I have been teaching for over a decade and I have never had so many Nobodies. There are sixty plus Nobodies in my Honors British Literature classes alone. I am talking serious Nobodies if you know what I mean, and believe me, you don’t. It got to the point that I told these Nobodies that I wanted them all to go straight to the graveyard, yes, that’s right—the GRAVEYARD—over holiday break! In fact, I told them that their very academic lives depended upon the journey.

Earlier in the semester I wished them all onto an uncharted desert isle. Really people, which part of get lost don’t you understand? Cast yourselves away, you big bunch of Nobodies, and now!

Oh well, I am just an English teacher and Nobody’s perfect…

So what happened in B304 in the first semester in Honors British Literature that was so unusual, so unsettling? Let’s just say there were a number of murders, there was an adoption involving ghosts, there were multiple seductions, there was considerable discussion about whether Mr. Foe was friend or…well, you know…and there was an all-consuming flood that emanated from the mouth of a speechless Friday. Drama, drama, drama!

As far as teaching British Literature goes, it’s all drama to me; there is nothing old about teaching the oldest of stories. I am wowed anew each time I open my coveted copy of Beowulf, the enchanting Heaney translation gifted to me from an equally enchanting student upon his high school graduation. I hear the voices of the past whispering as I leaf through the pages of the Anglo-Saxon tale, just as the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley, Dickens and others house for me a soft murmur of syllables whose tune is not silenced by Time. It is as if each book has a soul, and each author is a specter who is silent but whose words continue to speak into the ears of the receptive. A student once called me The Book Whisperer; I am receptive.

Yes, literature is anything but dead for me and–thanks to the dead–literature is very much alive for my students. In an attempt to exhume the wide-eyed open-hearted reader buried within each of my tired-eyed over-scheduled juniors, this semester I left the comfortable body of usual work and turned to the graveyard. Not just any graveyard, the graveyard that exists thanks to the mind of the genius that is Neil Gaiman. Among many awards, Gaiman’s celebrated The Graveyard Book was given the Newbery nod, and though geared toward younger children, I suspected that it would be just the piece to breathe life and depth into the December of our semester together. Speaking of nods, Gaiman’s book is a nod to another Book from the past; his tale tells of a boy, Nobody Owens, raised in a graveyard by ghosts a la Kipling’s boy raised in the jungle by animals. The ghouls and ghosts of the graveyard come to life as Gaiman conducts his magical literary danse macabre and his dead are so sprightly that they could even wake the…well, the living in this case.

Like the family from which the very real and very dead writer Daniel Defoe (born Foe) once claimed descent–De Beau Faux—J. M. Coetzee creates a “beautiful false” tale upon tale in his stunning novel, Foe, another invigorating new addition to the semester. The story pays a sort of twisted homage to what is oft considered the first English novel, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and introduces the also stranded island inhabitant whose story has been cast away by time, Susan Barton. After seeking the writer Mr. Foe to tell her tale, Barton allows herself to be seduced by him as she did Cruso and a ship’s captain earlier. Unwittingly, or perhaps in misguided strategy, Susan is sleeping with the literary enemy and engenders a changeling life of sorts which she does not recognize as her own. Certainly issues of authorship and ownership are afloat in this clever retelling of a telling retold. The book club discussions amongst the aforementioned Nobodies in B304 after we finished Foe were some of the best of my learning career. We were all held captive by the beauty of Nobel Prize winner Coetzee’s vision and mesmerized by the final destination of his tale: a place of silence, where syllables drown as water flows to the ends of the earth from the tongue-less speech-less voice-less former slave, Friday.

Inspired by Coetzee’s channeling of the ghosts of fiction past and captivated by the voices of Gaiman’s graveyard, my students have turned to the dead for inspiration of their own. As part of an alternative exam, each student has visited a graveyard and has, with respect for place and property, made a tombstone rubbing of a person whose story they are now writing. They are giving life to the lifeless in the spirit of Gaiman, and are claiming authorship in reimagining the life of the deceased in the spirit of Coetzee. One student shared with excitement her rubbing: Ebenezer Turpin 1808-1879, and drew the rapt attention of her peers here at Turpin High School! Another student elicited strong reactions with her find: Jack Milligan 1902-1908 “Little Boy Blue.” A male student visited New Orleans over break and traced the tomb of a doctor from the 1600’s in the French Quarter; apparently the doctor was buried next to his brother, the mayor.  My students were indeed entranced by Sam’s find! Memorization and recitation do not stand a ghost of a chance against creativity and passionate investment; who says learning has to be grave?

Of course my students and I have learned a great deal about literature and life from Coetzee, Defoe, Gaiman, Kipling and many others this semester and Nobody can verify this claim. The magic of The Graveyard Book ultimately, is that Nobody is an undeniable Somebody. Unlike his graveyard peers, Nobody’s story is not yet set in stone; his character, however, and his potential for greatness are as solid as the paperweight marker he humanely places on the formerly unacknowledged resting place of the out-cast Liza Hempstock in Potter’s Field. Likewise, my students are all Nobodies–they each hold great potential and through reading, writing, and digging beneath the surface, they are able to move beyond simple understanding and the validation of the stories of others, to create their own meaningful life stories.

In his Book, Gaiman wittily pens, “It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will…take a graveyard.” The graveyard of British Literature is vast, from the mist-shrouded barrows of the Anglo-Saxon warriors to the vaults and tombs of the late and great penmen and poets; the words and stories are teachers, they are very much alive and they are waiting patiently, be they friend or Foe, for Nobody with a pulse to come along….

Posted by: Tricia Buck | October 18, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You, Lisa See?

Fitzgerald is usually the only F. Scott on my mind; however, it is a different Francis Scott who is Key to the title of this post. It seems this Key was trying to get my attention. He crept in with the splendid golden sunrise on a recent autumn morning spent in Charleston when I found myself standing on the harbor in sight of Fort Sumter, which for some reason triggered the lyrical Fort McHenry in my mind. Again he appeared to me in the morning as I drove blithely to school by the dawn’s early light and heard the NPR reporter announce the 195th anniversary of the patriotic penman’s hymn. This undeniable intrusion of the other Francis Scott and his national anthem got me thinking about the very American institution for which I work—the public education system. I have been teaching high school English for a decade, yet each year I feel a renewed sense of pride and excitement about my career. Each year I commit myself to learning at least as much as I teach, and each year I am spellbound by the magic that unfolds. It is with honor that I wave the flag of being a teacher, and with equal honor that I proclaim myself a learner; for I believe that there is nothing more star-spangled, more American, than looking through the optimistic eye of the young and asking questions with a willing spirit.

