Wednesday, December 15, 2010

paper shrapnal. . . seriously?

I honestly don't have the foggiest idea how this happens. One day I vacuum, and the floor is pristine. Within a matter of hours, sometimes minutes, there has been a paper shrapnel explosion and the floor is covered. One of the unsolved mysteries of the classroom, I guess.
None of this was there one hour prior to when this photo was taken. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a middle schooler's favorite book

Every year if you were to ask one of my students what their favorite book was, it would be a toss up between The Count of Monte Cristo and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. And may I just say, that they have excellent taste, because these happen to be two of may favorite books too. But right now, we are entrenched in The Count of Monte Cristo and loving it. In fact, if all we did all day was read CMC (our affectionate nickname for the book) my kids would be totally content. For a group of kids who generally do not espouse a love of classic literature, this says a lot. I will never forget one student I had a few years ago who struggled with language arts getting so into the book that he came in one Monday morning and said, "Mrs. Freeman, I accidentally read ahead in The Count of Monte Cristo" (this being expressly forbidden since it becomes too hard for them not to give away the plot twists for their classmates).

"Oh really. How far ahead did you get?"

"A Hundred pages."

Accidentally reading ahead a hundred pages from a kid that does not normally enjoy reading is a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me.

The book is about Edmond Dantés who is wrongfully accused of being a Bonapartist and is thrown in prison for 14 years. After his escape, Dantés takes on the role of Providence to punish those who took away his happiness and rewarding those who were good to him. It is a classic suspense and revenge story with tons of great twists and turns. In our reading just this week, the plot started to get really think so I made a character web to hopefully help everyone keep all the characters and their relationships straight.

It looks like a twisted mess and I love it! I can't wait to add more to it as we read. The blue ribbons represent the main characters' connections with Edmond Dantés and his aliases, and the white ribbons represent romantic attachments.

One of the best things about reading this book is showing them the movie afterward because they feel so jipped. Until I read the book, I like the movie, but so much is left out it is not even funny. The movie covers about 125 pages of the abridged version (535 pages) of the story that we read. Entire plot lines and characters are left out including my favorite: Monsieur Noirtier, the former Bonapartist who is paralyzed and can only communicate through blinking his eyes and yet his cunning and passion make him one of the most vivid, dynamic, and active characters in the book.

This year, one of my students came up with one of the most thoughtful insights about this book which has totally enhanced my reading of the text. In Bible a few weeks ago, we studied the story of Joseph, a man who seemed to have everything going for until a few people plotted his demise. From then on, Joseph is thrust into some extremely difficult circumstances over a period of many many years. One very astute kid observed that this was much like Dantés whose life was ruined thanks to a few scheming friends. Both face devastating circumstances and eventually become one of the most powerful men in the land. Like Dantés, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and even tricks them to get his younger brother and father to come to Egypt. But unlike Dantés, Joseph trusts God's sovereign hand over each situation and had an eternal vision for his life: "But Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 50:19-21). Dantés on the other hand, takes matters into his own hands enacting magnanimous generosity or cruel vengeance individually concocted for each of his friends. Slowly, we watch Dantés turn into a monster until he is introduced to forgiveness, mercy, and love. This striking contrast between these two Biblical and literary characters is so inspiring--and the fact that it came from a middle school kid makes it that much better!

Take a seventh or eighth grader's advice and read CMC; you won't regret it.

it's beginning to look a lot like. . .

Christmas! This year, as every year, I am honing in on some meaningful traditions while scrapping the stressful, futile ones. Every December, I enjoy being intentional about the ways we celebrate and prepare for Christ's birth.

This year, I rang in the season with Michael W. Smith. The school was generously given several tickets to his Christmas concert at teh Dallas Symphony so I got to take 2 seventh grade young ladies. It was an absolutely lovely evening of beautiful music (some of which really brought me back to the the glory days--'90's anyone?) all of which was so God-honoring. Michael W. Smith is a great performer and his humility is refreshing and a great testament.

