Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Does Not Love Breathing...

I read this awesome post, by The Bloggess today which let me know that this week is Banned Book Week.  I don't know if that's for sure.  I mean, it's not marked on my calendar or anything, but Jenny doesn't typically steer me wrong.  (Yes, I refer her to as Jenny.  She follows me on Twitter.  Well... me and like 13,000 other people.  It's a minor detail.) 

And it did what all awesome writing does.  It made me think.  And reflect.  And smile.  And feel inspired.

Man, words are totally effing incredible sometimes.

I think I've made it clear that I love books, yes?  I love them here, or there, or anywhere.  So the idea of banning books makes my skin crawl.  Even a book that I hate (although, off-handedly, I can't think of one of those).  Maybe it's because I don't have children to shelter from the cold, cruel, sex-crazed, profanity-laced world.  Or maybe it's because I hope that, even if I did have children, I'd own up to the fact that we all live in a cold, cruel, sex-crazed, profanity-laced world... and then TEACH them how to NAVIGATE it rather than fear it.

The closest I've ever been to a banned book is my elementary library.  And by "elementary library", I mean the school library I used from 1st through 12th grade.  (Don't forget that my first grade classroom and my Senior English classroom were only like 150 yards apart and connected by a couple of breezeways).  But the library was separated into some clearly defined shelving systems.  The end closest to the door and the check-out counter was for the elementary school kids.  Then biographies (which were open to all).  Then, in the middle of the room -- and, yes, I said "room" as in singular -- was the Holy Grail in my eyes.  The Young Adult shelves.  That section was both the metaphorical and literal barrier to grown-up books. 

Well, truthfully, it was the barrier to the reference section, but that just doesn't have the same ring, now does it?

But my flirtations with the Young Adult Shelves doesn't begin with me.  It begins with my brother, the local boundary pusher in my family.  My brother is four years older than me.  He is a voracious reader who imparted both the skill and love for reading to me when I was merely 5.  When he was in the early stages of junior high, he decided that he'd had enough of the elementary section, waltzed over to the YA section, picked up a forbidden book, and plopped it down on Mrs. Stavenhagen's desk. 

She promptly told him to put it back.  And what Mrs. Stave said... you did.

I don't know if there was much of a fight put up at the time.  All I know is that later that evening, my mom was presented with some pen and paper and asked to write a note declaring that she was perfectly okay with my brother checking out books from any and all categories.  In truth, I think it was as much about knocking down a seemingly stupid rule (my brother absolutely detests stupidity) as it was about which book he wanted.  Nevertheless, the next day, my brother crossed the threshhold.  More than anything though, he blazed the path for me.  For that, I will be thankful.

By the time I was in the 4th and 5th grade, Mrs. Stave would simply stand aside and watch me go, knowing full well that my brother's note from so long before served as my note as well.  My goal was to read every book in that library, no matter which shelf it lived upon.  I fell short, of course, but the lessons I learned within those bindings live with me still today.  No other reading has affected me like the reading I did as a pre-teen/teen.

The first book that ever grabbed hold of me was "To Kill a Mockingbird".  I have probably read it 20 times, and there are still moments that I have to close its cover and breathe a deep breath or throw it down in anger or hold it to my heart and weep.  It made my cheeks burn with shame and put the microscope on humanity.  Then it held my eye to the lens.  But it wasn't just the acknowledgment of injustice and prejudice, it taught me about courage.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

It taught me about  love.  It taught me that friendship knows no boundary of age or class or color.  It taught me that growing up is neither graceful or delicate.   And most certainly, it was not easy.

"Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad."

There it is.  The lump.  In my throat.  Oh, God.  Talk amongst yourselves.

I had probably read this book 5 times before I ever heard that someone wanted to ban it.  And, honestly, I am still unsure why.  Each time I re-read it, that thought, the thought of it perched on the top of a madman's bonfire, makes my stomach ache.

But there were many books that changed me, some controversial, some not.  Yet their importance in shaping who I am, how I view the world, and what I believe is true and necessary has never faded.  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. (I still cannot re-read this book. I wept for days. I weep still to think of it. This reason alone, I think, is why I will never teach the 8th grade.) Fahrenheit 451... Brave New World... 1984... Animal Farm... Catcher in the Rye... Where the Red Fern Grows... Bridge to Terabithia... The Outsiders... The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn... Charlotte's Web... Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret... The Red Badge of Courage...  The Pigman... Carrie... Flowers in the Attic... Lord of the Flies...

