Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jumping ahead to fall in love with the season...

and sporting cinnamon-scented pine cones before October arrives.

I haven't been apple picking. I can't rake my lawn. I thought about making a pot roast or chili, but my fargin' leg has me depressed. Perhaps that is why I jumped at a chance to get out of the house yesterday to putz about with my administrative assistant for a couple of hours. We did bargain shopping and I didn't return with much but a bottle of wine and the smell of the holiday season. Something about the pine cones seems to say, "purchase me," so I did. I purchased them and now my house smells like Santa Clause land. I want to put my lights up, but will wait until Thanksgiving. Dang.

Lois also left me with apple crisp to serve hot over ice-cream, but I'm a bit stuffed from the omelet I had for dinner. Perhaps I will indulge tomorrow. On second thought, smelling this in Connecticut and missing my wood burning stove on a Saturday night, I think I will serve myself the treat immediately.

Where did the summer season go?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Okay, Colette Bennett, I'm one of YOU

and I can prove it. I helped my niece after she came home from her visit from the hospital.

Yes, to the right is Nikki, my wonderful niece who went in for intrusive surgery this morning (out patient) to work out her anemia, low iron, poor white blood cell count, and departure from marching with the Cicero North Syracuse North Stars. She's been going through various treatments (as pictured here - nope, not her middle finger and yep, I'm sure she will kill me).

My point, however, Colette, is that after hours online with Apple and also a trip to an Apple store, the iPad you and the other teachers in the 2012 ISI bought me is now functioning and I'm ready for lessons. My niece texted me tonight to say she needed to write a new ending to a Stephen King short story and not knowing the story I used my iPad to find it.

Yes, I read my first short story online.

It was a .pdf and it tilted the wrong way every time I twisted the iPad, but eventually I finished it. I've alway been tech-savvy, but last night I found myself being extra-text savvy. I was on Cloud 9 with my IPhone, IPad, and MacBook Pro. I admit it is overwhelming, but my goal is to navigate all three with the ease of Colette Bennett. I remain in awe at how well connected she is with all information of the cyber world as soon as it comes out. I suppose this is my admission that  I'm in complete admiration of her skills. I hope to one day be exactly like her.

And also like my niece who, after a day of surgery, came home to work on her English homework despite learning her younger brother has a girlfriend (WTF) and her mom wanted to go to Walmart. Lord, is she following in her uncle's footsteps? For some reason, I don't think so. Yet, if she laughs that I posted this photograph, I know she is somewhat close.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's all good...really it is

I received a present yesterday...a giant mug that reads, "it's all good."

I guess I must say that a little too often because if I'm receiving mugs with the saying then I must be an easy read (I learned, too, my colleague has the same mantra).

Yep, it's all good.

I'm a little wiped from the week of foot shenanigans, moving slowly, VERY slowly, and wrestling with the mental stress that I can't keep my normal routine. I guess, for this reason, I needed this mug as a reminder and I will put it back in sync with my rhythm for life. It is all good, but right now, I'm a FRIDAY - completed wiped from exhaustion.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

a poem for fall by e.e. cummings...

and to accompany The Perks of Being a Wallflower that my undergraduates discussed yesterday.




One of my students in Connecticut wrote extensively on loneliness and how it is a common theme in young adult literature and it reminded me of e.e. cummings and his poem "l(a)". The poem has always been a piece of art for me - a masterpiece (like Perks) and like Autumn, its leaves, and the changing of seasons.

I don't have much else to write...just that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Laboring in style...

compliments of Pam and Lois.

When I was driven to work yesterday I had one goal in mind: to accomplish a lot of writing. I didn't stop until 12:30 when I looked up and saw my administrative assistant and her sister. They arrived with a zebra-print stool (from Pam's office), a red and black cloth holding ice, and a black, vibrating pillow. I said, "Are you kidding me?"

Then the nursing began.

They made me put my foot up, put the ice on the ankle, and vibrate my lunch break away. I have to admit - it felt great and the throbbing went away. It was also humorous to be in my office with this fancy leg rest arrangement as I typed. It felt rather Kingly and like I was royalty.

On another note, I finally got an IPad. The trouble is (it has been decided after 4 hours of talking with Apple Care) there's a problem with the IPad I got. I explained to them that the only reason I was working on setting it up is because I'm a gimp and have the time, but leave it to my world to have a faulty machine. The lady, Celeste, says, "Well, you need to take your IPad to an Apple Store and..."

It's not going to happen for a while: time, transportation and foot. I told her I hoped Apple was working on a deal for me to compensate for the inconvenience (via an email), but I've not heard back. It'd be nice to have the IPad given to me for free. It really is a nuisance, especially when I've been such a great fan for so long.

