Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finding the happy

Hi all. I know I haven't written in quite a while. Believe me, I've been feeling guilty about it. This past month has just been incredibly stressful and full of frustrations, and the events in Connecticut last week have just made everybody even more on edge. I think that sometimes when I'm stressed and upset and feeling lousy about myself, I just tend to retreat into myself a little, only choosing a select few people with whom to share my problems. And part of that has meant not being in a blogging mood. However, I want to make the effort to post more, partly because writing can be such a therapeutic exercise. It's advice I've given my students before, and I know I should follow it. It'll allow me to release my stress, but will also remind me to think about the good things and share them.

One much-needed happy thing that came out of my day today was when I was leaving the school. I had just left some holiday cards in my colleagues' mailboxes, and then I checked my own box. Inside was a card from a student. It says (with corrections made to the grammar, haha):

Dear Ms. ------,

In advisory we are making Christmas cards. I made you a holiday card. I hope you have a wonderful winter break. I'm excited for the Improv Comedy Sketch Club! This year in English class has been by far the best! Academically and overall. I know Hanukkah has already passed, but I still wanted to make you a card because you're the only teacher I like and know that I can write a card to. Anyways, happy holidays! Have a good winter vacation.

Thank you, student, for brightening my day. I appreciate it more than you know.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

STOP THE PRESSES: Learning can be fun!

Overheard on the staircase at school: "You're not a banana!"

The other day, my CP2 class was playing a vocab review game, a combo of pictionary and charades (whichever option the students felt most comfortable with). Some of the students were really getting into it, which was surprising from a group that generally has no enthusiasm whatsoever. One student, who has not done any reading or work in ages, actually made vocab flashcards, and was a big participant in the review game. When we were wrapping the game up so we could move on to doing some reading, one girl said, "Can we keep playing? I know that we're learning, but this is fun!"

WOAH. Somebody call CNN and get Wolf Blitzer to break this shit to the public: Learning can be fun.

Seriously though, that was music to my ears. They were buying into what we were doing, even if a part of their brains told them that doing so was weird. This class has been such a struggle for me, that often I just worry about getting through it each day. But maybe we'll be able to do better than that. Maybe if I keep experimenting a little, we'll have more days like this.

Then yesterday, both of my CP1 classes had a great time doing Socratic circles. This was our first of the year. (For those of you who aren't familiar with Socratic circles, in a nutshell they are formal, student-driven discussions. The students are given the very open-ended questions ahead of time and must prepare notes with ideas, quotes from the text, real-world examples, questions, etc. Then they're split into two groups, and each group takes a turn in the inner circle discussing one of the questions, and I stay out of it as much as humanly possible. The outer circle then gives feedback on how the discussion went.) They need a bit of work on integrating their quotes into the discussion and staying a little more focused on the topic, but overall they did a good job. Some very interesting ideas were brought up, and they did really well with actually having a conversation, building on one another's points and sometimes providing counterarguments. They also did well in the outer circle, providing insightful feedback that will hopefully help them recognize how to improve their own discussion skills.

I told the students that we'll probably do at least one of these per unit. They all quickly voiced their approval, saying, "This was awesome!" Sigh. Such bliss. It was nice enough seeing how into the discussions they were--I even let them go over the original amount of time I had set for the discussions to last--so to know that they weren't engaged in what they were doing simply for the sake of getting a good grade was some seriously delicious icing on the cake. One student pointed out in his outer circle feedback that he noticed there was a lot of passion in the discussion he observed. Seeing that kind of passion is what makes me love this job. Yes, they had prepared notes, but these students did not sound like rehearsed robots saying something purely to impress me. I even heard a couple of kids who almost never utter a peep in class speak up multiple times to defend their ideas, and they didn't just say something simple to get their participation done and over with.

I like Socratic circles because they really challenge students to take ownership of what they're doing. After all, they are the ones running the discussions and giving feedback to one another. At the end of each class, I reminded that that the skills they practiced don't need to be reserved for Socratic circles, but rather can and should spill over to our everyday discussions. I told them that I don't want them to always be looking at me when they speak, but rather I want them to look at each other and really, truly listen to what everyone is saying and actually respond, because that's when the magic happens. And, dare I say, that's when it starts to be fun.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday night procrastination

Ahh, Sunday night. I should be grading papers right now, but I'm choosing instead to "productively procrastinate," aka pretend that blogging makes it okay to not be getting my real work done.

Last week was quite the adventure. No school on Monday and Tuesday thanks to Sandy causing power outages (luckily not at my apartment). Luckily, this meant I had a great opportunity to catch up on some of the work I felt like I was drowning in. Unfortunately, it also means that, if we get a couple snow days, I may end up going to school on my birthday (near the end of June) for the first time ever. It also threw off my plans for my classes a bit, and some things needed to be re-shuffled. However, we're getting back on track now.

Wednesday was Halloween. The English department, being the cool kids that we are, dressed up as various Harry Potter characters (I was Professor McGonagall). We looked pretty great, and the students got a kick out of it; I think it's good to show them that we've got a sense of humor about ourselves. I gave out candy to all my classes as well as the trick-or-treating daycare kids--ohmylord were those little ones ADORABLE. They are my favorite part of Halloween. Since I gave out so much candy during the day, I didn't feel so guilty ignoring my doorbell all night. My apartment is a second floor unit in a house, and there was no way I was running up and down those stairs all night. My roommate and I just grumbled about the doorbell like the crotchety old ladies we are at heart.

Tomorrow we are finally having our first meeting of the year for Drama Club! Oy, this has been SUCH a process trying to sort this whole debacle out. But I'm trying not to focus on that, and instead working on getting excited for the fabulous things we're going to do. This month I have to pick out a one-act play for the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival (if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!). I participated in this for three years back in high school, and it was always such a fantastic experience. It's strange to think that now I'll be participating in a completely different role. I hope the students love it as much as I did.

One of my big goals with the club this year is to make sure that the students have more ways to get involved rather than just acting--I'll get a student to be stage manager, students to help with backstage crew and publicity, etc. I'll also be running an improv/sketch comedy group. It's not my area of expertise, but it'll be a great way to get more kids involved, especially those who want to write. A couple of other teachers will also be putting together a show, possibly a student-written one. Several students who were involved with the Drama Club last year excitedly came to my classroom after school on Friday to do a partial reading of a play they've been writing. It seems to have potential, and it's nice to see how passionate they are about it. I'm hoping we get a lot of students to show up for tomorrow's meeting...we really need a lot more kids to get involved, and hopefully all the new stuff we're trying will help invigorate the program.

