Friday, December 5, 2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
|The foil star that Jesus gave me, Dec. 2012|
Sunday, November 16, 2014
“I am a Rock” by Paul Simon|
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island
I've built walls
A fortress steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain,
I am a rock
I am an island
Don't talk of love
Well I've heard the word before
It's sleeping in my memory
I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one, and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
My modelled piece (untitled):|
A summer’s day
On a hot and humid afternoon
I am alone
Sitting in my room
Imprisoned by four walls
In this, the sanctuary from the desert of my life
I am melting, though I am too little in the sun.
I decorate the walls
That keep the people out and the feelings in
With posters of Marilyn, River Phoenix, and The Cure
With drawings that depict how I see the world.
I have no need of friends, siblings, or my mom
Relationships cause pain
It’s cliques and duplicitous people I disdain
I am art, imitating life, imitating art.
Cries of pain escape through my pencil
Don’t ignore my smudges of saline, heartache, and lead
And tell me that you love me.
Your words play in my mind, on repeat,
Like my favorite songs on the radio
But they won’t change the fact that you abandoned me
When I needed you most.
So I’ll stay sheltered from your tempestuous care
After all, I can’t miss what I’ve never had
I am an orphan whose mother is in the next room.
I have my alternative music, my existential poetry, and my drawings
(carefully rendered with a cheap #2 pencil)
To protect me.
I am shielded by these friends
Hiding in my room
Safe within my tomb
Yet in plain sight for anyone who’s looking.
John Donne was wrong;
I am an island.
But I rise, strong, from a sea of tears,
And I watch the sun rise on the horizon.
Students: note the picture below. I continued to tinker in my notebook after class to find the words I was looking for. This is a natural and necessary process in writing, and I hope some of you will share your beautiful poems on your blogs!
|You can see some of the many edits I made in my writing notebook.|
Friday, September 19, 2014
This question wasn’t posed by a student – a 12th-grader suffering from a slight case of cynicism and a touch of senioritis – no, it was posed by a community member.
I calmly replied: I have a degree in Literary Studies and graduated at the top of my class. As a teacher certified in ELA 8-12, G/T, and ESL education, I have pedagogical knowledge on which I base curricular decisions. I am an avid reader, and I continue my research on literacy and the education of literature, from the canon to Young Adult content. I attend more training sessions than required, by far, to stay current on best practices and strategies. In preparation for the AP exam and a well-rounded education, I consistently update my curriculum with new information from the AP exam, feedback from AP essay-readers, and other experienced AP teachers. I also consider student feedback and offer them choice when possible. The 12-page AP syllabus I painstakingly wrote for my course details the breadth and depth of the content we will explore, and I believe that the essential questions listed with each anchor text provide adequate information about why reading that text is important and offers insight into what my students can glean from the reading. Ultimately, as my syllabus was approved by the College Board, they provide my credibility.
I stopped there. There is a line between asserting one’s proficiency and plain ol’ bragging. I couldn’t help feeling immediately defensive, however. I mean, how often is one asked so pointedly to defend his or her credentials? I mean, really. Why did I feel I was qualified? Who gave me the authority to make decisions regarding my career? Deep breath again.
I understand that most of the press concerning teachers is bad press. Teachers-gone-wild types of stories. I understand that parents and community members want reassurance that the people who spend so much time with their children are educated professionals. The point is: we are! Are there bad apples in the profession? Sure. Show me the profession where there are none. The teachers I know, myself included, get up every day and head to work solely to improve the lives of students in some way. We are their advocates. We are their mentors. We are their voice of reason when needed and their support system when they’re down. We are teachers. We have trained for this, and continue to train. We know our content, and we know it well. We are enthusiastic about our subjects, whether they have to do with DNA (thank you, Mr. Reichle) or a literary masterpiece. We make decisions that are the best for our classes based on our love and skill in our areas. So yes, we are qualified.
