Ready? Begin…

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I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

I say this pledge every morning. In unison with my students, we stand with our hands over our hearts in respect and reverence for the things we are to remember. I wonder if they are fully aware of the profundity of this pledge of this allegiance that tethers us together as Americans — as citizens of the great United States. I think not. They are roboting their voices in unison – monotoned, droned, Novocained to the impervious nature of these paramount utterances. By saying these things, does that make you any more or less American if you actually mean it when you say it? Sometimes I try to recite it as if it were the first time or as if my voice wasn’t metallic and inky, but the struggle with that is timing – pacing – uniformity. We MUST stick together or this whole thing falls apart. Is that really true? Who am I to say in earnest or even in true honesty because I, myself, am a fluxing flowing void of psyche and obligation. One MUST say this pledge. One MUST stand with hand over heart and RECITE from memory – from five years of age until you no longer bleed blue. Well, I bleed red, white, and blue; but I don’t like saying the pledge. Does that make me a bad person? No, of course not; but I can’t help thinking that it is a slap in the face to those who have fought for my rights for my un -, sub -, or under-appreciated freedom – it’s nothing to sneeze at, but these poppies keep pollenating my sinuses. God bless you! No, let’s leave Him out of this, shall we? Can we? Is that at all possible? I think not. What if I lived like I truly believed in this pledge? What would my day look like? Would I do things, say things, appreciate things differently? Or would I continue to robot my way through the unsatisfactory endeavor to achieve what Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman couldn’t? That elusive, slippery little lie – the great American Dream of happiness and contentment…I haven’t found it from saying things, from mere recitation. Perhaps, I must put my money where my mouth is…but the casting shadow of Lady Liberty is long and wide in the sunset of my dreams. So, I will continue to perform in the most allegiant of efforts to entertain, sustain, maintain the proclivity and profundity of that Star Spangled Wonder hanging in the corner of my classroom and my heart.

Proud Teacher Moment…sort of…

Dear Reader,

cropped-books.jpgToday is the day that I both look forward to and loathe. It is the day the AP scores come out. I try not to get wrapped up in it, but it’s difficult for me. You see, I am a perfectionist. And when I strive for something, I expect results. It worked beautifully in high school and college. I was number one in my class…I wanted it, so I worked for it and voilà! I made it happen. Although it may have come as a surprise to those who knew me in other capacities…Let me explain with a brief (and braggy) anecdote: I remember walking into my high school graduation ceremony with my special sash and medallion that signified my class ranking. I ran into one of my schoolmates (we never had academic classes together, but we were in the same drama production my junior year). Anyway, he greeted me with a hug and then asked me why I was wearing the valedictorian sash and medallion. I thought he was being playful, so without batting a lash, I told him I found it in the quad…but he was serious. I had to set him straight, so I told him that I was, indeed, the valedictorian. And this, dear reader, was his dumbfounded response (pun intended), “but you’re a cheerleader, and you’re blonde, and you’re hot.” I winced (trying to make it as much of a smile as I could because he was, in fact, being sincere…offensive, yes, but obtusely complimentary). That tautly pulled smile (more of a grimace really) was the only retort I could give…tis best not to say things we regret to people who are less than intelligent. All that to say, when I want something — I go after it, and usually I can achieve my goal.

When I became an AP teacher several years ago, I wanted to be the best damn AP English teacher to walk the halls of my school. My first year…well, let’s just say it was cropped-open-book-on-top-of-pile-of-books.jpgnot so great; I went back to the drawing board. I went to summer trainings and revamped my entire curriculum. And in the following years, my students began to pass their AP English tests with flying colors! This year was no different! My entire AP English Literature class passed their test!!!!!! (These are my AP seniors…I love them to pieces and still cry a little when I think about not teaching them anymore…they are all going to amazing colleges, so at least I know they are in good hands).  Now, I’m trying to stay humble about all this, which is pretty easy to do since my AP English Language class did not do so well on their test, but today, I am celebrating my successes and forgetting my failures (don’t worry, I’ll go back to the drawing board and revamp things later this summer for AP lang). I have a colleague (a fellow AP teacher) who wisely told me: “I get too much flack when the students don’t pass, and I get too much credit when they do.” I try to keep that perspective, especially on days like this.

