Saturday, March 5, 2016

Extended Work Week #SOL16 Day 6

This weekend I'm in Boise for the state Poetry Out Loud competition. An added bonus is that I get to spend a little time with my granddaughter and her cat, which has a plethora of names, so I've decided he's Just Cat. 

Although I'm thrilled to see Kayla, Just Cat, and my grown children, and daughter-in-law, this trip has extended my work week and illustrates what teachers know intuitively: Our job lasts long after the last bell on any given day. 

The time I devote to POL is uncompensated, too. And that's true for nearly all who coach these students. In fact, I've had many unpaid positions in my career: cheer advisor, newspaper advisor, literary magazine advisor, speech coach (in Arizona), class advisor, among others. Most teachers know what it's like to take a position that comes with no supplemental pay. 

This week I've been fighting a cold that decided to kick into high gear Saturday, and it's midterm, and I just finished editing the latest edition of a newsletter for a state organization, and... This list seemingly never ends.

Still, for today, life slowed down and I basked in the harmonious recitations of poetry. The students all did an amazing job, and even though my student didn't win the competition, she left happy having made new friends and having presented her poems well. She's only a sophomore and is looking forward to next year and another POL experience. 
And even though no monetary compensation awaits those of us who support POL, we did receive a lovely certificate and recognition from Sarah Poe, our state coordinator who did a superb job organizing and hosting the event for the Idaho Arts Council.

My Shade of Gray: A Hairy Transformation #SOL16 Day 5

Thanks for joining me for the
#SOL16 Story Challenge, and
thank you, Stacey and the team
at Two Writing Teachers.
'Preciate you

After three years contemplating going natural, one year ago this month I said "I DO"--I do vow to let my hair go gray. I do promise to just say "NO" to the rainbow of hues my cosmetologist  since 1989 has been dabbing on my locks. 

My journey to gray began 35 years ago when I plucked the first silvery thread from my head during my first year teaching.  Symbolically I had crossed the threshold from adolescence to adulthood, from co-ed, to colleague. Game on, Gray! From the moment I slayed that first gray strand, I waged a war on gray. Not only would I not embrace the fifty shades of gray, but I would banish all gray tones from my pate. 

At first, plucking random strands that periodically peeked into my mirror worked to keep the gray at bay, but around 1990 I had to find a new strategy, one that led me to the bottle of dye and began my monthly liaison with Kaylene. Together we waged a hairy war, and soon I no longer knew the color of my own hair. "I thought you were a red-head when I met you," my husband said when I read the first draft of this post to him. 

When I made the final decision to go gray, Kaylene and I strategized and birthed a plan that made the transformation less obvious. I began the change last March. 
With my colleague and friend Debbie Greco at
my school, April 2015

At first, no one noticed, but when I returned to school after summer break, I saw the sideways glances of some of my colleagues. They thought I'd jumped the shark. My hair, last September, looked blonde--platinum blonde. "Did Glenda bleach her hair? Is she trying to look like a teenager?" The psst, psst, pssting persisted, but in time I found ways to tell people that I'm embracing my shade of gray. 

My sister Gaylene and me in our
younger, blonder years.
When I started growing gray, I worried that my hair would look mousey and dull. It was brown when I was a teen and young adult. It began growing and forming silvery highlights that blended with my faux color; I was shocked to see a color that resembled that of my toddler years. "What am I, five again? " I asked rhetorically in a FB status update picturing my new look. 

I also wondered if my friends would recognize me at NCTE last November; those fears proved in vain. 

Fortunately, my gray hair seems to be garnering approval from many students, and the timing for this change is right as gray is the color du jour right now. But the transition has not been easy. It has taken a year, and I still see traces of yellow from the last highlighting Kaylene applied to help transition the color from what it was to what it is. 

Friends at the Nerdy Party at NCTE 15: Dana Huff, me,
Jen Ansbach, Sarah Mullen-Gross
A few days ago a senior boy gave my hair the seal of approval when he said, "I like your gray hair better than the colors in those pictures on the wall. It suits you." What other approval do I need? 

Teenagers--especially ninth grade boys--often have a sense of honesty that leads them to say things such as "I don't really like your hair" when their female teachers appear with a new hair color or style. At these times I get a little snarky and say, "Well, it's a good thing I'm not participating in the beauty contest today." 

My hubby Ken and me at the Neon Museum in
Las Vegas, December, 2015.
A couple of days ago I complimented a student on her ombre blue curls. "Look, they match my glasses," I said. 

"You should color your hair blue," the young lady advised. 

"Actually, I've been thinking about pink and purple," I said. Seriously, I have a Pintrest board featuring a rainbow of shades of gray, from pink to purple to passion fruit. I like color in all its tints and tinctures. 

Bot for a quarter century I've denied my true hair color. I've hid behind a palate,  for now, I'm embracing my shade of gray. 

*Dedication: For Dana Huff whose lovely locks inspired me to be bold and brave and embrace going gray. Thanks, Dana! 