With the Christmas music came the desire to decorate. Unfortunately this year, I was not able to have White Christmas or Meet Me in St. Louis in the background during the decoration ceremony because my husband was studying for finals. . . alas. But I did put up a little tree in my classroom.

Also, this year was the first time that we read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud in class. We haven't finished yet, but we are all enjoying it immensely. As one might suspect, the story is much darker than any of the movies, but the characters are much richer. The descriptions of Scrooge nephew and his contagious laugh are priceless. Here is one of my favorite passages so far in which Scrooge's nephew gives a retort to Scrooge's argument that Christmas should not be celebrated because it does not profit anyone:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good by, which I have not profited, I dare say," returned teh nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it come round--apart from the veneration due its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creature bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done my good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

What a beautiful sentiment about a wonderful time of year. God bless us, every one!

Monday, December 6, 2010

somerset maugham

I was recently introduced to the novels of Somerset Maugham and have really enjoyed it. First, I read The Razor's Edge. The Razor's Edge is about rich Americans living in Europe prior to and during the Great Depression. It is an interesting look at the society of that time and people's search for meaning and happiness in all kinds of different, and mostly wrong, places. The characters in this book are rich, dynamic, and very compelling, but I found the plot a little slow even for my taste. Then I read The Painted Veil. Having loved the movie, I looked forward to reading the book and was not disappointed.

The movie came out in 2006 and stars Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. It is definitely the best love story I have seen in a while and is absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend it.

The book follows the movie almost exactly until the end. And even though it is certainly not as happy, I must say that I loved the book as much as I loved the movie but for different reasons. The movie is compelling because it tells a beautiful love story between Kitty and Walter. An ill-matched couple from the start, Kitty, the socialite, and Walter, the bacteriologist, hit rock bottom when Walter finds out that Kitty has been having an affair with am English diplomat in Hong Kong. Walter refuses to allow Kitty a divorce and requires that she follow him into a cholera epidemic in rural China. In the movie, Walter and Kitty begin working alongside one another in a convent and slowly grow in respect, friendship, and then love for one another. But the book is quite different.

The book examines Walter and Kitty's relationship much more realistically and is more about the effects of sin and heartache and the weight of forgiveness than it is about love. Even though it was not romantic at all, I found the story in the book very compelling as Kitty begins to search for meaning in a world where she is surrounded by death and is eventually forced to start over all alone in the world.

You absolutely must see and read The Painted Veil. I got through it in about a week and was sad when I finished--always the sign of a good book--but both books are worth reading.

recently funny quotes

From one of the nightly pillow fights in DC:
Student: "You hit me in the Gettysburg!"
I don't know where your Gettysburg is but apparently it hurts.

We were talking about Thomas Jefferson's quote: "That government which governs best, governs least," and I was explaining that Ralph Waldo Emerson tweaks that quote in Civil Disobedience when he says, "That government which governs best governs not at all."
And one of my students asked: "Wait, he tweeted it."
The thought of Emerson on twitter cracked me up.

One of the vocabulary sentences that was recently turned in to me for the word instill:
"How can I instill in my little sister the beauty of math?"
Now that is a devoted student.

Locker Art
A sculpture of twisty-ties recently found decorating an eighth grader's locker.

On the bus last week, one explorer told me, "My teacher has a Beyoncé."
"Really?" I replied. Trying to figure out what she meant, I asked, "Do you mean she as earrings like Beyoncé or a picture of Beyoncé."
"No," she retorted exasperated with my ignorance.
"What do you mean your teacher has a Beyoncé?"
"You know. . . someone who is going to be her husband!"
"Oh!" I said, quite relieved. "You mean she has a fiancée!"
Great rhyme. I never would have thought of that one.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

moments with TJ

Since our return from DC (which was wonderful and I will write more about later), I have instituted a new routine in the classroom: Thomas Jefferson moments. I call them Moments with TJ, but that is only because Thomas Jefferson and I go way back. The kids understand that they must call him Mr. Jefferson because they do not know him as well. This new routine was inspired by "Polite Moments" when we would start each morning of the trip with one of George Washington's Rules of Civility--amazing! Moments with TJ simply consists of the reading of and reflection upon an inspirational quotation from our third President. The quote from yesterday is a new lifetime favorite:

"In matters of style, swim with the current; on matters of principle, stand like a rock."

