My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

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Long Time – No Post

So… I’m paying for this…I should probably use it!

As of August, 2017, I am teaching Freshman and Junior English at a high school here in Texas. I’m not openly stating the name for privacy reasons. Mine is the only high school in our small, rural district and I consider myself VERY blessed for being a first year, in-the-process-of-being-certified, high school teacher. My largest class has 23 students, my smallest only 8! This is a HUGE difference from my own high school where classes had 32-40 learners and our my graduating class had 450 students. This has been a LONG time coming, but it’s happening and I am thrilled!!

Biggest lesson, so far, is that I must institute and apply firmer class rules IMMEDIATELY at the start of school. I made the mistake of thinking, “This is only the first week of school…there’s time to establish rules, consequences and procedures.” Well, that was certainly the WRONG answer! My freshmen, bless their collective lil hearts, are still young enough to WANT to please. So – I teach four wonderfully receptive freshman classes (one of which must be composed of ALL the class clowns of the county), one moderately coooerative junior class, and THE junior class sprung from the deepest recesses of the lowest pit mentioned by Dante! This last one MAY have been tamed if I had been much more assertive.

The corollary lesson is that the smallest victories are most important. So what if the gang in the class from hell climb the walls (again, I’m working on that)? Jimmy came back to school after going truant and is now turning on assignments – the young man who wanted to physically intimidate me is talking with me and “sometimes” completing assignments. A student found the right word he wanted to use by GOING TO A DICTIONARY!

“Romeo and Juliet” was a successful unit, “The Crucible” tortured me as much as them. This second grading period was much less frantic. So…it all goes on!

Welcome back to my blog. Comment, I’ll respond!

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Got to Bring It Full Circle!

Today I had the chance to work with the same students I had when I introduced the topics of Antigone and Macbeth. That post is here if you wish to go back and read that so you have some better context. Bottom line is that I actually had the experience of watching students come full circle – from start to finish – with a couple of serious texts. There were, of course, the few that would make a point of goofing around and not paying attention if you told them that what you are about to say would earn them a million dollars with no effort whatsoever. The most, though, were actually willing to work through a decent discussion of the texts, their historic and literary contexts and formed coherent interpretations of their own. During the discussion of Antigone, a student commented, “These guys keep coming back to questions and stuff.” I explained that most of the old Greek playwrights were philosophers. After the bell dismissed the students, I went back to the teacher desk to take a look at the text for the next hour. There was a handwritten note left on my notepad thanking me for my patience and explanation of their text. What an awesome feeling!

There are times when I look back and wonder whether or not I’ve made an impact or been a positive influence. Of course I had positive feedback from soldiers that I taught when I was in the Army, but when you’re teaching someone how to actually survive or enable others to survive, it’s not really challenging to know that you’ve “done a good day’s work,” because you MUST do a good day’s work. When I worked with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and youth in Church activities, I always kept in mind a quote I saw in a store, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” If anybody reading this can help me cite that correctly, or knows who first said/wrote that, I’d appreciate knowing. I’ve run into some men who had been Scouts in my Packs, Dens or Troops and I’ve been proud of each. Now I get to teach. One point raised in both of those literary works is the unexpected/unanticipated results of someone’s actions. I hope that little note is just the first indicator that I’m doing it right.

Update from Planet Academia

emcee So, it’s been about a month since I posted anything, maybe longer. Things have been happening. Strange things. Like tonight – a bout with gastro-reflux that will have me up for a couple of hours, so lucky people like you will have something to read!

Found out last week that a good Army buddy passed away. I left an entry on the website announcing his obituary and such. What puzzles me is that they didn’t give the reason of death. He was a damn good soldier and when he retired I’m sure he was excellent at whatever field he pursued. He was only 47 with four boys. I guess when you enter your 50s, I’m 52 now, you start seeing people you know die. I want to use a euphemism there, but “passed” or “passed away” are SO much like what my parents, both 87 now, used. When I croak off, please use terms like “his boat slipped its mooring,” or “he sped off into the stars.” Something poetic. Heck, I’d even be happy with my dad’s old saying, “He croaked!” May not be respectful, but it’s kind of cute. I think I may actually write down some things for people to say about my death, so they don’t have to split their brains thinking of something nice to say and so I can die knowing nothing too ridiculous will be said. So with all that in mind, and I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, I’ll try to share some classroom stories. As always, and if you haven’t guessed yet, I’m trying to maintain privacy concerning the schools, districts and students. I think that’s ethical. I know I’d have raised hell if I found that one of my kids’ teachers was blogging about them.

