The Coping Kids

Back in the day before shaming kids was frowned upon – that is, during my first year or two as a teacher – I used to ask kids who weren’t paying attention to teach the lesson to the class. And the results weren’t pretty and certainly not educationally-beneficial.

As my conception of understanding material evolved, so too did my methods (thankfully). No longer was it a punishment to have to explain components of a lesson. Instead, it presented kids the chance to breakdown concepts in their own words. They then could relay them to their peers who could access the material better because it was in their own language. If they could explain it, they owned it.

As we continue to adjust to this new self-isolation that has seen learning move to the digital classroom, students are reading and responding to texts, participating in discussions, asking each other questions and getting real feedback. Whether they realize it or not, they’re also advancing their education, for in being able to explore concepts and explain them in our own words, they grow their understanding – just as students did on a regular basis in the classroom through small and whole class activities.

In their responses they type over the computer, I know it’s them for the most part – not because of the grammatical mistakes, which there are some – but because they type like they speak. And that makes me smile because it’s some semblance of before in a time where the only question on everyone’s mind is what happens next.

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Quarantine Week 2 Consumption Recap

Each week, I intend to post what we’re consuming – food and media – for a couple reasons:

  1. To chronicle our actions
  2. To provide ideas for others
  3. To take our attention from the news
  4. To stay sane (see #3)

You’ll notice that there have not been any books mentioned on here, and that is an astute observation. I have been on a reading hiatus, trying to keep my head above water with a new work format while writing a new unit. I just haven’t had it in me after hours spent reading at my computer to crack open a book.

Until now. Here are some of the books I’ve picked out for the next week or two:

Documentaries/Docuseries:

“Here Kitty Kitty” – Joe Exotic

‘Tiger King’ – Joe Exotic, name says it all – Polygamy, meth, guns, murder for hire, BIG cats, and private zoos. Like, what?

  • Every episode gets more and more ridiculous and just when you think the unsavory character level has reached its max, here comes Jeff Lowe, Doc Antle, some Miami coke runner, the worst hitman in the history of hitmen, the Louie Andersen look-a-like, another husband for Joe, a horrific bull-tattoo cover up tattoo, and of course the husband-killer Carole Baskin and her accessory Howard.
  • By the end of it, you can’t help but feel sorry for poor old Joe (in a messed up, disregarding he probably burned down his alligator lair, killed lions, unwittingly embezzled, fed lions, employees and customers rotting meat, and plied impressionable young men with meth kind of way).
  • #FreeJoeExotic.

‘After Truth’ – Have made it to the same part twice – right after the Comet Pizza segment – and haven’t finished it yet. I think we’re becoming too used to the one hour docuseries set up. We simply cannot keep our focus for more than hour blocks at a time. Now, I know how my students feel.

Food Highlights:

  • Tuesday, 3/24 Lunch: Festive Turkey Wrap – Ovengold turkey breast, turkey bacon, crumbled cheddar, roasted brussels sprouts, sliced yam, diced onion, arugula, on a spinach wrap with a splash of Ken’s Italian (the best in the game).
  • Tuesday, 3/24 Dinner: Greek meatloaf – lamb, beef, parsley, garlic, parmesan, salt, pepper – green-leaf salad with roasted brussels sprouts, chunked yam, and chopped onion tossed in a homemade Italian herb and garlic dressing, and white cheddar macaroni and cheese (Amanda’s secret: hit it with the truffle salt).
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Quarantine Week 1 Consumption Recap

Each week, I intend to post what we’re consuming – food and media – for a couple reasons:

  1. To chronicle our actions
  2. To provide ideas for others
  3. To take our attention from the news
  4. To stay sane (see #3)

Documentaries/Docuseries:

  • ‘McMillions’ – Uncle Jerry, enough said.
  • ‘The Pharmacist’ – Dan Schneider is relentless in his pursuit of justice
  • ‘The Women of Troy’ – Chronicling Cheryl Miller and the University of Southern California’s rise to NCAA powerhouse in the 80s that put women’s college basketball – and women’s sports in general – on the national map. A must watch regardless of level of sports interest.

