Friday, September 28, 2012

first days

I am really waxing nostalgic when I say I miss the smell of a high school. They all have that high school smell. I also love when I used to buy all the new markers, tacks, paper clips, bags of candy and new items to start the year. I never felt ready until the bulletin boards were up and everyone's name was learned at the end of the first day. I figure I might have a week before everyone starts 
yelling enough already at me.

Once I wasn't going to learn all the names the first day because I was sick and we weren't on block and we still had homeroom and study hall (so 150 students , plus 30 ish homeroom and 25 or so in study) and fortunately there is my repeat business so they all were not new but most were and I thought to myself I am too sick to do this and they came in first period saying, "you got to do the names, we hear you do all the names the first day, you have to see her do this." I did the names. No one probably realizes that's the hardest day of the year for me. I hate not knowing names and doing them all and connecting them to all those people requires a lot of concentrating and thinking. Besides that names are power and miscreants would run to guidance after the first day of English 4 , if they hadn't been there already , trying to get out with the argument that they couldn't have me bc I already knew their names. Maybe tomorrow's post will be ways people tried to get out of my class and maybe even how a few actually got out.


Fess up former honors 2 kids and I know some of these culprits by name. One student asked where a soldier kept his spare bayonets. I said he has one. One????? Astonishment sets in. I look around room and can tell others are shocked there is only one. Then he says, "It is a one shot deal?'" I said when I stopped laughing so hard I was crying, "What do you think it is , a spear gun? You all watch t
oo much stuff like Terminator." Then I explain it fastens to the musket and does not go whizzing across the field that you get to run and poke someone with it. This is followed by, "Then why would someone run from it?" I said that the musket is my size and you put three more feet of bayonet , someone is running with an 8 foot weapon pointed at you. I said that they would get it when the Vannais came and would demonstrate. Mr. leon Vannais would put the bayonet on the end of the musket, step towards someone and he or she would immediately step back. I said that's why they run. They want out of his way and he is here demonstrating for my class.

My Introduction to Holy Cross with a thank you to Frankie Nocito and Cathy Younglove

Father Dubell hired me in August of 1986 to teach English at Holy Cross. I went in one day to get books for my English  2 and English 4 classes, and as I was leaving I met my first two ever Holy Cross students.  They were members of SCEB  (for those not in the know the Student Council Executive Board); they were a boy and a girl, very friendly. Even though I didn't remember  their names that day,  I do remember the boy telling me they were seniors and "I hope I get you." He didn't know me more than my name and it was just so very kind.

It turns out that I did get them both and they were Frankie Nocito and Cathy Younglove.  They  were a great introduction to the kindness and friendliness of the Holy Cross student body.

My first week at HC I told Carl that I had the student council president and that the president wore a pound puppy watch daily.

Carl said, "They would be crucified in my public school. Don't kids make fun of her?"

 I said that they never made fun of HIM.  Frankie Nocito was loved by his class,the faculty and the entire school  Somehow that pound puppy watch summed him up and it summed up the friendliness, the charm, and the fun of Holy Cross.

During the summer of 1987 I found out I was pregnant and told Sister Mary.

A couple of weeks later, I got in the mail a congrats your pregnant card from my two former students, Frankie and Cathy.

Thanks for making my first year a great and memorable one.


We are at the dinner table and I ask Carl what he is thinking about. This is generally a mistake. I also want to let you know that if a man says "Nothing" that's truly what they are thinking of. I have been telling teenage girls for decades that they are not being evasive, that unlike women, men can completely blank out their minds, and frequently do. In some cases , more than others.

"What are you thinking about?"

He looks like he is the President trying to decide whether or not to drop the bomb. I age and get grayer by the minute waiting for the answer.


Okay, what does this mean? Time to leave now. Not enough time. Time for a tv show to come on.  Time for work.  Or The time space continuum.

As frightening as this may be, I know which one of these he is thinking about. It is the time space continuum. For probably 15 years he has been reading physics for Lit people and theology and science together. He never reads anything light; he reads non-fiction, serious fiction, Shakespeare.

Once we were waiting for the trailers before a movie and he started to explain what he knows about string theory which interests me less him being fashionable interests him.  Fortunately, the trailers began and I could divert our atttention.

Mrs. Camp says that in their house "that is going into Tom world," and that I should snap my fingers at him and say, "Carl world, get out of Carl world."

In our house, it is generally called "pulling a Carl."

We love Carl Stories...part 1 of many

Sometimes  I managed to work Carl into my stories and examples.  Over the years students--and sometimes parents--had their favorite ones.  Sometimes parents would come up and say, "My daughter wants you to tell me the story about your husband." I would  then have to try to figure out which one.  This could be hard and there  are so many that he became a legend.

This one is dedicated to Michael Fynan, Jr. and the other George Lucas fans.

We are out at the movies in 1998 and there is a poster without a movie title (or maybe it had the title ; whether it did or not makes no difference for either Carl or me).  It  had a small child in a desert enviroment; there was a cliff and against that a shadow.  I asked him what he thought of the poster.  Eternity could end while I wait for an answer. He thought it interesting, rather intriguing."Yes, but what is it for?" I asked.

He studied it for a long time and finally said, "I have no idea."

I suggested he look at the shadow more closely.

He does.  Meanwhile I think about filing social security forms for retirement.

Again, "I just don't get it."

