Poetry Friday

Early, late, I can't seem to time Poetry Friday just right.

Here's a favorite from Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Notes From Teacherdom

Update: After months of waiting it out and not acting as though I was even slightly interested in it, they've roped me into Student Council.

I'm not one to get chumped into things regularly, and at first it was just an offer of "what extracurriculars would you be interested in?" I am already signed up for something very minor involving after-school supervision of students wanting to attend sporadic after school sports events, so I thought I was in the clear. And I was. You know, it's not like "Ms. [Me] we are requiring you to take on the assload of responsibility that is Student Council." It's more like "Hey, how would you feel about a co-advisorship for student council? You could work with so-and-so and this would be a great opportunity to make a name for yourself in our community."

Alas, I am a first year teacher. And even though I'm also not by any stretch of the imagination an I-have-to-do-this-or-I'll-lose-my-job person (I'm marketable, I work hard, I turned down a great offer in April, before graduation, without even having any others), I didn't feel like I could say no when it turned from "are you interested?" to "would you do this?"

Not trying to sound like Debbie Downer. I actually like the idea of taking on such an integral advisorship. In fact, there are so many wonderful chances to build relationships with students and their families when you take on this role. BUT it also requires a ton of time and energy.

My first year will now be going way faster than it was 24 hours ago.

Oh, and, yeah, the stipend is a healthy amount of money. Enough to cover my mentorship fee which (COUGH location hint here COUGH) my state no longer reimburses, with some to spare (on shoes, I predict).


Sayonara, Day Two!

Two days down and my classroom looks a little bit like a Staples exploded inside of it.

Orientation has been going well--in some ways, an overwhelming amount of info is coming my way. But my brain is, naturally, filing away and prioritizing everything.

I put up my first bulletin board today! And I only stapled my finger once. Don't ask me how.

On the agenda tomorrow: putting the myriad dates for meetings, conferences, interims, report cards, etc. into my calendar(s). Doesn't that sound fascinating?

I will also be creating a While You Were Out board with Mon.-Fri. pockets so students will be responsible for collecting materials they missed while absent. I'm all about measures that place greater responsibility on the student--a major paradigm shift for them, but an important one, especially as they move into 9th grade when they leave me.

I can't wait to meet my students next Thursday!


Drinking the Vista Print Kool-Aid

You probably all already knew about Vista Print and how much free stuff they give away. Well, I didn't. So, today I ordered myself a ton of goodies for the classroom.

My free stuff:

-"From the desk of..." notepad, cherry blossom motif

-"[Ms. Me]'s Classroom" window decal for my classroom door, cherry blossom motif

-Business cards that I made into Happy Birthday homework passes (hat tip to this link via Mind the Teacher)

-"A note from..." post-its, not cherry blossom motif :[ but a cute tulip motif instead

-A lovely "Please return to the library of..." rubber stamp

-Some holiday cards for personal use

All of this was free with s/h, but that only came to a measly $10.90--almost as much as a regular rubber stamp on its own.

So go! Get free stuff! Unless you already have. In that case, do what I'm going to do--go back and use your family's addresses (and their emails) and get some more free stuff!


Let's Pretend, for Our Teacher's Sake, That This Is Not Extremely Uncomfortable for All Parties Involved

I want to start by saying that I don't want to offend anyone who has done and enjoyed any of the activities I am going to discuss--by all means, if they've worked for you please encourage me to alter my perspective!

But I have to be honest. I dread the typical getting-to-know-you icebreaker activities that are floating around out there. I've done plenty in college and in the trainings I attended for an entirely too long stint in the after school care business. It's not that I personally dread them or have had any type of extreme dislike or distaste for them in the past. I've always participated like a good sport, and made a little adjective for my name or said 2 true (I am a bit of a chocolate expert, I used to be a barista at a sbux in California) and 1 false thing (I'm a concert pianist) about myself. . . I knew that there really wasn't anything to these activities barring the one time I got to discuss something I cared about--namely, my favorite musical group. But otherwise I didn't really get to know anyone any better.

I've been thinking, and I just don't want to make my students feel uncomfortable, alienated or patronized by making them come up with action words that start with the same letter as their names, or by having them do people bingo where they have to find someone else in the room who has a pet with a funny name or likes Coke more than Pepsi. I don't want to torture their weirdo pre-or mid-pubescent selves by requiring them to throw around a string and find some question out of thin air to ask someone of the opposite sex. This one actually worked ok when I was in college, but I was over the I'm going to make fun of you because I like you stage (then again, I only speak for myself). And God help me if I ever make a child come up with an "interesting fact" to share with the class. I usually lie and say I do yoga every day or something, even though I do it like once a month. (Look at that, I'm still lying. I'm down to like every quarter at best.)

