Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Me Too: Every Woman's Story: #SOL17 #MeToo

Where do I begin to tell my "Me Too" story? 

Do I start with the boy who stood on his porch every day as I walked home from school in seventh grade so he could cat call, "You have really big boobs. You should be in Playboy"?

Maybe I'll tell about my boss at Tastee Freeze who wanted me to kiss him on my 16th birthday: "Give me a birthday kiss," he said over and over, even while his own child stood near the ice cream machine, even as my classmate, a co-worker, told me it was no big deal and she had done it. 

That story about S. D. G. climbing on me in the back seat while our friends made out in the front might be a good starting point to this narrative. I felt embarrassed walking into the dorm with blue velour threads all over my white sweater and one earring missing. I showered and cried. The phone rang. S.D.G. didn't mean it. He didn't know "no" meant "no." He wanted to make it up to me w/ dinner and a movie 30 miles away. NO!

I could start with the first story I recall. It's about a relative who liked to have children sit on his lap as he used one hand on top and the other down south. I'm not the only one who whispered, "stop." I felt embarrassed about getting caught. I thought I had done something wrong. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Until caught happened that day I lay in the bedroom napping at the relative's house and two someones walked in and chased him away as I tried pushing him away with my hands and my "NO," still a whisper. 

We so called "full-figured" women are asking for it, we're told. Maybe that's why a co-worker thought he could grab and grope. It was in the lounge. There were colleagues present. He was subtle. I walked away, a smile on my face.

On a trip to Kansas City the guy I was dating thought it was okay to persist, to hound, to cajole, to insist. I was sick with a fever. I'd driven him to K.C. for reasons I no longer remember. The rest of that memory isn't so easily dismissed. Some trips are like that.

"I don't know a woman that hasn't happened to," my gentle husband said when I read this post to him. His words made me cry. I released tears I've let build up from these memories, these "me too" moments. 

Me Too. It's a single story almost all women share, but we are not the sum of this one story. We contain multitudes of stories. Stories of strength. Stories of accomplishment. Stories of survival. These too are part of our "Me Too' moments. 

*Learn more about the origin of the #MeToo hashtag in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein Sex Scandal and the hashtag's creator, Alyssa Milano, on Know Your Meme.

It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life Story time.
Join the community of slicers at the Two Writing Teachers blog.
Thank you, TWT, for fostering a community of writers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Collegial Conversations through an All-Staff Read #SOL17

Every good rowing  coach, in his own way, imparts to his men the kind of self-discipline required to achieve the ultimate from mind, heart, and body. Which is why most ex-oarsmen will tell you they learned more fundamentally important lessons in the racing shell than in the classroom. --George Yeoman Pocock

Our principal at Highland, Brad Wallace, speaks often about grit and persistence. Brad is a reader. Brad lives and breathes the power of words. He reads more than any administrator I've known, and he wants all the teachers in my building to read with him. I get giddy thinking about this reading mission. 

Brad models reading, so I felt a tinge of pride when he called me during the summer to talk about books and get my input about the book he'd choose for our staff to read. In fact, we're reading two books: Formative Assessment and The Boys in the Boat. 

I knew some of my colleagues would not share my excitement about reading and chatting about a book that isn't specifically pedagogical. I shared this with Brad, so when he mentioned TBItB, I mentioned that my husband had read and loved the book. I also know men often prefer nonfiction.

We had our first staff discussion about Part 1 of the narrative this past Friday during our fall inservice. We gathered in the choir room as our building was hosting the state math and science conference. That meant I had to venture to a part of our cavernous building I'd rarely entered. I saw one of my colleagues try a wrong entrance as she mistook the band room for the choir room.

If Brad decides he no longer wants to occupy space in the big office, he should teach English because he knows how to facilitate a book discussion. I'm sure Brad considered the possibility that some teachers would not read. Indeed that was the case. Even so, Brad set up our discussion so that even those nonreaders among us could participate in the discussion.

Since our building growth plan centers on Individual and Collective Efficacy, Brad had us define Efficacy based on passages in the book. We broke into small groups to do this so that our conversations would be more intimate and inclusive.
Our second round moved beyond self-efficacy to collective-efficacy. We were able to examine the relevant passages in the book and fill in the gaps for those who had not caught up with the reading as we focused on the specific lines Brad chose. 

As we neared the end of the discussion, Brad asked us to read a page about developing self-confidence. Self-confidence comes from accountability, initiative, and collaboration. These ideas transported me back to ninth grade and a lesson from my speech class. My teacher, Nydia May Jenkins, taught us that self-confidence comes from learning to do things well rather than vacuous praise. I shared my memory with my group. 

I'm in my 37th year teaching, and this is the first year I've read a book that is not specific to eduction as part of an all-staff read. 

