I am grateful. I am not sure where this huge "Thank You" is directed (God, karma, myself) but it surges through me constantly in deep gratitude and awe. I know that I have worked extremely hard to find the peace that I now enjoy but that does not diminish the desire to ponder the path that has brought me here. I have spent quite a bit of my life happy in one respect while unhappy in other. Lately, I am happy all around.
There's nothing you can do that's more important than being fulfilled.
You become a sign, you become a signal,
transparent to transcendence;
in this way you will find, live,
and become a realization of your own personal myth.
-Joseph Campbell in Pathways to Bliss
This past week has been a time of endings and new beginnings.
I completed my 11th year of teaching on Wednesday. Teaching is true bliss for me. I may sometimes head off to work at 6:00 AM exhausted and wishing I didn't have to go to work, that I could stay in bed for just a little longer but once I see the children with their unbridled enthusiasm running up to greet me, smiling, full of stories I forget everything else but tuning into what they have to tell me. This is where I belong. It was difficult to end this school year, it always is. While others count down the days with anticipation, I count down the days with dread. I do not want to let go of the children I have grown to love.
This school year we really took advantage of NYC; four trips to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, two to the Whitney Museum, six trips to Central Park, three to Madison Square Park for their fantastic summer show series for kids, a water park and exploring the neighborhood around our school.
Student interest led to an in-depth exploration of Greek Mythology that I found SO amazing. On the last day of school the father of one of our students thanked me for all I did and related a story to me. It seems that he has some friends with a young boy the same age as his son. His friends like to brag about the knowledge their son has and how smart he is - to which the father of the boy in my class just listens. He refuses to compete. However, last weekend his son was talking about the show he was going to be in about The Trojan War and that he was playing Odysseus. He rattled off the story of The Odyssey, characters, events, etc. His father told me that he secretly relished their amazement at the fact that his son learned all of this in first grade. For the time being they were speechless. I got a kick out of that story.
On Tuesday I completed my 8th doctoral class, Curriculum Models: Bilingual/ESL Programs. So I am now slightly more than half way to checking off the Dr. box on a standard form. The class really kicked my ass but in the end I kicked right back. The instructor thanked me for taking the class because she learned so much from me! Thankfully I felt the same way, meaning I too learned so much.
Those were endings. A beginning came on Wednesday (directly following my last day of teaching the little ones) when I went to teach the big ones. I started teaching a college course entitled Reading Skills for Children with Learning Disabilities for Cohort 8 of the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Young Readers at Risk program. Saying that I am thrilled to be part of this program and to be teaching such an incredible group of educators is an understatement. It fills me. I have found my bliss and I appreciate the opportunity to share what I know with them. And proud to realize that I know quite a bit.
This weekend is a busy one for me because I have both social and professional obligations that can not be ignored. So, while I toil away with my writing (which also means cleaning off the dust that never usually bothers me and arranging the cabinets as part of the formulating stages of composition) I figured I would take a short break and share an acrostic poem written by a seven-year-old girl in my class.
She too went through the messy creative process I find myself in today. Her first few attempts at writing in this poetic style resulted in her quiet frustration. By the time she was on a roll, writing workshop was over and the class had moved on to other activities. She however, continued to sit at her writing table and plugged away for the next half hour, such determination! I think because her previous efforts upset her so much that she actually cried it felt thrilling to master this art form and kick it to the curb, so to speak.
When she finally looked up with a smile this is what she had written.
Sun, Sun, Sun
Up on top
Now you're mine
Sky up above
Under my eyes
New sun shines
Sun wakes up
Under my bed
New sun is not new no more
On Tuesday there is a school talent show and all of the classes were invited to participate. Our students decided that they wanted to perform two things; their ASL poetry and a reenactment of the story of Odysseus and the battle of Troy. Lauren and I let them figure out how to best tell it and sorta stepped back while they fought over roles (the plum roles were Odysseus and Helen of Troy), and negotiate how the story would unfold. As I watched them I began to wonder how this little adult drama would play out for an audience.
They begin with King Menelaus and Helen. The king goes off to bed and Paris walks in. He sees Helen and drops to his knees because she is so beautiful. They instantly hold hands and run off to Troy (stage right). King Menelaus wakes up, looks for Helen in vain and calls for Odysseus to hunt her down. Odysseus gathers up an army and heads off to Troy in a boat. When they arrive a battle ensues (which is really a lot of six-and-seven-year-old mayhem) and some of them drop to the ground. Odysseus and his army flee. Odysseus gets an idea and they 'build' the Trojan Horse. (Here is when the actors always stop to remind the narrator that it's a Trojan Horse not just a horse! Gotta love children's theater). The Trojans see the horse, bring it inside the walls of the city, celebrate, and fall asleep. While they sleep Odysseus and his men sneak out and slaughter them. That is where it pretty much ends.
