Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Check out what I'm up to at work

If you're ever bored or a teacher looking for new ideas, check out my teaching blog at:


For each day I teach, I write a short summary of the lesson and provide links to documents and handouts. I created this site to help students who are absent or behind on their work. They can access it from any location and print out the materials they need. It's pretty neat, and pretty simple, but you'd be surprised how few teachers actually do stuff like this.


Congratulations to me (ooh, it hurts these days to pat my own back) for making it through my first month as a public school teacher. The 10-12 hour days are not dragging me down too much, though I've learned the value of going to bed early.

Some days I come home stressed out and at wit's end. Most days, I'm glad to report, are full of joy and exaltation. I'm one of those lucky few Americans who loves their job and looks forward to going to work each day. Truth is, I don't have much of a life outside of teaching, but that's okay. My colleagues and family provide enough companionship. If I had a pet, it would be lonely. My plants are barely making it.

Here's a short, funny story that shows how learning expectations have changed over time. One of my biggest discoveries has been that freshman students DO NOT DO HOMEWORK!

I had them do an art project in class last Thursday, a Concrete Poem, culling together supplies from various personal supplies, and borrowing more from others. And despite my constant haranguing and imperious mingling, many students chose to use the in-class work time to fart around. This was a mistake on my part because I capitulated and said they could turn in their finished work the next day.

But I made a prediction. I said, considering recent trends, that less than 2/3 of the class will turn in their homework on time. I told them, if I am wrong, I will give everyone in the class candy. Friday, first hour, I asked for the concrete poems first thing. As they were taking a grammar test, I checked off names on a list. After the test, I made an announcement that they were three short of making the 2/3 necessary to get the candy. Suddenly, four of my more dilatory students, severe sufferers of HUA syndrome (say this like Al Pacino's character in Scent of a Woman), turned in their work. They made the 2/3 completion goal by one student.

Unfortunately, my other two classes weren't even close. But that's okay. Fewer papers to grade and more candy for me.

Quote of the month: "You can lead a HUA to water, but you can't make him or her think."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More pics from my new home

Looking uphill. The windows on the left look in my living room, the windows on the right the master bedroom.
Looking downhill on the west side of the house.
My living room with the one thing that clinched my decision to rent here -- the fireplace! There's also a fire pit out back.
From my property, I have to cross the bike path, but I have access to a beach and acres of wooded riverfront. My landlord's a nature freak and spends a lot of time down there, but I'm always welcome. Jonny loves exploring all the trails and playing in the sand.
This is a view of the rest of the yard. The lawn is small, but the woods plentiful. I live at the end of a long dead-end street and the woods adjoining my property extend all the way back up the street. Surprisingly, few of the neighbors have trails that connect to it. I've already picked a couple old "leaning" trees and hang out in these woods for hours at a time.

I love my place. It's a nature retreat in the suburbs, ironically the wildest place I've ever lived. Rent is too much and I can barely afford it, but this gem is worth it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Whatever I can conjure in 10 minutes

Ten minutes. That's all I have. Ten minutes to write. Ten minutes to live a life. Ten minutes to impress strangers around me with the speed of my keystrokes. Ten minutes.

I've instituted 10 minute free writes in my class. It loosens up creativity, washing some gems clean in the slipstream of timed writing. One student wrote about a beautiful fall day, golden sunshine, the birds singing in the trees. Out of all the crap writing I endure reading and patiently (yes, me, patient, whodathunk? not too patient, mind you) making suggestions for improvement, this one paragraph stood out as a gem, as a representation of inspired prose.

Such is so rare, even in my own writing.

About life. About time. It's fall. A time of fresh starts and new beginnings. I put this ad on Craigslist. It's working. Just e-mail contacts. But I'm in no hurry for action. I haven't dated since the divorce. Its been almost a year and a half. I've managed. I have no itching desire for long-term commitment or the intimacy of a new relationship. If the right one comes along, so be it. Maybe the right one's been there all along? Time will tell, but career and parenthood remain in the forefront. But at least I'm making an effort to get my name out there. And that's kind of exciting.

I realized, reading my last post, how just plain ol' down in the tooth lonely I've been lately. But I also realize that this loneliness will only last as long as I let it last. It's like that old axiom: "If you're looking for love, love others first." Same thing with friends and companions. Time to get off my duffer, expand my horizons a little bit, and get to know my new suburban world a little better. I'll keep my faithful 10 readers pleased with updates on how that goes.

Whew hew! Almost up. In other news, I'm proud of the Chicago Cubs for clinching a postseason berth. My verdict is still out on Aaron Rodgers. I can't get used to seeing Favre in a Jets uniform, but I'm officially a Jets fan as long as he's with them.

10 minutes up. Gone. Outta here. See ya next time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I don't know what to call this post

Casting stones into pond
ripples out negative space
wasted energy

Teaching poetry the next couple weeks. I gleaned about 30 books from the Gail Borden Library for my students to look through. They've got to pick a poem and read it before the class Thursday and Friday. I gave them short tutorials on how to present certain poems. Orality is a huge part of my teaching technique. I tell my students, instead of memorizing a bunch of grammar rules, read their writing aloud and place the punctuation where there are natural pauses in the speech. This works for grammar and poetry and just about anything else.

Just... listen....

The freaky freshmen like e.e. cummings and Tupac Shakur. They can sense the rebel ethos mixed with childlike wonder in both men.

Teaching is going great. My greatest gift is fostering a sense of community and wonder in the students. I don't know if I could teach my techniques to others because success depends on intangibles, like facial expressions and picking up on visual clues like folder doodles and hair styles. It also means making leaders out of the class clowns and trouble makers, giving respectful space to the sullen and withdrawn, respecting boundaries, but stretching imaginations. And most of all, loving the material and infecting them with my enthusiasm.

My personal life is in shambles. My son hardly acknowledges me and clings to his mother. I treat him the same way I treat cats -- hands off -- and let him come around to me. But I don't exist to him. That's harsh and not really true, but I feel that way sometimes. Yes, I know it's just the old Oedipal drama playing itself out, but it's tough to deal with rejection from a toddler. It's so utter and pure.

I don't know anybody in Elgin. Sure, I live in a wonderful house in the woods, but I dread the quiet sometimes, especially in stark contrast to the tumult of my day. Most of the time I'm fine with the solitude. Back in DeKalb, if I ever got a hankering for company, I just needed to walk around campus or visit the old drunks at the rooming house -- there was ALWAYS somebody to talk to. But in Elgin, if I get lonely I guess I'll have to go to a bar. Except I've been broke since I plunked down everything I had (and then some) to pay first month's rent and security deposit on my place. And I'm not much of a drinker. And bar talk is boring.

Time will secure connections. I plan to join a choir, band, or environmental group. I may take a dancing class or, egads, start going to church again. These are all the conventional means of making new connections, and I've done it before. I'm just feeling a little jaded and cynical lately, not a recipe for social success.

Maybe I should just get used to this solitude and become a hermit.

Isn't that the fate of most high school English teachers? Don't they just disappear to caves at the end of the day?