Amen! Well-said, Mr. Jefferson. More inspirational and hilarious moments from DC to come. . .

Friday, November 5, 2010


As I have been preparing for the Washington DC trip and the substitute that will take my other classes all this week, one of my seventh grade students who is probably most looking forward to my absence next week reminded me of this children's book that I used to love when I was little.
Miss Nelson is a sweet and kind teacher with a horrible class. But one day when they arrive to school, the class is surprised to find an evil substitute in her place. The substitute looks and acts like a witch--wart and all. And she whips those kids in shape. The class is so relieved and thankful to have the kind Miss Nelson back in the end that they would never dream of misbehaving again. But on the last page in the illustration, you see in the corner of Miss Nelson's room an ugly black wig just like teh evil sub's. Ahhh, the great plot twist , of course, is that Miss Nelson was the evil sub whipping her class into shape.

I tried to find a copy of the book this week to read to the seventh grade just for fun, but alas, I was too busy preparing for my real sub. I wish that I could dress up and be my own substitute next week--it would be a lot easier and a lot of fun ;).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

looking forward

keeping it cool with Cornyn

This week has been a whirlwind of preparation for the much anticipated Eighth Grade Washington DC Trip! I am really looking forward to some teaching outside of the classroom and some quality time in my favorite city. But I will be more excited on Saturday morning after we have gotten on the eighth graders through security and all of my preparations will be done (because by Saturday morning it will have to be done, and whatever is not done, I will just have to do without). There is nothing like a deadline to inspire you to get your act together.

getting colonial in Williamsburg

The kids are so excited about the trip. We started a countdown on the board weeks ago. But it always cracks me up the things they look forward to. From the way they talk, you would think that they were way more excited about riding on a plane (many of them for the first time), staying in a hotel, and getting to wear something other than their uniforms in the evening than anything else. As much as I can hype the Capital, the Lincoln Memorial, the Portrait Gallery (which is my favorite place), Mount Vernon (and getting to see the key to the Bastille), colonial Williamsburg, the battlefields of Gettysburg, Arlington Cemetery, the White House, and countless other amazing things we will see and do, they will have no concept of the coolness until they get there and see it for themselves. Traveling with these students is such an amazing opportunity to open up an entirely new world to them--a world where leaves change colors in the fall, where government is a real job that people do, where patriotism and sacrifice are honored and sacred, and where history is actually real.

Even though just thinking about it stresses me out tonight, I cannot wait to introduce a whole other crop of kids to the beauty of Virginia, the coolness of our nation's capital, and the reality of the history that until now has only existed in books.

exploring Mt. Vernon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

teacher = "flogger of urchins"

As I was reading "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" aloud to seventh grade, I laughed when I came across this term that Irving uses to describe the teacher, Ichabod Crane. I thought it quite fitting for some of the activities and conversations that have taken place in my classroom of late.

Quotes from the classroom in recent days:

Me scolding Student A: "Please stop that. That is obnoxious behavior." (I say these words more times than I can count.)
Student B (frequently scolded for her obnoxious behavior): "At least I am not the only one who acts obnoxious in class."
Student A gives Student B the death glare.

Me: "What is the name of the current Vice President? I'll give you a hint: his initials are J B."
Student A: "Justin Bieber!"

Student C practicing her new vocabulary word before a quiz: "Mrs. Freeman, you look very ornate today."

Student B upon finishing Johnny Tremain: "Mrs. Freeman, I can't believe we finished the book. I am going to miss Rab."