In closing, I will tell you what I told my AP students: “The AP exams are 6103.jpegimportant, sure, but they don’t define who you are. It does not determine how smart you are or how successful you will be in life. Remember you are more than your AP score(s) – that is just a number based on one morning of your life; instead, measure your success in the day in, day out moments life offers you. And never stop reading; never stop learning.”

My Best to You,

Jaime

Just one of the many reasons I love to read…

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This quote resinates with me. I have it proudly posted in my classroom and on one of my Pinterest boards. This is just one of the many reasons I stand by my blog’s title. Reading enables me to connect with humanity and take part in the global conversation of life without leaving the comfort of my cozy couch. I’m reading a new book that I absolutely love (I plan to write about it after I finish it. I was lucky enough to meet the author a few years back). My hope is that you too are reading something that reaches out and takes your hand in an assuring way that says, you truly are not alone.  

the final days of senior English class

Dear Reader,

This is the last week of class before my seniors take their finals, so I wanted to do a fun unit with them as a last hurrah! What’s more fun than asking a room full of mixed company if this is a man’s world or a woman’s world? For me, not much…but then again, I’m a little strange. The students uproariously began to formulate their opinions as I calmly asked them to think first, then write, THEN talk. 🙂

After a bit of time, the students were able to articulate their thoughts by sharing them in groups and then corporately. Then I played the Godfather of Soul for them, and asked the class to decode the message behind James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

They made their postulations – some apt some asinine. Then we read several poems that further complicated the original question – that’s how I know I’m doing my job! It’s my diabolical design, my subversive scheme to get this next generation to THINK for themselves! (Good news, dear reader, I think it’s working for some of them!). After we read several poems and even some newspaper articles, I hit ‘em with Dorothy Parker! She slayed them – as expected. We read “The Waltz,” and the class was equally amused and horrified. One gentleman timidly asked, “is that really how ‘you guys’ feel?” My mouth curled into a smile as I released a sigh, “no, not always, but there is some truth to this piece. We all feel that there are times to say what we are thinking and times to hold it back, and that’s true for both genders.” That eased a little tension in the room, that is, until we read “A Telephone Call.” To which I told the boys: if you say you’re going to call, then CALL HER! The girls gave shouts and whistles, which was interrupted by a deep booming voice asking, “what if she says she will call and doesn’t?” I met him eye-to-eye and nodded. I turned my sharp attention to the girls and gave them the same vehement warning, which was followed by some laugher and cheering. Who says third period, senior English isn’t fun? Not I, dear reader, not I! They eventually came to the conclusion that life is not easy for either gender – both can be mysterious and confusing – especially when societal norms come into play. They also came to the conclusion that women didn’t have a voice for a long time in history or literature, but that they were there and definitely did make an impact. There’s always more to the story (like Helen and her fleet of launched ships, woman have started more than mere mythological wars). As Eavan Boland says in her complex poem “It’s a Woman’s World” (this is just an excerpt from the poem):

like most historic peoples
we are defined by
what we forget

and what we never will be:
star-gazers,
fire-eaters.
It’s our alibi
for all time:

as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.

Moving on: teacher brag moment: (you’ve been warned 🙂 ) After reading some of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, I had a particularly bright young man make the connection that although Parker is satirical and hilarious, there is also a great deal of grittiness and pain hidden behind her sarcasm. My eyes lit up – he hit the nail on the head! I wasn’t going to say anything to them about the papers I wrote in undergrad because that sounds braggy and frankly, it’s boring, but I just had to in this case! I had written a paper on Dorothy Parker for my American Lit class titled: Pain Masked by Humor (I think there was a subtitle, but I cannot remember it for the life of me!). Perhaps it’s not that big of deal or it’s rather obvious, but it made my teacher-heart swell a bit to have one of my students (who I’ve taught the past four years) make an astute connection without being prompted; he’s ready for college!

