cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “education”

A Cat Named Atticus


I will admit it: I am officially in countdown mode. 

Once Memorial Day weekend arrives it’s just a matter of reviewing for finals and finalizing grades. 

This is also the time of year that I begin to reflect upon the overall. The usual introspective “Was I effective as a teacher?” thing that often ends up with the “Maybe I should look into retirement” nudges.

Yes, there were plenty of successes: students embracing the new research paper format; scores for state testing going beyond stated requirements (at least in one class); finding lost papers.

Yet, I dwell upon those perceived failures: that one class, that one student, that one unit that didn’t quite, that didn’t quite–that, well, wasn’t quite a success.

Maybe retirement would be a good idea.

Thoughts like that prompt me towards a library run and lunch out. And that’s when I am handed a providential reprieve. 

In a small town like ours it is inevitable I run into students, both present and former. They bag my groceries, fill up my water glass, complete my Penney’s purchase, and serve my food. This one I couldn’t remember her name, or if I actually had her as a student. So I feign the friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” 

Then the question pops up: “Do you still teach English?” 

I guess I do look like I’m retired. We talk as she wraps up my purchase. She was in my class when I taught freshmen (that was a ways back). I wonder silently if she gained anything from the class. Five years ago…That’s going back a ways. Then she says, “I remember we read To Kill a Mockingbird.” I wait for her reflection, her possible judgement. “I named my cat Atticus.”

A cat named Atticus. 

Yup, I can put off retirement for at least one more year.


image:sportsmagazine.net

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Reading Round Up: April 2018


Looking over last year’s April Round Up, my stats were a measly 29% for my reading goal of 101 books for the year. I was also yipping about being so exhausted from taking on an extra AP class to teach.

Maybe I’m toughening up because this year I’m up to 35%, then again I am still exhausted from preparing students for double exams: AP Language and AP Literature. I yipped last post, so I shall refrain.

Reading in April happened primarily during Spring Break. The rest of the month consisted of concentrated teaching efforts. Too tired to read is not my happy place. Binge watching Dr Who kept me from eating chocolate during my stress crisis since I didn’t renew my gym membership this year. At least my stress relieving habits are improving. Wait–do I detect censure for watching four Who episodes at a sitting? Really–I was attempting to grade. Some points for trying to multi-tasking?

April reading highlights:

joyce

image: Barnes and Nobles

I made the mistake of taking this along as my Spring Break travel book. Not actually a cozy or enthralling read.

One of those books that is avoided for ever so long, ever knowing that it is a MUST read, especially for English Lit teachers. It’s almost embarrassing how long it took for me to finally read Joyce’s novel of groundbreaking importance. Admittedly, it was as tough as I thought it would be, but for different reasons than I originally anticipated.

I applaud the ingenuity and daring–the dialogue sequences, the emulation of thought constructs, the stream of consciousness; yet, Stephen is not a character of admiration making it difficult to invest of even care about his story.

gilead

image: Barnes and Noble

Pulitzer Prizers are either outstanding or ponderous in my reading experience. Robinson’s Gilead falls somewhere in the mid zone. The writing is outstanding,the plot ponderously slow, if a book comprised of a continuous future epistolary journal is considered a plot.

There is much to appreciate in the depth of the theology Robinson presents, and there is a beauty in the understanding that the speaker reaches into his feelings for his main antagonist.

Deservedly a Pulitzer—just slow in the pace. Then again, not all books should be hurried through. This one in particular. However, it is doubtful I will continue with the other Gilead books.

Dr Who: Who-olgy by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright

Published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, this reference guide is designed for both beginners or experts; the book covers it all for Wholigans. Lots of trivia and background. Informative and entertaining–most def. Some info could be expanded, such as how psychic paper actually works, and why it doesn’t work on everyone, such as Shakespeare. I learned that while I enjoy the reboot series to a point–liking only two of the four, going on five doctors–I doubt I will be attending Comic Con to celebrate my fan status. I do ponder cosplay and vacillate between a Cyberman and Madame Pompadour.

Looking forward to May as I have arranged an extended weekend and plan to read, read, read, along with nap, nap, nap. I shall also partake in swallow watching since our condo balcony is in their nesting flight path. I just hope I don’t get conked by a stray golf ball. Two years in a row it’s been near misses. Absolutely a startling way to awaken from a dozy deck chair dream–a swish, tonk, crash. Not good. Not good. Some people should correct their slice before venturing out on the greens.

Happy Maying–

Movie Musings: Requiem for the American Dream


I’ve already watched this documentary twice this month: once for my own interest and once with my students. A third time might be in store to take even more notes. It’s a mesmerizing overview of the how and why the American dream is not the same one of our parents and grandparents.

This documentary is essential to share with students prior to their graduation.

