Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Things that Need Posting

OK-- so, there are a few things that need posting.

First of all, Tucson is going to choose its first poet laureate, and here are the procedures for nominations if you'd like to participate.  I am open to suggestion and would love to form a coalition for someone local.  We need a true poet, and a true Tucsonan:

Second of all, a teacher colleague of mine from Southern Arizona Writing Project is running for TUSD School Board this fall.  After the AZK12 Center's Teacher Leadership Institute, I am convinced that we need more teachers on school boards, and Kristel Foster is a great choice.  Check out her website and facebook page, and spread the word, and more importantly, VOTE.

Another sweet opportunity is that the deadline for Copious, an effort by Charles Zoll to recognize local artists, and if you are a Tucson poet you can have your poem put to music as part of the performance next year:!

Fourth, my children need something to do.  L is currently dancing, writhing on the floor, singing under her breath... everything except sweeping the floor, which I asked her to do.  They are getting the summer boredom, and word to the wise:  It takes proactiveness to sign your kids up for summer programs early.  They are all full or already in session at this point.  I'm screwed!  :)  It's okay, though.  We have projects to do.  But it would be easier if it weren't June in Tucson (i.e. Hell Month.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Pedagogy of Poetry, A Modest Proposal

We should no longer teach teenagers poetry.
1.  Most of them will never have appreciation for its finer points anyway.

2.  Education and educational spending are often currently justified based on the number of students that get into colleges and/or the types of jobs students can get and the amount of money they will make after their education (just one example).  The current buzz-phrase of the past few years has been "college and career readiness" for every student.

Poetry does not help this cause at all.  In fact, it takes away valuable time that students might spend learning to consider experimental design, to create marketing campaigns, or to weld.  These efforts are much more worthwhile to our society than the ability to lose of oneself in a book, or even in a couplet. Or, even worse, to find oneself reflected in a poem, to be inspired by the subtle, beautiful gulf between what one finds in a poem and one's own thoughts and experiences to waste even further time writing more useless poetry.

Instead, students should be productive citizens. Students must be ready to enter the economy, of which poetry is an increasingly small part.

3.  More importantly, poetry is dangerous and subversive.  Poetry allows these teen minds, unfettered by adult responsibilities, to roam free within only the boundaries of language, which really is only limited by any ostensible boundaries of human imagination.  And imagination, oh, that, my friends, is a dangerous thing.  Imagination subverts reality.  It creates new worlds.  It has nothing to do with completing assignments.  It rejects grades and all sorts of measurements.  Poetry, with its reliance on slippery metaphors and lack of empirical evidence or even, really, causal relationships, well, it allows students to simultaneously complete the assignment but subvert not only the assignment, but the idea of all assignments. To subvert the teacher. This will undo school as we know it! Why, a poem can meet the highest standards of any rubric while destroying the system that trained the teacher who developed the rubric.

As educational professionals, we cannot allow this to happen.  How can we put such a powerful weapon in the hands of those so young, so easily swayed by the wrong influences? The idea is irresponsible.

However, traditionalists in the canon will persist.  So.  If poetry must be taught, let us teach just the elements, divorced from any real meaning.  Study rhyme with nonsense words.  Metaphors should be familiar.  Images can be learned by rote.  Tropes and conceits:  write poems upholding the glory of the school mascot.  Themes:  Stick to circular reasoning and self-evidential statements.  Symbolism?  Universals, for sure.  None of this creation of private symbols-- that's where the subversiveness starts.  Once a student has the power to make a tree or a stone or a grain of sand stand in the place of anything in human experience, well, there's no telling what their writing actually means.

And irony must be slashed from the curriculum at once.  If young people get control over it, there will be no way to assess their work.  Who will be to say whether they are kidding or not?  If poor grammar, violence, accusations or inappropriate language can be written in the name of an ironic effect, students are liable to begin taking risks they have never taken before, to be brave, bold and brash, to machete their way into new territories of idea and image... even to create the most sickening slander of the very teacher who must read the writing.  Worse, awash in irony, metaphor, and the concept of a speaker separate from the poet, a teacher will be truly bewildered, and, really, powerless to do much about it without stifling the young artist, which any good teacher would never, never do purposefully. 

In fact, the good teacher must cheer the young poet forward, set her ego aside and take it all like an idiomatic man.  The teacher has been the character foil to thousands, and thousands more to come.  It's part of the martyrdom of the job, perhaps.  Part of why English teachers burn out and resort to grammar worksheets.

And so, in the interest of creating a humane environment for teachers and janitors and cafeteria workers (who, unfortunately, also bear the brunt of teen irony and recklessness), poetry must be stopped.

What can one person do for the movement?  Rein in your irony.  Eliminate all but the most banal metaphors.  Purchase corporate-created curriculum geared toward standardized assessment.  Nothing is too much to protect the mental health and economic futures of our children.  (Oh, and ourselves, of course.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

13 Years and Counting

To fully enjoy the multimedia experience of this blog, open the following link in a new window:
Anniversary Playlist. didn't have any James Taylor, so it's definitely not complete, but a good start.

