Tuesday, April 11, 2017

13 Ways of Watching "Thirteen Reasons Why" on Netflix #SOL17

I binge-watched Netflix's adaption of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why this past weekend. Monday, I asked students who had viewed the series their opinions. Their perspectives differed considerably from my own. What they saw as an accurate portrayal of teen life, I perceived as a flat, one-dimensional depiction of educators and teens, whom I know don't get stoned en masse every weekend. 

I've taught students who committed suicide and have written in this space about their tragic deaths. I've heard the grief of their parents and the sorrow of their peers. Suicide baffles me, and I know schools, despite all our best efforts, can and should do more to address the mental health needs of students. Yet I refuse to believe educators bear the lion's share of responsibility for the values of students; nor do I accept the portrayal of educators as seemingly omniscient beings who gaze into the private lives of teens during the summer and on weekends. 

We simply aren't privy to every communication via text, note, phone call, or personal encounter our students have with one another. Nor are we prone to ignore drinking during school hours or graffiti on the bathroom stalls. 

The above is the subtext of Netflix's adaptation of Asher's 2007 YA novel, and it's why I wrote what follows, with apologies to Wallace Stevens. Poetry is not my strong suit. 

"13 Ways of Watching 'Thirteen Reasons Why' on Netflix"

On a windy weekend,
The most anticipated show
Was a YA adapted television program.

I was on the couch
Like a mother
With three frames of mind.

The drama unfurled in fragmented strips.
It was a segmented flashback of past and present events.

A teen girl and boy
Are one.
A boy and a girl and a suicide
Are one storyline.

I do not know whom to believe,
The hubris of self-interest
Or the fragments of gossip and teen angst,
The victim whispering
Or moments before.

Blood seeped through glassy water
Which shredded innocence.
The memory of the girl
Pierced it, above and below.
The tone
Scribbled on the witnesses
An unspeakable blame.

Of incompetent educators,
Why do you ignore the sirens?
Do you not hear how the teen
Paces through the halls
Among the students around you?

I hear the righteous echoes
And the lurid, incomprehensible beats;
And I comprehend, too,
That the teen is culpable
In what we know.

When the teen sank into oblivion
She tainted the rim
Of youth's innocence.

At the sight of teens
Soaring in substance-induced stupors,
Even the shrills of cacophony
Could hum calmly on the screen.

She spoke from Sony
Over a magnetic strip.
Once, loneliness taunted her,
In this we viewers comprehended
The trace of her desire
For revenge.

The grave is sinking.
The teen must find rest.

It was oblivion each daybreak.
It was haunting
And it was 
The teen who spoke
Through the limits of time.

Stories about multitudes of people never offer one story arc, one plot thread, one point of view. They deserve and demand a multi-dimensional treatment absent from Netflix's adaptation. Perhaps this is why Asher tells readers, "You don't know what goes on in anyone's life but your own." Even then, I question each of our ability to be fully self-aware.
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hitting Pause and Hitting the Road #SOL17 Day 16 #EF

Coastal view of Cinque Terre on the eastern Mediterranean.
Image via Google search, labeled for noncommercial reuse.
When I began this hike through the Slice of Life Story Challenge, I knew I'd face the added challenge of posting daily during spring break since I'll be tripping around Europe for eleven days. 

The SOLSC corresponds to spring break, and I travel during spring break. 

Last year my husband and I went to Hawaii for nine days. Still, I managed to post every day, often getting up early and staying up late to compose lines about the beauty of Hawaii. 

Two years ago I traveled to London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, with side trips to Bath, Stonehenge, Versailles, and Vatican City. I continued blogging during the 13 day trip but did miss a couple of days because of time changes and no internet availability. 

Some of my personal favorite posts have been inspired by summer road trips. I like sharing my awe-inspiring travel experiences. 

