The Kindest Thing.

We're writing short personal essays on the kindest thing anyone has ever done for us--the Farmer's Almanac's essay topic for 2010. We'll be sending in our submissions in January.

You know, I was wondering when I was going to finally start feeling like there was a real connection between these kids and me. I was feeling guilty about missing my students from last year and resenting some of the resistance to work I've seen in this crew. I was questioning if we'd ever get into a groove. Being in writing workshop with my classes the past few days has answered my question. We're finally getting there. I have students writing about some dark, dark stuff. One witnessed the tragic death of his grandfather this summer and chose to write about the kindness of a neighbor who cared for him while his family rushed to the hospital. Another lost her mother at the age of 5--a fact of which I hadn't even been made aware until today--and writes of her father's support as she grieved. Yet another student is writing about the kindness his mother shows to him and his siblings, all of whom suffer from severe OCD and ADD.

Not all of their essays are steeped in tragedy. I have students writing about the small acts of kindness they are grateful for every day--parents who wake up extra early to make sure steaming breakfasts are ready and bus stops are not cold and lonely; coaches who offered words of solace and encouragement that stuck; doctors that saved cherished pets from any number of illnesses; fishing trips with dad.

Their truths are spilling out onto the page. They're showing me that they trust me to understand, validate, acknowledge their deepest sorrows, their most challenging struggles, and the stuff of their daily lives--the details that make up who they are, who they are becoming. I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas gift.


Ancillary. Maybe.

Me: "So? How do you like it?" (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, which I put in a book pass rotation last week)

Student Who Doesn't Want to Appear to Like Books, smugly, loudly, and with no enthusiasm: "It's ok. I guess."

Me, disappointed that I still haven't been able to help this student find the right title, that one title, yet: "Oh. Well. . . keep reading and let me know."

S.W.D.W.A.L.B., when no one's looking, as quietly as possible, with a secret smile: "Can I check it out?!"

Me, whispering now too: "Of course."


One Art

This is a poem I return to again and again. Every time I love it even more. Bishop was a master of her craft.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

NCTE Annual Convention -- Philadelphia

I cannot believe that I haven't been going to NCTE all these years. It was edifying in all the ways that leave one feeling validated and ready to do battle with the questions that plague the public school English teacher, including but certainly not limited to: Am I teaching people, not books? I have made great gains in independent reading, but how can I do better? How can I extend the amount of time and emphasis I place on the importance of choice literacy? How can I continue to legitimatize the 21st century literacies my students possess through use of technology as a means for expressing ideas and synthesizing understanding? How can I continue to progress in the important aim of framing the work my students do as inquiry into human nature, the imperatives of socially just living, the art of writing as a means for examining and expressing one's greatest passions and deepest truths?

Other exciting news from NCTE:
-I've added 70 new books to my classroom library, more or less courtesy of the publishers that were present.
-I met and took pictures with Walter Dean Myers, Laurie Halse Anderson, AND--gaaaasp--Naomi Shihab Nye!!!!
-I was able to see Sara Dessen speak. Her books are circulating among my students daily--you'd be hard pressed to find the titles back in my classroom library for more than a couple periods after being returned.
-I attended an excellent session on the portrayal of gay males in both young adult literature identified as LGBTQ and otherwise. The session focused on the trouble with authors' pursuit of realism through the use of homophobic language--how this authenticates the view of individuals who identify as LGBTQ as necessarily different and, usually, negatively so. The session's main criticism reminded me much of the criticisms of Sasha Baron Cohen's film, Bruno, in that the movie, while trying to expose homophobia, authenticated it as it elicited laughs from the general populace much more frequently than discomfort at the depictions of ignorance and hatred, and as Cohen's character's behavior was both a stereotypical and narrow-minded depiction of homosexual identity. The session's speakers acknowledged that there has been progress in the inclusion of characters who identify as LGBTQ in a range of literature, but much work remains in depicting these characters and the societies in which they function.

P.S. - Junot Diaz did the keynote and I kind of want to marry him now.


Odds & Ends

Sorry for not posting in a while. I've been savoring every single moment of summer. It's been wonderful! Here are a bunch of randomly associated thoughts that have been swimming around in my brain. . .

I'm officially on the countdown. Are you guys ready? Oh my, I don't feel ready at all. Union/BOE issues = me not being able to access my classroom until our first official contracted day back, whereas last year I was in my classroom for weeks ahead of time. I know everything will work out alright, but I'm a little apprehensive about getting everything done all the same. I just hope my order is in and correct.

In other news, our principal resigned over the summer and accepted an elementary school principal position about an hour away. I'm kind of bummed about this, as she was part of the reason that I accepted the position in this district. But I suppose there is the possibility that our next administrator and I pedagogically connect as well.

