My Patrick Henry and My Student Teacher

27 12 2010

This is something I wanted to post a long time ago, but it was a busy fall, so I’m just getting around to it now.

I had my first student teacher this year.  He was PHENOMENAL.  Get this: he takes students to developing nations and they do all kind of agricultural and water-related projects.  I loved this kid.  It WAS like having my son teaching with me!  I’m going to call him Steve.

One of the assignments I gave to Steve was to do a lesson on The Stamp Act.  Exciting, I know.  Steve was stymied.  He said, “How should I do this?”  I told him the way I do it is to do some sort of a role play.  The one he came up with was brilliant.   He came into the classroom and said, “Maestra!  OMG!  You have to SEE this!”  He then gave me a “memo” for the kids.  I read it out loud:

Effective immediately:  All students must buy and affix a school logo stamp to EACH and EVERY article of clothing, including shoes.  Stamps cost 25 cents each and can be purchased from any principal’s office.  Once the stamps are affixed, they are permanent.  If students are caught without the stamp, they will receive, first, a warning, second, a fine, third, school on Saturdays.  Signed, the Principal

The reaction was immediate and furious.  The kids went NUTS.  “NOT FAIR!!!”  “I have to call my mom!”  “Mom?  No way!  I’m calling the PTO!”  “Maestra, can we use the phone???”

At this point, the phone rang.  (Happy coincidence.)  I answered, and it was the nurse, but I faked like it was the principal.  When I hung up, I looked at the kids and said, “That was the principal.  I don’t know how he is doing this, but he says he can hear us and if we don’t stop talking about this, he’s going to give us all detention for a week!”

Tiffany stood up on her chair and said, “I DON’T CARE IF HE GIVES US DETENTION FOR A YEAR!  THIS ISN’T FAIR!  WE ARE NOT DOING IT!”

I looked at Steve and said, “There’s my Patrick Henry.”

We had the kids calm down a bit and together we wrote a response letter to the principal about why this “stamp act” was a bad idea.  Then, we asked each of the kids to come up one at a time and sign it.  One boy held up his hands and begged off.  “I don’t want to sign.  I don’t want any trouble with anybody.”

I said to Steve, “And there’s our Loyalist.”

The conversation that we had was wonderful and informative.  We finally told the kids that the whole thing was a set-up to teach them about The Stamp Act.  Tiffany looked at me and said, “You PUNKED us, Maestra?”

No, Patrick.  I would never punk you.


What Have We Learned?

26 12 2010

I like to check in with my students often about what they are learning.  Sometimes I give them a “ticket out” of the classroom and they have to list three things they’ve learned before they can leave.  Here are some things they listed before they left the classroom before break:

Yo he aprendido muchas cosas de estudios sociales, como el viaje de Lewis y Clark, matematicas, como la multiplicacion con un reticulado y de ciencias, como echar un huevo del tercer piso sin romperlo!  (I’ve learned a lot of things from social studies like Lewis and Clark’s trip, math, like multiplying with a matrix and science like throwing an egg from the third story without breaking it!)

I learned that eggs can be suicidal and you should use packing peanuts to save them.

I have learned that if you drop a pencil sharpener on the floor, Ms. Maestra will take it away for the day.

Yo aprendi que no traer las tareas te puede costar.  Vas a tener un cero y tienes que pagarle a la maestra.  (I learned that not bringing your homework can cost you.  You will have a zero and you’ll have to pay the teacher.)

I learned to be a good scientist and I learned that Ms. Maestra rocks and sings!

I am learning how to be a lawyer.  I’m also learning about decimals.

So far this year, I learned that when someone asks you how are you, you say, “I’m well,” not “Good.”

I learned how to round, add and subtract decimals.

What I learned is that I should start bringing in my homework.

What I learned this year from math is long division.  I never thought I could do that.

I learned the difference between ser and estar.

I learned how to spell the word beautiful.

