Saturday, August 20, 2011

2 observations, 5 days, 6 hours, 278 pages


I felt obligated to prove that I have survived this first week - and if I dare say, I may have flourished.

Flourished, we must remember, IS a variable term in the desert. Far away are the lands of peaches pulling their green-mahogany branches into Koranic half-bows. Far away the fat tomatoes. Gone are the days of tossed beans to the soil producing a rabid patch of climbers and apaches and pintos and little black turtles. 

But we do have a small line of royal burgundies that, despite the sluicing rain and scorching sun and red dirt made in two layers of dust and hard, have continued to grow. We have our summer squash already getting their adolescent fuzz and spade shaped (if not sized) leaves. This is their Three-Sisters land, after all.

And that is how my week has gone. I have grown, sent my tendrils on strange new earth - set my voice to new vocal rigor. 

It is sore from raising it in enthusiasm and passion in class discussion: 
Me = So, if that's what being in a museum means, what does the title "Museum Indians" mean?
Student = That Indians are in the past. They aren't around any more.
Me = Right. Now, is that true?
Class = (upset) No.
Me = Of course it's not - but that's the title, right? So let's look in the story. What character disproves this meaning of the title "Museum Indians"?
One or two murmurs = her mom.
Me = Her MOM! Is her mother in a class case?
Class = no.
Me = Is her mother dead?
Class = No!
Me = Is she small and timid?
Class = No!
Me = No! She speaks her mind. What else is she?
Class = proud. . . powerful . . . tall.
Me = Right! She is a tall, proud, powerful Dakota woman who wrestles with the Chicago police! Am I right?
(Class nods and I launch into a description of the word "Irony" and how it matches the situation)

It is sore from raising it (less often) in sharp disapproval.
Me = Class. My number one rule is Respect and right now you are disrespecting me.
(A phrase that can silence a room of my juniors when talking over my homework assignment.)


My JUNIORS are respectful, brilliant, and honorable people. I have 5 parents (at least) of my 56. Contrary to popular belief, who points a gross punitory finger towards the "irresponsibility" and "shortsightedness" of teen parents, I find my parents (generally) to have  a heightened awareness and maturity. 
In case you were wondering, the dramatizations of the Native creation myths went okay. 2nd period's all-boy "Navajo" group was INCREDIBLE. There was the cawing cry of the god approaching, feathers and cut-outs of corn and a Sunflower Natural Foods Store bag (mine) standing in for a sacred buckskin. In the performance quality of the well-rehearsed, they lay the items down and circled the creation in unison. They got a 98%. . . as for the rest of the groups, well, there were a couple As, some Bs, some Cs, and one steady F. 
I tell my kids I'll work as hard as possible. If they meet me halfway, there is NO reason they shouldn't have an A+ in the class. If they don't try, that's the sourest kind of failure.

And the discussion we were supposed to have comparing their assigned story with the creation story? Didn't happen. When I assigned as homework that someone tell them the Zuni creation story, a student raised his hand 3rd hour. He's a bit of a clown, but a very proud Zuni young man - the only one I've heard speaking Zuni. He very candidly told me, "We can't tell Zuni stories until wintertime - until Sha'lako. Otherwise we'll get bit by snakes."

What can I say? I don't want my kids to get bitten by snakes! So that discussion will have to wait until December - maybe we'll take a hiatus from Civil War lit to read Frazier's Sue Anne Big Crow and discuss how their old pueblo is, in their tradition, the centre of the entire world.

That fact came up a few times in their diagnostic essays - addressing Ian Frazier's quote. Also some spoke elegantly about the landscape of their home - the heroism of the cowboys and the Indians, the red mesas and the people who provide for their community and their country. Some spoke even more movingly about the ruin of their home: Uranium mining, the construction of roads and cities, the terrible droughts, the arrival of the white people who did not know how to make this land sustain itself.
Though I put in two 15-hour days getting the essays graded, it was absolutely a worthwhile and humbling experience.

My sophomores are a bunch of squirrel nuts whom I love. Monday through Thursday were marked by indolence, lack of attention, and impossibly large discrepancies. Some of my pre-AP-ers are exceptional. Some struggled to write a comprehensible paragraph. This said, Friday was marked by receiving a passel of excellent reflections. If any of you were curious as to the outcome to "Skunk Dreams," I am shocked. "Skunk Dreams" is a philosophical survey of the dream state and the connection of Place to Self; compared to "The Leap," a fun magical realistic piece by Erdrich in their reader, I thought old Skunky didn't stand a chance when I asked them to write me a page about which they liked better and why. 
Boy was I wrong. They LOVED "Skunk Dreams." And I'd like to share a few excerpts from my favorite responses:

First, the most technically-impressive essay I've seen. I gave her a ++, and you'll see why: 
"When I had read 'Skunk Dreams' by Louise Erdrich, what I had liked best about it was when in the beginning she was talking about how we don't know about other people's dreams or even about our own.  I had liked how she said 'If dreams are an actual dimension, as some assert, then the usual rules of life by which we abide do not apply' because I like to think of our dreams as another dimension we slip into when we sleep. It's as if our minds are in an in between stage, where they can move from one dimension to another. . . . [description of why she liked "Skunk Dreams" better]
"I believe I can relate to how she misses her homeland greatly. I know I would certainly start missing the mountains behind my house, the trees that line the edge of the fence in front of of my house, the clear skies that seem to go on forever."

An excerpt from a weaker writer - but a spunky one at that :) :
". . . What I found really interesting was how the skunk just laid down beside her and went to sleep while she laid there and looked at the moon. I think many teens would like this story especially girls. She's a girl growing up, trying to figure life out, while experiencing feelings and problems like how some of us girls are. = ) "

And finally, a Public Service Announcement from a great, practically-minded girl:
[about "The Leap"] "The part that was boring to me was where they kept launching themselves in midair. If this story was non-fiction, I probably would've like it a little bit more. If I were to talk to the author about this story, I'd tell Erdrich that pregnant women can't be doing flips and launching themselves in midair. I mean, won't it be dangerous for the baby??"

My JOURNALISM kids need a good dose of adrenaline. They were stuck in my class largely because of a lack of an extra elective. BUT we're making progress. My 2nd / 3rd grade reader has been illustrating what he watches in the news, I had some excellent lede sentences on Friday, and we're readying ourselves to interview our principal on the gas leak this coming Monday. All the same, when I pull their sticks from the mud, I reckon you'll hear that damp squelch anywhere. Forget the "shot" heard around the world!

I must curl up with a mug of tea and my lesson planning book for my week to come - think explorers (Cárdenas & de la Vaca), Mars, and nudibranchs for the juniors, Fahrenheit 451 and Desai for sophomores, and some interviewing, workshopping, and more In The Plains, Pronghorns Can Be Curious (Impact, Timeliness, Prominence, Proximity, Conflict, Bizarre / unusual, and Currency) for journalism.

But I wanted to make a note about Dialogue Journals:
If you are remotely involved with English / gradeschool education, do them. I don't feel like it's my right right to make a laundry list of the topics covered - it trivializes something that has been, in many cases, a big serious trust thing. If you're curious as to the nature of the entries, think a mix between school time summaries and Freedom Writers
They're incredible.

If you read this far, KUDOS! I must be off to plan and work ad infinitum. I should have some more fun pix once I further glam up my room; until then, let my face suffice of photographic proof of survival:

I know I look a little goofy. It happens. Here's a better one:

Over and out, Friends!

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