This year, however, I've decided to hit pause and eschew blogging during my travels. I don't want to miss a moment of the beauty of Europe I'll be sharing with my husband, friends, colleagues, and students, as well as the new friends I'll make during this year's travels to 

  • Milan
  • Cinque Terra
  • Monte Carlo
  • Barcelona and 
  • Madrid
We'll have side trips to some other places, too, including a day trip to Toledo, which is an hour from Madrid. 

Simply, I can't be present in two places at one time, so I'm choosing to be in the moment with my beloved man, my best friend, my soulmate, and the others sharing our journey for the next eleven days. 

To be there, I can't be here, so I'm hitting pause and hitting the road. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.
*I'll be back March 27. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Exclamation Points in My Teaching Day #SOL17 Day 15

I shared the NYT obituary for Amy Krause Rosenthal with students in my general speech classes Wednesday. These students are currently preparing eulogies of teaches, a project I wrote about last spring, and AKR's death offered a sad but timely teaching moment.

After, I read Exclamation Mark! to the classes. I purchased the book because it's about a punctuation mark, and I thought it would offer a fun way to teach students about their unique ways of standing out from others as well as provide a fun lesson on the importance of punctuation. 

Certainly, Amy lived life with the full vitality of many exclamation marks. 

My day was punctuated by lots of exclamation points, mainly from the rush to get things done before leaving on spring break. 

For teachers, however, the real excitement, the professional exclamation points, arrive as students. Today offered many stand out moments. Here are a few:

  • My Communication 1101 students delivered the best first day of speeches ever. I heard informative speeches about 
    • the history of makeup
    • eyebrow abrasion
    • cockroaches
    • Toni Morrison
    • CTE: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
    • Buddy Holly
    • Celiac disease and 
    • Trombones (technically delivered Monday)
  • My AP Literature and Composition students peer evaluated their As I Lay Dying and Song of Solomon essays using the "Way to Go/Way to Grow" strategy I taught earlier this year. I eavesdropped on their conversations and am amazed at their perception and honesty in critiquing one another, as well as their reflections on their own writing as they read their papers to their groups. 
  • I ate dinner at school with some colleagues and administrators who all stayed late to assist incoming freshman with registration for the 2017-2018 school year. During our time with next year's ninth graders, I met some lovely young people and their parents and enjoyed the company of some of my colleagues. 
In teaching, we find lots of little ways each moment and each student stands out from the rest. 

Breanna and Abby arrived prepared to deliver
their speeches wearing matching skirts.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

And I Saw Guernica #SOL17 Day 14

Pablo Picasso. Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina SofĂ­a collection, Madrid

During my recent trip to Madrid, Spain, I visited the Reina Sophia Museum where Pablo Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica" is on permanent display. Getting to see "Guernica" fulfilled a longtime dream of mine and without question was the most moving art-viewing experience of my lifetime. 

Picasso painted "Guernica" after the Basque town Guernica was bombed by German Nazis and Italian fascists at the request of Franco during the Spanish Civil War on April 26, 1937. The morning after the bombing, Picasso saw a newspaper report of the atrocities and sought a way to paint a memory that would become engrained in the collective consciousness and remain there long after we see the painting. 

When I showed an image of "Guernica" to my students, they first noticed that animals and humans all "scream" from the painting. Next, they mentioned the twisted and impaled bodies. One student mentioned decapitated bodies and heads without bodies. We talked about the "hash" marks and various meanings. Perhaps they are graves. Perhaps they are news reports. Perhaps they represent a tally of the dead. 

I included "Guernica" as part of a "Poetry and Art in Conversation" unit and introduced the unit with the painting, to which I'll add T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." Both works resonate as powerful modernist works that articulate the fragmentation of war and critique its value. 

"Guernica" is a large painting, and its size contributes to the emotional experience of seeing it. I also find it fascinating that the Reina Sophia Museum was once a hospital. It's corridors are arched, giving it a cathedral-like quality that invites reverence from visitors.
The "Guernica" gallery at the Reina Sophia. Google image
labeled for noncommercial reuse. 
As with many museums, Reina Sophia does not allow photography, so I found an image online for this post. It does not begin to do justice to Picasso's masterpiece. First, the color is off. "Guernica" has a grayish-blue hue to it, and a photo does not reveal the many hidden images Picasso sketched into the painting. 