Yo e aprendido como desir puedo ir al bano con mis manos.  (I learned how to say May I go to the bathroom in sign language.)

What I learned this year so far is that if you don’t do your homework you get a automatic zero.  Then you get sent to Ms. X’s class and you still have to do it. 

If you find one of our vocabulary words in your reading and you show it to Ms. Maestra, whe’ll give you $5 in classroom dollars.

Yo aprendi a tener mas amigos.  (I learned how to make more friends.)

Yo he aprendido que tengo que hacer mucha tarea.  (I have learned that I have to do a lot of homework.)

I have learned that if someone hits me it is up to me to control my anger.

ADK: Dix! We are Twenty-oners!!!

5 06 2010

Or: “Your name wouldn’t happen to be DIX, would it?”

Dix Mountain: 4857′, Difficulty: 5 (out of 7), 13.2 miles, 10 hours.  This COULD have been a day hike, however…We’ve had our sights on packing in and camping in order to do a peak for a while now.  We’ve done car camping, but we’ve never packed in.  It has always seemed like such a big deal.  You need so much equipment (and it’s so expensive) and you need to be strong enough to carry it and you have to worry about whether or not you’ll get a lean-to and blah, blah, blah.  We were sort of chicken.  We were also worried about parking at the trailhead since it was Memorial Day Weekend and FINALLY, we were nervous about the black flies.

However, talking with our friend John helped.  He assured us we could do it.  And between him and his daughter (and my running partner), we were able to get together the equipment we needed.  We bought a tent and a pad, but everything else, we already had or we borrowed.  The kids are old enough now to carry a substantial amount (Oldest daughter carried about 31 pounds, our son had 28 and our youngest had 12.)  I carried 35 pounds, my husband carried 40.  It was a hot and humid day, but we were able to pack in 4 miles in 3 hours to the Boquet River lean-to with no problem.

As I mentioned, we packed in on the Saturday of Memorial Day—not only did we have no problem parking at the trail head, we couldn’t believe our luck when we got to the lean-to and found it recently vacated!  Suh-WEET!  Of course, our oldest daughter’s response was, “I carried in this stupid tent for NOTHING???” Hee hee.

We unpacked and had all kinds of fun at our little campsite, including: trying to start a fire with a flint (we tried for THIRTY minutes and could NOT do it—I think Bear Grylls is a big, fat POSER), reading books (oldest daughter packed one in), playing in the creek, fun with pocket knives and, scaling Mt. Poopy (the outhouse—NOT fun, but necessary).

The weather was gorgeous, no wind, and (weird) NO BUGS.  I was beginning to think we had stumbled on to some sort of strange parallel universe.  There was almost a full moon and the night was so pleasant.  We slept under the stars with the babbling of the creek next to us.  Very nice.

We were up at dawn and ready to go at 7:00.  The trail was excellent, in no small part due to the very dry conditions—that was nice for us, but NOT good for May.  We had awesome views of the slide up Dix.  I kept thinking, “God bless Teddy Roosevelt for Forever Wild in the ADK!”

I read somewhere that Dix is known as one of the hardest miles in the ADK 46. I agree.  We gained 1600 feet of altitude in less than one mile. My gluts and quads can attest to it being tough.  I’m glad I didn’t know how vertical it was when I was doing it. Next time I’m bringing a sled and a living will.

The kids are getting so much stronger.  I’m officially now the slowest of the tribe.  It took us three hours to the top.  There were gorgeous views, even if it was windy.

We are 21ers.

After lunch on the peak, we began toward Hough.  We had to climb the Beckhorn on our way there.  This was terrifying for me.  However, I sucked it up and got through it (with a lot of encouragement from the kids) and we went on our way.  Sadly, we were about to be lost.  We started going down, down, down (and wrong, wrong, wrong).

