Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The play's the thing.

Just a quick update today, and I will post again later this week, so be sure to check back!

This year I'm trying to be a bigger part of the school community. Part of that has meant going to a few more events/games than I did last year. Besides making me look good in front of the boss, it also makes the kids quite happy to see me there to support them. This semester, I am also taking on the challenge of directing a play. For the spring show there are going to be two one-acts, and I am directing one of them. I chose a show called 'Dentity Crisis, which I had vaguely remembered seeing back in high school at the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival. It's an (extremely) absurd comedy, and right up my alley. (Go here to read a synopsis.)

When I was in high school, I loved performing in comedies. My favorite was when I played sextuplets in Wonder of the World--each character was crazier than the last, ranging from a bald woman desperate for friends to a marriage counselor who moonlights as a clown and has a shady past (Amy Sedaris originated that role, so those of you familiar with her can imagine just how wacky it was). I got to create different personalities and even use some different voices, and it was great fun. Even though I'm not a big fan of public speaking, doing this was fantastic because it wasn't really "me" onstage, so I could be as crazy as I wanted, because that's what I was supposed to do. With 'Dentity Crisis, I'm very excited to explore that kind of absurdity with the five students I have cast. We had our first read-through yesterday, and spent some time getting to know each other, then read through the show. They were all thoroughly tickled (and confused) by it, often breaking out in laughter while reading. They seem really excited about it, and their energy is exactly what I need right now. I think it's going to be a fun couple of months, and I may actually start looking forward to Mondays (at least a little bit)!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why your Kindle is evil

I love books. I know, I know, this sounds like a "duh" statement coming from an English teacher. But I don't just mean I love the stories on the pages, although of course that is an essential part of it. What I also love are the physical books themselves. In our increasingly digital age, where screen time commands our lives and the rejection of any part of this is criticized, I have been finding an increasing need to be able to express what it is about books that I so adore. A number of my friends, family members (even my technologically-illiterate mom), and coworkers are devout fans of their Kindles. I understand the allure--the convenience of it is great. It's a brilliant idea. However, despite people's attempts to convince me that this is the greatest invention since sliced bread, I staunchly refuse to get one. My main reason: a book has a soul that technology cannot replicate.

One of the first things I did whenever I moved back to college and when I moved into my apartment was set up my books. A place doesn't feel like home to me without their crowded, colorful spines piled on my shelves. They are like old familiar friends, along with some that are treasures still awaiting discovery. They are there for friends and family to peruse, discuss, and even borrow. A Kindle is much more isolating. It is not an object to be displayed. And while you can share books with those on your account, what about everyone else? I have found one of the great joys of books to be sharing it with someone else and having them fall in love with their words as I did. Now that I am a teacher, I have even loaned some books to students. One of my students last year was always carting around one large tome or another, and one day I decided to hand her another classic book I had that I thought she might enjoy, Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. She read it and enjoyed it, and chatted with me about the book's perplexing ending. It made me so happy to be able to share that with her, and having the physical book allowed me to do that.

Kindles also allow for a kind of privacy that just really annoys me. One pastime that I really enjoy when riding the T (when I'm not immersed in my own book) is looking around at what other people are reading. Sometimes they're reading the big bestsellers of the moment, other times it's an obscure title, occasionally it's a book that seems to completely clash with the person holding it. It's a fun form of people watching, and Kindles ruin that by hiding what the person is reading.

Furthermore, there is just something about a book that engages the senses in a way that technology is unable to replicate, no matter how good the quality of the the "e-ink" is. I just bought a new copy of Jane Eyre the other day, despite already having another one. So why did I bother? Because this one was leather, pretty pretty leather with silver on it, along with red-edged pages and a silver ribbon bookmark. I'm a sucker for pretty books (even more so when they're old and purchased at used bookstores). It just looks so goshdarn good on my shelf right now, and it's one of those books that's kind of like a special keepsake (and all for the low low price of $12!). I know they say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, and in the case of people this is sound advice. However, in the case of actual books, I'm calling bullshit. I frequently judge books by their covers. But going beyond looks, there is also something nice about the feel of a book in your hands, seeing the number of pages in your right hand decrease as your anticipation to see the events unfold increases. Books also have a smell to them, especially when they are old. One of my friends once expressed her love for smelling old books. We giggled at this, but at the same time I completely understand. It's like getting a little whiff of the history in that book.