Finally from me, "It is Darth Vader's shadow, do you have any cultural references? It is for the prequel to Star Wars."

"Oh, now I get it."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why read literature?

People ask why read literature or even why someone would want to read at all. I always think of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird when she said she didn't remember learning to love reading or when she loved reading; it was the same as breathing.

The New York Times Book Review of August 26, 2012 had some of the most eloquently put reasons why we love to read.  M. H. Abrams was asked why we would study  literature.  His response is "Why live?  Life without literature is life reduced to penury.  It expands you in every possible way.  It illuminates what you're doing.  It shows you possibilities you haven't thought  of.  It enables you to  live the lives of other people than yourself.  It broadens you, it makes you more human.  It makes life enjoyable.  There's no end to the response you can make to that question, but Stephen has a few things to add."

Stephen Greenblatt adds, "Literature is the most astonishing technological means that humans have created, and now practiced for thousands of years, to capture experience.  For me the thrill of literature involves entering into the life worlds of others.  I'm  from a particular, constricted place in time, and  I suddenly am part of a huge world--other times, other places, other inner lives that I otherwise would have no access to."

Abrams then concludes, "Literature makes life much more worth living."

I remember a scene from the movie about C.S. Lewis called Shadowlands , and in it Lewis asks his clas why we read and one student replies quite succinctly, "To prove we're not alone."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells us that "literature is the one great heart that beats for all mankind."

William Faulkner in his Nobel address tells  us that all great literature is about "the human heart in conflict with itself."Ladies and gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Minerva McGonagall and I

When Harry Potter became popular, the students started comparing their teachers to the teachers in the book.

Rowling does an amazing job of creating the typical teachers a person encounters in  his or her school career.  Who has not had Snape, the one who seems so bad who is secretly good?  Who has not had Lupin with his hands on approach and his love of the kids. Who hasn't had Hagrid? He means well but hasn't quite got down how to teach. The disorganized and mostly inept Trelawney?  And unfortunately who has not had Professor Binns who died and got back up the next day and kept teaching.  I felt like he was the funniest comment about some teachers in the series.  He is the boring teacher with the same notes for decades and in this case, he doesn't even know he is dead, he just does the same thing he has always done in the same dull fashion.  He is so dull even Hermione sometimes has trouble concentrating in the class.

I asked my AP Language class in 2006-07 with Charlie, my resident Harry fanatic (I confess to being one of the most fanatical of all), who I was. I had it narrowed to two. I know who I was most definitely in my salad days, but I thought that as time went on and I did away with seating charts, let kids sit on the floor and the sofa and more that I had become the hippie teacher, so I thought I had become more like someone else.  Charlie said I was without a doubt McGonagall (quite a compliment I think) and the class members who knew their Harry concurred.  I said that was  who I was when I was young and stricter, but now I thought I was more like Lupin.  They disagreed. Why, was my perpetual question.  The answer was always the same, "THE LOOK."

I admit I have developed what they called THE LOOK because when you are a five foot teacher you need something and for me it isn't going to be volume.  If a student was talking or more recently fiddling with a cell phone I would just stop talking and stare and stare and stare and stare. I could stare for an indefinite amount of time until the stare would hit the kid and stop him or her.  In my last year of teaching, I had a class in which maybe all but  5 kids had me before so they knew.  A kid was fiddling with the phone.  I stopped , stared and waited. My repeats watched knowingly. Finally it hit the kid who somehow became startled and announced, "My that's intimidating."  THE LOOK has served me well over the years, along with my announcement that "I'll wait" if you aren't listening to me.  I tried to go lower or the same in volume and never louder because I don't have the volume and I think screaming teachers can be like white noise to kids.

Since they were so insistent that I was McGonagall I began testing this with other classes and other years.  I asked the 4 other classes; they all agreed McGonagall. I asked them throughout my next 4 years and got unwaveringly "McGonagall."  Then I decided to ask people who had never seen me teach. I asked my sister who said, "McGonagall." I asked my friend Joe and his son Warren and they immediately said, "McGonagall." This was from a young man whom  I have seen on an average of once a year for twenty-seven years."  THE LOOK kept coming up even from people who had never seen it.

Then the last couple of years as the movies piled up the class of 2010 liked to list the Maggie Smith lines they thought were similar to mine.  They would send me messages saying, "We could hear you when she said 'I have always wanted to do that spell.'" "Mr. Davies, Mr Davies, that is the girls' lavatory." "Potter take Weasley with you, he looks far too happy." "Why don't you confer with Mr. Finnegan?As I recall he has a particular proclivity for pyrotechnics."  The following exchange is somehow like me too when in Book 1, Potter and Weasley show up to transfiguration late but are impressed when she changes from cat to witch:

Well, thank you for that assessment, Mr Weasley. Perhaps it would be more useful if I were to transfigure Mr Potter and yourself into a pocket watch? That way, one of you might be on time. 
Harry: We got lost. 
Professor McGonagall: Then perhaps a map? I trust you don't need one to find your seats. 

I could go on; my students certainly have.  I told them that on some level I have always wanted to be Maggie Smith  and the best of Jean Brodie. I take it, thus, as one of my highest compliments that I am the head of Gryffindor. Thank you all.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I can teach anything with Harry Potter and Disney

When I needed examples I had to find them in places the kids knew; it usually wasn't lit; it certainly wasn't history since the only wars they tend to know are the Civil War, Revolutionary, WW2 (only the second one), and French and Indian(go figure that one),so I used Disney and Harry Potter.  You can use them for any literary device you can think of.  More on this later... Catherine may need to help me here when she has time..