Me: "Who were Oliver Cromwell's followers in the English Civil War? Remember? The Cavaliers and the . . . . ?"
Student D: "The Whiteheads!"
The correct answer was Roundheads. She was kind of close. . . I guess.

Me telling a group of girls that they cannot all get a drink at the same time: "Use your common sense."
Student E: "Yeah, use your Thomas Paine!"
(We were about to take a history test over the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War in which they needed to know about Thomas Paine's Common Sense.)

After having a photographer in the room, Student B: "Mrs. Freeman, what are they going to do with those pictures because my hair is a hot mess?"
Me: "Well, they are going to put your picture on a billboard."
Student B in alarm: "Really?!"

Upon hearing muffled chatting in study hall, Me: "Ladies, what is going on?"
The Ladies: "She got her pencil stuck in her hair."

After assigning the homework for the evening and beginning a new lesson, Student F holding up a piece of paper: "Mrs. Freeman, this is a how much homework I have and how long I think each assignment will take me. And here are all the things I have to do tonight."
Me: "Are you serious right now?"
Student F lowers his hand and his paper sheepishly.

Answers from the recent history test: (These make me want to cry, but hopefully you will find them funny.)
Q: Who was John Locke?
A: A discoveralist who found Virginia

Q: What was the last state to ratify the Constitution?
A: America

Q: What are the five rights guaranteed in first amendment?
Compilation of different students' answers
A: language, liberty, pursuit of happiness, land

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

stones into schools

I just finished my book o' the month for October: Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson. The book was a Christmas gift from my precious aunt that I just got around to reading and really enjoying.

Stones Into Schools is a sort of sequel to his previously popular, Three Cups of Tea, and chronicles his experiences and obstacles building schools particularly for girls in the most rural parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The parts of the book that I found most fascinating were the brief summaries of the history of the area. While I knew a lot of what Mortenson wrote about from documentaries and the news, it seemed like the horrors and complexities of the Middle East became real for the first time. On top of that, the destruction of thirty years of war and some of the most rugged terrain in the world has made the country a very isolated and difficult place.

Mortenson and his crew work extremely hard in an effort to rebuild Afghanistan and Pakistan through offering education to the people, especially the women who were prohibited from schools under Taliban rule. Mortenson's philosophy for focusing on female education is simple: "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community." The sheer logistical gymnastics that Mortenson and his team have to face building schools in the most remote areas of the world surrounded by the most treacherous political and geographical landscapes is staggering--from transporting construction supplies on yaks to building relationships with communities that have not welcomes foreigners in generations. I found the practical aspects of these stories fascinating. In one instance, Mortenson and team were struggling with building the trust of a community whose school had just been demolished in the earthquake in 2005. Children were anxious to attend the temporary tent school, but when teh permanent structure was finished, they had trouble with attendance. After speaking with a girl in the community, they discovered that students were wary to attend because the building did not have desks. Desks would not only provide a sense of seriousness and structure to the academics, but also offered structural safety in case of another earthquake. Also, the personal struggles of the Afghan people were inspiring. The obstacles that these students face are harrowing. In what particularly stomach turning episode, Mortenson writes about extremists would harass female students by squirting battery acid from water guns into girls' faces. The only complaint I have is that Mortenson goes on at times about the popularity of his first book, Three Cups of Tea, talking about all of his speaking engagements, etc. leaving me with a little of an "Alright already" feeling.

Overall, I am left with a few thoughts. First, I am very thankful for my beautiful beautiful classroom and my teaching job which now seems quite cushy. Also, I am very thankful that America was willing to step into such an impossible situation and at least attempt to make things better for a people that have suffered tremendously. Certainly things were not handled perfectly, but at least they made an effort.

If you are at all interested in these civilian efforts to rebuild Afghanistan from the inside out, I would recommend this book.