Speaking of history, I love used bookstores. Okay, yes, a lot of the allure is cheaper prices. But it's more than that. One of my favorite bookstores is the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, which is a very old establishment. Going in there is like going on a treasure hunt. You search through sky-high mounds of books, not always sure of what you're looking for. I've found some great old copies of classics in there that have been well-loved, and I feel happy to be able to give them a new home. I often buy them even if I know I have no more room or time for them. I am to books what Angelina Jolie is to kids--I don't really need more, but I love them, so just toss a couple more on the pile. You lose this experience with a Kindle. Perusing and buying is so simple, requiring a few clicks of a button. It takes all the adventure and joy out of the discovery of books. And when you do buy them, there is no history in them, and there never will be. You will never discover someone else's notes in the margins, and will never be able to write your name on the inside cover to mark your beloved territory.

I hope that the day will never come when books are obsolete and a Kindle is my only option. Books truly have souls, which is perhaps why I am unable to part with mine. My mother once suggested I give some of mine away or sell them since I was complaining about my lack of shelf space. I looked at her as though she had just told me to sell my children. Those books, with all of their diverse stories, have become a part of MY story, and are an expression of my personality. Give them up? I'd rather let them just take over my room; the couch is comfy enough.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I am worried about my grade

The wonderful Ms. M recently posted the above video on Facebook, and we've all been laughing about it and quoting it this whole week. It also makes us cringe a bit, because it is just so spot-on (right down to the detail of not having had a chance to pee all day). As it is the end of the semester right now, this is also quite timely.

I try my best to help my students, but I refuse to hold their hands, and that is what a lot of them seem to expect. I constantly get kids (often the same ones, again and again) asking me during class what their grade is. I keep having to tell them to either email me, see me after school, or even just look online where the damn things are posted, because I don't talk grades during class. It's just too disruptive. What I also don't understand is how clueless they can be about where they stand. There is no reason a student should be so shocked and angry, as some of them are, when they find out they are failing. I told them from the beginning that the people who fail my class are those who either don't do any work or don't turn in a lot of it. So I tell these kids that they're missing a lot of homework, they failed a test, did poorly on an essay, etc., and they still appear totally mystified, as though it is MY fault, that I am the one who allowed this to happen.

These students tell me that they are very concerned about their grades, and yet they are unwilling to take on the responsibility needed to improve said grades. One student has continually told me that he doesn't understand why he's doing so poorly and that he really wants to succeed, but his recent research paper pretty much sums up his shortcomings: most of his information came from Wikipedia (which I stressed--even in writing!--was NOT an option), and he didn't come for a writing conference, which I basically begged them all to come for on multiple occasions. Another student, who is quite smart but only pulling a D this term, emailed me at the beginning of the week about his grade. When I responded, he then asked if there was anything he could do to improve it before the term closed. I refrained from the temptation to suggest inventing a time machine.

Some of my students have been learning their lesson about responsibility, which is rewarding to see. They realize their mistakes, and are asking for help in a productive manner. But I am still just so frustrated about those who choose the angry response, who view me as someone standing in their way of success. I know it's not my fault, that I've tried to reach out to help them and to make them understand the ingredients for success, but that doesn't keep me from wanting to act like a teenage boy by punching a locker. In some twisted way, I still feel like I've failed a little bit. At the same time, though, I know that the answer is not to back down and let them get away with being lazy and turning in substandard work. I'm trying to prepare them for the big test of life, and babying them isn't going to help me accomplish that goal. I hate it when they hate me, but I suppose that's just part of the job sometimes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Be who you are.

"To be nobody but yourself--in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." ~e.e. cummings

How do you tell a kid that there's nothing wrong with him or her?