Brodies 2010

By 2010 I had a huge group of kids that I loved  and who spent almost every flex period at HC with me. On a low day there were maybe a dozen, an average day, maybe twenty-five and a big day like when we were working on Homecoming, maybe seventy-five.  People would come in and say, "How can you stand the noise?"  I didn't notice it.  Good time noise means nothing to me. The only time it bothered me was immediately after the two severe concussions sustained after the tree fell twice on me in 2009.  I started calling them the Brodie girls and they often borrowed the movie. One came back quite shocked because as she put it "it wasn't the inspirational teacher movie she expected it to be." No wonder she got a 5 on my AP Lang test;she got it completely. And she managed to use Harry Potter on her AP test as well.
They were my Brodies and they made me an album of them at the end of the year with photos and letters to me that I treasure and they call me their Brodie girls and guys.  They got quotes from the film that applied. We ignored her silliness.  They will always be my Brodies. There are some in most classes ; 1999 has quite a few as I recall.

Squirrel, weed eating and shade slapping in 103B

For about 8 years I had the tiny room known then as 103B; it had 4 windows and I had 38 kids usually, so if I did regular rows which I learned early on  to hate with a passion they were touching all three walls and were about three inches from the desk, so by 1991 (the second year I had the room) the regular rows were gone and we were in a U which meant we had some space. The room had character; sometimes the groundskeepers would weed eat bushes while I was talking and I am not loud enough for that. And we were next to 103A and we were once one room and the wall separating us was not sound proof. Luckily Senor Urtasun and I got along, but every Friday they sang and I had to deal with how to talk over that or do something else, but I couldn't give a test on Friday unless I got him to play Spanish scrabble instead. Once I had to ask a riveter to stop because I was giving the last test before the exam of senior year and I had some kids worried about it and unable to concentrate.

I had Steven who was the most enjoyable noisiest quietest kid I had. He didn't talk when I was talking but he chewed on his pen:  crunch, crunch, crunch.  Then he rocked on his chair, thump, thump, thump and at the same time all of this was going on he was positioned with his back tot he window shades, so when he rocked his head hit the shades, slap, slap , slap. So, without saying a word, he gave me crunch, crunch, thump, thump and slap , slap. One day I asked him to talk while  I was talking because it would be quieter. He was  fun to have though.

I had a squirrel who would come and sit on the window sill (where I often sat too since I am known for sitting on anything I can get on in a room, see photo in 2010 yearbook) great regularity. He got peanuts from me on an irregular basis so he wouldn't be too dependent but enough to enjoy him. We had a name the squirrel contest because he would show up and sit even when there were 35 kids in the room.  They named him Mogambi Hamurabi; I still don't know why but it was the winning name.  One day a kid was sitting with his back to the window (I know who you are by name) and he said, " I feel like someone is watching me."  He turned slowly around and there was our squirrel. He really wasn't expecting it and he skyrocketed out of his seat.

My Initial Brodie Girls OLMA 1980s along with my general dislike of most teacher movies

Around 1983 PBS did a miniseries called ThePrime of Miss Jean Brodie. I didn't watch it because I had seen the 1969-70 movie in which Maggie Smith won her best actress oscar and thought I need watch no further. She was the ultimate Jean Brodie to me and this movie is the ultimate teacher movie. I generally dislike teacher movies because they tend to do one of two things; thy either make the teacher the Saviour of all ( ie, To Sir with Love) or a total buffoon and idiot (ie., Ferris Beuller), for years Carl and I disliked Dead Poets Society which I have come to like, although I still see it as a kind of poor male version of Jean Brodie but I like the director so he got me finally.  Jean Brodie should be required viewing for new teachers.  She is a stunning and remarkable influence,her girls are hers for life, they know art and culture and things many of the others do not. On the other hand, she is an utter fool when it comes to Franco and that lover of hers who died on Flanders Field. Not to mention that affair with the art teacher who had about a dozen Catholic kids and was never going to leave his wife and then her influence does real harm. I won't spoil the story here.  The movie is pretty faithful but leaves out the frame story where Sandy is a psychologist and nun.  Jean is a fool and yet an inspiring teacher. She can be dangerous and she doesn't even know it. We should take a warning from her; we don't have to be having an affair with another art teacher or support Franco or later the Nazis or something but we need to be careful of what we say and do. We are influences on students we have no idea of how much we meant to them. Those quiet gentle kids sit there and soak up things and sometimes are so affected and we don't know it. Sometimes someone who does not like you, really does or does later.

My girls at Our Lady of Mercy Academy had watched the miniseries.  They liked to do Brit accents and for them I was their Jean Brodie and they were the Brodie set. I bet you know who you are: I keep up and know at least one of you is a judge and two more are lawyers and one more a psychologist. You called yourselves my Brodie girls and I said, " You are the creme de la creme of Our Lady of Mercy Academy...I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders. ... Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life."  They enjoyed it and I played along.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Holy Cross has numerous people in movie and theater..

