Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tell Me What You Want

My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years.  We are starting to figure each other out.  Just now.  Recently, we had a very long, emotional "discussion" at 1:00 in the morning -- when most of our relationship breakthroughs occur.  I will spare you the details and simply say that in the end, I realized that if I want my husband to be the husband I need, I need to tell him what that means.  This is not to say that he has never been the husband I need.  In fact, with as little direction as I have given, he has done an amazing job of figuring it out.  But ultimately, he can only do so much when it comes to reading my mind, and even more difficult, my heart.

As hard as it was, though, for me to tell him exactly what I need from him in our relationship, the impact it has had on us has been tremendous.  Now, for some, being as direct with someone about what you want or need is not a challenge.  I have always struggled with it, though, because I feared hurting him.  I worried that sharing what I needed would make him feel judged or betrayed.  What I had to realize was that what I saw as protecting him was actually keeping him from growing.  It was like giving a plant water and food, but hiding it from the sun.  When we do not tell people what we want, we diminish their capacity to meet those expectations.

With my parenting, I have had far less trouble with this.  In fact, I work quite hard at not just telling my children what I need them to do, but modeling for them the appropriate responses and requiring them to practice.  For example, if one of the boys demands, "Get me some milk!" I do not say, "Please ask more nicely next time," have them agree and then proceed to get the milk.  Instead, I try to say, "That was not a nice way to ask for milk.  Instead, you should say, 'Mom, could you get me more milk, please?' Now, let me hear you say that." This does not always translate into perfect behavior (what an understatement!) but I am confident that the boys are  clear about my expectations and because of that, the likelihood of them responding and interacting in appropriate ways is increased.

In the classroom, I have been somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum.  I believe my students always sense the expectations that I have for them, but I do not think I have been as conscientious as I need to be in this area.  Over the summer, I read a number of books by Dr. Marzano.  While much of what I read matched up neatly with my philosophies and practices, I realized that in terms of clarity and focus in terms of what I need my students to learn, I had some growing to do.  Not only do I think my students in the past have been fuzzy about exactly what they were expected to know, I was fuzzy, too.  I had a sense of what I wanted them to be able to do, but truly showing them how to get there was a leap I wanted them to make without the kind of direct instruction they needed to do so. 

Recently, we have been working with the concept of archetypes and their influence on literature.  Giving students a list of common archetypes is useful and all, but the skill I expect is that they can analyze the influence archetypal characters, images, and motifs have on a work of literature.  That step, from recognition to analysis, is one I have asked my students to make in the past without ever actually showing them how.  Honestly, the process is so natural for me, I had to slow down, and really think about what I do to move from one to the other.  This sharpened my ability to transfer this knowledge to my students and, in the end, resulted in their success.

Telling the people in our lives what we want or what we need is not selfish or hurtful if we are doing so to help them grow and if we do so with a heart and spirit of kindness, encouragement and love.  I believe this is happening with my children, with my students and with my husband (You can read his blog about our recent date to hear more!). Success is sunshine to their flowering confidence.  And if it makes me happier, too -- even better!


Friday, August 20, 2010

On Endurance

Behold, we count them happy which endure (James 5:11).

On the first day of school, I began my AP English Literature class with a poem, “The Seven of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy. As I read the poem aloud again and again – eight times over the course of the day, in fact -- the line that resonated with me was “Live a life you can endure.” Teaching seniors is a complex joy. I feel the pressure of preparing their minds and hearts for a world beyond the gates of high school, but I also experience the excitement and pride as they move confidently into this next stage of their lives. As we discussed the poem, I came back to the word endure. Often, the connotation of this word is negative, implying mild suffering or unwilling tolerance. However, endure can also mean allow or continue. Live a life you can allow. Live a life you can continue.

My son, Michael, has started third grade and getting back into the routine of homework and reading calendars and spelling tests has proved difficult. He tends to rush, make mistakes, become agitated and give up easily. I do not want homework time to become a nightly battle, but I believe allowing him to submit to his laziness, love of video games and the lure of television will not only weaken his academic skills, but his work ethic and intrinsic motivation as well. I have been encouraging him to go beyond what is easy, to be conscientious and to find pleasure in doing well on an assigned task.

Another poem we will read soon in AP Lit is also by Marge Piercy, “To Be of Use,” in which she proclaims that all people yearn for “work that is real.” That is what I want to unearth in my son, in my students and in myself – a desire for work. I have been telling my students that whatever comes quickly is too easy; they need to push themselves to read more deeply, think more creatively, question more voraciously. The literature we study is so incredibly rich that we could never exhaust its supply of insights, connections and revelations.