 

Educators have had more questions than answers lately. In the over 350 year history of the American education system there has never been a time of such seismic shift as now. Technology has been the harbinger of change, yes; the evolution of the right-brained paradigm has also facilitated welcome innovation. I have found the momentum of teacher-initiated inquiry and discussion to be absolutely captivating. Day and night, teachers around the globe are tweeting, blogging, and meeting in real and virtual space to ask the important questions of our work. How can we offer our students access to our world, the world of words and writing, in my case; and to the world, the world beyond our classroom walls? We are asking ourselves what must stay in our rooms—critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration—and what must go—memorization, isolation and control. Nothing is textbook now, not even textbooks as more and more schools say goodbye to packaged information and hello to the burgeoning world of resources available at the touch of a button. While we are in the business of having answers, it is our questions that matter most at present.

 

There is no question that the image of the lone teacher at the helm of an apple bedecked desk has long been relegated to Norman Rockwellian Americana, though the egotism of the sage on the stage mentality has lingered. Some teachers have struggled to accept the fact that, thanks to Google, anyone with a computer can be a sage if simple facts are all that are required and if so, it is quite easy to be upstaged, even by the very young. I am willing to accept the fact that my value exists not in my cherished mental encyclopedia of author facts, literary terms, or my ability to spot a pronoun when I see him; my value exists in opening books to my students that cause them to open doors, open windows and turn on the lights within their own minds. My value exists in my own authentic search for illumination, my own passion for learning and my willingness to be student as much as teacher.

 

This spirit of asking transcends pedagogy and enters the realm of the ubiquitous teacher network du jour. Once a teacher embraces the world of connection and adds her voice to the discussion she opens herself to the potential for requests from fellow educators. I was recently contacted by an English department chair from Corpus Christi, Texas seeking insight into how to incorporate 21st century tools in her class structure. A teacher from Kansas City, Kansas who came across my blog asked if I could explain the how and why of my ning and wiki. An instructional consultant from my own county asked me to write a spot about the innovations in my classroom for her educational newsletter. A group of teachers from a neighboring district just visited my room for the same reason. The network of interested educators is real, the connections are valid, and the questions will come. It has been, in my experience, an honor to be asked for my contributions and a thrill to oblige when the improvement of education for young people is the goal.

 

The beauty of the questions is that they go both ways. I am able to ask everything from the mundane to the momentous of the many helpful people in my networks. A recent twittered plea for help getting my Honors 11 kids to not obsess over letter grades yielded a number of clever responses including using subway line letters to help them get beyond the usual grade assumptions, and having the kids do two versions, a bad job and a good job of the same essay so as to confront their need for perfection. Teachers are helpers by nature but are often isolated by geography and inhibited by lack of time. The new virtual networks easily facilitate discourse and promote teachers helping teachers to get their needs met and questions answered.

 

Sometimes the offer to help comes before the question. I was mesmerized by the city of Berlin when I was there this summer. My desire to learn more about the city and specifically the Berlin Wall was ignited by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and the remarkable stories told within. The evening after I visited Checkpoint Charlie I tweeted from the little hotel lobby that I wanted to read Wall literature and learn more about Berlin alongside my students in the coming year. Almost immediately I received a reply from a man who shared that he grew up behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin and would be happy to be a resource for my class. A generous offer to reach across the globe from a man who could not reach across the street in his youth, and I didn’t even have to ask. This is educational munificence at its best and I love it!

 

At Open House after I shared plans for my seniors to read the amazing Maus graphic novel series and the haunting memoir All But My Life, the mother of one of my students mentioned that her mother narrowly escaped to freedom as a very young girl in Nazi Germany. I asked this mother if she would come in and share the incredible family story with my students. She agreed to do so, has since had many poignant conversations with her elderly mother about the events, and is coming to class next week! A student of mine has asked her grandfather who was a soldier and liberator in World War II about his story as well and we are hoping to have him visit when he is in town. Incidentally, a parent asked his son if he could borrow and read Maus because his son was giving it such rave reviews. Questions lead to connections and the result is an enriched learning experience for my students and for me.

 

In the inaugural run of the Love and Relationships literature class at Turpin last year my students and I were swallowed whole by the fabulous novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. We pored over the pages and we discussed at length Mother Love and the joy and pain of growing up….we marveled at the magic of Lisa See, who is as much a weaver of tapestry or a painter of mural as a writer. I thought to myself; why not ask Lisa if she would speak with the amazing kids in my class, young adults who had fallen in love with her novel? So after seeking and finding a virtual connection, I simply asked her. And guess what she said? Between nationally televised interviews and final edits of her latest New York Times bestseller, Lisa graciously spoke to my room of enthralled kids in Cincinnati from the comfort of her California home–on her husband’s birthday no less! It was a highlight of my career to hear my students ask interesting questions and to hear Lisa take such care with her responses. I had tears in my eyes as we said our final goodbye to Lisa at the end of class but the last words I heard were a student saying, “That was the coolest thing I have ever done in my life!”

 

While perhaps a sweet bit of youthful hyperbole, the effervescent response of my student was an inspiring reminder to me that I can always ask for contributions that will make my classes exceptional, and more often than not the answer will be yes. I am not alone in my endeavors in B304 in this new century of unprecedented connection, nor is any teacher who seeks connection denied access. In fact, all a teacher has to do is say the word “please” and the walls of the classroom will disappear to reveal the entire world waiting to teach alongside her. It seems very fitting that the first four words of the national anthem contain the key, thank you Francis Scott, to making our American schools great. If we want to be better teachers, better learners, all we have to do is ask ourselves and others: Oh, say, can you…?

 

Posted by: Tricia Buck | May 31, 2009

Through the Eyes of a Child

My wonderful friend, colleague and travel companion, Andrea Slone once shared a magical poem with me as my first son was nearing his fourth birthday. The poem eloquently shares what I have always known and believed–we are all living our own story, writing our own verse, we are immersed in the literature of life. The poem ends with a startlingly simple and beautiful truth, while we live a poem of sorts through life, there was once a time in childhood when we were each “poetry itself.”

 

If you have visited before, you know that I am a lover of poetry. I have confessed my literary love affair with Billy Collins and will further confess to having bookshelves at home lined with the likes of Dickinson, Donne, Frost, Hughes, Poe, Rumi, Shakespeare and many other droppable names. Forgive me in advance…

 

I Once Dropped the Names of Poets

 

Careless indeed it was,
Frost was cold for months–
Talk about putting up a wall.
Hughes’ sunny disposition shriveled,
Donne kept ringing a bell,
(Guess the drop took its toll).
Poe kept giving me that tell-tale stare.

 

I have to confess that as they dropped
It was really quite a sight,
For as they fell, they all looked so free,
In fact no one seemed averse
To the idea of falling at all
Least of all Emily Dickinson,
(Whom I suspect was drunk on dew).

 

Anyway, they landed perfectly,
Billy Collins at his poet’s window on a Monday,
Shakespeare on a summer’s day beyond compare,
And Hughes on the banks of the Euphrates at sunset.
All but Rumi who landed only for a moment,
Then danced and whirled, and ascended into the sky
As the snow (and Frost) began to melt.