Macbeth, the Scottish Play…what a joy it was over the last couple of weeks to entice students into a dark, dreary and damp castle to witness the downfall of a mighty Lord. On this reading, I noticed so much about how Shakespeare addressed the damnation of not following along with the “natural order” of things. Macbeth and Banquo are buddies who have been fighting in a war. This naturally makes them friends. Then they meet the witches who are performing unnatural rites and make an unnatural prophecy. When Macbeth balks before murdering Duncan, a natural reaction, his wife, dear Lady Macbeth, goads him on, unnaturally demeaning her husband. Murder is always the unnatural ending of a natural life. I wonder how many times literature or Shakespeare teachers/professors read papers along those lines? Oh, and don’t forget the old man’s scene in which an owl attacks a hawk!

The second literary work, Antigone, dealt with the after effects of Oedipus’ actions. The difference in the two works lies that in Antigone the question of human and divine law become at odds. This question is much more prominent than in Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy in which most stage members have to die.

Can all literature be reduced to an argument of what is natural versus unnatural or what is lawful versus unlawful? It almost seems so, since any plot, by our current model (thank you, Greeks) requires a protagonist, antagonist, conflict and resolution. Now, I’m NOT a stage or theatrical major, so anyone reading this, fill me in as to whether or not all mankind’s infinite mental faculties can be reduced to such a simple formula. I’m also asking this here because when I tried to point out those schema to the students in the class I was substituting, about all I received were blank stares.

As for the students I’ve met and continue to work with, what a great group of young people. I can’t say that the future generations are safe and that there isn’t an issue with general mass complacency, but there are leaders among them! And they do learn when we give them reading and writing assignments, but it seems they don’t dare show that in front of peers. I can’t wait to see what my next lessons bring!

Up for Air and Back Down

Somehow, I survived the Holidays, and most of Winter!

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Alright! Welcome to nobody who doesn’t read my blog. I KNOW it’s been awhile since I got on here and wrote anything. I don’t believe I even posted anything from my Studies in Shakespeare or Gender Studies class. Maybe I’ll go back, find one or two of my posts and share them here.

My bottom line on Shakespeare – I’ve always loved to read and watch his plays and I STILL really need to watch a live performance. At least by really studying, instead of just “reading for pleasure,” I feel I have a much stronger grasp of the subtleties and wordplay he so masterfully used. In my final paper, I tied Sonnets to specific scenes in a few of his plays. Seems most scholars love to go after the whole “gender” topic (which was basis for my ORIGINAL thesis, thank you James!) but that’s been severely analyzed, almost to the point of  cliche. Since I’m not usually one to “shrink” from a task and I remarked the common veins I noticed between the Sonnets and plays, with one week left in the course, I dove right in, worked my way through the paper and earned a good mark. Awesome experience all the way around. I’ll still read his stuff from time to time for fun, but now I have a whole different way of viewing it.

Gender studies – I was intimidated as hell. Only three men in the class, I was the only straight one. I guess if the whole point was to examine and see how authors and feminist philosophers can shake up the “hegemony,” all anyone would have to have done was interview me! My prof was very supportive, though, and nobody flamed me for anything – in fact all the feedback was very constructive. I learned about quite a number of very gifted authors and their works as well as some interesting philosophical views. My final paper focused on how “Offred” becomes a woman, as based on Simone de Beauvior’s writings, through her ordeal in Magaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Seems with that novel that everyone is worried about it “happening here,” especially in view of this upcoming election. Well, I saw much of the totalitarian government imposed on people in the Warsaw Pact during my Cold War time in West Germany and West Berlin. I guess, in a way, I kind of know how THAT story ends.

Then, I enjoyed my week between classes. Fifty two years old and just last Monday spent the entire day fishing entirely on my own. I always wondered about guys who did that and spoke so fondly about it. Well, I can attest that I attained a wonderful state of relaxation during the day – heck, didn’t matter to me if I even caught a fish.

Now I go into my study of WORLD LITERATURE!! Woo hoo! Hey, I really am excited! My prof seems excited to facilitate studies in the subject, which is quite a bit more than I can say of one or two profs in my recent past (ahem). But, I’m still relaxed, so I’m not going to rant (now).

First reading is by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice.” One thing I already notice and I’m sure I’ll work into this week’s discussion somehow – Mann is German and in a footnote on page 82, mention is made to our protagonist’s name, “von Aschenbach.” The footnote claims that the “von” was reserved for nobility, which is not absolutely true. The name may be attributed to a person belonging to a family of note but nobility is NOT a prerequisite nor does anyone need to have “von” conferred upon them, though the German administrative procedure necessary to legally change a name is exhaustive and the Court would have to “grant” one the name change. More than likely, Mann could be making a swipe at Aschenbach. Historically there has always existed a regional rivalry between the predominently Catholic Bavaria and Protestant northern Germany. Mann is from Luebeck, which was a member of the Hanseatic League which was essentially a Plutocratic alliance of several European states. These merchants always held some degree of  contempt for those who were considered “nobility” by birth, though they (the merchants) were quite nepotistic themselves.

