Slice of Life: The Beast Across the Street

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

A conversation with a four year old in the car as we are almost home:

Son: Did you know kitty talks to the beast?
Me: Huh?
S: Our kitty. Coltrane. He talks to the beast.
M: Which beast?
S: The one I was talking about.
M (now thinking of past conversations): Oh. The beast who lives in the woods across the street?
S (nods): They talk.
M: What do they talk about?
S: I don’t know.
M: Do they do other things? Do they play scrabble?
S: Nooooo.
M: How about checkers?
S: Noooooo.
(quiet pause)
S: The beast eats birds.
M: Really?
S: And chipmunks and squirrels.
M: Really?
S: Yep.
M: So does kitty. Maybe that’s what they talk about.
S: What?
M: What birds taste like.
S: Maybe. The beast sleeps in winter. It comes out in summer.
M: Oh.
S: So be quiet. Shhhh. Don’t wake the beast.
M: I won’t. Promise.

Peace (in stories),

Listening to the Music of the Wood

A poem I wrote came in second place for a writing contest with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (the second year I came in second) and I used some of the comments/critiques to revise it a bit, and then I added a podcast. The poem is a memory poem, of Sunday mornings in my childhood when almost the entire neighborhood packed up for Church … except for me.

Listening to the Music of the Wood (slightly revised)
Listen to the podcast

They all left on Sunday mornings,
dressed up in clean clothes and polished shoes;
their faces pushing up against the inside windows of their parents’ cars
as I waved goodbye in my dirty jeans and beat up sneakers,
feeling not quite alone but utterly free as they disappeared down the road,
swallowed up by the sound of the church organ.

I’d take in the deepest breath of the day;
drawing in the silence of the neighborhood to consider my own thoughts
of the Infinite and the world beneath and above me.
I could hear music moving in and among the trees —
melodies of the woods
that called out to me with a spirit all of its own.

I imagined their preacher standing up high on the pulpit,
pushing back against the sins of the world,
delivering sermons on the temptations that lay around us,
guarding his flock against the tide of bad judgments and unexpected calamity,
moving his congregation with equal parts anger and compassion,
making them understand that this is but a fragile peace
and that one must live with open hearts and open minds,
while my friends — so prim and proper on the outside yet full of chaos and energy on the inside —
fidgeted in their seats with empty ears,
daydreaming about the Wood ….

where I scampered about with abandon in the early morning Sunday light,
climbing the tallest trees to survey the world from above
and declaring this place to be my own Heavenly Kingdom
for as far as my eyes could see.
If you listened, if you put your ear to the wood and held your breath,
the wind would make faint hints at a symphony,
something for the solitary journey into the heart of the mind.

My friends sat on hard benches, balancing bibles on their knees,
absentmindedly turning page after page, scanning words
written in a language they could not quite understand —
while I opened my long, sharp, silver pocketknife
and carved a secret name into the biggest tree I could find,
pledging myself Protector of the Wood from the Great Unknown
that always seemed to be lurking just beyond view.

It was only a matter of time …

Those spirits later did come calling
— right at my doorstep, discordant in tone, unsettling —
and it turned out that neither the preacher nor the Wood
could do much to fend off this unbidden sadness of the world
— the slow rumble of minor chords ever present, ever present —
even as I retreated into the trees for solace and comfort,
seeking out their protection as I once promised mine to them
and finding nothing but loose notes engraved in the bark,
solitary sounds outside of the song.
I’d rub my fingers along the carvings
and feel the wounds I had made with my words and actions,
complicit and conflicted and completely alone.

A childhood is made up of overlapping worlds:
some defined for us; some, we make our own.
On Sunday mornings, when I’d become the center of the Universe,
the possibilities of changing this place for the better never seemed more likely than when I was
lying down on fallen leaves,
staring up past the treetops,
pushing off into the clouds,
listening to the music of the Wood.

Peace (in poems),

Not Another Snow Day (comic)

My thoughts this morning as snow came down and school was closed.

I used The Grimace Project (a free flash-based face generator based one the work of Scott McCloud and the concepts of facial expressions in comics) and then ComicLife, in case you are wondering.

Peace (in snowflakes),

Slice of Life: Listening to Teachers

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I spent part of Saturday with a videocamera in my hand, documenting some work being done by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Within our network, a group known as Project Outreach (whose mission is around issues of access, equity and diversity for WMWP) has been designing a program for prospective teachers in urban schools who have not been able to pass the state’s certification test for teachers (known as the MTEL). So, WMWP has offered some sessions on how to approach the Writing and Communication exam, and my role was to capture a discussion at the end of the Saturday session.

I felt a bit like an intruder with my camera aimed at them, but they were gracious, and the discussions were pretty amazing, as these teachers — some of whom English is a second language — talked not only about their own struggles with this standardized test, but also how their struggles allowed them to relate more to the struggles of their students; about how they have come to understand that they must find ways to relate to the world of their students to make learning relevant; about what keeps them going in the classroom during difficult times; and about how they must always maintain high expectations of their students, even though they come from families falling apart or neighborhoods that are violent or schools with very little flexibility. They keep their students in the center of their hearts.

As a teacher, it was a reminder to me, too, to keep these ideas close. Many of my students don’t have the same situation, but some do. It’s interesting how sometimes just the act of “listening” to others brings a solid focus into your own situation. I am thankful for those teachers and their willingess to be honest and open, and to share their stories.

The video will be used as part of a presentation by our Project Outreach folks, but also, it will be part of our Western Mass Writing Project website, which we will be redesigning this year. When it goes up live in the coming days, I will provide a link.

Peace (in sharing),

Deep into Days in a Sentence

There was another wonderful collection of Days in a Sentence from folks this week. I am always surprised and interested when another submission finds its way into my blog bin. Here goes:

In Massachusetts, we are entering our testing season — the MCAS. Mary, my colleague at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, is already thinking of how the testing can be turned to her advantage. She is so smart like that.