Lance Bangs is in a photo with John Hamm in Entertainment Weekly this week. Jamie Moffett has made numerous documentaries including one narrated by Martin Sheen called Return to El Salvador.  The Giacchino brothers are famous for doing music and documentaries and winning awards along the way; Kelly Lobb has done work with news producing for Comcast. Michael Lobb is doing sports filming.  Jenelle Randall has been on Broadway. AlisonRobertson Boris has been in many tv shows.   The list goes on and on, but those are a few from just this week's conversations.

Mark Twain and Misconceptions

Today it is the classic Mark Twain story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" that is causing me to start going on and on again. I like it if you leaf through my annotated texts (not that i had to for this one) and see the notations I made regarding common misconceptions to correct before having them read. In the story, a man fills a frog with quail shot so it can't jump and that's
t the way he wins the bet. My students pretty consistently thought quail shot was an alcoholic beverage ( proving I am teaching not in the South but the Northeast) and that the frog was too drunk to jump. When the man dumped the shot out at the end, they thought the frog thew up. Annotation: explain quail shot is like buck shot or sort of like bbs, not a drink, frog not drunk.

Tieresias and Getting Even Again

Then there is the part of Tieresias is Antigone. The book said the prophet's voice was rather sing song in contrast to the other realistic voices. I picked a kid in 1992 (saw him at the reunion) for Tieresias and Isaid sing it sort of like at Mass or Gregorian chant. Now you have to do this in your head now:
"Oh Creon, I bring you great news from the chair of augury." He said , "This is getting even. How long have you waited for this?" I said, "Yes, it is, months, sing it."

The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet--the best part for more than one reason

Subtle ways to get even with nudges in class. My suggestion is to buy your time. There is always a way. For example, if I were doing Romeo and Juliet I would play the Nurse and make sure the pest was her servant or maybe if he could read or act Mercutio, at some point, I got to say something like "Out upon you." and heap some other insults which I would do while swatting them with my book while i
n character of course. This often led to applause and once in awhile the kid in question would say, "I got picked for this on purpose."Yep.

Also I played the Nurse because she was so hard to read. I can't act,but I can ham it up. In 1993 I had Jen and she was a great student; she had gotten herself transferred in while others were fleeing. I had seen her do Abigail Williams in her sophomore history class and was amazed.  She desperately wanted to be the Nurse; she saw it as the fun part; I said there are two of us who can read Juliet and the Nurse; you are younger; you are stuck with Juliet.  

Catholic School and Palm Sunday

Willa Cather's "The Sculptor's Funeral' is one of my favorite short stories to teach. In the story the coffin has a palm on it as a sign of victory. Misconception needing annotation again: explain the palm is not the palm of your hand. The book annotated it to say it was a palm for victory as in Palm Sunday, but many still thought even thought it was Catholic school that it was the palm of your hand. All I could figure out was they had seen Superstar too many times and saw hands waving when Jesus rode in on the donkey on Palm Sunday with a "hey sana hosanna."

World Champion Fencer

Around 1995 Pat Horan started the rumor that I was an expert world championship fencer. He convinced multiple students initially of this somehow. Then he came to me and said, "Let's see how long we can keep this going." It was January. We then enlisted a few other teachers to assist: Kathy Waters, Peter Graham, Ron Maniglia. Kids would ask and I would say, "I can't talk about my fencing right n
ow, I have to teach." Other teachers were telling them that I beat Peter and Peter was agreeing with that and saying he didn't like it. Finally I said I would reveal all on the last day of senior class. The room was packed. Little 103 B was wall to wall, kids were in from other classes, there had to be about 60 kids in there when I told them they had been had, that it was all a practical joke. As they were leaving, I heard a few say things like, "She is just too modest to show us." The rumor continued to resurface every few years and even someone in the class of 2010 confessed to having heard it. I salute Pat Horan for that one.

Food fights part 1 --1986

1987--early Holy Cross memory. There was rumor of a food fight and Ms. Byrnes showed up with a yellow rain slicker and umbrella in the cafeteria, effectively stopping it.

Food Fights Part 2 --1994 class

Food fights--Part 2--1994. We rarely had a food fight but in 1994, it was near the end of the year, I strolled into the cafeteria at the beginning of senior lunch on some business. I was probably chasing /nagging someone for work or checking up on someone I was mentoring. I thought it a bit quieter than normal but not that unusual, conducted my business and left. I couldn't have been about ten o
r twenty steps down the hall when the football players threw food. Upon arrival later in the day in my class, I made the comment that I narrowly escaped the food. They told me that that was no narrow escape. They were getting ready to throw when I entered the cafeteria and they saw me and signaled the others to wait until I left. I don't know if it was out of respect for me or if it was because earlier in the year, they asked me what I would do if I were ever hit by food and I said that I wore good professional clothes to work, and if they were to ruin them, I would file an assault charge.

1987-88 Bad Tie Friday, dedicated to Lance Bangs

This is dedicated to Lance Bangs who is turning 40. I had Lance along with 32 other boys in my English 2 class in 1987-8 when I was pregnant; I had 5 girls in that class. After awhile I noticed Lance and about 4-5 other boys always had some really bad or odd ties on usually on Fridays, so one day I asked if today was bad tie Friday. Indeed it was and they had been waiting for someone to notice; a
fter that I was the unofficial judge some weeks. They spent a lot of time at this. There were big 60s and 70s ties, little skinny ties, bow ties one week, western ties another. Loud bright colors from the 70s and somber ones from earlier Mad Men days. They often had a theme. I had Lance again senior year; he was still quirky and funny and intelligent. I remember him saying he wanted to do films and me thinking if anyone could it would be him.