I guess what really bothers me is the lack of respect for this profession. Can you imagine walking into anyone else’s place of business and asking them what made them think they were qualified to do what they do? Why is there an almost universal assumption that anyone could do what a teacher does? Worse than armchair quarterbacks are those who think they understand the complex career that is teaching because they were once students. I’ve been to the doctor many times, and I have a good deal of lay medical knowledge, but it does not mean I’m ready to go into practice.
I’ll end this with a simple plea; please assume that each teacher you meet is a highly-skilled professional who has earned the authority to make decisions in his or her classroom. Just as you assume your mechanic can fix your car or your nurse can take your blood pressure, assume that teachers can teach.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
I took some notes as Max spoke, and my notes are marked by some roughly drawn cherries. You see, I found that a lot of what I wrote represented the facts: dates, locations, Max's age at liberation. In essence, I copied down the more standard details in a neat, bulleted list, but the truly interesting facts - the details that make Max's stories unique and deeply touching - inspired me to give them more attention. When Max shared how the first cherries he tasted after enduring starvation were "the best in the world," I couldn't help but imagine that experience and compare it with those who would take cherries for granted. I once heard another survivor, Magie, speak just as lovingly about the first orange she ever ate. On her way to live in England via kindertransport, a stranger handed her the fruit, and like Max, she still enjoys it today.
All of this is applicable to everyday life, whether you're listening to a Holocaust survivor or anyone else with a story to share. For example, I treasure the stories my grandmother shared about her daily life during the Great Depression and WWII. There's a huge difference between learning that nylon was used for parachutes during the war (and therefore difficult for civilians to purchase) through books or history class than hearing a first-hand account of how that meant that nylon stockings were unavailable to women while they were still expected to wear them. My grandmother humorously explained how she and her friends would draw a line down the backs of their legs with a makeup pencil, careful to make the "seam" straight, in an effort to mimic stocking seams and fool the eye. Of course, care had to be taken so as not to smudge the mock stockings. She also talked about the scarcity or outright unavailability of many of the fruits we take for granted today.
My grandmother recounted in great detail how she learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. At that time, many families shared phone lines, or "party lines." If one picked up the phone to make a call and heard others conversing, the polite thing to do was hang up the phone and wait. Of course, much eavesdropping occurred. On December 7th, 1941, my grandma picked up the phone to call her friend and heard frenzy and distress. She listened as the news about the attack in Hawaii was described, and she ran to tell her parents the news that would change the course of history. The stories and lessons of my grandmothers are many and varied, and I hope to record them all at some point.
I know that blog posts should be brief, and I probably lost many readers by now, but the point is this (and it's an important one): when we truly listen - and more than that, actively listen and probe for details, we gain knowledge and understanding that can only come from connecting emotionally to the storyteller and the event, item, or persons of memory that they describe. This knowledge can only be alluded to in print. We must never miss an opportunity to really listen, for everyone around us is a potential storyteller.
|Cherries for Max|
Friday, July 25, 2014
Those seeking a more shocking account of the atrocities committed during the war might be disappointed, for this book tells the story of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and his family during Hitler's rise to power. Ambassador Dodd was not the popular choice for the post, and his daughter Martha's zest for romantic encounters and her generally free spirit raised some eyebrows. She cavorted with young Nazi officers and a Russian spy alike, and it's worth noting that it is a mark of her time that her character is called into question for merely behaving almost as brashly as the men around her. Ultimately, Martha and Ambassador Dodd see the true and horrific nature of Hitler and his party and disassociate with them as much as possible while still in Germany. Dodd refused to attend Nazi rallies, making enemies at home and abroad as he chose to do the difficult but morally correct thing and uphold the values of democracy and freedom.
In this text, Larson paints a vivid account of what living in Germany was like during Hitler's rise, and begins to answer the question that so many have asked: how could so many people follow such a fascist, evil regime? In an honest account of the strengths and weaknesses of Germany, readers can begin to understand the depths of fear and control that permeated the country. Those who openly questioned Hitler's authority were killed, and while this doesn't justify the atmosphere of appeasement that occurred, it does explain it.
