July 28, 2006

The D.C. Report

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:56 pm by mrsmauck

Well, my legs are still sore, and I’m a little sunburnt, but I think I’m fully recovered from some jampacked days in Washington, D.C.! What a fun city! Love the metro, love the Smithsonian and all its glorious free-ness, love the restaurants, love the shopping.

The conference was quite motivating, what with Congressman Chakah Fattah speaking to us about how he framed GEAR UP as a program for his native Philadelphia, and then seeing its success, proposed a bill in the U.S. legislature to make it nationwide. And look at us now, seven years later! Then Stedman Graham (that’s right, Oprah’s Stedman, who is apparently a motivational speaker and author and in some sort of vague business) gave me goosebumps, talking about how if we don’t define who we are, the world will. They will judge us based on our outward appearance and place in a box where we don’t belong. What’s the most powerful word in our language? he asked us. Education? I thought. Nope. Love. Find out what you love, who you love, what you love to do, and do it to the best of your ability. Use everything around you to make yourself a better person, and better able to do what you love. Be able to grow. This excited me not so much for myself, but as messages to pass on to my future students. Love it!

I attended a few group sessions, but mostly I sat in them just thinking from the perspective of a future teacher, and not so much as a current GEAR UP coordinator. I took some notes about effective programs and strategies, but let’s just see if my director ever asks us what we learned at the conference so we can implement new ideas at our program. I’ve met with frustration too many times from her when I approach her with program ideas. OKAY! Enough venting!

On a brighter note, I was the chaperone for two excellent boys from our program who were selected to participate in the Youth Leadership Summit portion of the conference. This was SO rewarding–the boys learned so much, and the entire group did an amazing presentation at the end of the conference about the major obstacles students face in being prepared for college. They also proposed solutions. Part of the presentation was completely inspiring for me: these kids crafted poems to express how difficult it is for them to be prepared to succeed in college, and delivered them in slam poetry/drama style. It brought tears to my eyes to see young people be so passionate about important issues in such a creative way! I can’t wait to teach poetry like that in my classroom, and see kids express themselves so powerfully.

Highlights from the sightseeing part of my jaunt:

  • The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a soul-changing experience. I wish I could have spent longer in it, but I saw enough to understand that I am definitely going to teach a unit on the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel’s Night is now on my reading list.
  • The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum was just awesome. The spectacular dinosaurs, the beautiful gems, and the leaf-cutting ants were so cool! My seven-year-old brother was enraptured with pretty much everything.
  • The Smithsonian’s American History Museum was pretty good–it’s about to undergo renovation, so many exhibits were closed, but the fantastic war exhibit was still open.
  • Our tour of the Capitol building brought back some great memories of when I was a tour-giving intern for Congressman Wes Watkins.
  • Dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, VA, was really neat–George Washington and James Madison ate there! (G-dub’s favorite dish: roast duckling–yum!)

July 27, 2006

I passed!

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:11 pm by mrsmauck

Sorry readers, for leaving you in the dark for so long. Here’s the breakdown on my teacher certification test scores:

On the Oklahoma General Education Test (OGET), I scored a 281 out of 300.

On the Journalism Oklahoma Subject Area Test (OSAT), I scored a 285 out of 300.

Yay! Now, I’ve got to start jumping through hoops to be able to apply for additional subject area certification.

July 21, 2006

Headed to D.C.

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:38 pm by mrsmauck

I’m leaving tomorrow for a conference in Washington D.C. The information may or may not be useful for public educators, unlike Nani’s highly beneficial notes on her Teachers College Reading and Writing Project . I work for a federally grant-funded program for secondary students called GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), but the conferences we attend are put on by lobbyist group NCCEP, and the information is not always entirely salient to our situations, as each grant is entirely unique.

However, I fully intend to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library and as many Smithsonian museums as we have time for and can drag my seven-year-old little brother into.

Also, I find out this evening whether I passed my general education test and Journalism subject area test–why must they wait until Friday evening to tell us?! If I passed the tests, (Here’s my initial post about how the tests went, and the one that explains why I took the Journalism test.), then it’s time to hit it hard for the English test, which I will take in either September or November.

July 20, 2006

Heart of Darkness thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:57 pm by mrsmauck

Finished Heart of Darkness this week. I really enjoyed the imagery-rich prose, the brilliant characterization of Marlow, and the horrifying portrayal of Belgian colonization in the Congo. However, the plot–for me–was weak. There were too many questions and not enough answers. Perhaps too much symbolism? The entire book is often said to be an allegory for a journey into the dark human psyche. I don’t know, maybe I’m not that into psychology, but I really just prefer a good story.