It's just that these activities don't feel authentic and I'm not convinced that the uncomfortable feeling, albeit accompanied by the community-building "our teacher is obviously so out of touch that she thinks this is going to help us get to know one another" effect, is worth it or achieves the end I'm looking for.

So I guess that brings me to what I'm looking for. I want to begin the year with some sort of opening activity that honors my students as individuals, creative and unique, with their own perspectives and life experiences. I want them to be able to be silly if they want to, but able to be reserved if they feel like it, too. I want them to feel comfortable asking me questions about myself, but I feel really uncomfortable preparing some sort of speech all about me. I want the things we find out about one another to happen through genuine discourse, not manufactured conversation.

So, I'm kinda stuck on finding my way to that goal. Thus far I'm definitely planning on using George Ella Lyon's poem, "Where I'm From," and an accompanying activity that asks students to imitate a stanza or two (or the whole poem if they're so inclined) to give the class an idea of where they're from, what matters to them, etc. Imitation is a great mechanism for students as it extends them the opportunity to plug in their own original thoughts and ideas while leaning on a solid structure through which to deliver them, and I've found that this poem really works well for helping students get to some of the nitty-gritty about what sorts of artifacts and experiences make up who they are. But this is more of an actual content-based activity and I have it scheduled for day 2 right now. As far as day 1 goes, it will be a shortened day schedule, so I will have them for probably 40 min.

I'd love to hear some ideas if you've got 'em. I'm going to keep asking other teachers and searching the internet for something that seems right, but I'm hoping to hear what's worked for you, and your general opinions on "getting to know you"/"icebreaker" activities in general.

I should mention that my students have presumably known one another for a while now, as there is only one eighth grade team, so it's not as though they're walking into the wilderness here in terms of familiarity.

Ok, people bingo isn't really that bad.

Poetry Friday (a little late)

Ok, so I'm sorta phoning this one in. But this is absolutely, hands down, one of the most cherished poems I've ever read, by one of my very favorite poets--Marge Piercy. I have and will read it with students again and again, but it is so personally inspiring that I always keep a copy of it visible at my desk/work station.

I hope you all find this as motivating and comforting as I do, no matter what you do day in and day out--no matter how you choose to be of use.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Disclaimer: blogger stinks at maintaining line spacing after publishing (or maybe I'm just an amateur html-ist) so these aren't exactly representative of the way the lines actually appear, although the breaks are the same.


Random Acts of Music

I discovered Jeff Buckley a few years ago and immediately regretted not knowing about him earlier. He left behind an immense and extremely devoted fan base upon his untimely death in 1997. If you haven't heard his album, Grace, I suggest that you make it the very next cd you purchase (after, of course, you call all of your friends in hopes of acquiring a copy). He was heralded as one of the greatest contemporary songwriters by all-time greats including Neil Pert, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Although his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is devastatingly beautiful, I think this song, "Lover, You Should've Come Over," reveals the degree to which Buckley was not only a master lyricist, but one seriously soulful performer and individual.

Here he is performing live in Chicago. Sorry, no date included in the youtube blurb. Please enjoy at your leisure:

Ok and one more pic...


Calling All English/IRLA Teachers

I have a photocopied short story entitled "The Green Killer," characters names are Blaze and Alan. I don't know the name of the author because this resource came from another teacher a while ago.

Anyone know who wrote this? I've googled to no avail.


Lawyers in Love. . . With Intellectual Property Laws

Jackson Browne (above, wearing a tee in protest of the construction of Diablo Canyon Power Plant, circa 1982, looking pretty darn d-r-e-a-m-y if you ask me) has just filed a suit against the Republican Party and John McCain's campaign for their unauthorized use of his songs during McCain events:

"In light of Jackson Browne's lifelong commitment to Democratic ideals and political candidates, the misappropriation of Jackson Browne's endorsement is entirely reprehensible, and I have no doubt that a jury will agree."

Check out the full article here.

Just who does McCain think he is? You can't go using other people's art willy nilly to support your own crazy quests. Especially people who so vehemently oppose everything for which you and your party stand, and have a long history of voicing said opposition!