As I began sharing my experience of seeing "Guernica" with my students, I felt myself overcome with emotion. "Guernica" is now a part of me, and is as embedded in my memory as strongly as Eliot's words at the end of "The Hollow Men":

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"I Contain Multitudes" #SOL17 Day 13

I contain multitudes.
I am a teacher.
         ----Glenda Funk

Recently, I copied and pasted one of those Facebook posts penned by an anonymous author. This one resonated with me because it spoke to the ways people live complicated lives. 

The post began 

For all of you who aren't sure, it is possible to be...

From there, the writer lists the binaries inherent in each person and concludes

We are all walking contradictions of what 'normal' looks like. Let humanity love and win.

Walt Whitman has something to say about this idea that we are walking, talking contradictions in "Song of Myself," from Leaves of Grass

Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As much as it is a celebration of the spirit of individualism, "Song of Myself" also offers tribute to the multitudes that live and dwell and work and play in the United States of America. 

It is possible to be an individual, and it is possible to be part of e pluribus unum. We are literally "from many one." That idea embodies the American paradox, that seemingly self-contradictory ideal that expresses an essential truth about our nation. 

I find it fitting that Whitman chooses to add the lines about being a contradiction toward the end of "Song of Myself." They are in section 51 of 52!

To find ourselves, our national identity, we need only look to Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. 

We should not lose sight of Whitman's words. We are all, regardless of party affiliation, religion, racial identity, gender, occupation, or other, part of the grass, the fiber of America if we call this place home. 

And Whitman admonishes us to lift our voices as the embodiment of contradictions, the containers of multiples:

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. 

That's because 

I contain multitudes.
I am a teacher.

And each time I lift my voice, I speak as myself and the totality of my experiences with each student I've known. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Color Your World with Writing Slices #SOL17 Day 12

“Did you ever want to be a writer?” “No,” she said, and she would have told him. “I only wanted to be a reader.” Ann Patchett, Commonwealth.
After seeing the Libra Bray meme featuring slices of oranges posted on today's TWT blog call for Day 12, my mouth tingled and I thought about slices, a variety of delectable slices of writing that feed my soul when I'm tired, exhaustion born from Saturday's marathon of writing and editing. 

Having a slice of time stolen by a return to Daylight Saving Time, I decided I'd simply slice slices and feature them this Sunday. 

When I write, I see lemons. 
Sometimes when others read my writing, they taste lemonade.

I have a list of "50 Blog Post Ideas" for when the cacophony of thoughts 
clanging in my head, begging for a slice, go silent and abandon me for neglecting them.

A blog post, by its very nature, embodies green. It's an idea quickly penned, 
often the first thought that enters my mind as I open this platform, 
as when I hurry to dress after hitting snooze three times too often.

How often do I eat a pomegranate? Rarely. Yet when I do, I wonder why 
I don't more often. For me, writing is like that. I
 don't write often enough and wonder why when 
I write something that works.

When I dig into an idea, inspired by markings notched in my mind, 
occasionally a splatter of genius gobsmacks me and the words work magic.

I'll never understand how one idea can take on many hues. 
Words do it, too.

Kiwi writing is my specialty. 
Thoughts full of fuzz await peeling. 

I'm hunched over ideas, picking them from the black keys touching my fingers. 
These ideas remind me of the migrant workers I knew in Arizona.
Their hands bent toward the fruit in a permanent arc, the pain of which
refuses to ease its hold. I feel that way when pecking at these keys I ask to yield the fruit of words.

If you plan words, they might yield Honey Crisp apples. 
Ask Johnny Appleseed.

Some ideas can't be sweetened with fluff. 