In a World Lit class, if I wanted a great portrayal of colonization AND an excellent story, I would teach Wide Sargasso Sea, and screen Jane Eyre the film. Although after a quick Amazon search, I realized that I might prefer the 1996 version, with Romeo and Juliet director Franco Zefferelli, William Hurt as Rochestor, and Anna Paquin as young Jane, over the one I watched last semester in a World Lit class, with Samantha Morton as Jane and a very scowly Rochestor. Anyone seen the Zeferelli version?

WSS is absolutely beautiful: great symbolism, excellent characters, postmodern structure–perfect for forcing critical reading and digging below the surface.

July 19, 2006

Carnival of Education!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 pm by mrsmauck

Go ride some education roller coasters at this week’s Carnival of Education, at Education in Texas. One post I read: Pass-Ed’s view on high school textbooks:

Reading textbooks promotes intellectual laziness.

Ouch! I think I agree though. For Language Arts especially, all you need are anthologies. Who cares about the commentary? I’d much rather have students find their own background, biographical, and critical information themselves, on the Internet! (This is probably not always logistically possible, though.)

July 18, 2006

New Name!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:32 pm by mrsmauck

Those of you who haven’t seen my blog in a couple days probably think Mrs Which packed up and left and somebody else moved in. In fact, I’ve just been putting the finishing touches on my extreme makeover!

I changed my blog name, taking inspiration from my new template, the Bible verse in my header, and my very first post on this blog. I think it’s more fitting. I feel like you do after you first find your decorative style in your first new house: all your furniture, wall-hangings, rugs, etc., finally click, and you feel at home.

Hope you like it, too!

New Template!

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:03 pm by mrsmauck

Never fear readers and blog-buddies! I’ve just had an extreme makeover! I was tired of the clumsy fonts and dusty browns, so I got a little cleaner and nicer for ya! (No offense to the previous template, Onyx!) Also, the star theme feeds into my teacher blogger alias of Mrs Which, who in A Wrinkle in Time, is an exploded star.

I’m not much on HTML or CSS, so I got this template off Blog Templates, and I really like it.

July 17, 2006

Summer Reading Update

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:02 pm by mrsmauck

I’ve been slacking on my little “book reports” on here. I’ve finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Farewell to Manzanar since F451 (see my thoughts on it here and here.). Some thoughts on these two female coming-of-age stories where place figures very prominently:

Francie Nolan’s place in history is fairly insignificant: yes, WWI broke out during her lifetime, but it had very little bearing on her as a person. The primary forces in her childhood were her family, their poverty, and of course, Brooklyn, a place that is somehow blissful and mean; magical and coldly real, at the same time. Her imagination was vivid, and Francie’s character–especially the dichotomy between dreamer and down-to-earth girl–were what made the book so pleasurable to read. However, the novel’s length and decidedly feminine perspective make this an unlikely choice for required reading in a high school English course. It’s definitely going on my Recommendations bulletin board, though.

Farewell to Manzanar, however, is a quick read about an important time in history, where the character really only serves as a vehicle by which to deliver a personalized view on the Japanese internment during WWII. Jeanne Wakatsuki doesn’t really come alive as a character until after the internment, when she tries to gain acceptance in post-war California. One idea from this last third of the novel lingers with me: People can be conditioned to believe they are undeserving of respect and civility. This is such a heartbreaking reality, and the parallels between Manzanar and Guantanmo Bay, Pearl Harbor and 9/11, are interesting, and certainly worth discussion. I just wish that the Wakatsuki family was as three-dimensional and endearing as the Nolan family in Brooklyn. Oh, and one more heartbreaking reality: the Wakatsuki father’s answer to an American soldier’s interrogation as to his loyalty. When asked who he wanted to win the war, he replied, “When your mother and father are fighting, you don’t want one or the other to win, you just want them to stop fighting.” Online resources are abundant on this topic: I especially like this one, which is totally devoted to comparing Pearl Harbor to 9/11, and America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans and Middle Eastern-Americans. On the Japanese American National Museum’s site, students could read letters internees wrote to a California librarian. Also, the Smithsonian American History Museum did an exhibit over the internment, and it has a great website. Hmm…but am I getting too far over into U.S. History and Civics’ territory? That would be an issue to discuss with those teachers, and perhaps we could even plan a cross-curricular unit on it. If only I had a more engaging novel to center this on…

Thoughts on either of these works? Is there another, more engaging novel written about the Japanese internement of WWII?