And is it not more than a little ironic that McCain chose "Running on Empty?" I mean, really? Even if he was using it against Obama, it still seems sort of hilarious that McCain would utilize a song in which lyrics read:

"Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind
Running on - running into the sun
But I'm running behind"


Poetry Friday

Everyone needs a little Good Gray in their lives. . .

excerpted from Section #42 of "Song of Myself:"

This is the city and I am one of the citizens,
Whatever interests the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets, news-
papers, schools,
The mayor and councils, banks, tariffs, steamships, factories, stocks,
stores, real estate and personal estate,

The little plentiful manikins skipping around in collars and tail'd
I am aware who they are, (they are positively not worms or fleas,)
I acknowledge the duplicates of myself, the weakest and shallowest is
deathless with me,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Every though that flounders in me the same flounders in them.

I know perfectly well my own egotism,
Know my omnivorous lines and must not write any less,
And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself.

No words of routine this song of mine,
But abruptly to question, to leap beyond yet nearer bring
. . .
The sky up there--yet here or next door, or across the way?
The saints and sages in history--but you yourself?
Sermons, creeds, theology--but the fathomless human brain,
And what is reason? and what is love? and what is life?

And I couldn't resist the pull of #30, one of the briefest of the set--thus affording me the opportunity to post it in its entirety:

All truths wait in all things,
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,
The insignificant is as big to me as any,
(What is less or more than a touch?)

Logic and sermons never convince,
The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.

(Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so,
Only what nobody denies is so.)

A minute and a drop of me settle my brain,
I believe the soggy clouds shall become lovers and lamps,
And a compend of the compends is the meat of a man or woman,
And a summit and flower there is the feeling they have for each other,
And they are to branch boundlessly out of that lesson until it becomes
And until one and all shall delight us, and we them.

Disclaimer: blogger stinks at maintaining line spacing after publishing (or maybe I'm just an amateur html-ist) so these aren't exactly representative of the way the lines actually appear, although the breaks are the same.


Me: 1 (Well, $50) Barnes & Noble: 0

Upon receipt of a$25 gift card--a graduation present--I stifled my conscience and headed over to the Barnes & Noble site to bask in all of the corporate conglomerate goodness. I filled my virtual cart in a flash, as I am wont to do, and felt the satisfaction of clicking the "place my order" button.

All was good and well in my world as I anticipated the arrival of my items. Then the shipping confusion ensued. I was in no hurry, and my items arrived within what I would consider a typical shipping time frame. Me and Man's Search for Meaning and Less is More: Teaching Literature with Short Texts Grades 6-12 were all very happy together.

Two months pass. . .

Alas, a B&N email heralded the unexpected and much welcomed news: "A refund has been processed for the item(s) below. Credit has been issued to the original form of payment that you provided. If your method of payment was a credit card, that amount will be reflected on a future credit card billing statement."

Fortunately, I had decided to hold on to that gift card though it was spent down to the last penny. Don't ask me why--they usually go straight in the trash. But I didn't have time to contemplate. I scurried out to Barnes & Noble in a thunderstorm to spend my extra $25 immediately, lest they discovered their error.

Here's what I bought:

for self:

Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (after reading wayyy more than my fair share of an online excerpt. O how do I love Amazon Reader? Let me count the ways. . .)

for classroom library:

Nothing But the Truth, Avi -- A Newbery Honor Book

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (ok, this is sort of for self too. I so love the Poirot mysteries.)

Milkweed, Jerry Spinelli

A few notes on my purchases:

-This is the first I'll be reading of Avi's. I've heard so many great things.

-Agatha Christie books were such a hit with the students I worked with for my junior year practicum a while back. I think it's important to encourage students to cast a wide net when it comes to considering genre, and mystery is one that I personally can't help but love. And the Christie titles offer plenty of challenge to those readers ready to try out some adult fiction.

-I know it seems like I'm spending a lot of time on the WWII era books and/or books that examine the struggles faced by people of Jewish decent, what with Letters from Rifka and my review a while back of Man's Search for Meaning (Frankl--not for my classroom lib, of course, though I'm sure it would be great as a high school title), but I want to be able to provide students with a wide perspective if/when we examine the Holocaust and literature related to it, and this means having plenty of resources for them and being personally informed, too.

Thanks, B&N, for the extra $25. I'm sure you won't miss it.

Now, back to the booktrader!

Your thoughts on any of these titles?


