a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “education”

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 anothet 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 it’s 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?”


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.


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.

Lite vs Literary 

It’s often my dilemma when I’m shopping at my local library for my weekly rations of reading material: do I go lite or go literary?

Almost sounds like choosing cheesecake, doesn’t it? Go for less calories and sacrifice taste? It does apply to reading.

Before I offend too many people (hoping I haven’t offended anyone yet by saying your reading material choice is tasteless), let’s define literary merit. This is from a 2010 article by College Board’s Advanced Placement folk, the same people who run all those smartypants AP classes that students take and hope to learn enough to do well when they take those really tough and excruciating exams in May:

The Definition of Literary Merit in work of literature: 

  1. Entertains the reader and is interesting to read. 
  2. Does not merely conform to the expectations of a single genre or formula. 
  3. Has been judged to have artistic quality by the literary community (teachers, students, librarians, critics, other writers, the reading public). 
  4. Has stood the test of time in some way, regardless of the date of publication. 
  5. Shows thematic depth: themes merit revisiting and study because they are complex and nuanced.
  6. Demonstrates innovation in style, voice, structure, characterization, plot and/or description. 
  7. May have a social, political or ideological impact on society during the lifetime of the author or a erward. 
  8. Does not fall into the traps of “pulp” ction such as clichéd or derivative descriptions and plot devices, or sentimentality rather than “earned” emotion. 
  9. Is intended by the author to communicate in an artistic manner. 
  10. Is universal in its appeal (i.e., the themes and insights are not only accessible to one culture or time period.

My students tend to get in a snit when we start discussing novels appropriate for in-depth study which they can refer to on the May exam. Inevitably Harry Potter comes up. I’m certainly not passing judgement on the popular wizard-boy–I just hold the book up against the list. The snitting does not quell. Potter fans do not easily diminish their devotion. I always leave the decision up to them. After all, the exam is three hours and nearly a hundred dollars, if Harry means that much to them, they can exercise their option. Personally, if going for risky entries I would choose Bradbury’s F451. 

Back to my off duty reading choices. 

As an AP literature teacher, I try to practice what I teach. After a long and fulfilling week of extolling Hamlet to my students, I’m ready to unwind with a plot of my own selection. I have a long list of meritable titles I want and need to read, yet I’m sidetracked by titles that require minimal effort since the plot is as thin as the page it’s printed on. It’s rather nice not having to struggle through ponderous diction, and nuances of layered theme. Coasting and flipping. Much like reaching for that cheese danish when I should sit down to a salad.

I end up with a compromise. For every book that meets most of the Lit Mer test, I drop in a mystery or a Chick Lit, or a dystopian YA. Or even a Kid Lit because I have yet to fully embrace grown up reads as being my only option.

And I hope my students don’t surprise me in the checkout line. Then again maybe I would earn cool teacher points when they realize that reading is the ability of flexible options. That is nothing to be embarrassed about.Shakespeare does manage to find a way into my reading–be it historical or a plot where Ophelia finds herself a happy ending with Horatio.

Paper or Plastic?

“I would rather have a hard copy, if that’s okay.” This is from a new AP recruit wanting the summer reading text How to read Literature Like a Professor in book format rather than the PDF version I found on-line. Curious, I asked why. Her response? She had difficulty connecting with the on-screen type. Not what I expected from eyes way younger than mine. I, of course spout off about how much I prefer hard copies to e-copies as well because of my need to connect sensory-wise and as I’m talking, I’m flipping pages and smelling them and listening to them and when I finally notice my student nodding and edging toward the door, like she’d really like to leave because I’m a looney lady (more than one student has commented on me being a bit crazy), I hand over the book and wish her a great summer.

I am a looney lady when it comes to books–hence the Book Booster thing I do. Books aren’t just a pasttime or a channel of information, they are an introduction. Ahem, a new quote from moi:

A book in hand is a friendship in the making.

Beyond making a new friend, there is joy, a celebration of the senses holding a book in hand. I’m talking honest to goodness REAL paper-in-hand book. I do so enjoy paper, maybe that’s why I always answer “paper” instead of “plastic” at the store. Perhaps it’s because paper comes from trees and trees come from the earth and holding a book bound in paper produces more connection to the world around me.  I have little or no sensory connection to my plastic e-reader even though it’s a book in hand.  Oh oh–I feel the looney lady coming on and before I go on about trees, books and their connection to the world and mankind, here is my list of reasons for preferring a book of paper when reading:

1. Smell: that inky pungency stimulates my imagination to anticipation

2. Hearing: the flip-swish of pages signifies my involvement and commitment and helps me to further escape

3. Taste: no, I don’t lick the book, but reading a paper book whets my appetite for setting aside time to open up the pages to fall into another time, another place, another person’s story

4. Touch: there has got to be a study out there concerning the connection between the tactile aspect of reading and brain synapse when communing with a book–I am so much more involved when I am holding the book instead of just listening to it by audio or thumbing up a new screen. Think about this: glass does not conduct electricity, which means no synapse boost. Plus, when I see my book lying on the bed, table, chair it beckons me to pick it up, so there must be a some kind of magnetism involved.

