Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Break! Also, Bragging about My Students.

And not a moment too soon! The kids and I were all getting tired and cranky.

I must say that I have been very proud of my kids for the past few weeks. We have been doing our drama unit, which in the eighth grade means reading "The Diary of Anne Frank." This text is often the introduction of empathy for a lot of young people, because it is so mind-blowing a premise. I can almost literally watch them realizing: There were people, in recent enough history that my teachers can talk about their grandparents' experiences, that wanted to kill other people -- even KIDS -- because of the 'church' they attended. (The town I teach in is not religiously diverse at all. Everybody goes to the same church, therefore religion = church.) But you can't save yourself by changing your church, because the people who wished to kill you were after your whole 'race.' And, unlike the movies and the church stories they are accustomed to hearing/seeing, Good didn't win. Not really. Millions of innocent people were tortured and killed before this evil was stopped. It's terrifying.

In the past, I've had some students who handled the terror by distancing themselves from the people being oppressed, but this year with the help of Eve Bunting and Martin Niemoeller the students were able to see the danger in that tactic.

My students have been fascinated, and terrified, and really INFURIATED about what happened to Anne Frank and the other residents of "the annexe," and about what happened to the other children in Europe. They have demanded to know why the US government didn't save Anne and Peter and Margot, where the hell the international community was while this was going on.

When they asked me to reassure them that genocides are relics of the past, and I told them I couldn't do that, they started looking up recent genocides.

They have started watching the news to make sure the US is "doing the right thing" in other cases of oppression, and almost started a protest march on DC regarding the situation in Libya.

They have netflixed movies and watched PBS and read online articles and gone to the Holocaust Memorial Museum with their parents on the weekend and researched Nazis and Jewish history (They have a thing for the maccabbees ever since Act 1, Scene 5.), and all this without my asking them to do any of it. So that every day, at least one of my students will come in with something to teach me about the Holocaust.

They have been just amazing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In which the blogger avoids actual pressing work in order to publicly make a shallow, solipsistic observation

It occurs to me that perhaps my fascination with the middle ages began with the understanding that seriously commitmentphobic behavior was codified and exalted as representative of perfect, chivalrous love. These are my people. Only, you know, shorter and more likely to die from a minor infection.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dark Horse Resolutions

My best resolutions always come quietly, usually emerging from some area of my life I hadn't even known I was thinking about changing. This happens approximately two weeks into the new year, when I have had time to nurse my Christmas cookie hangover, and deal with the official aging that happens in that time. For example, this past week I celebrated my four year anniversary of quitting smoking. Not coincidentally, I also celebrated four years bronchitis-free the same day.

This year, after my last post considering what I should do to better myself and immediately alter my life so that it includes either louder desperation or less deperate quiet, I have given myself permission to have twelve mini-resolutions. So, I shall try on new lifestyles, habits, thought patterns, shoes, what-have-you for thirty days each and see which ones are worth keeping. Hell, 98% of resolutions die by February anyway, right? Might as well build in obsolescence and give myself a chance at twelve small victories rather than one big eleven-month long failure.

Ten days in, I decided January is vegetarianism and intellectual reawakening month, because I am bored as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'll start with vegetarianism. I wish I could say this was a moral choice and I'm a good person and all that. I can't make such lofty claims with a straight face, though. Anyone who has ever heard me talk of my experiences as a toddler and small child being sent out to feed the miserable bastard chickens knows that I cannot be compelled to eschew meat based on the helpless animals theory. This is a lifelong vendetta, friends, and the chickens clearly started it. No, this choice is mainly to give the kidneys a break from all the very hard work they have been doing, force myself to find those vegetarian recipes I keep swearing I'll find and learn, and just give myself a challenge big enough to shake my deadly-dull life up a bit. Nothing says paradigm shift quite like steamed asparagus and almond slices, after all. It's now day 8 of the 30 day vegetarian challenge, and I have had some success. I found a veggie chili recipe that is very yummy, for instance. Since I am not going vegan for the month, I also find I can have a slice of what passes for pizza in DC without feeling gross about it because I have been eating vegetables all day.

So, the first week went very well, and was quite an easy transition. I mean, rice and beans, peanut butter and apples, carrots and hummus are all quite good. I have lots of energy, and wake up annoyingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the mornings. My diet alerts come when I get to the end of a day and realize I have not eaten enough fat! Emergency bruschetta, heavy on the olive oil, STAT! There is a challenge looming, however, in that for the past two days I have been fucking starving, no matter what or how much I eat. My calorie intake is just fine, I've been checking, and my protein intake is low normal, but normal. So, I hope I will be able to figure out the trouble there before I eat the houseplants or gain fifty pounds in excess pasta.