Is that too much? It wasn't until I saw these little bodies playing out this drama that I thought perhaps it is TOO mature a story. But, what's done is done and they really do enjoy it. We'll see what happens on Tuesday.
The students voted on their favorite books and this is their top ten. Many of the books are part of a series of books such as Curious George, Rotten Ralph, Star Wars graphic novels, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Scooby-Doo.
Their choices reflect both a mixture of books that we read to them and books they enjoy reading independently. You can see my influence in the Curious George books and Lauren's with the Rotten Ralph series. Also, it does not hurt to make a school visit if you are a children's author. Three of George O'Connor's books made it to the top ten!
Our librarian Sara typed out this list and laminated it for each of our students (and did a similiar thing for each class, for each grade in the school and their top ten lists).
As we prepare the students for summer reading , this may be a helpful reminder of past favorites and inspire the acquistion of new ones.
Despite the fact that I was a young pacifist when I was growing up, I took great pride in the fact that my father could beat up all of the other fathers on the block. I suppose this stems from a child’s need to feel protected and in this area my dad excelled.
My parents met while serving in the United States Marine Corps when they were both very young.
They used to meet one another on ‘their bridge’ at MCAS Cherry Point, NC where my dad was taken in by my mom’s big hazel eyes and sweet nature and she by his good looks and bad boy charm. One thing led to another, they got married, were subsequently honorably discharged and moved to the big city…New York!
My mom says she spent the first few years looking up because she couldn’t believe how tall the buildings were. They didn’t have them that big back in Ohio or West Virginia. I must admit that when I first moved to NYC I did the same exact thing. Although the adjustment was a tad difficult for my mom she had my dad beside her. She was safe, protected and loved. As I said before, dad does this well.
My first strong memory of this came when I was a boy. I am not sure how old I was but I remember that I was lying down on the living room floor with a pillow, watching TV. My teeth were bothering me and I was miserable. At some point my dad came over and put his leather jacket over me. It felt very large and covered my whole body. It smelled like my dad, was very warm and instantly I felt better. I felt safe, taken care of and loved with that one small gesture.
I fell asleep right there with my parent’s voices quietly resonating behind me.
Another vivid memory of peaceful contentment took place in our old station wagon. The family was coming home from some kind of gathering. We were all tired and it was getting dark outside so I lay down on the front seat between my parents. This was in the ‘good ol’ days’ before child seats and seat belt safety laws. I had my head on my dad’s lap and I could see the lights on the dashboard and the steering wheel moving with a steady rhythm to match the contours of the road.
I fell asleep right there with my parent’s voices quietly resonating beside me.
This feeling of being loved, safe and protected somehow has followed me all my life.
Two of the eleven years I spent as a teacher have been dedicated to educating preschool children. This was not a choice but rather a placement that I had to accept. Although I do thoroughly enjoy the little ones, I felt my talents as a reading specialist and highly qualified teacher were not utilized to their fullest possible extent. I would walk by the first grade rooms and stare into them like Barbara Stanwyck at the end of 'Stella Dallas'. What must it be like on the other side? I wanted to join the party but had to go back to where I belonged.
That said (and once I truly 'got on board'), I had a blast. My co-teacher Maggie was and is a beautiful woman - not only physically but inside as well. We shared a strong literacy background for early childhood which benefited our students and we adhered to the Reggio Emilia approach to education to build a strong foundation for the children, but still in all preschool is about play and exploration. As cognitive-developmental psychologist Jean Piaget wrote "Play is child's work".
In this environment out went running records and miscue analysis and in came hands-on arts and crafts activities. We did some wonderful things with our students but mostly it is about providing them with the materials and letting them explore them in a free style manner.
Except during the holidays where there was an unspoken rule that the children would bring something home for their parents; their painted hands pressed on paper in the shape of a heart for Valentine's Day, snow globes in the winter, painted child crafted framed pictures for Mother's Day.