As a teacher, each year I begin with a renewed commitment to refining my practice, focusing my instruction, sharpening my assessment, sowing and reaping in a carefully planned manner, while relishing the miracle of growth. And I want to balance this deep commitment to my students and my craft with the loving and nurturing of my family, certainly the work that is most real. At school, 146 hearts and minds; at home, four, but the scales lean heavily in their favor. Often, this balancing is the thing I consider the hardest work of all. But it is the best work, too. It is certainly a life I can allow, a life I can continue, a life I can endure.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stories to Tell

As I prepare to begin a new school year (I am still amazed that summer vacation is over!), my mind begins to consider the truths I hope to impart to my students. I want them to see that what we share in the classroom as we study literature is not manufactured there; it is not a hoop to be jumped through to satisfy a graduation requirement.  What we do when we read and study literature is so much more than that.  And what I share with them is real to me.

This summer when my son visited my grandpa for his 80th birthday, his gift was a small book of photographs and a narrative about the importance of stories. If you knew my grandpa, you would know that storytelling is one of his favorite hobbies.  I think it is a favorite pastime of most grandpas for all of the reasons we share in the book.

This gift for Great-Pa was a way for my son to show his great-grandfather that his life may be in its closing chapters, but that the story is one which never ends. We are all a part of that story and , if nothing else, I hope my students leave class in May believing that as truth.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Summer in Pictures

A last look at Summer 2010... (click on any picture to see a slideshow of them all)

The boys loved Kids Kamp: Saddle Ridge Ranch

We had a wonderful time at the Salvadore home for the 4th
Toy Story 3 was the best!

Lucas playing in the sandbox

The water is so cold!!

Lucas and Michael wait to go into the dinosaur museum

The boys prepare to embark on their Etiwanda hike

Nicholas loves his Starbucks chocolate milk

Look at that face!

Brothers reunited after Michael's trip to Oregon

We are going to miss our mornings at the pool

Mondays were Library Days -- so many books read this summer!

If we weren't at the pool, we were at the park

Vacation's almost over -- maybe we need to rest

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Monday, August 2, 2010

If Renoir Painted at the Airport

When I was younger, I thought that Impressionist works of art looked like the world through tears.  No matter how lovely the image, a Monet always made me feel like there was somberness in the painter's heart.  I am sure research would prove this mostly untrue, but I also know that things of great beauty often possess an element of pain. Raising children has taught me that lesson well.

Earlier this week, my oldest son, fresh off of his 8th birthday, boarded an airplane and flew off without me.  He did not go alone -- my mom flew with him -- or far, but that did not keep me from crying.  I was holding myself together pretty well, aided by the fact that we had to be up at 3:45 am to be at the airport in time for his flight.  I could hardly remember how to drive; surely crying would require too much energy.  Wrong.  As soon as he stepped into the security line and I was on the other side of the crowd control barrier, the tears rushed to my eyes.  And when my son saw me  begin to blubber, his little face screwed up into sadness, too.

I cried as he went up the escalator and I waited until I knew I wouldn't be able to catch another glimpse of him.  Then, I walked to my car, drove home, and fell asleep on the couch, all while I continued to cry. I felt silly for having such a strong response to what is probably routine for many people, but then I remembered the day I left for college.

When I went away to college, I did not go far.  In fact, when traffic was light I could make the drive home in about ten minutes.  Nevertheless, on Orientation and Move-In Day, after hours of meetings and workshops and unpacking boxes, my mom and I stood on the sidewalk outside my dorm and bawled as we said our goodbyes.  It wasn't the distance that inspired the tears, it was the beauty of the moment.  What is more wonderful than bringing a child into the world and then being able to see that child become her own person, inspired by her own experiences and developed through her own education?

The pain comes from the reality that we don't actually get to see it.  In the case of college, this is probably for the best.  But with my son, the tears came because he was going to be making memories that did not include me. It was his first flight and I was not the one holding his hand. And no matter what happened, good or bad, I would not be the one to guide him through it. 

I had to say goodbye to my boy for a little while, but soon I will get to welcome him home.  He will have so much to tell me and while part of me wishes I had been with him, another part is excited to hear all about his adventures from his point of view.  He will have stories and insights all his own.  Even through the tears, I can see how beautiful that is.