1986--Paul McCartney questions

In 1986, something came up in class, and honest to God, some boy asked me in all seriousness with no sense of irony whatsoever, "Wasn't Paul McCartney in another group before he was a Wing?"
I remember saying he was in a little group called the Beatles.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

You can't be Ms. Peters, can you?

For about 8 years I was in 103B and Senor was in 103A.  If you went down the hall it would make more sense if it were the other way around, so people would come into that tiny tiny room I had on back to school night.  Invariably some couple would stick their heads in at some point before things started, look around and say, "We are in the wrong room. "
I would remind them that 103 A was next door and go on. Midway through the presentation they would come back, stick their heads in and say (every single time for 8 years), "You can't be Ms. Peters can you?"
"Yes, I can."
Afterwards they would stay after and say that I didn't look like they expected.  They told me their kid was afraid of me and I would laugh. They expected someone louder, taller, wider and meaner and all they got was a slightly more than five foot Southern Belle, causing them some confusion. I would have to say reputation and size don't have to match.

This happened so many times, people would come in , I would send them to the other room, and then tell the rest of  the parents, they will be back; they can't believe this is what I look like. Then ,as  if on cue, they would return and the routine would finish.

I worked into my back to school speech for a few years.

I had parents who laughed at their sons for saying they were scared of me because they had "seen that woman."

Plagiarism--Part 3or and Ode to Camp

This is an old story and not mine but I wish it were. It couldn't happen today.  Once a long time ago, Mr. Camp got a paper copied from a book article he recognized, so he complimented the writer and asked him to read the masterpiece aloud. Meanwhile, in the back of the room, Mr. C pulled out the original and started reading in unison.  I can hear him laughing now.

What a great teacher, thinker and man.  We should all aspire to be half of what he is and we would be doing great.

We have a mezzaine and surround sound in 214 (now 212 thanks to Lemme) thanks to AP Lang class of 2000

The 21 or so kids in AP Lang class of 2000 were always thinking, creative, and insightful--they also had a wicked sense of humor and the practical joke.  It probably didn't help that I started the year with an assignment in parallelism called "Why Our AP Lang is Better than the Big Nun's." Now I could do this because we were friends and she would be disappointed if she didn't get a long parallel posting on her door. From 1999 came "good things come in small packages."  In 2000 no one was safe, they had my and my dad's wicked sense of teasing. So, one got it for thinking the SCEB president who always looked like he came out of GQ and never hurt a soul was "intimidating." Once she admitted that around April she was sunk; she had to hear it daily. Another was teased for doing his religion homework in my class, and I assumed he had English the period before.  They took the sofa and turned it to the tv and elevated it for "mezzanine" viewing. Ethan who had previously talked his parents into taking him to Gettysburg before sophomore year to get a jump on a project for me didn't get me that year, but he did  senior year. His grandfather invented surroundsound in its earliest form. All you need is two paper plates and you bend them around your ears so the sound comes in better, and you could come by and see us doing this. Me included.  And here is where I say people thought I was strict?  With this sense of humor?  I am assured by thousands  it is all in "THE LOOK."  Once someone got it for some way off the mark and poor S  nearly fell out of his chair laughing, I have gotten it many a time in two years, but never to that extent.Then there is JG's argument that Pirandello's "A Cat, the Goldfinch and the Stars" was really a Christian allegory. The writer was a nihilist, known for saying something like the "the horse , the hearse, basta!" That's it. In my class if you could create and argument and use the text to  support it, no matter how strange, it was acceptable and they all knew it. Here they weren't trying to figure out what some scholar said or what I wanted them to say. They knew I was looking for them to think, so laughing I had to say great argument; Pirandello is turning over in his grave, but you sold it , well , sort of .

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stolen Tweety Bird

The Sept. Magazine Drive always kicked off with a huge stuffed animal; the animal would reside in the homeroom of the daily winner. In reality, the winning homeroom rarely saw it; Mr. Gamble took it all the time. Now for some unknown reason people take me far far too seriously at times, which means I can get away with a great deal.  Back to school night around 1997  I made a ransom note out of pasted letters like you see in cartoons. Gamble's room at that time was in the so-called math hallway, so I could see clearly into his room from mine, so as people left I watched Mr. G lock that gigantic yellow Tweety bird into his closet. Back in those days the closet keys were all the same famous 10 K key, so I just waited for him to leave, walked nonchalantly down to his room, unlock his closet (I can't tell you how late at night this now is), swipe Tweety and leave the note prominently displayed.

The next day poor Mr.Egan is complaining he wants the Tweety and Ms. Dennon is yelling at Gamble about something like enough is enough turn over the bird. I approach the conversation.  I ask innocently about the missing bird and quickly point out there is a suspect of one.  John Gamble starts telling me that he locked up the bird which he did indeed stead as per usual and now this morning voila , no bird.  I keep a poker face , which is one reason besides reputation that makes this possible. He shows me the ransom note  and I say, "Gee I don't know what to tell you but someone got you this time."

Homeroom starts. The numbers are given for the magazine drive; my 214 (now known as 212 bc of He who Must Not Be Named) is second.I whip open  the closet (this is a room who has hard me say be quiet or after school detention for talking during announcements or prayer and pledge for the second year, humor is not on the high list of expectations for me) and pull out the Tweety, shouting,  "You deserve Tweety, our homeroom is the best!"  Needless to say the noise was tremendous and we eventually hung him out the window for Mr. Gamble to see.