And I'll leave you with something to make you chuckle:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Of bibliophiles, Studebaker-lovers, and decorated pumpkins

Happy Hurricane Day, everyone! All the schools are cancelled, and everything in Massachusetts is pretty much coming to a halt--even the MBTA is shutting down at 2pm. So this means I now have time to get some important things done: grade lots of papers and blog. (I could have done some of said grading last night, but chose instead to celebrate the upcoming day off by playing Cards Against Humanity with some teacher friends. I stand by that choice.) And this past weekend was FANTASTIC, so I have plenty of great things to share with you.

On Saturday I went to the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. It was my first time going, and I am already looking forward to the next one! I didn't get to visit too many of the vendors, but maybe I'll block out some time for that next year. I attended several talks, the first of which was called "The Short Story," with authors Edith Pearlman, Jennifer Haigh, and, one of my favorite authors, Junot Diaz. The discussion was very interesting, and thankfully I'd had the foresight to bring a little notebook in which to record ideas and quotes from the authors throughout the day. A few from this one:

Jennifer Haigh:
  • "I write the stories that fascinate me."
  • "A sentence in a short story has to travel a very long way."
Junot Diaz:
  • Said something about "the multiple realities we all exist in." Don't recall the context, but thought that was a really interesting idea in itself.
  • When talking about how some people don't like to read much while they're writing, but he does: "I totally don't give a crap if other people's voices are in my head."
  • Talked about how novels can't be perfect, and they reflect our imperfections. Short stories, however, can be perfect, because they are short enough that the writer can hold the whole thing in his/her head and consider each sentence carefully. He says short stories are "strangely inhuman." Also, if you're too controlling, you can't write a novel.
  • Mimicking reviewers who criticize him for returning to writing short stories after his previous book was a novel: "I don't understand why he went back to stories after escaping that ghetto."
  • Going along with that, he does not like the hierarchy that people project onto different types of writing, how novels are usually more highly regarded than short stories.
  • In talking about his character Yunior, he said that, especially in his newest book This Is How You Lose Her, Yunior uses his body to try to avoid dealing with the problems in his life. I'll need to pay more attention to this as I continue reading it.
  • Also, when the authors were asked how they locate themselves in time and space in terms of their identities as writers, Diaz, who is a Dominican immigrant, said it's hard to categorize yourself when part of a 10 million person diaspora. I guess that, as a Jewish person, I found this to be a very relatable idea.
After the talk, the authors went outside to the Brookline Booksmith's tent (they are one of my favorite bookstores) to sign books. While the two women sat behind a table, Diaz stood in front of it, the better to interact with the long line of people waiting to meet him. He was so kind and gracious and signed all three of my books, plus took a picture with me. I was utterly starstruck. It was wonderful to see that he didn't look like a guy who was just there to sell a few books, but rather really cared about having that personal connection with the people who cherish his work.

 The authors in the beautiful Trinity Church.

One of my signed books!

After that, I met up with a couple of colleagues as we headed over to see "Great Brits and Books." However, we were disappointed to discover it had already filled up. So instead we headed over to "Serious Satire." I'd never heard of the authors before--Lizz Winstead and Kevin Bleyer, both formerly of "The Daily Show," and Baratunde Thurston of The Onion--but I quickly became a big fan of all three. They were absolutely hysterical, and I now want to buy all of their books! The end of the talk did get a bit too political, perhaps because we're all just so caught up in the circus of the upcoming election, but overall our Plan B turned out to be excellent.

Some gems from this one:
  • Kevin Bleyer:
    • After sharing this quote from Benjamin Franklin: "I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them," he said, "He sounds like a Republican endorsing Mitt Romney."
    • "Is there ever a hero of a joke?"
  • Thurston:
    • "Presidents are supposed to suck. They're designed to disappoint you."
    • Talking about all the problems in our country: "Honey Boo-boo? We did that!"
    • On President Bush: "He was good for shitty comedy writers."
  • Winstead (my favorite of the group):
    • When talking about getting gifts like toy stoves and life-like baby dolls: "Anything my mother was sobbing her life over, I seemed to get as Christmas gifts."
    • "The media is now a character in our world." (So true! I though this point was spot-on, and I want to find a way to bring that up with my students.)
I then ventured over the "Graphic Novels," as I've used a few as supplemental materials in my teaching, and my friend Ms. K is a big fan of them. However, this talk was a biiiig disappointment. The first person had no stage presence and was super awkward. Her story/comic that she shared with us was cool, but she didn't discuss her process, her thoughts on this form of storytelling, etc.--she just read the story. And one of the guys was dull and weird all at the same time, and I finally just had to leave. I headed over to "Jewish Jocks," as one of the authors there wrote a book I really like, called How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. The demographic there was largely older Jewish people, so I felt a bit out of place. But I found out I was sitting next to the wife of Larry Summers, the president of Harvard. We were chatting about how the upcoming storm would give us more time to grade papers, and she asked where I teach, and when I asked her the same question, she responded with Harvard. Then Summers came over, as he was one of the panelists, and when she referred to him as "sweetheart" and wished him luck, I put 2 and 2 together. A woman in front of us asked her what they thought of him being portrayed in a movie ("The Social Network"), and she said they thought it was very funny.

Quotes from the panelists and moderator:
  • Moderator: "We're going to be considering a book called Jewish Jocks, and we're off to a good start because no one laughed."
  • After Steven Pinker's somewhat rambling talk on Red Auerbach, Franklin Foer jokingly said that they'd told him, "We're going to give you three minutes to link Red Auerbach with genocide. GO."
  • "I didn't think Sandy Koufax had his priorities straight."--Summers, on Koufax's decision to not pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur.

After this fun and thought-provoking day, my colleagues and I grabbed some dinner and planned out an apocalyptic novel, starring us, on a napkin. All in a day's work.

If you're still with me, I'll try to keep the rest of my update quick. Sunday was Pumpkin/Studebaker Day, a tradition in my family. Since I was a kid, we've been going to the Studebaker show at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, as my uncle almost always goes and enters one of his cars. Unfortunately, with the grey weather, he decided not to take the car out this year, and many other people made the same decision. So my dad and I just took a little walk around the park, as we always do (it is gorgeous there in the fall, and I highly recommend that you visit if you ever have a chance!), and then took our usual tour of the museum, which used to be the Anderson family's carriage house. After taking a quick look at the few cars that came, we headed over to Allandale Farm, another important part of our tradition, and picked out a few pumpkins along with some yummy grocery items (we found something called falafel chips--they intrigued me, so I had to buy them. Must try today....). I decorated my pumpkins with glitter and melted crayons, an idea I found on Pinterest.

 The Larz Anderson Auto Museum

 The car with the toilet is always everyone's favorite.


 A beautiful Packard.                                                                                   Now that's a trunk!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Another week in the life of a teacher.