Moving right along, I truly feel energized to begin. I am making a serious commitment, as I've mentioned, to daily chunks of independent reading time. A healthy portion of my back to school night will be dedicated to the discussion of independent reading at school and at home. I want parents to not only know and understand that I value independent reading for their children, I want them to see the tangible research that demonstrates that there is no stronger predictor of student success, testing or otherwise, than the amount of reading for enjoyment in which the student is engaged.

One of my former professors offered an awesome session on Boy Meets Boy and issues in teaching LGBTQ lit last week. It was so very invigorating. Among other things, I learned that our state, New Jersey, is one of only two states to earn an "A" grade from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (or GLSEN). GLSEN issues a report card every two years; grades are determined by the presence, or lack thereof, of a host of laws that include specific language to protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

I took away some affirming ideas from our session. To start with, my professor discussed something I feel strongly about. To paraphrase, she discussed the idea that we often shy away from addressing conflict in schools. We avoid discussing topics in order to--so we believe--accommodate our students and save them from feeling uncomfortable or awkward. But, this truly is not the purpose of schooling. If we are to contribute to our students' abilities to think critically, creatively, and empathetically about any number of issues they will encounter as social, emotional, and, let's face it, political agents, we are amiss to not aid them in the process of not only feeling uncomfortable about their perceptions at times, but in seeing that there are ways to consider the perspectives of others in respectful ways. Addressing topics that can make students feel conflicted in the classroom is our duty. Helping them work through complex issues and see the world through the eyes of another, if only for a glimpse, is the second imperative at work her.

In terms of justifying, so to speak, the presence of LGBTQ literature in the event of a challenge, my professor introduced the powerful idea of citing that fact that educators are bound by law to create a safe environment for every child. I am lawfully responsible to make sure each student feels safe. One out of every 10 students is or will be LGBTQ. Two out of hundreds of the books in my library are LGBTQ lit. There is a problem with this picture. I'm going to remedy it.

If you're still reading, I hope your preparations for your classroom this year are going splendidly and I wish you a happy start!


I'm Only Breathing.

I can't believe I've never posted this before--have I? I love e.e. so much. Sometimes his words remind me a little bit of Walt Whitman.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
--i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
--i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)



It was a stormy Sunday around here, and I can't think of a better place to spend a stormy Sunday than a bookstore. Thank goodness for Barnes & Noble gift certificates (and my 20% off teacher card). I have used book suggestion lists in the past, mostly from Atwell's resources and the CTL website. This time, a few of the titles were recommended by Kelly Gallagher in the appendix of his book, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It.

Here are the new additions to my classroom library, most of which have I not read yet (28 days left!):

I am beginning with what I'm assuming will prove to be the fluffiest of my purchases. I figure, I sometimes tend to buy books based on what I would be interested in. I generally shy away from ones that look cheesy and gimmicky, but some kids really go for cheesy and gimmicky. We're supposed to be meeting the needs of every reader, right? And for that matter, sometimes we need cheesy and gimmicky to balance out serious and thought-provoking. Come to think of it, I'm the one who just finished Jodi Picoult's Mercy--pretty cheesy itself. And I haven't read either of the following two books, so as far as I know they could both be deep, intellectual literary territory. So here they are:

Here are the two non-fiction titles I picked up today, the first of which I discovered whilst doing my Junior practicum. My coop used an excerpt from Always Running during a memoir writing unit. The second, Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence is by Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks and Geeks.

I cringe to admit that I have NO Chris Crutcher in my library, despite the fact that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and hearing him speak last year in Maine. Here are the two I picked up today; I unwittingly purchased Ironman when I had thought I picked up Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.

And I started this one tonight. Right now, my feelings can be summed up in a word: "meh." I hope my feelings will improve as I read on.

In related news, I'm rereading Ender's Game because I love it so, so dearly. It's everything I remember and more. I want to read the whole quartet over, I think.



. . .so unfettered, in fact, that I've neglected the blog o sphere almost completely lately. Sorry for not posting anything substantial in some time. I've been sleeping in and being lazy and stuff (sorry, Ms. X., I know you're rolling your eyes. . .), but it really has been rejuvenating. I didn't realize how plain old tired I was until I returned home from California, and I feel lucky to have this time to recharge.

I have been continually reflecting on my first year, and thinking about the areas in which I want to improve, the ideas I need to revise. Summer has brought so much blessed time for recharging that I almost feel guilty (almost). As I write, I sit in my bathing suit after a lovely day at the shore. I hope you are all finding some time to enjoy the summer, however marginal that time may be. In all of my relaxation, I'm busy yet, negotiating the particulars of who I have become, and reconciling that person with where I've come from and where I want to go, as an educator and an individual.

I will leave you with one teacher-related piece of joy, a message left for me on one of the last days of school by my cross to bear. Below was the redeeming message left behind the projector screen on my white board, which the student had written covertly under the screen so no one saw it. The direction I received was, "don't read what's under there until we leave today," which I think comes from me telling my students to please wait until they got home to read the notes I wrote them (even though most didn't).