 

I think they have all forgiven me for dropping them.
They recently pitched in and gave money to Poe
Who went shopping and bought me a bird,
It is now perched above my door, and is a bit of a bore.
Will I ever drop these poets’ names again?
I might, because as they fell they were
Drop dead gorgeous.

 

Childish, I know but I can’t control myself. I love poems. I love poets. I have collections of many, and the autograph of one (Mr. Billy Collins) inside the cover of a coveted edition. I would be lying if I said that my heart didn’t skip a beat to the unstressed stressed cadence of iambic, and don’t even get me started on the pentameter. There is something about the unique perception of poets, their rhythm, their careful plucking of each ripe word that brings me to their pages, and turns back the pages of my story to when I was an awkward little girl with glasses sitting beneath a tree with my friend Shel Silverstein, delighting in the secret world of words at play.

 

Shel Silverstein invited me into this poetic world with the promise of “flax-golden tales to spin,” and other writers like C.S. Lewis opened the wardrobes of my mind, E.L. Konigsburg made me fall in love with art museums, the Met and NYC, and Judy Bloom (read incognito at the public library because she was banned from my parochial school) whispered in my ear and added to the intrigue of growing up girl. Thanks to the magical worlds created by writers I have always had a view of life as possibility, promise, adventure, and beauty. While no stranger to dark chapters of my own, through literature I am able to return to the world of wonder and see always with the eyes of a child.

 

Perhaps this youthful vision is the reason I love teaching so very much. As a teacher I get to exist in the world of the young year after year. I get to witness the moment of discovery of a student who falls in love with a writer, or who falls in love with words. I get to see the magic of a student who realizes that she can craft a piece of writing that is powerful and poetic. I get to partake in the excitement of a first-time reading of one of the world’s greatest stories, stories that I have often read ten or twenty times before but see again through a borrowed pair of eager eyes. Yes, I do hear childish gripes and grumbles at times, but within the sky blue, cloud-covered walls of B304 happiness and laughter are regularly at play, at least that is how I perceive it…

 

The state of great change in education at the present time truly has me seeing through awed eyes now. I am amazed at what we can do and see and hear. Amazed that at the click of my cursor I can hear T.S. Eliot’s measured voice reciting The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Amazed that my students and I can peek at the pages of the virtual Beowulf that dates to the century after 1000. Amazed that my students can each have a voice in our virtual discussions and they can contribute anytime anywhere. Amazed that I can follow a favorite author on twitter and he can follow me back (thank you Paulo Coelho)! I can barely contain my childish grin, and really, why would I want to? I am like a kid in a candy store, and what a treat for a teacher at year ten in career years, year thirty-six in year years.

 

Treats and grins are in steady supply at Turpin High School now as summer fast approaches, and I feel more a child each day. I cannot wait to spend the days taking discovery walks, splashing in the pool, strolling the art museum, perusing the shelves at our favorite bookstore, and having picnics and pajama parties with my three amazing children. Through their eyes I will see the wonder of the world anew. I will remember the limitlessness of the lives of little ones. I will appreciate the magic in the simple things and I will learn important life lessons from the three tiny teachers I tuck into bed each night and cover with kisses each summer morning. A word about these aforementioned tiny teachers:

 

Today I asked my eight year old son what would be his dream job in the future. His answers? 1) a scientist 2) teach people about gems and diamonds 3) bring other rocks to the Museum of Natural History in New York “because it would be cool to see all of the children looking at the rock you found” 4) an ice cream man “because kids give you money.” These answers are a great reminder for me, that the beautiful boy who stops to scrutinize seemingly insignificant rocks by the roadside when we walk through our village, and who fills his pockets and bookshelves with pebbles, rocks, and shells (some of which he sees fit to bestow with funny and/or bewildering names), is not seeing merely rocks, he is seeing magic, he is seeing beauty and he is seeing possibility. Summer lesson number one: all kids have the potential to contribute something wonderful to the world…and there is money to be made in ice cream!

 

My four year old went swimming last week for the first time of the year. He walked directly to edge of the pool without hesitation, and did a full flip into the water from standing position. When his head popped up and his brilliant blue eyes opened wide, he said, “That was sweet!” He likes to stand on his head with his legs against the wall too, because, “Everything looks so cool upside down.” Summer lesson number two: we might be pleasantly surprised if we are willing to forget our fears and consider a different point of view.

 

My one year old likes to climb. She climbs on everything–couches, chairs, the kitchen table, my husband’s Klipsch speakers. Her new favorite trick is to climb somewhere daunting and then call out, in a bit of a taunting voice, “Mama, danger!” She really enjoys dancing when she says this, if her chosen surface affords the appropriate dance platform. Summer lesson number three: if you scale great, even terrifying heights, don’t be shy about sharing it with those you love and celebrating a bit yourself.

 

I have worked hard to contribute to the world of teaching and learning this year, I have definitely stood on my metaphorical head to consider a new look at the world of education, and I have scaled some fairly great heights, not without danger. I am blissfully ready now to travel with my three little elves who will be my eyes and guides into the world of childhood this summer; the rock finder who is my gem, the fearless flipper for whom I am head over heels, and she who dances with danger and sends my heart soaring with a single smile. I can only imagine the adventures we will have and the stories we will tell!

 

So here it is, on the threshold of summer, dedicated to my kids who ARE poetry itself, to my husband, who makes my heart skip an iamb each time I see him, to my family who often make my life seem storied, to Andrea who is an artist and who gave me this poem and has given me so much more, to my colleagues who give me energy and inspiration, to the parents who provide such full of wonder students, and to my students, who let me look through their eyes each year and see the promise of a poem yet to be written. Happy summer, you are all poetry to me! This is Christopher Morley’s To A Child:

 

THE greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:
The poetry, innate, untold,
Of being only four years old.

 

Still young enough to be a part
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart,
Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree
And unselfconscious as the bee–

 

And yet with lovely reason skilled
Each day new paradise to build;
Elate explorer of each sense,
Without dismay, without pretense!

 

In your unstained transparent eyes
There is no conscience, no surprise:
Life’s queer conundrums you accept,
Your strange divinity still kept.

 

Being, that now absorbs you, all
Harmonious, unit, integral,
Will shred into perplexing bits,–
Oh, contradictions of the wits!

 

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
May make you poet, too, in time–
But there were days, O tender elf,
When you were Poetry itself!

Posted by: Tricia Buck | April 23, 2009

The Educational Road Not Yet Taken

Those of us who love literature have learned a lesson or two about plans.  We were first taught by Scotsman Robert Burns who, in the 18th century, poetically cautioned that even the “best laid” plans are subject to the whims of chance and misfortune.  Just in case we missed the lecture, or even worse–the point, John Steinbeck schooled us beautifully and tragically through his Burns-inspired mice and men one hundred and fifty years later.  In the world of literature, plans are absolutely made to be broken, they are 100% guaranteed to unravel, they are undeniably destined to destruct, just ask Gatsby.