Once again, Larson's mastery of a flowing, narrative style to convey history, rich with cited primary sources, makes this book a page-turner. Now, on to Thunderstruck!
Recently, I faced the solemn task of trying to capture in words all that my grandmother meant to me. I felt honored to honor her at her funeral service, but I did worry about what to share; how much of my personal connection with my grandmother should be discussed versus an overall tribute that everyone would recognize as the woman they knew and loved? Ultimately, I decided that the same traits that made her such an incredibly loving force in my life would be instantly recognizable to others as what they knew about my grandma. Three of us spoke at the service, each with a different approach, and I think that, together, we did the best we could to capture the compassion, wit, and love that my grandmother exemplified. Some friends asked me to share what I wrote, so it follows here:
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Friday, July 4, 2014
Monday, June 30, 2014
|Hair's up - time to write!|
My hair is my kryptonite. I simply cannot be expected to write if my hair is down. If, at any point, I realize that my hair is down, I must stop writing immediately - even if I'm in the middle of the most brilliant line ever written - and go style my hair so it's pulled back from my face.
|Super-typing nails...'click' 'click' 'click'|
I can't be expected to type page after page with nails that can break, so obviously I need to stop writing and immediately visit the nail salon to have acrylic laid over my nails. After all, this will give me superhero typing skills complete with unbreakable nails and that clickety-clack sound that you either love or hate.
|The most entertaining squirrel ever.|
#4Writing requires sustenance. I have a sudden craving for Mexican food, but it just happens to be halfway across town at a sit-down restaurant. I just need a little time to get ready before we go, let my hair back down. Oops - there went another 3 hours. On the upside, I did get to watch that squirrel for several minutes outside the restaurant.
#5Everyone wants to talk to me all of a sudden, or maybe the difference is: I want to talk to everyone all of a sudden. I never make more phone calls or Facebook posts than when I'm supposed to be writing. Clearly, research is good for my social life, except for the fact that it keeps me from actually seeing any of my friends.
Basically, I learned more about myself than I did about my research. When free time is extremely limited due to an approaching deadline, it necessitates choosing what is truly important to you. So, all joking aside, I focused on family, enjoying meals with family, reaching out to friends, and finding joy in the little things - like a squirrel who thinks she's invisible because she's staying very, very still. Looks like it was a pretty productive weekend after all.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Monday, June 23, 2014
|The rusty, rickety bridge that marks the entrance to my happy place.|
|My son jumping into a deeper part of the same river twenty years later.|
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
Students need to know what to expect on the AP examination. There is nothing like it in the world of daily reading and writing. For those of you who are not familiar with the structure, students read 4-5 passages, a combination of prose and poetry, and complete 55 high-level multiple choice questions within an hour. Next, they write 3 essays in 2 hours based on poetry, prose, and the "open-ended" prompt for which they must identify the best novel, novella, or play on which to base their response. This is a grueling test that demands intense concentration, reading and writing stamina, combined logic and creativity, and speed. The only way for students to prepare for such a taxing exam is to practice with released exams, including multiple-choice questions and strategies and essay passages and prompts. Of course, they also need to read enough novels, novellas, and plays so they have a wide repertoire from which to draw for that open-ended essay.
So, how do educators offer the necessary information about the exam while keeping daily classroom activities more authentic? As many experts before me have said (such as: Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and my friend and mentor Amy Rasmussen), the answer lies in choice. As much as possible, students should choose what they read, how they respond in writing, and what their inquires are. Let's use my experience in my summer institute as an example. Able to choose my own inquiry, I feel more inclined to research and learn as much as I can. I feel free to weigh different viewpoints and deduce my own meaning. I feel free to change my mind, explore, and relate what I learn to my own unique situation and goals. In short, I am engaged, excited about learning, and motivated. Isn't that what we want from our students?
Do I have all the answers to my inquiry yet? No, but I have quite a few that I'm keeping under my belt, for now, until I have tried them in the classroom. Meanwhile, here are some ideas that I have compiled from educators more wise and experienced than me, along with several I already employ, that students can expect to experience in my classroom:
- Blogs for a variety of writing, from creative pieces to responses to texts, videos, etc. (thanks, Amy Rasmussen!)