Later I confessed to Mr. McGown about the noise and the theft of said stuffed animal. I also admitted that I was technically attrite rather than contrite. He said he figured that.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to use an exclamation point

Exclamation points are used rarely, especially in formal writing, and those of you in some years in particular can probably recite the following rule about multiple ones:
Multiple exclamation points are only used if you write for a tabloid or a boy band magazine.

Sister G used to leave me notes with them on the board and she would come in to class of 2000 and they would start on the rule above,so she told them one day she was going to get even because I had busted her down to freshman English the following year for it.  So, she and I burned some paper and put the ashes in a baggie. The next day she wheeled in (she was in a wheelchair at that point for knee issues) and she was taller than me with her sitting, me standing so the incongruity was automatically funny, and she starts yelling at two of the boys that this was their NHS acceptance letters,and I am yelling back that I had tried to stop her and I had fought for them but I lost bc she was bigger and vice-principal. Those were the days.

Plagiarism or "How do you know?"

Part 1,
Before the web, kids mostly plagiarized an encyclopedia but most commonly cliff's notes.  Every time I caught someone, I got asked, "How do you know?" So, in 1994 when I had a huge stack of plagiarized first papers, I said, let me read these anonymously and you can tell me when you know.

I would read along and people yelled out when they realized but I never made it down a whole page.  One was copied from the textbook, a place we decided that I would not have any real knowledge of and that I would not look. That was a big hit. Of course my favorite, was the time I got to the second word (not in vocabulary books then) zeitgeist and the whole class yelled now.

I pointed out if  they could figure them out and they had indeed it looks like I could too.

Part 2
Two kids gave me virtually the same paper at least four times.  I would bring them in after school and ask student 1 who did the writing to adopt Nancy Reagan's approach to drugs, and "just say no." I also pointed out that every time we had a paper the first thing I did was pull theirs and put them side by side.  I suggested that Student 2 who spent all of my study halls  diligently doing HIS OWN math adopt the same approach with my class, especially since I kept catching him. I suggested at best he should write his own paper and at worst, get another  person's so it would be more of a challenge for me.

People wonder why I stopped sending papers home and made them do them all in class.  For two reasons  is my answer: it is harder to cheat and you have to write longhand or print on the AP tests and if you don't practice that with  all the typing we now do it will be hard.

More of these stories later....

How to talk Southern, who to root for, how to say Louisville and other various and sundry items

For many years my first day of class involved many important issues.  By the time kids got to me, I figured they are tired of rules and how hard we all are, so in addition to learning all the names we learned some of the most important lessons of the year.  Admittedly some of these popped up in different years, so I still have to apologize to the first group who didn't learn the royal wave and were upset.

How to talk Southern--You need to learn the basic principles of Southern speech because if you are going to mock me in the hall, I would like it done accuracy and some style.  The basic principles are simple:
1. If it is one syllable, make it two
2.If it is two syllables , make it one
This solves most issues of pronunciation

But then there is how to say my hometown Louisville, perhaps the most butchered town in all of sports and news coverage to this day.  You can get a shirt, a mug , a poster, almost anything with all the different wrong ways to say Louisville. First accept if you are not from there, you probably won't be able to say it perfectly. Second, realize it has to be done in such a way that it almost sounds like you have marbles in your mouth; slide it all together and it is 3 syllables, despite the rumor or the mispronunciations that it is 2.

lou uh vul

Next, know who to root for. This is simple. Who do you want to win tonight? You answer, "Anyone Kentucky is playing."  Louisville is THE university of Ky because we are more than a sports program. Anyone not from there thinks Duke and North Carolina have a big rivalry or Army and Navy. Wrong. The biggest rivalry since the War Between the States (and I am not sure it was that big) is the one between UK and UL.  If you marry someone from the other school  you have a mixed marriage and fly a house divided flag(I can't imagine that sort of  mixed marriage myself; all we would do is argue).  Students' parents watch basketball and see Ky playing and mistake it for my team. This is immediately and usually loudly corrected by my student who often follows it with "She hates them more than anything."  Someone once said,"But they are at least from her state."  They said I didn't care.I don't. I hate them.  Louisville people like the underdog; they like basketball players who get hurt all the time and still manage to pull themselves together as a team and win against teams they shouldn't beat.  People left the Syracuse /Louisville game that closed Freedom Hall early because Syracuse was ahead maybe 20 points at about 3 minutes. We won. I never worry if we are going to lose until about 4 minutes.I almost prefer losing at half time. Louisville is red.  And if you think I am wrong about the rivalry; we met in the NCAA this year and two senior citizens in their 60s and 70s got into a fist fight at a dialysis clinic where they were patients over the two teams. Enough said.  We lost but then we did when that year Edgar Sosa got the basket at the end.

High school teams are just as important. Everyone roots for either St. X or Trinity and you don't have to go there or be Catholic but they will sell out the college stadiums. People won't get that either but Mr. Lazar filmed it and was amazed.

The Royal Wave--you need to know how to wave properly so you don't get carpal tunnel. They paid someone to teach  Diana to wave ( and do other things, I guess) and that's what started this, so that's why some of you missed out on this bit of eccentricity.  You need to know how to do this in case you inherit a fiefdom or marry into royalty; it is freebie with the tuition being what it is.  If I yelled royal wave, everyone would do it.  It used to be funny seeing some of the principals the first time this happened.

