Thursday, December 11, 2008

Creating a Haiku

Yesterday was Haiku day in eighth grade language. I love this day. We read several Haiku poems, talked about the structure (which they are already well aware of) and then they wrote their own. I gave them green slips of paper to write each on. For the first two I gave them general subjects (seasons, and things they like), and the last one they could write about whatever they liked. Here is a sampling:

I can't think of a Hiaku
So this will have to do it
Do not make fun of me.

Complete with spelling error, this poem speaks volumes about this student's insecurity and lack of self esteem. Clever subject, nonetheless.There were several others about the writing process, including:

She loves haiku
writing all the days
Oh! But he does not!

Today in this class
I like reading haikus here
It is all peaceful.

The small green paper,
is now right in front of me,
I write my haiku.

One was the remake of a joke, which I found amusing:

Your mom is so fat,
that she sat on a rainbow,
and skittles popped out.

Who knew that could be a haiku?

I really like salads
They taste really good with carrots
I really like salads

There were a lot of repeat first and third liners in the bunch...this being one of them. I find this one intriguing because it leaves me wondering if this student really likes carrots, or if tomatoes just didn't fit.

In the coolness of
the morning I feel like I
could run forever

This was mine. As I read all 48 haiku poems to the class (three per person including myself) they guessed who they thought wrote each. They guessed this one quickly. I guess I'm kind of surprised that the idea of running forever doesn't resonate with any of these middle school students.

Shopping is so fun
Spend money on whatever.
Let's go buy buy buy.

Tis the season...what can I say. Then, of course, there were some written about other students:

Austin is funny
sitting there slouching, laughing
thinking of classmates.

I love basketball
I beat Josh every single day
And Steve if he plays

In the end, there were a few thoughtful ones:

Go to the river.
May your catch be plentiful.
Bring me some, won't you?

I love this one. Such a tone of longing underneath the surface of wishing well.

Today in class they asked if I would read them again so they could guess..."Sorry guys, we have other great things to study today, like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Ralph Waldo Emerson." They weren't convinced....perhaps someday they will be.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A little bit of Coelho

Today was the last graduate school class I had to attend for my masters degree. I still need to finish my practicum, but that doesn’t involve class time. That just involves putting in hours doing projects and reflection papers that will make me look like I’d be a competent and effective principal.

Not that I’m sure I’d ever want to do that.

At today’s class session we did the classic “everyone present their project” which involved power points with fancy backgrounds, a myriad of fonts and pictures, new educational web links, and all levels and ideas of over-achieving. Then we sat in small groups and talked about our observations of other teachers (a different project), which turned into all our hopes and desires for teaching, and all the technology and supportive materials we wish we had for our classrooms.

Then came the best part: we reminisced. It felt like signing yearbooks senior year of high school as we talked and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. It felt so cliché, but I almost forgot about how much I have detested going to classes either for four hours after working on Tuesday nights, or six and a half hours on Saturdays. All of the sudden, the three hour timeline project that was never graded was hysterical. The field trip that felt meaningless and ended with people getting lost on the way there and the way back was a classic. And of course, the classmates that didn’t know how to stay on topic, or when to stop talking in general, or even why we educate homeless people were just plain amazing.

Hindsight: What a beautiful thing.

Degrees: Worth it for the stories? No. But they definitely make it a bit more bearable. After all, the journey is typically worth more than the end result, right?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Because I don't want to work on grad school....

...I come up with other things to do. This list includes (but is in NO way limited to):
  1. Perusing facebook looking for photos, or information, or anything I didn't know already.
  2. Perusing the internet for tv shows that I might watch if we
    a)Had a television that got anything other than a grainy version of NBC and an even grainier (word? I say yes) version of ABC. On the flip side, it does get Fox, if you move it to the other room.
    b) Had time to spend on things I wanted to do, rather than things I'm committed to (ie. grad school)
  3. Whining. This includes whining on here, calling friends to whine, whining in e-mails and to my students (yes, I've stooped this low). They seem to find comfort in the fact that there are some things I don't enjoy learning. They only see me with English...and I love English oh-so-much.
  4. Making lists of things I'd do with endless amounts of money. Usually these lists center around food and include purchasing large quantities of things like crackers, cheese, meat of all kinds and cuts, lime flavored tortilla chips, chocolate chips, gourmet coffee with several different flavors of creamer, freshly baked baguettes, egg nog, fresh vegetables, and nuts. Nuts are really expensive.
  5. Looking for books to read...for that glorious day when I have time to read again. This was the impetus (ah! vocab word) for this post. Here are my Top 10, in no particular order, and in no way all-inclusive, just the top 10 classics I happened upon this evening while intentionally distracting myself from my grad school work:
  • Emma (Austen)
  • Vanity Fair (Thackeray)
  • Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
  • Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf)
  • As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)
  • Brave New World (Huxley)
  • Lord of the Flies (Golding)
  • On the Road (Kerouac)
  • Catch 22 (Heller)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Carrots and Jelly

I don’t have time to write. I don’t have time to read. I only have time to consider educational theory and practice, comprise my thoughts in lengthy papers conforming to rigid specifications, and edit those papers within an inch of their lives.

I feel bad for educators getting their masters degrees who don’t teach paper-writing for a living. That would make this whole process even more tedious and frustrating….and I’m pretty frustrated.

