Friday, August 29, 2008

settling into 318

It is crazy to sit here on a Friday afternoon and feel like I'm at home. The culture and people at this school are phenomenal, and I know that I'll be working all year just to keep pace with their brilliance. I am not one to take the spotlight (with regard to accolades for my work), so it feels nice to be so outshined by 30 master teachers, seriously. regardless of their level of experience in the classroom, everyone at my school is truly committed to innovative techniques to get students learning. It works. In the poorest congressional district in the country, we have a graduation rate of 85% (33% is about average for the neighborhood) and students who truly seek out knowledge, are interested in educating themselves from a political as well as personal point of view. These students want to change the foundation of the world we live in, already.

Room 318 is amazing, though there's lots of cleaning to do, lots of organization and setting it up. I don't feel nearly ready for Tuesday, but unfortunately, I'd rather be in my room preparing than describing it right now... and our internet's being strange, so I'm going to let you go on this note: I'm trying to make my desks look like a boat for Tuesday, ha.

Hope all is well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

notes on a syllabus.

perhaps the best thing i've seen online since this injury occurred. i'm always looking for ways to keep myself laughing. bert and ernie, doing M.O.P's "Ante Up".

last weekend, i went back to the hospital and was actually admitted for 3 days for an infection in the afore-blogged wound... as school begins (i report on monday), i'm trying to take care of my health first and lesson plans second. but here are some thoughts for my class this year that i'm synthesizing as i revise my syllabus. i'm teaching 5 sections of one class, which was originally titled "Intro to Literary Genres", but I re-titled "Reading into History".


1) this class is going to be a journey that we embark upon together. it is a science fiction cruise, back into history, where we will place ourselves in the sandals/chariots/saddles of different characters in literature, in order to see what lessons we can take from them that still apply to our lives today.

2) we will keep a travel log, where we will have daily entries about our surroundings, research we have come across, big questions we are beginning to ask ourselves as we cruise along, in a boat up the nile, the yangtze, the ganges, the mediterranean, the indian ocean and red sea (and that's only through december)!

3) monday thru thursday we will delve into literature and writing projects. fridays, we will close out the week with technology/blogging projects - trying to pause and reflect on where we're at, how far we've come and what we see ahead.

4) this classroom is a space that we are building together. it is not mine, it is ours. the rules of each class will be determined by a class contract, which we will decide upon and put in writing during the first week of school. while this contract can be a work in progress, we will decide together about the behaviors we would like to engage in within the class -- and how to deal with folks who are not respecting our space.

5) i welcome your prior knowledge about different periods of history and genres of literature, but ask that you always keep an open and questioning mind.

6) you will be expected to read, write and speak daily, as we are aiming to sharpen our communication skills. while i respect that people prefer different modes of communication, i also expect you to try new ways to express your ideas.

7) your grade will be determined by the effort you put in, your participation in class activities, the quality of your work and your own personal progress. you are in charge of your education and will also be evaluating your own work and progress, from time to time.

(after this i get into nitty gritty of grading structures and policies/procedures for absences, lateness (for both your person and your work),


and now a few words about the first month...

first two weeks -- basic skills: speedreading and reading strategies, notetaking, writing workshop (the writing process), discussion circle, goal setting, time management, class contracts, set-up of folders and journals, 'all about me' essays/visual projects, literary genre vocabulary, the art of the thesis, grammar basics.

next 3 weeks - egypt. "book of the dead" creation myths, KWL (what do we KNOW, what do we WONDER, what have we LEARNED?), translating hieroglyphs into poetry, vocabulary, rituals, "a modern ancient society" -- an oxymoron?, egyptian art (field trip to the met), spirituality, and economy. where do we see egypt in popular culture? what's the history of our fear of mummies? what else can we discover about their lives and culture?


and with that, i must go to bed. planning is exhilarating, but also exhausting. and i find it hilarious that anytime i describe my work this year, the adjective that folks usually use is "ambitious". is it? only time will tell.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

technological difficulties, or murphy's law of publishing?

first of all, let me start off by saying that our zine turned out amazing. spectacular! truly, each student really took the project to heart, wrote something and created a page that represented who they are, what they're thinking about, and with such style! i am so proud of my summer students.

thrilled about how the project turned out, i had W, my assistant editor, help me put the last few touches on it, waited for pages from a few more students on wednesday and set off with A, my other assistant editor, to make photocopies... while the rest of the students went on a trip (to see batman, so sad that my leg prevented me from going). i had A print out and add the staff biographies, table of contents, etc while i started on the copying. about 100 pages into an 1,000 page copy project, the machine got a misfeed. being a copy machine aficionado, i pulled the machine apart and retrieve the jammed paper. it jammed again, on the next copy. and again, again, times 20. we spend the next hour trying to work on the machine, all 4 of us experienced office women who will roll up our sleeves to get a job done. our work goes unrewarded, and i apologize to the kind folks at the ASPIRA office who let me use their facilities. i feel horrible about jamming the machine!