I'm still unpacking boxes, and I don't think I can do justice in prose to our marriage of 13 years, so I'll leave most of it to some photos...

Engagement, 1998.  My friend Kristal took this photo.
Married June 12, 1999.  Rich wanted to make sure we got the classic Skyline staircase shot.  I felt like a princess.  I drew ball gowns like this on all the girls when I was little.

This little guy changed our lives and has shared many adventures with us.  First haircut.

G's Birthday, Newington, 2004
Rich, G and I weathered many storms together in Connecticut while Rich was pursuing his prosthetics education and license.  This is at Cape Cod for a weekend just before Memorial Day.  We didn't bring jackets, and so bought matching ones (duh.)  I think I was about a week pregnant with L at the time.
The three biggest reasons I have Mommy Brain most of the time.

Fun times at Easter brunch. 
Rich on the job making himself a leg that reflects his racquetball sponsorship from Head.

Classic Richie photo. 

Limo for Bill and Angel's wedding.  2007.

Rich, rocking the mullet; mocking the camera.
Sometimes I let him get out with the boys.
We still clean up well, and once in a while he doesn't make a funny face.
Rich supported me through my training to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in 2010.  And again during National Board Certification candidacy... which was even more intense, believe it or not.
Grand Canyon, 2010, the day after I came up the South Rim.

Summer 2010, Oregon Coast with Dad and Lita
Lake Roosevelt Spring 2011 with Superman and Superkids.  That was the last vacation I had, I believe... Boy, are we due!!
Okay, I take that back.  He did let me out with the girls in October.

Annnnnnd... I can't find any photos of my husband and me together since Lake Roosevelt!  Now.  Come on.  My interpretation of that is that it is time for a date night.  Please.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Addiction to Crisis

I wrote this a few weeks back.  In light of the learning and thinking I did during the Teacher Leadership Institute Preconference this week regarding teaching conditions for teachers, and the reflective practice tool developed by the AZK12 Center, it seems particularly relevant...  just a little cleaned up from the original writing I did at a Southern Arizona Writing Project salon night.


I’m moving, moving, moving.  Thoreau and others would say I’m frittering my time away.
The lifestyle of crisis is really getting to me.  Minor or major, the adrenaline of each successive crisis spurs me forward through the desire to rest, to retreat, to stop moving, to simply be and observe.  I find myself at the end of the day sitting on the edge of my bed thinking.  No television, no book, no iPod games, no children calling me… but when their little urgencies interrupt my thoughts I become a crank.  When I start and realize what I am doing, I want to think that my mind has gone blank during those moments, that I have allowed myself to, for once, just be. 
But that is a lie.  Sitting still on the edge of my bed, my mind has wandered over into its obsessions, tumbled and taken up the emotional chew-toys it will not let go.  I may tuck them under the edge of the couch for a time, but I tug them out and gnaw at them the moment I have time to myself.  And really, our lives are not any more difficult than any other generation’s, and right now nobody in my immediate family is sick or dying.  The things I spend time worrying about are, for the most part, a waste of my time.  A source of anxiety, which is its own weird kind of fuel.
In our culture, nothing seems worthy of attention anymore unless it is in crisis:  raising reading scores, automobile maintenance, the economy, health care, the right to unionize, obesity.  I mean, why weren’t we worried about the availability of fresh produce and turning off the television once in a while when, instead of an obesity epidemic, we were, as a nation, only mildly plump?  
On a personal level, these crises must serve a real purpose, or I wouldn’t constantly describe myself as overwhelmed.  Wouldn’t there be at least some days that I would feel well-rested, calm, at peace?  What do they give me that I am not getting elsewhere?  The anxiety really does propel me, drive me, to be my best, achieve what I can. When is it all enough?  When am I enough? 
The truly frightening possible reality is that one thing that addicts me to my job, besides my awesome students and the creativity it allows me, plus summer vacation, is that no matter how much I give, no matter how much I am, and no matter how smart I am, really, it will never be enough.  I will never be able to give optimum feedback in an ultra-timely manner to 180 students who I know as well as I know my own children, in addition to crafting finely sequenced, engaging and highly relevant lessons that meet every person’s needs.  And so we teachers are always chasing the elusive racetrack rabbit as we make thousands of decisions every day.  We can always do better, be more, meet more needs.  Always.  And so, we are always challenged.  And some of us thrive on challenge. 
The moment I become bored, a death knell tolls and all is still… and I move on to the next chew toy.  So essays sit in piles half-graded and stacks of potential filing sit unsorted, and my room doesn’t get arranged back to the way it goes at the end of the day.   I am setting myself booby traps of future frustrations.  Frustrations, minor crises which fuel the next onslaught of papers to grade, the next unit to plan, the next technology issue to be overcome, the next student interaction…
So, one question is, what is the difference between a challenge and a crisis?  Certainly, I must be confusing the two.  Certainly, my habits cannot be healthy.  I see my students dancing from one drama to the next… it is not healthy, and they often haven’t chosen the dramas that cause them to become more educated, more insightful, more analytical or more literate.  Many of them have chosen the dramas that undermine all of this, that undermine their potential, that sidetrack them.  So far, for the most part, I seem to have chosen the dramas that improve my life and my teaching… but how long can this go on?