Happiness is a Warm Book

I've started David Sedaris' latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and it is FABULOUS. I'm not even sure how to express how much I love this collection of essays, or why. Maybe it's the stream-of-consciousness narration, maybe it's the irreverently loving pictures he paints of his life and the lives of those close to him. Maybe it's that I truly haven't read a book in a while that makes me not just giggle but let the ugly laugh (similar to the ugly cry) escape in the emptiness of my bedroom, to the point where my dog cocks his head inquisitively and says to himself "this woman is flippin crazy, how did I end up with her?"

So, yeah, needless to say, I can't wait to jump back into this book. Will do a full review when I finish.

Embarrassingly, I haven't read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim yet. It's now at the top of my Amazon wish list, though.

Any other favorites of Sedaris that I shouldn't miss?


Poetry Friday. . . Sorta.

From Easy Essays (1977) by Peter Maurin, co-founder of The Catholic Worker Movement, a community concerned with issues of social justice and nonviolence:

Politics Is Politics

1. A politician is an artist
in the art of following the wind
of public opinion.
2. He who follows the wind
of public opinion
does not follow
his own judgement.
3. And he who does not follow
his own judgement
cannot lead people
out of the beaten path.
4. He is like the tail of a dog
that tries to lead the head.
5. When people stand behind their president
and their president
stands behind them
they and their president
go around in a circle
getting nowhere.

Teachers Of Subjects

1. Our business managers
don't know how to manage
the things they try to manage,
because they don't understand
the things they try to manage.

2. So they turn to college professors
in the hope of understanding
the things they try to manage.

3. But college professors
do not profess anything,
they only teach subjects.

4. As teachers of subjects,
college professors
may enable people
to master subjects,
but mastering subjects
has never enabled anyone
to master situations.

disclaimer: I've had plenty of college professors who did
much more than help me "master subjects." And I've had
plenty who have not.


Historical Hesse

I finished Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka a few days ago. Hesse's work simply cannot disappoint. I fell in love with the beautifully woven Out of the Dust a couple of years ago and am so happy to have added another of her titles to my classroom bookshelf. Next is The Music of Dolphins.

Letters. . . tells the story of a Jewish family on a desperate escape from their circumstances in Russia. Set in the 1920's, the novel weaves a personal tale of what it meant to face the hatred and restrictions placed on Jews by Russian peasants in an economically devastated region. The violence against Jews was incited by the Russian government in order to distract Russian peasants from the injustices plaguing their own lives.

Rifka's family is leaving in order to save the brothers of the family from having to serve any further in the Russian army. But all does not go as planned, and Rifka is left behind while her family goes on to America on account of a case of ringworm that prevents her from passing health inspections necessary to board ship.

Some reasons I enjoyed this title:

-Like Out of the Dust, the structure of Letters. . . is accessible, particularly for readers who struggle with staying focused through long blocks of text. As the title suggests, Rifka's story is broken into letters spanning 3-4 pages, each written to a cousin back home.

-Those letters make it clear that Tova, Rifka's cousin and the daughter of the uncle that aided Rifka's family's escape, lives a life dramatically removed from the misery of most Russian Jews. The reason why resonates today: money. Tova's father has money, Tova's family is safe from the worries of their kinsmen. Hesse makes the child narrator keenly aware of what it means to have socioeconomic privilege, and what it means not to, and in doing so equips us all to see that it really is that elementary, and that sad.

-It's a historical novel, but not overtly so--a good thing for some readers who are hesitant to plunge into something requiring what may seem to be an awful lot of background knowledge. In fact, the information I gave about about the turmoil faced by Russian Jews was gleaned for the most part from the historical note the follows the ending of the novel (oh, you already knew all about all that history? Whatever.). Although the story does personalize the suffering faced by Rifka, her family and others like them, it does not spend too much time on developing the external circumstances I describe above. Rifka notes injustices such as Jews only being able to own 2 of any given item, but the novel steers away from grand explanations of the political issues of the time, thus maintaining the authenticity of the child's perspective.

-Rifka's brothers are refusing to serve in the Russian army, mostly in objection to the way Russian Jews were treated. Conscientious objection of any sort is brave.

-Rifka tries makes the best of even the most dire circumstances. She overcomes her self-pity while undergoing treatment in Antwerp and spends time exploring and learning a new language. She even holds her own mitzvah celebration when she turns 13, away from her parents and in a strange place. When a storm takes the life of a sailor she befriends aboard the ship that eventually takes her to America, Rifka goes to work alongside the ship's crew, unasked, to help repair the damage and clean up the ship. And, finally, when Rifka waits in a hospital on Ellis Island to finally be cleared to enter America, she cares for a baby and a young boy who are without parents. Her selflessness postpones the death of the baby and rescues the young boy from the depths of depression.

