Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

A banquet of consequences

Hi!  Is anyone still reading this thing?  I knew I hadn’t posted in a while, but I didn’t realize “a while” = more than four months.  The Snork Maiden went to college, I visited her in October, she came home for Thanksgiving, and she’ll be back again in three weeks when her semester is over. I have missed her a lot, but it’s gone fast nonetheless.

My book came out, and I’ve been doing readings and events, so that’s made the time go fast, too.  I’m writing, but a lot of the limited time that I’m able to devote to that during the school year has gone to bringing-out-a-book activity. I’m glad, though, to have events to do to support the book.  I also have a one-week residency lined up toward the end of next summer, and I’ve applied to one other colony.

The school year is bouncing along as usual.  It feels maybe a little bumpier than usual for me because of several absences for readings and events and visiting the Snork Maiden.  And for two funerals, one for a friend and one for a relative. And, honestly, I think the Outside World is really wearing on everybody, kids and adults alike.

I’m coming back here to post, of course, because it’s Sunday of the long holiday weekend and, as usual, I’ve had some bouts of Sunday gloom. We only have two weeks left before a big paper is due, and I’m recognizing, with this project, that I have a lot of anxieties about this kind of writing (persuasive, research-based) that I need to get a better handle on so that I can help the students engage with and even enjoy it.  Some of them are really into it, but others are floundering.  Mostly, my feelings are about how very imperfect most of the results are likely to be. If I were advising someone else, I would reframe those imperfect results as part of an important process–so perhaps I can advise myself and calm the heck down.  Anyway, it’s worth a try.

I have various administrative responsibilities pressing on me, and worries about Stubb’s parents, and feelings about having said goodbye to the Snork Maiden again (although she’s really doing well, and it’s hard to be too sad about her not being here when it’s making her happy to be there).

But!  I have several hours of Sunday afternoon, and a fun plan for this evening–two excellent conditions for getting myself into a good position for the week ahead.  I have been to yoga class, so I’m feeling good in my body.  And I’ve decided that I need to take especially good care of myself these next two weeks, so that I can stay healthy and keep giving people–my family, my students, my colleagues, my friends–the attention and care they have the right to expect from me.

The beautiful changes

It’s kind of amazing that Richard Wilbur is 96 years old. (A collection of his poems furnishes me with this post’s title.) Just before the AP, my students and I read his 1949 poem “Juggler,” which was the subject of last year’s AP Lit exam’s poetry analysis essay.  I don’t have anything to say about it except that we were all struck by how weary it sounds for having been written by a 28-year-old man.  (Not that a 28-year-old man can’t or shouldn’t feel weary, in 1949 or at any other time.)

I’m creeping back to the blog today because I feel the need of it, need to get my mind around this time of year again. I was out of town for some of the holiday weekend, returned Sunday night, haven’t done much today, Memorial Day, except some grocery shopping and putting in an appearance at a cousin’s graduation party.  There’s a lot to do, schoolwise and lifewise, but there’s also a sense of loosening–the regular schedules are dissolving, with a couple of special days for review before exams begin, and then exams, and the last rushed day of farewells, one strange weekday without any school, and then graduation. A final day of meetings, and then we’re launched into summer, except for the long tail of the school year.

Maybe now is the time for one of those summer charts?  I have been feeling a bit stuck on what I need to do now, but maybe some looking forward will help me unstick?

Long weekend

Trying to reframe these last three days of break as a long weekend, which always sounds so luxurious, rather than as the last little scrapings of spring break.  My horoscope today informed me “You’re not always your own best babysitter,” and advised me to seek help in staying accountable to my goals.  Since I’m not above being advised by a newspaper horoscope, I have made a plan to work at the public library with Dr. Tea for a couple of hours this afternoon, and suddenly the rest of the day seems magically planned–I will do just as much schoolwork as necessary to set myself up for a productive couple of hours in the library, and other things I want to do (including work on a poem) will happen in the rest of the morning.  I’ll go straight from the library to pick up Sniff (aka Nephew #2, now 9 years old) from a friend’s house–he’s spending the night while his parents go out of town.  (Older brother Snufkin is looking at his college choices–like the Snork Maiden, he’s a high-school senior.)

