Slice of Life: I Can’t Read This Room

I took a breath before starting up my Monday series of video chats with my sixth graders. These are short sessions, with two offerings per week, for students to choose from. I’ve done some mini-lessons in the weeks at home with these video meets but mostly, I’ve used it as a check-in, pep talk, address questions kind-of-thing.

“If we were in the classroom, together, we would be talking about current events,” I tell my students, trying to read faces and body postures and feeling frustrated about how the video delays, spotty Internet connections, and small screens and faces-only visuals, not to mention the reluctance many still have of even engaging in conversation on the video, all stymied my approach.

I could have chosen to avoid this topic altogether. I could have but really, I could not. How can we?

“And there are events going on that you may have been following from Minneapolis and other cities,” I continue, noticing some nodding heads. One student quickly wrote “George Floyd” in the chat for everyone to see.  Another shared a sad emoji face. I pause, and acknowledge George Floyd’s name and then give an overview of what has been happening in cities across the country as a result, including nearby Boston (and later, I find, right in my small city, too, where the police station was the scene of a rally/protest and target of graffiti).

I connect what is happening now to our work earlier in the year in discussing race, civil rights, and systemic violence of the black community — particularly young black men — from our work with The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963, and try to balance the news headlines of looting stores with the tenets of peaceful protest marches, as civic action against injustice being the heart and soul of our country. I avoid the president, despite the voice in my head, altogether, trying to keep the politics neutral.

Repeatedly, I open the floor up in the video for questions, and pose questions of inquiry. I receive some response, but mostly, not much. Just silence. Either they are reluctant to discuss difficult questions or engage in difficult dialogue via video, or they have not really been paying much attention to the news, or something else. (I refuse to believe it’s because they didn’t care). I could have (maybe should have) done some writing with them, but I wasn’t sure if they had enough context for that.

I could not read the room, despite my many years as a teacher, and this happened four different times with four different classes. I could not … read the room.

Yesterday, I disliked (hated, really, to be honest) this Distance Learning situation more than ever for the barriers it puts in front of me helping my students see the world through a larger lens, with context and compassion.

Seeing them there in little images, stuck inside my computer screen, isolated and maybe only seeing news through their social media applications, or if lucky, in discussions with parents, and here I was, a teacher they would often rely on to talk about these issues, feeling as inadequate as I have ever felt, trying to engage them in critically important issues, and seemingly failing in my efforts to do so.

Maybe they were thinking as they were listening, at least. Maybe that.

Peace (in frustration),
Kevin

On The First of June (a poem and a comic)

World Coming Undone

An Autumn chill
arrives on
the first of
June

Harbinger
of the beautiful
or more news
to subsume?

The world beyond,
sleeps, now
accustomed to spin,
perilously
out of tune

The danger
becomes us;
wrapped in a shell
of words we consume

Peace (upon us),
Kevin

Music of the Pandemic: Long Walks Off the Beat

This short instrumental track is a new one to my collection of songs I have been writing and recording for this time of the quarantine, in a collection entitled Notes from a Quiet Corner. I still have a few tracks I am working on before I pull them all together. This beat track is inspired by the long walks we are now able to do, as we are home and can take frequent breaks from work to stretch the legs and get some air.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Book Review: I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf

I wish I could gently rip out every page of Grant Snider‘s new collection — I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf — and pin them up all around the house and the classroom, and celebrate the love of reading in Snyder’s colors, and wit, and gentleness. But, you know, then I would be both destroying the book (ack!) and maybe other people wouldn’t appreciate the sudden decor (but the people I love would appreciate the theme).

Snider, whose work as a cartoonist with a literary bent is someone I have been following for years with appreciation, dives deep into his love of books with every cartoon in this collection — some have been published elsewhere (his work is often in the New York Times, New Yorker, etc.) and at his blog site, but many of them here are ones I had never seen before. Like his other book collection – The Shape of Ideas — I can see myself coming back time and again for a little artistic rejuvenation and appreciation for the way he explores writing and reading at beautiful angles.

