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.