I prefer tomatoes to ketchup the way 
I prefer the classics to popular romance. 

Sometimes all the right words gather in a line, 
and I can't resist sampling every one.
The way words connect to form a whole 
reminds me of the ways slices form a community of writers. 

*This month I've struggled with what often feels like the "duty" of writing. I have not felt contentment or satisfaction from my participation in the #SOL Story Challenge. I've thought daily about quitting and have had to push myself to remember that writing is in no small way a solitary, self-indulgent enterprise. I don't know if anyone will read this post, but I do know writing it was for me cathartic after a day of obligatory writing born from professional responsibility. That alone makes this a fruitful slicing moment. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team 
for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why am I Spending Saturday Editing a Newsletter? #SOL17 Day 11 #DKG

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team 
for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Have you ever noticed that when a writing task is involved in an organization or activity and an English teacher happens to be a member or participant, others in the organization naturally think the English teacher is the ideal candidate to take on the secretarial duties?

That's how almost two years ago I found myself agreeing to edit the Alph Nus, Idaho's newsletter for the state affiliate of Delta Kappa Gamma International Society of Women Educators. The previous editor had been in the position for a long time, so I reluctantly agreed to take on the editing duties.

Editing the newsletter means I take articles and photos from state chapters and compile them into a newsletter four times a calendar year.

I am never ahead and always barely meeting the deadline.

For this third installment I'm behind. I should have finished the newsletter in February.

Things got off to a rocky start with the first issue in September 2015. My first newsletter received harsh criticism from the members, most of whom are retired teachers. I am not retired, and to face the editing each quarter takes a herculean amount of energy on my part. I have not recovered from that initial response, although my DKG sisters have been kind and gracious ever since that first failure.

Did I mention I had to teach myself to compile and edit the newsletter?

First, I had to decide on a platform, so I purchased a program in the Apple app store. Publisher Plus had a slight learning curve, and I still don't know all the features. The program automatically saves, and I've played with formatting and layout. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and learned rules of layout that I apply to the newsletter layout. That knowledge has helped immensely as I think about "trapped white space" and columns and font styles while I work on the layout.

My husband hates the newsletter. He also still remembers that first foray into this task.

I have one more issue after I complete the one I'm currently working on. Then my two-yer term will end. A few days ago I received an email from the state president inquiring as to whether or not I'm throwing my hat into consideration for another term as newsletter editor. I'm thinking "no." But I have not yet submitted my resignation. Should I wish to retain my job as editor, I'll have to reapply and submit letters of recommendation. Seriously!

A view of my desktop as I work on the current
issue of Alpha Nus

Friday, March 10, 2017

Phenomenal Women, Title IX, and the American Cheerleader #SOL17 Day 10

Without question, the cheer squad where I teach numbers among the best athletes in the school, and the best scholars, too. They showcased their strength and commitment to perfection last night in their Superstar Showcase. 

Four of the girls are in my Communication 1101 class. This class is among the most challenging we offer at Highland, and today the girls had to come to class prepared to discuss their informative speech outlines during conferencing and peer evaluation. Many cheerleaders cycle through this class. In fact, they are better represented in Comm 1101 than any other sport or activity.

That is, these girls do not avoid the most rigorous classes, which is important to note because the school where I teach has an ingrained reputation as a "sports" school. Yet our female teams consistently earn academic honors at both the state and district level. 

The Highland squad has earned the top honors at the state competition six years running and will be competing next weekend at the state competition. 

I'm reminded of lines from Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" when I watch these girls. 

It’s in the reach of my arms, 
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman 
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me. 

I think about discipline, respect, and scholarship when they are in my classes. 

Thinking about this post, I wandered about how Title IX has impacted cheerleading. Certainly, the athleticism of today's cheerleader bears no resemblance to the cheerleaders of my high school days. I found an article that poses the question "Is Competitive Cheer a Sport." The article discusses a December court case that argues it does and considers the implications of defining cheer as sport. 

