Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Place Like Home

"You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right." ~Maya Angelou

I have been thinking about home.  About why a certain place might feel like home, even when we have never lived there.  Two of those places exist in my life.

Specifically, I am missing Seaside, Oregon.  I have tried to travel there each summer with my children.  We missed it two years ago, and are missing it this summer because we have so many other projects and expenses.

It is not the place I grew up.  As if, for most of us, there was "the place." Most Americans probably grew up in many places.

It is the place where my father's parents have lived since the late 70's-- at least 30 years.  My grandfather passed away in 1995, but my grandmother still lives in their cottage-like house with its simple square front yard two short blocks from the ocean.  My father lives in Seaside with his wife Lita, and my Uncle Steve, Aunt Susan and their son live there, too, in Gearhart.  My grandparents, uncle and father have all been businesspeople there for many years.  My dad has a 4-H baking club that entered dog biscuits in the county fair last year.  The Methodist church was filled to overflowing for my grandfather's funeral.  And some of this is why I feel at home there. 

The natural beauty of the place brings me back to Seaside in my most stressful moments, and especially in the middle of June in Tucson when half the state is on fire and any nearby mountain respite has been closed to the public out of fear of one more small spark.  Instead, we bake in the desert, and the sunlight becomes one washed-out blaze of heat.  We pray for the monsoon and bargain with ourselves about whether to economize on air conditioning or turn the thermostat down a few more degrees... we tell ourselves we deserve it. 

And my imagination wanders to the memories of driving over the mountains from Portland in a rental car, and realizing that here, we do not have to seal ourselves inside this cocoon, but can open the windows and feel the cool, humid air, carrying the smell of fir shade and green ferns.  We can stop at the spring and fill every bottle in the car with sweet, cold water.

I think of these beaches as my healing place, my cool place, a place my mind can rest.  My children can play in the elements, and within the welcoming and protective arms of a loving family.  

These are cool, wide, smooth beaches.  Beaches for walking and digging.  Beaches for dogs chasing balls. The sand is so fine Grandma likes us to hose off our feet before coming back indoors.  Whatever car we drive gathers sand in the upholstery.

I'll stop here for today...  a blog by its nature is a bit ephemeral and fragmented... I'm sure I'll return to this theme at a later time, especially if the monsoons hold off much longer around here in Tucson.

Writing With Roger Shanley-- One Last Time.

Not that I won't be writing, or that he won't.  And we may write together in the future.

But today is the last day of the Southern Arizona Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute for the summer, and the second to last day with Roger Shanley as co-director.  If I remember correctly, Roger has been involved with the project since the late 70's or early 80's.

If you would like to join us for writing time today, the following are the prompts written on the board:
  • shadows
  • "the usawper"
  • memory
  • who does she think she is?
  • sangria
  • future
  • coffee
  • family camping
  • special friends
  • writing groups
  • publishing plans
  • lovefest
  • if $ is no object
As co-director, Roger has ushered dozens if not hundreds of teachers through the process of developing their voices as writers, developing a habit of writing, and developing teaching demonstrations which help them build research-based evidence to support what they know to be good teaching strategies.  These demonstrations help teachers to truly become teacher-leaders and broaden their vision of what it means to be a professional.

Roger is a wealth of information about the teaching of writing and the theories of teaching reading and writing.  Someone mentioned the other day that he should go to work for an encyclopedia company, and I can see that-- Roger Shanley, Education Editor at Wikipedia.  His ability to toss in the names of key theorists in the middle of a coaching session is not only useful, but really pushed me as an educator to work on my own professional reading, although I will never have the talent of authoritative name-dropping.

From my observations over the years, I gather that Roger has an incorrigible distrust of mandates, whether local, state or federal, especially when they contain built-in handicaps for teachers and students as they go about the business of teaching and learning. Roger continues to speak out and push against the top-down and anti-teacher and student "reforms" and bureaucratic moves that frustrate many teachers in their efforts to create authentic learning opportunities for all of their students, no matter what background or set of skills or resources they bring to the classroom.  He, with other teachers, years back led a PLC to explore the social injustices inherent with AIMS testing and other assessment requirements.   The conversations in the forums led by this group brought many teachers into dialogue about equity and diversity in the writing classroom.  So important. 

But of course, what we all love about the guy is his humanity, and the knowledge that he is as much a committed and often frustrated peer as he is an expert teacher of teachers. In writing and coaching groups, Roger is expert at helping folks clarify their thinking-- something that I often need.  Over the weeks, my teacher demo went from one with an overly broad focus on the research process to one that focused on a specific technique to help students incorporate their voice into research papers.  I also felt comfortable and confident sharing my personal writing in Roger's group-- it didn't feel overly competitive or judgmental, but rather respectful, helpful and supportive yet critical.

And coffee never hurt anything.  Roger will, of course, be remembered for making coffee for the summer institute on a daily basis, and keeping it brewing until the caffeine was practically flowing out of our fingers onto the page-- I sometimes wonder if folks' writing during the summer institute is at all more frenetic or anxious than on another day.