 

While the mere mention of the word plan sends avid readers seeking for shadows in every plot corner, the word path evokes a feeling of invitation and promise. A path can be well-worn, can be marked with breadcrumbs, can be yellow brick, can be via armoire, can be river ala Huck Finn, and can be ocean ala Odysseus; a path in any form is a possibility.  The quintessential literary path of possibility is of course the one “less traveled by” that made all the difference for Robert Frost.  As educators in the 21st century, we are now at that momentous place where the pedagogical paths diverge.  I believe that if we truly choose the less traveled (though with steadily increasing traffic) road of conscientious innovation in the classroom, we must be willing to say goodbye to lesson plans and hello to lesson paths. 

 

I have been blissfully following a lesson path with my senior World Literature students this semester.  You could say that the path was dictated by history.  The first day of class was January 20th, 2009–Inauguration Day in the United States of America.  The inauguration of a new American president is always special, but this year the swearing in of the first African American president was profoundly resonant.  In spite of my inclination to shift into automatic pilot with my usual first day “I am in control of you” class business, I welcomed my new students at the door as they arrived and together we took the first steps on what would become our lesson path.  I streamed live coverage of the historic day, and projected twitter so that the kids could see the comments from excited citizens of the world; tweets from Australia, Canada, Germany and Singapore were seen among many others.  I asked the students to be aware of their thoughts and emotions as they watched (they reflected on and shared their feelings in the discussion forum of our class wiki once they joined a few days later).  It was a fabulous first day of the journey.

 

The clear next step on our lesson path was a bit of a step backward in time.  January 19th, the day before our first class, was Martin Luther King Day.  Watching the crowds on the mall at Obama’s inaugural clearly beckoned for us to look at the footage from the March on Washington and to listen to the words of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; this became day two, the business of class business would have to wait one more day…. Day three came and I did cover some of the usual business, just quickly, because the kids were eager to talk about what they had seen and heard on the last two days.  Discussion of America’s racial evolution in the last half decade led to talk of segregation which prompted me to share the visceral words of poet Langston Hughes, whose “Ku Klux” left many students speechless. 

 

Simultaneously, a news story about a former KKK member issuing a public apology to John Lewis–congressman and life-long civil rights activist who marched with King–for a racially-motivated attack in 1961 commanded our attention.   We watched video footage of the story on our class ning, and contemplated race, hate, fear and forgiveness.  After students shared reactions to the story in discussions on ning, our class discourse turned to questions about racism in the rest of the world.  These questions led to South Africa and Apartheid and, aha!  Literature!  Have I got a story for you:  Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”… and the boys emerged as the clear next step on the path for my American teens who were pondering race issues, because it is about, well, a South African teen pondering his position on race.

 

Master Harold led to lively discussion, and discussion evolved naturally to written analysis.  Guided by the significant struggles of Hally, the teen character in the play, the students wrote essays about their own personal struggles.  They connected beautifully with Fugard’s work and provided wonderful diagnostic pieces of writing that also served as a means of self-introduction.  While I am not willing to negotiate the importance of writing instruction and practice in my class, our lesson path led us there at the perfect time, and the previous steps on the path made the students quite receptive to the opportunity.   

 

In the play, misplaced anger and spite lead the conflicted Hally to become “Master Harold” who lords over two black employees of his family, his only true friends.  He ultimately, sadly, displays racist superiority and intolerance towards Sam in particular, the black man who was his one positive male role model.  Discussions in class centered a lot on tolerance and the lack thereof in the world.  Questions were posed in our book club meetings: how do otherwise good people become hateful?  What are the roots of intolerance?  Why do we not learn the lessons of history?  This talk inevitably turned toward that darkest chapter of the past, the Holocaust.  Two pieces I had always wanted to read, Gerda Weissmann Klein’s memoir All But My Life and Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus—yes, that means comic book, but don’t be fooled, it is a masterpiece–became our reading choices as we continued on our lesson path. 

 

Reading workshop followed and my students and I devoured these tragic yet triumphant works of literary art. I read both books along with the kids in a true co-reading, co-learning role.  It was an absolute delight, a definite perk of the path. We had book club meetings, we had virtual discussions on our wiki and ning, some of us even scurried back to the bookstore because we just had to buy Maus II (yes, that means seniors in high school chose to buy and read more…) We laughed, we cried (honest), we marveled at the insights and illustrations.  Maus readers educated the others about their book and its brilliance, its point, its poignancy.  They showed Spiegelman’s clever swastika shaped path with forlorn Vladek and Anja walking arm in arm.  They shared his devastating comic within the comic and explained that Art depicts himself as a child in prison-striped pajamas, psychologically trapped by his family’s history in the hateful shadow of Hitler.  Those who had chosen to read All But My Life shared Gerda’s words with their peers so that they too would get to know this amazing survivor who walked through years of hell in the snow boots her father insisted she wear on the summer day she was taken.  Through our wiki, readers shared exciting findings such as the Klein Foundation channel on YouTube where Gerda’s recollections of the Holocaust and her message of hope and humanity are recorded. 

 

The strong reactions to the works proved perfect inspiration for another essay, this time after a week of Essay Boot Camp (focused instruction in which I share structure and style basics and model my own writing).  The resultant essays were quite strong and the students’ interest in the subject matter was clear.  As we completed the books a number of students reported that their parent or friend was planning to read next after hearing the student’s passionate response!  A student not even in my class came and asked if she could borrow a copy of All But My Life to read on her own.  Just the other day I loaned my copy of Maus to an art teacher in the building who had heard my students talking about it and who wanted to experience the magic of the tale herself.  My principal and media center specialist also read Maus, and our library has been newly stocked with copies.  This beyond B304 connection has been a great byproduct of following the path! 

 

In their post-writing reflections many students expressed awe at the amazing strength of character of Gerda, Vladek and others who faced such unthinkable devastation.  They marveled at the ability of the human spirit to not only triumph over hatred, but to even find joy in the face of abject sorrow.  The stunning film Life is Beautiful called out to us at this point.  We watched (and read) the film in class, in its original Italian with English subtitles.  We were all astounded by the juxtaposition of such intense beauty and such loathsome ugliness.  We engaged in discussions on ning about Roberto Benigni’s courage in using humor in his story, about the brilliant colors in the film, and about the power of love.  We thoroughly enjoyed watching the footage of Benigni’s ebullient Academy Award acceptance speech.  His passion was uplifting at this point on our path, and we loved that he, along with the other artists and memoirists were getting the last word in this woeful tale of history–poetic justice.  