This probably won’t be the last post about my seniors. I grow so attached to my students; it’s always hard to say goodbye. Today, as we watched music videos and compared the originals to their covers – we discussed how perspective can completely alter the meaning of a song. We watched a video that may or may not have had minor disturbing images – which I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say this: one of my students yelled out: “what happens in English class, stays in English class!” HAHA! I love it – our very own set of rules a-la-Fight Club – or the Vegas mantra – we actually likened it to Marlow’s experience in Heart of Darkness – what happens on the Congo, stays on the Congo. Anyway you slice it, it made my day. And, yes, I know, I’m a huge English nerd.

Until next time,

Jaime

For your reading pleasure:

“The Waltz” — originally printed in the September 2, 1933 edition of The New Yorker.

“A Telephone Call”  

“It’s a Woman’s World” 

my view for the afternoon

Dear Reader,

The AP English tests are over! I can finally put my bottle of PeptoIMG_5950 away…until next Spring. This afternoon, I get to read letters — what can I say? I love to get mail! My AP students wrote me letters to explain how the test went and how they felt about this year. And let me tell you, these letters are so life-giving to me! Some are serious, some are playful — most are well-written 😉 which I like to think I had a hand in that.

I told you I was cluttery…my desk speaks for itself, right? I plan to clean it up, eventually.  Now that I have no more AP essays to grade, you know what I did? I assigned my other classes giant essays! HA! The pain is my pleasure I suppose. Anyway, the end of the school year is upon us, and my sentiments are bittersweet. I have truly enjoyed my teaching schedule, my students, and my curriculum this year; and it will be sad for that to come to an end. On the other hand, summer (no explanation needed, right?).

I keep listening to a certain song on repeat, and it makes my sad eyes happier I suppose. I read a poem to one of my classes that I’d like to share with you, dear reader. Sometimes all we can offer is words. This poem is just that. Before I read them the poem, I asked my students to ponder this: “suppose someone says to you, ‘I have nothing to give you — except love.’ How would you feel? Is love enough?” Some said yes, others no — I read the poem and played the Beatles for them (if they don’t hear it from me, who’s going to teach them about great music? 😉 ).

Here’s the poem:

I Am Offering this Poem
By Jimmy Santiago Baca

I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat
when winter comes to cover you,
or like a pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through,

I love you,

I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face,

I love you,

Keep it, treasure this as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe

I love you,

It’s all I have to give,
and all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die;
remember,

I love you.

After we read the poem, we made a list of the similes for the speaker’s love. The class discovered that the similes reflect comfort, warmth, provision, security, and safety. The speaker’s love does all of those things in just words. Perhaps having all those luxuries: “coats,” “socks,” “corn,” “a cabin,” a warm “fire” are meaningless without love. Perhaps, as the John Lennon suggested: “All you need is love.”

My favorite part of the song is the very end…when it sounds like three different songs are playing at once and then softly “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” is heard as the song fades out — every time I listen to it, I just close my eyes and smile — I really love that part for one reason or another.

There’s always more to say… but this is a good place to stop for today.