Quotes of note:
  • A former student was chatting with me, asking me how things are going, and then she inquired, "How's the synagogue?"
  • Played some music during class while the kids were making flashcards, and Hanson's "Mmmbop" came on. A girl asked, "Is this the Jackson 5?" While I'm thrilled she's heard of the Jackson 5, I still felt a little piece of my soul wither away. And I told her this song was popular when I was a kid, and she asked, "When were you a kid?" like I was from the Stone Age or something.

Caught my CP1 classes trying to trick me into thinking they'd done their homework yesterday. Gotta love making the homework question about something that happens in the last two pages of the chapter. When almost every response was irrelevant to the question, I just kept asking each one, "Did you read the WHOLE chapter?" I was not pleased with them, to say the least. Luckily though, they have overall been doing a good job with this book, and today was a much more productive day.

I'm so excited to go to the Boston Book Festival this weekend! I've never been, but it sounds fantastic, and a few of my English teacher peeps are going as well. I'm planning on going to four lectures: "The Short Story," where one of my favorite authors, Junot Diaz, will be speaking (I am ridiculously excited about the prospect of meeting him and getting my books signed), "Great Brits and Books," where I'll get to see Maria Tatar, "Graphic Novels," and "Jewish Jocks," where Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. I am so ready to geek out all day long, and I'll be sure to post and update afterwards.

I also wanted to share with you a letter that I read after seeing it shared on Facebook. I read it with my advisory today, and plan on talking about it with my other classes next week. It is an open letter to Ann Coulter, who, during the last presidential debate, referred to President Obama as a "retard." The letter, which you can read here, is a beautifully written piece by a man with Down syndrome who is a Special Olympian. He reminded the ever-classless (and that's me using every ounce of restraint that I posses) Ms. Coulter that such words should not be used as insults, that comparing people to individuals like him, who have to overcome so much and yet still "see life as a wonderful gift....should be considered a badge of honor." As an English teacher, I strive to teach my students about the power of words. Often we talk about that in a positive light, trying to get them to understand that with great communication skills paired with powerful ideas, they can rock the world. But it is important to also remember just how powerful words can be in hurting and degrading others. I talked to my students about this, reminding them that they have no idea how hurtful it can be when people use words like "retarded" and "gay" as insults and turn them into synonyms for "stupid" and "wrong." I asked them to be more conscious of their language, and to speak up when others use this language. I told them that I have asked people, including friends, not to speak that way. Not in a confrontational or angry way, but in a gentle manner that still conveyed that I'm not okay with what they said. Hopefully that message gets through to some of them, because it's important to start a ripple effect in trying to solve these types of issues.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's Goin' On?

Moment of the week:
I had a writing prompt on the board for my sophomores, which included FDR's quote, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." When I asked one of the classes who said this, a student responded, "Dumbledore?"

And soon after that, the students saw an example of fear itself when a girl informed me that there was a gigantic spider right next to my head. I leapt off my stool, darted behind my desk, and nearly hyperventilated while a kid killed it for me. (At least he didn't eat it, like the kid I blogged about last year.....)

The last couple weeks have had some great moments, and also some struggles and frustrations. I'm tired and stressed right now (so glad I'm going to have a nice, home-cooked meal with my folks tonight), so I'm just going to bullet point to give you some of the highlights:

  • My CP1 sophomores are pretty into Lord of the Flies. I feel like I'm doing a much better job of framing our discussions this year. When we started the book, I gave them our essential questions, along with the question that is guiding us for the entire year ("What drives us and makes us who we are?"). I'm really making sure to show how these questions and concepts relate to the real world, and so they generally have lots of ideas that they are eager to share. And most of them, even if they don't always answer the homework questions, are actually reading. I'm also trying to keep in mind that I don't have to talk about every single thing that happens in the book, but rather I just need to keep focused on our central themes and questions in order to avoid an information overload, as well as make our discussions more meaningful.
  • My senior classes, on the other hand, have been fairly disappointing. They hate participating, they aren't good about doing their work, and they are just generally unenthusiastic. I'm sure part of it is that this course (all the senior classes are now 1/2 year electives) is new to me, and I'm still not totally comfortable with it, so that's probably coming through a bit. But there also just seems to be this laziness and apathy with a lot of them....I don't know if, because it's called an elective, that they think that it's not "real" English class, if they're uncomfortable having all of the levels mixed together, or if the senioritis is already in full swing, but already I have a lot of kids who are failing. And unlike in the past, they don't have the full year to pull themselves out of the hole. I've got to make phone calls to parents this week, and maybe start telling kids that they are required to stay after with me in the next week in order to come up with a game plan for getting their grades up.
  • I have been trying a couple cool things with this elective (called "Criminal Minds in Literature"). As we've been doing Sherlock Holmes, I had them watch an episode of BBC's modern "Sherlock," which they responded quite well to, showed an example of a graphic novel version of one of the stories and had them create their own scenes, and also had them read a cool article on possible medical diagnoses for Holmes (Asperger's and bipolar disorder) in order to appeal to students who are more drawn to the sciences and psychology.
  • One of my sophomores stayed after the other day for extra help. I didn't actually help him with an assignment, however. Basically, during the time he was here, he worked on organizing his binder, and the two of us talked about reading strategies he can employ, and talked about a game plan for improving his grades. Sometimes, it seems that even if you're not telling a kid something you haven't told all of them before, just talking something over step by step with them and making it all seem manageable can really help them reframe their mindset.
  • And to end on a funny note: One of my former students asked me last week if I'd like to buy a wreath to help support the National Honor Society. Since I'm Jewish, I reminded him that I am not his target customer....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The good, the bad, and the daunting

Today, my nightmare class was finally good! For context, let me just say that this group has been making me want to jump out a window. It's my CP2 (lower level) class, and those classes are tough to begin with, but it's not just that a lot of these kids aren't doing their work. Several of them are also just plain nasty. Add that to the fact that they can't seem to stop talking, and by the end of class my headache is registering 8 on the Richter Scale.

But today was different. Almost every kid turned in an essay (yes, a lot of them seem to be too short, and I don't think any of them really followed the MLA formatting guide I went over and reminded them about 5 times, but baby steps, people, baby steps...), and when it was time for them to work on answering some questions on the reading we finished yesterday, they actually worked, and did so quietly. Hallelujah! A bunch of them even shared their responses when it was time for discussion. I made sure to say "good job" a couple times and encourage them to keep up the good work.