J takes the master copy and adds some more photos to it, but we didn't get it copied in time for the last day of the summer program, which bummed me out. though, the students and staff will get to receive it in the mail in a week or two (or at school in the beginning of the year). i had especially wanted them to be able to autograph each other's zines, as they are all now published authors. i did get to stand up at the ceremony today and announce and congratulate them for their hard work. i agree with V, it will be cool for them to get them in the mail, to remind them of their summer just as it's starting to fade from their minds.

i think i will quote Langston Hughes all my life, in reference to students. if they think that our contact is going to be brief, they need to rethink it. once you have been in my classroom, you're stuck with me. our contact with not be constant, but i expect to hear about your successes, your struggles and your landmarks. i expressed this to them and got their contact info, if they're not going to be my students in the fall. we had a wonderful ceremony, a great BBQ that included teachers beating students in hoops, dance lessons by J and L, a battle between J and V and big ole dance circles. so many parents came up to say hello; it was really nice to be so welcomed into the community.

i will miss seeing these students in front of me everyday. but this experience had ignited my passion for teaching, and confirmed that this is what i'm meant to do. it feels amazing to have landmark moments to solidify this. thank you to everyone who helped support me in the program this summer. the pleasure was truly mine.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

mending and zinesterism

i am healing, but at jurassic pace. i tend to always think of "why things happen" and i'm convinced that i get injured about once a year so that i will slow down, and re-learn the lesson that sometimes i need help. i have always said that i need support and people to hold me up, but i am incredibly self-sufficient. it's so difficult for me to not have my full physical faculties, and to remember that when my body isn't healthy, much of my energy must be devoted to healing.

so, having divine inspiration at 1:00am to begin fleshing out the zine i'm working on with my students was unexpected. i have been working on my fall curriculum map for most of the day, and chatting with a few students about the papers they need to finish over the weekend. H was getting all metacognitive about why he can't write during class:

R was professing his love for poetry because he can "take out" his feelings.
i imagined him taking his feelings out of his pockets:

and L was just being sweet. she'd said that her class was a handful and i said that i didn't think so, that i enjoyed them:

I've found that myspace is an excellent way to connect, but setting up a time once or twice a week where I get on AIM during the evening/on the weekend, so that they can contact me about questions they have with their papers is the best way. They're always on AIM, and without me even reminding them, they'll say "Miss, I'm working on the paper." Just my presence outside of the classroom, digitally, causes them to recall assignments (Liz, I'm sure you've found this, too, with your cell phone research). It's not the be-all end-all solution to getting homework turned in, because it assumes that students have internet access and/or a computer at home, but another way to be in touch and get them to make that school-to-home transfer of knowledge. L actually IM'ed me this morning, talking about personal writing she was working on in addition to class work.

much more to say, but i'm exhausted. i feel that i've done a great deal of work today, which was much-needed. i still have to grade papers and get the layout for the zine done by monday, but i swear, i will turn them into lovers of the independent publishing world by the end of this week. having their own writing be in their hands in a little booklet is going to turn some, not all, into zinesters. at the very least, i hope that they use it as a yearbook, to remember each other by their work, as well as socially.

we'll see how it goes. i'll keep you updated. happy weekend!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

33 stitches later.

speaking of crisis, i guess it was time to get in touch with my subject matter. today i got to see one of the hospitals in my neighborhood, from the inside. everything about this move back has been so easy, i knew it was time for something to happen.

* i have an amazing job teaching 9th grade English in the bronx.
* i get to completely design my curriculum, and align it with the world history studies.
* i found a wonderful summer sublet in a loft with two amazing folks.
* i just signed a lease on a fabulous brownstone apartment 2 blocks away.
* i am in love with my life.

so, all this past week i've been thinking that the other shoe had to drop. and it did, in the form of traumatic injury. on my way up to my loft this afternoon, one of the rungs on the wooden ladder broke, and i fell through. on the way down, the screws previously holding the rung to the frame caught my leg.

i had never seen so much blood, much less my own, pooling at my feet. i just kept staring at the open gash, the flow of crimson down my leg. my fingers started to tingle and i felt faint. shock shuddered through me with a sweat. i cried out to my roommate, who flew across the room.

somehow, being half conscious, i was still able to mumble to get a towel, apply pressure, tie a scarf so she could call 911. when trying to lift my leg to free myself from the ladder, the blood ran more quickly. she told me to stay with her, and wait. i went deep inside of myself and tried to keep my eyes open. i couldn't look down at the floor. keep looking up. don't close your eyelids.

suddenly, 8 men were in the room, trying to cut me out of the ladder, give me oxygen, bandage the wound and calm me down. one of them washed my feet and said "this is the last time i'm giving you a bath, okay?" i laughed and was thankful for someone making a joke.

Just talk to me, keep my head off of this, I kept silently pleading and mina complied. we got there and were taking ER photos on her phone, talking of everything else we could think of, but were both into the gore of it, too. she watched my muscle move from the inside. we took CSI-style photos of the "crime scene" when we got home later.

it was quite an ordeal that i quietly endured. saying nam-myoho-renge-kyo in my head as they discussed the strategy for sutures. complimented for my composure in this situation, but i have to say it was fascinating to be able to look inside a part of myself. maybe understand the inner workings of my wants, if only for a moment.

i still can't get my head around the way the body deals with immense pain. it's as if to say we are supposed to shut down while it repairs us, that we have modeled our technology after our own designs. will we be aware of the slow takeover, the subtle creeping of these machines?

the major thought on my mind before this afternoon's events transpired was how i feared a technological takeover of romance. you know me, i am romantic with friends and friends with romantics. could it be that we are headed for text msg relationships, break-ups, sex and reconciliation?

yes, we are going there. and i will have scars to prove that i've been. 33 stitches, to be exact.