Getting passionate about literature and writing

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:39 pm by mrsmauck

Reading this book is like having electrodes hooked up to my brain, with inspiration currents buzzing straight from the pages to my mind. It’s awesome! A few thoughts:

One of Fried’s anecdotes involves an educator who teaches a course called Life Relationships. This woman is truly courageous when it comes to education: she had her students choose the topics they would cover and how long they would spend on them during the first week of school, and then even allowed them to create some of the test questions in small groups for each unit test. What does this have to do with being a passionate English teacher? That’s one of the things I love about this book: the anecdotes are such that no matter what subject or grade level you teach, you can gain something from them. But I digress. Being a Future English Teacher in rural Oklahoma means that I will probably never teach at a school that offers a Life Relationships course–but the topics this teacher covered are so important! Things like love, dating, parental relationships, sex, etc. These are issues they actually think about everyday! And issues that come up often in literature! One of Fried’s components of passionate teaching is connection to the real world, along with collaboration and respect. I think it would be great if the students and I could have totally forthright discussions about these issues as they come up in literature. You know, the whole reader response school of literary criticism. Has this ever happened to you? How would you respond in this situation? What can we learn from this character’s experience with these serious life issues? (Obviously, these questions are a bit contrived and silly-sounding. The tone would be much more conversational and text-specific in the context of my classroom.) When students see that they can actually learn how to live better lives from literature, that’s when it comes alive, and when the knowledge and skills they’re gaining become real-world applicable. This is when the environment of respect and collaboration is strengthened: as a community of learners, we see that we’re discussing important, universal issues–not just subject-verb agreement and dead white guys.

July 13, 2006

What initally drew you to teaching?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:58 pm by mrsmauck

So I received this book in the mail yesterday, which will be one of the texts for my English methods class this fall. I read the first couple pages, and the authors want the readers to be very introspective about their teaching journey and style. They suggest that readers keep a journal of their responses and ideas. So, who knows how long this will last, but I’ll go ahead and begin my journal right here on this li’l blog!

Here’s my first reflection, in response to the question the authors posed, seen in the subject line.

I’ve really struggled with this for the last couple days. I remember an existential crisis on the phone with my then-boyfriend (now husband) during the second semester of my junior year of college. The highly structured degree program for language arts education was lying in front of me on my bed, and I was wetting it with my ardent tears of regret and internal conflict (woe was me!). “I can’t, it’s too late now; I just want to graduate and get this over with! This would be an extra year and a half at least!” I couldn’t do it; the long-distance relationship was tough enough already, and I was already getting senioritis. Looking back, I almost wish I would’ve gone ahead and stuck it out. How did I get to that moment of revelation, though? When did teaching first begin to appeal to me? What prompted me to start exploring this other degree plan? I was taking a Fiction Writing class that semester, and I remember really enjoying critiquing my classmates’ work: finding the writing’s fatal flaws and shining moments of perfect prose. My senior year though, I took a class with an inspiring novelist and a talented freelance journalist, and interned for a magazine, so my doubts were washed away in a glorious wave of ambition for being a writer.

My intentions when I graduated were to begin grad school so that I could become a school or youth librarian and a freelance writer. Took the GRE, got accepted to my school, and then decided to delay enrollment for a semester so I could get my real estate license. Hubby was getting into construction hot ‘n’ heavy, and I wanted to be able to help him. In the meantime, I was a part-time secretary at the real estate office where the class was offered. Yuck! By the time January rolled around, I was no longer interested in commuting over an hour for classes at my university, and my passion for librarianship was wearing thin. What was I supposed to do? How about an M.Ed at the school in my hometown, just for fun? I knew I wanted to go to grad school, and I’d minored in English in college, so why not an M.Ed in Secondary English? Sounds good. I start classes, and before I know it, education has hooked me. My History and Philosophy of Education class was awesome: all this reflectiveness on what makes a great teacher and how we can be “relentlessly reflective” and help kids develop higher-order thinking skills. Also, the online discussions with actual teachers were awe-inspiring: their devotion to helping the kids grow and learn and discover. I was enticed with the idea of being an educator, being a motivator, performer, student, artist, and scientist, all rolled into one totally unique, totally irreplaceable figure in a child’s life. At the beginning of the semester, I didn’t have an educational philosophy, but my final paper was that philosophy, and it was fully my own. I believe it with all my heart. At the beginning of the semester, I had only a flicker of interest in education. As I wrote that paper, that flicker burst into flame, and it hasn’t gone out yet. I’ve pasted the abstract of my philosophy below.

Learning is a journey of self-discovery, in which intellect is broadened and talents are realized. Teachers are a guide on this journey, their job being to give students attainable goals that require them to use their existing intellect and gain new knowledge in an educational experience. Students choose whether or not to embark on this journey, and the amount of zeal they will put into it. Their lessons will have applications in today’s society, thereby making them independent thinkers who are also society-minded. A successful journey through secondary education will produce a lifelong learner, critical thinker, and participant in democracy.

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