Wednesday, September 21, 2011

admitting writer's block in 2011.

there is so much wisdom i have to share with you. but for now, i will talk to you about writer's block, because i have it. a more teacherly post will ensue soon, right now i need to be a poet, unapologetically.


for the first time in a very long time, i can't write poems. it is a truly disturbing feeling, because poems were my first language; before i spoke an English that other people can understand (if you think that i'm exaggerating, remember that i was a shy kid, until you got to know me). my best friend, katy gallagher, gave me a journal for my 12th birthday and i realized that i could take them out of my head and write them down. they have been in my pockets, in my backpack, ballet bag, my field hockey bag, gym bag, my purse, packed in my suitcase, in my throat and lodged between creases in my brain for two-thirds of my lifetime. i am bilingual, because i am certainly fluent in poetry.

so i am trying to write one, right? i am swollen with joy and full of the emotions that poems make, i have fallen in some love-rain-down-on-me-83-degrees-cumulous-clouds kinda love, i am listening to otis and feeling the pain in his heart in a new hue of blue... but i can't write *the* poem. the definitive 2nd person poem, that there is no other you... i haven't written that poem since i was 17, and it was the best poem i've ever written. (i am probably looking at history with rose lenses, but it was deep, i'm gonna find it and share it in class)

so give me leave during this period of writer's block. i want to learn new languages to build castles upon the ways that i can say these words, i want to have a whole galaxy of adjectives with which to describe the specific fiction i am turning into non-fiction; then i will write your love poem.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

song of the day

Kendrick Lamar = my new favorite

Saturday, July 9, 2011

distance and time = perspective

i keep talking about this deep reflection that i'm going to write on what has been an utterly crazy, no-seatbelts, off-roading-in-a-convertible type of year (how's that for specificity?), but i'm struggling. here are some almosts, some reflections still forming, in no particular order and half-formed. you know, dear reader, that it makes me crazy to not put out a finished piece, but i am the biggest work in progress and this summer i am starting to absolve myself of my fears, and really do this right.

the hyperbole of a mess - june 28th
yesterday, linda stopped by my room and we had a rare chat. in the midst of one of the most insane years in the history of our school, and education nationally, i had the unique experience of having a wonderful year, both in and outside of my classroom. linda reminded me that i always return to hyperbole when i'm summing up my experiences - b/c i am somewhat dramatic; and it's more gemini to call myself a mess than it is to calmly explicate on my need to improve my organizational skills. perhaps the artist feels a pressure to be unraveled, but i'm not a mess. at least, not always, in all ways. i have it together professionally.

in 2010/11 i was blessed to bring 2 students to NCTE in Florida, held LPS poetry readings and attended readings with kids, did a great partnership with the Tribeca Film Institute, got tenure, became more active with United Playaz and started to envision UP Detroit, coached the softball team and was on PBS, highlighting my students' understandings from a unit i taught. i must be doing something right, but it is moments like these that i critically interrogate all of this and i am humbled and committed to working even harder. i can do so much better, i know this of myself, but hey... i'm also doing pretty well. for all of its drama and difficult mornings, i love my job and cannot imagine myself anywhere else right now.

title marinating - june 30th
i think it's true that one cannot see the beauty in life if one doesn't experience struggles, for the extremes bring us to a fuller range of emotions. the sweetness wouldn't seem to jump off the page if the bitter didn't push me back down. but as i told linda the other day, regardless of my tendency to self-deprecate, it's not about me or my ego. i go through this range of emotions FOR the kids and ABOUT the kids - it stopped being about me when i first set foot in this profession. yet, balance is the key and not a key i was born with. It has taken me awhile to teach myself balance. I have all the patience in the world, so I will keep letting others take energy without restoring it; this is my gift to the world, to each of you. i have learned how to replenish my energy and keep giving.

i've learned a lot this year, about saying yes and saying no. i've learned that my classroom is my domain that i can control, but outside of those walls, i don't control anything. and even within the walls, i am not a tyrant, and i am good at relinquishing control in favor of creating an environment that is collective. i believe in community building and try to reflect this in the physical space we inhabit together. i also believe in changing the teacher-student relationship and what it looks like on a daily basis. one comment from the PBS website was "I'm sure this teacher's time would be better spent teaching literature, civics or math", and i realize that if it doesn't look like traditional teaching, people don't recognize it. i was teaching literature AND civics - global citizenship is the kind that i favor.

must i be cold, frigid and disconnected to be a good teacher? what's wrong with the conflation between the personal and professional? i don't know how to turn my heart off or leave my politics at the door. i do not wish to indoctrinate my students, though, but i do aim every single day to get them to ask questions, consider different perspectives, question their own beliefs. this way the classroom functions interrogating these questions makes it look more like family to me, and that's what the DOE can't calculate or tabulate about my school. how can so much be working at a school, but the desired test scores are not being achieved? because the desired results aren't possible, given our resources and circumstances... but we are teaching our asses off and trying to nurture souls, instill values and starting where they are... i'm way more worried about producing good people who will contribute to the world in a positive way.

reflection (cont'd) - July 4th
there are so many things that i enjoy about what i do and miss during the summer. the daily antics of the show-stealers, who try to take my thunder and meld the class their way. the struggle to settle down and hush the hall energy with books. the resistance to reading until you find that story that somehow speaks your name and repeats it softly. One Hundred Years of Solitude was the first book that did that to me and i go back to reading like an addict, looking for words to make me feel that way again.