Until next time,

Jaime

Hurling Insults, Tableaux Vivant, Foam Swords, and Romeo and Juliet

Dear Reader,

A couple of my classes are finishing a Shakespearean unit, so I asked my students what their favorite part of the unit was and most of them said one of two things: hurling insults and tableaux vivant. Now, hurling insults is exactly what it sounds like…we carefully craft a Shakespearean insult (using his amazingly vast vocabulary) and then we hurl them…mostly at the white board…I’m not a proponent of bullying (then again, who really is? bullies? I digress). I’m such a dorky teacher sometimes: I remind the students that this is a safe place and that we are merely hurling the insults within the personas of the Montagues and the Capulets…and that the insults should stay within “Verona’s walls.” They look at me so innocently then obediently nod — such dear little lambs. (Confession: I’m so taken with Shakespearean insults that I have a calendar that gives me a new Shakespearean insult everyday…I usually share them with my classes, and we have a good laugh…some are a little too inappropriate…those I keep to myself…Oh Shakespeare, you saucy bard!). The other activity the students usually enjoy is tableaux vivant — living pictures. I got this idea from the Folger’s Shakespeare Set-Free curriculum guide (superb stuff!). I have somewhat tweaked their lessons for this year in particular. The students are assigned a scene to produce by creating snap shots of the the action as they say a line. Many times the students try to memorize the lines as they hold their pose (for that I give them extra credit 🙂 ). Traditional tableaux vivant has separate speakers and posers, but I’ve combined them to make it more interesting for the students.

My main goal this year when teaching Romeo and Juliet to my freshman English class was to show them that this is not just some mushy love story about two hotblooded minors. It is beyond that: R and J is a story of the tragic fruition of unchecked hatred and anger. So, I bought some foam swords…for all the fighting! There are some epic fight scenes in this play (BTW my class is all boys except for three girls — four if you count me). Funny story, last week one of my male students during their tableaux vivant rehearsal time kept bopping his partner on the arm with his foam sword, so I took the sword away. As he handed me the sword, I asked him, “why must you hit him with the sword; can’t you just hold it still?” As I grasp that floppy foam sword, something came over me, like the spirit of a warrior, and I felt compelled to bop my student on the arm with the sword…I smiled to myself as I quickly walked back to my desk and thought “Oh, that’s why…the sword demands a fight!” Now, I only distribute the swords during the performances. Here are some pictures of our fight scene from yesterday’s tableaux vivant: baseball and softball had games, so some my students were dressed in their game uniforms.

Thanks for reading!

J~

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In honor of my AP lit students

cropped-books.jpgToday is the culmination of all the papers, projects, journals, tests, quizzes, reading assignments, multiple choice practice tests, lectures, PowerPoints, group assignments, presentations, timed-writes, right down to the last homework assignment. My students have put in countless hours of reading and writing for this class. This preparation was not simply for the AP exam. This was not just some academic exercise. This preparation was done to expand their minds, to take them to places they have never been before, to grapple with life’s complex questions, to practice the art of thinking critically and deeply, to connect with humanity from the past and present, to take part in the global conversation about life, and to share in the pain and the splendor of all that life has to offer. This exploration of the mind through literature is aptly expressed in Emily Dickinson’s poem:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

My thoughts and prayers go out to my wonderful students today as they take their AP test.

An Open Letter to the Nymph (you know who you are),

Not sure if you are aware, but that poem was for my LOVE
not some sprite who runs around without any clothes on.
If we want to talk about liars, why don’t you go ahead and
tell me your age, or who you were with last night —

What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the symphony of the
birds. The nightingale in particular is sounding lovely these days.
In fact, I can’t get him to shut up. I guess we just
hear what we want to, don’t we?

Winter, yes, the killing frost will come, but I’ve got a nice
little place in the woods by the lake. I build fires
and drink a little hot cider — it’s really enchanting.
You’re right though, the flowers do die, I never really said they wouldn’t.

A honeyed tongue, sounds messy, but if you’re into that sort
of thing I hear the satyrs are game for anything.
Me? Myself? Well, I’m more of the sensitive and romantic type:
you know, the kind who makes more than breakfast in bed.

Best,

The Passionate Shepherd

Today’s NaPoWriMo challenge is to “write a persona poem – a poem in the voice of someone else. Your persona could be a mythological or fictional character, a historical figure, or even an inanimate object.”