PS: Celeste emailed me late last night. She said she didn't respond because as she was trying to troubleshoot my faulty IPad, she received a call that her mother had a heart attack. Send prayers to Celeste in Chicago. Why do I know this? Just the way my life rolls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I spoke too soon, because now it is Tuesday...

and Monday didn't go so well.

Actually, it was Sunday night. I ran to advance the laundry and flew off the last step. I heard my ankle go, "funk," and then I went upstairs to walk it off. That wasn't good because it made me pass out. I woke up an hour later and walked on it again. Eeks.

I knew when I got up on Monday morning I would have it looked at. I hobbled to my phone when, lo and behold, I passed out. It hurt and it was swollen. Having never broken anything but a toe, I didn't know what would come next. I didn't want to intrude on a busy work week, either.

Too late.

The good news is that it is not broken. There's a slight hair fracture, but it's in a place where it will heal without a cast. I have an air support and will ice it up for the next couple of days. I know now I do not ever want to break anything if this is what it feels like for coming extremely close.

As for today...Tuesday...we shall see what will come of ya'.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Even in Connecticut, they suck...


The weekend was spent doing laundry, catching up on grading, reading ahead, and trying to finish a paper to meet a deadline. I think at 5 p.m. on Sunday I finally threw in the towel and said, well, Monday will be here before you know it, you might as well eat dinner. So that's what I did. Then spent the rest of the evening grading.

I knew when I chose my profession that it would never be a 40 hour, five-days a week job. What I didn't know is that it would be 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, and still impossible to catch up. I was warned...I witnessed others...I held my breath and, well, Mondays suck now more than ever before.

My mother asked, "But aren't you only teaching one day a week?"

She is right. Both my classes are on Wednesday. The other six days are spent in meetings, conducting a research project with a local high school, preparing for the next class, answering emails...answering emails...answering emails.

And I don't want to live an unhealthy life. I'm conscious of all work and no play making Bryan a dull boy...that is why I joined a gym, so I can at least work out every day.

It's Sisyphus. Another boulder...another hill.

At least I have a job and (he tells himself in slight fear, options if I need them).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This is cuter than needing a stool sample (Nikki)...

...and funnier than the time dad passed out in the downstair's bathroom. This is my nephew (and God-Son) weaning himself out of diapers and to the big boy's club.

I have to love that face because I recognize it as my own.

Oh, did I mention that my thinking is rather scattelogical this morning?

It's Sunday and I've had my coffee - I'm where I do my best thinking and I'm laughing that my sister sent this photograph to me via a text message (a keepsake for the rest of my/his life and, if he's lucky, an item he can bring to show and tell one day and/or write a developed essay for one of his teachers - I mean, we often require students to choose a photograph and develop a memory on paper. This would be perfect).

There are mathematical learners, visual learners, linguistic learners, musical learners, etc...but there are a few who learn best through potty humor. Justin Leonard, class of 2000, was my favorite scattelogical learner.  Justin was one of them and once I discovered this, I swear his writing transcended state rubrics (although he was always over the top and inappropriate for school). I mention him because, well, communication, like pooping, is biological and we need to be aware of our processes to master what we do (doo).

So, little buddy, J.C., this post's for you : ). You deserve a marshmellow!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My brother-in-law, Mike

was with my niece yesterday at a Halloween store (note: this is at a time where Kohl's is now playing Christmas music). When the photographs came, I laughed. Just yesterday morning I texted the guy to say I miss the silliness and the random ability to to hang out at a Walmart, mall, or in front of the televisions where we'd watch this or that dumb movie (usually involving gore, ghosts, the paranormal, or comedy. It stinks to live away from family.

He's in Cicero and I'm in Stratford. That's the way it is these days.

And that light I had a dream of my sister, Cynde. For some reason, I was hanging out with Jack Wagner and I wanted her to come over so she could get a picture with him. Of course, she went on and on with these self-deprecating excuses of why she couldn't have a photograph with Jack Wagner. (Note: I think these photographs spurred this dream). Every time we went to take a picture she covered her face or turned her head so she couldn't be seen.  Jack Wagner was furious with her, but then Mike showed up and he was more than willing to get a picture taken with him. The dream was extremely stupid, but so is my brain when it allows me to fall asleep and actually rest.

There won't be Oompa Loompas this fall in Cherry Heights and I will miss that. With that said, I'm HOME in spirit and thoughts everyday.  And finally, yes, there is a resemblance of Frodo and Gollum in these shots.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Work of Gordon Skinner...