In reading the article, I thought about the ways saying cheer is not a sport marginalizes young women. It reminds me of all the other political arguments against giving women equal "fill in the blank." 

These girls are good. Really good. I'm here to give a shout-out to them. 

And another cheer for the girls: 

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Baked: See the Box? #SOL17 Day 9

Still Life with Brownie Mix:
Original iPhone Photography

If you were to observe my baking skills these days, you'd find it difficult to believe I once decorated cakes for my children and other family members' birthdays. Some folks thought I had some mad skills and occasionally asked me to decorate their wedding cakes, a request I never accepted. I've always known my limited culinary skills can only fool some of the people some of the time. Perhaps I acquired this knowledge at age 10 when I jumped on my bicycle--after shoving a cake in the oven--and peddled away.

Still, I rarely have difficulty following the directions on the brownie box. Today, however, I misread the instructions and added three times more water and oil to the mix than I should have. Instead of panicking, I snacked on the runny batter and called my husband, who was on a errand to Costco to pick up a rotisserie chicken, and asked him to grab two more boxes of brownie mix. 

I specifically requested Ken purchase the "Triple Fudge," but our local store didn't have that flavor, so Ken brought home dark chocolate. The oil requirement differed between the two mixes, so I guesstimated how much more to add. I've never been one to adhere too closely to a recipe. 

I now have a huge pan of gooey brownies sitting on my counter. 

In an ironic twist of fate, as I write this post the show "How It's Made" is playing in the background, and the episode features the manufacture and packaging of School Safe Brownies! 

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoringthis month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Speaking of Getting to Know Students #SOL17 Day 8

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring
this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.
Students in speech often tell me they struggle to find topics for their speeches. Many ask me to choose a topic for them, something I'm not comfortable doing because when something goes sideways, as it often does, the student doesn't want to take responsibility for the speech. Also, students tend to avoid buy-in when I assign topics. 

Over the years, I've devised a number of ways for students to introduce themselves to their classmates and to me. This helps me learn how to advise students in their speech topic selection. Here are some of the introductory speeches I have assigned: 

  • Philosophy Quote: Pick a quote from a philosopher and tell why it interests you (the student).
  • Paper Bag Speech: Put three school-appropriate items that represent you in a paper bag and present each to your classmates, telling how each is significant to your life.
  • Name Tags: Create a name tag using letters, symbols, phrases, etc. on a 6"x8" note card. Present the name tag to the class and tell why you decorated it as you did. 
  • Personal Pie-Chart: Create a pie chart showing your division of interests, hobbies, how you spend time, what's important to you and present it to the class, explaining your choices. 
  • Twitter Bio: I wrote about this one last week, and you can find the post here. 
  • "Where I'm From" Poems: Following George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" poem pattern, write a "Where I'm From" poem and read it to the class. Here's a template for students who struggle to use; however, the template does feel contrived to some students. 
  • You Don't Know Me: This idea is modeled from David Klass. The student begins with "You don't know me" and proceeds to tell the class things about him/herself we don't know. Here's the original passage: 

You don't know me at all.
You don't know the first thing about me. You don't know where I'm writing this from. You don't know what I look like. You have no power over me.
What do you think I look like? Skinny? Freckles? Wire-rimmed glasses over brown eyes? No, I don't think so. Better look again. Deeper. It's like a kaleidoscope, isn't it? One minute I'm short, the next minute tall, one minute I'm geeky, one minute studly, my shape constantly changes, and the only thing that stays constant is my brown eyes. Watching you. 

Tuesday students presented their "Where I'm From" poems and I learned many fascinating things about them. 

But it's what happened in one of the classes that amazes me most. T., whom I wrote about a few days ago in my "Single: Ready to Mingle" post, still wasn't ready to present his speech. Remember, T is shy, but Tuesday he had plans to demonstrate a "move" at the end of the period. I've learned that this is a distractor T uses. 