I've worked for many administrators over the years. Most articulate expectations to staff, but with Brad we have authentic conversations about student growth and staff goals, and these conversations are grounded in reading. Brad goes beyond voicing the importance of literacy, he rows with us into the book, and he's not the only one. Three of our four administrators love reading. I'll be writing about my AP Lit and Comp class's discussion of Purple Hibiscus, which our assistant principal Jena Wilcox will be reading with the class.

It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life Story time.
Join the community of slicers at the Two Writing Teachers blog.
Thank you, TWT, for fostering a community of writers.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Considering "Citizen" in Response to Las Vegas #SOL17

Google images labeled for noncommercial reuse. 
We have all the answers. It's the questions we do not know. --Dostoyevsky

I revisited Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric after a student suggested I write about Sunday evening's massacre in Las Vegas. 

My husband and I said "I do" to one another in Las Vegas at the Little White Chapel, and we visit LV at least once a year. The city holds a special place in our hearts. We grieve for Las Vegas and her citizens. 

This world we live in makes little sense to me these days. My fragmented thoughts can't form words, and I find myself numb. Each act of man's inhumanity to man contributes to my desensitization. That scares me. 

How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another? 

Rankine poses this question as she writes about the Rodney King riots, but her inquiry points to an absence of empathy in our world. 

Are the tensions, the recognitions, the disappointments, and the failures that exploded in the riots too foreign? 

Change one word--riot--and it's easy to apply the question to the LV massacre, and before that the Arianna Grande concert killing, and before that the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and before that the Sandy Hook slaughter. Of course, these bloody events stand out for their massive carnage, yet other shootings fill the blank spaces between each.

In an unintentional ironic twist, Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" featured an interview with Congressman Steve Scalise, the NRA supported Republican Majority Whip who was critically wounded during a baseball practice this past June in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The "60 Minutes" story was a piss-poor piece of journalism, a fluff piece that focused on Scalise's wounds and recovery. No discussion of his support for NRA policy positions. No discussion of gun violence in the U.S. and the government's failure to treat it as a health crisis. 

Before it happened, it had happened and happened, says Rankine of the riots. 

She could easily say this about mass shootings. Still, we narrate the same fiction: Guns don't kill people. This latest carnage will likely make little difference in public discourse. We'll hear the platitudes and pretend public safety depends on arming of citizens. Pretend that the only defense against a bad man with a gun is a good guy with his finger on the trigger. If the near fatal shooting of a Congressman won't change the narrative, certainly the gunning down of country and western concert-goers won't alter the story arc. 

We're told authorities have no answers for why a 64-year-old white man toted 42* guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition into a hotel and massacred Jason Aldean fans. We're told the gunman had no prior legal problems, had no ties to terrorists. These "facts" make the gunman's actions no less terrifying. What label do we stick on a man who killed 59, maybe more, revelers from the thirty-second floor of a casino if not terrorist? Does not an act of terror merit that label? Certainly lone-wolf, a euphemism, diminishes the citizen victims. 

The insidiousness of our national denial reeks. Perhaps white America will in time live the reality Rankine explores in Citizen as she describes the lived reality of black people

And where is the safest place when that place must be someplace other than in the body?...When you lay your body in the body entered as if skin and bone were public places, when you lay your body in the body entered as if you're the ground you walk on, you know no memory should live in these memories becoming the body of you. 

I wonder: Will mass violence in public places define my students' teen years? Will they recall their homecoming in conjunction with the Las Vegas massacre? Will the collage of memory form from the shrapnel of a lone gunman's final violent act against innocent citizens? 

*Last edit: 8:50 MST to reflect 42 and not 10 guns.

**Dedication: For Ashley Nicole Hitchcock and Cade Brown, Citizens of Las Vegas. Ashley is one of my favorite Highland graduates, and though I've not met Cade, I know him through Ashley's stories. 

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ones Who Walk Away... #SOL17

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Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.

The people of Omelas, the utopian city Ursula K. Le Guin describes in her short story THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS, live idyllic lives in a picturesque city. They walk around town in an utopian stupor, unaware of their own power to effect change. With intent they walk away from the one child whose existence embodies misery, hunger, sadness, want.

This child of ten---a significant age in its biblical implications---looks much younger for "it" lives in a small room, isolated from the utopia Omelas enjoy. It knows no beauty. It experiences no joy. Yet the child's presence, its suffering, anchors the city, perhaps functions as its cornerstone, a foundation on which all that's good in the city depends on this one child.

In Le Guin's visioning, the people know the child suffers. They've made a conscious decision to allow the child's suffering. Their comfort depends on the child's discomfort:

Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery. 

