July 15, 2012

Summer 2012

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:02 am by a care in the world

I’ve all but abandoned this blog as the pressures of school and life have overwhelmed me this year, but I’m halfway through summer break and feeling reflective again. My husband and I just returned from an 8-day road trip through California, visiting friends from previous lifetimes and soaking up the magnificent views of the Pacific.

People have asked me about my favorite part of the trip, but my favorite part was simply our itinerary. We spent a couple of days in San Francisco, courtesy of my ever-generous in-laws, a couple of days in Carmel with great old family friends, a few exciting days in L.A. with college soccer buddies of my husband’s, and family a short visit in San Gabriel with my favorite old neighbors. The wonderful people we got to spend time with and the variety of places we visited was my favorite “part” of the trip. It is good to love and be loved, even far from home.

Since we have been back we’ve been thrust into church life as much as ever– a funeral and a 65th wedding anniversary celebration have kept us occupied our first 2 days home. As we try to adjust to the time change and to being back in our “real world,” I’m starting to think about next year and my new school. I’m very excited to be teaching closer to home and in my area of expertise– English, finally! I’ll be with middle schoolers and while the curriculum is a little more rigid than I would like, I’m interested to see what it’s like to teach assigned books, grammar, vocabulary, and a specific writing technique. I think the thing I’m most worried about is trying to plan out a year-long syllabus before I even meet my students. Darn those private school parents and their intrusive expectations!

For now, I’m trying to take the to-do list a line at a time, starting with church first thing tomorrow morning. Then, bring on the planning!

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November 15, 2011

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:41 pm by a care in the world

It’s been almost 12 weeks since my last post… that should give you some idea of how exhaustingly busy my life has been. My husband and I are immersed in the most challenging, most consuming, and– at least for me– the most fulfilling work we’ve ever done. I’m loving teaching, even if I devote way too many hours to planning, grading, and worrying over my students. We finally reached the end of the trimester and today was the last day of exams. Tomorrow we start mini-terms– 5 days of teaching whatever our little hearts desire, and students sign up for anything that catches their eyes. I’m teaching Gothic Lit and Slam Poetry for the next few days. I’m really excited about introducing a group of middle schoolers to the world of Gothic poetry and short stories and seeing what catches on.

I’m even more excited about finally getting to use slam poetry and hip hop theater in the classroom with a group of high schoolers. I’ve even got the slam poetry team from Davidson College coming to do a writing workshop with us– it’s gonna be awesome. All I want to do is go at this with all the energy and confidence I have, and pray that my students will approach the class with open minds. My greatest fear in this area is always that people with more diverse backgrounds, from whence hip hop comes, will look at me as a silly white girl co-opting their culture. I mean, look at me– I just said “whence.” Can a girl with a Eurocentric, Shakespeare-driven, Renaissance-art-loving background really embrace the language, stories and struggles of urban minorities? I don’t claim to understand it, I just think it’s important to read those stories and hear those voices and acknowledge those issues. I love that people use art to express themselves– it can be such a powerful medium and can allow for conversations that politics would kill. I don’t know if I’ll start with this poem, but it’s one I keep coming back to…

September 27, 2011

Tribute Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:18 pm by a care in the world

I’ve already written about my teacher, Dan Dalke. I think of him often, and try to bring the same excitement into my classroom every day that he brought to his. I teach in North Carolina, but this year the sophomore class trip is to Atlanta, my home city. I’ve been in charge of planning our visits to various tourist attractions, but the one that stands out for me more than anything else is the GA Aquarium.

Photo from here.

Besides teaching me marine biology, Dan taught me to care about the world, the oceans, the environment… he taught me the excitement of learning something new and unexpected. Who imagines that they’ll learn or care about fish in high school? Certainly not me. I loved English and history, and science only ranked a little above math. However, when Dan walked in with those flippers and that cape, I was sold. Nothing like a nerd who knows what he loves and isn’t afraid to show it. That’s the kind of nerd I aspire to be.

So Dan, this trip is for you. My mother has agreed to help me chaperone, and we will say a little prayer for you in front of the big tank. Whale sharks and 16-year-olds beware!

Photo from here.