 

How could the lives of so many people be taken while the world looked the other way?  This question borne from All But My Life, Maus and Life is Beautiful eventually led us back to Africa and its civil wars.  How could villages and families be casually destroyed?  How could children be subject to such violence and even forced to fight and kill?  Ishmael Beah told us how in his story A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.  We read this compelling piece, stunned at the theft of youth that Beah experienced in Sierra Leone in the early 1990’s.  We talked, in face to face book clubs and in virtual discussion on buckenglish wiki and ning, about the horror and sadness of his story, a story almost unreadable in parts.  The one point of joy for Beah throughout his experience was his love of music; he loved Bob Marley, but American old school hip hop was his favorite.  His tapes of Run—D.M.C., LL Cool J, Erik B. & Rakim and others literally and figuratively saved his life in the painfully tragic years of his youth.  We listened to the songs Beah cherished so that on our path we could feel for a moment what it might have felt like to be on his.  It was powerful.

 

Music became our compass, and it pointed us directly to a young African man the same age as Ishmael Beah who, on the opposite shores of the continent, had seen similar violence and civil war in Somalia.  Rapper K’Naan and his poetry provided our next literary lesson.  We listened to K’Naan’s songs, me with my IPod, the kids plugging into school laptops and following links on our ning to listen to free songs provided by K’Naan on his ning.  We read the lyrics and contemplated his meaning and message.  The students began making connections between the voices of Beah and K’Naan, and they blogged about their discoveries on our ning.  The students’ posts were amazing.  Their comments on their peers’ blogs were thoughtful.  Their comments to me were inspiring.  I had daily messages from students sharing websites they found in their free time, videos, links about Africa, civil war, child soldiers and more.  A student was excited to share a video of K’Naan talking about piracy in Somalia.  One student reported that his dad had taken his IPod and wouldn’t give it back because he, the dad, was “so into K’Naan”!  Another said her mom, a forty-something professed opponent of rap music, had fallen in love with K’Naan’s music and was sharing it with her coworkers.  Yet another said she shared K’Naan’s lyrics with her brother and he was starting Beah’s book so that he could see the connection.  A parent emailed a link to an African charity organization along with a thank you that her son, a “reluctant reader” was not only reading, but sharing stories at home.  A Spanish teacher in the building heard we were exploring Africa so she came up to my room to share her daughter’s website with photos and reflections of her time spent in Africa on two extended stays.  There was clear magic on the path and suddenly we had peers, siblings, parents, and other teachers walking along with us.  Hmmm…this never happened before with all of my cool, meticulously crafted lesson plans and cheery, colorful handouts….

 

The students were not alone in their excitement.  I was so enthused by their reactions, day after day hearing comments of “this is awesome!” and “Mrs. Buck, you’ve got to see this article that I found” and “what do we get to do next?”  Get to do, not have to do.  That is path versus plan right there.  My insightful, creative colleague Rod Vesper, who teaches art and so much more at Turpin proved to have the map for the next leg of our path.  After listening to my rambling explanation of our tour through Africa, he said, “You’ve got to check out Dan Eldon.”  Brilliant.  Absolutely brilliant.  Dan Eldon was a British-born, Kenyan- raised young man who was enchanted by Africa.  He truly loved Africa and he chronicled that love and his life–a life that ended at age twenty-two when he was stoned to death in a riot–in his spellbinding journals.  Dan embraced “Safari as a Way of Life,” and as he traveled his path he sought to have adventure and to make a difference for others.  He photographed Africa in war and in peace; his favorite country was the one in which he died, Somalia. 

 

Yes, through Eldon’s lens we see K’Naan’s Somalia, which connects to Beah’s Sierra Leone, which we discovered after the beauty of Benigni’s film, which we came to via Gerda Weissmann Klein and Art Spiegelman, who we found after Athol Fugard pointed the way by questioning tolerance, the tolerance lacking in Apartheid, that mirrored American segregation, that we discussed because the day before class was Martin Luther King Day, and on the day class began an African American man became the first black president of the United States of America.  That is the journey, circuitous—yes, authentic—absolutely, of a lesson path.  This authentic learning journey cannot be planned, rather it unfolds, it reveals itself in the Frost-esque yellow wood of educational possibility.  It is a lesson path and the learning it inspires is remarkable.

 

There are a few truths about following the lesson path.  My classes are newly paperless (see “Paperless Tiger” post below), and while this change has absolutely encouraged the spirit of adventure befitting the lesson path mindset, any willing traveler can savor the thrill of authentic learning that the path provides.  The path cannot, however, be traveled while clutching manila file folders.  Ready-made packets and preconceived notions are not allowed, they obscure the view of possibility.  We all know it is easier to travel light, so it is wise to unpack old expectations and definitions of success and failure.  The path is indeed fluid; it has many twists and turns though it has all ups, no downs.  One clear up is that benchmarks and standards are easily met along the path, and with real meaning and relevance for the students.  I took some time recently to read through my district’s Course of Study and to evaluate my progress in meeting the goals set for senior English students.  I confidently checked off 75% or more of the goals not even half way through the semester.  The path is unequivocally about real, meaningful, lasting learning.  It just happens to be fun learning and in this age of limitless resources and inspiration that should not be an oxymoron.

 

I have heard it said that for a 21st century lesson to be a true success it should result in some change for the world.  My students and I have recently come to this point on our path.  I asked my students to consider what we could do to change the world after our amazing safari through Africa (incidentally, we also read Nadine Gordimer’s “The Ultimate Safari” another thought-provoking piece).  A number of remarkable ideas were posed, which yielded a list of ten choices ranging from making a patchwork story quilt, to having an Africa walk, to having a shoe drive (Beah adored his shoes, or crapes as he called them).  The winner, by democratic vote, was to raise awareness in our school of over 1,000 students about the different voices of the world, and to play K’Naan’s music over the PA during the change of class.  This week my students have been working collaboratively to pitch scripted dialogues that would be effective in catching the attention of our student body.  Next week, after choosing the winning script, revising it, rehearsing, and designing a creative handout with websites and other educational resources, my 111 seniors will be visiting all twenty-six homerooms at our school.  Their presentations will raise awareness and I suspect they will be proud of the result.  World changed?  I think so.  Not to mention the analysis and synthesis of works, writing, revision, collaboration, and public speaking along the path.…  Lessons learned?  Definitely.

 

What is on the horizon of our path?  After my students bravely change the world one homeroom at a time, and proudly hear their music play throughout the halls of Turpin, we are headed to Paulo Coelho’s beautiful novel of finding one’s path and treasure–The Alchemist.  The alchemy that our lesson path has wrought for each of us has inspired a change in how we read.  We are planning a generational book club for The Alchemist–those who choose to will invite an adult to read along with us!  We will have multi-tier discussions, and parents, grandparents and others will have the opportunity to join discussions on our wiki, during our class, and at a weekend coffee shop meeting.  Out of town co-readers will have the chance to Skype into our discussions, or to call their student pair during class to share their thoughts.  The idea of express shipping a copy of the book to a friend serving in the military overseas was even raised.  I can’t wait to see who joins us on the path.  I know my co-reader, my sixty-five year old mother, will have some valuable contributions to add to our discussion!  I believe that in this age in which we can easily connect with classrooms on the other side of the world, we must not forget the power in fostering connection within our students’ physical community, and even within their own homes.  The students are not getting “points” for choosing a co-reader.  As I told them, they will gain nothing for doing so, but they will also gain everything.  Some scratched their heads at this, but I saw twinkles in the eyes of many.  They are starting to get it.  Ah, the lessons of the path.

