Saturday, September 6, 2008
Succumbing to our fear inside?
Friday, September 5, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
All these experiences have allowed me to revise my endings. And some, if I am lucky, take me back home again to that pocket of the world called the Northeast Kingdom where the sweet, sweet sound of words resonate from the front porch steps.
It has been said that you can never go home again, yet, I found myself at the beginning of each new school year, recreating that walk to the public library, skimming through the shelves for the latest find, and then sitting on the “front porch steps” reading aloud to each new group of students or sharing a few lines from my favorite poem with my colleagues. This awakens the rhythm of my teaching and allows us all to celebrate the forgotten art in a world of science.
On those weekends when we remained at home, my mom would walk the seven of us to the end of Prospect Street, down North Avenue until we reached Main. At the corner we would walk across the bridge and on up the steps to the Public Library. Along the way, she entertained us by weaving stories that were found amongst the pages of her mind.
Once inside I would search the stacks for the one book that called my name and with my new found treasure in my hand, we made our way back home again, finding comfort in knowing that when I was safely tucked into the top bunk, the words of the story would resonate freely in my dreams.
One of my favorite stories was called The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. If you are one of those folks just out of the gate and are not familiar with this classic tale, I challenge you to walk on down to the local library and ask the lady or gentleman behind the counter for a copy. I promise if you go deep enough, your life will be forever changed.
However, I realize that some of you may be too busy to even venture away from your classroom, so until you can breathe a little easier, I will tell you why I think this story is a metaphor for teaching and learning, but first I need to tell you a little bit about my friend Peter.
All of his life, Peter and his siblings were told to never, ever go under the fence into Mr. McGregor’s garden. They were told that the world was a dangerous place and that their father had been the one to go and he never returned.
Well, Peter wasn’t convinced that the world was dangerous. He, out of all the siblings was inquisitive, curious and mischievous at times. Frankly, his ideas about the world didn’t jive with mama. So one morning Peter did what he was told not to do. He went under the fence.
He went under the fence;
He was having a grand old time in the lettuce patch not paying attention to what was going on around, and that proved to be Peter’s biggest mistake: not paying attention. You see, my friend Peter soon had the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake to worry about, but on that hot July summer day luck ruled in his favor. He saw the shadow before it landed on his backside, and Pete, he high-tailed it out of there.
I’d like to tell you that the story ends there, but it doesn’t. The chase was on and Mr. McGregor had some near misses. Peter, he ran from hiding place to hiding place with Mr. McGregor not far behind. Well, to make this story come full circle, he finally was able to make his way back home again. And his mama, she waited for him on the front porch steps. Then, as only a mama can do, she wrapped her arms around her mischievous son and tucked him safely into the top bunk hoping that the lessons learned would resonate freely in his dreams.
For starters, there will always be the Peter Rabbits of the world and they will find their way into our classrooms. These children will be inquisitive, curious and at times, mischievous. They may not know how to behave or do things that they are told not to do: at first. Just as mama had warned Peter about Mr. McGregor’s garden, they, too, may be blind to your ideas. However, if you wait on the front porch steps, do so with a cupful of wisdom and a whole lot of patience, and you just might find that the lessons you teach will eventually stick.
So I guess what I am trying to say is whenever you feel as if you are moments away from the blunt end of Mr. McGregor’s rake, remember mama sitting on the front porch steps waiting to listen to the stories found within the pages of your mind. And if you must, revise those endings with the children so when you sleep you will hear the sweet, sweet sound of words resonating in your dreams.
My challenge to you this school year is for each of us to look for similar “WOW” moments: with our colleagues; with the children we teach; and with our administrators. And on those days when there seems to be no smile, all I ask is that you put one foot in front of the other. If you must, find someone who can give you a shoulder to cry on. But remember, if the shoulder you choose is mine, I will make you laugh out loud.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Recently, the image of my Aunt Esther came to mind when I was thinking about “launching the writing workshop” and creating a culture where authentic writing engagements are valued, nurtured and sustained. That is the way my mind works. Some things don’t need to be questioned, it just is and that is enough.