"I love you so much your one the best teachers I ever had even thow you had a hard time keeping me in line I had a great time in your class your one of the Best teachers, I ever had write next to Mr. [dude who retired this year]. I real like how you cared about your students most of us play it off but we real do like it when we know someone cares abt you. most of us have money but the kids who don't have to strugle, like me. your a great teacher, rhole model, friend & person Sincerly [cross to bear]"

I love the "write next to." But what I love most is, in those last six words, he has encapsulated the exact four things I have always wanted to and could ever ask to be to my students. Teacher, rhole model, friend, person. My life as a teacher is the constant, delicate balance of these four.



I will be reading this next:

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It

As I'm doing some serious introspection on how I will change the amount and type of reading done in my classroom next year, this is right on time.

Smog might turn to stars someday

What I'm reading next:
I can't wait!


Just Sayin. . .

If Jim Halpert was a real person, I would totally marry him.


With an aching in my heart. . . or, Travelogue

Here are a few vacation photos, mostly in the order in which they were taken. . .

The flowers and the wine, a 2000 Bordeaux, on our first night in CA. . . my brother made an awesome penne vodka and his homemade sourdough bread:

An impromptu trip to a farmer's market in Newark, CA:

A funky plant stand on the grounds of Ironstone Vineyards, Angels Camp/Sierra foothills. . . we did some tasting and came away with a Syrah and an "old vine" Zinfandel (an uncharacteristic choice for me):

Angels Camp is the frog jumping capital of the world. Weird Harrold won my year, 1984, and jumped my lucky number, 21 feet (and 1 1/2 inches, not my lucky number). We stayed in Angels Camp for one night in order to do some foothills wine tasting on our way to Yosemite (we've done plenty of tasting in Sonoma & Napa, so we were ready for a change):

The village bank at Columbia State Historical Park, gold country/Sierra foothills:
And this dude, in Columbia gold country, who yelled at my brother for petting his horses. . . twice:

Humbling views from Glacier Point/Yosemite (it was so bright that these are a little over-exposed; meant to fix them on Picasa before uploading):

Proof that God has a sense of humor:
Half Dome at Glacier Point/Yosemite:

El Capitan/Yosemite:
The Merced River, which runs through Yosemite Valley, and which we rafted down:

There are no words for Bridalveil Falls:
On the walk to Bridalveil Falls/Yosemite, this is one of my favorites:

I liked this sign (at Bridalveil) because it answered all of my questions regarding what could happen if I chose to walk on the rocks. There is no further elaboration required:
A beautiful view from a vista point in Yosemite:

The bread and the knife / the [not] crystal goblet and the wine. . . I couldn't resist. This is my brother's homemade sourdough. It is THE BOMB. We had it with steak and salad on our last night in Yosemite. We also had the BOSS wine of the trip, the Torcido (or twisted) from Twisted Oaks, a Grenache blend. I'm so sad that they don't distribute in N.J.:

A view from Tuolumne Meadows/Yosemite, taken when I was prettttty damn sick, before I was able to have an antibiotic called in. . . Tuolumne was a bit eerie (or maybe it had something to do with being 8 Advils deep). At an elevation of 8,600 feet, there are large rocks strewn all over that were left behind by melting glaciers. They almost look like gravestones:

Mitchell's mango ice cream--it doesn't take much to make me happy. Mitchell's is located at San Jose & 29th in San Francisco. Check out my stubby, bitten thumb nail, too:

Buddha at the Asian Art Museum of S.F., where we also took in an excellent special exhibit on samurai culture and history:

Our last supper (for now): my brother's homemade pizza, more homemade sourdough, 2003 organic Bordeaux from Muir's Legacy Vineyards, where we tasted while in Murphys (I ended up with another uncharacteristic choice: organic Chardonnay. A white!). Carb city, but when in Rome. . .

Sooo, all these pictures are my sole property and stuff. I took them all myself (as if you couldn't tell), so please don't steal them (not that you would want to).


Everything under the sun is in tune

Whaaaaaat? Did you guys see Oliver Sacks on Jon Stewart? I NEED to read his new(ish) book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. There's also a special airing on PBS tomorrow at 8 PM. They show a clip where Sacks' brain lights up a teeny bit when he listens to Beethoven, but produces a ton of activity when he listens to Bach, including, remarkably, in his amygdala. I had an old professor that used to say, "There is no other composer. Bach is the only composer." I conceded his point then, as I do now.

I love Oliver Sacks and I've always loved nonfiction science. I read his Island of the Colorblind many years ago, and then fell off following his titles. Here's a great opportunity for me to get back into this genre. If I haven't said so before, if I wasn't an English teacher, I'd probably be a Science teacher (just like my mom).


A Few Good Quotes

"I'm not drinking any f*cking merlot." Paul Giamatti's character in Sideways--is there any better movie for me to be watching on my last night in CA?

"Is he going to pay back his mother now? Jackass." My dad, at the end of Sideways.