Hard Works at Da Silva Gallery in New Haven.

Last spring, my friends Sonya and Cliff invited to an art opening in Bridgeport by outsider artist Gordon Skinner. I wrote about the evening earlier this year and had the great fortune of attending his new exhibition last night. A photograph does not give his pieces justice and I simply like his whimsical, creative, colorful, layered, and contemplative style. Many of his pieces work with African, colonial, spiritual and masked themes that tell a story of identity, culture, and suspicion.

The piece here is called Herbivore of Gohar - perhaps a reference to a spiritual movement in Northern Africa, territories in the middle east or the Egyptian military leader.

If you are and about in Connecticut and catch Skinner's exhibition I recommend it. This piece sold rather quickly but there are others like it.

I'm not sure about your world these days but mine feel like every day bleeds into the next so taking the time to revisit the colors he puts to canvas was a great relief. If my brain was working right now I might write more.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another story of Karma from Connecticut...

...another testimony of what teaching should be.

I often tell a story of a time I had a student injured on a senior trip and how his family, without insurance, meant that the hospital bill had to fall to someone and that someone was me. At the time, I thought the bill would be repaid by the school district which it wasn't because they couldn't - not their policy. Long story short, years passed and I swallowed the cost of the hospital bill. Then one night a knock came to my door. It was the kid. He said, "I've been waiting tables and I know I owe you for that time on the senior trip." He had all the cash of the hospital bill and I felt like Willy Wonka when Charlie returned a gobstopper. It was a lot of money.

Then last night I received another email.

During my first years of teaching, I mentored a kid who had a tug-at-your-heart story. He had tremendous pride and didn't want anyone to know how difficult things were for him in his life. He was involved in seedy activities from time to time to help his family and from a very young age he did whatever it took to support his parents. His tals threw me upside down because I would have never guessed it was as extreme as it was. It was bad...real bad. I went to the high school counselor and shared what I learned about his homelife. She encouraged me to apply for a district scholarship that supported a kid with an unbelievable story. I talked with the young man and asked if he'd allow me to narrate his story for the scholarship donors and he said, "only if it is anonymous." It was. And he won.

Fast forward to last night when the the email arrives.

The young man made it through college because of the financial support. He moved away from Louisville and worked in finance and marketing. He continued to support his family from afar, but legally this time, and has done very well for himself economically. He wrote that he's ready to create a scholarship fund for young people like him and to give back to the world what he once received. He wondered how he goes about this and what I might do to help him. He wanted to know if he should create a non-profit, how to contact a school, and what steps to take next.

I simply smiled with pride.

Both of these stories didn't need to turn out this way. Yet, investing in youth who  had integrity, a difficult road, and the potential to do amazing things paid off. It's too easy to give up on young people because there's little time and the gamble is risky. Here, though, I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I was the type of teacher who knew kids beyond the parameters of academics, alone, and that could believe in their larger souls so they would one day do what is right. I can hear the voices of others, though, saying, "Fool. You take on too much. They'll only disappoint you in the end."

Well, it's not the way these stories ended.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thinking about the deadly intersection of...

...race, class, and poverty and what it means for American schools. I am unsure I have any answers, either. I just have my thinking.

This summer I had the benefit of frolicking through the Hamptons and, as careers would have it, I happen to be at a University that has its share of youth from strong socio-economic backgrounds. My task is to work with undergraduates on their understanding of literature and the graduates with becoming stronger teachers. My heart, however, lies with the students in public schools and how they are treated by our curriculum, instruction, and power wars that are the result of power play and histories much too complex for my brain. The playing field is not equal and it is evident whenever I visit schools. The disparity between the haves and have nots is evident and the pressures felt by all teachers are immense.

Talking with a teacher today, he celebrated that he had a 60% turn-in rate - a percentage he claimed was the highest in years. This means that 6 out of every ten students he teaches turns in the assigned work. The other four students he claimed would not do work all year. He hypothesizes that the number of working students will dwindle as the year goes ahead and more and more kids will stop attending school. I wonder, "Where do they go? What are their plans? How are we helping these kids?"

I also think about a teacher from my dissertation study who said, "I can do a lot of miraculous things that even surprise myself, yet I can't teach an empty seat. I can't do anything about the ones who rarely show up."

I am also reminded of the young men who I worked with who embraced each and every day of their high school experience as an opportunity and responsibility to help themselves, their families, and their home nations. My understanding of poverty is not only local, but global.

I remember my younger sister thinking that the documentary on urban/suburban schools and the inequitable resources they had was impossible. She watched Oprah and thought the story was exaggerated and unimaginable. I responded, "Well, you need to visit schools with me."