All of this begs the questions: What will I read for the rest of October? That, my friends, is an easy one--Jane Austen's Persuasion. Starting it tonight and really looking forward to it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

snacks as gold

And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had beside the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jews harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn't unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass doorknob, a dog-collar--but no dog--the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange peel, and a dilapidated old window-sash.
~Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Children's currency always cracks me up. While the things that they value often seem humorous and nonsensical to adults, I am sure that they think the same way about the things adults value. I saw this truth in action on Friday afternoon at a fund-raising event for our school.

The 7th and 8th graders were asked to come out and help with the event--registering guests, working the raffle, handing out gifts, and pulling clays for the event. After much coaching on my part as to how to interact with adults--the importance of eye contact and speaking loudly and clearly--as well as how to initiate conversation with interesting questions, the students did a really good job. With a little prodding and supervision, they introduced themselves and got the opportunity to interact with some very interesting people. But as we were getting ready to leave, another volunteer offered the kids some snacks. Mayhem ensued. The sight of such a myriad of goodies and Gatorade was simply too much for these formerly self-controlled young men and women. There was a mad dash to the tables, stuffing shirts, socks, and, yes, pants with every goody they could get their hands on. By the time I got there, it was too late. I had them empty their shirts, socks and pants into the trashcan and proceeded to ream them out for not practicing the good manners they have learned over the years of etiquette classes at the school. While the kids and I were both embarrassed y their behavior, I was reminded of a few things: (1) that children are capable of so much as long as you are willing to give them clear instructions and walk them through the task (like they had done earlier in the day), (2) that greed and selfishness can make us all look very silly, and (3) the importance of laughter even where important lessons can be learned.


Caught red-handed. Foiled again.

"I just tried to sneak candy in my shorts, but my teacher caught me and made me throw in away"
(I was really hoping to get through me entire teaching career without ever writing a picture caption like this)

As much as they know better and I am sure they will not do the same again, I don't know that you could expect any 7th or 8th grader to act differently when faced with the temptation of mounds of worldly wealth in the form of snacks. It is our human nature.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

a lesson in good sportsmanship

It is volleyball season in West Dallas, and I have loved going to the middle school girls' volleyball games. We win some and we loose some, but it is so fun getting to see and interact with the girls outside of a classroom. One of the things I like most of all is getting to see all of the learning experiences the girls get on the court whether it be how to play as a team, how to set/serve, or how to win/loose graciously.

Recently Barrett and I were at another sporting event where the importance of good sportsmanship became very clear. We traveled down to College Station with several college friends to see out Fightin' Texas Aggies take on Florida International. "Why Florida International?" you ask. The reasons are simple: (1) the tickets were cheap and (2) we thought it would be an easy win. We were right on only one of those counts. We had fabulous seats--front row on the 35-40 yard line right behind the opposing team's bench so we got the inside scoop for the entirety of the game. But it was not an easy win. There had been a lot of mistakes by the Aggies, and the Fightin' Texas Aggie 12th Man (aka the stands) were getting a little discouraged. In the 3rd quarter, we were down 20 to 6, and I gave us a 10% chance of pulling out a W--and that was generous. At that point, the players from the opposing team began to taunt the crowd saying "Get Louder! We can't hear you!" Aggies do not take well to being insulted especially for our cheering so things began to heat up. At one point, their defense made a pretty decisive stop, and when the players returned to the sideline, their coach began to congratulate them in very colorful language (which he had been using throughout the game). There being kids around, many parents sitting around us were visibly upset, but one father more than any other. This dad, sitting directly behind my husband, proceeds to yell at the coach to clean up his language. Stunned, the coach and his large, menacing defensive players turn around and stare directly at the stands (read: directly at Barrett because he is in front of the angry dad). Well, as soo as he sees that he has gotten a reaction, this father decided it would be a good idea to communicate the severity of the situation by throwing a water bottle at the coach and the large, menacing players. At this point I am sure that my husband will be the first casualty in a brawl of epic proportions. Thankfully, security was right there to simmer the situation down and we all left without a scratch.