Regular watching:

  • ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ – Poor Mocha Joe, Leon FTW, and Larry being Larry. Still think they should have done more with Jeff as Harvey Weinstein because that’s giggle-fest even if it’s messed up.
  • ‘Chicago PD’ – Mindless television, perfect for self-isolation
  • ‘The Blacklist’ – See ‘Chicago PD’ + a bit better of a plot

Movies:

  • Started ‘After Truth’ – will reserve judgement until next week, but wow, people are impressionable and ignorant.
  • ‘Knives Out’ – Daniel Craig and Chris Evans acting outside of the action hero role was pretty surprising. I would watch this on Friday night even if we WERE allowed to go out.
  • ‘Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark’ – A classic because why not?

Food Highlights:

  • Monday, 3/16 Lunch: Roasted chicken wraps two ways – 1. Spinach wrap – roasted chicken breast, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese; 2. Sun-dried tomato wrap – roasted chicken breast, mixed green salad, American cheese, homemade herb and garlic dressing (splash white vinegar, olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic, lemon)
  • Wednesday, 3/18 Breakfast: Yogurt parfait – Vanilla yogurt, high-protein almond granola, and Special K almond cereal
  • Wednesday, 3/18 Lunch: Roast beef wraps – Rare roast beef, roasted red peppers, arugula, American cheese, Ken’s Italian dressing.
  • Thursday, 3/19 Breakfast: Turkey bacon and egg sandwich on King’s Hawaiian mini-rolls
  • Friday, 3/20 Dinner: Homemade pita bread pizza with Rao’s sauce and fresh parmesan – margarita, roast ham, and spinach pies
  • Saturday, 3/21 Dinner: Roasted pork burritos – quinoa and brown rice, chopped onions, homemade guacamole

For the Freezer (because why wouldn’t I be freezing stuff in subconscious fear that we won’t be able to go to/order from the supermarket):

  • Monday, 3/16: Roasted red peppers – light olive oil, salt, garlic; skin while cooling.
  • Tuesday, 3/17: Spinach quiche – butter, eggs, frozen spinach drained, cheddar, garlic, onion.
  • Wednesday, 3/18: Ham and bean soup – made from the stock and meat remnants of a ham bone; added chopped onions, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, Roman beans and white beans.

Shock to the System

City Fresh by me in Long Island City last week
  • Self-isolation
  • Social distancing
  • Hand-washing for two rounds of “Happy Birthday”
  • Grocery stores’ shelves straight out of 1980s Russia
  • Price gouging
  • Hand-sanitizing to the point it draws blood
  • Drive-through testing sites
  • Hazmat suits
  • Empty trains and buses
  • Businesses shuttering
  • Thousands of people losing their jobs
  • Lockdown

This is like a disaster movie.

A bad one.

Where the scariest part isn’t Matt Damon’s acting or Gwyneth Paltrow just taking up space.

No, the scariest part is that you do not know. And, in truth, nobody really does yet.

Not even Morgan Freeman!

It has taken me over a week to wrap my head around the ever-changing prognosis and restrictions; I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit disconcerting. I mean, really, who is going to say it’s not scary that your entire state is essentially shutting down for the foreseeable future with no restart date in mind because there is a virulent virus ravaging our communities indiscriminately? If they do not feel even a shred of concern, then they’re probably getting their news from social media.

I admittedly like concrete answers; as a teacher, I assess problems and come up with solutions and then move on to another issue. So this current predicament we all now find ourselves in presented me with a paralysis of sorts. I felt like the guy in the quit smoking commercial who can’t figure out how to get his leg into his pants.

I was getting up as if I was going to work. Except I didn’t have to shower at that time. Or brush my teeth. Or get dressed.