September 20, 2011

A Pedagogical Revolution from a High School Senior

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 6:13 pm by a care in the world

I only hope she goes on to become a teacher, y’all. I know this video is long, clocking in at over 9 minutes, but this high school valedictorian’s speech is an incredible indictment of our education system today. For those teachers out there busting their butts to answer the ever-present “Why are we studying this?” question, both for themselves and for their students, I hope you feel vindicated by this speech.

In other teacher news, I am seriously missing New York and its professional development opportunities for educators. Coming up the first weekend of October is the Preemptive Education Workshop put on by Michael Cirelli and crew from Urban Word NYC. I went to this last year and it’s an awesome opportunity to hear from multi-talented youth, speakers, and educators who working to make sure that every voice is heard and valued in our education system today. There are awesome ideas about incorporating hip hop, poetry, and multiculturalism into the classroom. And to make things extra exciting, Toni Blackman is gonna be there. If you’re around, go be inspired!

September 8, 2011

A New Life

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:13 pm by a care in the world

Time certainly flies at the beginning of the school year! I’m 4-5 weeks into teaching History, Social Studies and Economics at my new school in North Carolina, and I’m having SUCH a great time. True, I’m commuting at least 2 hours a day and working my butt off, but my students and colleagues are worth all the extra hours I put in. I feel valued and appreciated in a way that I haven’t felt in a job before, and I also feel committed to the job in a way I haven’t before. I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be– the hours I spend preparing for school are research hours that I might do for fun on a Friday night, being the nerd that I am, because I’m that interested in and passionate about the subjects. I only hope the kids are learning from me a fraction of what I’m learning myself.

Photo from here.

I could do without the stress of leading Yearbook, but maybe I just haven’t hit my stride there yet. I often regret that my lack of athletic background prevents me from coaching, because that seems to be the natural extracurricular partner for teaching. However, Yearbook with its photos and written articles certainly jive with my photography and English background, so I guess I shouldn’t complain that much 🙂

Our little NC town has lived up to its teeny status of having almost nothing in town and being pretty far away from everywhere. There are a couple of friend buffet restaurants, a Food Lion, and a handful of churches, but that’s about it. I don’t spend much of my time there, but I will say our church could not possibly be more warm and welcoming. We actually got an old-fashioned “pounding” at my first Wednesday Night Supper! The church members each brought us a pound of sugar, a pound of flour, a pound of cornmeal, etc.– as well as more paper goods than we could even count. I think it’s safe to safe we won’t run out of paper towels or toilet paper for the rest of the year.

Photo from here.

From my quiet town to wherever you are… good night!

personal photo

August 14, 2011

Tribute

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 12:29 am by a care in the world

Today I went to the memorial service of the most passionate, engaging teacher I’ve ever had. Though he died about 6 weeks ago, I haven’t been able to write about it because it was such a painful loss, but I wanted to honor him today. My husband and I drove to Atlanta for a service with his family, friends, and my high school community. A teacher of marine biology at my high school for 10 years, this man had a passion for all things aquatic that was so infectious that you couldn’t help but be excited about brain coral and seahorses and tank life. I’ll never forget him flopping into class the first day wearing goggles, fins and a cape, and carrying a trident. He LOVED what he did and he managed to convince everyone around him that ocean currents and marine animal research was essential to our education.

Aside from that, he was an amazing friend and supporter. He went to my family’s church for a time, and remained quite close to us for many years. He was a loving father and loyal friend. For the last 6 years, he fought a terrible battle with cancer, that left us scarred almost as much as it did him. Today at the service, we heard stories of this man praying for us, loving us, and trying to be the best man he could for us, not for himself. There were hundreds of people that came to recognize and honor his influence on our lives– a true testament to his legacy. Many of us felt his pain and suffering for years, and though we are grateful for the peace he has found, we mourn the loss of a man that touched our lives in a way few other people have. His enthusiasm and love of teaching are what inspired me to become a teacher, and I’m sure many of his other former students could say the same. He died way too young, leaving behind a young son and daughter, but he lived and loved more than enough for a lifetime. It is us who didn’t have enough time to love and live with him.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou are with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Amen.