We had been descending for about two hours (with me thinking, even *I* am not THIS slow) when we realized that we were lost.  We turned around to come back to the Beckhorn (yeah, I get to go back UP).  We realize we’ve been out there too long to do Hough now.  We won’t be getting our 22nd peak today.  We’re bummed, but surprisingly, not as bummed as I thought we’d be.  There will be time to do it in the future.

Now that we know we’re going back, we decide we want PIE.  (Noonmark Diner, HELLO.)  It’s a good motivator for the kids and we make it down in record time, pack up the camp in 30 minutes (wow) and hike out in two hours!  We get to the Noonmark, sore and tired, with 15 minutes to spare until closing!  Yeah!  Blueberry pie a la mode all around.

I’m a little muddled as to times and such.  Hike in: 4 hours.  Hike up: 3 hours.  Hiking around (lost) 2 hours.  Hike back down: 2.5 hours?  Hike out: 3 hours.  Total hiking time: 14.5?  Maybe.  Not too bad for our first time with packs and getting lost, etc.  I think we did more than the 13.2 miles.

It was a GREAT weekend, even though we didn’t get both peaks.  Once again, I am astonished by my awesome family and so grateful we get to do this together!

Current Reads, March AND April, 2010

1 05 2010

(Theme: Vacation and History) Normally, I do one month at a time, but things are getting so crazy busy (hello, it’s spring!), I’m going to have to put two months together. My family went to Paris for spring break AND we had state testing. The trip and the tests have influenced my reading (or lack of) this month.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui (autobiography). I think I heard about this book on NPR, although now I can’t remember. I was drawn to it because I have a 10-year-old daughter. Nujood was sold into marriage by her father (who had/has two wives, many children, and obviously, money was tight). She was ten, her husband was in his 30s. Her new husband promised he wouldn’t touch Nujood until a year after she began to menstruate, but he lied. He brutally raped her the first night they were together and then for weeks after that. I was so angry, reading this book—until I read how Nujood escaped, found a lawyer and sued for divorce. She’s TEN.  This happened TWO YEARS AGO.  What kind of a world do we live in where CHILDREN can be SOLD into marriage/as sex slaves???  My children live in a protected world, but there are so many who do not. This book makes that point in spades. It’s unsettling, compelling and hopeful. Nujood finds the strength to escape and hopefully, her story will help others do the same.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (romantic fiction). One of my daughters had to read this book for her English class. She asked me some question about it and I remembered reading and liking this book. So, I read it again. I have to say, I wasn’t as big a fan the second time around. I downright disliked Mr. Rochester and wanted to scream at Jane, “RUN! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!!” I’m still not sure what she saw in him. (My daughter was kinder. She said, “He married his first wife not KNOWING how she really was.”) I liked Jane very much. She has many wonderful qualities. The other characters in the story? Not so much. Still, I’m glad I read it again.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (historic fiction). World War II, here we are again. I can’t get enough of it! This one focuses on one young man’s survival in Russia (a new angle for me) during the Siege of Leningrad (another topic I knew NOTHING about). Lev (the young man) is 17 and is caught for “stealing” from a dead German soldier. He meets Kolya (a young soldier) in jail and the two of them are released by a general to find a dozen eggs (to make a wedding cake for his daughter). The task is impossible. There is NO food in the city (the residents have started eating the library books). Yet, the two take off to try and get the eggs in a week. The story is about their trials and triumphs. (There’s one particularly grisly scene where they are lured into an apartment where a man (giant) and his wife kill people and eat them. Ack. For all the gore and grimness of the situation, there is love and hope as well. I very much enjoyed this book!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (historic fiction). Yawn.  This is a story about a young man named Henry. He is Chinese, growing up in Seattle during (what else?) WWII. He has a Japanese friend named Keiko and of course, she is interned. The book was recommended to me by my book soulmate. She said, “Be careful, I started reading it and couldn’t stop. I had to stay up all night reading.” I didn’t have the same response. The chapters of the book go back and forth between the present and the past (in the present, Henry has just lost his wife to cancer and is now dealing with his ungrateful/cold son—artifacts from the internees have also just been discovered and he’s dealing with this information and the memories they bring). I found the book predictable and boring. I didn’t really care for any of the characters except for Keiko.