"Instead of using cold hard cash, the White House threatens to pull the rug from under dissenting legislators and offers its support to those who cede their conscience to the president’s agenda. So much for change." Jeremy Scahill, tellin it like it is as usual. Here's the context.

Plenty of lovely photos from my lovely break in the west soon to come. . .


Kid, You'll Move Mountains

As anticipated, I bordered on weeping through two readings of Oh, the Places You'll Go today (Students' conversation regarding this: "Ms [Me], are you really crying?" "Shut up, Matt. Girls are emotional.") As I chose the worst timing in the afternoon (i.e., right after an "I'm so disappointed in you guys" speech because someone broke my brand new Method spray bottle and left it for dead yesterday), I wasn't feeling too sentimental so I made it through without much pomp and circumstance. I'm saving all my high school advice for Thursday, when I'll really have them in class for the last time.

I wrote each of my students a good-bye note on the back of the class pictures we took in January. I tried hard to recall something special about each of them. Some notes are longer than others, but that's the nature of human interactions, no? By the way, before you start assuming I'm trying to be some kind of martyr, it's much easier to write 65 notes as compared to my colleagues' 130 students a day. The block schedule affords these perks and I can't say I'd be willing to write if I had double the amount of kids.

Well, this is it. Today was our last full day. Thursday is graduation. Friday is our last day of the year. I leave for California Saturday morning.

There's so much to process that I can't even begin yet. For now, I'll say that I'm wondering who I'll be next year, without the 65 kids who changed my life. There's only one way to find out. . .

The most beautiful word in the English language to me right now? Unencumbered.


Back to the gypsy that I was

Who spent 3 hours 12 feet from Stevie Nicks? Me. And my mom. It was magical.

On our way in, I politely tell Tim, the events staff member showing us to our floor seats, that if any front row seats just happen to be become available, that we would be more than happy to fill them. So Tim looks us out, as he said he would, and mere minutes later we are standing right in front of the stage. Thanks, Tim.

This was a hits tour so it stands to reason that the renditions of "Landslide," "Gypsy," "Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," "Second Hand News," "Rhiannon," etc. made up the majority of the set list. I had tears in my eyes through "Landslide." "Gold Dust Woman" was beautifully done.

Lindsey Buckingham played a ridiculous show. His solos were amazing. The passion he and Stevie showed was moving. At one point they embraced while he played his guitar. It was a moment of such personal and private emotion. You could see the years falling around them.

Here are some crappy pics I took with my camera phone, because, of course, I forgot my camera.

Stevie through various changes of clothing:

Lindsey soloing it about five feet from us:

And John McVie gettin funky:

I narrowly avoided buying a Second Hand News t-shirt, which would be somewhat a propos to my personal life right now, minus the "someone else" and "stuff." I went with one that read "Rock on Gold Dust Woman." Because who can resist that? Thanks for the t-shirt, Mom. And Happy Mother's Day!


Happiness Is


"I’m just a student I don’t think I have any good advice to give you but not to change. You are the coolest teacher I have ever had. You are so funny and happy all the time and you being happy always make me happy. You really care about your students and you invest in them making sure they do their best. You try and learn something new about everyone every day. You care enough to want to talk make their life and day better than it was. Those traits make a great teacher, that’s what you are, most definitely.

THANK YOU! I couldn’t have asked for a better year, I’m glad I wasn’t put in advanced language otherwise I wouldn’t have you as a teacher. I wouldn’t have had the experience of having a favorite teacher. We always do new and unique things in your class, it’s never boring. I wish you could be my teacher next year. I feel like I can talk to you about anything and you would understand. I hope you have fun at [our school]. I know I did."

Sorry. Some things are too good to keep to myself.

Got Swine Flu?

We do. Two reported cases.

Here comes the Lysol.


You probably need some e.e. cummings in your life.

We read this together in class the other day. One of my favorites, I just melt. I told the boys to hang on to this and give it to their girlfriends in high school. They liked this repurposing of a poem.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

--e.e. cummings


My Thoughts Exactly.

Jay-Z diagnosing the issue with today's excuse for rap: "Death of Autotune"

. . .

And I didn't know what autotune was, either.


Me by the Numbers

Years in public ed? 1.

Grant proposals written? 1.

Grant proposals GRANTED? 1!

Class interrupted by administration and foundation with balloons and a big goofy check, during which principal tells me what a big accomplishment this is? Priceless.


Contextualizing TKAM

Providing context is such a crucial part of any reading experience, and TKAM is certainly no exception. Last week we worked with Langston Hughes' "The Bitter River," (I could only find a electronic version in PDF) which, among other things, makes reference to the lynching of two 14-year-old boys in Mississippi as well as to the Scottsboro boys, on whom we read an article earlier in our unit.