By the time Father's Day rolled around in our second year we were out of ideas. So I grabbed the latest issue of The Mailbox: The Idea Magazine for Teachers and thumbed through it looking for a quick, easy Father's Day gift. We can across an idea with the title "I'm Nuts About You". Maggie and I read it and LAUGHED. How lame! We wondered if we could possibly get away with such a silly gift for dad. But we were out of ideas and tired so we went ahead.
The kids loved it. The parents commented on how sweet it was. And Maggie and I added it into our repertoire of nifty ideas. I now pass this along to you - if you find yourself in need of a simple Father's Day 'token of your affection' gift, give it a try.
What You Need:
A bag of peanuts
A brown paper lunch bag
One sheet of construction paper (any color)
A hole punch
String, yarn or raffia (Colored raffia looks the best and is my personal favorite)
Directions: Place peanuts in the bag. Close bag and fold over the top. Punch a hole through the flap. Cut out a peanut shaped card and have the child write "I'm nuts about you!" on it. They might also want to add "Happy Father's Day" or some such sentiments. Pictures are acceptable. Punch a hole in the top of the nut. Take your raffia (or string or yarn) and attach the card to the bag. Give to dad.
*Not the best gift idea if anyone involved has peanut allergies. Use common sense when attempting to carry out this activity.
Technology has really taken off in my lifetime. Seems like only yesterday that I was earning my BFA and writing all of my papers on my mom's portable Smith Corona manual typewriter. Back in the days before computers this meant that I would have to actually know how to spell everything (horrors!) or look it up in the dictionary. If I made a mistake I could not simply backspace to make corrections, I had to get out small rectangles of correct-a-type and painstakingly line the paper up with the corresponding hammers. Copies were made with carbon copies, there was the mess of typewriter ribbon (which always got tangled up) and typewriter paper was precious and hard to come by.
All this of course was only after I wrote every masterpiece by hand on legal pads complete with crossing out, arrows to redirect my thoughts and dirty, ink stained hands as a testament to my diligence.
It was a lot of work!
Then when I went back to college to get my Master's Degree I discovered the joys of the computer. I had a little laptop that I would bring with me everywhere. I wrote papers sitting at the dining room table, downstairs at the bar and sitting in the kitchen. I was still not comfortable writing ON the computer so I continued to write everything out long hand and then type it. (I have gotten over that.)
Through all this I learned a thing or two about the computer. Today I am happy to report that I am pretty computer savvy; on both a PC and a Mac. (I hear you snickering Joy, be good!) However, my progression has been a slow process. I still have mouse issues - not as bad as when I used to pick it up to direct it but I do run out of room on my desk sometimes when I am attempting to drag and drop. I am a product of my age.
So are the children I teach. They amaze me that without any formal lessons they are so adept at accessing knowledge. They watch and learn. I have students who come into the room, drop their bags and bop around on the computer like it was second nature. They know just where to find fun computer games, search for pictures or access email. My friend has a four year old daughter who knows about tool bars, right clicking and minimizing.
These kids are impressive.
The other day we celebrated a birthday in class. The theme was Superman. The boy's father brought in toys and gifts for all of the children which included Superman masks. They are kinda freaky but the kids really seemed to enjoy them. Anyway, at the end of the day three boys took it upon themselves to record a short imovie. Which I have included for your viewing pleasure.
See what I mean? Freaky but really cool that they did this themselves. Great skill for three seven-year-olds and great enjoyment. I wonder how far technology will have advanced by the time they are my age.
This means that this is my last post about Medusa (I hear your collective sighs of relief). I remain heartily impressed with my students sustained interest in the Greek myths I told them this year and how they have incorporated them into their learning. The other day they returned from art class excited to show me their Medusa drawings. I was instantly struck by how each child (not every drawing is included here) utilized their unique talents to depict individual interpretations. Each one is a gem as far as I am concerned. I am especially perplexed and pleased to see that even after Medusa's head has been severed and although she is labeled "Bad", she continues to smile. I hope that kind of optimistic attitude resides and lives on in each one of my students.
Although I could use a bit of a rest I will truly miss this class.
Medusa may be bad, but she sure knows how to dress.
Medusa is not so happy here but it looks as though she can keep her head even after she loses it.
This was part of a series.
A minimalist version.
Looking like the Heat Miser in this one.
I love the flower above the door. It is that kind of detail that makes all the difference.