Noam Chomsky, respected linguist, cultural critic, with a rep as an activist, calmly, succinctly, and convincingly provides viewers with insights about the tenets of the American dream. I now better understand why there is a disconnect to the expectation that a college degree is a main ingredient to achieving success by standards that no longer exist due to a system that is barely recognizable from the days of the fifties and sixties.

Listening to Chomsky is akin to spending time with a wise sage with spark and vinegar up his sleeve. It is a bit like if Grandpa Walton had graduated from MIT instead of the school of hard knocks.

The creative editing and dynamic musical score add greatly to the mood of intense enlightenment. I hope watching this documentary inspires my students to prove Mr. Chomsky wrong, even if he persuades us it all sounds so right.

Sage old dudes are a national treasure.

Techno Faux Pax


A variation of an old chestnut:

Two girls walk into a classroom wearing the same yellow sweatshirt. They stop and stare at each other. They size each other up. The teacher tries to cut the tension with the quip: “Looks like you got the email.”

You know–that joke.

The problem is that teens don’t email each other. At least not anymore. The class bursts out in derisive laughter. “Yeah, right. Because that’s what we do. We email each other.” Loud smirking ensues.

Trying to save a bit of my self-esteem I respond brightly: “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear that often from my own kids –I email them.” The moment is somewhat saved and we go back to English.

I do text. I don’t Tweet. I do FaceTime. I prefer visits. I write letters. Hmm–nothing comes close to a letter. A humorous card maybe.

Yet, if I were to say the right techno term I still would be on the outside looking in. Why? My expiration date is beginning to show. I’m at retirement age and students know it. I don’t feel like retiring yet, but because I could, that makes me old. Out with the old, in with the new.

If I happen to drop in a casual word or phrase students seem surprised. Do I know what that means? If I mention a movie, song, a whatever that is in their world I think it concerns them. It’s as if I have bumped their youth bubble. Granted, I don’t know most of their music, trends, or media choices. On the other hand, they don’t know that Edgar Allan Poe influenced Stephen King, who I remember reading when he first came out and none of his books were movies yet. Or how about everyone from Monty Python to Jimmy Fallon quotes some line from Hamlet and now my students know why. Or the reason there are strong female protagonists like Katniss is because we had Jane Eyre first. And they don’t know about Byronic Heroes–yet, even though they do know about Loki, Ironman, and Bat Man.

I may get my techno terminology tangled, but they don’t know all about the who, how, and why of Shakespeare’s influence of just about everything. I have job security for a bit longer.

So is blogging for old people? Oh who cares–I need more than 280 characters for my say.

Julius Caesar: Shaken Up


The Ides of March:

a) preview of March Madness

b) a week of spring sales

c) the middle of March

d) a George Clooney movie

e) when a certain Roman emperor got the point he wasn’t as loved as he thought he was

Answers: c)true; d)true; e)true; a) and b) contenders, because one never knows

And bonus points for knowing e) is Julius Caesar and that the 15th are the Ides of March, the middle of March.

This is useful information for Trivia Night at the local pub. Truly.

Recently our school hosted this year’s Shakesperience play: Julius Caesar. Shakesperienceis a troupe of enthusiastic actors who travel to various schools and present 50 minute versions of a selected Shakespeare play. They are always innovative in approach. This is done out of necessity . For one, they have only six actors, which means playing multiple parts. They also have minimal staging, their main piece being a tiered rolling scaffold.

This year’s production was especially innovative in that Caesar was a woman and Calpurnia became husband Calpurnius. It worked well.

It was tricky presenting a assassination in a school culture where performing violence is challenging at best. Again, innovation took the lead. When the big moment arrived, each conspirator took a sheet of paper and created a weapon: fashioned brass knuckles, tightly rolled paper points equating knives. No blood, torn paper, a shower of confetti symbolized death.

During question and answer it was revealed the torn paper bits represented the tearing of a person’s life, how a person’s life is symbolized through paper: obituaries, text, etc. Ripping up the paper is shredding their life. Brilliant and school appropriate.

I always look forward to these yearly performances. Yet, every year it’s tough to gather an interest due to working around students who either can’t or don’t want to miss their class. District testing scheduled on that day doesn’t help either. Unfortunately providing opportunities for culture suffers the injuries incurred by the tyranny of the urgent set by educational must-do, like yet another test.

Hoping Shakespeare performed live is coming to a theatre near you, or better yet, to a school in your neighborhood.

And do be aware of the Ides of March.

The Bliss of SSR


Teen Read Week is coming up. It got me thinking about the need for teens to read.

Back in the day before screens ruled the scene, books were on student desks and in their hands. Accelerated Reader got kids reading — even if it was just for points. That ingrained habit stuck and most high schoolers kept up the practice of reading. Okay, Harry Potter helped as well.

