Something wicked +1

Architecture of a Story
Architecture of a Story

Is it just me or does one become a veteran teacher far too soon in one’s journey? Meaning, how did I get so old?! Well, as scary as that is, it’s better than the alternative, right Poe?

Allow me to present the context: through December I have a student teacher, and boy oh boy am I happy to know her. She’s going to be a fantastic teacher, wants to do well and jump right in. This has been an especially chaotic start to the new school year for me: our administration takes great care and time to balance the master schedule, so it’s had to change multiple times to get it right. When one considers how many of our students need what is called “Essentials” in our district (it’s probably called that other places, too), it changes the dynamic quite a bit. To the point, for me personally I gave up my planning period and will be teaching six periods a day, so having an eager student teacher/intern will be enormously helpful.

One of the requirements of her program is a three-day scoped lesson, and since she and I are both enthusiastic fans of all things macabre and October, we sat down to discuss a possible text. One of the first short stories I planned on handing over to her was The Monkey’s Paw. I’ve used this story for many years and add the Vimeo film, too. It’s accessible in terms of understanding themes/tropes (be careful what you wish for! Magic has a cost! Be grateful for what you have!) and is grand, classic fun.

And that was the problem.

As I am describing the story, written in 1902, with its archaic language and cultural tropes (exotic foreign lands! Grand Fakir! Seargent Major in the grand India wars….!) her eyes seemed to glaze over, not in boredom, but in overwhelmed fear: these old stories are not this generation’s stories. She’s two years older than my oldest son, and if I may make one sweeping generalization about millennials it’s not that they haven’t read the classics, but perhaps have rejected them because they are not multicultural or diverse. Coming from my old white lady perspective, many of my beloved stories are from a narrow Victorian smelling salts place of overly tight corsets and ladies locked in boxes/towers/coffins.

The Monkey’s Paw is not a place to start when you’re a 23-year-old student teacher.

 

I put the word out on the Notice and Note page:

I’m going to the well once again — :) I have a great student teacher, and many of the classic horror stories are not in her wheelhouse. We’re thinking of her three-day filmed lessons of doing RL8.3 and a scary story. Things like The Monkey’s Paw or The Raven are not comfortable for her necessarily, so was wondering if anyone knows of poetry or short story horror that’s more contemporary? The guiding question is ‘what do we know as readers that the character(s) don’t know?’ among others. Please and thank you–

To all of you: you honor me with your amazing resources and suggestions. What I think we all struggled with though was at the heart of my question: something more contemporary. I should have just flat-out said: diverse. Multicultural. Not Dead White Guy. Not that there’s a darn thing wrong with dead white guys. Those are some of my favorite guys.

From Notice and Note Educator Experts:

But these are wonderful pieces of literature, and though I’ve used most of them extensively, have some new ones to check out:

The Landlady by Roald Dahl (short story)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (used this for years) (novel)

Don’t Ask Jack by Neil Gaiman

The Wife’s Tale by Seamus Heaney (poetry)

The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton

Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

The Right Kind of House by Henry Slezar

Reverse Insomnia – not sure (?)

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Cornell

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Waxwork by AM Burrage

The Highwayman (romantic/gothic/poetry) Alfred Noyes

Darkness Creeping Neil Shusterman (collection)

Fever Dream by Ray Bradbury

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

All in a Summer Day by Ray Bradbury

Twilight Zone/Monsters are Due on Maple Street

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze

Heading Home by Ramsey Campbell

Miriam by Truman Capote

The Open Window by Saki

The Severed Hand by Wilhelm Hauff

Under the Weather by Stephen King

E-books for Stephen King

Cabinet of Curiosities 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (I still have students trying to hand me pieces of paper with black dots)

What I found:

http://theweek.com/articles/458062/9-contemporary-horror-stories-read-right-now — ooh there are some good ones here

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2015/10/19/diverse-horror-folklore-ya/ — just bought some Rin Chupaco

http://www.livescience.com/48515-10-haunted-house-ghost-stories.html – these are ancient stories from around the world

 

And of course, there are always quick films. I have film versions of almost all the classic stories above.

