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.)