proximity to the players
the 12th man and the band
All that to say, I love being an Aggie because in my experience, we are fans who cheer faithfully, win/loose graciously, and always keep it classy. This sets us apart and makes playing at Kyle Field a big deal. As much as I appreciate someone who is willing to stand up for what is right especially when children are involved, I was appalled when this father was willing to sacrifice setting a good example of being a classy fan and having good sportsmanship in front of his son. After this incident, the 12th Man rallied and cheered louder than I have heard them in a long time, and the Aggies did pull out a W. Needless to say, it all made for a very adventurous evening.
me and Barrett
I am so thankful to work at a school where teaching teamwork and good sportsmanship are some of the primary goals in athletics, and where the team's character matters more than their record at the end of the season.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

alone in my principles

In my experience, there are a few movies that are actually better when enjoyed alone, and these I go to when I am by myself and loving it but wanting another character to empathize with as we are both "alone in our principles" (line from That Thing You Do--love it!).

1. Mansfield Park
In this Jane Austen adaptation, the film's main character, Fanny Price, and intelligent and creative young woman, has been raised in the home of her wealthy aunt, uncle, and cousins because her family could not afford one more mouth to feed. Fanny is quiet but very intelligent and playful. She has strong opinions and will stand up for them when necessary, but she is always treated as an outsider. When she is finally invited into the social circle through the attentions of gentlemen, she is not sure she wants to be a part of this rather sordid society. This is probably the darkest of the Jane Austen movies becoming almost an Austen-Bronte hybrid. The cinematography is very artistic, and the love story between Fanny and Edmond is fabulous.

2. Jane Eyre
This is my favorite books of all time because the character of Jane demonstrates such moral fortitude and strength of character throughout the book. Jane encounters hardships after hardship from the abuse of her aunt to the death of her friend Helen in school to the life of a governess in a home full of secrets. In spite of her circumstances, Jane holds fast in her humility and faith. As for movies, there are two good adaptations: the 1996 version with Charlotte Gainsborough and William Hurt and the 2006 Masterpiece Theater version starring Ruth Wilson as the title character. Both are good, but I think the Masterpiece Theater version is better. This character is so close to my heart, I feel like we are kindred spirits. (I know that is incredibly cheesy, but I was an English major so what do you expect?)

3. Persuasion
This movie is new to the "alone in my principles" repertoire. I watched it Thursday night while Barrett was at class, remembered how much I loved it, and had to add it to the list. Also a Jane Austen adaptation, Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot who does not quite fit is with her class-obsessed family. Anne is tenderhearted and treats everyone with kindness. Pretty soon we find out that Anne was once in love with the charming Captain Frederick Wentworth but was persuaded against the match by a family friend who thought she had Anne's best interest in mind. Many years later, Anne meets Captain Wentworth again. This movie is very slow and very subtle, but the love story is beautiful as Anne learns to stand up for herself for the first time. Ciaran Hines is the quintessential Captain Wentworth just like Colin Firth is the quintessential Mr. Darcy. He is perfectly cast and absolutely amazing. I remember seeing this movie for the first time when I was about in the 5th grade, and I hated it. I could not get passed all of the unspoken dialog in just the looks that Anne and Capt. Wentworth exchange from across the room not to mention the old school BBC stylings--not quite as polished as we expect in a typicla feature film. But going back, I simply love it. (BBC recently did a new version of Persuasion that is also pretty good, but it ends with the most awkward on-screen kiss I have ever seen which kind of undercuts the rest of the movie.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

book club

A few years ago, I made a resolution to read a book a month in order to keep my mind fresh and to develop the habit of reading. I so enjoyed this new hobby that I decided to offer the same challenge to my students. And thus started Mrs. Freeman's 8th Grade Book Club. At the end of each month, those students that completed a book during that month get together during study hall, talk books, and partake of a little snack.

This month I made gingersnaps (yum) and read David McCullough's John Adams.