There is, as always, more to say.  But I'll sign off this morning to the image of 26 people silently thinking and writing, heads down, keyboards tapping, pens gliding on paper, men and women devoting time to their own thoughts and voices.  Pausing to sip coffee or eat a strawberry.  This core experience of the writing project will continue forward, but without Roger's generous and intelligent guidance or his coffee.  Thank you, Roger, for everything.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Snapshot of Substitute Teaching in Summer School

We are in the lab right now, and for some reason they are working completely independently.  The assignment is a three or five paragraph descriptive essay.  We are not really sure, because the sub plans don't specify.  I wrote a five paragraph outline on the board; several students have their own theories. 

I have blocked the internet using a program called SMART Synchoneyes(TM).  I find this program to be both creepy and exhilarating at the same time.  I feel like the best disciplinarian in the world, and also like big brother.  It's fun to take control of a random student's screen and start typing the words to the Oscar Meyer wiener song-- they think they're computer is posessed by a poltergeist, a spirit of some trouble-maker past.  It would make me paranoid and slightly paralyzed as a student to know my teacher's eyes were hovering in the background as I made my first attempts to organize my thoughts.

Another teacher came in who wasn't scheduled for the lab-- left a few of his students in here when they went next door to work.  It's all good-- everyone's working!  Must be that summer school magic.  That last-chance mentality.  That resigned I-guess-I-might-as-well-do-something-because-I'm-stuck-here-anyway feeling.  Is it about the learning?  Maybe some of them are trying to improve their writing.  It's hard to tell, having just met them yesterday.  I find myself wishing I had more time to give examples of descriptive writing, to show a continuum of abstract vs. concrete language.  To give them feedback.  But I will not be evaluating these essays, and there isn't much time to form a mentoring relationship.

I am disturbed by the movie Bad Teacher.  I still want to see it, of course.  Stereotypes about teachers and students have not really changed much, but the timing, and the political atmosphere surrounding public education at the moment, especially in Arizona, makes the idea that teachers are unnaccountable mavericks really difficult to see over and over again through the television trailers.
Wordle: Bad TeacherClick to See my Goofy LA Times Movie Review Wordle.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ode to the Inappropriate

So, I keep bursting out in laughter this evening, because the chant "Knife or Banana?  Knife or Banana?" is going through my head.  Endlessly.  Thanks to my husband chanting it all day long after watching a rerun of Tosh.0 last night.

I keep giggling because I can't believe that something so hopelessly inane is stuck in my mind.  I suppose someone more intellectually-minded could find some kind of Freudian interpretation of why I keep laughing because "Knife or Banana?" is stuck in my head.

And so, because I have a blog with which to post, I began to reflect on my personal enjoyment of male-oriented humor that is inappropriate fare at the dinner table at Thanksgiving.  In fact, I think my enjoyment of this kind of humor is a good part of the reason why I married my husband.  He never stops.  If an image, scrap of conversation or song lyric can be interpreted or completely rewritten to include a double entendre, or an outright mention of boobs or male genetalia, he will be on it like white on rice.

One secret that will not surprise those who know me is that, although I was always incredibly intimidated by the stoner types in junior high and high school, I was always incredibly entertained by the hilarious stoner types.   The ones who gave the teachers just a little bit of shit-- not enough to be completely disrespectful and embarrassing, but the ones who kept up an ongoing banter that just slightly subverted the educational process.  You know, the ones who, when a teacher was sitting on the corner of his desk with his hands in his pocket, would ask the teacher if he liked to shoot pool, or play ball. 

Is it possible that my affinity for such cinematic classics as Joe Dirt, Wayne's World, and Superbad are a sort of internal psychological feminist backlash?  Or does it make life just a little easier to broadly paint all men as perpetual self-absorbed and body-part-oriented teenagers?  Perhaps it is something more passive than that.  A complete intellectual abandon that allows me to laugh my ass off even though I know better.  The question I often ask myself is:  is it okay to be a (highly entertained) consumer of these cultural products if I do know better?  If not, well, then let my indulgences be our little secret and I'll keep on laughing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer is finally, truly in our hearts.

Today is the first day that I have felt summer in my home.  I'm not talking about heat, the application of sunscreen or the joy of sleeping until someone wakes me up.
I am talking:  imaginative play.  That's right, folks.  My kids have not asked to watch TV all day.  They have only bickered half-heartedly in between long bouts of puzzle-doing, dot-to-dots, dollhouse arranging, drawing, stuffed-animal-cardboard-box-train making, bubble blowing, HO scale train community building, sitting down for lunch together, asking me to play with them, dancing and playing with the dog. 

Holy cow.

I was beginning to believe that days like this might not really exist, that I had somehow invented these days in nostalgic delusion that folks my age are almost old enough to indulge in.  (Well, almost old enough.  I'll feel more entitled to it when I feel old enough to stop covering up the gray.)

I'd better get out of virtual reality and into real reality myself before the spell breaks.  Happy summer!