Intellectual awakening is lumbering along in fits and starts.
  • I started by trying to read popular non-fiction and self-helpish type stuff, when it occured to me that the authors of such books assume that their primary audience is barely literate, a little simple, and unable to suss out the great piles of festering herring said authors deposit on the page. I mean, generally. I'm sure there is a self-help author who is brilliant and insightful, but my local library does not feature that author's works.
  • Due to a little known corollary to Newton's First Law which reads "An object in sweat pants tends to stay in sweat pants," I have not been able to drag my sorry ass out to the (free and metro-accessible!) museums that all exist within ten miles of my house before their 5pm closing times on weekends.
  • I have signed up for a Continuing Education class that is technically supposed to be at graduate level, but having perused the syllabus I will say that it is clearly not. Still, it's a chance to think new things, buy new books, and have new conversations with people I didn't previously know.
  • I have been using the tubes, catching up on blog posts by more serious minded individuals than myself, and reading the letter collections put up by Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning at Epistol√¶. There are letters from Hrotsvit!

So, that's all you never asked about my January. Fascinating, no? Alas, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

As Yet Unresolved

God, I'm always late! The Gregorian year started 37 hours ago and I still don't know what direction I want it to take. This is not unprecedented. Slightly over four years ago, on January 14th, I quit smoking. A few years before that, on April 1st, I started exercising. I have to start that up again, actually, but I'm still feeling a nasty foot & ankle sprain I suffered this summer. I feel it a lot more after half an hour on the treadmill, so that now my mind believes that I should avoid the gym, as that room contains pain. I also live in a building with a lot of military folk, and I tend to get competitive. So I keep hurting myself trying to prove to Navy Seals that I can totally do everything they can do.

I tried resolving not to be late anymore for about 15 years straight, and all that did was increase my guilt about my perpetual lateness. I was born a month late. After fits and starts that lasted a decade, I finally settled on two majors and committed myself to completing a university education at 27. That was the commitment, not the finish date. Lateness is not a trait I can easily overcome.

My entire diet yesterday consisted of coffee, oranges, water, and ghirardelli squares, so I think making this the year I eat perfectly is quite out of the question. By the way, oranges and ghirardelli squares go really well together, provided you avoid the mint ones.

I have already lied to my journal.

My niece showed me how to play Sims 3 over the break, and I had a commitmentphobic panic attack when my avatar's boyfriend proposed to her. I'm talking cold sweats here, people. So, perhaps better relationships might be a bit farther off than twelve months.

So, my remaining candidates for 2011 are:
1. Get rid of as many old debts as possible.

  • Student loans will take a bit longer than a year, provided I don't win the lottery, but there are some $30 kitchen gadgets I have paid the credit card companies for twice over in minimum payments, while still owing $20. That pisses me off.

2. Get more selfish with my time.

  • At Work: I have been working insane hours to try to make every lesson a) fit the new profile my admin is demanding based on whatever they saw in their last meeting, and b) be a little fun for the kids. Fortunately, combining the perspicacity of my admin and coaches and the number of different things that have to go on simultaneously in a room that is truly serving the needs of all 36 students, I think I have a little room to wiggle out of much of (a) without anyone being any the wiser.
  • At Home: Some (a lot) of those work hours spill over into home hours. And so, though I want to read, I find myself reading mostly YA literature, when I really want to be reading books I enjoy because I enjoy them, and not books that I am vetting for kids.

3. Spend more time with friends, even if the friends are long-distance, and the time needs to be spent over the phone.

4. Recultivate the interests and passions that make me a person worth knowing. I have become mind-numbingly tedious lately. I mrean, I would walk away from me in an effort to find someone better to be around if I weren't attached. All work and no play, you know. So: Go to the theater. Go to the museums. Enjoy what the world has to offer.

5. Finally get good at typing "the right way." My hunt and peck typing is about 75 wpm. When I go to the home keys and try to be fussy about it, I slow down to about 25 wpm. Which would indicate that I should keep to hunt and pack, except the 11 year-olds who are coming in from Teach For America have apparently been typing since they were zygotes, and can type 'properly' at between 100-125 wpm. This makes me jealous. See previous point about Navy Seals and injuries.

6-10. I'll come up with five more things tomorrow. Maybe something about procrastination?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season, and wish you all a joyous new year. For my part, I got to see the sunrise over the NYC skyline as I drove home this morning, and I take that as a good start to this year!

(This is not my picture. I was driving. I swiped this one from Google images.)