Lights Out – Who’s There Film Challenge (2013) from David F. Sandberg on Vimeo.

Bloody Cuts/Who’s There Film Challenge -some are NOT appropriate, but some are pretty great.

I want to thank you all for your suggestions and insights: it reminds me again that we cannot do this alone. It’s up to my student teacher to poke around and find one that feels comfortable for her now, just like all of us have and had to do. She’s going to craft and curate her own stories to tell — and I can’t wait to hear them!

 

PS http://onebooklane.com/mistletoe-bride-short-story-kate-mosse/

 

and

The Life of Death from Marsha Onderstijn on Vimeo.

 

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Strength to fall, strength to fail, and courage to rise

peanuts-tarot

I am not a Tarot card reader, though I’ve always appreciated the art, both the visual art and the reading art of it. The reading of people is an art form I lack, woefully. Sometimes human behavior mystifies me, and I fill in my lack of knowledge with pure lizard brain responses. Or maybe it is that I read people all too well, but haven’t developed the kind, soft tools to maneuver or add nuance to these interactions, especially when they go south. Unfortunately for my personal and professional relationships, this doesn’t always take the form of gentle, self-reflective musing, but bursts forth, unconfined, in a shower of detritus, flinging emotional responses. In other words: me and my big mouth.

One such big mouth moment happened recently. When these moments happen, I think, analyze, reflect and seek to gain understanding so I can avoid it in the future, handle it differently, and get to the root of the issue. I will always respond to a student in tears with a protective momma bear instinct, but in this case, I question my biases that have been brewing for months now. I am angry at how children have been left out of this conversation, intentionally and egregiously by a certain politician and his followers. Let me restate: not left out, but further abandoned and marginalized with exacting motives.

These motives are embedded with so many historical precedents it boggles the mind. Do we ever learn?! No outcome for this amount of hatred is going to have faithful, hopeful, or loving landing spot. We crashed the towers fifteen years ago, and we’re still falling hard to the ground.

There are many Muslim students at my school who are anxious, even slightly terrified, of current political events. When I saw a child in full Muslim dress, of whom we have many, and this child is distraught, did I overreact because not only are students of this faith currently being targeted by a certain ‘politician’ and his minions? Did I grossly project my concerns, or what I’ve been witnessing, absorbing that level of anxiety? And if that is even a tiny possibility–what do I do now?

He is also seditiously targeting Hispanic and Latino students as well. And the white kids are most likely confused, and the Black children have been hearing the angry, ignorant banter against them for generations. Please do not misunderstand: reflection is painful — if this bias in any way informed my response then I need to get myself in check. It was just a girl crying because of all the emotions that come with being a 7th grader, and trying to follow the rules. And when she didn’t follow the rules and was chastised by another person, she was upset and came to me. Nothing more. Right?

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. As it gets further away, the children are younger and have no living memory, but their families do. And we’ve gone further away as a nation from the place we were on September 12. Or at least I feel this way–that may not be true. I honestly don’t know anymore. I do know I am feeling more protective, more vigilant, and less tolerant of deceit and bigotry. Especially when it comes from family, whom I have no control over, or friends, which I do. I cannot imagine being a teacher and considering voting for one of the candidates. He has told us exactly who he is. We need to believe him.

As for our students from all walks of life, experiences, creed, color, faith and nationhood, I am asking my colleagues to consider one thing — we are living in a new situation and context that we have not faced before as a nation or as teachers. If you had told me fifteen years ago that we would be in this place now with normalized lying and hate mongering I wouldn’t have believed you. We flew flags, we prayed, we cried, and we held the hearts of heroes in our hands. We wanted them and their families to be helped, supported, and nurtured. Now Congress won’t pass funding to help the first responders who have many long-term health issues. I am not sure where the money that was raised went. Did it make it to the families? And why is a politician allowed to make the same false arguments and conclusions that were done to Japanese Americans during WWII? How can his followers be so hypocritical, and forget painfully learned lessons?