Determined to get T to present his speech, after all the other students presented I quickly devised a plan. I asked the class to "mingle" around the room and do two things: 

1. Share their favorite lines from their poems with one another. 
2. Talk to T and ask him where he's from and something he likes. 

The kids are amazing, and all eagerly mingled among their classmates and talked to T. 

After the students finished, I asked T to stand. He did. In turn, students shared something they learned about T, followed by me asking T to tell me. One student shared, "T likes Snickers." T then told me, "I'm from Snickers." Occasionally, T elaborated on something he shared with a classmate, and in this way T delivered his "Where I'm From" speech standing beside his desk. 

Those who read the earlier post and who are reading about T's progress may have deduced that T is mainstreamed and has some challenges to learning in a traditional environment. 

T and his classmates have already moved to a special place in my heart and in my collective memory of important teaching moments. 

I am from T. I am from my students. I am from the love and compassion they show one another. I am from a public school that welcomes every student regardless of where each one of them is from. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Put the Toilet Seat Down--A Rant #SOL17 Day 7

After the 2015 restroom remodel of my wing in our building, the faculty facilities became co-ed. The reason for this is fairly obvious to the female faculty: There are more women than men, so to keep a line from forming, we share two single restrooms.  

Most of the time, this arrangement works out fairly well; however, not all the men practice good toilet seat etiquette. Not all the men put the seat down after tinkling. That's a problem. 

Simply, it may be true that "everybody poops," but it's also true that common curtesy necessitates the lowering of the seat, much as one would expect to have a drawbridge lowered before crossing a moat. 

For women, an upraised seat creates a hazardous crossing. We are confronted with equally objectionable options: leave the seat up and risk a splash or touch the seat to lower it. The first option is no option. The second one is gross, which is why we girls use our foot to push the seat down or first get a paper towel in hand and use it as a hazmat barrier between our hand and the offending seat. 

Monday was made more of a Monday when I entered one of the restrooms after an inconsiderate, etiquette challenged male colleague exited the facility and left the seat in its raised position. Nasty. 

This particular colleague, whom I'm tempted to name  but won't, is a repeat offender of the leaving the toilet seat raised offense. He's old and single. I can say this because I'm older and because I have addressed this problem with him in the past in the form of a meme. 

Since I'm not one to patiently await a middle-aged man's toilet seat etiquette learning curve, I sent an email to the offender after Monday's incident, reminding him that it's courteous to lower the seat after doing one's business, and I ccd the email to our principal. 

It may be true that 
but if you're a female dealing with an upraised lid, you have to contend with a lot more crap than that! 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Art Talk: A Discussion of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" #APLitChat #SOL17 Day 6

"Nighthawks" (1942) by Edward Hopper via Wiki Images 
Each Sunday evening a group of AP Literature and Compositions gather on Twitter to discuss texts and ideas that bring us together as  a community of teachers preparing students for the annual AP Literature and Composition exam. 

Sunday's chat featured a "reading" of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" and is one of the most fruitful chats I've attended. Susan Barber (@susanclaireb) led the discussion, but Brian Sztabnik (@TalksWithTeachers) founded #APLitChat. 

Each chat begins with a Warm Up (WU) question; this week's WU inquired about our favorite piece of art or artist. I mentioned Picasso's "Guernica," which I will be writing about later this month. And since Brian mentioned his love of Salvador Dali, I shared a photo of Dali's Girl in a Window," which I saw at the Museo Reina Sophia during my recent trip to Madrid. 
"Figure at a Window" by Salvador Dali (1925)
Original photo of the painting.
Once the discussion commenced in earnest, we chatted about perspective (point of view), technique (angles, lines, movement), tone, and theme in Hopper's painting. 

For me the highlights of #APLitChat include learning my colleagues' thoughts about a text and seeing if their ideas harmonize with my own. Hopper's painting suggests isolation and loneliness in the midst of occupying space with others. 