I was also pleasantly surprised when one kid approached me after class and apologized for how rude he's been to me. This was definitely a change from yesterday when I told him that I had written him up for his disruptive and rude behavior on Monday, and had emailed his parents as well. He was pretty angry with me and acted like he couldn't conceive of what in the world he could have done wrong. I don't know if the apology was something his parents told him to do, but he seemed pretty sincere (and usually every word that comes out of his mouth is dripping with snark and if he thinks I don't pick up on that stuff. Honey, I majored in Sarcasm in college. Don't even.). I reminded him that I'm not out to get him, not trying to attack him, but that I have been frustrated with his behavior, and said that I hope we can use this as a turning point and make the rest of the year positive. We'll see how that goes.

In other news, today was my first day of grad school, and I'm already overwhelmed. I'm taking a hybrid course, so luckily I only have to go there once a week for a couple hours, and then the rest is on my own and online. Unluckily, I had a faculty meeting after school today, and even though I ducked out a couple minutes early, traffic sucked and caused me to be about 15 minutes late. I was a flustered mess when I finally arrived. I did not want to be that person on the first day, but alas, I was. At least the professor wasn't upset with me.

We went over the syllabus today, and learned that we have to choose a work of literature to do a research paper on, and do an annotated bibliography with 40 entries. GAHH. Yet the paper is only ten pages and only needs to make reference to four that's kind of an annoying disconnect. I understand the need to be thorough in the research, but 40? Oy. But I talked to a couple of the other students after the class, and they revealed they were overwhelmed too, so at least misery's got company. Also, the professor talked about how she doesn't let people out early...but then she let us out 20 minutes late. I was just thinking listen, it's past 6:00, I have a drive ahead of me, I'm hungry, I haven't had time to pee all day, and I have work to do and sleep to attempt to get. SHUT UP. This is definitely going to be an interesting semester, trying to balance being both a teacher and a student. I just hope I come out of it in one piece and not too terribly sleep-deprived.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Week(s) in review

Some random thoughts on recent teaching experiences:

Recently, when playing music while the students worked, Stevie Wonder came on my iTunes. One student remarked, "My dad listens to this kind of music." Thanks, kid, thanks a lot.


I missed three days of school this past week. The first two were planned, as it was Rosh Hashanah. That was fine, because I actually knew ahead of time who my sub would be, so I was able to prep her ahead of time. And since I know her to be an intelligent person, I didn't have to dumb down my lesson plans like I normally do. Subs tend to be unpredictable--I've had a couple do exactly what I asked and they left me a full report of the classes, but I've also had plenty who have messed things up even when I thought my plans were idiot-proof. So thank goodness that was not an issue for these days! The next day, however, was another story......I got super sick over Rosh Hashanah (it really ruined a lot of the holiday for me), and had to stay out on Wednesday. I would have just sucked it up, but I had a fever and decided that would not be wise. And of course, I ended up with a different sub, and all of my classes said, "That lady was craaazy....." When even the good kids say that, and then follow up their claim by informing me that she said they couldn't peer edit each other's papers but they could text, you gotta believe them. Oy.


I was at the grocery store yesterday in the town where I work before heading to a little dinner party at a coworker's home (well, former coworker--it was her last day before retirement!). I then heard someone say, "Ms. -----!" It was one of my students (who I also had two years ago), with his little baby in the shopping cart. I knew his girlfriend had had a baby last year, but I wasn't quite ready for the reality of meeting a student's child. But I asked about the baby, touched his precious little head, and felt my heart warm when he smiled at me. Still, it terrifies me when I see kids having kids. I don't think these students realize just how much their teachers worry about them. All the things they go through, especially outside of reminds me how lucky I was to have such a great and comfortable upbringing. I wish with all my heart I could ensure that my students have the same, but I can't. I do the best I can for them in school, but I worry about what happens afterwards.


I'm learning my students' personalities now. Some pain-in-the-asses have emerged, but I'm definitely working to shut that behavior down quickly this year. But some of the kids are just so cute. A couple of the sophomore boys are so sweet and earnest, and I have this one girl who is so tiny and adorable, and she always says hello and goodbye to me. Talking to her makes me think of puppies and Lisa Frank notebooks. I also had a nice chat with one of my seniors recently when she stayed after school to bandy around ideas for her college essay. After that discussion, we just talked about life for a while, with her telling me stories about herself and asking me things about college and such. It's nice when students want to connect with their teachers, when they are able to see us as more than taskmasters.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Year 3 (of teaching, not Hogwarts)

Week 1 of school: Done. Here we go again, folks!

I’ll try to post more often now that I’ll actually have more material to work with. I did recently write a political piece that I was really proud of and was going to publish here, but my dad said that while it was great, he didn’t want it to ever be found by a potential employer and end up hurting my chances of getting hired. Much as it kills me to admit it, Papa Bear was right. Damn it. I feel so artistically stifled.

Going back to school always gives me such mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love summer. I grew up at the beach, and my birthday is even in the summer, so I’m a summer gal through and through. And this summer was fantastic. I actually didn’t make it to the beach that much (partly because I’m no longer living with my folks), but I saw my friends and family a lot and did plenty of cool things (like the Color Run, going to the X Factor auditions, watching Euro Cup in Boston with friends, playing soccer, watching 5+ hours of Olympics coverage per day [okay maybe some of you will think that’s more sad than cool…], hanging out with the wonderful R.R. who was in town just for the summer, hanging out in Boston, etc.). So when I’m sitting on the beach and someone asks me, “Hey, are you ready to go back to school?!?” it’s hard for me to muster a whole lot of enthusiasm. When I started seeing back-to-school Target commercials in late July, I swore at my TV.

But on the other hand, one thing I like about this job is that every year you sort of get a fresh start. New kids, new chance to set the tone and lay down the law early, the opportunity to try new things (especially since I’m teaching a couple of brand new courses), and this year I have my own classroom! Other than the fact that it leaks like a faucet during heavy rains, I love it. I really enjoy creating spaces that reflect their purposes and my personality. I’ve got posters on the walls that I’ve saved from college, a mini whiteboard that shows the quote of the week (if I can get the darn thing to stay on the wall), mini posters I made myself with quotes from books and such, and I have the desks in a double-horseshoe in order to better facilitate student discussions. Yup, I got to geek the place out. Hopefully it looks welcoming and is a place that will inspire students. And it’s great to have everything where I want it and to not feel like I’m invading someone else’s space. I’m hoping that having a classroom will get me to be more organized, since I won’t be on the move all the time with my stuff all over the place.

This past week was kind of hectic—we had school on Tuesday and Wednesday, day of on Thursday for the state primary election that no one really cared about, and then Friday was picture day. All the English teachers have to take their classes to get their pictures taken, since that’s the only subject every student has to take, so there went half of class. So there’s not a whole lot of exciting stuff to report on yet, but as I continue to get to know the students I’m sure the stories will start cropping up.