Terrible back-to-school dream last night–I had all new students and two of them used wheelchairs and somehow the new classroom was in an inaccessible tower!  Also, as I was getting class underway despite these obstacles, I realized that a video camera had been set up and was recording everything.  I turned it off and wanted to demand an explanation for these changes, and particularly for the complete lack of advance notice about any of them, but there was no one of whom to demand.

The sense of an ending

I was thinking about how I get stressed by the approach of the end of the school year, and I was suddenly reminded of a half-remembered quotation from somewhere: “If I liked this, what about it would I like?”  (I think it’s the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, but with just a brief search I can’t find the exact quotation and a proper attribution, only other people who seem to half-remember it the same way I do.) It’s a great question for art, and perhaps even better for life situations.  So, if I liked the last six weeks or so of the school year:

  • I would like the feeling of really having come to know the students pretty well, of having seven or eight months of shared experiences and struggles and jokes.
  • I would like seeing my new colleagues settling in and getting comfortable, looking forward to next year, finding a sense of ownership about their courses and their ways of doing things.
  • I would like coming to accept what’s not under my control, of realizing that some of the year’s goals won’t be met, that nothing was perfect, that a lot of things went right anyway.
  • I would like getting ready to bid farewell to colleagues who are leaving: some because they are going on to new adventures and I’m happy for them, and perhaps just one or two that I’ll be relieved not to have to deal with anymore.

Sunday school

I know I’ve had at least the lite version of Love, Teach‘s Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole, so even though it’s spring break, I’m saving this to read–maybe the Sunday before we go back from break.

Meanwhile, a lot of life stuff has risen up to claim my spring break. I will write and do yoga, however. I may not get to have a book orgy, a trip or a lot of catching-up time with friends, but I’m definitely writing and doing yoga.  Starting today.

Twinkle

  • Got an actual letter informing me I didn’t get the thing I didn’t get, with a handwritten note thanking me for applying and letting me know I had been a finalist.  That was nice.
  • Put in another application for a summer thing.
  • Got the hiring process underway.  One person coming Friday, one Tuesday.
  • Had good conversations in my AP Lit classes on this Rebecca Mead article about “relatability.”
  • Oh my gosh the awesomeness of the creative projects on Paradise Lost.  Poems, paintings, a sculpture of a human brain cradled in two hands.  A scene in Lego.  Oh my gosh.

Shipwreck at the bottom of the world

Okay, the title is melodramatic.  I’m just feeling kind of…Sunday afternoon right now.  And this is just about my immediate surroundings, not the world, which is worrisome too.

It was actually a very cheerful week in some ways–a couple of biggish things happened that I can’t blog about: a very good thing for Dr. Tea, and a midweek off-campus event for me that I’d been looking forward to for a long time.  Oh, and the previous week I went to GU to speak to graduate students about careers in independent schools.  Teaching is going fine–the Major English Poem has been such a delight, and I think I might finally be figuring out how to handle second-semester seniors.  The spring play happened and was terrific, not just as a piece of theater, but as a learning experience for the students and the community.

The little dark clouds hanging over my head are clouds I’ve had before, so I know they’ll pass, but:

  • I went idly to the webpage of a summer thing I applied for about six weeks ago and saw that they have already announced the recipient.  There’s been no email notification to applicants, which is annoying, but of course the really annoying thing was not getting it myself.  Pooh.
  • Despite her earlier announcement, Lucinda’s plans have changed and she actually isn’t going to be coming back next year.  I will miss her.  And, of course, this means we do have to hire at least one person.  I actually have one person I would like us to interview, a departmental spouse, and one person who I might need to interview because Ivanhoe knows and likes her.  Both of these situations are complicated, though, and to know that I will be spending, at a guess, 20+ hours between now and spring break on hiring is not happy news.  On Monday, I have to start talking with people about this–Lucinda just told me.
  • I had eye-rolling moments of impatience with four different members of the department this week: two for jointly bringing forward a potentially controversial novel (language, adult situations) that they think they want to teach–but one of them hasn’t read it and the other read it several years ago before beginning to teach high school (Go back and read it and make the case!), and two for general drama.  It’s Farch.
  • I have a lot of work to do generally, both teaching/grading and otherwise.
  • February has been a crap month for writing habits.  (January was awesome, but it really went to hell after the first week of February.)