Other than reading a text prior to discussion, I don't study up for #APLitChat. I often join the chat with no idea of the topic, and I've never used Hopper's painting in class. The chat Sunday reminded me that I need to infuse more art into my AP Lit and Comp class. 

However, I did note the absence of traditional plot and narrative structure in the painting after Susan asked where the "event" would appear on a plot line. Additionally, we discussed other texts with which we'd pair the painting. I thought of "All the Lonely People" by America, and someone mentioned "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Salinger are among the authors whose works my fellow AP Lit and Comp colleagues would pair with the Hopper painting. 

Finally, some folks shared some amazing resources, which I have saved in my Diigo account for later use. I gleaned a lesson plan on Hopper's painting, a couple of articles about visual literacy and using art to teach critical thinking. 

The chat spawned a lot of thought, including ideas about additional poetry I could use with "Nighthawks" and ways I can modify a poetry unit into the senior project my students most complete, and after the chat I found a good Kahn Academy video about the painting that would be a nice conclusion to a class discussion. 

Hopper paints an image of isolation in modern America, but through PD on Twitter and #APLitChat, teaching feels a lot less lonely and a lot more congenial.

Further Thoughts on "Nighthawks"

"Nighthawks" is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, which offers the following commentary on it: 

Edward Hopper said that Nighthawks was inspired by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet,” but the image—with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative—has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. One of the best-known images of twentieth-century art, the painting depicts an all-night diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated. Hopper’s understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes gives the painting its beauty. Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another. (The red-haired woman was actually modeled by the artist’s wife, Jo.) Hopper denied that he purposefully infused this or any other of his paintings with symbols of human isolation and urban emptiness, but he acknowledged that in Nighthawks “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

Sunday, March 5, 2017

When Tech Doesn't Tick and Deadlines Loom Large #SOL17 Day 5

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge. 
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life. 

Imagine an apocalyptic scenario in which just about everything that can go wrong with technology in a teacher's life does go wrong, and you'll have a pretty good notion about the kind of week I had the first week of our third trimester. 


I began working on the requisite recommendation for a student applying for the Presidential Scholars Program. It's an extensive application process, and I soon realized that my part--with a deadline Tuesday, 5:00 p.m. EST--necessitated uploading information I could procure only from administration: a school profile, etc. I texted Jena, my go-to girl (boss) for all my last-minute needs. 

I continued working on the reference, which one submits on a platform that does not allow saving information. Fortunately, I'd already written a letter for Emma, the student, so I had some work done. I saved responses in a Google doc until I had the information from Jena, which would be finalized on Tuesday. 


I took my laptop, a MacBook Pro, to school so I could keep the Presidential Scholars site open as I compiled and uploaded the information. I had to upload the school profile, Emma's transcript, and her AP scores--all official documents. 

I had Emma read through my responses and make a list of additional information I needed to add. That's when I learned Emma is a National Merit Finalist. I had no clue. Emma is humble and doesn't like bragging about herself. It took some stern coaxing to get her to agree to divulge information. 

Finished, I hit SEND. 

The site returned me to the transcript upload and in blaring red letters proclaimed: THIS IS A REQUIRED FIELD. 

Undeterred, I hit SEND again. And again. And again. I tried uploading the file in a new format. Still nothing. 

I tried calling the number given for assistance. No answer. Instead, a directive to email. I emailed and soon received a reply indicating the site was experiencing technical difficulties, and the deadline had been extended until the March 1.

The battery on my laptop was nearing the red line mark, and I had not brought the power cord with me. I sent a student to the basement to find a cord, which she did. 

By this time I had long ago reached panic mode. 

Since I had made significant changes to my responses in the required field boxes, I commenced putting all the information into a Google doc for saving. Remember, the site has no save option. 

I informed Emma of the problem. 


Once again I hauled my laptop to school, but this time I took the power cord. I arrived early so I could have my deja vu moment. I tried logging onto the network. Nothing. I turned on the desktop to check the internet. Nothing. 