Oh, also: I work with the coolest department. On the first day back for teachers, we had already started planning a party to celebrate our retirees and welcome the newbies (and because we just like having excuses to have fun together). And on Friday, a bunch of us went out after school, where we decided we need to do some fun stuff as a group this year, including some sort of a trip (maybe New York, Martha’s Vineyard, etc.).Our new additions seem great, and the rest of us have been reminding them that we’d be happy to help them in any way we can.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Do you want discrimination with that?

This week, there’s been a big hullaballoo over the revelation that Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, opposes same-sex marriage, and his foundation has donated about $3 million to anti-gay groups. Mayor Tom Menino of Boston sent a letter to Cathy that urges him to back out of his plans to open a new Chick-fil-A location in Boston. Menino writes, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” Politicians in Chicago have made similar statements, while some religious conservative politicians have sadly named next Wednesday as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” While I am a big supporter of marriage equality, this letter does bring up some conflicting feelings.

My first reaction when I read the letter was that I wanted to give Mayor Mumbles a big ol’ hug. He is taking a stand against hate. The LGTBQ community needs leaders who will stand up for them like this and unabashedly support them. Some politicians might be too nervous that this sort of a stance will be too controversial and threaten their reelection, but Menino had the chutzpah to come out right away and say that, as one of the only states to allow same-sex marriage, we don’t like it when people work to destroy that, and that hatred is unacceptable.

On the other hand, I recognize that by wanting to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a location here, Menino can also be seen as being guilty of discrimination. Is it really the place for our government to get involved with what businesses can open where based on their beliefs? I believe the answer is no. After all, the Constitution defends your right to be a bigoted asshole, and to express those beliefs out loud. I certainly cannot stand Cathy’s use of religion as an excuse for hatred (that’s a whole other discussion for another day), but in the end, the man has a right to his beliefs. If the company were discriminatory towards its employees or customers, then that would be a problem that would make it essential to ban them here. However, that does not seem to be the case. As a result, we cannot get on this slippery slope of banning companies based on their beliefs and who they donate money to, for letting the government tell people what they can and cannot believe in is a dangerous thing. I will point out though that Menino’s letter wisely did not say that he would take action against banning the company from Boston, only that it urged the company to back out of its plans and said that this is not the place for them. This is fine, so long as he stays away from thwarting their business plans with anything beyond words.

What we can do instead is, as consumers, make informed choices about who we give our money to. When I recently learned that Oreo had thrown its support behind same-sex marriage, I no longer felt quite so guilty about buying and gorging on those delicious cookies. Similarly, I hope that if Chick-fil-A does open a location in Boston, they will do such poor business that they will soon be forced to close. If people ban together and make a decision not to support a business which uses some of its profits for such hateful causes, that action will send a loud and clear message to other people and businesses who think that discrimination is okay. So while I think that the government should not take legal action to bar them from opening here, I still think that Menino’s letter was important for him to write, and his message is wonderful: Boston is no place for hate. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for saying this loud and clear.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

through a kid's eyes

This past Sunday I took my two little cousins, who are 8 and 10 years old, for an adventure in Boston. They’re from California and are in town for part of the summer. I figured that spending all this time away from home would get a little dull for them, and as their big cousin decided it was my duty to help remedy that. I’ve always loved kids; I was always the one playing with toddlers on the floor or talking to the older ones about school and playing games with them. Two years ago, my sister and I took these two cousins to the movies. We figured that would be fun, and a challenge that we could deal with. Since that time they have definitely matured, so I knew I could handle taking them to the city on my own. I absolutely adore spending time in Boston, and thought it would be a lot of fun for me to experience it in a new way.

As it turned out, experiencing Boston through the eyes of kids really was pretty great. I love their sharp eyes and their curiosity about the world. They noticed everything and wanted to talk to me about it, but understood when certain situations called for some discretion and tact. Our adventure began somewhere where there is an abundance of interesting characters: the T (the Red Line, to be specific). We also rode a couple of other trains later on in our travels. The boys were very concerned about people who didn’t follow the rules or etiquette—the woman clipping her fingernails, and the man who leaned against the doors which, as one of them pointed out, specifically said not to do just that. In the station, we walked by a guy with gauges in his ears (the biggest I’ve ever seen), and after we were out of earshot they made faces and commented on it to me. They asked me all about how the T works—what the different lines are, where they go, which one goes the farthest, etc. The older one was quite amused when my prediction that lots of people with suitcases would board at South Station came true, as though I’d just performed a neat little parlor trick. I’ve been riding the T for so long that it usually doesn’t hold too much excitement for me, other than observing some quirky characters and peering at what books people are reading. For them, it held exciting possibilities of destinations unknown, along with a roster of characters equal parts puzzling and fascinating. Later in the day, on the Green Line, the younger one asked me why his seat was a little different. I explained that that’s the spot that people are asked to give up if an elderly or disabled person gets on the train. A couple of stops later, two old and feeble people got on board, and before I could even notice, both boys promptly got out of their seats. Oy, I was so proud at that moment.

Our first stop in town (after the first of many potty breaks, of course), was the Aquarium. Once inside, we first checked out the newish ray and shark touch tank. This was like a dream come true for the boys. After we reviewed the rules for touching the creatures, they quickly plunged their arms into the tank, excited to not be restricted to just looking at everything through glass. The interactive experience with nature was their favorite part of the day. We probably spent a good 10 minutes there, with one of the boys determined not to leave until he finally got to touch one of the sharks. I didn’t mind not touching the animals myself, content to take photos of the kids and watch their joy. As we worked our way through the rest of the exhibits, the younger one commandeered my camera and took pictures of just about everything. He felt compelled to document all of the cool things that we saw. It wouldn’t be good enough to just have me take the pictures—he wanted to preserve the images through his own perspective. The older one enjoyed reading some of the facts about the animals and telling me about them. I of course was so excited to see this love of learning.

The day was filled with lots more great little moments. For example, when we were walking through Boston Common as the boys ate their slush, there was a rehearsal in progress for Shakespeare on the Common. After I explained what it was, the 8-year-old asked if we could watch a little. As an English teacher, I was only too happy to acquiesce. When the director was giving notes to the actors and having them try something again, my little cousin asked me, “Are they doing it wrong?” So I explained that in theater, you often want to try doing scenes in different ways to see what works. I also told him that I do theater. "You do THIS?" he asked incredulously. I laughed and responded that my shows aren't quite this big. After sitting there for probably a little over 5 minutes, I asked the boys if they wanted to go, but the younger one said he wanted to stay a little longer. It was cool to see him experiencing something that is so foreign to him and so outside his usual interests, and actually enjoying it. It’s not as though he could understand what was happening in the scene they were rehearsing, but I think being able to observe the inner workings of the production, plus seeing this stage full of actors in the middle of the park, was just so novel to him.