When I was a kid visiting my cousins, my Aunt Esther would take the 15 of us down by the river to the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP where, on those hot summer nights, the lines backed up all the way to the highway. However, what was in store for us was well worth the wait. My Aunt made her way up the line talking to everyone and everybody as we ran to the edge of the river, throwing stones and watching as they rippled across the water.
In the meantime, the line dwindled down and we raced back to the open window and placed our order. Inevitably, there was a variety of favorites among us all: chocolate sundaes, banana splits and root beer floats.
This image developed further when a picture came to my mind of fifteen sprouting’ nieces and nephews crowded around that one picnic table getting all messy and such until we couldn’t eat no more. We didn’t need to worry though, because my Aunt Esther never ordered anything for herself because when we were full, she took her plastic spoon and dived right in. And we let her. It was our way of showing our appreciation for doling out all that cash. It was our way of celebrating our lives as an extended family, and though, I didn’t know it at the time, one of those small moments that would one day find itself on the page. .
As happens in life, the cousins, we grew older. And my Aunt Esther, she did as well. And through the years when the chance gathering happened, it never failed that one or more of us would mention that moment and visually we would find our way back to the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP when Aunt Esther showed us her passion for living even if it was demonstrating the simple act of eating chocolate sundaes, banana splits and slurping root beer floats.
Looking back I realize that life is filled with those ordinary acts of celebration. Those small moments that we remember and even though not known at the time, have the possibility to bring a smile to our face, a tear to our eye or even better, later allowing further possibility to unfold by writing it down on the page.
With that said, we are the HOPE BUILDERS. We are the ones who must believe this “launching venture” with the writer’s notebook as the means is not a passing phase, but one that is worth doing. However, if I may, use the paraphrased words of one superintendent in another context: “We must do more than believe, we must have faith,” We must through demonstration and by example, make the notebook itself live.
The other day, I met with teachers about “launching…,” and as a collective group, we began taking the first step in changing our school culture with the simple act of gathering and celebrating our lives with the sharing of our own notebooks.
If walls could sing.
If walls could talk.
Our school house rocked and resonated with story.
It wasn’t all rhythmic or brilliant and some of us sang off key, however, hope was able to float when later; the PE teacher came up to me after and told me about how she shared stories with the children about her two cats: Tucker and Scottie. Later, when I met with the special area team, I extended her thinking by saying: “Coach, what if in addition to telling the story, you pulled out your writer’s notebook and read a few lines from the page. If all you do,” I continued, “is that one simple act throughout the week, imagine the possibility of being the catalyst to change the culture. With that one simple act, followed by others, imagine the potential it would provide for those who happened to witness this seemingly ordinary act of sharing and, by doing so; you have the means to turn it into something far from ordinary.”
I could have hammered the showing of the evidence within the special area lesson plan, but I didn’t. Instead, I realized I needed to start small just as I want our students to think in small moments; they too, needed a context in which to build. If I acted too quickly, I could foresee the potential to create something good and make it bad; I could see the potential of making it an exercise of having to rather than a transformative process of wanting to. Those simple acts of conversation with faculty not seemingly connected to instruction in the usual way are the threads needed if we are to weave all the stories within a school and within a district.
I told you that sometimes it wasn’t all brilliant and wonderful because there will be choppy waters ahead. Sometimes it will seem as if that boat don’t float. Sometimes the oar will crack and as you make your way closer to the waterfall, don’t bail out: remember that hope is alive in those unexpected places; in those unexpected faces.
Writing is hard work and I have a lifetime of filled pages to attest to that fact. Ninety percent of what I produce is messy like the chocolate sundaes and banana splits of my past. Ninety percent of the time, I’m not perfect, don’t get it right and the writing within the notebook is choppy. Writing is a mucky enterprise, however, I have to say, the other ten percent is well worth the wait if it returns me to memories like the ones held within the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP.