I called the district help desk and learned they were having tech problems. This has been a common theme for the year, and I have had to call many times for numerous reasons. I was not humored by this latest issue. While on the phone, the internet started working. I begged the tech to leave everything alone until I finished the Presidential Scholars reference. I requested that the tech department get the internet working to the standard of a third-world country. Then I hung up. 

I finished uploading and submitting responses and hit SEND. Once again, the site booted me back to the transcript upload with the vivid message: THIS IS A REQUIRED FIELD. 

I felt tears begin welling in my eyes as I reached for my phone to call the site helpline. Lisa answered. 

Lisa is an angel sent from a divine being who showered grace on me at a time I needed it most. I explained my issue and the district tech debacle. Lisa explained that I needed to wait until the upload windows indicated that the uploads were complete. They had never shown that message but had constantly shown an uploading 100% window. 

A couple hours later, I was back on the phone with Lisa as the upload had not yet completed. 

I decided to refresh the window to see what would happen. That caused me to lose all the uploaded information and also realize the internet wasn't working on my laptop. I set Emma to working on reloading the information, and I finished it during lunch. 

At that point I was able to finish the upload. I called Lisa to inform her my reference was complete. I left a voicemail, and she called back a while later to ensure Emma had also been able to complete her 21 page application. 


Yes, there's more. 

I arrived at school and had planned to work on grades. I'm determined not to get behind this trimester, and I needed to finish setting up my grade book and record some grades. Almost immediately, Chrome crashed. I restarted the grading program. Chrome crashed. I restarted the program. Chrome crashed. 

I decided to try another browser. I opened the grading program. Firefox crashed. This happened a couple more times before I decided to do something else. 

I did not call the tech department. They have heard from me often, and I'm tired of talking to them as rather than deal with the problem, they always want to treat it as though I did something wrong or haven't done something I should have. None of the problems this year have originated with me. I've discussed this with our district building tech, who is always helpful and accommodating. 


At such times of frustration wrought by technology, I think of this poem by Richard Brautigan: 

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky. 

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms. 

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Basal POTUS: See Donny Read #SOL17 Day 4

See Donny.
See Donny read.
See Donny look at the teleprompter.
Watch Donny read the words on the teleprompter.

See the GOP
Watch the GOP clap and stand
When Donny reads the words on the teleprompter.

Read, Donny, read!

Only read the words on the teleprompter!

Oh, NO!
Donny added some words.
No, Donny, no!

Talking Heads
See the talking heads.
The talking heads say, "WOW!
Donny can read the words on the teleprompter.
How presidential!"

The Base
See Donny's base.
Donny says, "It's time to unite for the good of our country."
The base says, "Donny is everybody's president. Unite!"
"Listen! Donny says, 
"Only I will make America great again."

The Resistance
See the Resistance.
"Run," say the resistors!
"Run from Donny's environmental destruction!"
"Run from Donny's 'bad hombre' racist policies!
"Run from Donny's Putin bromance!"
"Run from Donny's climate change denial."

See the resistance run and march!
See the resistance protest!
The resistance will keep America great!

Note: As I listened to POTUS's speech Tuesday evening, I knew President Trump was reading. The words from his mouth contradicted his every utterance during the campaign, contradicted his actions as president. I found myself appalled by the reaction to the speech, both by political commentators and the Republicans in Congress and his supporters, many of whom praised it and its deliverer as "presidential."  

The use of Ryan Owen's widow as a prop justifying a failed mission resulting in the death of a Navy seal, the loss of civilian life, and the destruction of an expensive aircraft for no justifiable reason troubles me. 

I've long viewed Donald Trump as an affront to civility and decency, and his reductive, simplistic thinking--in large part resulting from his disdain for books--fits with the sight word redundancy of the white-washed Dick and Jane books from the early to mid-twentieth Century. 

The ability to read words another has written on a teleprompter and expect the public to embrace those words as though the past is not prologue belies a special kind of tone deafness. 

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoringthis month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.