I wish that helping students become better test takers actually helped them become better learners. Alas, I feel the real test comes after all our tests are over.

You have all read about the tragic fires in Australia and Anne M. is right there, teaching her students about safety and we call cross our fingers that the drills don’t turn into reality for her.

A more settled week at school, where we practiced fire drills in anticipation of a high risk bushfire danger day again today (Friday) but fortunately all is well for us.

Ghosts in the computer? Hacker spirits? Byte-sized sprites? Lynne C. experienced some oddities in the lab this week.

My timer blasts for no reason, and one of the computers repowers up out of nowhere; noise kharma?

Ken gets his Haiku mojo up and running this week.

With no computer
there’s time to reflect on life
without a PC.

Janice suffers from the pressure to put a grade on knowledge acquisition when her gut tells her that it might not be the most adequate way to gauge learning and progress in her students. I think her conundrum is also most of ours, right?

This week I hate that the timelines of report cards seems to contradict almost everything we know about good teaching practice; the kids aren’t ready, I know they’re not ready, but I test them anyway just so I’ll have marks to put on report cards. Aaargggghhh!

Did someone say Groundhog Day? Matt enters the cycle.

I’m wrapping up loose ends to begin the process again.

Shaun experiences both sides of the coin.

I have been the assessed and the assessor, to grow as a learner and to grow my learners.

Happy birthday, Elona!

This week my granddaughter and I combined our birthday celebrations-she’s 4 and I’m 4+.

sara is feeling .. uh … antsy.

oh my god – not having a vacation at this time of year is akin to being swarmed by angry hornets and seeing the smoke pot twenty yards away.

Mary Lee has been away and now wants to return. I have some snow and ice and cold that I can let her have, for cheap!

Weeks full of long days and hard work got me to this Phoenix IRA pause, and it’s been SO good to slow down in the sun, but I am ready to go back to clouds and cold and work and family and home and friends and students and routine.

Aram is faced with a dilemma I bet a lot of high school teachers, in particular, face in this age of easy cut-and-paste-with-no-attribution research papers. I don’t have an answer for him but I wonder if there is a better approach out there for him. Maybe creating multi-modal documents that force students to be creative and make their own materials?

After discovering the fifth research paper that “borrows” freely from Wikipedia, I seriously am considering completely pitching the way I teach research papers, as opposed to calling them all lazy.

Two years of work … off in the mail and Nina can breathe a sigh of relief.

As I mailed 11.5 pounds of an institute self-study we have been working on for almost 2 years, I felt an even bigger weight lift off my shoulders.

Stacey — whose collaborative site, Two Writing Teachers, begins the Slice of Life Challenge this week that is worth checking out and participating in — had one of those heart-thumping moments that I hope you never experience (but I have).

I consider myself lucky since my defensive driving skills saved me from an accident on 95 South this evening… scary!

I was not sure if this was Bonnie‘s sentence, but I like it because it shows how immersed she is in working with teachers and kids, and how ambitious she is.

I am getting ready to work with 100 6th graders as they create digital stories.

Ben is riding high on a pave of optimism and pride in his students, and I think we should all ride along with him. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

My students (11th grade) have truly impressed me with their ability to rise to my expectations for literary quote IDs. Judging by their performance on my test, I would say that those who made 80%+ on my test could walk in to a college English class at a university and perform and get the same grade as the university students. I have never been so proud of students.

Cynthia, a dear friend from the National Writing Project, had some good news, too, as an initiative to create a Technology Institute seems to be gaining ground when she gathered up a crucial audience.

A small modicum of success–today the Alcorn Writing Project’s leadership team agreed to be the participants in our first technology institute!

Amy had a breather, thanks for a holiday.

On this three day weekend celebrating Casimir Pulaski, I am appreciating an extra day for catching up.

Parades … dancing … Lynn J. also has a nice break. I bet we see some evidence on PhotoFridays in the coming week, right?

Grateful that today is Saturday and I can forget about the kids for a couple of days, I’m headed out to watch them march and dance in a parade this morning.

Thank you to everyone and one final note: The Slice of Life Challenge for the month of March is now up and running over at Two Writing Teachers and I encourage you to consider joining in the fun of writing about those central moments of life. I “ran” into Stacey and Ruth last year with the Slice of Life and found it a great way to connect with others. See Two Writing Teachers for more information.

Peace (in sharing),

Slice of Life: What Happens to the Music

(note: Last year, I took part in the Slice of Life writing challenge with Two Writing Teachers. I won’t be doing this every day, but periodically, I hope to write and podcast about some moments. I encourage you to participate, too. It will push you as a writer and connect you with another network of bloggers. See Two Writing Teachers for more details).

What Happens to the Music
Listen to the podcast

I took the guitar case from behind the couch, clicked it open and stared at the pile of papers on top of and underneath the guitar. It reminded me that I have a lot of songs that have just sat around. Now that my band, The Sofa Kings, is kaput — perhaps temporarily, but more likely, permanently — I have an opportunity to dig up some material that I had shelved, knowing that it might not work for The Sofa Kings. Tuesday night came and went, and I was home instead of at our practice space, and it felt strange not to be up in the attic, playing music. I already miss the other people in the band because they were all friends as much as bandmates. That made calling it quits even harder. But the energy and inspiration had dwindled and we all agreed .. it was time. I’m already making plans with a friend to start doing some recording, and writing new songs, and maybe getting out to some open mic nights around town, so I know music will keep happening. But the end of a band, if it means anything to you, is like the end of a relationship — it leaves you conflicted with both some relief that you are not living in the shadows of better days and excitement that there are new paths to follow into the future.