The Snork Maiden has to be at school for the play this afternoon, so I’m going to take her and do some work until my sister arrives to see the play.  (I have a couple more summer things to apply for, too.)  Then I’ll take my niece out to do…something, we’ll figure it out…for a few hours, and will get another hour or so while the Snork Maiden is at strike.  That will just have to do.  Then home, for laundry and general prep for the week.  I chaperoned the play backstage on Friday and watched it on Saturday, so this will be one of those at-school-every-day weekends.  I need to plan some kind of relaxing treat for midweek, I think, so that I’m not absolutely cranky and snappish and feeling deprived.

New shoes

jm

Yes, that one.

I know I’ve mentioned that my sophomore class is a new prep, and that I’m teaching some texts I’ve either never taught before (The Canterbury Tales, in a fairly inert translation), or never taught in high school (Macbeth, awesome as always).  We’re about to embark upon a great English epic…by a writer who was a child when Shakespeare died…I’m sure you know the one I mean.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not opened this book for about 25 years.  I spent maybe six weeks on it in a college class in which I failed to be enchanted by it, and that’s all.  I know some of the writer’s shorter poetry, but I’d never gone back to this.

Come to think of it, this is where I was with the Odyssey when I came to SA–they had read the first eight books when I got there, and I had read it in college but not given it much of a thought since.  By the time I stopped teaching ninth grade, I’d read it maybe six times and come to love reading it with that level.  I am actually a little more ashamed of not knowing PL better, given that it’s a major English poem, than I was of not remembering the Odyssey that well.  (We read the Fitzgerald translation in college, but I fell in love with the Robert Fagles translation we use at SA.)

It’s awkward knowing that this will probably be my clumsiest pass through PL, but exciting, too.  I’m really going to get to know this poem–or at least, at first, the parts we have them read.  I’ve been reading and preparing, and thinking about which paths in I want to take with them; I’ve also been reviewing materials prepared by Lucinda, Dinah, and even things that Viola (now working at the place that made her the offer) left behind on our shared drive, and I’m totally going to cannibalize Dinah’s PowerPoint, but I’ll be doing a lot of inventing as we go along, too.

I did finish grading all my exams yesterday, which has made today much, much more pleasant, although I did have to chime in on an issue that Orsino and Lucinda were dealing with on the matter of curving their shared multiple choice section.  And with the end of my one-semester overload, I get an extra free period this semester!  It’s just a case of dropping back to my regular workload, so I’m sure it will soon come to seem normal, but for a week or two, at least, I expect to savor it.

Tiny beautiful things

Mazel tov to What Now?, who converted to Judaism on Wednesday!

My happiest moment today was when Lucinda came in after school to tell me that she and her husband decided that they’re not going to leave the area when he retires from the military this year and that she’d like to stay at SA for at least one more year.  Sweet!  With Olivia returning from maternity leave, it is possible that we won’t need to hire this year, but of course it is way too early to tell.  I know of at least two teachers who would like to have a baby and one who will probably go to grad school at some point–and those are just the most obvious candidates for change.

My second-happiest was reading some short personal essays responding to Hazlitt’s essay on Hamlet–in a few students the assignment seemed to evoke a particularly thoughtful and genuine response, and these were students who are not usually the most eloquent about literature.  I might want to play around with more short essays like this–more mindful of an audience than journal entries, more freedom to use a personal perspective. I do need to write that rant about the word “relatable,” though.

I wanted to go to yoga tonight, but I think I’m just too tired.  I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep since we started back to school.  Every day has been a solid block of prepping, teaching, grading, and meeting–except I did get to take 35 minutes for lunch with colleagues on Tuesday and Wednesday. I submitted my first residency application, and I have worked on the book every day in January.  I have work to do before class tomorrow, but I think an early night followed by an early start is my best plan for getting it all done with some measure of serenity.  Yoga-induced serenity will have to wait for tomorrow.

Mistaken identity

Or maybe I’m just wrong. My essay workshop met in two separate groups today, each for ninety minutes, and both groups were friendly, focused, followed directions, and got quite a lot done. Totally different energy.  Part of it might have been that I had rearranged the room into a more traditional rowlike arrangement; we’d been in a big circle the first day, which might have been a mistake, because they were all excited to see one another.  On the other hand, the counselors had talked at them in an auditorium for the first two hours of the day, so there might have been no way around the outbursts of energy and socializing when they got into smaller rooms.

Whatever the reason for the difference, I find that now I’m way more optimistic about teaching this grade again.  (I had about 35 of them last year as juniors, and will have roughly the same number as seniors–some repeats, some not.)