I have a student who, most of the time, appears to be miserable. After reaching out to her for quite some time, last month she finally confided in me and revealed the source of her misery: she is gay. This has caused her to feel so much self-loathing, and she feels so terribly alone. Due to a combination of fear of being outed and abandonment issues stemming from childhood, she pushes people away--sometimes because they have made off-hand homophobic comments, and other times simply because she is too afraid to get close to anyone. Her parents don't know her secret, and I don't think her friends do either. She was even intimidated to tell me, even though she acknowledged that I'm not an intimidating person.

We had a long talk that day. I shared with her one of my favorite quotes, by the great Dr. Seuss: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." I told her that it is important to be true to yourself, because otherwise you will only hurt yourself. And if somebody doesn't like you for who you are? Fuck 'em. (She was quite shocked by this choice of words, but at least it got a smile out of her.) I also told her that while acceptance of who she is is of great importance, as you have to love yourself before anyone else can truly love you, this is not something that is just going to magically happen in one day. It's a process that requires work and patience.

I encouraged her to keep a journal, since she usually feels like she has no one to confide in. Knowing she would likely never get one for herself, I picked one up at B&N. I told her that she could spill all her angst onto its pages, but my one request is that she write down one positive thing per day, whether it is an inspirational quote, something good that happened, a picture she likes, etc. She said she'd give it a try, and asked how often she should show it to me, but I told her that this is for her eyes only, and that what she writes is none of my business unless she wants it to be.

Since then, there have been days when she has seemed better, sometimes smiling at me and saying a few words, and a couple of times even interacting with other students (which she had not done in my class in a couple of months), but she still so often seems unhappy. She had earlier been open to coming to talk to me again, but lately has been rejecting my suggestions to have a follow-up talk. I'm trying not to push her too hard, while still reminding her that I'm here to support her, but it doesn't seem to be working too well.

The district I teach in has a culture of homophobia. I'm not saying that all the people there are like that, but the amount of intolerance is really quite sad to see. These kids don't seem to realize how an off-hand comment like "that's so gay" and using the word "faggot" can be truly hurtful. I've always tried to stop people from using this kind of derogatory language, and now I feel like I have to be even more vigilant about it, as it is now also about protecting students. As an English teacher, it is my job to educate people about the power of language, and this is an important extention of that.

I wish there were easy solutions to these issues, and I wish I had all the answers. I guess all I can do is continue battling against the intolerance, educating people about why certain comments and words are offensive, and encourage others to do the same. No one should have to feel ashamed about who they were. It is so sad that in this progressive day and age that members of the LGBTQ community are so often made to feel like second-class citizens, on both a community and a national level. I hope that my student will someday be able to overcome her struggles and see herself as a beautiful person, inside and out, and I hope our society becomes more conducive to this.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Crepes of Wrath

Now that I am no longer living with my parents, I need to learn how to cook. I'll admit, I haven't done a heck of a lot of it thus far, but hey, baby steps. (I did, however, buy an insanely cute apron for myself. Hopefully it'll help with my confidence.) I enjoy baking, largely because I love the end result (I have a ginormous sweet tooth), but also because it is so exact. All I need to do is follow the recipe, and voila! all is well. I have tweaked things a bit, but I like the security of being able to just do precisely what I'm told. Cooking, however, requires a lot more juggling and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. As an English teacher, I love having room for interpretation when it comes to literature, but it scares the bejeezus out of me in cooking, as I am terrified of screwing everything up.

Despite my irrational worries, I know that I have to learn. Both of my parents are great cooks (and bakers, for that matter), and I'm hoping that with some practice, I'll discover that I've got the cooking gene, or that I'll at least become competent. I've made chicken and managed not to die, so I feel like, at this early stage, that that's a pretty good sign. Last week, I made fettuccine alfredo--yum! I got the recipe from a blog called Crepes of Wrath (love the name), and I really want to try some of her other recipes (this weekend: peanut butter pancakes. So. Excited.).

If you have any other suggestions for food blogs and whatnot, feel free to leave a comment! But just a warning: If you suggest Rachael Ray, I will reach through my computer and smack you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Putting the "happy" in "Happy New Year."