Still, that ninety percent of ordinary has to be written so I can go to the place where the magic happens. So I can find the threads of possibility within those ten percent spirit lines; those magical ten percent spirit lines that seem so small they are invisible: those magical ten percent spirit lines that don’t allow me to see them until I re-envision possibility and the memories they hold. I find them by “mucking my way” through the messiness of chocolate sundaes and banana splits until I realize that it is the root beer float, layered with promise, that I have been searching for all along.
And as I open up my notebook, sit down beside me so that together, we can create a shared endeavor of sitting on the river’s edge in back of the HOPEFLOAT ICE CREAM SHOP watching the ripple in the water, so once again, we may choose to sail to other shores.
My notebook is a lifetime labor of love and yours can be as well.
Long ago, on my visits to 26 Pleasant Street, Auntie E would be waiting for us on the front porch, a space that she dearly loved. Then, one by one, she would take us in her arms for that warm embrace; and before sending us to the backyard to play; she would pinch our cheeks really, really hard and tell us how much she loved us. I hated this so and yet, with regret, I find myself wanting to turn the pages of my life back.
Today, we find ourselves hugging each other tighter; stronger than before, no longer running to the backyard to play, instead, staying behind and lingering in the embrace of the all too familiar.
My sisters, brothers, cousins and I, we have our own lives now, following a path designed for each of us, yet, no matter how different we have become, the ties that bind us together is one of family, and this is what connects us in this life.
I wonder if my Auntie E somehow knew that getting us together would mean that she wouldn’t be there; that a reason for the gathering meant that we would be celebrating this life without her: a story to remember and the gifts she gave each of us in turn…..
If given time we also will find ourselves at the threshold of the finish line, and instead of racing with all our breath, we will be able to create those moments that take our breath away. In the end, I believe, we will all be the better for it, because we were given the chance to create memories that will provide for each of us the opportunity to think deeper, wonder more and understand better, because then and only then will we have the wisdom, the experience, and the know how to build bridges as well as mend hearts.
Monday, September 1, 2008
…a wrinkled shirt, tucked beneath the layers of winter weather sweaters in the bottom drawer of my hand-me-down dresser, removed and worn on those days that I choose to be free.
… a 72 Pontiac Station Wagon, color of brown, reflecting in the sunsets of my past and driving towards those sunrises of my future.
…a maple tree in the Green Mountain forest
… the dried sand in the Sonaran desert.
… the limber branch on the birch pines high atop the Sierra mountain range
… and a token on the seat of a subway train on Chicago’s west side.
… a rock in the middle of the Willoughby listening to the sound the river makes.
…the eyes of the coyote chasing wild rabbits in the desert at night.
I am also…
…the feel of the wind on my back high atop the mountain
…and the voice of the homeless asking for change on the city streets.
I am all of these
yet none of these
all at the same time.
- TV Guide Delivery- Back in the day, newspapers weren't the only thing that got delivered door to door. It was our older sister that convinced my brother and I to earn some change. She promised us a notepad-Man, were we taken for a ride. The TV guides came in a brown package once a week by mail and we then separated our stack and busily got on our bicycles and rode to our neighbors, our handy notepad keeping track of who paid and who still owed us money. Let's just say that we didn't get rich off this venture.
- Street Cleaner-Long before they had truck sweepers to do the deed, in the small town where I grew up, my two brothers and I, with brooms in hand, swept the streets of a small town in Vermont. I sometimes wonder if people thought we were part of a small town chain gang paying our dues.
- Youth Conversation Corps- A summer work camp. (No. Again not what you were thinking.) Spent four weeks doing the summer restoring trails around Mount Pisgah and Mt. Hor.
- Lumber puller- After dropping out of college for the first time (Yes, there were several times) led me to work in "yard" pulling lumber off the conveyor belt after it was graded.
