Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to Teach the Middle Passage

Begin with the Triangle Trade, the text, and the smart board or overhead.  In their notebooks, have kids draw the east coast of North Am and South Am, and a rough blob for England and then a really rough outline of the west coast of Europe and Africa. Have them draw arrows indicating what items (or, sadly, people) are moving where.
money, money, money...

Then show them the famous cutaway schematics of slave ships. Have them really look at the pictures. Ask what's going on and WAIT...and then accept only full answers, not blurts like "Slave ship!" or "Cross section!" Dig until you get "It shows how to maximize how many slaves you could fit on a ship." Ask why maximizing would be important to the captain. Note the awful tinny sound the word "profit" makes in the presence of these pictures.
Oh my heart.

Ask kids to draw conclusions about conditions on board. Don't move on until darkness, stuffiness, heat, overwhelming smell, seasickness, easy spread of disease, and no dignity about bodily functions come up. Squelch the "Ewwws" by discussing shame, how they would feel about the lack of dignity afforded to them. Work until the students feel compassion, not grossed-outness.

Draw attention to the fact that the people captured on these ships were losing their direction--many never having been aboard a ship or seen the ocean. And then their language. Pick up Alex Haley's Roots and explain that he was blessed to have a thread of language clues passed down, that he had heard that his great-great etc granddad, Kunta Kinte, had gone to chop wood for a drum but never came back.
so good.

Tell how Haley tracked down his ancestor all the way to the west coast of Africa. How he listened to the griots, the genealogic story tellers that memorized ancestry their whole lives. How he listened to the translator say "Kunta Kinte went to chop wood for a drum, but was lost." About how he wept. About how the tribe wept with him and welcomed him home. Cry, because you just can't help getting teary eyed when you tell this.
"When a griot dies, it is as if a library has burned down." --Alex Haley
Explain that Haley wrote a book about his ancestors using what he found out. Tell them he spent the night on a ship to connect to Kunta's ordeal on the Middle Passage. Read excerpts from Roots about Kunta's first day aboard the slave ship.

Show a six minute clip of the film "Roots," the scenes where the men are being exercised on deck, of a dead man being unchained and unceremoniously flung over the ship's side. Listen for the student who mutters, "Horrible," or perhaps "That's so harsh." Congratulate him for his word choice. Share that this part of history is soooo much more than "sad." Suggest "tragic," "unthinkable," "shameful," and so on.

How did Haley know what to write about? Pass out four excerpts from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, a memoir about his capture as an eight year old boy and his ordeal on a slave ship. Have the kids read it, underlining parts they believe the other students should know about it since everyone is only reading one-fourth of the work. Field what they've read onto a class chart. Take questions. Later, contrast this reading with one John Barbot, a man who was a captain on a slave ship. Analyze the differences. Hey look, ma, I've been doing Common Core stuff since before you were born.
I only define some key words in brackets. It's highly readable.
When the bell rings, watch as they solemnly gather their belongings and file out with their brains (and hopefully hearts) full. Quickly rewind the old VHS video exactly 6:55, get the smart board back in order, and do it three more times.

Cookies, Money, Compassion, and Cookies

On the first day of school, I found out Batman was in my class.

On the third day of school, a student brought chocolate chip cookies for the whole class.

On the THIRD DAY, people!
cookies not homemade. me no care.

During the second week of school after I shared with the kids that I had a foreign money collection, four separate kids brought me currency from Fiji, Mexico, Vietnam, and the E.U.

During the third week of school, I couldn't find my reward candy. I shared my sadness with the class that the only time I'd had stuff stolen from me was once years ago, in the notorious Year of the Stolen Sodas, and that I was sad my candy was gone.  The next day, two separate kids brought me candy to replace what was lost.  

I've brought in donuts to the Seminerds already for having 100% homework turned in three times (the bar is upped to four, now). 

This fourth week I found the candy--I am losing my brain cells in this stupefying heat, or maybe old age--and I got to rejoice with them ALL for being upright and trustworthy!

AND this fourth week the same kid again brought in cookies for the class.

Yeah, ridiculously hot and humid weather aside (and no a/c in sight), we're off to a great start.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Haiku for a Disappointed Parent

Every day is a new day. Every day is a new chance to be better.
A D? (Hmm, your child
Didn't use the study guide
or look at his notes...

...He didn't ask questions
Or write out practice answers
the way others did....

.....I sent you notice
of what would be tested, and
essay questions, too....)

You "know he can do
better--he wants a retake--
Can he please have one?"

Oh, dear parent friend
This is not a driver's test
A D won't kill him

Do you know what? I
know he can do better, too.

I do believe in
second chances; just
not on the same test.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Christmas is coming!!

As a kid, I went to two elementary schools, a junior high school, and a high school in the same district I teach in today. I did my student teaching at two schools and as a contracted teacher have taught in three schools in this district, the 2nd largest in California.

I have NEVER worked, as a student or teacher, in a classroom that had air conditioning. (That's a looonnnnnngggg time. I'm hoping to retire in less than ten years.)

Look--a person absolutely can learn in high heat and thick humidity. But for the cohort I work with, thirteen year olds, learning can be a challenge in the most temperate of times. If my 35 kiddos struggle with the Mayflower Compact when it's 75° outside, imagine their difficulty when it's 95° outside and the humidity is at 80%. When I got home from school as a kid, it was to an under insulated home with no a/c. Hot at school, hot at home, I didn't really have much comparison. But most of the kids at our site have a/c. They know better. We've had students vomiting from the heat, suffering from heat stroke, and at least one teacher who was in danger of heat stroke.

Some people think the most beautiful sentence in the English language is "I love you." I think it might be "I forgive you." But right up there are these words I never really believed I'd hear: "Our air conditioning is coming mid-October."

In C.S. Lewis's classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy that the White Witch has cast a spell on Narnia such that it is always winter, and never Christmas. Well evil Humidity Heat Witch, start packing your bags or whatever it is that evil witches pack: you've been given notice.
Move over, Humidity Heat Witch--Father Christmas is getting me some a/c!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Super Start

First day moments:

Coolio, the portable a/c a friend lent to me, shuts down before period 1. So sad. My high hopes are dashed.
Coolio sort of looks like this.

No ants this year!!!  A billion hurrahs! I cut and distribute the power pie, insect-free.
Last year they were EVERYWHERE.

As I near the white board, a funky smell reaches me. It is NOT the smell of stinky teenager. It is the smell of something organic. I try not to think about it, and after that class, I put a powerful odor catcher in the offending zone. Dear Lord, please don't let it be what I think it might be.
Truly thought this trouble was behind us. It might be under us. 

Not one kiddo complains of heat (or stinky zone).
Good sports--love them already!

Colleague brings me a gorgeous lavender plant and an uplifting note on a beautiful card.
A visual reminder to stay calm.

At lunch I buy a soda from the vending machine. It is warm. Is Coolio conspiring with other campus appliances to keep me from cooling down?
So glad our fridge has an ice maker. 

Today was a minimum day! ANNNND we got to leave without going to any meetings! WHooP!
I wish. I went to Vons.

Under the heading "Something I should know about you," a student writes, "I'm Batman."
(Tomorrow I will tell him, "No, I'M Batman.)