Friday, March 4, 2016

"Seal an Envelope and Seal a Friendship": Resurrecting the Lost Art of Writing Letters #SOL16 March 4, 2016

Thanks for joining me for the 2016 Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
TWO WRITING TEACHERS.  Check out more slices here. 
When did you last write a personal letter? When did you last receive a letter? I have not written a personal letter nor received one in a very long time. 

At one time letter writing occupied much of my life. 

In fifth grade I maintained a correspondence with my Uncle Dewey during his tour in Vietnam. Sadly, I did not have the foresight to save those letters, but I do have several he wrote to my grandmother and she to him. 

At other times during my adolescence, I had boyfriends with whom I corresponded. In college I wrote many letters, especially to my Aunt Linda in Minnesota. Sadly, I have none of these letters. 

Prior to my first marriage, my then boyfriend, later fiance and I corresponded frequently. It's fair to say we became friends and lovers through letters. After our divorce, I saved the letters and may one day revisit them. 

For years I wrote letters to friends and always composed a personal note in Christmas cards. 

My days of writing letters ceased in tandem with my marital problems. Now I rarely write letters.

Last week a lovely, gracious, poised student in Communication 1101 delivered her persuasive speech on our need to write letters. 

Melainee writes letters regularly and has been composing them her entire life. As she explained to her classmates: 

I love letters. Not the constant generic college promoting flyer, pamphlet, or package, seniors are currently being bombarded with, or the insurance bill you hand to your parent, but the priceless snail mail that has your name scripted on the front by an actual human and not a machine. I frequently send out letters. Writing them often fills my free time. I rarely have to struggle to access a card and pen with my box of assorted stationary in my room and my small traveling kit, which has accompanied me on many long road trips and plane rides. If you have ever sent me a letter, I can almost guarantee it’s preserved in my letter box. I keep every single one. I, like so many, find them priceless.

In her speech, Melainee acknowledged the role technology, especially texting and email, plays in our move from letter writing. These forms of conversation diminish our voices and deny us the joys of personal contact afforded from letters. 

Although immediate, a text fails to evidence the level of care and concern that comes from a handwritten note. To support her argument, Melainee turned to John Coleman of Harvard: 

Handwritten notes mean more because they cost more. Emails, tweets, texts, or Facebook messages are essentially costless. They’re easy to write and free to send, and you and I produce hundreds of them every day. These electronic communications are rarely notable. Handwritten notes are unusual. They take minutes (or hours) to draft, each word carefully chosen with no “undo” or “autocorrect” to fall back on. Drafting one involves selecting stationery, paying for stamps, and visiting a mailbox. They indicate investment, and that very costliness indicates value.

We invest in one another when we take time to write. To help her classmates envision themselves as letter writers, Melainee ended her speech by distributing cards and envelops to each student in the class. She reminded them of their desire to have close relationships, something she learned through surveying each student, and asked them to write: 

Think of someone that deserves a boost, and instead of giving them a text, give them some of your time. Give them a letter. Seal an envelope, and seal a friendship.
Cc image labeled for noncommercial reuse.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Teachers and Schools Students Deserve #SOL16 March 3, 2016

Thanks for joining me for the 2016 Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
TWO WRITING TEACHERS.  Check out more slices here. 
"I didn't deserve a teacher as good as you." That's the message in a text I received from a student in my dual credit Communication class the day after the trimester ended. 

The message touches, shocks, and enrages me. The subtext of such a text are some questions: "What kind of teachers do students deserve?" "What kinds of teachers do students perceive us to be?" "Why don't students see themselves as deserving of excellent teachers?"

Should we have one standard for some students and another standard for others? Should schools operate on a sliding scale that determines student and teacher placement in terms of excellence? Most troubling to me: What kind of teacher does my student think he deserves? 

I texted back: "Every student deserves hard-working, amazing teachers." 

That bears repeating: EVERY STUDENT DESERVES HARD-WORKING, AMAZING TEACHERS. Period. End of story. 

As it happens, my student's question came the day Kelley Williams-Bolar's story cycled back through my FB feed. Bolar is the Ohio mom jailed for sending her children to a neighboring school district and using her father's address as her family's. 

That Bolar's children did not have the option of attending a neighborhood school she, as a parent, judged as good as the one in her father's home district represents a national scourge. Bolar believes her arrest was racially motivated, and it's hard to argue with her given that poor, minority students disproportionately attend crumbling, resource challenged districts, and these districts have higher teacher turnover than their suburban counterparts given the dire working conditions. 

To his credit, Ohio Governor Kasich reduced Bolar's sentence, but poor students across our nation continue living their school days in SEPARATE and UNEQUAL school districts. They are most likely to have TFA poorly trained teachers, new teachers who struggle to live in poverty themselves. 

Dedicated teachers who have given their lives to serving poor students and working in blighted conditions rarely get the accolades and recognition they deserve. They, as their students, are treated as separate and unequal. I admire them and their commitment to teaching. 

When I began teaching, I set a standard for myself: To be the kind of teacher I'd like to have and that I'd want my children to have. That's what every student deserves. I often fail to teach to my own standard, but in 35 years teaching, I haven't forgotten my mandate to myself.