We then went to the Swan Boats, where the boys noticed that there was an older man working there who was listening to the Red Sox game and updating the score on a little whiteboard. They talked a little baseball with him, and I could see how pleased the man was to chat with these engaging kids. After the boat ride we headed for the Museum of Fine Arts and made a beeline for the mummies. We also wandered around some other galleries of ancient artifacts, which the boys found very interesting, especially the African weapons (but of course). We went through the galleries fairly quickly, children’s attention spans being what they are, but I didn’t mind. I can go to the MFA anytime, so this was their opportunity to see whatever caught their eyes.

It was quite the exhausting day (one of the kids fell asleep on the way home), but very fun. Both kids said thank you at least a dozen times (no joke) throughout the day, which was so so sweet. It was fun to be the cool older cousin for the day, and I managed to resist the urge to act too much like a mom. Yes, I was responsible for them and had to make sure they were safe and stayed in my sight, but mostly I was able to just go with the flow and enjoy hanging out with them. I really liked having the opportunity to have real conversations with them that lasted more than just two minutes, and we talked about all sorts of things: history, science, books, Boston, sports, etc.  And I got to see my city the way a kid sees it—with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

happiness & worth

Oh Forbes, you and your uppity attitudes. The other day you took one step too far when you decided to rank the unhappiest jobs in America: "These 6 professions have been ranked the least satisfying -- based on factors such as growth potential and compensation -- by the people who do them." And guess which one was #3? That's right, teaching.

Yeah, Forbes, because I definitely chose this career path for the big profits it promised me. I'm just so unhappy now that I've realized that I'll never make a whole lot of money.

People (generally) go into teaching because they are passionate about it. In my case, I wanted to share my love of literature and language with students. I also wanted to be a mentor to students, or at least someone they felt they could turn to and trust, because I was always lucky enough to have teachers like that. And if you've read this blog before, you know that I've been able to do both of these things. Am I as good at my job as I want to be? Absolutely not. Do I ever have bad days or weeks and wonder why the fuck I'm doing this? Of course. But then so many good things happen, both little and big, and I know that I've made the right choice. I have a job that challenges me and that is certainly never boring. I get to help shape these students during some very formative years in their lives, and I feel like, with at least a lot of them, I am making some sort of a difference. And that makes me feel fulfilled. I know that I want to keep doing this for years to come, that I will truly make a career out of it. And no, I don't plan on ever becoming an administrator/department head/principal. I guess Forbes would tell me that I lack ambition and that I must be dreadfully unhappy. However, the way I see it, my challenge is to become a better and better teacher every single year. Plus, each year I get a new crop of students to work with and help shape while they, in turn, help change my life too. Just because I won't be moving up in the ranks doesn't mean I will be stuck in some sort of a rut.

My parents told me that when I was attending Brandeis University, which is a good school and also very expensive, people questioned my choice. They asked, "Why is she going to Brandeis if she's just going to be a teacher?" My parents said that don't want to know who said it nor how many people. Just like Forbes, these people measured worth in money. I know, I know, the very nature of money is that it measures how much things are worth. But I believe that in order to live a fulfilling life, one must consider factors beyond that. I chose that school knowing full well that I would come out of it with a lot of debt. And yeah, it sucks to have to write a check every month for over $200, knowing that I'll be continuing to do so for quite some time. But you know what? It's managable, and I don't regret my decision one little bit. I had worked my ass off all my life and wanted the challenge of going to a great school. Brandeis certainly provided me with that. I wanted to become the best teacher I could possibly be, and I knew that this place would help me get on the right path. I had some really kick-ass professors, including the head of the Education Department who really helped me figure out my life. Furthermore, because the school is almost 50% Jewish, I found a community there that I really connected with. When I graduated, I didn't think about the debt--I thought about the amazing education I received, the unique experiences I had, the ways that my horizons had been expanded, and the incredible friends I had made.

I've talked to some of my students before about life choices. I remember a conversation I had with my seniors at the end of my first year of teaching. I told them to, above all, be happy. Yes, you need to make sure you have enough money to take care of yourself and your family. But you also need to be able to enjoy what you do. I don't care if it requires a master's degree or training in a tech program, just love it. One of my seniors this year is planning on being an electrician. Some years back I might have lamented her decision to not strive for more. But these days, I know that's the wrong attitude. This girl loves her field. She was actually one of the only girls in that tech program at the high school, and I admire her for going against the norm. I am proud of her for pursuing her dream.

My high school English teacher sent me an amazing video when I was in college, since she knew I wanted to be a teacher. I've included the link below, and encourage you all to watch it. It is called "What Teachers Make," by slam poet and former teacher Taylor Mali. It is incredible, and sums up my feelings better than I can do here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

End of the year

Student quote of note: "I'm 22 in Connecticut!"

Sorry for not updating in a while. But here’s a big update: I am done with my second year of teaching! It is such a relief. In many ways it was a fantastic year, but there were also some very trying situations, especially in the last couple of weeks. The end of the school year is already quite stressful, and was made more so by some students who chose to lash out. For example, a group of anonymous honors students sent me a letter complaining that their final exam was unfair. I won’t go into details about the contents of it, but I found them to be invalid and, quite frankly, whiny. I addressed their concerns on our final day together, first explaining why I disagreed with their complaints. I then said that I had already been planning on slightly scaling the grades, as I don’t feel like what they produce in an hour and a half truly deserves to be judged as critically as what they have done all throughout the rest of the year (the final counts as 20% of their grade). I also talked about how I was very disappointed by the mistrust in the room, as I have never given them reason to believe that I would do anything to screw them over. I just felt really frustrated by this letter, especially since it was unsigned, so I didn’t even know who to be addressing. Our society has become so used to being able to say things anonymously, without fear of having to face a fair debate, and I consider it cowardly. I did give my students feedback sheets which I said they could leave anonymous, but that was meant for constructive criticism. In the case of the letter, I would have respected the students a lot more if they had come to me after school and shared their concerns, so as to allow for a productive dialogue.

On a lighter note, some students were really sweet at the end of the year. One of my honors kids said that when he gets into the National Honor Society next year (which he surely will), he wants me to be the teacher he invites. I was so touched, especially after all the frustration with some of his classmates. A senior who was in my play came to find me on his last day and gave me a little thank-you note and a big hug. He is so so talented and is planning on pursuing an acting career, and I can’t wait to see what great things he does. My senior class also gave me a very sweet card they made. One student apologized for being a pain in the ass, which he reiterated to me when I gave him a hug at graduation. Another one said she now feels more confident about writing essays for college, and a third student said that I’m one of the best teachers he’s ever had. Their words truly meant the world to me, and that card will be saved for years to come. I know I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s those kinds of moments that get teachers out of bed every morning. I had my advisory write letters to teachers they wanted to thank, and a couple of the recipients told me how happy the letters made them.