The Standing O--short for ovation. I stole this from Carl's middle school class.They used to yell "standing O" when someone knew something no one else did and I liked it so we adopted it as ours.   I could yell, "O" and everyone had to do it, or a student could notice something noteworthy and yell, "O" instead. Some people kept track of them.

Finally, first day I have to learn the names. Names are power.  It used to scare the big boys because they couldn't pretend I wasn't talking to them because I was calling their name and telling them where their sister sat four years before.  Besides I like to know my kids and the first way to do that is learn the names, so the first day was the hardest for me because learning them all in one day takes for me an enormous amount of concentration because I can't learn the list ;that's meaningless, I have to learn the faces with the names.  I felt it was one of the most important things I did because I think it started the year off with me saying  that I care about you.

How to talk normal...

1980s and 1990s--the kids at HC often saw it as their mission to teach me--or at least try to persuade me--to talk normal, meaning Northeastern.  This would cause me a fright bc as I would tell them I don't want to sound nasal like you. In the early years, North Jersey, NY and South Jersey all sounded the same; now they don't but they all still sound nasal and somewhat cacophonus.  Carl never sounded that way to me ; maybe because his dad was from Iowa, but his Mom sounded very North Jersey, Perth Amboy to me.  Despite student urgings and later the urgings of my daughter when she hit 6th grade, I have never wanted to learn to talk Northern.  I once said the more you push , the more Southern I can and will sound.  Mr. Merkel was astonished to hear I was from Ky, while Mr. Palladino who is quite intelligently married to a Ky woman was not.  I said to Mr. Merkel in a Shelbyville, Ky accent, "You mean you thought I was going to talk like this." Sorry you can't hear it on the page but he said yes. I said, "Wrong part of the state. Close to Louisville but I have the university/city Southern accent and not that Shelbyville one."  Although the Dante professor who was truly Italian thought I sounded the same as someone from Shelbyville and we both patiently explained that no matter what his ears were telling him, our accents were quite different.

The Wrestler--1978

I had a football player in 1978, one of the sweetest and largest guys I have ever met; he was nearly 7 foot tall but built like the football player he was; he weighed more than three times my weight and carried stuff to my car and called my "Mam" even though I was about 4 years older than he was. A few years later my dad had on professional wrestling, as he was wont to do, and I walked by and I said, "I taught him."

I feel like everyday of the last 36 years at some point or other I am saying, "I taught him" or "I taught her."

1977-1978 English 100 teacher and also tutor

I know lots of times athletes get a bad rap and I never really knew Otis Wilson except to see him come to the Writing Center.  He had Kate for the tutor and she always said he worked harder than everyone put together and if Kate couldn't be there, which was only a handful of times, I helped him and her assessment was totally on the money as far as  I could see.  Obviously my brief but vivid memory of him means very little but he went on to SuperBowl fame and doing tons of charity in the Chicago area and so I think he deserves a bit of extra respect.  He worked hard at football and at his degree.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall 1978--1st English 101 classes

Because I was just 22 and teaching English 101, I dressed as professionally as possible. This was not just because they were mostly just 4 years younger; it was also because I was still getting mistaken for an early high school kid. (At 26, a Brother at St Louis Bertrand was shocked I was old enough to have a driver's license).  At the time I did not have my trademark bob, instead I had what I had for years before that, I had waist length perfectly straight Mod Squad 70s hair. My friend used to iron hers on the ironing board (sometimes with my help) in order to straighten hers more (no ceramic flat irons at this time).  To look more professional, it got braided and then twisted into a ballet bun and I wore a dress and dress shoes and carried a brief case. I wore my contacts cause I hated glasses (I still do--except for my Guccis which were worth the blooming fortune they cost since they didn't break or fall off when the tree hit them and me).

By late Sept or early Oct, I am sick with my customary allergies and sinus infection and its raining and humid and I can't bear getting dressed up, so I head at with the hair down to my waist instead of the braided ballet bun, the wire rims on instead of the contracts, the jeans instead of the dress, and the converse instead of the high heels.  I got ready to start class, and several people asked where Ms Wright was and was I subbing for her. I had to break it to them that I wasn't subbing for her, I was she.

Another time I was waiting to get into a 9 o'clock class to teach and the 8 o'clock teacher was running late, so I was standing with a group of freshmen including one who was just finally showing up for the first time in several weeks to class. She asked me how the teacher was, and I told her she was great but not that easy.  Still not sure she was awake enouigh to realize I was the teacher, even after I started teaching that day.

AP Language or Hit and Run AP

Other AP teachers always ask how you can cover everything you have to --or sometimes they tell me I don't have that much to cover. I say you have to make yourself do it; I call it hit and run AP. Don't teach anything that is not on the AP test unless you have already done the entire AP curriculum.  I had a 22 year old teacher  who was astonished mine were not writing bibliography entries by heart. First I said they can put them in a website or in word so that it will automatically format them, so there is no need to memorize them. They change all the time too. Next, AP test doesn't care about that, the AP test cares that writers introduced other sources by saying things like "According to Source A." That's what they had to know for me.

It also helps to decide they are going to do great on the test and to tell them that. Telling them they will do terribly is a self fulfilling prophecy. Hence, my motto"

5s and 4s-we want more.