 

As for me, I couldn’t be happier on my path as teacher, student, wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.  I will pack my bags this June and travel with students to Germany, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland, on the third of three senior trips that have already taken me to Italy, Greece and Turkey.  I will continue always to travel the enchanted world of literature page by page, through rivers, over oceans, across continents, around the world and into the realm of imagination.  I will heed the words of the literary lessons taught by Burns, Steinbeck, Frost, Fitzgerald, Hughes, Fugard, Beah, K’Naan, Eldon, and those writers whose words will whisper in my ear and win my heart on a day yet to come.  I will say goodbye to the comfort and control of lesson plans and hello to the promise and possibility of lesson paths.  I will be guided by my students, my colleagues, and life as it unfolds beneath my feet.  I will continue to choose the path of innovation and authentic learning in my classroom in order to do justice to the young people with whom I am privileged to travel.  Together with my students, I will explore a road not merely less traveled, but rather a 21st century road never yet traveled that will lead to profound personal discovery, and I believe that will make all of the difference.

 

Posted by: Tricia Buck | March 8, 2009

Paperless Tiger

At the start of the second semester this year, I declared my classes free of paper.  I vowed to stop the paper onslaught that has long cast a shadow over my otherwise sunny career as Mrs. Tricia Buck, English Teacher Extraordinaire.  I had thought often about going the paperless route, I was just waiting for the right time to make it happen.  As the second semester approached, bringing with it an entirely new set of classes, students and opportunities, I finally decided the time was as right as it was ever going to be and all I had to do was say the word. When the kids came to class on the first day they were greeted with one of the only sheets of paper they would get all semester–my trademark invitation to class–and I said the word:  “paperless!”

 

When I share the fact of my newly declared paperlessness with other teachers, they usually ask how I am facilitating the exchange of handouts and how I am grading student work.  Teachers in my twitter network want to know if I am using Google docs for the paper shuffle.  While these paper management questions are logical, legitimate questions to ask, I will suggest that as teachers we should be asking instead, must we continue to think of our role as paper creators, paper controllers, paper graders?  I say without a doubt, no!  If, however, paper is removed from the list of roles just stated, the teacher remains as creator, controller, and grader; in order for true innovation to occur these long-standing teacher titles must, like the paper piles, be banished from the classroom.

 

Does this jettisoning of time-honored titles mean that the paperless classroom is also lacking a creator, controller and grader?  Is the paperless classroom also a teacherless paradigm?  The answer is in some regards, yes.  I have removed myself from center stage.  I have relinquished the need to control every class.  I have stopped seeing work as stagnant…completed and submitted by students and then graded by me.  I have let go of my need to pre-plan months at a time, in favor of following the path that unfolds as we learn together.  My classes are not, however, teacherless, just less about the teaching and more about the learning.  The students know that I am ready and willing to be student to their insights, that they can teach, create, control and even evaluate their own learning.  This shift has inspired a true spirit of collaboration, critical thinking, and communication in B304–it has been an amazing semester and has changed the course of my career for good!   

 

So how does an English teacher, of all people, go paperless?  How can other teachers do it?  It is simple.  Just change everything you know and believe about how class is run and then the paper doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  My class has two significant virtual extensions, buckenglish wiki (public) and buckenglish ning (private).  We are able to be in a classroom without walls through these awesome Web 2.0 tools and class is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  On the wiki, my students and I build visual classes and lectures, link to external educational sites, partake in book clubs, share author information, and hold lively discussions about everything from culpability in Frankenstein to song lyrics as poetry.  On the ning–an edusocial network in the spirit of facebook—we communicate the daily class news and assignments, watch relevant videos, have focused discussions on class topics, students post blogs and comment on the blogs of their peers, and they read my blog as well through rss feed.  Students can easily message me through the wiki and the ning and they know I will promptly respond.  My heart still skips a beat when I see students engaging in insightful virtual discussion about a novel at 10 p.m. on Saturday, or in the case of my Honors British Literature juniors, chatting about John Gardner’s spectacular Grendel in August before they ever set foot in my “real” classroom!  Awesome!

 

The wiki and ning absolutely facilitate the move away from paper dependence.  Much of the old, write your predictions, thoughts, reflections paper-eating business is easily shared in these forums.  The essay piece is a bit more complicated, and in my rethinking of all aspects of class I have experimented a great deal with essay submission.  For well over a year I have been requiring students to email their completed essays to me, which I would then grade with my tablet pc, make pen marks, print to a pdf maker and send back to students.  This semester the kids are submitting their essays to a network folder on the “z drive” at school.  The folder is read only, so once submitted the kids cannot alter their work though I can easily provide editing and feedback with my tablet pen.  Marked essays are placed in a view folder for students to review, refine and resubmit as finished products.  Though I encourage students to look at other students’ marked work, letter grades are only revealed on Progress Book where privacy is maintained. 

 

Cutting the paper has not cut the emphasis on paper writing.  Essay writing skill is one of the greatest gifts I can help my students to achieve.  I am not willing to change that belief but I have become quite willing to embrace changes in the way the process looks.  Writing workshops in my class are frequent, with kids typing away on laptops furnished by one of our school COWs (Computers on Wheels carts).  I want the kids to love composing and writing–the look, the feel of it–as I do.  Therefore, I encourage them to listen to their IPods (I listen to my James Taylor, Joshua Radin, Norah Jones while I write….), to take bathroom and drink breaks as needed (I mean, really…).  While admittedly no-tech, comfort in class is another change that my giving up of control has enabled.  Because the kids are comfortable with their tech gadgets and willing to use them for learning, I have checked essay drafts on IPods and cell phones a number of times lately, and how cool is that? 

 

In the absence of my control, the students have many choices to make.  Rather than mandating the use of Google docs, I offered it as a choice after extolling its benefits.  About half of my kids are choosing to use Google docs and the numbers are growing as the users sing its praises.  In Expository Writing the other day two sets of kids were raving about being able to instantly share their essays with each other via Google doc share, and one absent student edited a present student’s essay in real time through the same forum.  It is music and magic to the ears to hear students saying, “That is so cool!” in regards to their class work!  I believe that having some choice in the matter adds to the magic.