I loved the book and was somewhat said to finish it and say good bye to Adams. McCullough is an amazing story-teller and an awesome writer. He blends Adams correspondence into the story beautifully making vivid and dynamic portraits of real people in history. There were a few parts where I felt the book dragged a little. By far, the most compelling parts were about John and Abigail's marriage (a remarkably faithful and loving relationship) and Adams' relationship with Jefferson (very on-again-off-again). Adams was truly a remarkable man with an amazing amount of integrity. At the end of the book, McCullough cites the inscription that Adams had engraved on his family's sarcophagus: "This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a great, great, grandson from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, frugality, industry and perseverance of his ancestors in the hopes of recommending an affirmation of their virtues to their posterity." Adams' humility and willingness to sacrifice everything for virtue and patriotism is truly admirable.

(I heartily recommend the companion book to John Adams also by David McCullough, 1776. It is one of my favorite books and an easier/shorter read than John Adams.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

historical fiction


not so studious

I love some good historical fiction in my life. My seventh and eighth graders are currently reading Johnny Tremain and it is nothing less than fabulous. My mom read us this classic when we were kids before taking a vacation to Boston/New England. While I think I liked it then, as an adult and teacher I LOVE it! This being my fifth year in the classroom, I am estimating to have read Johnny Tremain's story about 7 times, and each time it gets better and better.

For those of you that are not familiar with the childhood classic, Johnny Tremain tells the story of a young, cocky Boston silversmith who suffers a terrible accident and as a result gets swept up in the activity of the Revolutionary War from the Boston Tea Party to the Sons of Liberty to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The book does an excellent job of drawing readers into the colonial era and introducing them to the real players of the Revolution like Paul Revere, John Hancock, Sam Adams, James Otis, and Dr. Warren, but it also tells a very compelling story about a boy that learns to think outside of himself and grow up. And if that is not a ringing-enough endorsement, my kids all love it.

Several months ago, I read another historical fiction book that I really liked called The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Kent tells the story of Sarah Carrier Chapman whose mother was accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692. I really enjoyed this book as it brought the hardships of colonial life to light and drew you in to the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. I read the court scene to my seventh and eighth graders to give them a sense of what it was really like; they were entranced. It is a great story and a well-written book.

So there you go. If you start feeling a little colonial--which I always do this time of year--pick up one of these great historical fictions and be transported.

marriage as evangelism

Recently my students, especially the girls, have had weddings on the brain. One of my former colleagues got hitched just a couple of weeks ago and many of the middle schoolers got to attend their teacher's nuptials. So with all of the anticipation prior to the event and reminiscing afterward, we have had lots of fun converstaions about weddings and marriage. (One of my seventh grade girls announced at the lunch table that she wanted a 20 foot train on her wedding dress! To which I wanted to respond, "Dang girl!" but held my cool.)

In the course of these conversations, the girls began to ask about my wedding. When I told them that I wore my grandmother's wedding dress, they were fascinated and asked to see pictures. So a few days later, I brought in the wedding album that my mom made for me this Christmas, and all of the girls poured over it during study hall. It was so sweet to get to share those memories with them. They loved everything from the church to the flowers to seeing how much my sisters and I look alike--it was quite precious. They even said that Barrett looked like Robert Pattinson--which for them is a very high compliment. One of the sweetest parts was when one girl found one of their vocabulary words in the little letter my mom wrote to me at the end of the book: poise.

I am so thankful to teach in a school where I have so many opportunities to teach my students about everything and to share Jesus with them at every turn. It is moments like this one that I am so humbled to have the chance to show these young ladies what it looks like to have "poise" and even what a Christian wedding and marriage look like. Whether it be reading through passage where Jesus talks about marriage and divorce or the kids asking about my husband, we have had some very cool conversations. What I think this reveals more than anything else is that a Christian marriage the way God intended is totally counter to just about everything that the culture tells us marriage is. When I know all my students see in the world is Bridezilla and shows that portray marriage as boring, stupid, and temporary, I am so thankful that they at least got one small glimpse of something else even if it was just in their teacher's scrapbook.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

shakespearean transition

Lately, there have not been a lot of inspirational moments in my classroom as I feel like we are still working on getting the basic procedures and good habits down, but today there was a little light bulb so I thought I would celebrate it.

