Every week, I read the compilation from Brain Pickings. The email is delivered to my inbox on Sundays, and I wait until I have slow, coffee time to read it. Every week there is a gem that I just adore, that I might forward to a friend or family member, or read to my students at school. I’ve shared one below.
I often think about the difficulty of what we as teachers do, compounded in New Orleans by the culture of celebration, and the culture of crime, and I know my life could be easier. I could make different choices. I could teach somewhere that would be easier on me, that would give me more free time, or more involved parents, or more future-focused kids. I could go back to a job that pays waaaay more, sit at a desk, and have those what-am-I-looking-for-dreams that haunted my 20s. But I’m certain that I am making a difference, inciting change, and that without me my kids would be loved a little less, would laugh less, would know less. We don’t realize at the time what change we are making, but a long-lensed perspective allows me to see clearly the dominos and feel briskly the wind that tumbles the first one.
And AMEN to winter break. AMEN!
From Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World:
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press created a surge in demand for spectacles, as the new practice of reading made Europeans across the continent suddenly realize that they were farsighted; the market demand for spectacles encouraged a growing number of people to produce and experiment with lenses, which led to the invention of the microscope, which shortly thereafter enabled us to perceive that our bodies were made up of microscopic cells. You wouldn’t think that printing technology would have anything to do with the expansion of our vision down to the cellular scale, just as you wouldn’t have thought that the evolution of pollen would alter the design of a hummingbird’s wing. But that is the way change happens.
It’s 66 degrees on Thanksgiving Break in beautiful New Orleans and I’m thankful for having time to catch up on grading. I have 111 essays, 111 argument papers, and 111 interviews and reflections that need to be graded by this coming Monday. Shamefully and secretively I’m thankful for the kids who didn’t do their work.
But mostly I’m thankful for the kids who spell like they talk. This morning I found this gem:
Also, the best way to deal with life is to take a step back and breed.
Happy Thanksgiving y’all. Back to the grind.
I love overhearing the student-initiated grammar shame, especially in our fair city of New Orleans where subjects and verbs not only disagree, but they do it with a smile. This grammar shame happened today right after lunch. I was so proud.
Boy: Ms. Summers, she just called me the H word.
Girl: It starts with a W.
Boy: It do?
Girl: It does.
Day 1 of school I asked my English II World Literature students to draw a map of the world. It was one of several social experiments I’ve performed on them to get to know them in my subtle, master manipulator sort of way. The map shown here was the best.
The most disheartening map was just blue squiggles. The most confusing was the one where Australia became attached to Canada where Alaska used to reside.
Day 2 of school we had a 60-second show and tell. Some kids revealed the most personal things like parents passing away or their sketchbooks, and some revealed even more by revealing nothing at all. One kid brought his shoes and told the class, “I collect shoes and knowledge.”
Day 3 of school I discovered graffiti on a desk! It said, “Peace can happen.” I left it.
First day of school with students in New Orleans, in almost every school. I’ve been up since 5 and haven’t really slept in 2 nights due to dream-teaching, the uncontrollable subconscious I experience when I’m anxious about school. Overall, today was fantastic, and I’m exhausted. Highlights:
1. I talked to an old student of mine who will be graduating this year, and her little sister, who I taught last year, this morning on my way to work. In a city like New Orleans, I always eye-ball school uniforms to figure out if I know a kid. Of course, I pulled over when I saw a navy blue polo, and got two squealing “Ms. Summers!!” hugs before 6:30 a.m.
2. The clouds reflected a gorgeous sunrise. Orange and pink and periwinkle.
3. I listened to Mariah Carey “Always be my Baby” on the ride to work.
4. I stepped in dog diarrhea before 8 a.m. In sandals. There was foot to poo contact.
5. Students revealed two major pieces of information to me today: my dad’s in federal prison; my best friend just killed himself. You know, things you normally tell complete stranger on the first day of school. (I’ve always had the “tell me everything” affliction.)
6. A kid puked in my room with 5 minutes left in class. We were making human statues. I was working with the Integrity group, and was notified calmly by another student: “Ms. Summers, he just vomited.” They didn’t run or freak out, just calmly walked into the library where the librarian got to catch up with the returners I got to hold a trashcan above the large chunks of cafeteria lunch. Poor thing.
I think all of these things are good signs. The poo and puke remind me of the last day of school in Ms. Mueller’s class in 3rd grade when a bird pooped on my head during our picnic. She told me it was good luck. I believed her because I wanted to. I guess you can believe anything is good luck, if you want it bad enough.
I rode a yellow school bus in New Orleans today. With 8 kids. Poetry slam. And when the kids broke into song and built an unforgettable moment all together, I was transported immediately back to my early high school days. Yellow school bus days.
Mind you, I’m 35. Just recently. But 35.
I was immediately 15 again. Saturday mornings spent traveling to small towns in Kansas to compete in drama. Breaking out in “Daughter” by Pearl Jam at the exact (pause) same (pause) time (pause) as Natalie Neuenswander and being so blown away that we could break out in the same song. At the exact same time. Exactly. And Matt Spencer’s harmonica playing as we sat in a nerd circle. And my brother Jesse’s briefcase of current magazines he’d use for his champion extemporaneous speeches. And Alan Potter’s poetry, which was the Counting Crows song “Mr. Jones” that he performed as spoken word. He was probably the only kid in the universe who could have pulled that off. Man, we were all such cynical midwesterners reading really good books and being too smart for our own good.
And I started thinking about it. I’ve always preached that the only romantic things left in the world are coffee and cigarettes and rain. But now I want to add yellow school busses. They will always smell the same. And have the same spring squeak. But these new, fancy busses have seat belts. But I didn’t wear one. I live on the edge.
No matter how old I get or far away from the days I once regularly rode a yellow school bus, somehow I’m always still there: a split second from song, a deep breath from a nap, an awkward moment from the cool-kid-crowd, a short walk from anywhere.