The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen (historic fiction). This book was a slog for me. Set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Lily is the daughter of the town’s apothecary. Her brother is a bit “slow” while Lily “remembers everything.” (Yeah, right. NOBODY remembers EVERYTHING. I got SO SICK of hearing about this in the book.) Lily’s mother left her father a few years back and now Lily helps her father, even though women aren’t supposed to do such things. Whatever. Lilly is not a bad character. I didn’t dislike her—in fact I appreciated her devotion to her father and her brother. But I did get tired of the fact that the author had every man fall in love with her. That just wasn’t realistic. The writing about the apothecary trade was interesting, but other than that, there were long stretches of the book were NOTHING happened. I felt like I was reading La Lacuna again. Once I start reading a book, I want to get through it (it’s a compulsion, I know). I was resentful that I kept reading this book and the author didn’t really deliver. I don’t recommend this book.

Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough (biography). Last year, when we were getting ready for the state tests, our principal said, “I know you all are working hard, but…” the unsaid, “work harder” was left hanging in the air. I came home disheartened that night and told my husband, “I need to bring the children home, feed them, help them with their homework, bathe them, tuck them in, read to them, wake them up, give them a good breakfast, speak nicely to them and get them to school on time.” My husband responded, “So, short of adopting these kids, you really CAN’T work harder.” He’s right. People like Geoffrey Canada are special (he reminds me of Hanley Denning, who founded Safe Passage in Guatemala). They see a problem and they say, “This CANNOT go on.” And then they do something about it. Canada did something about the issues of poverty, neglect and lack of education in Harlem. His name comes up often here (in NY), so I’ve been curious to read this book for a long time. Some of what I read made me say, “Oh, come ON!” (Like the fact that he got his girlfriend pregnant when he was 20), but in some ways, I guess that’s helped him do what he does today. It’s an inspirational read. I wish I could be like Canada.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction). After visiting Paris (and getting very excited about the architecture and history there), I wanted to come home and re-read this book. (I LOVED seeing Notre Dame—the fact that people almost 1,000 years ago could build something like that amazes me.) I wanted to reread the story of Prior Phillip and his quest to build a cathedral. I love Ken Follet’s loveable characters (Tom the Builder, Jack, Aliena, Ellen) and I hate the hateful ones (why does Earl William have to be SO brutal? I have to skip a lot of the gory details that Follett so meticulously includes.). But I just adore this book. It’s over 1,000 pages long, but the story is so good, you’ll be sad when you finish.

The Song of Roland Anonymous (poetry). When I was in the sixth grade, Mr. Mowinkle read this poem to us. Every day after lunch, we’d come back to our room and sit and he’d read to us for 20 minutes or so. I don’t really remember the story much, but I DO remember that I LOVED to listen to Mr. Mowinkle read the poetry. While reading Pillars of the Earth, one of the characters (Jack) starts reciting the poem to Aliena. I remembered how much I liked listening to it and so I read it for myself. I can’t imagine how I even began to comprehend the story as a sixth-grader! I had ZERO background knowledge about Charlemagne (I still don’t have THAT much). But somehow, this epic poem spoke to me about the crusades and the fight between Christianity and Islam. I liked it better when someone else read it to me, but I still liked it this time. And now I have some background knowledge and can comprehend the ideals of the time (honor, glory, etc.).

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (young adult, realistic fiction). This is a weird book. It’s about a girl who kills herself and then sends the 13 reasons why to the 13 people who she blames for her death. Seen from my adult eyes, I want to yell at her and say, “YOU HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS!!!” BUT, seen from the eyes of a vulnerable 13-year-old? I have to think again. It makes me question how we treat others, especially those who are bullied. A good lesson in standing up for what is right and what you believe.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest comes out this month! May 25th! I’m so excited!

