Current/Recent Reading List

26 September 2008

Those Given To Us

Well, they include those we work with, and we all know those folks impact our lives in a multitude of ways.

My immediate co-workers (English teacher subset) are eminently talented teachers, and eminently intelligent; most are truly fun to know, and blessings to their students. The majority of them (or at least the vocal majority), are also quite different from me in two key areas: politically, and religiously. Their politics, as one might expect, are mostly quite liberal; their religious beliefs are hard to categorize without deeper conversation, but suffice it say they display either a contempt for, or at least an ambivalence toward, religious institutions and church attendance.

If I had my way, it would never occur to anyone to bring these areas up in the workplace; and yet (especially as election fever has been rising over the last year) in my time at School #2 I've been stuck in the middle of countless English teacher break room/lunch break/after-the-bell-hanging-out gatherings that have, seemingly spontaneously, broken out into political/religious harangue sessions (today at lunch was the latest example). The language always seems to turn bitter and salty, and the certitude more, well, certain. And I have been the lone one in the room who might disagree with them. Last March, when I finally admitted I was refusing an offered cookie because chocolate was one of the things I gave up during Lent, the room suddenly turned into a funeral parlor. I don't conflate religion with politics, but imagine if I had added a positive comment about the surge in Iraq while I was at it.

Hard to say this without sounding like a braggart, but it's funny that in the department I'm probably the most scholarly, the most egg-headed, and the most seriously read of them all. Not a feather in my cap; it's just the way I roll, and my particular experience. But I'm also the most likely to hang out with, in fact to be one of, the petty bourgeouise who mows his yard, helps coach baseball, and doesn't cringe when someone says grace before a meal. Others who don't share my politics or religious beliefs do the same, but I find these folks much more like me than like my colleagues.

The everlasting question is, what to do in these awkward work situations, which, if I had my way, would never arise in the first place? To this point, I've basically remained silent. I feel neither the energy/interest to engage in political office debates, nor feel I possess the skill for them (the Wyfe might serve as a wonderful stand-in for me in such matters). It seems I am much less inclined to view my fellow man in political terms than they are, anyway.

Still, part of me believes I'm a wimp, pure and simple

I suppose I would be more comfortable with religious conversations, but I'm not one to bring these up, and don't feel my colleagues would engage in good faith anyway. To them, it seems, non-lapsed Christians fit all the worst caricatures of dumb redneck gay-haters.

Mostly, I wonder at their contempt and bitterness. I don't think they are idiots or rubes, and try to see their religious hang-ups, in particular, through compassionate eyes. Not everyone like them says what they do, or behaves as they do, so I try to resist engaging in caricaturing them the way they do to others. But they sure don't make it easy.

O.k., enough whining, Schoolboy.

21 September 2008

Want to Know What My Friday Morning Was Like?

We've been working on five-line poems in the past week: two nouns joined by a conjunction, prepositional phrase, subject and verb, and participial phrase - all meant to evoke more than explain. See what you can sleuth from this self-portrait (not as bad as it sounds, I promise!):

Neglected zipper,

and a morning beard untended,

upon his shirt red marker stains,

teacher of writing lost in words,

composing himself into a mug shot.

15 September 2008

Informal Poll For You

To attend a potential 20th year high school reunion, or not to attend a potential 20th year high school reunion? That is the question.

Pretty sure I already know my answer, but I would love some input and brief explanations for your answers.

12 September 2008

Irritation Station

That sums up my mood today, which is a shame since I haven't posted in so long (grading papers every night - hellllllp!), and things have mostly been off to a great start. But the past week was a trial, and when I finally sat down to post an update on Tuesday, we figured out our DSL modem had crapped out on us. Just got the new one today, and all appears well with the internets. But, withdrawal was an issue.

Update #1 - The Guest Speakers
As you may have seen in my comments, we were all prepared for an intervention with Ms. New Teacher over our uneasy feelings regarding her boyfriend and his brother coming to speak to the kids. But the evening before that happened, it turns out, another intervention occured: she and some of the other women English teachers had a blowout over the way she's been dressing (too provocatively), and she left school distraught. Fortunately - oh, most fortunately - I wasn't there. The next day, sensing a need to mend fences, no one had the heart to try and pull the "guest speaker rug" out from under her (there is a rather clever pun in that last phrase,I must say, if you can guess the country the guest speakers' parents are from). However, we did let her know some of our concerns, and we all felt a little better about it going in, albeit begrudgingly. Well, turns out the guys were really rather good. Their father was an enemy of the extremist regime which took over their country, and the family had to flee because of a hit out on him. They both praised America and Americans, and said we were loved among the populace in said country and its neighbors. They both said they wholeheartedly support both wars of the post-911 era. And, they both denounced the religious extremists who they believe warp their religion.

Now, if this had been a session of Meet the Press, there were probably many things they could have been grilled on, by me or others, as to the history of their religion and how it relates to current happenings. But at least there was no dissembling on their parts when it came to the topic of terrorism - they didn't even go for the "its partly due to decisions of the American government" line. And, considering the story they told of their family's terrifying flight, I think there is good reason to believe their sincerity.

Update #2 The Classes
Through the first two weeks I was absolutely in love with my classes. Then, as usual, they got comfortable and began showing themselves in the glory that is the full human being. Still love them, but this is when love becomes more the verb and less the sentiment.

I will say that among the kids in my honors class are a large number of first rate writers - best I've ever seen, and their personal narratives have been unbelievably good. On many occasions the writing has not only been outstanding, but has exhibited courage that makes me envious. My favorite piece is by a girl who recounted her experience of having a growth removed from her spine at age 5. The growth was so aggressive that the doctor's couldn't get it out in time to save her from partial paralysis, but she rehabilitated and rehabilitated, and finally was able to walk again. Today she is a normal teen whose right leg drags a bit, but who is also a first-rate violinist in a youth orchestra and probably the smartest person in a smart class. A beautiful story, beautifully written, by a beautiful young soul.

Update #3 The Soap Operas
Nasty political comments from English teachers who walk lock-step in the manner you might expect, nasty comments about the armed forces, catty comments about fellow carpoolers, yearbook kids with simmering feuds, mumbled misgivings about new teachers, mumbled misgivings about old, inflexible teachers, reluctance to share resources, grumpiness about our starting time (7:10 am!), hurtful gossip, dissimulations, grouchiness about graduation projects, snapping at secretaries, slamming doors, crying.

One month of work, and I've seen, or heard all of it. Such is the warp and woof of the school day. O.k., so that's not the whole picture, but I told you what kind of mood I'm in today...

God grant us grace.