The teachers who work in the poorest schools are also underpaid compared to the high achieving schools. They feed kids, clothe kids, and go beyond the call of duty to help them feel safe. They are educated individuals taught to think about social justice and encouraging the success of all youth. Yet, day in and day out they work in conditions that are intensely wrong. Alice used to laugh that if OSHA audited a school they'd close it down for unfair work conditions - and we were in a great urban school with much success. A woman I talked with today showed me the black mold oozing in her ceiling and a bullet hole that was never repaired. She made a claim with OSHA, she admitted, but said there was nothing they could do about it.

My point here is that every American should be ashamed at the conditions of some of our schools. They should also be embarrassed and frustrated by the way teachers are being treated and blamed for society's ills. As I told my students whenever I heard them complain about this or that teacher, "No one has a right to criticize what a teacher does because until you do it, you have no idea of the mental and physical burdens they take on." I've also said that every college-educated person should have to spend a year or more in a public school to give back to American society. Why? So they can see beyond the utopia pontificated through much of the mental exercises in higher education. The dilemmas are real, yet many live in locations where THIS reality is not seen. It's sort of an environmental issue where companies MUST put their toxins and byproducts somewhere and they usually dump this in the poorest areas. The same occurs intellectually. When one is not faced with the intersection of poverty, class, and race on a daily level it might be easy to forget true problems exist.

Maybe that is why some are able to blame the victims for being in the spaces they are. Ah, but schools, SCHOOLS should be locations to empower youth to dream larger. Such dreams are difficult, though, when all that is known is the struggle, neglect, and inequity.

That is my Wednesday morning soap box.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two more years and then what...

for the Starburst-supporting Crandalls and the CNS Isgars?

This photo is from the Syracuse Post Standard and it appeared in Sunday's paper. I found it online and I had to laught. Up at the top standing is my father. To his right is my sister with her arms folded. Below them is my mother in her lime green jacket (not paying attention to the show and talking to the Perras on her right). Dylan is sitting remarkably patient. This photo could have been taken in 1986, 1987, or 1988 and then, fast forward, 2010, 2011, 2012.

The same orange sweatshirts are there in support of the Liverpool Warriors and the same yellow and gold for the Wildcats. The green and blue, however, is not as represented because the marching band is no where near the size it once was. In fact, their band now is the size of the pit back when my sister marched.

But, the cycle continues and the rituals are the same. Over 20 years have gone by and not much has change. Strange that I'm in Connecticut now and every Tuesday and Thursday I can hear Bunnell High School marching band practicing from my home but I have no clue what their colors or mascot are.

The support is an unconditional labor of love. I'm just waiting for my niece to be rolled out in a Bull costume.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sticking to a resolution and...

...and returning those shopping carts.

Five years ago, I wanted a new year's resolution that had meaning, but depth, too. I thought about who I was and who I wanted to be and then it hit me: Weenie heads leave their shopping carts in the parking lot for low-payed workers to retrieve, while those with integrity might help out by bringing the shopping carts to the front of the store where they belong or leaving them in the receptacles designated in several areas. The way I see it, returning a cart is also additional exercise to counter a lazy nature and a great opportunity to burn off a few more calories each day.

Andrew Gott, class of 2008, laughed at me when I told him that was my resolution but every now and again he sends me a note to say that he, too, is returning carts properly. My hobby for doing this was triggered last week when I put groceries in my car during a down pour. I thought about leaving the cart but then said to myself, "No, this is a test. These carts are a metaphor for living in this world and, well, if Sisyphus is trapped in the never ending routine, then I want my routine to be a bit noble."

Returning carts is my nobility.

Yesterday I was at Ocean State Job Lot and parked far away from the front of the store. Again, I thought, "Just leave the cart and let someone else get it." I didn't do this, though. I did what I feel was right and, as always, it gave me more pep in my step.

Just a small thing in a weekly ritual, but one that I believe in.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Has it really been five years?

I talked with Andrew Pillow, class of 2007, last night and we discussed how quickly five years went by. I left Kentucky in the spring of 2007 and now I'm in my second year of Connecticut. He left Kentucky and is teaching in Indianapolis through teach for America. He wondered, "Do you remember me as a writer?" and I asked him, Do I remember you turning in any of your work?"

Fast forward. He made me laugh. I loved his class. So much has changed, but it seems like yesterday I was still in the classroom encouraging seniors to attend college. Five years have passed. I no longer know the seniors and the ones I did know have moved on. It's surreal, actually, how quickly the whole thing has gone and as I told him, I left with a stellar class that has fueled me for some time.