Dear Ms. Maestra

21 03 2010

We should always work hard and participate in class because we need to learn new things.  If we do not participate we will not learn.  If we do not learn we will have to stay back in fifth grade and we will not be able to graduate and I want to graduate.  For example, if you get sent to in-school suspension you will need to copy six pages or more of the code of conduct and you will miss all the fun in school.

This makes me realize that what I did was wrong and that school is important.  It is important to participate and to respect people like my teacher Ms. Maestra.  I need to respect my teacher.  I am sorry Ms. Maestra.



Querida Sra. Maestra

21 03 2010

So you can know I feel a little better.  I did not like being sick for so long.  It’s not fon.  I hate it.  It hurst and it’s NOT fon.  I was very bord.  It was innoying.  But when I came to school today when I see you I am so happy.  I am so happy.



Current Reads, February, 2010

3 03 2010

(Theme: TWINS) I’m starting the list with two books from last month because I finished them and wanted to give my “final” opinion about them. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (Realistic Fiction). This one was slow to start but two things pulled me in: 1. The historical town of Salem (really, the way the author wrote about it fascinated me, so much so, I took my kids over break to visit—it is a very cool town—it had never occurred to me that the people who were tried and hanged as witches were innocents who were murdered. That was awful and will bother me for a long time. I don’t like the “Witch History” of Salem. Far more interesting to me is the nautical history. I loved, loved, LOVED the House of the Seven Gables. Such a cool place!) and 2. Twins. The book was about a set of twins and an abusive relationship. Ok, it was about more than that, but you don’t want me to ruin it for you, do you? It’s funny, this book was the opposite of The Lacuna. That one took me forever to get into and then the last 5% was worth reading. I felt this one was worth reading and then I got to the last 5% and I was completely dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that a book would end this way. And not in a good way either. I’m not going to SAY how it ended (no, I won’t), but I did NOT feel satisfied with the ending. I had this horrible feeling of, “You’re kidding, right?” Take it for what it’s worth. I don’t give this book a high recommendation.

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson (Mystery). Last month I said I started this one because it was recommended to me by my book soulmate. Her uncle said it was the “best book he’s EVER read.” I will say this, it isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s very good. And considering it’s a mystery (I don’t like mysteries…correction, didn’t like mysteries…it’s a growing edge) that is saying a lot for me. This book started out S-L-O-W-L-Y. Good grief, the author had to build SO. MUCH. BACKGROUND. I was getting really frustrated and said to my husband, “What is the POINT of all this?” He replied, “Maybe the author needs it for the story?” (He was polite and didn’t add a “DUH.”) And, of course, he was right. The meticulous building of the backstory WAS necessary and it works. Once I got into this book, I very much enjoyed the two main characters (one of them, Lisbeth Salander, another twin—she’s the girl with the dragon tattoo—she’s a major computer expert and she’s got some major issues!) and some of the interesting twists. Warning: there is a lot of abuse in this book, much of it sexual in nature and it was very difficult to read. I tried to skip over those parts. They were THAT disturbing. There’s also a LOT of talk about the magazine publishing industry and tons of Swedish names, etc. (which are cool to read). When the book ended and I felt like I wanted more of the story!

