Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Old Poetry -- "The Time It Was"

     I am presently finishing a poetry unit with my 7th grade students.  It's been an interesting experience, particularly because some students are very adept at writing poetry, and others, naturally, have their best poetry writing years ahead of them.  I searched out some of my own poetry, from middle and high school, to share it with them and indulge myself in some nostalgia.  I found many from a project I was permitted to create in 7th grade, one my teacher encouraged because I was so interested in writing.  But the poem that stuck out to me the most was from when I was in 10th or 11th grade.  I don't recall if it was an assignment or just sentiment that produced it, but it encapsulates a viewpoint I'd held well before I wrote it--  even though it reads like a life-altering declaration.  If I remember correctly, it was mostly inspired by seeing my peers do less than they could with the skills, talents, and opportunities in front of them.  It is called "The Time It Was" and, bear in mind, was written by someone with all the worldly experience of a 15 year old. 

The Time It Was

It was today when I was walking
That I heard two people talking
Of chances missed and love gone by,
And how their past had gone awry.

It was tomorrow, this got me thinking
That through life I had been slinking.
Taking not a chance and grasping not a string,
Finding not a love and planning not a thing.

It was yesterday I had been living
Without a thought to my future giving.
Living only day to day
Letting life pass me all the way.

It was now, I began deciding
From life's risks I would stop hiding.
I made a plan to think ahead
And stopped living like I was dead.

It was never when I was regretting,
Resolving that now I would start letting
Myself do a thing never previously thought,
And seeing the changes to my life it had wrought.

It was since then I have been seeing
Today and tomorrow-- and stopped fleeing.
I now plan to chance and chance to plan
And for it I am a better man.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

More Memories Courtesy of Mark Z...

Thanks to Facebook and its "Today in the Past" feature, I found my own same day account of February 15, 2013. Clearly I understood how uniquely incredible that class period was in the moment. It would have been a day that stuck with me even if it hadn't been my (as of now) last high school teaching experience...

"I had to stay home yesterday.  So the debate about understanding LOVE through literature and science was pushed to today.  It was going horribly.  I couldn't understand why.  Come to find out, five students were upset when the sub read my note to them which said the debate would happen today and we wouldn't be going to the student-written Black History Month play as I had intended.  They reasoned that the play was just as connected to our curriculum and a one-time-only experience-- we could have done the debate any other day.  So they got 28 of the 32 students to agree to sabotage the debate by not speaking during it.  A comment by one of the four non-saboteurs outed the plan, and a remarkable, constructive discussion about fairness, race, and a need for increased awareness of the lived experiences of others occurred.  Over half the class predicted when they agreed to the plan that I would "flip out" if/when I found out about it, but they could not have been more wrong.  I can't remember the last time I was so proud of my students.  Even though an e-mail to me yesterday might have avoided all of this, I am so glad that these students have learned to stand up for themselves and each other for causes that really matter to them.  That is what I told them before they left.  

So we didn't debate love.  We didn't see the play.  Instead life imitated art, and a play dealing with race & focused on one form of love, compassion, debuted right there in my classroom.  Days like today are the reason I chose this career."

Monday, February 15, 2016

A "Last"ing Memory

This first appeared as a lengthy Facebook post last year. On February 13, 2013 (02.13.2013-- good thing I'm not superstitious) I did not know I was experiencing a "last."  Hopefully it turns out not be be a last, but that will be determined by whether or not HR moves me from teaching middle school to high school next year. In the meantime, here is what I posted last year at this time, when I was still uncertain if I'd ever be able to teach again at all. It includes the first hand account of one of the protest organizers.  She wrote about it for a Senior writing class and shared the essay with me.

     Today marks two years since I last taught at Canton High School.  On that day, I staged a debate in my American Lit. class, and because I was out sick the day before, I kept Thursday's plan intact and cancelled our initial Friday plan-- going to the student produced African American History performance. When I announced this change, it greatly upset the three young African American girls in the class. In less than a 24 hour period, they organized a protest: everyone refused to speak during the debate. One of the leaders of this initiative, Victoria, wrote an essay about it and shared it with me earlier this week. 