Still, the daily routine of high school is a thing of the past and now, a dissertation and many sleepless nights later, I am in a new place. I'm unsure where time goes accept for to the adventure. It's 2012 and I'm no longer in New York or Kentucky. I'm in Connecticut and Jim Calhoun is retiring, the Cards are ranked #1 in a pre-season pole, the Cats #5, and the Orangemen #9. Zoom. that's what it is.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

There's only 101 days left, people!

It's official. The store decorations are going up. I thought Halloween was the next holiday and then Thanksgiving, but I was in Kohl's today and, Wola! They were putting up the trees. It's September 15th, not even Autumn, and they are jumping into the spirit.

So, it's time to make lists and let others know what you want for Christmas.

Traffic. Long lines. Stress. Less light in the day. Chaos.

Can hardly wait, can you?

Thanks, Connecticut retail, for pushing the envelope even more this year. At least they didn't have the holiday music on quite yet (although I imagine they upped the debut earlier this year).

They also need to work on the song some more. Twelve days is not cutting it any longer, for real, for real.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Community Matters...

...Ubuntu Matters.

This is easily the fanciest place I've ever presented and, well, as odd as it was for me, it did feel right.

I tried to address participants from the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions and alumni of Fairfield University the importance of supporting writing in and out of school. Interestingly, as I was thinking about my cousin's work with Hoops4Hope, it occurred to me that his Skills4Life work fit perfectly in what I feel writers need....especially the philosophy of Ubuntu. 

I am what I am because of who we are.

In other words, we are the result of others and that is what writing should embrace. Community (it matters, too).

It was a true honor to have the opportunity to share with others my research, my teaching experiences, and my support of the National Writing Project. The feedback I received was positive and I am hoping to build support for CWP, but also H4H in southern Connecticut. The community of Fairfield University definitely came together to provide me comfort to present. I am very thankful.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unfortunately, I prefer to...

but would rather prefer not to. That is my character flaw. Preferring.

In high school, I remember reading Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener about the employee who refused to work. He just didn't want to. So, he didn't.

Inspired by an email from Julie Roneson last night, I was thinking about this story. Perhaps those who prefer not to end up living a life of more satisfaction. If we didn't work (especially if we didn't work hard) we might have more time to do other things more enjoyable in life: going for walks, hanging out with loved ones and friends, playing Scrabble, reading books, people watching.

Nope. Most of us have to labor and laboring is always more than the 40 hour work week. Sure, OSHA laws exist, but they're seldom followed. People work overtime for more funds or extra simply to get the work done. I would say, too, that almost 90% of the work we place on ourselves is silly, meaningless work caused because we have too little time to laugh at how dumb it actually is.

I am thinking about the multiple jobs I've had in my life and my "colleagues" who chose not to work: calling in sick, taking multiple breaks, refusing to bring work home, etc. and I am thinking, "They may be on to something."

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Huh, maybe that is why I prefer to have fun while having to...

Cuz, lord knows I'm having to go back at it again today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

S.E. Hinton will make an appearance in my class today...

and we will discuss her book The Outsiders.

No, not really. Her YouTube video will make a debut in my room, but we will use her text to initiate a conversation about Young Adult Literature, what it means to be a classic, and the politics that operate in terms of high-brow, canon literature and the texts youth are likely to enjoy. In other words, we will plant the political seeds of English major power games: who are the Star Bellied Sneetches with stars upon thars and who is not. Of course, Sylvester McMonkey McBean will make an appearance, too, laughing his way to the bank from hubris, academic snobbery, and literary traditions.

Seriously, rereading S.E. Hinton's book was a true pleasure. The story continues to resonate with me and engage my adolescent self. I am always a sucker for a underdog who secretly reads and nerds out behind the scene. I love when such dorks share their stories in the term of a report for others to read.
I've always associated with the Greasers, but in my current teaching world I'm surrounded by Socs. People are people, though, so I need to get over my imaginary biases of privileges and adversities.

All life is suffering. All life is joy.

I'm anxious to see what my undergraduates have to say about the book. In my style of teaching, I'm more likely to listen to them than to offer my opinion (but I'm sure it will squeak out here and there).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You Go, Chicago!!!...

But don't forget the kids. Don't let them lose what they need most: AN EDUCATION.