On both a micro and macro level this story grows more relevant to me as I contemplate life's moments. I live comfortably. I do not want for food, clothing, transportation, medical care, housing. The "necessities" I take for granted come to me in ways I'd rather not think about too much: child labor in third-world countries provide my technology and clothing; migrant farm labor puts cheap food on my table. I have employee-provided health care and don't need insurance through the ACA.

The people of the town would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do.

Too often we react to the suffering around us as though we, too, live in Omelas. What can we do? We feel sadness when we hear about national tragedies, such as racial profiling and natural disasters, but like those in Le Guin's story, we feel anger, outrage, impotence... 

This past weekend I, along with the rest of the nation, watched as the social movement Colin Kaepernick started in 2016 exploded into a full-blown protest, one sparked by President Trump's offensive rhetoric. I see Kaepernick as a symbol in the way Le Guin's child is a symbol. As long as Kaepernick and his NFL colleagues stay in their lane, to use contemporary parlance, they merit the admiration of the fans. Those who denigrate the kneelers expect Kaepernick and those who have joined him to sit in the detritus of racism just as the Omelas leave the child in excrement.

The fans may "brood" or "mourn" or cry for a moment over Charlottesville or Ferguson or any number of white on black abuses, but little changes, especially with the current administration in power.

Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. 

At the end of Le Guin's story we're offered a glimmer of hope. Some walk away from Omelas. They walk away from the town. That's one reading. I think there's another. What if Omelas isn't simply a town? What if Omelas is the child? Does it matter? Isn't the point that some walk away? And in walking away from this vision of a utopian existence they walk into darkness.

Where will we walk when we take the next step in our national journey?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Picture Books for POTUS #SOL17 #PictureBooks4POTUS

Last year an early lesson in my AP Lit and Comp class involved reading picture books and finding themes by raising universal questions, such as 

What motivates one person to take from another? 
How can kindness heal wounds from the past? 
Does money and material possessions make someone happier than those without? 
How can I serve others? 

Students liked the lesson, and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild found a new home with two students after they fell in love with the book, so I revisited the lesson last week. 

One group chose EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen as their book.

The story centers on Annabelle and a box of colorful yarn she finds. She knits herself a sweater and uses the extra to knit one for her dog, Mars. As Annabelle gives her sweaters away, the yarn magically replenishes itself, enabling Annabelle to knit sweaters and hats for many people. When the archduke offers a million dollars for the yarn, Annabelle refuses to sell it, so the archduke hires three thugs to steal the box of yarn. To his surprise, the box is empty. 

After class I stuck EXTRA YARN in my bag and carried it home. I've read and contemplated its theme that our lives are enriched through what we give and barren when we act selfishly and in our own interests. 

I'm struggling this year. I've fought the urge to quit, to curl up in a corner with my bag of teacher toys and never share again. I am wounded, and a wounded person must fight these baser instincts. My husband reminds me that I must focus on the reason I teach: students. And so I do. I shared with a colleague that having his son in class helps motivate me because I want to do right by my colleagues' children. This trimester I'm teaching two colleagues' children. 

I feel guilty for having a pity party as I watch friends in Houston gather strength to recover from Harvey.

I fight the overwhelming urge to hate Donald Trump as he brings our country closer to the brink of war and works daily to destroy the lives of DREAMERS by ending DACA. I don't know how to cope with his inelegant, inarticulate, depraved rhetoric.

Donald Trump needs art. He needs stories. He needs the power of picture books, poetry, and novels to see the lives of those whose reflection does not stare back in his mirror. He needs these stories to see himself in the archduke in EXTRA YARN. 

I need stories to temper my disgust with President Trump, and I need to share these stories, which is why I'm going to start Tweeting titles of picture books and other literature to the president using the hashtag #PicureBooks4Potus. I'm also sending him a copy of EXTRA YARN with a note suggesting he read it to his grandchildren. 

Of course, there's more work to do. The knitting of stories doesn't begin or end with one little thread. 
You'll find more stories each Tuesday in the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Head over to Two Writing Teachers for your "Once upon a time" moment.
Thank you TWT for your commitment to stories and teaching.
*Please suggest titles for my project in the comment section. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"Storm Warnings" #SOL17

As I listened to the devastating news about Hurricane Harvey all weekend, Adrianne Rich's "Storm Warnings" spoke to me. Rich's layered lyric to an approaching storm parallels life's emotional storms. 

Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come onRegardless of prediction.

Radar image of Hurricane Harvey

I wanted my students to have a personal sense of both Harvey's impact as they recalled their own life storms. Often these national events feel far away, as does an approaching storm that suddenly slams our lives. The past few weeks, I've experienced and written about these emotional deluges. Only those who have lived through a natural disaster can begin to understand the challenges that confront Houston. 

Time in the hand is not control of time,...