5. Visual: perhaps the most notable because of the cover has all those colors and interesting bits to feed my eyes and mind, and then, of course, there all those illustrations and photographs and drawings sometimes waiting inside.

I’ve shown this video before, yet it definitely illustrates the visual appeal of books.

Reading is definitely a sensory experience for me.  What about you?  Paper or plastic?


Both my sophomores and seniors are in the midst of studying poetry. I like poetry. Lots.

Image result for i like poetry tshirt

image: zazzle

However, I understand the deeper truth in the popular saying:

Truth is like poetry..most people hate poetry.

I suppose this statement is saying truth is found in poetry, yet while most people desire the truth, they really don’t want to hear it. Connect this epiphany to poetry. If poetry represents truth, then people don’t want to hear or read poetry.

Welcome to my world.

(Most of) my students don’t want to hear, read, and most of all, study poetry. I make them anyway. Yes, I’m that kind of teacher.

I do try to make it a bit more fun, (after all I did dress up like Mary Poppins for homecoming week) by adding clips and such that discuss the importance of poetry or I present poetry in an paradigm shifting way.

Do you know that if you write poetry you could become a famous award winning writer?

Beyond analyzing and writing responses to poetry, I have students create their own poetry. Here is a mini-poetry workshop from my Creative Writing I files:

1.Pick a word or short phrase for the first line
2.Add a word or phrase to it for the second line
3.Take the ending line to create the consecutive lines, adding a new word or phrase each time until poem reaches a satisfactory conclusion.

In the garden there is a tree.
And in that tree is thinking spot.
And in that thinking spot are my daydreams.
And in my daydreams are pathways.
And on those pathways are choices to make.
And from those choices to make I will decide.
And from those decisions will become my destiny.

And from that destiny I will live my life.

And I will live my life always dreaming, always thinking.
I am thankful for trees.

I have
I have a
I have a nap
I have a nap hiding
I have a nap hiding in
I have a nap hiding in my
I have a nap hiding in my backpocket
I have a nap hiding in my backpocket and
It found me.

Take any word or concept or topic and define through a mix or poetical flow and concrete definition to better understand what it is all about, especially on a personal level.

Grammar is the spine
Of prose and all we know
That is called language,
Which can be spoken
Or written down.
And all those nouns
And verbs
And prepositions
And modifiers that often dangle
And nominative clauses that
Sometimes tangle
Our understanding
Are the vertebrae.

And without our vertebrae
There would be not enough spine
To stand us up.

So it is with language.


All of us carry secrets.  Some should stay hidden and some can be released. Secrets Revealed poems help ease the burden of confession in a light-hearted manner.  Secrets can be real (“I ate the last piece of cake and blamed it on my cousin Bobbie”) to creative (“I am Captain America’s favorite niece”)

Chocolate Cake Ache
It’s said secrets nestle in our stomach like tasty morsels,
yet, I don’t think that can be said for stolen chocolate cake.

For there it sat like a lump,
like a great big chocolate bump
of guilt.

Oh, it was tasty: fork-licking, hit-the-spot, lick-my-lips, glad-I-ate-it tasty,
until the realization settled down on top of that confectionary indiscretion.

“The last piece?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe Bobbie.”
“Yeah, I think she did.”

For undisclosed penance I passed on dessert that night.
And I do like tapioca pudding.

“Sure, Bobbie—you can have mine.”

Unexpressed confession, even though it is rerouted through unexplained acts
of sudden generosity,
does not relieve the ache of stolen chocolate cake.

This I know.

This is a poem of exploring matters contained within, or underneath, or beyond something everyday, or even unexplained.  Choose something to explore and decide which direction of discovery to investigate: will it be to dive inside to see what makes it tick, or will it be a burrowing sense of exploration where layers are removed and examined, or does the exploration go beyond known boundaries?

Inside all poems
Is a question
And inside this question
Is a quest

The poet rides out

on a journey to find
the meaning
or an answer–
or maybe to hear
an echo of reply
from one who seeks
an answer to the
same question quest.

is not a place I like to be
places especially not chosen
would be:

underneath our house–
dank earth of spider habitat
bug haven and perhaps where
the neighbor’s cat did hide and done died.

No, not under the house.

Not under the sea either–
All fishiness, and no way to breathe.
Sharks and stingrays and eels—oh, my…

And thanks, but no for caves.

In fact, anywhere it’s dark.
Dark is underneath and where the light
Cannot be–

You’ll not find me.


The idea is to write with imagery and detail in a way that it places the reader in that particular moment of time.  Actual photographs can be chosen for inspiration as can a reflective moment.  Employing the senses, playing with figurative language such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme can help create a moment rich with remembrance.

The crowd swelled, receded, and swirled
Around you

Yet you did not pay heed

To the push and jostle
Of the nameless faces.

Anticipation’s scent lingered in the air.

Shuffle and adjustment of frustration, excitement
Mingled and settled
As the one face in a million became spotlighted
As he traversed the passenger-smoothed steps

Into your arms.

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