Exciting news: Next year I am getting a classroom! These past two years I have had to move around between three rooms, pushing around a giant cart/battering ram and having a shared office as my home base. I’m so excited, because I’ll finally be able to set up the room the way I want it, and won’t have to worry about my things being in anyone’s way. Plus, I’m already a disorganized person to begin with, and having an office and a cart full of stuff to wheel around only adds to that. Next year there won’t be all of the running around if I forget something, or the special restrictions I have had to contend with. I will admit though, I’ll kind of miss that little cave of an office….I love being able to just shut the door and have a bit of privacy, which classrooms don’t really allow for. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to share the space with a couple of really fantastic people. That office has seen a lot of giggles and ridiculous jokes, loud music, unwinding with a Nerf football confiscated from a student, stories of angst, tears, and growing friendships. And that final item has been one of the best aspects of this year—since I’ve become more comfortable there, I have opened up and become a lot closer to some of the people I began establishing friendships with last year, and become good friends with some new teachers as well. I love having a group of people that I can depend on, share ideas with, and also have fun with.

Below, I have included the letter I gave to my students at the end of the year in case you are interested in reading it:

Dear students,

                 Just as I have had you do some reflection on this past year, as a teacher I am constantly reflecting on my practices, asking myself, “Am I doing right by my students? How can I improve? How can I make sure they are learning, improving, and enjoying what they do? What do I want them to come away from this class understanding?” Trust me, it’s not just students that question and doubt themselves; any teacher that aspires to be good at their job does too. Being a teacher does not mean that you know all the answers. More accurately, I think we need to be both teachers and learners, and to be open to learning from our colleagues and students. With this letter, I would like to share with you some of my reflections as well as some words of encouragement as you shift into summer mode.
                I know that this year has been challenging for you. I know that I have demanded a lot from you and constantly pushed you. However, I want to remind you again that this has all been part of my effort to make you better students, both of English and of life. And it’s not just you that I demand a lot of—I demand a lot of myself too. I am deeply invested in my students and get frustrated when I feel like I am falling short of their expectations and my own. I know that it can be frustrating for students when you don’t always achieve the grades that you want. Remember though, that the only way to learn and grow is to be challenged. My goal is never to break you down and discourage you, but rather to help point out your strengths and help you understand your weaknesses and overcome them. Every year, school is going to get more and more difficult, and this is the same for life as well. However, if you meet those challenges head-on, dedicate yourselves fully to the tasks at hand, and put forth your best effort, you will be ready and able to handle what comes your way.
                Some of you have consistently worked hard all year, and I commend you for that dedication. You have pushed yourselves to improve, even when you have already been producing quality work. Some of you struggled for a while, but then worked hard to prove yourselves, showing improvement by the end of the year. I am proud of what you have accomplished. Others have experienced quite the rollercoaster ride, and your ups may have sometimes been overshadowed by your downs. I urge you to think about your successes, however big or small they may have been, and think about what you need to do in order to meet with more success next year. Don’t give up on yourselves.
                I know that once your final is over and done with, you will start allowing yourselves to forget the books we read, the characters we got to know, and the themes we analyzed. But what I hope sticks with you are some of the ideas we discussed, such as the danger of power, the power of hope, and how to challenge societal norms, and that you will continue to ponder them. I also hope you have become better thinkers and communicators this year, and that you have an increased curiosity about the world. One of the reasons I love this subject so much is that is has the ability to foster those qualities. I have been truly astounded by some of the discussions we’ve had and some of the papers I have read this year. When you truly push yourselves, you are able to exceed your own expectations and to teach yourselves, your classmates, and me all kinds of new things, and that’s what makes me excited about my job. I’ve bragged to my friends and colleagues about how you have often taken our discussions in directions that I had not expected, and how it even forced me to expand my own thinking. I hope in the future to find more ways to encourage that in my students, because those are really wonderful opportunities for growth. In turn, I ask that you please keep talking about important issues that face our world, keep asking questions, and help make the world around you a better place in some capacity. Our community and world are in serious need of leaders and good people.
                This summer, I will be doing a lot of work both on curriculum (since I’m teaching mostly new material next year) and on figuring out how I can improve as an educator. Any feedback you have about what helped you or didn’t help you (and why) would be greatly appreciated. Like I said, I want to continue learning how to be the best teacher possible. Your input is just as helpful as what my bosses tell me, and I value it greatly. I have given each of you a feedback sheet, and I’d truly appreciate it if you could give me specific feedback on it. Leave it anonymous if you choose—I want you to feel comfortable expressing yourselves.
              Please be sure to say hi next year and keep me updated on your schooling and lives (and the books you are reading!).

Yours truly,

Ms. Greene

Monday, May 14, 2012

Not too late to apologize

First, some humor:

After telling Student 1 to stop petting Student 2’s head, Student 2 said, “You have to pay to pet me—I’m like a petting zoo.”

 Student: “Nice reverse psychology.”
Me: “That wasn’t reverse psychology.”
Student: “It was for me.”

When passing out some papers to my honors class, a few of them started doing the wave. I told them this needed to end now, because otherwise they’d soon enough be tossing around a beach ball. About 15 seconds later, I turn around, and sure enough a student has pulled out a balloon, blown it up, and started hitting it across the room.

Okay, now for the sweet stuff:

Last year, my B period class was horrible. Especially since I was a new teacher, it was my worst nightmare. There were a handful of kids that were not exactly strangers to the administrators' offices, and I had the pleasure of having them all in one room. And it was a CP1 class, and those kids tend to be, overall, the least motivated of all the sophomores. I had a couple kids in there who did pretty much nothing all year. One in particular that I am writing about today was a smart ass, pain in the ass, "I don't care about anything" kind of kid. I tried to motivate him and reach out to him, and he nearly bit off my hand as he snapped at me not to give him a life speech. Needless to say, not one of my favorite people. He also was out of school for the end of the year and the beginning of this year because he got in trouble.

This year, my two office mates each have him in class (since he's taking junior English and retaking sophomore English), and they've told me that this kid is really turning his life around and redeeming himself. I will admit that I've been skeptical. After all, leopards don't usually change their spots. So imagine my surprise when today in the hallway, he asked if he could speak to me in my office. I asked him what's up (and he was surprised I remembered his name), and he said that he wanted to apologize for how disrespectful he was to me last year. I swear, you already could have knocked me over with a feather. He continued to say how it wasn't okay for him to act that way, and that this year he looks around in his classes and sees kids doing the same thing, and it bothers him.