There is something very fulfilling about working with things in tangible ways. This might be the most frustrating thing about working on masters papers about education—everything is theoretical. The classroom, the school, the problems: all in theory. The students have no faces. They have fabricated names. They have no families, no quirks, no histories. They don’t smile; they don’t cry. They don’t look you in the eye when you ask a hard question, acknowledge that it hits deep, and then pass on answering. They don’t clumsily read seventeenth century love poetry aloud. They don’t ask questions about instructions already written on the board. They don’t worry about grades that will make them ineligible. They aren’t affected by large portions of brownies and ice cream at lunch. They don’t make distracting bodily noises. They don’t have dreams.

Sometimes, even with the reality that comes with working with students day in and day out, I crave measurable work. I desire progress I can see, learning I can calculate, meaningful change that will last.

As a school project this year an initiative was started where each middle and high school student does two hours of community service a month. Teams of nine students and one teacher were assembled and sent to designated locations to serve those with needs. I went this week, and alongside the students I bagged donated food for two hours. We counted jelly packets into Ziploc bags. We bagged chocolate milks and individual canisters of maple syrup. We also bagged 500 pounds of carrots. These weren’t your average sized carrots either, some of them were the size of raw yams, like miniature clubs or bats—and there were plenty of playful violent gestures in the midst of the bagging.

Some of the students made games to pass the time, some of them competed with one another. When it was done, most of them agreed that they’d much rather bag food than be in class. I didn’t vocalize my agreement, but I was intrigued by how much more immediate the fulfillment of tangible work is. I helped bag 500 pounds of carrots for the poor and homeless of Canton. I was one of 20-some people contributing to the work of this organization that morning, and there was an air of peace that was alluring. We were doing good work. We were helping those in need in tangible ways. It was intoxicating.

I know my work as a teacher is important. I know this in my head, but I still have to remind myself of it regularly. It doesn’t feel important what you get blank stares to thought provoking questions. It doesn’t feel worthwhile when I feel more like the disciplinarian than instructor of unruly middle schoolers who clearly have no disciplinary expectations of them when they are home.

Thankfully, there is always a glimmer of hope. Just when I am sure I am no use to anyone I get a note or a bit of affirmation that reminds me that it’s not my job to judge things based on what I can see. The people coming to collect their carrots and jelly will not see who bagged them anymore than they will see the farmer that donated them, but that does not mean these people don’t exist. It is not my job to measure my worth by tangible outcomes; it is only my job to be faithful in what I have been called to do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Discernment and Comparison

Judgment: One of those words that can be used to describe any number of situations and circumstances from any number of people. The dictionary has six different meaning ascribed to the word.
First, it can be "a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion."
Second, "A formal decision given by a court."
Third, "the final judging of humankind by God."
Fourth, "The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing."
Fifth, "Discernment."
Sixth, “A proposition stating something believed or asserted.”

I've been thinking a lot about judgment lately. My church has been reading through the Bible this year. We started in September, and this week we finished Numbers. It's not one of those books that gets a lot of attention, but in the midst of the lists and censuses and the sacrifices, there's a lot of judgment.

It's difficult to not make judgments of others. Sometimes it's necessary. My job is based on my ability to create opportunities to "judge" every student's learning, as the “authoritative opinion.” But what about the times where I’m not definition one, what about when I’m definition four—just forming an opinion by discerning and comparing? What different words discerning and comparing are. Such different connotations.

There are so many situations in life that require judgment: who to marry, when to cross the road, whether to buy a house, who to trust, what to study, where to work. These would fall under definition five. We begin observing the process of discernment as small children and practice regularly as we age. In the end, however, it seems that judging has become a negative thing. “Judge not lest you be judged,” the sacred text reminds.

And so I’m back at definition four…wondering at what point my analysis of those around me is fruitful, and when it is merely destructive. I get lost in a silent argument seeking whether the source of my judgment is comparison rooted in my competitive nature, or whether it is discernment concerned about consequences of careless actions.

The Israelites judged often: their situation, their leaders, their provisions, their future, their God. And those that judged died before they entered the promise land; that was their judgment. And I suppose that’s what I should fear in my comparisons, in my conviction of others by the jury of my mind: missing the Promised Land.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cutting and Connecting

Today at dinner Curtis declared "I learned how to use a staple gun." First thought: "Yeah, I didn't have to go to medical school to learn that..." but I held my smart comment in and asked questions. I was curious about this disposable (that's right, at $200 a pop) stapler that involved a blade and two staplers on either side. Wait, a blade? After a demonstration involving a torn paper towel rolled to mimic a bowel, I understood. Still it was puzzling: cutting and connecting, simultaneously.

Curtis will graduate from medical school on May 15, 2010. As that date draws closer, the reality of moving or staying now, in five years, in ten years always bring a sense of skepticism, an unsureness. Change is a variable, a hugely unknown variable. And even though connecting with new people brings adventure and excitement, it also means breaking apart from other people and communities I love desperately.

My mom's dad, my grandpa, died two weeks ago. He's had deteriorating health for the last year, but has been in danger of dying for a few decades. He was supposed to die when he was in a serious car accident thirty-one years ago, and he's been quite the miracle ever since. Even so, death is hard. Losing someone, even when your time with them was far beyond what you expected, is hard. The world continues, even though something precious has been lost.

Wounds mend and heal and close, and the pain subsides as the newness fades to normalcy. And in the end there is value in the scar, because it holds the story.