July 30, 2011

Here’s to you, New York

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:18 pm by a care in the world

Well hey there– it’s been awhile! Things have been crazy in this time of transition, and I’ve put the blog on hold for a bit until my life settles into a routine in a couple weeks. I’m in the midst of packing and finishing my Masters, and also trying to prepare for my new teaching job! I’m at a great school that I’m really excited about, and I’m teaching a little outside of my comfort zone, but it should be a great challenge.

A couple weeks ago I got to visit my family in Atlanta, meet my new nephew, and visit my husband in our new town. I got to see the parsonage and the church and hear him preach his first sermon. The congregation is small but SO friendly, and I think we’ll do well there. We celebrated our first anniversary that weekend as well, by unpacking our books! Well, at least half our books 🙂 We ate the top tier of our wedding cake (which was actually delicious!) and drank champagne and had an awesome, newlyweds-in-a-new-house-and-a-new-town time.

personal photo

personal photo

It’s a beautiful day in New York City and I’m just trying to cram in as much city life as I can before I leave. It will be hard to go from a population of 8 million to one of 5,000, but it will certainly be an adventure and a totally new experience. So here’s to you, New York– the home of my first year of marriage, the place where I earned the degree that put me on the road to a career I’m passionate about, the lifelong friends that made my husband and I feel welcome from day one, and all the incredible memories and experiences of living in the Big Apple. I will truly miss you.

photo from here

June 15, 2011

Spoken Word Poetry

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:44 pm by a care in the world

One of my favorite cultural experiences in New York City has been spoken word poetry. I was introduced to this art form when studying hip hop theater in college, but I first saw it performed here, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Often performed by poets of color, spoken word or “slam” poetry brings to light the gritty realities that black and brown people live with every day. Dangerous neighborhoods, crime, drugs, injustice, police brutality, racism, and domestic violence are just a few of the issues that these poets present in stark, beautiful language. Powerful imagery pulls you into the poet’s world and forces you to listen to what they have to say, and I’m blown away by the courage they have in saying it. Here are some of my favorites:

And to finish with something a little lighter:

Tonight I participated in a workshop on bringing spoken word poetry into the classroom, as a way to build and encourage student voices, to value student background and cultures, and to provide a safe space for student stories. I was asked to write a poem about my neighborhood. It’s nothing special, but I thought I would share.

My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.
Full of cliched memories– fireflies and kickball and climbing trees.
Life was easy. I didn’t know what the world was like.
My father taught me Shakespeare and Renaissance Art.
My mother taught me the tricks of advertising so I would never be fooled by commercials promising the next best thing.
I was taught to be discerning in my tastes, to live a life of the mind… but not so much a life of the world.

My neighborhood was safe.
I played with my friends in the street and no one ever got hurt.
I went to school with people like me to learn from people like me
Reading writers like me who wrote about people like me.
I thought I knew a lot.
I was never questioned or threatened or judged; not really.
My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.

I spend my time now with kids whose neighborhoods are not safe,
And I don’t know how to relate;
What to say.
What I could possibly say that they’d want or need to hear?
I was a child when I was young, and these are not children. They have seen too much.
My neighborhood was safe.

**As requested, here are the words to the poem “Foster Bears” above. I’m sorry the video quality is so poor, but the poem itself is beautiful.

June 13, 2011

No Pictures Today.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:22 pm by a care in the world

I come from a privileged world where the law, the judicial system, and the education system are protective and supportive forces in my life, not threatening ones. In my year in New York City, so many of my privileged-world blinders have been torn off, and I find it exhilarating and breath-taking and scary all at once. It makes me feel lucky and guilty at the same time– I can’t believe it took me this long to learn (really, to acknowledge) the innumerable hurts and threats that many Americans– children– deal with every day. The fact that half of my students come to school without breakfast or lunch money is stunning to me. I went to a school with a cafeteria that rivaled college dining halls at the time, and that was included in tuition. Though I consider myself a sensitive person, I have also been a very ignorant and sheltered person, and each new injustice and hurt shocks and hurts me. More and more, I am determining that my job as a teacher is so much more than a career choice– it is a vocation that will both force and allow me the privilege of working with people– children and parents– from all walks of life. The books I have read and the children I have taught this year have opened my eyes to the desperate situation that is public education.

