December 16, 2009

My Letter to Momma Bear

Dear Momma Bear,

I understand that you are fiercely protective of your little cub. I don't blame you; it's a dangerous world out there and he has important places to go in his life.

The thing is, your cub has been wandering about the forest too much lately. Not a lot. Just enough that he is in a little trouble. It's okay. He was just testing his boundaries, and he now knows he should stay on the path you have made for him.

Yes, I know he's been wandering just a wee bit, but I have a lot of little animals to watch each day. His little wanderings have been noted, and I have set him back on track. He's a good little cub. He really is going to get back on track.

I know you think I am to blame, but we both have the same goal for your little cub. He does have a mind of his own, and he made his choices. Just because I have given him a glimpse of his possible consequences as a reminder for getting off his designated path does not mean he need actually suffer the consequences. It's just a warning, like a sign that says, "Danger ahead!"

Despite what you say about me--yes word gets around the forest--I like your little cub. He is one of my favorites! And no, I certainly would not have anything against little cubs at all! Not even bears! I like all the animals the same, no matter the fur or size!

But frankly, Momma Bear, if you continue to bare your teeth to me, when I am only trying to help your cub, I will surely start to keep my distance from him. Is that really what you want?

Ms. HappyChyck
Wildlife Management & Education

December 12, 2009

Now Do You Understand Why I'm a Teacher?

I fell out of touch with my best friend from childhood when I was in college. We became BFFs the summer before middle school and stayed that way all through high school--even after she moved to a different city a few hours away during our sophomore year.

There is no exact moment when our friendship ended--that I can recall anyway. We started to grow apart about the time she voiced her disdain for my career choice. You know, being a teacher. We teachers (and teachers-to-be) have a hard enough time in society that we don't need the flak from our friends and family members. Of course, she became a chemical engineer, and right out of college her starting salary was about $30,000 more than mine--especially in Utah, where at the time, had I been able to get a job there 13 years ago, I would have been making about $18,000 a year. (I did much better by moving to Nevada.)

I guess our perspectives about the world were different by that time in our lives. She thought a career like hers was better than mine, and I suggested to her that she would never have gotten where she was had it not been for teachers. She was smart, and I'll admit she was always smarter than I was--especially in math and science--but she didn't come out of the womb ready to be a chemical engineer.

It's hard to say what was going on at her end that she would let our friendship fade. My own motives may not have been all about my career choice, as I lost touch with nearly all of my high school friends by the time I was in my mid-20's, but I know I have always felt particularly bitter about her non-support of me.

We reconnected about six years ago, but it was through just a few fleeting e-mails, and in the end, I felt her judgment through the great tubes of the Internet. The details are not the point of this post, though.

Just last year, we reconnected, once again, through the wonder of Facebook. I'm a major fan of Facebook, as I was of MySpace, too, because it brings me great joy to see how old friends are doing. When she requested my friendship, I was initially reluctant because I have this damn grudge. I am not even one who holds grudges, but this one is deep. After many weeks of ignoring the request, I decided there was no harm.

We don't talk. She's a friend whose updates I read, and only occassional check the "like" button or perhaps will include a lighted-hearted comment about something, like, "Way to go on running your marathon!"

Last night she posted her thoughts about the importance of educating women, after listening to a podcast where Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. If you're not familiar with what he advocates, here's what he has to say about the value of educating girls, in reference to his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

“In Africa, they say, ‘Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community.’” Several global studies show that sending girls to school significantly decreases infant and maternal mortality rates, helps stabilize population growth, and improves the quality of health and life for everyone in the community. And, Mortenson emphasizes, educated mothers are less likely to condone their sons’ joining terrorist groups. He sees a direct link between building schools in an unstable part of the world and security at home.

You know I want to comment on that so badly. This is a concept I use everyday with my alternative education girls, right here in America, especially the ones who are pregnant or have children. I tell them how proud I am that they are trying to make a better life for their families and how important it is for them to be educated mothers. It is so hard for them to stay in school when they have so many responsibilities. Sure, as moms, they won't fight terrorism, but they will fight poverty, broken families, racism, and perhaps even violence. Their circumstances are real and right here.

My middle school girls are typically in much better situations, but right now we happen to be doing a Pennies for Peace campaign, which stems from Mortenson's work, and whenever I can, throughout the year, I emphasize to all my students how blessed we are to live in a country where all students, including girls, have all the opportunities they could ever imagine to have an education. The focus on global awareness in program helps them think about how they might make a difference in the world, in places where there are wonderful people, wonderful cultures, but terrible circumstances.

What I like to say to my friend:

Your revelations about the world saturate my daily life. The power of education, which you find to be a profound thought, is the force that drives my life's work.

I am a teacher.

December 1, 2009

Squeezing Good Writing Out of Them

Lately, my creative writing class has been wearing on my nerves. I thought I blogged about it, but I don't see the post. Basically, in the last few weeks, I've complained to my teacher friends, "What came first? Them being assholes, or me being a bitch?" Either way, what a warm fuzzy classroom environment! If sarcasm is a teddy bear, that is.

Last night, half the class was gone, including some of the students that I might be two inches away from hating, and I was a completely different teacher, and they also had a different tone.

Anyway, last night, I had a nice group of students (some of them are not really that nice, but their antagonistic buddies were gone), and I gave them a writing challenge to write a 6-sentence paragraph without repeating any words. I encouraged them to look in their writer's notebooks for topic ideas (finding a topic is always a struggle) and to brainstorm on the topic first so they would have a word bank (not an unusual concept to them, yet not one they don't necessarily subscribe to). Finally, I said, "The dictionaries are on the shelf. Does anyone want a thesaurus?" (I only have 4. They have to share.)

Hands shot up all over the classroom. I LOVE IT! These are the students I adore.

At the end of class, I gathered their paragraphs, which they verbally lamented about throughout the entire period, and I was so impressed by their creativity, ingenuity, and overall quality of writing. I was gushing about how good they were to the point where they started accusing me of doing drugs. Again. Weird behavior = substance abuse. They just don't get English teachers.

I don't know if it was because it was a "short" piece of writing, or because it looked like a puzzle--a challenge, that is, but I need to get some more of that going on! I can praise them all night long and into tomorrow when they can create such inspired pieces of writing. (Take my word for it, as I don't have any examples.) When they act like jerks and hand in things looks like my 3rd grade son wrote (and he doesn't like writing, either), I can't say complimentary things. Sure, I can bit my tongue against saying what I really think--sometimes.

But as my story goes, and has for the last 5 years in my time at this school, they are a fickle bunch. What they think is lame and what is cool changes constantly.