Monday, June 4, 2012

City Lights, Bats, and Teacher Voice

I'm sitting on the balcony in the dusk watching the silhouettes of small bats flit through my line of sight to the valley of city lights brightening slowly below me.  The lights sprawl in fits and starts, hedged into irregular shapes by the foothills of the other three mountain ranges around town... the Rincons, Santa Ritas and Tucson Mountains.

Above me, dark wood beams neatly divide strips of night sky.  I should get to see some extra stars from up here tonight.  They appear one by one, teasingly.

I came out here, out of my Loew's Ventana Canyon room, to relax after a heady day of thinking about teacher voice and teacher leadership at the AZK12 Center's Teacher Leadership Institute.  I am observing things around me, trying to clear my mind.

It is day one of five days, and I'm finding it hard to encapsulate and process what is in my mind.  We viewed the film American Teacher and heard from one of the producers, Nineve Calegari, and one of the teachers profiled in the film.  We had breakout discussions defining teaching as a profession.  We were asked to define our own vision of teaching as a profession, and to make a plan as to how we would find our teacher voice and use our spheres of influence to make our voice heard and to affect policy.

[As I type, a small spider keeps dropping down in front of my screen.  I suppose it thinks my light will attract its dinner.  I keep having to flick it off of me.  Hopefully it doesn't have friends.]

At a dinner meeting, I encountered my new position as a blogger for Stories from School, which I will begin in August.  As I shared my idea for a juicy topic and heard what other bloggers were going to write about, and about some of the stories they had already shared, my amazement at this opportunity grew.  And the weight of the responsibility I feel to be both honest and yet professional... that weight also grew. The rhetorical situation of a teacher with both the best interest and privacy of students in mind, and the responsibility not to directly criticize or implicate individuals with whom I work, to make the stories specific, juicy, sincere, personal, and yet speak to broader issues-- this is a tricky rhetorical situation.  I want to take risks, provoke conversation, thought and change.  And yet I like my job and profession, and Tucson is a small town.

Right now my teacher voice wants to scream and cry, both in joy and frustration, for a thousand reasons.  I think I need to narrow my message.

[Also, I need to decide if I'm going to go home to turn off the coffee maker, or just assume it has an auto-off function.  I haven't used that one in so long that I truly cannot remember.  I'd rather stay here, in the balmy evening, with the almost cool breeze and the--WOW-- amazing full moon now rising over the Rincons to my left.  I hear breezes and no traffic... I can no longer see the bats... the stars are out... my spider friends have apparently given up...  I have some tough choices to make]

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Blogging Hiatus... Over

Well, for a variety of reasons (many of which will be blogged-about at a later date) I've taken a couple weeks of hiatus from my blog.

During that time I've tried a watermelon granita recipe, explored my new Kindle Fire and loaded it up with apps like Scrabble and Tune-In, bought a Krups juicer for $3 at a thrift shop, moved from one household to another (several bins and boxes still pending unpacking), slept in, stayed up late, broken up about 50 sibling battles, battled extreme irritability due to previous, sweated it out to Just Dance 3 with my daughter, scored a used trumpet from a friend who wanted to get rid of it, found out I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, explored my husband's company's new website (they are launching their foot soon!) and read Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (finally.)  See, now I am qualified to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Then I can read about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  (Then I can see the movie.)  Then I will be a tiny bit on my way to catching up on my paranormal literature and pop culture (almost a job requirement for me.)

At any rate, I've had some lying-around time, but things have been darn busy.  I still have a laundry list of to-do items that have been waiting around for months.  It'll all get done by the time school begins.

My review of Pride and Prejudice:

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had great fun reading this book, especially at the end of the school year. I felt that I already understood the broad lines of the plot because there are just so many references to this book in popular culture (movies, etc.) My literature professors would probably be disappointed to know how many times I had Bridget Jones Diary flashbacks while reading. Jane Austen is of course awesome, and it was fun to finally read the original.

I've been moving houses, too, and reading this during my moments of complete exhaustion has made me realize that moving houses has a strange way of bringing out the Victorian in me. I find in myself a renewed interest in household furnishings, whether things match, where items are hung on the walls, or which way they are placed onto surfaces. I stand and unwrap the most frivolous and unsentimental knick-knacks thoughtfully, evaluating whether they can be of good to anyone. I am temporarily convinced that children are to be seen and heard as little as possible-- can't someone else be in charge of feeding them after a day of moving? I can't be bothered. A governess seems highly desirable. I invent a thousand small projects I can do to beautify things-- armrest covers for our child-worn couch, touch-up grout in the shower, the exact combination of color and design and economical value for the shower curtain. All these domestic details would have amused Jane Austen. As I read I imagined Lady Catherine de Bourgh making her way through my tiny abode, disapproving of every room.

Also, I love the story between Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, but this one is superior in terms of the balance of power in the relationship. Jane Eyre still wins out in terms of the Gothic good-times and the mousy heroine, but from a feminist perspective and within the limitations of the culture and time period, Lizzy Bennett is awesome.

View all my reviews