Monday, June 23

On Teachers and Slowing Down this Summer

Last week I went on a three day retreat as part of the Minnesota writing project course I'll be taking in July. I met 20 some wonderful teachers from around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota at a lovely retreat center nestled amidst the forests and plains of southern Minnesota.

A few things I noticed that teachers do when they're together on vacation:

Recommend books to each other.
Swap strategies and lesson plans in way that somehow blends so smoothly into genuine conversation that you'd never guess they were "talking shop".
Drink wine around a campfire quoting The Princess Bride and Monty Python (I'm not kidding!).
Discuss the merits of teaching various Shakespeare plays and quote their favorite scenes.
Offer all kinds of help and words of encouragement to new teachers.
Discuss working conditions and how to grade papers more quickly.
Share funny/touching student stories and most embarrassing teacher moments.
Appreciate nature and moving slowly.
Eat lunch very very quickly and then laugh about how quickly they're used to having to eat during the day.
Refer to "my kids" or "my students" all the time-- "my kids would love that!", "my students would never do that", etc.
Ask insightful questions.
Listen to each other.

Overall it was a wonderful experience and I'm excited for our class together in July. Teachers really are the best people. It is so nice to be around people who've chosen teaching as a lifelong career. They have a much different perspective on things than TFA in general. I was thinking about the differences especially as the new 2008 TFA corps is currently in Houston midway through what is often fondly (or not so fondly) described as "teacher boot camp". The emphasis there is on relentlessness and data driven results.

So for this summer it is a nice change of pace to move at a slower pace and narrow in on one aspect of teaching. It's nice to talk to veteran teachers and hear from them that everything really didn't click for them until year three or year five. They talk about how they've refined their practice over the course of years and years of trying various techniques as they keep up with new trends but blend them with their own experience. Quite a departure from TFA's "continually increasing effectiveness" which is supposed to happen from week to week or day to day or minute to minute. It's hard to find time to reflect or get a big picture when you're working with days of experience instead of years.

I should insert, at this point, that my mindset right now is also being influenced by Chelsea and Alexis's book club pick of the month that I'm reading called, "In Praise of Slowness". I would not say that it is an especially outstanding book, or necessarily recommend it. But I am thinking a bit more now about slowness in my life. I've always been a fairly slow person and been quite contented be that way. "You're slow as molasses" my Dad used to tell me all the time when I couldn't keep up with his giant stride as a child. I enjoy time spent staring off into space and dawdling and putzing have always been favorite pastimes of mine. But I think TFA culture has made me start to feel guilty for my slowness and regret that I'm not maximizing my effectiveness at each and every moment. This summer seems like a good time to recapture my slowness (luckily it's slow and easy to capture). And perhaps I can reflect on how I can use my inherent slowness to enhance my teaching style and my classroom rather than let it fill me with guilt or drag my students down, so that next year we can all learn more and rush less.

Monday, June 9

Speaking of...

other worlds, I saw this band perform last week. They somehow bring together Brazilian and Bluegrass and make it sound awesome. They were so fun.

At the end of the show they came down into the crowd with just their drums and continued singing and playing while the crowd danced and clapped around them.

And I wonder, will I ever hear drums again and not think about the flag song at St. Francis at 8:20 every morning? I have a hunch already that Rosebud will stay with me like no other place has.

In other news, in case you're wondering what I'm up to this summer here's a bit of what will be happening shortly:
I'm going to the 'In Da Tradition' Spoken Word and Hip Hop Institute at the UofM which is being put on by the Minnesota Spoken Word Association. I'm super excited for it. I have a master plan to start at Slam Poetry team next year.
I'm participating in the Minnesota Writing Project Summer Institute.

It's a literacy filled summer for sure. I'm doing lots of my own reading now- some that's professional development related and plenty that's not, and will hopefully do more writing later. Also lots of planning for next year will happen in there somewhere. How did I get so lucky to become a high school English teacher? Best job ever. (it's so much easier to say that in June!)

Sunday, June 1

“There is another world, but it is inside this one.”

Quote from either Paul Eluard or W. B. Yeats, seems to be cited differently different places.
Sherman Alexie attributes the quote to Yeats in the epigraph of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

That quote came to mind today when my mother brought me along to one of her friend's son's HS graduation parties. He'll be graduating from my high school this Tuesday and going on to college in the fall. When he greeted us at the door my mom and I both congratulated him. His response, "It's not a big deal really, just graduating high school." Yeah. Right. Just graduating from high school. I immediately thought back to St. Francis High School graduation just a couple weeks ago with 15 seniors on stage. 15 out of a freshmen class of probably 40. At least 7 of whom had been in danger of failing classes not graduating just weeks earlier. For them, making it to graduation was a very very big deal. And as far as I know, maybe one or two had solid plans for attending college courses in the fall.

My high school graduation didn't seem like that big of a deal or that much of an accomplishment to me either. I had received nothing but support and encouragement from family and teachers for all of my life and had never faced any major obstacles. Of course it didn't feel like a big deal to make it to graduation. I mean, everyone graduates from high school, right?

It's another world here from the one I've been living and working in. One of many inside this one.