-Rifka is a writer! In addition to the letters she writes, which are, btw, in the white space of a book of Pushkin, she eventually writes her own poetry.

-The nuances of overlap and conflict between cultural/religious groups are explored as Rifka cares for the little boy, who happens to be a Russian peasant--the group responsible for her family's misery and oppression. Despite her guilt, she feels compelled to care deeply for him and understands that humanity binds us all, regardless of our allegiances.

-Rifka takes a stand against the immigration official who assumes that she will not be able to marry because she is bald (from the ringworm), and thus will end up relying on the government for assistance. She offers a passionate plea and notes that a woman does not need hair to be married, nor need to be married to be successful. She convinces the patriarchal figure that she is right, and is admitted entry to America.

My Life in a Quote

"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer"

Rilke (again), Letters to a Young Poet

I find an enormous amount of comfort in this passage. Love the questions themselves. It's funny how we sometimes stumble upon exactly what we need to hear. Coincidence? I know not.


Ch.ch.ch.ch.changes. . . And, somehow, spelling instruction

Ok, click on it. It's funny, if admittedly not even remotely related to this post. I'm still working on the whole incorporating images thing.

So, I received a reply email from the curriculum director today. This person informed me that the l.a. curriculum is changing and is up for approval by the board in the middle of the month.

The director said that the new curriculum is based around skills and genre, and that teachers have flexibility in materials used. This sounds like a positive change to me, as writing in genres is of course important to WW. And, of course, reading via genre study is a great way to show students what it means to be a reader in the world. It can transcend "school reading," I believe. I guess only time will tell!

This person also assured me that I could use the word study approach to spelling that I had hoped to utilize this year--an approach I gleaned from one of the schools where I was an intern--in which students study roots each week, and a set of corresponding words (i.e. rupt and rupture or lum and illuminate). I believe in this approach for a few reasons. Most importantly, I do think it activates a schema students already have. No matter what the word set, students will at least have knowledge of a word or two with the root, even if they don't know how to spell it. This gives them some confidence, and the root provides at least some predictability in spelling. The process of the word study actually begins with having students generate as many words at they can that they already know from the root--activating prior knowledge from the get-go. Then, the teacher supplies the ones students missed from the set.

Further, with this approach, there is transfer across disciplines. I would hear students saying things like "I remember this from science class!" Any time there is connection to another discipline, the learning of that concept or word will of course be strengthened--the applicability of the knowledge becomes apparent to students. They understand a little better the answer to the ubiquitous question, "Why do we need to know this?"

I believe in the root approach, in a secondary way (and I say secondarily because this cannot ever be a primary reason for instruction, in my opinion), because it does strengthen students' abilities to make more educated guesses at words they may not already know--something that is of importance when tests like the PSAT and the SAT come along. They may not remember what rupture means, but they may remember that rupt means to break (ok, an admittedly simple example, but you catch my drift).

Ideally, I would like to eventually switch to a personal word study via Atwell (get right out of town--me? doing something Atwell suggests?), where students are choosing their own 5 words each week. Buuut, alas, I am a new teacher and I do foresee questions of accountability at this juncture. I'm not one to play it safe--ask permission, not forgiveness--but here I do believe I need to start with a system that is a little more of a whole-class structure and which provides more observable assessments.

Just kind of venting here, don't mind me. Feel free to discuss your opinions on spelling instruction, curriculum reform, or any other hodgepodge issue I've crammed into this post!


First (and second, and third. . .) Order of Business

I've been thinking carefully about the order in which I want to cover genres for Writing Workshop. Besides covering Memoir/Personal Narrative first, of course, I haven't settled on any definite progression for the other genres. I know short story will take some time, so I will probably place this somewhere near the middle of the year.

Genres I absolutely want to cover: Memoir/PN; Poetry; Short Story; Book/Movie/Music Review; Persuasive Essay.

Genres I hope to cover: Thanks You/Get Well/Condolence letters; Persuasive Letter; Parody; Children's Picture Book?

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on the process by which you determine how you will order the genres your students will address. Please keep in mind that I am doing writing workshop in a school that does not invest any time/training in this approach to instruction. Thus, I don't anticipate there being whole lot of other teachers I can turn to in my own school to discuss these types of things.

Many kind thanks for any input!