My kids could name the three possible essays and what the multiple choice looked like all year long; we practiced the test,another crucial thing to do.  By practicing the test and making them tell you what's on it,l you are making it a comfortable, no shock thing.

I am proud to say my kids collectively always did great on the AP tests.  It is common to get one or two fives out of about 45 kids. In my last two classes, at least 7 had 5s because they wrote and told me when I was sick.  I am so proud of them; they did the work. I just coached.  Bobby said to me one day that my class was what he called a "proven quantity" when it came to scores and that he felt ready despite the fact that he had little homework besides memorizing literary terms and vocabulary.  I said that for me  you needed to put the time and thinking into the classroom and learn those terms, have confidence, and above all use all the time. Don't doodle or quit early.

I used to say I will find out if you quit early and it will be ugly.  I had the one who did the "no doodling zone" quickly on her book pages which I thought was very funny.

Memories of Teaching

  I had promised a Guthrie Seeger story. Since we got computers a few years ago at HC, I had the kids look up who was blaclisted by the House Committee for Unamerican Activities. We were starting McCarthyism and The Crucible.  Most of then names mean nothing to them now,but they were shocked when I pointed out that Burl Ives, the snowman in Rudolph(holly jolly Christmas) was on it.  Then I point out that Pete Seeger who celebrated his 90th birthday in DC with a huge concert attended by Obama ,Oprah and George Lucas was brought before the committee. The proceedings regarding him are priceless and well worth a read about someone who stick to his beliefs. There are pages of him refusing to answer questions and him being asked if he is taking the 5th amendment and Seeger explaining that he was not doing that because what they were doing was unconstitutional and to take the 5th would imply otherwise. Finally this leads to me talking about how Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" is as Bruce Springsteen calls it "an angry song" written to counter "God Bless America." I explain it was seen as a socialist song and the class starts arguing about  how it is patriotic and I tell them to sing the lyrics to themselves and you hear them all over the room going,"This land is your land ; this land is my land." And the epiphanies start about how that could be taken as a socialist comment about owning land. I point out we rarely hear two verses but we are going to hear them now as I put on Seeger and Springsteen and thousands of others singing it for his birthday and we sing along.  It was one of my favorite lessons regarding McCarthyism  and I thought it up as I was teaching.  Some of the best ideas come on the spur of the moment. As most teachers know, though, what works great one year, may flop the next, or even what works great in one class, may flop in another.  I know someone who was student teaching and the teacher let him go home at lunch everyday instead of doing the whole day because he said that the afternoon was the same as the morning. I have never ever had two classes that were the same, no matter the subject. Every class has its own personality; every class is different; to say otherwise is to do a disservice to a beginning teacher.

I want to take a minute to thank all my students from the past twenty-six years at Holy Cross who have been facebooking me since Labor Day, trying to console me over disability and retirement when they all know where I want to be--in Room 212. Thank you all ; you have made the week so much easier. The blog is coming. just have to feel well enough to set it up. I shouldn't be on here now. Back i
s bad today, but a story for the day. This is from the high school I first taught at in NJ, Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Newfield. I taught these beautfiul tiny tiny identical twins who weighed about 85 pounds soaking weight. Their names were Monica Anna and Anna Monica. Their equally gorgeous sister was Mary Anna; all there were highly intelligent VillaNova grads. For confirmation Anna Monica took Mary, Monica Anna to Mary and Mary Anna took Monica, so really if you knew any of the three family names you were always right on some level. When Dora was born they got her a Villanova sweatshirt which was one of my favorite toddler outfits for years, only to be rivaled by the Whites who sent me a Louisville Cardinal dress which eventually went to Madeira's daughter. I have to love anything University of Louisville.The twins were so tiny that if they got an excited about an answer and threw their hands into the air, their desks fell forward and they went down, so I had the girls behind them(it is an all girls school--think Trouble with Angels if you are old enough to remember that great movie) appointed to grab their desks when they raised their hands. Great school and great girls.

I remember Catherine's dad telling me she would never talk in class and her mom being relieved that I wasn't going to take points off her grade for being quiet because I said everyone is entitled to his or her personality and some people have a quiet one. I said she would talk at some point. Junior year, she did talk some and senior year more but the best time was when she was on the Mississippi trip working on Katrinia houses and she phoned in to our classroom to see how we were all doing.

In 1990 a senior boy got fed up with having to write so much in my class ( I still don't think they were overworked) and he said that he wasn't going to do it. I said that was fine that he had the free will to refuse to do the assignment and I had the free will to fail him for the year for not completing it. He said ok, I get it, and he went back and wrote the paper.

I don't really understand the blog thing so unless one of those ccomputer guys like Bruce , Falcone or Furey help me , you have to rread my teacher memories here while I clog up my facebook. This leeads me to another memory ; we were working on moviemaker wwhich I have only a basic knowledge of but these three and probably aa couple of more were pros at it and the mac equivalent, so the c cclass members are all helping each other and asking questions and tt these three start answering, they are tossing around those computer initials and dot everything to the point where I had to stop and say, "Any minute I am going to hand out the Spock ears bc I am starting to feel like I am at a Star Trek Convention or a Comic Con."

I I do not know why this one looks like this; I copied it over from facebook like a few others and it keeps cutting off letters and if I add the letters, then it doubles them. I can type better than this looks like I can