The list could go on forever, and I find myself -- even at the elderly age of 35 -- still adding to this list of important Young Adult literature.  The Hunger Games Trilogy... Speak... The Harry Potter Series... The Book Thief (oh, how I cheered her on.)... Only now, it's the for the Young Adults in my classroom.  And there's no age limit upon my little bookshelf.

So in honor of Banned Book Week, I leave you with an invitation to tell me about your own life-changing books -- controversial or otherwise, YA or otherwise -- for I'm always on the look-out for a good book... and with one last quote from the smartest narrator I've ever known, Scout Finch.

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." -- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tim Gunn, Hawaiian Jams, and Amateur Psychology

I am hopelessly addicted to Project Runway.  Hopelessly.

It's quite laughable, really, as my outfit of choice is usually jeans, t-shirt, flip-flops, and a ponytail.  Even Tim Gunn couldn't "make it work".  Still, I enjoy the hell out of it.  And Tim Gunn?  I want him to be my gay Yoda.  I like the bitchiness of Michael Kors, and I love the black t-shirt uniform.  But he cannot measure up to a man in a suit with a red and white gingham button-down shirt.  Ever.

The amateur psychologist in me says that my obsession might all stem from my first-ever failing grade in Home Economics.  Mrs. B, my teacher and StuCo advisor, pushed me to my very limits. Oh, bless her heart.  I do not understand how she dealt with my 15 year-old drama.  I started strong with a blue walrus pillow (which is still in my childhood bedroom, thank you), but the slow coast to Flunksville kicked off with an apron.  Oh, that mother-effin' apron.  Black and white toille with a black edging.  Damn you, edging.  Damn you.  By the time we moved on to a very happenin' set of jams, I was on red-alert nervous breakdown watch.  Seams?  Patterns?  That little wheelie, marking thing?  I have to cut the fabric so that the crazy yellow flowers match up?  POCKETS??   It kind of gives me the cold sweats to think about, and it's been 20 years.  I think I cried myself to sleep for a straight week.

In true fashion, however, my mom pulled out her sewing machine (What?  You have a sewing machine?), gave me a 10 minute tutorial, and TA-DAH, a slightly janky pair of Hawaiian print jams appeared.  No pockets, but I was just happy to survive.

(This is totally my mom, by the way.  Full of ninja-like skills that she has absolutely no interest in pursuing further.  *sigh*)

The fact that I was only slightly more adept at the cooking semester might be the birth place of my addiction to "Top Chef".  And the fact that I've never been within a hundred miles of any border might explain my dreams of competing on the "Amazing Race".  It doesn't seem like a good thing that all of my t.v. favorites just reality versions of all my past-life failures. 

Except "Hoarders".  Which is somehow a creepy flash forward fall-apart.  *shudder*

I have yet to diagnose my inordinate fear of Nina Garcia, however.  Maybe next week's episode.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spread the Word, Please...

It's been like 3 weeks since I last sat down to write.  It's because my job kicks ass. 

Literally, it's kicking my ass.

The first part of this post is probably going to be sort of whiny and "Holy geez, I'm beyond tired", so if you want to scan ahead to the other way that my job kicks ass, feel free.  I'll even bold and subtitle the part that is at least slightly funny.  Hopefully, funny.  Well... it's funny to me.

For real.  The new schedule (from 11 years on block scheduling -- 4 classes for 80 minutes each + a 45 minute end o' day class -- to 6 classes at 51 minutes each) is killing me.  The pace is unreal.  I feel like I never sit down from 7:30 AM until my conference period at 3:00.  And even then, I don't just sit down, I melt into my chair and proceed to rest my head on my desk for 10 solid minutes.  How did all of my former teachers do this for basically their entire careers?  They were OLD when they were my teachers.

Oh, wait.  Now I'm OLD.  Ahhh... THIS is how you get to be OLD.  No wonder.  I apologize to all my teachers. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love seeing my kids each day now.  I feel like I know them so much better, and they know and remember me (and my expectations) day-to-day.  But daaannnngggg.... there's a lot to do in that day.  Then, between 7th grade volleyball and lesson planning and grading, I have been working 60+ hours each week.  If I was the super-politico type, I'd insert some rhetoric about my paycheck here.  Luckily for you, I'm not.