The one is my favorite and seems to be inspired by the statue we saw at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We can never be sure how our lives will unfold or what challenges and blessings may greet us. It is our strength of character, our fortitude and in many instances our ability to share and receive love that determines how we will face what comes our way. As an educator I have encountered many parents whose children require some special attention. A child needs, and is entitled to, someone who will serve as an advocate for them especially when they are unable to provide their own 'voice'.
This week I received information from a dear friend, Sharan, who has a beautiful son with autism. She sent me information regarding an upcoming walk for Autism Speaks. Her walk is this coming weekend, but others are taking place in communities across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom throughout the year. (To learn more about autism click here.) Sharan and her family have tirelessly campaigned to provide their son with a 'voice' and I imagine that this struggle has been both exhausting and rewarding. With their permission I have included a brief description of him.
Hi, my name is Preston. This has been quite a year for me. I turned six years old and will start first grade in the fall. I continue to work hard at home and at school to learn new things. I should soon be getting a machine to help me talk. My mom says she promises never to say "be quiet" to me once I start! I still love to climb and I have difficulty making friends, but maybe with the research Autism Speaks provides, there will be some new help on the horizon. I take a lot of supplements a day (yuck) and I keep my mom and dad very busy. I also have a big brother named Austin and big sister named Payton who love me very much. I wish I could tell them I love them too.
Sharan writes that Preston is part of a serious epidemic. Millions of children nationwide are being diagnosed with autism at the rate of 1 child in 150. We don't know why and we don't have a cure. But through organizations like Autism Speaks, we hope to get some answers soon. Answers that can help Preston and other children like him live full lives.
I was never a big fan of poetry; nursery rhymes and Mother Goose perhaps (is that a stretch?)and maybe a little Robert Frost at times, but generally I just was left standing on the side of the road with my thumb out waiting for the poetry truck to come give me a ride. Well, I was standing on a deserted road my friends.
However, I pride myself on keeping an open mind and have gained a new appreciation for this genre through my co-teacher Lauren's love and appreciation of it. We have been teaching together for the past five years so her influence has rubbed off a bit. Lauren is always excited to begin delving into poetry. Slowly, I have come around and if I have not exactly matched her enthusiasm, I have indeed grown to appreciate the possibilities.
Our study begins by immersing the children in poetry through read alouds and modeling. Shel Silverstein'sWhere the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are both excellent resources. His poetry is playful, easily accessible and fun with clever illustrations. After a period of time exposing the students to various styles of poetry they naturally want to give it a go themselves which leads seamlessly into the unit on poetry writing.
We have been encouraging the students to write about things they know a lot about. Yesterday we sat together and threw out ideas for topics from which to draw upon in creating our poetry. The students raised their hands and suggested 'cats', 'food', and 'school'. All very civilized and polite, no excitement, just children doing their best to adhere to the prescribed program. Then someone mentioned Medusa and the shift in energy was palpable. I love when this happens and children are suddenly so engaged with the task at hand. The wheels were turning as they negotiated with one another how best to depict the story they knew so well into a new format.
This new format (ASL poetry) is one that I liken to acrostic poems. Acrostic poems are based on a word or phrase with each letter represented by the first word in the lines of a poem. Here is an example, an Edgar Allan Poe poem titled simply An Acrostic:
Elizabeth it is in vain you say"
Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.
See how it spells out Elizabeth?
Anyway, this idea is adapted for use with ASL poetry. ASL letter and number stories are fascinating to watch but also difficult to comprehend the first time because you are watching not only for the message but also for the numbers and letters being presented. The poet creates a story following a specific structure. For me, this is poetry at its finest. Clever and thoughtful.
Our students used the signed letters to tell of Medusa (M) slithering across the floor (E) as she comes closer and closer (D) to Perseus. Then the focus shifts to Perseus who sees her (U), is shocked, pulls out his sword, cuts her head off (S) and finally holds it up in victory (A).
The sign language alphabet can be spelled out in different handshapes; each one representing a different letter. MEDUSA is printed above and I did this so that those of you who are not familiar with American Sign Language (ASL) can watch out for them in the video below.
After I made this video (in my classroom this morning using our MAC) I realized that the 'tapestry' the children made for Medusa was hanging right behind me. I couldn't have planned it better if I had tried.
I wish that I could show some of the students signing their own poems. We have some good ones; Super A-hole wrote one entitled "Cyclops", the "I Spilled Myself" girl wrote a fantastic poem called "Book" and Blue's Clues boy wrote an ASL number story about Spider-Man. I will include some of their written poetry at a later date (meaning when they write it). I am sure it will be amazing. They always are!