I didn’t have to pack my lunch or get to work early to set up a stations activity or make copies of the pick up for the day.

I was untethered, struggling like a first year teacher to find my footing. And that has nothing to do with not being able to do the job. I have all the confidence that I am providing a quality digital learning experience to my students and giving them feedback as I would if we were in the classroom.

Except we’re not.

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State Test Struggles

LONG week, but so many positive developments. And it’s Friday, so even if it’s a bad one, who cares? It’s Friday!!!

Anyway, the ELA state test is coming up and my students are about to articulate their positions on it in the form of a poem.

Why? Well, for starters, they’re the ones who have to take a subjective standardized test that is as boring as having to proctor it – maybe a little less boring actually. With that said, since they’re humans, they have opinions about it. This is their opportunity to put them on paper and speak them to life.

Here’s a sample I’ll use with them today:

Untitled

The ta-ta-tapping pencil

Dancing across the page,

A snoring boredom

Stretching across his face.

He paints pointless patterns

And sharp, serrated shapes

To pass the time from the test

He cannot seem to escape.

The questions question him,

Mocking in a language all their own,

You’re just not smart enough 

To decipher me, the question drones.

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Owning Our Failures

I just kicked off a unit titled Striving for Success that begins with students responding to quotes about success and failure; one of the following was an option for them:

The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

— Barack Obama

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 25:  President Barack Obama (R) poses for photographs with Kobe Bryant (L) and members of the National Basketball Association 2009 champions Los Angeles Lakers in the East Room of the White House January 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. The Lakers bested the Orlando Magic to win the NBA Finals in 2009.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – JANUARY 25: President Barack Obama (R) poses for photographs with Kobe Bryant (L) and members of the 2009 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the East Room of the White House January 25, 2010 (photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No matter how many inspirational quotes you read about how necessary failure is in order to achieve success, , though, that doesn’t change the fact that failure sucks.

Period.

Nobody gets up in the morning and says, I cannot wait to fail today!

Yet, that neither gets to the point of either of those quotes nor provides the proper context of failure. People desire immediate gratification. I see it in my students who do not want to edit their work, thinking that the production of one very rough draft means the work is done. Taking constructive criticism and making improvements based on it hurts. We do not receive the immediate praise we think we deserve on a piece we put effort into; then, we’re expected to somehow find the motivation to do better?

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After Break Flow

Getting back into the flow after break – I know, I’m a teacher, I get a lot of time off, I’m not complaining about it, don’t hate me – we’re in the year 2020. Just writing that seems odd. This is the time I always associated with the future. But we’re here.

Odd indeed.

My students do not seem to be fazed by it as much as I am. Probably because they were born in 2006 or later…gasp! They’re in the midst of examining bias, discrimination, and racism in To Kill a Mockingbird.

As Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility – a text that EVERY human should read – said in the February 16, 2019 Guardian piece about her book:

‘We have to stop thinking about racism simply as someone who says the N-word,’ she says. ‘This book is centred in the white western colonial context, and in that context white people hold institutional power.’ This means understanding that racism is a system rather than just a slur; it is prejudice plus power. And in Britain and the US at least, it is designed to benefit and privilege whiteness by every economic and social measure. Everyone has racial bias but, as DiAngelo is determined to establish, ‘when you back a group’s collective bias with lingering authority and institutional control, it is transformed’.

They’re doing a PHENOMENAL job of accessing the text and making connections to outside sources and their own lives. What’s more, they’re having authentic conversations about race that most adults have been hiding from for decades. For a generation more entitled than mine, this is a step in the right direction.

Learning to talk about challenging subject matter and listen to varying viewpoints and actually HEAR them and communicate productively even if you do not agree is critical in giving a voice to all and beginning to deconstruct past and prejudicial power structures. I write this as people become more entrenched in their beliefs on both sides of the aisle and are increasingly less willing to consider the perspectives of others. Who would have thought that in the year 2020 political affiliation would supersede the ties that bind us as humans?