But in case you think I've fallen out of love with my job, you'd be wrong.  I've known my students for just under a month, but they've already doled out 2 months worth of whacked-out good times.  My theory is: if you teach 12 and 13 year old kids and they don't make you bite the inside of your mouth to keep from laughing on a daily basis... you're not doin' it right.  Mind you, we get LOTS done in my class.  It's just that stuff isn't always very funny.

Case in point:

1.  I have a student.  His name is very different.  When I called roll and asked that students tell me what they'd like to be called (you know... like "Bob" instead of "Robert"), he replied with "Boosie".  Now, I'm no old, unhip white lady like some might suspect.  I do happen to know who Lil Boosie is.  And normally, I'd refuse this request, but I was feelin' sassy this particular day.  I agreed.  It's "Boosie" as long as you're doing your work and staying out of trouble.  He knows when he hears his real name, the show's over.  I do, however, call him "Bootsy" just to eff with him though and let him do the "crazy ol', unhip white lady slow head shake" at me.  It also makes my co-worker laugh because it reminds him of Bootsy Collins and the Parliament Funkadelic.

2.  Today, while learning about appositive phrases, another of my students wanted to write about another rapper, Wiz Khalifa (and I fully admit I did not know this one).  When I asked him to give me some extra info to rename/describe him, the student hesitated.  So, I clarified by saying, "Give me a school-appropriate noun to rename/describe him".  To which he replied, "Wiz Khalifa, a P-O-T-head, is my favorite rapper".  And, yes, he did spell out the P-O-T in "pot head".

Cut to me, biting the inside of my cheek and reminding him that just spelling something out does not, in fact, make it school appropriate. But way to go with the appropriate punctuation of your appositive phrase.  Both of those stories are from the same class.  Tomorrow we're going to talk about how to pick role models.

3.  One of my students announced that her parent is a manager for my all-time favorite store, Target.  I replied with a bewildered face.  When she asked if I was okay, I replied, "This is a miracle.  Seriously.  It's like seeing Jesus's image in my morning waffle."  Her reply?  "You're weird, Naz.  Funny.  But Weird."

4.  In my Pre-AP class, we were working on a lesson about inferencing and developing a theme.  We used some of Norman Rockwell's paintings which are abundant in detail that help tell a story.  In one painting, one of my student's announced that the woman looked "bougie".  To which, 70% of my class went, "uh... what?" while the other 30% nodded their heads furiously.  It made me deliriously happy to hear her describe, accurately I might add, all the text evidence that supported her claim that this woman was uppity.  It also gave me the chance to explain how "bougie" is derived from "bourgeois" and what that means.  It didn't matter.  By the end of class, I overheard some skinny white kid throwing down that "So-and-So has a real bougie attitude".  

5.  Actual conversation:
Student:  Can I draw a picture of a woman giving birth for the vocab word "neonatal"?
Me:  *seven solid seconds of cold staring*
Student:  Because I wasn't sure if it would be school appropriate.
Me:  *seven more seconds of deadpan staring*
Student:  How about I just draw the baby... you know... afterward?
Me:  *seven more seconds of staring.  And a deep sigh.*
Student:  Or just a picture of, like, the cutest baby ever.  No mom.  Anywhere.
Me:  Good idea.

6.  When teaching kids to serve a volleyball, it's important for them to step with their left foot (as most serve with their right hand and this is BASIC SCIENCE, and EVEN I understand BASIC SCIENCE) in order to avoid shoulder strain as well as avoiding looking cray-cray.  I say the phrase, "Step with your left foot" approximately 53 times per practice.  So, today, while the kids worked on serving, things went like so:
Kid:  *serve out of bounds*
Me:  Step with your left foot.
Kid:  *serves into the net*
Me:  Step with your left foot.
Kid:  *serves into the back of someone else's head* and then complains, "My arm hurts.  Can I stop?"
Me:  For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, when will you believe me when I say that you should STEP. WITH. YOUR. LEFT. FOOT?  For real.  Not to brag or anything, but I'm like a genius at this stuff.  After 12 years, I'm practically the Mother Teresa of B-team volleyball serving.  I'm pretty sure there's, someday, going to be a scientific study about how much more awesome you will become when you STEP WITH YOUR LEFT FOOT.
Kid:  *steps with the left foot and serves it over the net, in-bounds, center of the court.*
Me:  *deep sigh*
Kid:  I think you really might be a genius.
Me:  Spread the word, please.