- Truck Washer- Loved this job and the greatest tan. Spent the summer washing 18 wheelers. Drove a few around the lumber yard as well.
- Dishwasher- The incentive here was after the dishes were done, I got to have Sunday Brunch at the Colonial Inn-what a perk. Best meal in town
- Stock Boy, Cashier, and Customer Service- I made $4. 25 an hour at Zayre Department Store in the early 80's and thought I was living in green. All relative. Worked 30-40 hours a week during my sophomore, junior and senior year in college. Definitely wasn't a fashion statement for I wore the same brown tie, the one in which my dad tied because I didn't have a clue of how to tie one, and the bright orange vest. YAHOO!!!!
- Pre-School Assistant- Boston bound for the summer living at the New England Conservatory of Music (rent free-family connection) and working mornings in Natick. To this day, love the city of Boston and sometimes have fleeting moments of wanting to live there.
- Recreation Department Assistant Manager-This town took care of their kids. A place for them to go during the summer to play organized sports, participate in swimming events and activities for the adults as well.
- Liquor Store Clerk-Realized that people drink and drink hard.
- Telephone directory delivery hauler
- Busboy- Lasted three days, never got paid and realized after being trained by the waiter, that filling water from glasses that didn't need it wasn't going to be my career path. Holiday Inn still owes me $50.14. I consider it giving back. The one who hired me felt sorry for me for rent needed to be paid. To say the least, five days later, I was on the road to somewhere.
So Teach, you may ask.... what is the point of this rambling?
First, we all take steps in order to follow our dreams and for some of us it means doing whatever it takes to get there. Second, it sometimes means doing a job that may not necessarily be the one you hoped for, but we do it nonetheless so we can reach the dreams in the long term. Third, it keeps you grounded. Realizing that it may not be your end, but one more beginning in a long line of roads ahead. And finally, as in the case of the telephone books, sometime theories, once played out, aren't necessarily what reality dictates. Until the next time, continue to find your spirit lines....Teach
Finding Your Spirit Lines in a Field of Dreams
I remember when the movie first came out. I was living in Arizona at the time and had never thought Iowa could be so beautiful. I still remember when James Earl Jones, in the character of Terrance Mann, spoke these words:
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $2o per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirt sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Another character in the movie, Moonlight Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, was true to life. Archibald Wright Graham was a highly successful minor league player for the Charlotte Hornets of the North Carolina Baseball League.
When I packed my bags during the summer of 1995 and headed east towards my dreams, I happened to drive through the State of Iowa and was amazed at how beautiful this part of the country never seen before was. About 25 miles west of Dubuque on the outskirts of Dyersville, is this field of dreams. If you happen to one day experience what I did years before, remember to bring along your glove or sit and dream on the bleachers for awhile.
As I visit classrooms, sit at the ‘supper table’ listening to the stories that are told, or stop in the hallway to share short ‘vignettes’ that make me laugh, I can’t help but realize that teachers are the catalyst for the dreams of our children, and this my friends is the greatest of responsibilities.
In everything they do, in everything they say, teachers shape the destiny of others. And whether it is a good day or a not so good one, there are others around to lift the spirit. However, I choose to argue that this is not enough. We must discover the spirit lines of our children so that the dreams we hold can be within their reach as well.
As you continue your own personal and professional journey, I want to share one final thought. Another line in the movie reminded me of what teachers are entrusted to do. Kevin Costner, in the lead role of Ray Kinsella, commented that for many, a five minute Major League baseball career would be considered a tragedy.
With that said, Doc Graham answered, “Son, if I’d only got to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”
If I could have creative license, I would change the quote just to bit to read: “Friends, if you only got to be a teacher for five minutes, now, that would be a tragedy.”
 Robinson (Director). (1998) Field of Dreams [Motion Picture].United States: Universal Studios.
 Robinson (Director). (1998) Field of Dreams [Motion Picture].United States: Universal Studios.