I am standing on my soap box in Fairfield, Connecticut where I am a Director for a National Writing Project site. I left the classroom five years ago to pursue a Ph.D. and have continued to search for better ways to bring to schools the joy, achievement, and passion that my colleagues and I had in Louisville, Kentucky for many years. My time at the J. Graham Brown School was stupendous and I give full credit not to me, not to my students, not to my administrators, and not to my colleagues, but to a total system that supported excellence for everyone. At the time, I was part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, worked diligently to push writing for all youth through writing portfolios, and received tremendous support from the Louisville Writing Project. In my tenure as a teacher, I sought groups and organizations that supported knowledge, choice, reform, and a sense of social purpose. I looked for intelligent people doing brilliant things and I followed their lead. This, naturally, led me to the advocacy of the National Writing Project network.

Bring on politics. Bring on changes. Bring on new "reforms." And Bring on mistakes (the mistakes can be viewed here).

I left. As much of an education as I had, I still needed to learn more about how teachers could fight harder to do what they know is best practice: to have high standards, to respect ALL youth, to create curriculum with flexibility, to show tough love, to show compassion, to be highly qualified, to work hard, and to learn from their students and colleagues. When I personally felt that teachers in my building were losing support (and students were negatively affected by this), I applied to doctoral programs to find better ways to fight what was being done to public schools. I was fortunate to teach in a location where I had tremendous success. The school's unique mission, in fact, is what I continue to live by. When that mission (and its shared values) were ignored by leaders, though, my anger grew too large for my classroom. I didn't want my students and their families to see my frustrations. I chose to invest them in a Ph.D. program at Syracuse University. I am not sure I found what I was looking for there, but I know I am a better man from the stellar education I received.

Now, as a teacher of teachers and a supporter of colleagues in practice I continue the fight. I have a fortune to hear from educators in many districts and, inevitably, the demographics they serve. I can attest the following to be true of what I've heard across the nation: teachers have had it with the disrespect and top-down management style being thrown at them. They are tired of others coming into their classroom to tell them what needs to be done as they are provided less and less support and resources. They are fed up with living in a state of fear that has been caused by Draconian rules of bureaucrats forcing bad practice on them. And they're tired of not being able to teach because of such demands falling on them like bombs. They do not feel protected.

I am anti-strikes. I belonged to a union but never picketed. I HATE whining. I question unions because I've seen them defend horrible teachers, keep despicable practices in place, and protect those who don't want to work. Yet, in all the schools I've entered, there are only a handful of such pathetic teachers and for the most part, unions advocate for excellence in the classroom - EQUITY.

As a child, I used to love to pile things on top of each other. I wondered how high I could stack items before they would fall. My nephews find humor and joy in similar game-play today. Why? Inevitably the towers will collapse. The foundation can only take so much before it breaks.

Teachers can only take so much before they break and in Chicago, physically, and elsewhere, spiritually, the foundation is rocking. I'm all for greater demands. What has not coincided with them, however, are economical, emotional, social, and cultural support. Politicians want schools to heal social ills that our government has not. All one needs to do is drive the southern coast of Connecticut to see vast disparities of incomes and access. There I can rest my case. I'm sure similar disparities exist in Chicago where, depending on a zip code, a different education is provided.

Something has to change.

I, for one, went to the National Writing Project when I needed better solutions for my classroom. I continue to believe the model they advocate is superb. I want the Chicago teachers back in the classroom. I want Chicago youth to be successful and to find a trajectory that brings success and achievement to their lives in the United States. I want schools to be in session.

Yet, I also want Chicago teachers to stand strong. Why? Because I'm watching. My vote this fall will go to the candidates who brings the best education policies to their platforms. I'm listening and I'm going to be critical of the rhetoric. I will only stand for political leader(s) who listen to teachers, who listen to youth, and who work HARD to make changes for schools. More importantly, I will vote for any visionary who invests in education and doesn't just squawk empty promises. (You give me a candidate that will reinstate the NATIONAL WRITING PROJECT, for example, and I will declare a candidate for me).

So, Chicago...I'm watching. Many of us are watching. And I certainly hope for the best. You've got us talking (NY TIMES) and that is a first step.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Young Adult Literature...

...and a small file on my face. Nerd right here.

I was at the University bookstore yesterday and checked to see if the books I ordered were in (they were). I know this is beyond geeky, but every year I like to peruse the shelves to see who is teaching what and try to guess what the theme of a course is. I had to laugh because most courses have three to four books. Not mine, I have two rows. Of course, it is young adult literature and undergraduates should be prepared to read many of these quickly.

What books am I teaching? Well, hmmmm.