This week we watched a segment from Democracy Now! on the Pullman Porters, the first black labor union in America. The students were surprised to learn about how A. Phillip Randolph
was such an important yet unsung figure in the civil rights movement. They wondered why the Pullman Porters chose to trust Randolph with leading their unionizing efforts, as he had tried and failed in this pursuit in other industries. I didn't have an answer for them beyond the idea that perhaps they found Randolph to be a passionate and dedicated man in whom they felt they should place their trust.

I'm finding that while contextualizing the novel is harder than I thought it might be--in part because I hadn't anticipated my students would have such limited background knowledge--they are faring well when it comes to identifying themes that link the events and ideas we're learning about. Next year, I'd really like to bring some contemporary issues into the picture--redlining, Amadou Diallo and police brutality/profiling, and a greater emphasis on marginalization in general.


UPDATED: Thanks, Ms. X., for the idea. I ended up scrapping my plans and creating a lesson on Diallo, using the song as a connection to both the article and the book. It was by all accounts a total success. I was so impressed with them.


Just a Dream Some of Us Had

Dead American soldiers: 4300

Dead Iraqi citizens: 1,331,578

Below is video of the Winter Soldier congressional hearings held on May 15, 2009.

Be sure to also check out and support Iraq Veterans Against the War.


All My Favorites

Here are a bunch of little bits of wisdom I forgot I had once collected:

" it's sacrilege to waste the talent for idleness. "
william faulkner

"neither am i good or bad. / i'd give up my halo for a horn and the horn for the hat i once had. / i'm only breathing." ian anderson

"as long as the protest remains civil and well-mannered, as long as we - the self-appointed opinion-makers - all continue to behave in respectable ways, as long as we continue to mindlessly defer to institutions that hav e themselves begun to cynically drop any pretence of being moral, just, or respectable - why should the government listen? it's doing just fine . . . if you're a writer, you tend to keep those aching eyes open. every day you are reminded that there is no such thing as innocence. and every day you have to think of new ways of saying old and obvious things. things about love and greed. things about politics and governance. about power and powerlessness. things that must be said over and over again." arundhati roy

"the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality." dante alighieri

"I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don?t find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance:
a fascist corporate wasteland." cindy sheehan.

"They stand torpid in cages, in violent motion / unmoved / but alert! / predatory minds, un- / affected / UNINCONVENIENCED / unsexed, up / and down (with wing motion) This is how / the money's made . . . Oh I could cry! / cry upon your young shoulder for what I know." william carlos williams

"all i'm writing is just what i feel, that's all, and not really using too many good . . . i don't really round it off too good. i just keep it almost naked." jimi hendrix

"and there are only a tiny handful of politicians who will raise the banner of subordinating corporate power to the sovereignty of the american people. the debates are sterile. the debates are exercises in parallel news conferences repeating ad infinitum the same words and phrases of evasion. they will not confront the corporate crime wave. they will not confront the destruction of our democracy. they will not confront the usurpation of our electoral processes" ralph nader

"the soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war . . . thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. after the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made. the broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.
action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. it not only divided States and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine" thoreau.

"fifty thousand men were sent to do the will of one. / his claim was phrased quite simply, though he never voiced it loud, / i am he, the chosen one. / in his name they could slaughter, for his name they could die. / though many there were believed in him, still more were sure he lied, / but they'll fight the battle on." genesis


Poetry Friday: Fitting, Sad.

One more from Naomi Shihab Nye.


It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you were born with.
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say it, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything easily go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears to your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.



Teaching is an exhausting business--it's easy to work up an appetite fast. And it's easy to eat crappy (read: stupidly delicious) cafeteria food (such as pizza bagels--score!), but I feel so much happier (ok, so much less guilty) when I pack myself a yummy lunch. I have a couple guidelines that I like to follow in general; chief among them is that I consume two beverages: coffee, water. Ok, and red wine on the weekends (and on Red Wine Thursday, or RWT). That's it. High fructose corn syrup is the devil, so don't let multinational corporations tell you otherwise. You wait and see--but don't say I didn't warn you when we end up with a generation full of young people with fatty livers.

Anyhow, speaking of multinational corporations, here are some new (and old) favorite foodstuffs (should that be pluralized?):

Smooze Fruit Ice is so yummy. I like the mango/coconut milk ones. Seventy calories and 40% daily Vitamin C, yes please! And my fat dog likes it, too.

Morningstar Farms Southwestern Style Veggie Cakes are ridiculous and are lunch like 3x a week. Tons of fiber, tons of protein = me not wanting to fall asleep as my kids are walking in the door 7th period. I like to have one with sharp provolone in a wheat wrap. Avocado is always a plus.

I discovered Piave Vecchio two years ago in Sonoma--it's sorta like a mix between a sharp Asiago and bleu in some spots. Here's a fancy wiki on it. It has much fancier descriptions than my immature palette could provide. Oh, and I do sorta, kinda, half-way know Italian after 4 years in high school (and, um, being Italian), so yes, I certainly know that while vecchio sounds fancy it just means old.