This observation is based on my three years of High School German instruction from a dear lady from Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland Palitinate), my eight months of studies at the Defense Language Institute with Frau Albrecht (eine huebsche Hamburgerin mit wunderschoene blaue Augen), Herr Doktor Professor Schulz (from somewhere in Florida) and my eight years service, speaking mostly German, in Germany. A good portion of my time was spent in Bremen, which was another member of the Hanseatic League, as was Luebeck. I was required to learn quite a bit about the history of that organization while working there. The German cities of Bremen (with its better known exclave of Bremerhaven), Hamburg, and Luebeck each still hold the title of “Free City” and have the same rights as the larger States.

Teaching Philosophy and Activity

So, things are drawing to a close in ENG555 and LIT 512. I’ll post this up here, if anyone reads it, feel free to comment. From what I understand, a teacher’s “Teaching Philosophy” changes and evolves with them. So, if my current philosophy seems naive, find a classroom for me to get into! It’s pretty hard to write about “being” a teacher when the door is constantly SLAMMED in my face when I try to “become” one. (Geez, here I go ranting…maybe I’ll post another blog in a bit and let my unleash my full tirade…)

Well, I’ll say this last bit, then post my Philosophy and Activity –

IF THERE IS SUCH A DIRE SHORTAGE OF MALE TEACHERS WHO WANT TO TEACH AND HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE YOUTH OF THIS NATION, WHY AREN’T YOU ALL KNOCKING MY DOOR DOWN???

Okay, now for the Philosophy and Activity:

PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING

“Learning is a lifelong process and I have as much to learn from my students as they have to learn from me – and each other!”

My students each come from a family and culture that is unique to them. My years of experience instructing adults and the travels I have made help me to respect and help others respect the individual learners in my class and ALL who enter my classroom are learners. Digitization and the common usage of English across the internet are only two reasons to explore our own expression within the traditional, conventional ideas of English studies while requiring us as world learners to reach out and develop understanding.

All have the right to know what occurs in my classroom. Each student has the right and expectation to have ample opportunity to share their voice. They will listen to and read the works of others. In this way, we will each discover new ways to express ourselves and also discover new ways to listen. My students will know what is expected and required of them. I maintain a door that is always open to all learners. Each class will have an individual website providing syllabi and class blogs on which students will provide each other feedback and discuss class topics.

I will provide ample material for students to apply critical thinking and discover how they can make projects meaningful to them and applicable to them as individuals. As we examine works of literature, my learners will progress as individual readers, critics and writers. I will mentor my learners as I encourage them to “take ownership” assigned texts and ask them demonstrate that by responding to assignments in a personal, insightful manner. As assigned tasks become alive to us as learners, our writing and creative expression will thrive.

TEACHING ACTIVITY
“Just because it’s been written before, doesn’t mean you can’t make it yours!”

OBJECTIVE: Empower students by helping them realize that “classical texts” are accessible, translatable to today’s speech and frame of reference. Students will rework an assigned piece through brainstorming, reflective writing and engaging in peer feedback. This exercise will be repeated with different styles or periods of literature, such as the Classicists, Romantics and Modernists. As the students become more proficient, we will use larger selections. The student writing will allow for creative flow and allow learning through peer feedback and participation.

BACKGROUND: Stylistic characteristics of the assigned piece will have been introduced and discussed before beginning this activity. Word lists will allow students to research, learn and assimilate any new vocabulary. By the time students begin this activity, they will have become familiar, through word lists and class discussions, with some of the language and imagery presented in a classic literary piece.

PROCEDURE:
1. We review as a class examples of the style specific to the piece.
2. We will identify and discuss any words that need further clarification. We discuss student expectations regarding the piece we are about to read.
3. As a class, we read aloud “The Tell Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allen Poe. (NOTE: I submit this work by Poe as an example. It could just as easily be “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, or some other work.)
4. Students make notes of where in the story their expectations were met or not met. We will pause as needed to clarify any points.
5. Each student will identify a section of 2-3 paragraphs that interested them.
6. Students will rewrite their sections using words, phrases, etc. that THEY would use to retell the story. These will be shared with the class and ultimately on the class blog.

FEEDBACK: I will review with each student the style and word choice they used. In situations where the student had difficulty, I will explore with them ways to paraphrase, letting them arrive at their ultimate solution. I will end my feedback always on a positive note.