If you love books, you’ll love I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf.

Peace (in pages),
Kevin

Adventures in AudioStory Creation: Risking It All For the King

Risking It All For the King

As my students were writing their own “Stuck Inside a Game” short stories over a few weeks time in our distance learning adventures, I was recording an audiobook of my own story: Risking It All For The King. I’d been sharing each episode as I recorded them but then gathered all SEVEN episodes in one place, in order from start to finish. It was fun to layer sound effects in with voice for an extended story. This was fairly new to me.

Peace (in story),
Kevin

For Virtual Field Day: Making Stopmotion Movies

Our elementary school is taking a break from academics this week (we have three weeks to go until the end of the year) and doing all sorts of Wellness/Health/Arts activities. I think families, kids and teachers all needed a little mental health reprieve, a quick breather before the rush of the end of this strange school year is upon us.

Since we can’t have our usual Field Day of group activities throughout our school grounds, the specialist teachers designed a Virtual Field Day project, and invited classroom teachers to submit videos as inspiration to be active and creative for families. I decided to invite kids to make stop-motion movies, and made the video above as my way to introduce and invite movie making to happen.

Peace (frame by frame by frame),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Three Memorial Day (No One Else Was There)

Field of Honor: Florence, Northampton

We’ve been keeping an active eye during the pandemic social distancing on our elderly neighbor, whose husband (a veteran of the Korean War and a long-time military man) died a year or so ago. We bring her newspaper to her door each morning and mail, too, on rainy days. We check in with her regularly, seeing if she needs anything from the store and reminding her that we’re right here, if she needs us.

The other day, she told us how her husband’s military service was now being represented in the Field of Honor at the Elks Lodge field, where this is the second year in a row the club in the next village over has hosted an entire field of American flags to honor veterans on Memorial Day. We told her we would go there and find his flag, and we did, reading his short biography on a tag on the flag post. We also wandered around with the kids for a bit through the flags, reading about other local veterans and remembering.

No one else was there.

Leeds Memorial Day

Earlier, I had ventured to our village memorial to veterans, which is often the scene of a community gathering to honor fallen soldiers with roots in our village.  I walked by, stopped for a bit in the shade of the trees, and heard the ghost sounds of the trumpet playing Taps in my imagination.

No one else was there.

Finally, our neighbor had wondered if the larger stone memorials in our city downtown now had her husband’s name carved into the stone for the Korean War. She hadn’t been out to check. We decided to investigate yesterday, and while his name is not there (My wife: Who do we call to make it happen?), we again spent some time reading through the names of soldiers of war, now gone.

No one else was there.

It’s strange to find commemoration in the city so quiet, but I’m not surprised, of course. Coming home from the trip to Memorial Hall, I noticed a hand-painted sign that said: Memorial Day Parade This Way, with an arrow pointing down the street. My wife said the city’s mayor (a National Guard veteran, like me) and a few elderly veterans did a car parade through this village of our city, in order to keep intact its record as the oldest consecutive running Memorial Day parade in the entire country. I wish I had known. I would I have watched and clapped, and honored the memories of those soldiers.

I hope others were there.

Peace (remembering it),
Kevin

Panels of the Pandemic: Remember the Vets

Remember the Vets

We have an Old Soldiers’ Home about 15 minutes down the highway that has been decimated by the virus, with more than 80 veterans now killed by Covid19. All sorts of local, state and federal inquiries are happening over the reasons why this happened, but it clearly points to poor leadership at the facility, lack of sufficient oversight by the VA, and, in the larger picture of the country, the slow fumbling of this crisis at the very top that, research shows, probably led to tens of thousands more dying than needed to.

So, today, on Memorial Day, we remember our veterans and we continue to look for leadership from the federal government, even if it looks like no one is really in charge anymore (other than the one looking out for his own political interest).

Peace (and remembering),
Kevin