Pivoting away from the current state of our country, on a positive note I’m beginning to get back into writing. For the first time in a long time, I have an April deadline set on old work; namely, ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’. Then, I will return to Westchester to see my old friend Foday Samateh – author of the Good Country trilogy. While I have not done a good job of keeping in touch since I left, he has. Because he’s just that good.

After that, it’s either full steam ahead on ‘The Heroin Times’ or developing a fictional text tentatively titled ‘The School.’ We shall see. That and obviously developing new and engaging lessons for my students. Poetry, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Night are all coming after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Writing goals, professional goals, life goals – they’re what keep us moving, keep us motivated, give us our purpose for getting up beyond just the paycheck we get from our nine-to-five or six-to-seven – however you want to look at it.

Regardless, we endure with the promise of a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that will be bountiful whenever it comes.

Christmas Time Reflections

Christmas was so many things growing up:

  • The time you counted down the days for the minute you got back from summer vacation
  • The time you didn’t understand why your family had to make all the fish on Christmas Eve
  • The time you couldn’t wait to fall asleep to wake up to Christmas morning and all the presents you were hopefully lucky to have under your tree
  • The time you rushed to finish up the semester to get home to see your friends
  • The time when everyone would be together and no matter how long it had been since you’ve seen each other, it still felt like yesterday.

Those days are long in the past now with people having passed on, moved away, kicked out, and new family, new traditions, new locations – a seemingly new life even – having taken their place (never replaced, though). And that’s okay because we are ever-changing, ever a work-in-progress. As Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan write in Watch Us Rise – a MUST-READ if you haven’t read it already (and yes, I’m taking this quote out of context, but it’s still applicable):

Knowing that change is natural and change is healthy, I give you three past holiday-inspired blogs all built around the theme of change.

May your holidays be restful and plentiful and may they be with the people whom you want to spend time – because this life is too short to waste it with the people who don’t matter:

Last Christmas in Manhattan

And So This is Christmas And With It The Lessons Learned Throughout the Years

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

That Holiday Hustle

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas via Biography

Thanksgiving and Christmas might as well be combined into one holiday. That’s at least how it feels sometimes. It’s like the moment you’re done breaking bread and wishbones, you’re sitting down again for the seven fish.

As I’ve gotten older, there seems to be less and less time in between the holidays – in a figurative sense, of course. This year, I barely had time to complain about the Christmas music coming on the radio too soon or that movie marathon rushing and ushering the holidays. This year, the timing of each seemed appropriate.

We even set up our Christmas tree in early December, a far cry from our usual a couple days before Christmas because we forgot or got too busy or just were so defeated by the season that we really didn’t care.

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Until I See You Again

SAFOOMA Golf Tournament, 2011 – Photo credit to Joseph Pijanowski

When I look at this picture, it’s so far away – nearly nine years ago. Everyone in it still has some paunch – only a couple years removed from college – more hair too, no grays. Just starting out in the adult world, we’re all so bright-eyed, so exuberant, so full of life.

As distant as the picture from 2011 seems, it’s yet so close at the same time. Like the beginning of The Sand Lot where you see a picture you haven’t seen in a long, long time, and you reminisce fondly, reminisce about friends then, friends now, and all the memories.

The memories you didn’t realize you were making at the time until you had forgotten you had made them rush to you, taking you back to that time in the past when life was as simple as 30-racks of Bud Light, a round of golf, a bus driver who has to pull the bus over multiple times for wildly offensive language, questions of who’s sleeping in the golf cart or who’s getting kicked out of the bar or who wet the bed – not questions of when the funeral will be held, what’s the soonest flight you can catch, and where will you stay. These are the new memories that meld with the old, these that now flow through you like the wind blowing through Hingham town as you’re waiting outside a church – not a funeral home, an entire church – to wake your old friend.

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