Ok, ok, Tempranillo and I have been acquainted for some time, the Red Guitar rendition is a favorite, but a couple months ago I discovered the Campo Viejo. Bliss.

What are you enjoying these days?

I Could Be a Poet

Just discovered Taylor Mali. Love him! I was sorta hoping he wasn't going to curse so I could show this to my kids, but I'm going to show them another on speaking with conviction.



. . .The path is clear though no eyes can see. . .

Poem as promised:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

P.S.--I bought Oh, The Places You'll Go to read to my 8th graders on their last day of school. I used to get teary reading it to the 3-year-old I used to nanny. I can't imagine this bodes well--I see blubbering in my future.


Born Again from the Rhythm

Poetry Friday for ya. . . I promise an actual poem soon. This is, of course, a Leonard Cohen original. But this rendition is so heartbreakingly beautiful, no?

. . .wait, have I posted this before? Possibly. Oh well.

Thanks to Joining Hands in Silence for these images of Buckley:


Ragamuffin, Barefoot Irreverence

Last week, I was stuck with my last period of the day for LIKE 20 HOURS. I had them all morning for state testing and then for the full double period in the afternoon. Of course, this class is my cross to bear. I know this is dramatic, but it is also true.

We spent our afternoons doing nothing particularly intellectually stimulating, as per, more or less, our administration's suggestion. We decided to watch Freedom Writers, which held their attention to a much greater extent than my choices--August Rush and Ghostbusters. Figures. I'm happy to report that they found the husband in the film just as irritating as I do (ah, but this is another post).

By the time we finished the movie, even my most stubborn, smarty-pants student told me "this is a good movie." Better yet, the kids were clamoring to read the book that Erin Gruwell and her students put together, The Freedom Writers Diary. My two most reticent readers were the most excited to read it. Funny what a little profanity and violence will do to inspire some reading. . . who am I to argue? When my period 9 is asking for a book, my period 9 is getting the book. So, this weekend, I marched myself--a dedicated little literacy soldier in the pouring rain--to the bookstore to buy two copies. I figured while many of them said they wanted to read it, they would be whistling a new tune come Monday. O how wrong I was. The entire class shot up their hands when I asked who wanted to read the books.

The solution? The time-honored pick-out-of-a-hat. I knew I would rig the results if given the chance--I have a soft spot when my struggling students show this much enthusiasm--and I knew that wouldn't be fair, so I asked our librarian to do the honors. Lo and behold, my honesty was rewarded: it was my two struggling readers' lucky day! If you ask me, it was no coincidence.

Picture this: two way too cool eighth grade boys, sitting side by side with their hoodies and their iPod ear buds slung over their shoulders and their extra-super-coolness, comfy amidst my grungy, thrice-hand-me-down classroom pillows, nestled under the counter, reading. Not just reading. Reading aloud to one another, taking turns, paragraph by paragraph. Repairing meaning, helping one another with difficult vocabulary, stopping to comment on the text, engrossed. In the zone. I wish I took a picture.

And this morning? "Ms. [Me], we're on Chapter 9! . . .Oh, and I did my other reading homework, too."

My heart is smiling today. I'm making readers of them yet.

Oh, and I ordered four more copies of the book (used copies this time, I'm wising up after all).


The Five Most Glorious Words, or, Shameless Self-Promotion

Most glorious:

"Recommendation: Grant contract with increment."

Some others?

"We think you hit one out of the park this year."

Also, "I can't remember ever giving a first-year teacher this many 'accomplished' marks."

It's been a good day. And after watching one of my colleagues and friends reduced to tears today as there is no position for her next year, I'm counting my blessings.



Please see this article, which touches on and contextualizes issues of academic freedom (well, lack thereof) and denial of tenure in the case of my former professor, Dr. Nagesh Rao, and others.

And then, please sign the petition.

Here's my original posting on this matter.


Blue Are the Life-Giving Waters, Taken for Granted

Do you remember Terry? I remember him every day. Better yet, Terry was with us on Friday. I'm sure of it.

A trusting, safe classroom environment was chief among Terry's goals as an educator, and among his goals for his students and their eventual classrooms. I've been fairly confident in my ability to help students feel welcomed and appreciated, but it's just hard to tell. Friday I was blessed to see that my efforts have not gone to waste.

I asked the students to describe a time when they felt like they grew up a little. We're exploring the idea of "coming of age," as To Kill a Mockingbird is on the horizon. I shared some examples from my past--my parents' divorce, my siblings leaving for college. The students followed mostly in that same path, touching from time to time on the loss of a family member or friend. I even brought up Terry in my last period of the day--how I had to grow up a little when he passed away because I knew I could no longer go to him for advice or dialogue with him about the role of an educator. I knew, I explained to my attentive students, that I would need to do it on my own, to take what he taught me and arrive at the best decisions I could based on what I knew.