I told the student that I really appreciated his words, and that it takes a big person to apologize like that. I put out my hand to shake his, and as he left he said, "Keep up the good work!" I was so incredibly touched by everything he said and the utter sincerity with which he said it. I very nearly started to cry. It was clear that my colleagues were right about him. He must have really had a wake-up call and done some soul-searching in order to get to this point. Just a year ago, he seemed like a kid on the fast track to nowhere. Today, I saw a man in front of me, someone who is now willing to learn from his mistakes and try to be a better person. I hope he keeps on this good path, because I am so very proud of him.

This isn't the first time that I've been surprised by someone like this. At the end of the last school year, a student wrote me a letter. Things with her had always been rocky--sometimes she was great in class, sometimes very very difficult. In her letter, she said she was sorry for giving me grief, and that she often takes out her anger at the wrong people. She went on to thank me and tell me that I'm a wonderful teacher. That letter is on my bulletin board in my office, and every now and then I glance at it and smile. Then, over the summer, a girl I knew in high school approached me. She had been a jerk to me back in the day, and over the past year she had been nannying for my little neighbor (which worried me). She came up to me and said she wanted to apologize for how mean she was in high school, and that it's really bothered her for a long time. My parents said she had been going through a 12-step program, part of which is making amends with people. I was shocked that she felt I was one of the people she felt the need to make amends with.

I've met a lot of shmucks in my life. And I'm sure that plenty of them will stay that way for life. But these people showed me that sometimes, people can recognize the error of their ways and truly change. Today was one of the best payments a teacher can get, the kind of day we store in our memories to save for a rainy day. Sometimes we have an effect on someone and we don't even realize it, and even think that we've failed in our goal to help that student. Then, out of the blue, they surprise you in the most wonderful way possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Here & there


Ahhh, vacation. One of the delightful perks of this job. This week I've been able to see some friends, spend time in Boston, buy more books, and today I went for a nice hike in the Blue Hills. Yesterday I finally went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for the first time. What a beautiful place! The garden is breathtaking....oh, how I wish I had money. That is the type of garden that could inspire poetry (and probably has). I enjoyed a lot of the art, though at times I found it annoying that the museum has to keep everything exactly the way Gardner had it, because some pieces were difficult to get a good look at. Plus, not all of them were very well lit. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile excursion. I also saw "Titanic" in 3D. That movie first came out when I was 9 years old, and my sister was 5. My mom wasn't always very good at paying attention to why movies carried the ratings they did, and thus took us to see some things that were a little inappropriate (like "Stepmom"), which I recall once commenting on to her. (I'm sure that those of you who know me are not the least bit surprised by this.) I thought the 3D added to the grandeur of the film, and it was great to be able to see this on the big screen again. I've seen it in bits and pieces on TV for so many years, but that kind of waters down the effect of it (please excuse the horrible and unintended pun). Even though I practically have it memorized, seeing it in the theater was like seeing it with fresh eyes.


This week I've also been reading Truman Capote's Music for Chameleons, which is a collection of short stories, some true, some fictional, some a combo of the two. With Capote, sometimes it can be hard to tell. But I absolutely love his style of writing. These stories are from late in his career when he was experimenting with a new style. The result is almost like a screenplay, consisting largely of dialogue, something for which he had a great talent. Anyone who has ever seen and loved "Breakfast at Tiffany's" should read the novella--the way he writes Holly Golightly's dialogue is so distinctive that you can actually hear Audrey Hepburn's voice. One story in Music for Chameleons, "Handcarved Coffins," is made up of dialogue along with descriptions relegated to parentheses. It's about 80 pages long, and had me at the edge of my seat, racing to unlock its secrets. Recently, when I offered to let my students borrow my books so they could have something to read if they finished the MCAS early, In Cold Blood caught the eyes of one of my CP1 boys. He returned it last week, and said that he loved it. He seemed to still be a little bit haunted by it. Once I finish this book, I'll have to see if he's interested in borrowing it. It's always fun to get kids to read something they ordinarily would not pick up, and then see them get hooked by it.

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. I've mentioned before in this blog how I teach Elie Wiesel's Night in my World Literature class, which is for seniors. Next year, our school is re-shuffling our curriculum, and World Lit is going to be for sophomores (I currently teach four classes of sophomores). This means that they'll be missing out on some great books. A few of us decided that we would teach Night to our sophomores this year, as it is often considered one of the most important books students will read in high school. It's amazing what an impact it can have on them, learning of the atrocities that human beings are capable of committing against one another, as well as how strong and enduring the human spirit can be. 

I assigned the memoir to my honors class to read over break. A couple of weeks ago, a few of those students were asking me what they would be reading after Macbeth, and I told them that this would be assigned, and they were pretty excited. Then, early last week, one of the boys came in, excitedly saying, "I read that book!!!" At first, I had NO idea what book he was referring to. He went on to tell me that he had already finished Night (even though I had not yet officially assigned it or even passed out the books), and he loved it. He buzzed on and on about how great the writing was, and said that he couldn't put the book down, and in fact was afraid to put it down because it was so sad that he wasn't sure if he'd be able to pick it back up again. He even said, "I almost cried." After class ended, he talked to me some more about it, his enthusiasm just spilling over. To put it in perspective, this kid is a member of the football and wrestling teams. He's smart and a good kid, but can be kind of a yahoo sometimes (to steal Ms. K's word). I've blogged about him before--he's the one who ate the spider. But like I said, he is a good kid, and when he's not being a goofball, he's pretty bright. To see him so enthusiastic and so affected by this book was fantastic. The next day, when I did my lecture on the Holocaust and WWII, whenever his classmates started getting a little noisy, he'd tell them, "Quiet, I want to hear this." WHOA. This is one of the students that I usually have to remind to quiet down! But he was riveted and wanted to soak up every bit of information. His classmates were also very interested and asked some good questions. I also showed some photographs from a book of my dad's, some of which are kind of graphic, showing starving or dead prisoners. Some students, including the aforementioned boy, had to avert their eyes from those pictures, unable to look at the horrors I warned them about.

The assignment I gave with Night was 2-3 pages on the following question: "From a 21st century point of view, what does this book mean to you?" It's very open-ended, and I'm extremely interested to see what sorts of responses I'll get. I didn't want to give a literary analysis with the book this time; I think the more personal responses will be more impactful. I'll be sure to write an update once I collect the assignment. I hope the students are all at least half as moved by this account of the Holocaust as that one boy was. Today is a reminder of just how important it is to keep the memory of that terrible crime against humanity alive, and to use our knowledge and understanding to create a better world for ourselves.