Since we did not prescribe to point system reading at the high school level I initiated ten minutes of sustained silent reading or SSR. Before I get too many Book Booster kudos, I freely admit I did it mainly for classroom management purposes. My ninth graders were volumes heavy in energy and it would usually take ten minutes to call them down. With the routine of SSR they sat down, silently read, and class resumed in a calm manner. Why did I stop?

I have often asked myself that.

Something about increased curriculum needs, not enough time, correcting badly written, mostly plagiarized book reports.

After a five plus years hiatus SSR is back in style in my classroom. Frustrated with students who brag about never reading, getting them away from thumb swiping into page flipping, and needing to boost their SAT scores I decided to return to SSR. That class management aspect too.

Our district has gone to the one to one system where every student receives a laptop. That’s a whole different blog post. What this does allow is changing the format of the dreaded book report. They are now PowerPoints. Google Docs even provides a template.

I’m actually looking forward to them.

As the end of first quarter approaches, I notice that students are actually engaged and interested in reading. And even if they aren’t they are at least quiet for ten minutes.

I read along with them, and share my thoughts about the book I’m currently reading. Sometimes they share too.

The funniest aspect of SSR is the one book that gets grabbed off my shelf. Because if they forget their book they need to be reading, and I’ve got quite a few to choose from on my bookshelf. So which book is the go to book? Moby Dick. I kid you not. Is it to prove they are a mighty reader to take on this whale of a story?

I watched one student grab it, smirk to his friends his choice, and surreptitiously snuck glances at what he did with it: looked at the front and back covers, flipped the pages, gazed at the maps, flip more pages, and then he began to read it. From the front.

Yeah. SSR is a three letter word for bliss.

Drug Free Teaching


Today was the first day back to school. I went home just before lunch after confessing to the principal I couldn’t handle it any longer. The look on my face made him step back and say: “Go home.” Good thing it was only staff day and not class day.

It’s been a month since I ditched my mountain bike on the bike path embankment to avoid crashing into another cyclist. It’s been a long month of adjusting to using my left hand instead of my right, learning to love ice packs, and enduring physical therapy. Tolerating pain meds is its own post.

Being a lightweight (wave a cork at me and I’m tipsy), I take half doses of my pills in order to maintain some state of functionality. This means I’m always at about a three on the pain scale–I think ten is an elephant standing on your head (like when I first figured my wrist must be broken after I crashed).

Apparently, I cannot teach or drive, if I take my pain meds. Driving a car or teaching teens under the influence is frowned upon . Something about impaired judgement. So, to prepare going back to driving and teaching I have been cutting back on my dosage. Way back. How about no meds for a day? Yeah–that didn’t work so well.

Thankfully, my understanding principal let me go home and nap so I could return for open house. Yes, it was a long day first day back.

At this moment I have ice on my wrist and I’m hoping to go back to sleep and go for another day of staff meetings and prepping my classroom. During staff introductions I held up my black air-cast wrist and joked I had on my Wonder Woman titanium bracelet. The joke was on me when I said, “And it’s my first day without drugs.” And the quip? “In your teaching career?”

Yeah.

I went home and napped for three hours. Ice is nice.

Of Purple Cows and Ending of School Year


Monday is the last week of school. My seniors are already done with their finals and have vamoosed. There is an empty spot in my schedule, and in my teacher’s heart. I so enjoy my AP Lit classes. I hope they remember the stuff I taught them or attempted to teach them when they are sitting in their university lecture halls.

This week the sophomores take their finals. They will be tested on their knowledge of Julius Caesar, the last unit of their tenth grade English. For the most part they enjoyed learning about this important Rome leader. They still have misconceptions about him though–such as him being the inventor of s salad. They were amazed July is named after him.

Some complained about how much history goes with English literature. One influences the other, is what I tell them. They still grumble.

My one another AP class, my AP Language, affectionately known as Langsters, will be presenting their Senior Project Starters this week as their final. Most will be moving on to AP Lit, so not too much sadness, although they did make my first year of teaching AP Language quite enjoyable. Juniors are done with underclassmen drama, aren’t infected with Senioritis, and realized that with a wee bit more effort it’s possible to get great SAT scores which can open doors to desired colleges.

After June 12th I’m free to get back to “me” pursuits, such as reading books, instead of essays. I also hope to finish up a YA novel I started (about five years ago). It’s tough finding time to write as a teacher.

Surprisingly enough, I’m on the short list to teach creative writing second semester. It’s been about four years, so I’m brushing off some of my lesson plans. One them involves parody writing. Tell me what you think:

Parody Poems

“Imitation is the best form of compliment” or so they say. A Parody Poem emulates or copies a known style of poet. Special attention is paid to tone, diction, rhythm, meter—basically getting the poet’s style so that it is recognizable.