Alexie, S. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown & Company.
Anderson, L. (1999). Speak. New York: Penguin Group.
Anderson, M.T. (2008). Feed. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.
Bjorkmen, L. (2009). My Invented Life. New York: Henry Holt & Company
Chbosky, S. (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Books.
Collins, S. (2010). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic
Dau, J. B., & Akech, M. A. (2010). Lost Boy, Lost Girl; Escaping Civil War in Sudan. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Grimes, N. (2002) Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books. Haddon, M. (2003). The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time. New York: Random
House Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York: Viking Press Hopkinson, N. (2012). The Chaos. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. Myers, W. D. (2001). Monster. New York: Amistad Press. Small, D. Stitches (2010). New York. W.W. Norton & Company

That's for this course, anyway. So, I post this in Connecticut for you to the books I've listed and guess what you think my themes may be.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Butch and K dot C dot...

...sporting an early September lawn look in the short time that remains.

KC sent me this photograph on Friday and I love it! My father has been using sponge headbands for mowing the lawn for several years now, because it collects the sweat and keeps it out of his eyes. Butch uses a riding lawn mower, so perhaps he should have a sponge helmet in case he crashes. (Note: to the right of KC is a marshmallow hanging from the ceiling so he also knows where to park his truck in the garage).

I mowed my lawn yesterday in Connecticut (sans sponge headband) and I thought about this photograph. I love it. It captures summer at the Crandalls in Clay and is a weekly, if not daily, CNY sight. The squirrels and neighbors don't know what to do come October when Butch's lawn mower(s) can't be heard slicing the very tippy tops of grass (just a slight touch up so it doesn't look like it's been cut at all) and Sue's True Blue bitching about such mowing ceases. Yes, this photo frames memories, life, humor, perseverance, and family at 5388 Amalfi.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Paying it forward...

...kicking it one day at a time.

I'm settling into a new semester as many students are settling into their school year, as well, including the last of my research participants who has entered his senior year. I'm happy to say I was able to pay it forward and help him find means for a pair of new cleats for Varsity play. Actually, I'm hoping he's able to get a few books, too.

There are so many things taken for granted each and every day in the Western world. On some teams, youth have three pairs of cleats in their bags, a change of soccer jerseys, tape, warm up suits, and every form of sport drink imaginable. For some, the bags aren't as abundant...they may not exist at all.  Life in the U.S. is expensive and a pair of cleats costs a big chunk of a family's paycheck, especially if the family's earnings are less than $22,000 a year from low paying service jobs (shoot, it's hard to get "buy" on four times as much).

Sue McV always found a way, though, to find equity and bring relief to those who need some support. I've inherited her motto myself and feel good when I can do for someone else what she has modeled for me and countless others. Repayment is the kindness forward (a little here and a little there). That is what makes life magical.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rethinking the game plan...

...curious about bigger pictures.

Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge the fact that this is a sardonic post. Yet, underneath most sarcasm lies the layers of truth and wonder.

After a year of being in Connecticut, I decided that running and running alone is not cutting it. My 40th birthday has made my body even more stubborn about staying fit. It hurts to run (bad), but I continue to do it. While in Syracuse, I was good with a mix of running and the gym. I loved my gym because it was near my older sister's and she was always just about to put dinner on the table when I finished my work out. The coincidence of stopping by for water and getting fed was always wonderful irony. Very convenient.

But, because of the dissertation, starting academic work, and life in a new location, I did not have time for a gym this last year. So I just ran the streets of Stratford. Running was my mental therapy as was walking. With this said, my body still requires more because it currently is morphing into the Michelin Tire Man in ways I didn't think possible (and it's always been very Pillsbury).

I went to pay a gym fee at Fairfield University today (a good price for faculty) and asked for a tour. The lady said, "We don't give tours...look for your self." She proceeded to give me the directions to do this. I took it all in and began to walk (a very, very short tour). I quickly saw the facilities and came back and said to her, "This must be a mistake. Where is the real gym?" At this time, I spotted a student from last semester on a treadmill (the treadmills and ellipticals were in decent shape, but they were all loaded with sweating underclassmen). He took out his headphones and said, "This is it."

Later in the night, I asked others and they also reported, "Yep, that's the gym for Fairfield University's faculty and staff." I'm still shaking my head in amazement. I couldn't bring myself to pay the minimal fee to join (it's not much) simply because most of the equipment was outdated and looked dangerous. The racquetball courts and pool looked moderately okay, but the gym.

The gym. The gym.

Looks like I will be touring facilities off campus or trying to see if faculty can use the facilities for the campus athletes. I can't imagine they train at the location I just toured.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Two quarters for a Thursday...

Okay, 50 Cent
Farmington, Connecticut. That's right.

My brain is on midweek numbnimity (I made that word up - it means I'm brain dead), but not so brain dead that I didn't learn something new about Connecticut today. Turns out that 50 Cent is from Farmington, Connecticut and I didn't know that.

