Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Writer's Notebooks & a Literary Gift

I'm grading them. Just a modest stack, because the class is tiny--only 27. Of course there are two space cadets with lame excuses. But I am reading S's, and she shared part of Langston Hughes' "Freedom's Plow" with me--wrote it out on her own, even.  And though there is a part of me, a cynical calloused part that has worked decades with Artful Dodgers, less-than-honest 8th graders too long to believe that everyone who shares stuff with the teacher does it without a hidden Eddie Haskell motive, I believe this girl is for real.  She wrote out these first few stanzas:

Freedom's Plow


 When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks
 tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And I read this and got tears in my eyes because this is my September Dream. Every year without fail, I want this community dream. I want Us. I want Ours. I look at the rich soil and the woods, the obstacles, all these students and their potential and challenges...the September Dream drives me on for moments like this, infinite in potential and awash with kid love. I have the best job in the world. I get to be with people like S. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

baby owls tipping left and atlas rally caps

Whoa, you think as you read the title. Has the deadly hot bungalow damaged Lola's brain?

Nope, it is just the new reality of teaching seminar kids (SKs, if you will). SKs are the top one percent of gifted kids. That still doesn't explain the title unless you are an SK yourself or are the teacher or parent of one.

So for history review, we are playing a game-show type game with the left side of the class competing against the right side. I call them Lefties and Righties, and immediately the Lefties make Ls out of their forefingers and thumbs and stick it on their foreheads. One kid is bouncing back and forth, and I remark, "So you are an equal opportunity bouncer?" "Oh no," says the kid, and immediately tips only to the left. The kids with Ls to their foreheads incorporate the tipping left. They cheer for their teammates with a gentle "whoo whoo" and when I say they sound like baby owls, they tip faster and increase the intensity of their whoo whoo-ing.

The game is close and the kids are competitive. The Righties are annoyed by the Lefties' unity and by their strange but compelling cheer. They are even more annoyed when the Lefties take an early lead and hold it almost the whole period. But in the last minutes of class, M ties the score, having defeated several Lefties in a row. B yells, "Righty Rally!" and grabs an atlas, opening it up and wearing it on his head. "Rally cap! Rally cap!" chant the Righties, and now there is a sea of atlas rally caps on the right side of the room. Up walks BC to challenge M; he is a Lefty powerhouse and the chanting and whoo whooing and tipping crescendo--whomever wins the next point wins the game. "It's the FI-NAL COUNT-DOWWWN!" shrieks a child, tipping maniacally, and the whole class starts singing this song. "How do you all know this song?" I query. "It's by Europe and it's from a commercial!" "Wow, sounds cool." One Lefty stops tipping long enough to say, "I have it on my iPod. We could play it while M and BC face off." Cognizant that this is wasting an instructional minute but realizing that bonding moments in teaching must be grasped like the brass rings that they are, I let him pop it in my brand new iPod compatible boom box (thanks, Best Buy), and now every kid is quivering with excitement and singing heartily to the throbbing beat.

And right as M wins the match, the bell rings. Perfect timing, perfect day: baby owls tipping left and atlas rally caps.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I never want to
But sometimes, unbidden, tears
slip away, away....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

day of rest

Poised between thought and
execution, Sunday is
suspended in time

Friday, September 18, 2009

Visitors= Love

The wheelchair ramp that leads to my classroom affords me an early view of former students coming to visit, smiles wide, heads bobbing with purpose, pushing up the ramp. My heart swells a bit, acknowledging the effort and planning it took for these adolescents to put aside other endeavors to come visit my bungalow way at the back of the school. Generally it's delightful to get caught up, to hear tales of high school and rites of passage.


Today is FRIDAY. It was a billion degrees in the classroom. My brain is mush. My emotional giving tank is on empty, and I am officially off the clock. I know it's the highest compliment, but my heart sank as three sets of kids came by today to say hello, a junior and some freshmen. I just couldn't stay in that nasty box a moment more. "Guys, I'm leaving as fast as I can, sorry," I call out. One freshie queries, "Why?" and is truly surprised at my alacrity to leave.

I suppose that's part of the compliment: that I love teaching so much that I reluctantly go home every night. Or perhaps it's a mild putdown, that anyone who pours so much into teaching must have no personal life.

All I know is that when it's a billion degrees, peace out and catch you later. 

Friday Afternoon Visitors

Your eyes open wide
when I say I'm leaving as 
soon as I can. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

First Week: the naming of names

I'd like to sound stirred and passionate, but I really am just tired.

The kids are overwhelmingly wonderful.  They happen to come with all these names, though.  I generally delight in names that are unusual, but navigating them the first week can be tricky. Kids can be very touchy if you pronounce their names--part of their identity!--incorrectly, charging you with the responsibility to get it right even though their parents were the ones who gave them unpronounceable, highly unusual, totally made up names.  This year I have Wuences who goes by David. Wonder why. I have Desteniey, pronounced destiny, but all weirdly spelled. In the past I had an Antione, but not pronounced "Ant-y-on" as it looks, but as it should be if it were spelled correctly: "Antoine." That same year I had an Antwan. At least it was phonetically easy. One year I had a girl whose full name was Mi Y. Yep, a one letter last name. Care to pronounce that? 

It also would help if people didn't all name their kids Austin and Justin and Taylor and Alexis and Alexandra and Alex and Tyler and Caitlin and Katelyn and Kaitlynne. Last year we had a set of identical twins whose names were Jonatan and Jonatas. (Yes, you read that correctly). So far I have almost every one remembered, ahead of the learning curve, but stumble over which girl is Katrina and which is Katarina in the same class. Of course. 

first day

they came in new clothes,
sat in old chairs, and they were
utterly precious

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Beatles and Big Tuesday

Almost there.

The desks are ready, books neatly covered and placed at right angles, each covered by a worn atlas. The whiteboard has the day's agenda (well, the history agenda, anyway).  Copies of the first week's work are in trays, awaiting distribution (well, the history work, anyway).  Almost everything is in place--only the reading books remain, and that is easy. 

Most of the kind and fabulous women in the English department met with me and helped me figure out the first week, and the other kind and fabulous woman lent me a complete unit for the second week. I still have a bajillion questions about how not to teach what they already know, how to find out what they don't, how to use the diagnostics that are supposed to answer those two questions, how to make sure I hit it all, how to really give these kids what they deserve. I can't live up to that, though, because. Because I won't be very good my first year.  I try to reconcile myself to that. I won't be terrible, far from it. I will get better. But it's the law of the rookie, the greenie, the beginner. I bring energy and drive and willingness, but they aren't substitutes for know-how! 

The task here is twofold. 
1) Do my best
2) Don't beat myself up for falling short of how effective I want to be

Unlike my classroom, my teaching is not almost there. But because of the kind and the fabulous, with the support of all the resources I graciously have been given, by following in the surer footsteps of others--like the Beatles sang, it's gonna be all right.

Windex? Ha!

We attack brown dust 
that, phoenix-like, despite all,
reappears somehow...