 

My students have had other choices to make this semester in the new and improved Buck English classes.  They could choose novel or graphic novel in a recent World Literature look at tolerance; they could choose which day and which discussions to engage in on ning as we explored Athol Fugard’s compelling play “Master Harold”…and the boys.  They can choose to attend class via Skype if absent.  Twice now I have had a student take me up on this offer, once watching a lecture on my Essay Boot Camp while looking at my notes through document transfer, and once literally sitting on the floor in a book club discussion circle (we turned the webcam left and right so he could see his neighbors).  It sends a powerful message when an absent student chooses to come to class anyway, and word of the virtual attendance sent little ripples of excitement through the gossip lines of Turpin High School!  Tongues wagging about attending class?  I’ll take it!

      

With or without paper much of the educational tried and true may have become tired and false over time.  Teachers often say that modern students are lazy.  I have long felt that as the shifting winds of technology began to gain force, we teachers were the ones who were unwilling to do the work of rethinking our roles and meeting the students where they were learning already.  Rethinking paper as the primary tool of class is a step in the right direction because it forces a rethinking of the how and why of teaching and learning.  If we want our classes to be great, our lessons to truly transform, we must be willing to constantly question our effectiveness.  At this pivotal moment in education–the onset of the 21st century–the time has come for us to choose collaboration or isolation, innovation or routine.  We must choose carefully, because we may be choosing our own destiny, our own relevance or irrelevance. 

 

I think you know my choice.  I choose collaboration, innovation and relevance and I don’t have the papers to prove it.  I choose to say goodbye to the tried so that I can see if it is true, so that I may have room in B304 to welcome the new.  I choose to rethink the how and why of what I do so that I do not unwittingly play into a system that will become a paper tiger sooner rather than later without serious reflection by its members.  And so that is it, I am officially paperless!  It may be more interesting to be a paperless tiger after all…    

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Tricia Buck | February 7, 2009

I Am an English Teacher and You Are My Robert Frost

On February 6, 2009 I found myself crying over my lunch.  Seriously, crying.  It is not that the lunch was bad; in fact, it was really quite good…

 

Lunch

 

Lunch was salad,

tossed

on the table

by a man

with kind eyes

and cold tea.

 

Any weekday a teacher actually eats lunch is worth celebrating, but I cried over this particular lunch on this particular day because…

 

Today I Ate Lunch with Billy Collins

 

Today I ate lunch with Billy Collins alone

just the two of us in a room with four hundred others

he at table one, me at table thirty-five listening

intently when he ascended to the podium and read

 

the words of his poems, poems that are not abandoned

but finished; begun from small fragments of thoughts

found wandering through his mind in cafes in Paris

floating in water under the bridge or arriving with wind

 

just as poets parachute to earth born fully as adults

who write of tension and Monday and most of all lanyards

and how only one angel can dance on the head of a pin

and sit alone with me, just the two of us today at lunch.

 

OMG!  You will not believe what Billy Collins said had happened to him as a young man who loved poetry more than any other single, solitary act…

 

Billy Collins Said…Oh, My God!

 

Billy Collins said

when he was in school

he ate dinner once 

with Robert Frost,

and all he could do

was keep his eyes

in his soup and try

to avoid staring

as Frost talked

with Jesuit teachers

at his high school

in New York.

.

And now I can say

I am a non-Jesuit

high school teacher

who stared at Billy Collins

and not her salad once

when Collins said

he stared at soup

instead of Robert Frost,

and then uttered mentally

the religious devotion

so bemusing to Collins,

Oh, My God!

 

Not one magical word escaped me as he spoke, but one word took my breath away.  Was it chance that he used my all-time favorite word when he spoke? No…

 

It Was Not Chance

 

It was not chance

that Billy Collins used

my favorite word

when he spoke at lunch

while the salt stood

next to the pepper,

the crystal goblet

with ice lingering

and the butter knife,

 

cut to the chase

was what he did

as he told of

his love affair

with poetry, walking

through the halls

of high school

as a boy with poems

in his pockets

and a goal to look

like Edgar Allan Poe.

 

It was for me a moment

of profound recognition,

for I often wondered

what it would be like

to be Emily Dickinson

In high school walking

nowhere because of that

suffocating agoraphobia

and those flies buzzing

when I died—because

he said my favorite word

and it was truly

epiphanic.

 

There was illumination in the day and magic in my soul as I excitedly awaited my turn in line to have Billy Collins sign one of my worn copies of his words before leaving.  I found myself overwhelmed, my heart racing, what if I have…

 

Nothing Good to Say?

 

And so what would I say

to this man Billy Collins,

whom I had so long admired

had so often read

kept on my desk

in my classroom

on my bedside table

tucked in suitcases

folded on my lap

embraced, with tears

welling In my eyes

standing in line

to meet him?

 

“I am an English teacher,

and you are my Robert Frost.”

 

 

Posted by: Tricia Buck | February 4, 2009

Rock-Digital Submission-Scissors

Chances are good that you have at one time or another thrown your fists into the ring for a heated round of rock-paper-scissors.  In the legendary battle of fists, it is well-known that rock solidly crushes scissors and scissors sharply slice paper. Remarkable among the digital triumvirate is that paper, in spite of its trademark airiness, has the power to reduce rock to rubble simply by virtue of its ability to cover completely.  Oh, the power of paper!

 

Paper has long been a friend of mine.  I love the look and feel of it; the crisp sheen of a new sheet in my journal, the sublime jagged edges of the pages filling a rag cut novel.  I remember as a child inspecting the interesting little threads and specks embedded in my recycled construction paper, even once undertaking an exciting, albeit ill-fated home paper-making experiment.  I remember as an English major in college delighting in the near translucence of the pages in my many Norton anthologies, and spending countless hours scrutinizing the tiny black letters marching like ants across each of those pages in soldiered synchronicity.  Paper beckons to me, invites me to write my story or to read its.  Paper is comfortable, and in the case of the bright white, three hole-punched paper with the perfectly parallel azure paths–standard issue in my and most classrooms–paper is expected.  Paper is routine.

 

As all educators and thinking people know, English teachers are routinely buried in an onslaught of paper and routinely copying equally breathtaking amounts. Our incumbent inhalation of paper makes us public school enemy number one in terms of green; we are neither environmentally nor economically responsible by virtue of our job description: master of all things written.  While I had made some strides in recent years in mitigating the inevitable torrent inherent amongst my kind–most notably requiring email submission of essays and grading on my beloved tablet pc—little had truly changed in my professional relationship with paper other than the ability to temporarily deny the lurking pile thanks to its convenient concealment in my in box.  Ah, far better than the pesky encroachment of papers on my physical space! 

 

While concealment has its benefits, at the start of the second semester this year I committed to truly cutting the paper.  Yes, that means no packets, no handouts, no worksheets, no neatly stapled essays, no typical quizzes and tests.  Invigorated by my professional learning journey as of late (see previous posts) I felt the time was right to give the paperless classroom a try and to see what would happen if something so basic to my class format was gone.  What was and is happening is profound!  There is a new energy in my room; the students feel it as their smiles and wide eyes attest, and I feel it as the spring in my step affirms.  It is palpable…just not pulp-able (sorry, I could not resist….)