I had a student this spring who, at age 16, is his own legal guardian. He has no one to go home to and, for that matter, none of us know what home he has at all. The foster system has all but given up on this boy. He is loud and rambunctious and never does any homework, yet he comes to class every day, participates, and is miles ahead of his peers in his insight into and analysis of the books we were reading. I don’t know if he is desperate for attention or if he just has nowhere else to go, but he continues to show up at a school that is about to fail him for the second time. What 16-year-old boy shows up for a third year of 10th grade? I hate to see him drop out, because he has a brilliant mind and is inspiringly curious (he won’t stop bugging me to bring him more Kurt Vonnegut books), but he won’t follow the rules or do the work. So who is failing here– my student or the system?
 
There was also an incident today that hits even closer to home for me. My little sister just graduated from college and works in healthcare, and she was called for jury duty today. Terrible luck, huh? Anyway, she was passed along through a couple of rounds until she got to the point of this scene: 47 people sit in a room. They are told that they are being considered for a murder trial in which a couple is accused of beating their two young children to death. The children were both under 5 years old. The officials demand that each of the 47 potential jurors stand and confess whether they or a close family member have ever been a victim of a violent crime. If they don’t tell the truth, they will be held in contempt of court. For privacy’s sake, I won’t go beyond that, but I was STUNNED that 47 innocent strangers were forced to confess traumatic and emotional incidents in their lives to each other so that 12 of them could be chosen for the jury on this already upsetting case. Is that justice?? What about victims’ rights? What about privacy rights? What about all the people who went home traumatized tonight because they were forced to dredge up and confess painful memories and experiences in front of dozens of complete strangers? I don’t think that’s what the founding fathers meant when they said everyone has a right to a fair trial.
 
The other upsetting thing for me is this– I have never in my life worried that the police or the judicial system was out to get me, or posed a threat to me in any way. And yet, millions of young black and Hispanic men live with that fear and reality every day. Who am I to be (usually) above these worries? What makes me any more worthy of respect and protection than them? And on another level, how can I teach young people who face threats and fears that it took me a couple of decades to even learn about? This is the hardest question for me as I complete my Masters in Education. I understand what to teach, and I understand how to teach a lesson. But how to teach and reach students on a personal, essential level? All I can do is pray for the grace to do my best and not screw up too badly. I have SO much to learn.

June 11, 2011

Museums of New York

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:47 pm by a care in the world

Now that we’re all caught up on trips, let’s get back to what I’m spending most of my time on. For the last couple of classes of my Masters degree, I’m taking advantage of some amazing New York resources and opportunities. I’m taking a class right now called Museums of New York, where we spend our time visiting local museums that are off the beaten track and learning how to use them in our respective classrooms. I’ve discovered that all of these museums have extensive education programs and regularly work with schools to bring art into the classroom even when schools cut arts programs. 

The Jewish Museum

Photo from here.

The Rubin Museum

Photo from here.

Brooklyn Historical Society

Photo from here.

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Photo from here.

I’m also in the middle of an independent research project on bringing art into the English classroom. Thanks to my father, I have a strong background in Art History and it’s always been a great interest of mine. He took me to museums and taught me how art, culture, history, religion and literature all intersect and influence each other. As I read more literature, learned more history, and began to recognize more artworks, I realized that knowing a few stories could help me become familiar with many aspects of culture, and the more that was familiar to me, the more intrigued I was. I began to understand that connections stimulate and motivate learning across disciplines, and as I’ve been exploring my own teaching philosophy, I find that interdisciplinary and multicultural studies are at the top of my priority list for students. Our world is continually shrinking as travel, technology, and the media open up nations and cultures that seemed incredibly foreign just 100 years ago, and our students must understand and appreciate the differences and similarities between people (and their history and cultures) in order to be successful global citizens.

So, because my great loves are English and Art, my goal this summer is to combine these two subjects into a rich, informative, interactive course that reaches students with different learning styles, cultures, and backgrounds and helps prepare them for a diverse world. I’m doing lots of reading and, as you can see above, visiting many museums as I design this curriculum. I certainly feel very lucky to be in New York City where so many resources are readily available. Here’s to a fascinating summer!

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