"Mexico's like the moon, dude."--Student

Dearest readers,

I must apologize for not writing for so long. The last couple of weeks before winter break were crazy stressful, and then my brain pretty much felt like mush over vacation. But, as it is a new year, I am resolving to be much better about posting, and will try to do so a couple times a week. This post is going to be a mish-mash of things: what's been going on at school, a review of this past year, and a look ahead.

Like I said, things at school have been kind of hectic, though not totally in a bad way. Some of my classes were recently very busy writing papers. My honors class had to write a 4-5 page paper using two dystopian novels. It was definitely a bigger challenge than they are used to. But I'm determined to whip them into shape. They're capable of good writing, but they have to be willing to put in the hard work, which some of them still don't quite seem to have figured out. Others, however, are making good strides, so that makes me super happy.

I also received a great shock right before break. Every single student in my F period CP1 class turned in their research papers (only two were late)! It was a frickin' Christmas miracle or something. I'm still struggling against the great amount of apathy in my other CP1 class, so it gave me hope to see that even though so many students in this class are failing due to not doing much/any work, they haven't given up on themselves. I'm desperately trying to send them the message that I'm not giving up on them, so hopefully the attitude is catching.

Oh, and I don't think I ever updated you on the fundraiser my students did. They raised over $100 for a local women's shelter. They were very excited about this, and I was very proud. It wasn't as much money as I was hoping for, but every little bit counts. I hope this showed them just how wonderful it can be to do something good for others, and that what we do in school really does have a connection to the "real world."

Okay, now for my little "year in review" and look to the future:

My New Year's resolution this year is the same as the one I made last year: to be happy. I don't like making little specific resolutions, because I always seem to be bad about keeping them, and then I just feel like crap about myself. And who wants to start off the year like that? So instead, I'm going with an overall attitude about/approach to life. I'm not saying that I'm always good at being happy. I probably cried this year more than I normally do. But a lot of that was due to the fact that I took chances and opened myself up to new experiences. And you know what? This past year actually ended up being really great. I'm certainly not the same person I was a year ago. These past two years, since I graduated college, I've definitely grown up a lot. I've always had a good sense of who I am, but being out of the safe student bubble has allowed that identity to become more fully fleshed out.

This year, I gained a new cousin (good lord he is such a little cutie), and had to say goodbye to a family member who had to move away due to failing health. That darned circle of life certainly giveth and taketh away. I was also asked to be a bridesmaid for one of my dearest friends, which was such an honor. She is the first of my friends to get engaged--just another reminder that we really have grown up! I survived my first year of school with a bit of emotional scarring, but a still unwavering resolve. And I was asked back for another year, and while this year continues to be challenging, I am much more confident in what I am doing. (My cousin once told me that it'd be a good three years before I stopped feeling like I'm fucking up kids' lives....well, I'm certainly feeling like I'm fucking up less of them this year. Yay, progress!) I had my heart broken a couple of times this year. It hurt like hell and made me feel almost as angsty as my students, but I've come out of those experiences a better person and with a better understanding of what I want and need out of life. I've also been learning to fight my instinctual shyness and to be open to meeting new people. Over the summer and now during the current season, I've been hanging out with my soccer teammates. When people ask if anyone wants to go to a bar for a team bonding session, I've learned to say yes, and have actually had fun and made some new friends. I've also been spending more time hanging out with some of my colleagues, and now truly feel like I am part of the group and can call them my friends. I also have been renewing my friendship with my best friend after a couple years where we weren't so great at keeping in touch, and being close again makes me so so happy. And last, but certainly not least, I flew the nest and got an apartment this year. So THAT'S what those wings are for! It's taking some getting used to, but I love this feeling of independence. I always used to be so scared of change, but lately it's been feeling so much more exciting.

I hope that this year I will continue to experience lots of wonderful things and fulfill my resolution. I want to be happy in both my personal and professional life, and I think I'm getting better at it. As Voltaire said, "I have decided to be happy, because it is good for my health."