It was in this same period that one of my students felt compelled to speak. This is a student that, until now, I regarded as a follower through-and-through. B is often easily led by students with stronger personalities. That said, he's a sensitive young guy who was moved to tears earlier in the year by his mother's reaction to his lack of effort in classes. He's tried so hard ever since to live up to his own expectations and to not disappoint his mother again. She reportedly told him, "I'm giving up on you." It sounds harsh, but I'm nobody's momma so I'm not about to judge the potential detriments or merits of the statement, nor am I fit to attest to whether or not I mightn't of said the same thing if I was her.

After at least 10 minutes of conversation and hand-raising from other students, B raised his hand with a look on his face that I have never seen before:

"Yes, B?"

"When I was young. . . I don't really remember it because I was only 3, but my older brother was killed in a drunk driving accident. My mom tells me about him."

When was the last time you thought you were brave? When was the last time you could have shown more courage? B was brave enough to offer this contribution, thinking long and hard about it and about whether it was right to share it. He sat there afterwards rubbing his eyes, putting his shirt up to his forehead so his classmates could not see the tears. He did not move to leave the room, to get a tissue. He sat and allowed us all to witness his pain.

It made me want to say, "Thank you, B, for your trust." It made me want to proclaim loudly and with conviction how courageous R is to share this with all of us, and how proud I am of this class--despite all their warts and their off-days--for being who they are, individually and collectively, and making it possible for R to speak his truth. Instead, I quietly expressed how brave I thought he was later in the class period when no one else was listening. B nodded in thanks for my words. I weighed whether or not to call home and let mom know, and decided against it. I'm sure it's not on the list of things on which she's ready to reminisce.

I am surprised by this jump B has made so late in our year together as a class. I'm looking at him in another light now, and I'm reflecting on the idea that I need to be wary of the sometimes easily-adopted position that I've got these kids all figured out. I guess I'm a little more like Miss Caroline Fischer than I'd like to admit.

What B said made me want to send Terry an e-mail, or give him a phone call, to tell him how far we've come since September. But instead, I said a little prayer of thanks, because Terry was with us.

The Most Absurd World Of All Times

"It is imperative that a woman keep her sense of humor intact and at the ready. She must see, even if only in secret, that she is the funniest, looniest woman in her world, which she should also see as being the most absurd world of all times." Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I don't know what it is about this. I like it.


Case of You

Just before our love got lost you said,
"I am as constant as a northern star."
And I said, "Constant in the darkness,
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar."

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh, Canada
With your face sketched on it twice.

Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh, I would still be on my feet.

Oh, I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints.
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid.

I remember that time you told me
You said, "Love is toching souls."
Surely you touched mine.
'Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time.

Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet.
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And still I'd be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds.
And she said, "Go to him, stay with him if you can
but be prepared to bleed."

Oh, but you are in my blood
You're my holy wine
You're so bitter
bitter and so sweet.
Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
still I'd be on my feet
I would still be on my feet.


I <3 217

I am outraged and disgusted by my alma mater English Department's decision to deny tenure and reappointment to one of the best professors under whom I've had the good fortune of studying. I count Dr. Nagesh Rao's classes among the finest, most transformative learning experiences I've ever had. He has been and continues to be an invaluable mentor to me and so many others--someone who guides generously, with little regard for the amount of his own personal time that slips away in the midst of aiding his students. To quote a fellow student, Nagesh has always been "just as interested in listening as he was speaking: a quality so few professors can say of themselves."

Nagesh, without a doubt in my mind, has made me a better educator through his example of what it means to be one--the duties and the commitment, the patience and enthusiasm, the love for learning and for helping others learn. For this I am so grateful.

The institution of higher learning that wishes to no longer count Dr. Rao among its ranks is truly doing itself--and its students--a monumental disservice. The caliber of the department gravely suffers in the event that the college allows a denial of tenure and reappointment to stick. In utmost solidarity with this cause, I ask that if you happen to be reading this, and happen to be a student, alumnus, or staff/faculty member, please sign the petition to defend Dr. Nagesh Rao's tenure.

"To speak a true word is to transform the world." Paulo Freire



This is a post I wrote back in December. It was in my drafts. Somehow I didn't publish it. I was just talking with my sister-in-law about the ridiculous amount of information we teachers need to hold in our brains at all times, and this demonstrates that point exactly:

Me, from across the room: "No, don't use that laptop. Someone just put it away it's lost all its charge by now. It's going to shut off"

I traverse the terrain of 3-inch binders and clumsily covered textbooks, wondering why I hadn't insisted that they be put away what with the laptops being present and all. I pull a laptop from the bottom of the cart, unhooking it with deft movements of a fish thoroughly
in water; "here, use this one. I don't think anyone's used it today so it should be all ready to go."

And my student, dumbfounded: "How did you do that? How did you see that from across the room?"

Me: "Well, I'm a teacher. That's my job."


Kinder, Gentler Machine Gun Hand

The title has nothing to do with the post, really. Well, maybe in some dark, subconscious way. Or maybe not.