 

The funny thing is, I have learned already that the magic of going paperless is less about the paper and more about the paradigm shift that occurs in its absence.  It is, after all, in the absence of routine that innovation is born.  For years I have had an active wiki, but I am now seeing new ways to use this powerful Web 2.0 tool to facilitate the changes merited by my new class format.  Along with my students, I am enjoying lively discussions on our class ning and engaging in conversation and connection never fostered by the great white rectangle.  Of course I will teach and I will grade.  My students will read and they will write (a lot, believe me).  The critical difference is that I am not leading my students on a paper path to a pre-determined educational destination, rather I am walking, skipping, and running beside them down a paperless trail, our leaders are Life and Literature and our destination is Self. 

 

Am I dreaming?  Yes, I am.  I’ll sleep later. 

 

The paper is gone, but that is fine.  Along the way I have figured out that the power is not in the paper, it is in the people and it reveals itself in the form of words, thoughts, ideas.  The power is still there in a digital essay submission, in a blog post, wiki addition, ning thread, and even in a tweet.  I am proud to say that in B304 the paper is gone and the game-is-on. The battle is not one of fists, but wits, and there are reams of reasons why I am thrilled to play!

Posted by: Tricia Buck | January 17, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Teacher

My seven year old son has been reading, actually devouring, Jeff Kinney’s uproarious Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  The series chronicles in word and cartoon the life of unwitting protagonist, Greg Heffley, as he navigates the awkward territory known as adolescence, while sharing keen observations such as, “Let me just say for the record that I think middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented.  You got kids like me who haven’t hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with these gorillas who need to shave twice a day.” 

 

Much of the diary is focused on avoiding the debilitating disease known as the “Cheese Touch.”  The Cheese Touch can only be contracted through direct contact with the piece of cheese that resides on the blacktop of the school basketball court.  The origin of the cheese is unknown, but its presence has been instilling fear in the middle schoolers for two years!  While Greg and his best friend Rowley are extraordinarily serious in their reverence for the cheese and its powers, the entire scenario is a source of sheer hilarity for the reader.

 

Cheese is not usually the source of inspiration or fear for me, but I had to laugh when my son told me about the dreaded Cheese Touch.  He mentioned it just after I attended an Elluminate session with fellow team leaders in Powerful Learning Practice.  During the session, there was much discussion about the very valid discomfort that teachers face when asked to change, and the fear that often accompanies new endeavors such as the use of social networks for learning.  The instant message chat that was going on during the discussion was lively, and included Will Richardson’s brief reference to the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese?  

 

Two mentions of powerful cheese in so short a period of time could hardly go unnoticed.  The cheese allusions got me thinking about my own fears, concerns, and discomfort with the radical shifts that have been occurring in my professional life as of late.  Over the last couple of years I have known that there was something lurking on the basketball court, in the hallways, and all around the grounds of Turpin High School; I have felt its presence but often ignored its importance.  What was and is lurking is in fact not cheese, but change…     

 

The truth that the diary reveals is that Greg Heffley is not a wimpy kid at all.  He is a normal kid, a nice, funny, smart, creative kid with much to offer.  We teachers who sometimes feel wimpy, surrounded by perceived gorillas of the Web 2.0 world are not at all wimpy, we are normal, nice, funny, smart and creative with so much to offer our students.  I can attest that when the growth spurt starts to happen it is exciting, it is liberating, and it is often hilarious…there is a world out there waiting to amaze, delight, and inspire.  What I promise is that if you allow yourself to reach out you will not be stricken with the Cheese Touch that causes people to run away from you in terror, rather you will contract the Change Touch that will bring people to you, learners and teachers of all kinds from around the globe, and will eliminate the walls of your classroom in an instant.  There is definitely nothing wimpy about that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Tricia Buck | January 12, 2009

Square One

Standing on the precipice of do I or don’t I, the answer is I do.  I do start a blog.  Why not?  I have often thought about it, but  have remained inert.  What has changed?  Everything.  Today when I woke up, as I was baking muffins, laughing with the  kids, missing my hubby off on business, thinking about making exams, reading my rss feeds, twittering, and visiting the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) Ning for the Illinois-Ohio Cohort it hit me–those last three things have become part of my norm, part of my comfortable weekend routine.  In spite of my hesitation, awkwardness, uncertainty and complaints of being too busy, somehow while I wasn’t looking I became a 21st century learner.  

Transformative professional development through PLP with guidance from fellow learners Will Richardson, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the Illionois-Ohio Cohort members, and cohort members from around the globe has energized my thinking, teaching, learning, and life.  Below is my discussion post to the PLP Ning from this morning entitled, “The Curious Case of Outhouses, Toilets, and PLP”:

Tonya Heron’s great post about PLNs and morale (check it out and respond) has really inspired me to think about my personal growth and all of the changes going on in my professional life. In my district,FHSD, we are so fortunate with what we have at our disposal. Nonetheless, PLP has helped me see that perhaps the greatest resource is not from the top down, and the realities of the district, financial, technological or otherwise, good or bad, are neither promise nor hindrance to each teacher’s personal growth. If we accept that this is a personal journey, we have to give ourselves permission to start at our own personal square one. What is not acceptable is to remain inert. Once I quit complaining that it is all so overwhelming I found a lot more energy to use for my own growth. Yes, I sometimes feel like a loser on twitter when I ask questions and have no reply, or when I reply to a tweet and get a ping back that seems only to clarify my own idiocy, but I am in the game, I am on the path, I am enjoying the journey.

Doc Searls’ blog post entitled Screw popularity. Just make yourself useful. was a game changer for me. You mean I can be the useful one? I can give ideas, tips, help? I can add to the important discourse about learning, teaching, growing, change? Wow! I have now changed my thinking from being a waiter, waiting for someone to tell me how it works, what to do, what tools are needed, to being a helper, a friend to fellow learners, a sharer, an encourager. To refer to Sheryl’s response to my New Years Resolution thread on the main page of our Ning, I am now the difference, I am not waiting for it. My how my tweets have evolved. My how my sleep has devolved. But it is okay. My eyes are open, my spirit is lifted, my concern for seeming dumbish is dwindling, and not one ounce of this came from a staff meeting in the media center at 2:15. How freaking cool is that?

So, you’re wondering about the curious discussion title? Well, I have been trying desperately to wrap my mind around the changes in my teaching life and to process the constant feeling of being too busy. As in, I am too busy to learn this, too busy to look into that (insert your terms: rss, skype, twitter, ning). The other day I burst out laughing. Would I ever have said, “I am too busy to figure out that strange new indoor commode? I am more comfortable with the awesome outhouse?”

It may be indelicate, it may not be prim, but perhaps it is time to take our fears and excuses and…flush.

So that is it, my first blog post.  Glad I did it.  Glad I am in the game.  Glad I have moved from reluctant teacher to eager learner.  Grateful to have you on my path…

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