Christopher Marlowe’s pastoral poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” has inspired many poems, so I wanted in on the action. I wrote back in response to Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem “The Nymph Reply to the Shepherd” in the form of an open letter (that’s poetic free verse, right? So it counts, right?)

Here are the poems that started it all:

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Sunday Funday

image1Today, I am grading essays, and I mean ESSAYS!!!!! AP season is upon us, so my students are fervently writing and reading and studying before their big day. Last Friday, I gave a mock AP exam that counts as part of their final grade; this academic exercise also allows them to practice the long haul of taking a 3 hour exam while providing feedback about their personal strengths and weaknesses. Now I have the joy of grading their tests…and this is why I am NOT applying to become an AP reader any time soon. While it would be amazing to connect with colleagues from around the States and get an inside look at the scoring process, I just couldn’t take all that grading/scoring! If you are an AP reader and want to help me see the brighter side of it, please do so because I’m sure it would help make me a better teacher if I did do it, but at this point in my life and career, it’s not for me. Like my students say, “I can’t even.”

Anyway, that is not the main point of this post; I wanted to share a poem I came across while grading my bazillion essays: John Updike’s “Marching Through a Novel.” This piece resonated with me as writer who just last night stared at my computer screen instead of writing the next chapter in my horrible novel. As I sipped my wine, I closed my eyes and tried to think of who my characters really are. I finally gave up, poured myself another glass, and joined my husband on the couch to watch an episode of Vikings (it was a good one!!!). My poor characters are still trapped somewhere in my mind, and perhaps, per Updike, I need to crack the whip and get a little more forceful with these faceless names.

Marching Through a Novel
by John Updike

Each morning my characters
greet me with misty faces
willing, though chilled, to muster
for another day’s progress
through the dazzling quicksand,
the marsh of blank paper.
With instant obedience
they change clothes and mannerisms,
drop a speech impediment,
develop a motive backwards
to suit the deed that’s done.
They extend skeletal arms
for the handcuffs of contrivance,
slog through docilely
maneuvers of coincidence,
look toward me hopefully,
their general and quartermaster,
for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
I do what I can for them,
but it is not enough.
Forward is my order,
though their bandages unravel
and some have no backbones
and some turn traitor
like heads with two faces
and some fall forgotten
in the trenchwork of loose threads,
poor puffs of cartoon flak.
Forward. Believe me, I love them
though I march them to finish them off.

 (P.S. Beginning with the second line of the poem, every other line is indented which adds to the reading, but I am unable to make that visual a reality on this website…to my tech savvy friends, I’m sorry I’m so incompetent…but we all have our limits…computer code is mine).  😉
One more thing…that ancient calculator in my picture is not for grading the essays (I know that it may seem bit out of place), but it is for the glorious mathematical scoring that must be done with decimals and percentages and the like…I really do love math. It was actually my better subject in school, so any time I get to do a bit of math, I get a little excited (confession: I didn’t like reading until I became an adult! GASP! I’m so glad I got that off my chest).
Thanks for reading.

These Heavy Things

I am happy to announce that National Poetry Writing Month has commenced! Here is an original ekphrastic sonnet I wrote that was inspired by Pieter Bruegel’s painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” I challenge you to join the poet’s community and write a poem a day in the month of April! Happy Writing!

The burning eye of light calls out to me.
Her siren song so gentle and so sweet:
Here my child, respite in thy majesty.
No sound to hear coarse winds drown out my bleat,
For me these heavy things are far too proud
And stifling. Release me from your hold
And leave me clothed in heaven’s glowing shroud:
Celestial body; glittering gold.
Onward they sail, the market’s still a buzz––
Plough on, ploughman, nothing to see or hear
Sunrise, sunset––all that will be and was––
Herd on, herdsman, no need to hide your fear
Icarus’ wax melts in the green sea
Small restless feathers floating aimlessly.