Here are some parody poems using the famous “Purple Cow” poem:

 A Purple Cow  (reading by Stuart S.)
by Gelett Burgess

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

Image result for purple cow

And here are the parodies:

Edgar Allen Poe
Parody by Susan and David Hollander

One lonely, gloomy, windswept eve
A mournful sound did I perceive.
I cast my eyes beyond the pane
And to my horror down the lane
Came a sight; I froze inside
A spectral cow with purple hide.
Emily Dickinson
Parody by Susan and David Hollander

On far off hills
And distant rills,
Sounds a distant moo.
A purple spot
I think I caught,
Yes! I see it, too!
In Bovine majesty she stands,
Her purple tail she swings,
The amethyst cow,
To my heart somehow,
Perfect joy she brings.
And yet the thought of being
Of that race of royal hue,
Though glowing like the violet sweet,
It really would not do

My contributions…

Dr Seuss
by C. Muse

Hey Sam–
Who cares about greens eggs and ham?

I like cows.
I like cows here and now.
I like cows and their moo.
Do you like cows?
You like them, too?

I like cows brown or black and white.
A purple cow?
I think not.
That can’t be right.

Shakespeare
SONNET 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art so lovely, as thou eats hay.

Gentle creature, thou shows its color true,
Of thy hide of which you are adorned
A rich amethyst, a most unexpected hue.
Some may give shriek and others scorn
Yet, it matters not, thou still dost moo.

So long as all can breathe and see,
So all appreciate the purple cow that is thee.

A Bit of Bard–maybe a bit late


Depending on where you are located, it’s April 23rd and William Shakespeare’s birthday. Today he is an amazing 453 years old! Last year the world celebrated the 400 years since he passed from immediate view–going out on his birthday in 1616. I believe Mark Twain is another writer who did the same, except being Twain he did so with more flourish by coming in with Halley’s comet and leaving the day it returned.

As for William, his influence is ageless. I’m currently undertaking the starting of a Shakespeare club on campus: Students for Shakespeare. I actually inherited the title of the club. A few years back a group of students who wanted to put on Macbeth at the local theater and by doing so, made enough from ticket sales to create a little nest egg for future ventures. Their tidy profit helped in bringing Shakespeare to our school. With some tight management of funds, I manage to bring in annually Shakesperience, a team of actors who travel around the state performing at schools for a small fee. For some students, this will be their first and only exposure to a live performance of Shakespeare.

In the classroom I no doubt wear out my students with my enthusiasm for Shakespeare. I have his poster up on the wall and once a month I create crazy iMovies that are played on the morning announcements that promote the Students for Shakespeare Club. And four is the number of students I commandeered to be in the yearbook photo since no one has actually showed up for our monthly meetings yet. I shall once more to the breach…

April also happens to be National Poetry Month. I usually provide a poem a day as tribute to the month. I save them up all year. This year spring break happened the first week of April, I succumbed to getting a cold, then became dizzyfied by SAT testing, followed by reviewing for AP exams, became distracted by class registration–well, let’s just say Eliot wasn’t kidding when he said April is the cruelest month. Maybe not cruel. Daffodils are blooming. I get happy when the flowers return. It is a busy month though.

So–my poetry plans fell through, but I shall, as Puck says, try to make amends. Here is a link that is definitely worth watching, especially if you relish really amazing acting. This is Sir Ian in his prime (around 43), performing a one man show of Shakespeare. And this fulfills my poetry and Shakespeare efforts for April since Sir Ian performs both sonnets and play excerpts. Enjoy!

Bardinator Mission


Tuesday, over one hundred teens experienced live theatre for less than the cost of a latte. For $2.00, a group of middle schoolers and high schoolers decided to take a break from class for one hour and invest in Shakespeare. 

The Shakespeare Festival troupe travels around the state performing for students and this year’s play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think it important students experience live theatre. It’s such a radically different experience than watching a film. That connection with the actors as live drama enfolds right there in close proximity is such an invigorating, unique experience. 

I almost feel it’s my mission as a Bardinator to encourage as many students as possible to see Shakespeare performed. He was never meant to be read from a textbook, or watched as a movie. That’s one reason the acting troupe advertises the event as Shakesperience. Experiencing Shakespeare as performed theatre should be a requisite of education. 

Currently it’s a once a year option and it’s a tough sell to get students to buy a ticket, to invest in a memory that costs less than their daily caffeine candy in a cup.

Last year the audience was barely fifty students. A few years ago we used to have double performances with a full house of 250 each.  It makes me wonder if trying to infuse culture on our campus is a lost cause. This year’s jump in attendance gives me hope. And I will continue to make the arrangements for the yearly visit (even though I vow to not do it again).

I shall prevail. After all, as it’s been said, “the perchance to dream.” And Tuesday’s performance showed students that life is but a dream. A magical one they will remember for a long time.

Image:libbeybowl.org

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