As we went over the basic format for a three paragraph essay today, the subject of transition words came up. I explained that transitions are words that signal to the reader that you are moving from one point to the next and they are important because they lend clarity to your writing. The class was giving examples of different transitions words they could use like first, then, next, also, in conclusion, in addition, furthermore, secondly, and lastly. Then I remembered one of my favorite lines from Much Ado About Nothing. The crazy fool of a constable and the comic relief, Dogberry, brings some criminals before the Duke. His explanation of their crime and his use of transitions is absolutely hilarious:

Dogberry: Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

After we established the fact that the transitions were all jumbled up, we had a good laugh over the fact that he found six ways to say, "He lied." I love it when we can use humor and Shakespeare in a lesson. (By the way, if you haven't seen Much Ado About Nothing, you need to asap. With Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh you cannot go wrong. Michael Keaton plays Dogberry and is hilarious.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

two thumbs up

I realized recently that I have done a surprisingly small number of movie posts of late in spite of all the good movies I watched in the recent past. I intend to remedy this tonight!

Recommendation numero uno: Me and Orson Welles
Barrett and I heard about this movie back in December but missed it in the theater and have been waiting for it to come out on video. When that day finally came, we were not disappointed. We both agreed that this is one of the best movies we have seen in a long time.

The movie is about Orson Welles' early career in theater (post-radio and pre-film) directing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the early 1930s in New York. The acting in this movie will knock your socks off. Orson Welles is played by Christian McKay who we recognized in a Masterpiece Theater later (which proves he is actually, really good). More than once throughout the movie we had to stop and remind ourselves that we were not actually watching Orson Welles. The movie also stars Zac Efron who does an impressive job as a young high schooler who dreams of being an actor/singer/writer/artist, and his role in Wells' play is supposed to be his big break. Efron is both likeable and very believable in this role. I loved him! The plot of the movie centers around Welles' eccentricities professionally and personally as you watch the director of theater develop into the man that will direct the greatest movie of all time. There are some wonderfully smart references throughout the film to Orson Welles' work in Citizen Kane and The Third Man. The only complaint that I had with the film is that I think Richard Linklater (the director of the film and one of my favorite directors) could have done more artistic choices with the cinematography, but Barrett disagreed with me on that point. The movie is well-written, interesting, and engaging. I highly recommend this movie especially if you are a film history buff or a Citizen Kane fan.

Recommendation numero dos: The Messenger
We heard about this movie watching the Oscars and loved it.

The Messenger stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson and is about the soldiers in charge of informing families when they have lost loved ones. As the subject matter suggests, the movie is very intense and very personal. The camera work, while hand-held, is effective at creating an up-close and personal tone at very intimate, intense moments. The chracters in teh movie are complex and dynamic, and the acting is stellar.

Recommendation numero tres: An Education
This was another one we saw on the Oscars and had to see.

An Education takes place in England in the 1960s and tells the story of a young, naive girl who befriends a cultured, worldly man, falls in love with him, and gets a jarring lesson in life. The plot of the movie is very intriguing and takes a few small but unexpected turns. One of the best parts of this movie is definitely the sets and costumes; the clothes are to-die-for. The cinematography is also beautiful. Carrie Mulligan and Alfred Molina are awesome in this movie, but the real star of the show is Peter Sarsgaard as the playboy. His charisma wraps everyone in the movie including the audience around his little finger. Plot-wise, I think there were a few things that would have made th movie stronger: namely spending more time developing Jenny's (Carrie Mulligan's) relationship with her teacher and her relationship with her friends. But some of the deleted scenes help solve this. This movie is very enjoyable and engaging--a must see.