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

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.

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.

yesterday was blue, like smoke

wallpaper-abstract-art-backgrounds-blue-smoke

 

Yesterday was blue, like smoke.
We walked through the cloud
Of the unknown, the unseen:
Matters of hope and hopelessness,
Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears;
In order to find our true purpose.
From there, we awoke
To the dawning of the sublime;
Where stars shine like beacons,
Glittering the path where we break the yoke
To our past, to our struggle, to our unending night.
We are beckoned to the blaze, to stoke
The flame of red and orange and blue.
And the smoke fills this place and our lungs
With hope. Now we long for the day
When we will say: Today is this,
And tomorrow will be that.
This is what is true, this is what is spoke.

 


Background: The line “[y]esterday was blue, like smoke”comes from the absurd yet existential play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This line is found at the end of Act 2 when Guildenstern and Rosencrantz discuss the change in season from summer to autumn. Rosencrantz remains on the surface with this conversation by only concerning himself with the fears of being cold in the fall and winter; whereas, Guildenstern immediately jumps to a deeper level by discussing the “browness at the edges of the day” and how “[b]rown is creeping up on [them]” as if he is completely aware that they are nearing the finality of their existence in the play (their proverbial winter). Meanwhile in the same scene, Hamlet converses with the soldier from Norway as the three schoolmates make their way to see the King of England with an official letter from the Danish King (which originally calls for the death of Hamlet; however, along their journey, Hamlet rewrites the letter to the King of England, which then calls for the immediate death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).

Throughout the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vainly attempt to cope with the predetermined fate (via Shakespeare’s Hamlet) of their impending death. To universalize this notion, we can consider ourselves as characters in the play of life, and like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we are all aware of the inevitability of our own demise. Yet, we soldier on through life and act as if it (death, our necessary end) weren’t completely true or applicable to us. We attempt to find meaning in this beautiful and tragic play of life.