i miss the attempts at writing and farce of revision until you figure out that to revise is to make better, is to perfect your thoughts and help people understand your brand of brilliance. i know all about your lucid moments and just want to share them with a larger audience. i've also realized my need to have an office, because while i've crafted my classroom in my own colorful image, i cannot stay there to read your words. but home must be a sacred space of balance and practice - faith and health. both my faith and my health need a break from teaching sometimes, so there must be a physical space in which i get work done. the need to leave longwood is powerful, and will be even more so next year.

because i do so much after-school and above my union hours, i need home to just be home - but the time i spend out of work can and must become better utilized. it is all about moderation. i have become the extreme queen; i justify everything to myself as stress relief, and while healthy steps have been taken to move this in a new direction, i can improve. so to conclude, i am not a mess. i have acclimated myself very well to the demand of high needs and drama, but i must take precautions to be sure that i am safeguarding my heart and how much i give. not in order to give less, but to focus on replenishing the energy i exert. i need to improve my efficiency. i can do so much better and will need to keep pushing myself. just because no one else is hovering over me doesn't mean than i don't need to focus. this is just the beginning.

reflective Lo

Thursday, June 23, 2011

end of the year thoughts...

first things first... it has been a marathon year and i was trying to sprint through the last few weeks. but one cool outcome that i got to see on my 31st birthday of all days was a video done by PBS News Hour about the Nothing Like My Home project that I teach every year. check it out. Nothing Like My Home: Bronx on PBS

it's very important to note that not everyone in the project was properly credited, so I wanted to take this moment to recognize Lori Grinker, who was the photographer/videographer who started the journey of discussing Iraqi refugees in my classroom with her vision. Also, Marieke van Woerkom, who collaborated with the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility to develop the Nothing Like My Home curriculum that I use. i wouldn't be teaching this unit every year were it not for their sense of urgency that the stories of refugees worldwide need to be told, and that this is a global human rights issue we must undertake.

i'll get back to you on more thoughts about the closing of my 3rd year of teaching once i've had a chance to process it a bit more. we just finished scoring regents today, and have graduation on Tuesday! can't wait to see those seniors strut across the stage, beaming with pride, some of them being the first in their families to achieve that diploma.

and i'd like to close with a love poem:

"the size of this"

i have been cresting
the crust of the earth, peering
into volcanoes trying
to find you, circumnavigating
the city to locate the
coordinates of your breath,
charting new territories in
dangerous waters to wield
your weapons. i lost
my compass but kept
walking toward the sun.

you surprised my eyes
out of their sockets.
ninja-quiet in your
ability to hunt me down,
reel me in like red snapper,
memorize my phone number
and my rising sign
between your palms,
you opened up a new
avenue for breathing.

you are a spring cruise
in a 61 lincoln -
convertible, suicide doors.
i want just 5 more miles,
ten more minutes to praise
your name like worship.
let the wind lift us from
this earthbound tragedy
and move together,
across beautiful borders,
across civil countries,
across boundaries.

-lmf (6-23-11 ... 6:43pm)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

DYOs and OPP

Somehow, Naughty by Nature has been dominating my mind lately. Last night, on the bus ride, we were trying to write an email and all I could do was name their songs. I'm not sure what this means, but I just wanted to share. Speaking of sharing, my amazing ELA coach asked me to write a paragraph about how our DYO assessments are impacting my classroom and instructional decisions. I'm happy to report that I can actually use the data to support the effectiveness of a strategy that I taught them.

Upon looking at my mid-year DYO results, I was immediately excited about the progress that my students had made in the organization dimension of our writing rubric. After my fall DYO, I had determined that my 9th graders needed assistance with structuring a paragraph -- as all they could tell me about a paragraph was that it was 5-7 sentences. This led to essays that were very disorganized. They met the paragraph length, but with disjointed sentences that didn't connect. What about the fact that a paragraph should be focused on a unifying idea? All pertaining to or proving one topic or point of view? Instead of focusing on the length of a paragraph, I decided to teach about the specific information that should be included in a well-developed paragraph. I used the strategy of teaching Topic-Support-Detail sentences to help students write more organized paragraphs, and we practiced recognizing these kinds of sentences in different genres of texts; then, we practiced writing TSD paragraphs in various contexts (for HW assignments, free-writes and also on unit tests/assessments). In the 9th grade growth report (pg 12 of my Cycle 2 report), I saw that students' biggest progress was in organization -- overall they improved from a grade-wide average of 2.5 to 2.8 in this area. What is most interesting about the data is that there was lots of movement from level 2 (approaching expectations) to level 3 (meeting expectations). 57 students were meeting expectations in Cycle 1, while 25 were approaching. In Cycle 2 there were 53 meeting and only 12 approaching, even though 25 fewer students took the assessment... comparing student to self (1st to 2nd DYO cycle), there was overall growth in both meaning and development. I interpret this data to mean that there has been an upward trend of students writing more well-organized essays. I attribute this to the direct instruction of a strategy that helped them with the skill of organizing a paragraph in a new way, and actually understanding the kind of information that should be in each paragraph. This is one way that I have utilized the data from my DYO assessments to inform my instructional decisions.

All I wanted to point out is that I used the same structure for this paragraph (though it's realllllly long) that I taught the kids. I've found that modeling my expectations by writing all of the assignments my students do is so incredibly helpful. Seriously. Probably the biggest lesson of this year.

Happy 2011!