Below is a portion of that essay; "the male" is a boy who called the class protest and the African American History performance "stupid."

"Mr. Green realized what was happening as the drama continued to unfold with my friends and the male. He didn’t understand how we felt misunderstood, unimportant and didn’t wanted to fall within the stereotypes that were made for us. We were smart, a lethal weapon with our minds, just a different skin tone. It was my first time having an actual confrontation with someone and not ignoring it like I ignore the constant whispers I was used to hearing.

Mr. Green yelled for it to stop and then he quietly sobbed. We didn’t know why he was crying but those who had initiated the protest with me and I cried; we cried for our struggles. I would never forget the words Mr. Green said to us. “I’ve never been so proud of my students for sticking up for something as important as race”. He acknowledged race and he believed in giving other people the knowledge of other cultures. He was really proud of us and he stated it was one of his best moments in his teaching experience. We couldn’t go to the African American play but we used the rest of the debate time to talk about what it was like to be African American.

I was able to share my feelings and it helped me grow as a person. I was very proud of myself because I was able to make an impact on the students who did and didn’t understand our struggle."

There are myriad factors in play that will determine whether I teach high school again, many of them beyond my control. But if the events related above indeed turn out to be my teacher swan song, I'll be proud to have gone out on such a high note.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Pre-Transplanted Dad: Shy as a Whistle Pig

I wrote this five years ago today... part of my motivation for sharing it may or may not be tied to how much I like the phrase "whistle pig."

Well, it is Groundhog Day, and the one in Pennsylvania saw no shadow for only the 16th time.  Legend has it that if he sees his shadow, the reason he goes back into his stump, or hole, or wherever, is due to fright, even though in reality a groundhog (also known as a whistle pig or woodchuck) is a rather tenacious creature.  Even if prognosticators like Punxsutawney Phi are afraid of their shadows, is that such a bad thing?  More to the point, is a student necessarily worse off if he or she is more of a shrinking violet in the classroom?  I can't speak from experience on this matter, at least from the student standpoint.  As a third grader I was once punished with the loss of outdoor recess privileges because I overzealously answered a question by shouting out my response when the teacher was deliberately ignoring me so that other students could be given a chance to participate in the class.  I was still the very same, "Ooh, ooh, pick me!" type in high school too.  But I certainly don't see that approach as the only means of being successful now that I'm the one doing the question asking and not the hand raising.  Ever year I have several students who fit the category of "shy" that do exceedingly well in the class.  Through assessments, particularly essays, these students demonstrate knowledge and skills that are no less well developed than their more vocal and actively involved peers.

When I consider how this relates to my son, it doesn't seem to, at least for now.  At the moment, it is very difficult to imagine him being anything besides outgoing.  He talks almost non-stop, and even if some translation is required (fish is currently "shiFF"), he yearns to be social with both family and new acquaintances.  While I know his current gregarious nature is not an absolute guarantee that he will be as genial ten years from now, it is hard to envision him any other way.  Regardless of whether or not my son, or any future children I may have, ends up being an introverted teen or an extroverted one, I know that both sides of the coin can be successful in the classroom-- and one side of it is a lot less likely to end up alone at a desk while everyone else is playing at recess.

With five more years of fatherhood under my belt since writing this, and watching my son's personality progress over the past half-decade, it is clear that my son enjoys the spotlight-- on his terms.  He absolutely trends toward being outgoing, but can be shy at times too.  His cousins recently paid us a visit, and to thank one of them for his help in finishing an intense Lego build, my son decided to write him a song.  But, when it came to performing it, my son requested that I sing it with him.

It has been fascinating to see him become a multi-layered person, and to note which traits he seems to have gotten from his mom, and which ones seem to stem directly from me.  My most important takeaway has been to simply enjoy who he is now, because he is constantly progressing toward an older, wiser person.  I want to enjoy this "age of innocence," one where he puts faith in rodent weather forecasts, to its fullest extent while it lasts.