I just remembered how much I love this poem by Carl Sandburg. We read it when I student taught, during our Romeo & Juliet unit. It was so much fun to perform. And I think what I love best is, I can find something in each stanza that I'm nodding along to. See if the same holds true for you.

Here's an excerpt:

Little Word, Little White Bird

Love, is it a cat with claws and wild mate screams
in the black night?
Love, is it a bird--a goldfinch with a burnish
on its wingtips or a little gray sparrow
picking crumbs, hunting crumbs?
Love, is it a tug at the heart that comes high and
costs, always costs, as long as you have it?
Love, is it a free glad spender, ready to spend to
the limit, and then go head over heels in debt?
Love, can it hit one without hitting two and leave
the one lost and groping?
Love, can you pick it up like a mouse and put it in
your pocket and take it to your room and bring it
out of your pocket and say,
O here is my love,
my little pretty mousey love?

Yes--love, this little word you hear about,
is love an elephant and you step out of the way
where the elephant comes trampling, tromping,
traveling with big feet and long flaps of
drooping ears and straight white ivory tusks--
and you step out of the way with respect,
with high respect, and surprise near to shock
as you say,
Dear God, he's big,
big like stupendous is big,
heavy and elephantine and funny,
immense and slow and easy.
I'm asking, is love an elephant?

Or could it be love is a snake--like a rattlesnake,
like a creeping winding slithering rattlesnake
with fangs--poison fangs they tell me,
and when the bite of it gets you
then you run crying for help
if you don't fall cold and dead on the way.
Can love be a snake?

Or would you say love is a flamingo, with pink feathers--
a soft sunset pink, a sweet gleaming naked pink--
and with enough long pink feathers
you could make the fan for a fan dance
and hear a person telling their lover,
Speak, my chosen one,
and give me your wish
as to what manner of fan dance
you would have from me
in the cool of evening
or the black velvet sheen of midnight.
Could it be love is a flamingo?

Or is love a big red apple, and you don't know
whether to bite into it--and you knock on wood
and call off your luck numbers and hold your breath--
and you put your teeth into it and get a mouthful,
tasting all there is to it,
and whether it's sweet and wild
or a dry mush you want to spit out,
it's something else than you expected.
I'm asking, sir, is love a big red apple?

And I've heard some say love is a spy and a sneak,
a blatherer, a gabby mouth,
tattling and tittering as it tattles,
and you believe it and take it to your heart
and nurse it like good news,
like heaven-sent news meant for you
and you only--precious little you.
Have you heard love comes creeping and cheating like that?

Here's the whole thing.


Mos Def

Gr! Sorry. Didn't know it would do that. . . anyhow, I'll leave this info anyway:

Scroll all the way to about 9:00 to see him school Bill. It's just a few small comments, and Bill pretty much ignores him, but his thoughts are powerful and he exposes Bill's ignorance to the realities of the poor and working poor of this country. He makes another fine point at about 1:55 on nuclear disarmament and American hypocrisy, that, again, no one wants to acknowledge. If I'm not mistaken, it's the same point my mother has been making all my life (right, Mom?), and I'm inclined to think it's a pretty damn sensible one.

Rushdie and Hitchens are pretty bourgy the whole way through (yeah, I am calling someone else bourgy a week after I created a unapologetic consumerism tag and wrote about local organic coffee). They want to pretend that Mos isn't listening when in reality they don't want to hear his straightforward and honest thoughts that don't dance around the truth or complicate things in the irritating manner in which they prefer to engage in discussion. Rushdie has some nerve telling anyone how it is after accepting knighthood from a colonial power the likes of which are unparalleled except, maybe, by the United States.

Go Ahead. . .

Chuckle. Chuckle at the fact that I love Rush enough to turn "Tom Sawyer" lyrics (cause that's not a predictable choice or anything) into an impromptu Poetry Sunday while I sit and listen with strep throat on the FIRST TWO DAYS OF MY BREAK. Figures. Literally the moment I got home Friday, my body says oooook time to be sick now.

BTW, did anyone see Mos Def school Bill Maher on the working poor last week? Sometimes, as one of my professors once said, Bill really kicks down instead of up. Mos was not having it. I will try to find the moment on youtube.

What is it with me and musicians named Neil?

Tom Sawyer

A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride

Though his mind is not for rent
Don't put him down as arrogant
His reserve, a quiet defense
Riding out the day's events
The river

What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the mist, catch the myth
Catch the mystery, catch the drift

The world is, the world is
Love and life are deep
Maybe as his skies are wide

Today's Tom Sawyer
He gets high on you
And the space he invades
He gets by on you

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government
Always hopeful, yet discontent
He knows changes aren't permanent
But change is

What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the witness, catch the wit
Catch the spirit, catch the spit

The world is, the world is
Love and life are deep
Maybe as his eyes are wide

Exit the warrior
Today's Tom Sawyer
He gets high on you
And the energy you trade
He gets right on to the friction of the day