Every student deserves excellent school facilities. 
Every student deserves sufficient school supplies. 
Every student deserves teachers they want to text, "Thank you for being the good teacher I deserve." 


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I Lost My Class/My Class Lost Me #SOL16 March 2, 2016

Thanks for joining me for the 2016 Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
TWO WRITING TEACHERS.  Check out more slices here. 
Nicolette had nearly finished the satisfaction step for her persuasive speech "Why Students Need to Do More to Prioritize School" when flashing lights and the blaring intercom pierced her eloquent presentation: 



Yet, I could not deny the cacophony. On the last day of the trimester, the day I needed to listen to persuasive speeches for 75 minutes straight without interruption, we were having a FIRE DRILL!

Students moaned in harmony with my groaning "NOOOOOOOO!" Nicolette's eyes looked like frisbees. I could see the "What now?" question she did not speak.

"Finish presenting your speech to me on the way out," I commanded to Nicolette. "Everybody out front next to Mariani." I pointed in the general direction as students exited the classroom." Nicolette and I left last. 

Leaning toward her, I listened as Nicolette spoke about a school that would resemble a utopia if students did more to prioritize learning. As she finished her call to action, we exited the building and headed toward the front parking area so we could line up next to my colleague Gino Mariani. 

I held the clipboard with my name plate high above my head and looked around for the other 28 students in the class, noting that we had one absent student, Coach Mariani's son. Nicolette got in line--a line of one. 

"Where's my class?" I questioned, looking around, up and down the line of teachers and students. "Hey, Dian," I shouted to my principal. "I can't find my class." 

Gino laughed.

"Where's your kid," BTW I asked.

"He's not in your class?" Gino's smile turned to a line as he began texting to locate his son.

After a few minutes, I admitted the obvious: I HAD LOST MY CLASS, or MY CLASS HAD LOST ME.

The ALL CLEAR whistle blew as a throng of students approached with outstretched arms, "Where were you?" They buzzed about who led whom out the wrong door. We meandered back into the building as student after student explained that they had followed Christian or Jamal or Amia or Chase or...none of whom knew where they were supposed to go! 

As the last student entered the room, our athletic director approached me. Laughing, he said, "I see what you're up against with that class." Then he walked away. 

*The incident chronicled above actually happened Thursday, February 24, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Blind People Who Can See: On Personal and Political Blindness #SOl16 March 1, 2016

Thanks for joining me for the 2016 Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
TWO WRITING TEACHERS.  Check out more slices here. 
On this SUPER TUESDAY, a day of voting in many state primaries, the first day of blogging for those participating in the SLICE OF LIFE STORY CHALLENGE 2016, metaphorical and literal blindness clouds and clarifies my vision. 

Blindness permeates many of the texts my AP Literature and Composition students and I have read this year. But on a personal level, loss of sight is something I think about often. 

My father, as I've written elsewhere, lost his sight when I was in sixth grade. When I was in seventh grade, I walked with him to the polls for the 1972 presidential election and marked his ballot. Voting and the serious responsibility of casting my ballot has guided my obsession with presidential politics. 

In Blindness, Jose Saramago writes: "I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see." The novel tells the story of a world in which all, quite literally, go blind. "Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are." 

As social commentary, Blindness offers a poignant critique of both our refusal to see and our unwillingness to see the ugliness that pushes against us daily. Characters in the novel behave in unspeakable ways because they think they will not be seen. Yet one character does see. One character remains sighted. 

These days I see an electorate metaphorically blinded--blinded by hatred, blinded by a lack of historical knowledge, blinded by ignorance of their civic responsibility, blinded by many things that should not be blinding us if we are to function as responsible members of a democratic republic. As others, including David Denby, have spoken, I can't help but wander if our politics would look different if more people read, if more people knew the stories and lessons of literature. I think it's Denby who asks if someone like Trump could have risen to popularity if more people had read Huck Finn. Of course, we can't answer this hypothetical question because it lives in the world of the imagined. 

I'm a teacher who likes a certain level of decorum and respect both for myself and the students in my classroom. Indeed, I insist on it. Yet in a political world unhinged from any sense of propriety, I find it increasingly difficult to offer reasons for manners to my students. Even one of the most polite, mannerly young men recently told me that he "likes Trump." I told him I'm surprised because I see him as such a polite, gentlemanly man and see Trump as offensive to women. 

"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals." Donald Trump acts like an animal and prides himself on his buffoonery. 

We often talk about the difficulty of quantifying the value of books, but Saramago offers us an undeniable qualifiable benefit of literature when he writes: 

If, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on appointing themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much talked of immortality.

I frequently laugh at and share political jokes, and admit that those that target Donald Trump are my favorites these days. Still, we as voters must take a serious, judging glance at this wannabe duke and consider the consequence to our country for this IS the moral question of our time. This IS the possible immortality. 
*I rarely write about politics directly unrelated to to education. I'm inspired by the connections to literature Robin Bates makes daily on his superb blog "Better Living Through Beowulf."