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.