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (Mystery). Hey! Lucky for me, there IS more! Stieg Larsson wrote three novels, this is the second. I liked this book more than the first! It continues where the last one leaves off. Again, I very much enjoyed following the mystery and seeing where the characters had to go. Larsson tells a compelling tale. I was a bit annoyed, when about 2/3rds of the way into the story he basically said, “Here’s what happened…” and gave away all of the mystery. But there were still loose ends to tie up and I kept reading, so I guess it didn’t bother me too much. It’s another cliffhanger and I want MORE! (There IS more, but the final book in the trilogy won’t be out until May. I’ve pre-ordered it: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.) At the end of his books there is a blurb about the author. It says, “Stieg Larsson was the editor in chief of the antiracist magazine Expo and for twenty years the graphics editor at a Swedish news agency. He was a leading expert on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist, and Nazi organizations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the manuscripts for the three books.” I’m very sad about this. I would’ve loved to have met this guy. He sounds amazing. I’m also sad that he only got to write three books.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Fantasy? Realistic Fiction?) Another story about TWO sets of twins. Famous author Vida Winter is dying and needs help to write her biographer. Margaret Lea agrees to help her do it, but then is completely sucked in by this author’s storytelling. You know how there are just some authors that can spin their prose in beautiful little bits? Setterfield is like that. Listen to this passage: “There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” I wish I could write like that! I love how Setterfield describes Margaret: a lonely young woman who works in her father’s bookshop. I can relate to Margaret. She says, “I did not simply read books. I devoured them. Though my appetite for food grew frail, my hunger for books was constant.” I know what that feels like! And yet, Margaret has never read anything by Winter and she wonders why. Winter says, “A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” This starts to play out later in the book. It’s part mystery, part fantasy, part ghost tale and all great story. I LOVED this book and highly recommend it!

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (Romantic Fiction). I’m re-reading this book because of The Thirteenth Tale. It was one of Margaret’s favorite books. I read this as a young adult. I don’t remember it being so silly/stupid (at least in the beginning). The descriptions of her drunk parents and her idiot mother ARE silly, if you didn’t know what was coming. Cuz the unhappy ending is coming, like a freight train, you KNOW it is.

Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Wall (Historical Fiction). I don’t even know why I started reading this book, other than it was on the NYT best-seller list and the kindle recommended it. I started with a sample and was quickly sucked in. At the end of the book, the author explains how she never really knew her grandmother and only really learned about her through stories members of her family told. Still, it was enough for her to write this nearly autobiographical tale. It’s all about her grandmother (a no-nonsense, hard-working, hard-playing, Lily Casey) and her life in tough West Texas and then the greater Southwest. They make their living as cattle ranchers and teachers (what? You’ve never heard of that combination?). The book spans the early part of the 20th century, including the Great Depression and WWII. I always enjoy reading about other people living tough lives and “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” I especially enjoyed Lily telling about how she road 200 miles on a pony by herself to get to her boarding school (run by nuns, naturally). I can’t imagine turning my young teen daughter out to do that, but then, times were different. It’s a pretty interesting story. I highly recommend it.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (Historical Fiction). My reading soulmate told me about this one as well. She said it’s sort of a companion book to The Book Thief. I don’t know about that, but it is amazingly compelling. It’s about a woman (Julia, American reporter) who is married to a Frenchman (Bertrand, architect a-hole) and the story she writes about the anniversary of the 1942 Paris round-ups and deportations of Jews. (I didn’t know about it either—whole familes were rounded up and sent to the death camps.) When Julia finds out the family’s apartment is one that was vacated because the police took the family, she starts to do research to learn about that family. The chapters go back and forth between Julia’s life and the family’s life. Sarah (10-year-old daughter in the 1942 family) locks her 4-year-old brother in a cabinet before they have to leave with the police so he’ll be safe. (It’s not a spoiler, it happens in the first chapter.) But the thought of him there drives her (and me) crazy. I won’t say anything more except that you should read this book.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men by Dr. John Rich (Nonfiction, Social Science). This is a very tough book to read. I heard Dr. Rich talking on a show on NPR and since I’m still (will I always be?) struggling with the two different worlds I live in, I wanted to read it. Dr. Rich has done two decades of research with young black men. When he began this work, he saw black men coming into the emergency room and he just made the assumption that they were doing something wrong, that “they had it coming to them.” Then he realized that it wasn’t always so and began examining his prejudices more carefully. He finds that many of these men who experience this violence suffer from PTSD. The research challenges his beliefs and changes his life. It has certainly given me lots of food for thought.