So, here's a little music to bounce about to as your day gets started, you're cooking dinner, you're going for a walk, or you are actually at a club. Apologies for language (if this rendition is vulgar...although I don't think it is).

And I'm wondering if 50 Cent still lives here. Any Connecticut resident knows that you need a heck of a lot more than a half dollar to live in this state, that's for sure.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It always begins with a bang... I took my first day of the new semester to go for a long walk in the rain.

Rain is always symbolic and why wouldn't the fall semester begin with rain...after all, last year brought Hurricane Irene and everything was delayed a few days because students couldn't get to campus.

This year, it is logistics and making sure everything is set to go for everyone involved with the university. With two three hour classes to teach, back to back, my Tuesdays will most likely be a day of getting my ducks in a row.  That is what Lois, my administrative assistant, and I did today (quack quack).

With that said, my brain is fried and I want to run. I was tired to run, so I walked. It was raining and, although 70 degrees, it was very humid. I didn't care. I simply needed to work another part of my body besides my brain. My brain needed the break so it could shut down for sleep.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In the silly rationale of a moronic me...

I went the entire summer in Connecticut without a grill.

I'm cheap and I believe I've established many times throughout the years and I love to know I am getting the best deal possible. That day came today when Home Depot was ridding their summer collection to make way for snow blowers. I left my last grill with the Bilities after their high school graduation (because my POD already left and I didn't have room in my truck) and so I have not barbecued in a long, long time.

That changed yesterday - LABOR DAY - when I finally was able to put my Stew Leonard chicken onto the grates with some Dinosaur BBQ sauce.

Yum. And it fits perfectly in my garage so it will be able to use throughout the winter months. All I will need to do is put on a toboggan and gloves and I can make up for a summer without Hoffman hotdogs or grilled vegetables. It's not the greatest model, but it will suffice, especially since I'd much rather cook outside than in. My knees will get a workout, too...going up and down my stairs is not for the weary....that is for sure.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I must be approaching a new semester...

...because my back-to-school anxieties are in full force.

Are my syllabus okay? Will I make sense to my new students? Have I positioned the course in relation to the needs of the 21st century? Will I have time to stay on top of my game and accomplish the multiple goals that must be met for the year? Will my flaws trump my accomplishments?

A student from last year sent me a summer video she made while skydiving out of an airplane in Rhode Island. Her smile and enthusiasm was enormous as she leaped and the hair on my arms stood on their end in complete fear of having to one day do a similar feat. That is the same gunk that occurs at the beginning of the year - it is an issue of control and whether or not it is possible to help a room full of graduates and undergraduates to feel more knowledgeable with what (and how) I teach.

And it's a beautiful that comes with pins and needles, passion and joy, worry and fret. That is a teacher's life and, if lucky, everything to come this semester will be helpful to the bigger picture of everything we are to do while having one shot to live successfully.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A good blue moon

in Connecticut on a Saturday night.

Fall is approaching. Leaves are beginning to fall and trickle into the last days of chlorinated pools. Students are finishing their back to school shopping and temperatures that hover in the 80s during the day dip into the 60s at night so the cicadas have cool temperatures to chirp to.

The sun sets before 8 and the second full moon in the last thirty days rises above the treetops in the last orange hues of summer. Yep, these days are upon us for only a short time and then we will be eating pumpkin pie and picking apples.

I've asked all day, "Where did August go?"

I still don't know. Hello September.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I cheated on March a little...

...and went for the madness in August.

Actually, I read the book, an adolescent novel, by Paul Volponi told from the perspective of four players in the final four trying to make it to the championship game. The brilliance of Volponi's work, I feel, came from the depth of story that exists behind the scenes of these players as they jump at their dreams and try to bring home a championship title. In the mix, Volponi both critiques and celebrates the NCAA and brings forth many ethical questions that surround college basketball.

Each chapter begins with a quote from someone famous in the industry and the lives of the four players intersect, challenge, and move beyond the game they play in three overtimes. As the score of the overtime is narrated, characters offer background knowledge of how they made it to the final four. I can totally see myself advocating this novel with young readers, especially males who are reluctant to read. There are multiple ways the book can be taught to reach the many standards of the new Common Core. Sports and literacy, after all, do have a relationship that needs greater attention.

I enjoyed spending my Friday evening at home with the book as a way to unwind for the week. After last nights stomach nausea and 2 a.m. shower, I knew I needed to spend my Friday evening at home on the couch trying to let my body rest.

I especially liked the weaving of a Croation story with the reality of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hoops, for many, definitely offer hope....

a hope needed on the last day of August before the September chaos begins.