so special when there were so many of us and only one of her.

So tonight, as we sit in this crowded auditorium, I feel like one of those kids at the Health Debate at SF State. Ms Mistry has done so much for so many of us that I think it’s important to hold her memory dear and most important: remain inspired by her passion and say: “Hey Ms. Mistry, we’ll do this for you.”