- Original pieces modeled on mentor texts (teaching AP Lit. through creative writing is a new goal I'm working on - thanks, Matt de la Pena!)
- Daily writing in notebooks - the new twist will be me sharing what I write with my students (thanks, Penny Kittle!)
- Facilitating a more natural discussion of poetry vs. TPCASTT or another formulaic approach - let the students identify author's craft in a more authentic way
- Writing poetry as a primary way to understand and explore poetry and sharing my poetry - sharing my own work has always scared me, but with new understanding of how important this is to students, I have moved from anxiety to exhilaration about sharing my writing
- More opportunities to self-select texts of literary merit - in my experience, students are more likely to write about a text they chose on the AP exam anyway. I have already allowed some choice, but I will expand opportunities for choice this year.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
These are just a few of the differing viewpoints shared by teachers of different grade-levels and content areas during our writing workshop today. Clearly, we are in an age of transition, but isn't education always in such a state of flux? The rapid rate of technology growth since the computer revolution is responsible for many of the dilemmas we face in education today, but teachers have grappled with similar changes since long before the digital age.
My daughter recently shared a 19th century professor's quote with me that denounced the evils of writing on paper in the classroom. There would be too much waste; students would write careless notes to their friends with no regard to the precious resource that paper represents. Students were losing the ability to write well on slates. Some ended up "with chalk on their elbows!" Two centuries later, few people lament the loss of classroom slates. In fact, we've almost come full-circle with the use of personal white boards when they fit the lesson plan.
Therein lies the real lesson about the fear of letting go of traditions in favor of new ones. Human beings create new tools to make life easier. In fact, I challenge anyone to define what it means to be human without including the use of adaptable technology on that list of defining characteristics. As educators, we must prepare our students for the world that awaits outside school boundaries. In reality, most communication will occur through digital media. Let's get our students blogging, typing research essays, citing sources using helpful online tools, file sharing, and creating infographs, videos, and Prezis. Too often, we hold on to traditions because they represent how we learned. Some even view laborious handwriting and spelling practice as a rite of passage. As we suffered, so shall you all. I say that tongue-in-cheek. I don't believe that teachers intentionally perpetuate outdated practices out of any sadistic or lazy tendencies. Rather, it is difficult to know when it is time to shift the focus to new areas.
The first teacher to ditch the slates in favor of paper probably seemed crazy to some, not the least of which the afore-mentioned professor; however, look at all that we gained in that process: the ability to save work and track progress, the ability to transport ideas from one location to another without fear of smudging or wiping away, and the option to craft longer works. After all, a slate allows only so much space for brilliance.
Imagine the possibilities that await us as we shift away from a focus on penmanship and writing on paper to the exploration and utilization of a variety of available media. I'm not saying we should abandon cursive or tell students that spelling doesn't matter. For the record, one of my favorite memories consists of practicing calligraphy and cursive with my grandmother. I also won a spelling bee or two in my day. Rather, I'm proposing that if we place less emphasis on those talents in order to focus on newer needs, the benefits could be greater than we can imagine.
Ultimately, if students find that they need a stronger mastery of traditional skills, they will work to improve on their own. Students learn best when they have authentic need for information. With standards to meet and limited class time, teachers must carefully choose which skills to focus on within their given confines. It is important to remember that tradition is rooted in the past - not the future. As author and former teacher J.K. Rowling writes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
Every headmaster and headmistress ... has
Brought something new to the weighty task of
governing this historic school, and that is
as it should be, for without progress there
will be stagnation and decay. There again,
progress for progress's sake must be
discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions
often require no tinkering. A balance, then,
between old and new, between permanence and
change, between tradition and innovation ... (11.92)
Let us take care to keep what is truly important and move in new directions where progress could lead to inspiration and innovation. We cannot fear change, for it will happen whether we will it or not.