Sunday, September 25, 2011

Those Who Can

The season premiere of The Big Bang Theory was this past week. I enjoy this show a great deal, and I found some particular merit in this episode. The first half hour, since it was 2 episodes back-to-back, closed with Penny, the show's main female character, conceding defeat in her attempts to become an actress and deciding to go home to Nebraska. The question is asked, "What are you going to do in Nebraska?"

"I don't know." She looks down introspectively. "Maybe I'll TEACH acting."

Immediately, I laughed and texted several friends, saying that that explains a lot about my writing. I am an English teacher. I teach students how to write. 'Nuff said.

Admittedly, there is some semblance of truth to that statement, but only to an extent. I've written several times about how I try to find balance and that I feel all my creative juices sucked out by numbers, data, paperwork, and creating new, inventive, and applicable lesson plans. And by grading, grading, grading. And now, by attempting to keep a relatively sanitary house and a 2 year old fed, happy, and learning so he can be successful in the classes I teach (yes, I do expect him to be in my AP class in 15 years).

But on the flip side, I've also found that some skills have been developed to the point where I have an idea where my classes are going and my creative muscles are no longer atrophying - where I have thoughts that flourish and could be something more. Steve jokes about how I need to get my novel written so he can retire and be a stay-at-home dad. No pressure. But the fact of the matter is I do have ideas, and I think they're wonderful, but I still have yet to find the time to develop them in to something more.

Several years ago, the school administration offered t-shirts to the faculty with a rather poignant slogan.
"Those who can, do. Those who can do more, Teach."
I need to remind myself that, while I haven't accomplished what I want regarding my own writing (and various other creative outlets), there is time, and I already have quite a stockpile that more than likely will be utilized in the future, including a book of poetry that I've written over the past 25 years.

Last year, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. It was an exciting and educational experience for me - I learned more about myself and writing than I had many years of college classes? I failed miserably in the grand scheme of things, but was very proud of what I did accomplish, considering the number of plates I was balancing during that particular 11th month of the year.

This year, the month appears on the horizon to be much less daunting. Things may (and let's face it, probably will) change, but for now, I fully intend to try it again. And my goal is quite realistic. I want to double what I required of my students last year. Ultimately, I want to complete the 50,000 word requirement, but I will gladly settle for 34,000. After all, as long as I'm flexing, nothing will go to waste.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unexpected Allusions

Seventeen years ago, a line from a movie (and even earlier than that in book form) made a large enough impression on me to remain in my mind to this day. Lestat, from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, is in the midst of seducing a prostitute when he says the ill-fated line (from memory, so forgive any lapses...) "Put out the light, then put out the light." As he speaks, he extinguishes the sole candle in the scene, then makes his move on the unsuspecting woman.

Picture courtesy of Google Images

Anne Rice is well known for her work, and I can't help but wonder just how much of a fan of Shakespeare she is, since the line is used in Act V of Othello. Othello, led astray by the conniving Iago, is so consumed by jealousy that he "put[s] out the light, and then put[s] out the light" of Desdemona, his faithful, faultless, yet forgiving wife.

Or perhaps this is more telling of me, since I remembered this line from the book and movie. I've thought about Lestat every year when I reread Othello, but this is the first time it has fallen in to place with another allusion used in class.

My juniors are in the midst of Puritan literature. As dry as it can be, I attempt to liven it up a bit, though my references are starting to become rather dated... Not only is Anne Rice not as well known to today's high schoolers, even Harry Potter is beginning to age out, and Twilight has, I believe, crested. But my point is that, in explaining the social mores and beliefs of Puritan times to the students, I was discussing the convictions of the theocracy. The students looked at me like I was speaking in tongues because, well, if this group of people were so upstanding, why would they have convictions??

Sigh. Yes, the alternate definition of conviction was lost on this group of students. So, I bring in a reference that, too, sticks in my mind from Interview with the Vampire. Louis, before he was turned, is heart-broken and living life dangerously in order to hasten his death. His wife died in childbirth, and the babe with her. He carouses with unsavory people, playing cards, and blatantly cheating. One man, after discovering this, jumps back, whips out a gun, and threatens to shoot Louis. He calmly looks up at the man, opens his shirt to indicate where he should aim, and waits. The man looks lost. He is caught off guard by the actions of the cheater, and puts his gun away. "You lack the courage for your convictions." In summarizing this scene, I asked the students what convictions means in this context.

The fact that few still caught on is discouraging and beside the point. Ultimately, I found myself curious as to how these two literary allusions came to fruition. Where else do we find classical literature being used in contemporary (or even not so much) every day life? Where have YOU seen classical literature? Respond to me and let me know. The more canonized, the better. And yes, Harry Potter is Hamlet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's All Connected...Isn't it?

Our first week of school, we were surprised by a new experience - something we've never known before, though the threat has always been present. An earthquake. A week and a half later, Tropical Storm Lee comes through, bringing thunderstorms, tornadoes, and torrential rains.

And as Pythagoras started to demonstrate (alas, this equation isn't exactly the same as his), and as quite applicable to this particular situation, earthquake + heavy rains = sinkhole. In the driveway to our school.

E + R = S = NO SCHOOL!

I really am quite happy - we needed rain very badly. Check. I needed more time to grade - ahem - AP papers. Check. And as a plus, I get more time with my Snickerdoodle.

And to top it all off, we have finally hit the point in the season where rain can hit and one can sit comfortably with all windows open, airing out the house, curled up while watching Sesame Street with a little one, and receiving a hug from an absolute favorite old, falling-apart-but-I-will-never-part-with-it sweatshirt.

Life is good.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Philosophy in Action

This week, I kicked off a new project with my juniors. I had intended to do this last year, but with the mad rush the year started in (new construction, no copiers, no printers, no Blackboard [online hub for kids to check homework, get test dates and announcements, etc.] etc.), it just didn't happen. This year, I am creating my own mad rush.

I set up a blog for my juniors to use - my blog (not this one) is a central hub, an umbrella under which the others are located. But each student has his or her own, personal, and hopefully personalized, blog where they will conduct 3 types of posts. The first is informal - journal entries in freewrite fashion where they are not penalized for grammar or spelling as long as they do the length requirement. The second is formal - for the first time, we are attempting a Writing SoL online, and the students need practice in NOT using text-speak or i.m.-speak while writing. The third is an on-going project where they are supposed to write, consistently, on subjects of their own thought. They are required to do a certain number of posts at certain times, but anything above that is for their own voice.

I have only gotten a true handful going, due to time constraints (and fire drills, and live announcements on the tv, and substitutes...), but what a wonderful thing this is turning out to be. These kids have so much to say. The few who have really taken off on this project have discussed everything from money (or lack thereof), open-mindedness, philosophical viewpoints, and music. They are showing more depth in a few paragraphs than most people would give credit to the demographic as a whole.

Journaling has always been an important part of my curriculum for the sake of the students and their voices. But there is something magical about finally making this portion of my class technologically applicable that truly speaks to this generation. It seems they feel more freedom in posting online this early in the year than they do in writing this freely just for me. Paradoxical in a sense, but I'll take it.

Their first assignment isn't due until later this week, but I started posting comments on each and every blog that had done something (changed themes and header, already posted writings, etc.) just so they know I am learning who they are, and in an attempt to let them know who I am. I want them to feel free to discuss what is on their minds, and I want them to know that someone SOMEONE is listening. Sometimes, that's all we need.