The tower tarot, when upright, is a sign of upheaval, disaster, and chaos.

Just like a wall.

When upside down, it’s avoidance of chaos. Just like when the walls come tumbling down.

I am self-reflective, but let this be known: I will always stand up for a crying child, and never apologize for this. Sometimes my big mouth is right, and I hope we all have better ears to listen. I have faith in this, and faith in myself to get this right.

 

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Your tribe:

tribeThis is how our 7th Grade ELA PLC formed last year: we were a tribe. Close, respectful, funny, collaborative. We have new people this year, but already we get along great. It must be tough to come in new to a situation: I moved so much growing up I am attuned to making sure to assess the lay of the land before going gangbusters. Listen, watch, and learn: and know first impressions are only one impression, and like the wrapper on a candy bar should probably be thrown away before consumption.

Each group has its own culture, for better or worse, and if you’re not feeling at least some of these things on Duckworth’s poster, then it may be time to find a new tribe.

Here’s to my tribe this year: I’m here for you, as I know you are for me.

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The Power of Storytelling

Science is an art.
Science is an art.

Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.

And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”

In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.

But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and  ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.

Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:

wells fargo

Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled.  (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

From Knowing Stuff is Inseparable from Literacy: 

This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!

Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.

Here is the other side:

All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.

As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions? 

Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.

14 Books That Connect Students With Valuable Scientists’ Struggles

 

https://oldbrainteacher.com/

 

A Model for Teacher Development: A Precursor for Change — Jackie Gernstein

 

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That’s not a mouse.

If you don't see it you don't have middle school teacher x-ray vision. Sorry. Thanks for playing.
If you don’t see it you don’t have middle school teacher x-ray vision. Sorry. Thanks for playing.

Today was our first day back.

Wait. Let me try again.

Today was our first day back!

The increase in exclamation points tripled this past year. But mental exclamation points serve to keep us going. We are only as positive as our punctuation, people. All in all, a really good day. Woke up at 3:45AM instead of 3, didn’t stress about anything really, knew it would be a little chaotic, and managed to adult hard getting myself and my new student teacher coffee. I say ‘new’ which seems redundant because I’ve never had a student teacher before, so the new is for me.

Folks were surprised I’ve never had a student teacher before. I said ‘building human capacity’ wasn’t a top priority for some administrators in the past.

Was diplomatically complimented this morning: my ideas may not have been reaching the staff or have had a receptive audience but now there is someone in place who can share my ideas. So I’ve got that going for me. Wait, what just happened? It’s cool, it’s cool. Last year was the first time in a long time I was on a functional, responsive and collaborative PLC. But with our turnover in my building, it would be easy to assume no one listens to me because they might not like me. Nope, that’s not it. They just don’t know me. Literally. There and gone. And to my credit, those who do know me tend to like me. I’ve got a 99% success rate.* No one listens to anyone when the staff is on survival mode. This year, too, I’m on a great PLC grade level team. I can’t wait to work with veterans and rookies alike. But I may have blown it already when it comes to first impressions. *sigh* But first impressions are easy to make and difficult to untangle.

What first impressions do our students make?

Well…

The schedule on this first day involves students getting schedules, and shorted ‘nice to meet you’ classroom times. I put white butcher paper and markers on the table with directions to talk, scribble, doodle, etc. This young man created this piece of art, and when I asked him about it, apparently it’s a mouse. See the big ears? And the long body?

Yes, yes I see it. And so does your group of wannabe alpha males at the table.

We’ll take care of this on Day II. I have some impressions already, too.

 

Postscript:

The bigger picture...
The bigger picture…the dragon especially is poignant.

*Standard deviation of likeability scale not subject to peer review.

 

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