I have friends in Houston. My college friend Susan has been sharing her experiences and personal history as a third generation Houstonian. My friend Erica embodies resilience as she fought the flooding of her home and worked to salvage cherished family heirlooms. She has ripped up carpeting and set up a FB page for guiding others in their classroom efforts to aide Harvey's victims.

My friend Ann, who retired a few years ago as our school media specialist and who now lives in Florida, is in Houston visiting her daughter Katy. I message Katy who has lived in Houston since 2008. My friend Dennis, whom I met virtually but with whom I've found a kindred spirit in our love of Shakespeare and political bent, has personal challenges as a caregiver that complicated riding out the storm.

As I checked in on my friends throughout Sunday, I remembered that my sister-in-law Lani has been working in Houston and traveling home to Oklahoma on the weekends. I texted my brother to see if Lani was in Houston during the storm and learned her apartment is in downtown Houston but that she is home in Broken Arrow.

Between foreseeing and averting change 
Lies all the mastery of elements 

My students often live day-to-day with little knowledge of current events, so I was not surprised when I learned most students had not heard about Harvey. I don't understand the self-imposed isolation that results in this "flat world" worldview, but I do know I can take the "teachable moment" and help fill in the gaps. This is why my AP Lit and Comp students and I read and discussed Storm Warnings" Monday afternoon.

This early experience with a complicated poem left my students silent, the way the eye of a hurricane offers false calm before unleashing its destructive forces. Similarly, my students felt the force of Rich's words, but they will need time to recover the poem's full meaning. 

This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

We ned poetry to steel our souls against the onslaught of 

Storm Warnings

*The poem in its entirety follows: 

Storm Warnings
-Adrienne Rich

The glass has been falling all the afternoon, 

And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change 

Lies all the mastery of elements 
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter. 
Time in the hand is not control of time, 
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument 
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise, 
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black 
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass 
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine 
Of weather through the unsealed aperture. 
This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

Each Tuesday the Slice of Life story challenge
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Waiting #SOL17

Our view of the #Eclipse17
At times I am a character in Samuel Beckett's existential tragicomedy Waiting for Godot. The play opens with Estragon telling Vladimir there is 

Nothing to be done.

Vladimir replies: 

I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't tried everything. And I resumed the struggle...

I haven't read Waiting for Godot in many years, yet its existential theme of life's meaninglessness speaks to me as I enter year 37 of my career. I've spent 28 years in my current school. 

The play revolves around Estragon and Vladimir sitting under a tree awaiting the arrival of Godot. Essentially, these two await something that never happens. They await someone who never arrives. Through their waiting, they realize the futility of their own existence, the wastefulness of waiting. 

The play includes levity and sadness. 

The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.

My experiences these past 28 years speak to the tragicomic, with the emphasis often on the tragic. I endured teaching under two really awful principals during much of my tenure. I've treasured a phone call I received the night in 1991 when I learned about who would take the place of a beloved principal whose brother died unexpectedly. This death prompted my principal, Bob Gould, to retire, and his retirement altered my life in ways I've never recovered from. I went from being the teacher who "saved our debate program" to a target of my new boss. In short, I suffered. Yet the voice on the phone reminded me that others who had suffered under this man were "dancing in the street" upon receiving the news of his departure. That an administrator, the parent of one of my students, shared this information with me became a life-raft for more than a decade. Knowing his reputation help me survive. 

I grapple with knowing how to write about these struggles without sounding bitter. These difficult times have motivated me to create a professional life outside my building. 

The story of teaching in repressive conditions is something I've not discussed publicly. I've focused on my students during my teaching storms and anchored my hope in them. Indeed, the departure of the second tyrant changed my circumstances significantly. For that I'm grateful, but I am still waiting. In the words of the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti,

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting... 
for the Age of Anxiety 
to drop dead...
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life 
to be over
and I am waiting 
to set sail for happiness
I am waiting for the day 
that maketh all things clear...
and I am waiting 
for Alice in Wonderland 
to retransmit to me 
her total dream of innocence...
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again 
youth's dumb green fields come back again
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever 
a renaissance of wonder.

Yet I can't shake the idea that time is waning and that I'll always be waiting. Beckett characterizes this waiting as awful. It is. There is something unsettling, something awful, about nearing the end of a long teaching journey awakening to the cruelty that these years of waiting will be for naught, to realize I'll never have that carpe diem moment for which I long. It's as though something important has died yet continues to live. 

Vladimir and Estragon wonder: 

What are we doing here, that is the question. 

Yet they assure themselves they know:

And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come--

Through my career of waiting, there are those moments apart from my job that offer wonder. Monday, I only needed to look to the heavens for such a moment. My husband, granddaughter, and a brother watched the eclipse with me. We were close to the path of totality but not quite there. 

Each Tuesday the Slice of Life story challenge
happens on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, TWT, for
sponsoring this writing life that is my lifeline.