Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Danger of a Single Story

We make up stories about people and ourselves all of the time. We see people in the halls or in the cafeteria or on the street or at the store. And sometimes we think, I know that person--that type of person. You may think: I know her type; I know him.

This summer you, my students, have read stories about at least two different kinds of people. Everyone read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. all read Arnold Spirit’s story about growing up on a reservation. You read about Arnold’s fears and disappointments, about his passions and joy. You read about his struggle and the struggles of Native Americans living on reservations. Arnold’s story shifts when he decides to leave his community to attend a better school in Reardon; it is not an easy shift. Like Arnold, you learn about the people in Reardon-- perhaps some of the characters reminded you of people in our own school community.

This summer you  also read someone else’s story. You may have read a story about a girl: Lily Casey Smith, Michaela DePrince or Margarita Engle. You may have read a story about a boy: Ismael Beah, Carlos Eire, Shin Dong-hyuk, Michael Kraus or Jin Wang. Did you feel you knew them before you started the books? How did your understanding of their stories shift as their memories shaped themselves in your minds' eyes? I wonder.

In the real world, in the world of crowded hallways and busy classrooms, that kind of quick-glance knowing is judgment. We judge the kid walking down the hall with a sag in his pants. We judge the teacher who dresses a certain way. We make assumptions about the boys who wear jerseys or jeans or cheer leading uniforms. That kind of knowing kills people.

It kills students on campuses who feel victimized by bullies. It kills motivation. It kills empathy. It killed forty-nine people in Orlando just this summer.

This year, more than anything else, I want you to recognize the danger of a single story and change it. I want you to reach out to people you may not know and get them talking, get them sharing their stories. I want you to swim in the soup of inquiry--to open your minds to the stories of others and share in their experiences in ways that connect you to your humanity, to the best and brightest places in your hearts.

You may have heard things about each other. You may have heard things about your teachers. You may have even heard things about me. There is danger in what you accept as truth.  Know for yourself.

This year, learn for yourself. Get to know each other, your teachers, me and other people for yourself.

Listen to others’ stories. I want that for you and I want it for the adults in your lives too. I want it for your parents and for the teachers in our school and for the administrators on our campus.

So, help me out with this. Be on the lookout for narrative. Ask. Listen. Learn from peoples' stories so that you can truly get to know people for who they are and what they stand for.

We are all unique. We are all beautifully complex. We were all created for this world to do something or say something that only we can do. We each have a unique mission. All of us can face down  hate and judgement with knowledge and love.

United we are unstoppable.

United we are a team, a community learning acceptance together. This year in English will focus on developing your skills as readers, writers, thinkers and speakers--sure it will. But it will also be about people, about stories, about acceptance and love.

We are starting our third week, but I know, we are going to have a great year together. I love having you in my class.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

TBT: Happy St. Patrick's Day

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 17 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is a two-fer. A St. Patrick's day picture of my dad taken this afternoon when he and Mom picked up our dog, Daisy, to take her to their house for spring break and a throw back post about Dad and St. Patrick's Day from a few years ago.
Gotta love the shoes and socks! 

This post first appeared on Pink Stone Days in 2012.

This post is #18 of 31 for the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

I forgot yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. It slipped my mind in the sweetness of Saturday morning. I can't believe I forgot. In my forty plus years, I've never forgotten St. Patrick's Day. 

I've never forgotten because for me, St. Patrick's Day isn't about wearing green and drinking beer. It's about my Dad. 

Mom & Dad on Park Ave. for the Art Festival today.
Eventually, I remembered. I remembered the minute I saw I'd missed a call from my Dad.  At 1:20 in the afternoon on our way home from a conference, Collin and I called him back. I was kicking my mom-self. I hadn't shared any stories of Ireland with Collin that morning. We didn't pull out the old photo album and look at pictures from Donegal. We didn't read an Irish story much less say the Irish blessing or laugh over the curseHow did I forget?

Usually, it's a first-thing in the morning sort of celebration, sometimes green pancakes or waffles have even been involved. I wanted to kick myself, but I was driving. 

My Dad's first language was Gaelic. He spoke Gaelic at home with his mother. He was the first of his family born in the United States. Dad forgot Gaelic once he went to school. He doesn't speak with a brogue either, but he puts one on for St. Patrick's Day.Ever since I was a child, Dad would perk us up with a lilt and a laugh in his voice, laying the accent on thick the more my brother and I giggled. It is one of many things about my father that delights me, no matter what he and I may have been fighting about when I was a teen and young adult, he was always joyful when he spoke with a Brogue on St. Patrick's Day. 

I think it is his joy and the sharing of it that still gets me. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Six Impossible Things

Some weeks feel like a gauntlet teaching high school. There are demands on teachers' time, our energy, our minds, our moods, our health, our strengths, our minds, and our hearts. We run the race with the best of intentions, but it easy for me to get caught up in the what did not work moments of my week. Instead of doing that, this evening's slice is a quick draft of six of my favorite impossibilities from everyday life. I live among miracles.  Sometimes I need to slow down and remember just that.

Early morning trip to the well to check the problem. Loved how the tree lit up.


We expect it. We take it for granted. We believe it is pure, clear, clean and safe to drink. We fill our tubs with it and soak in it. We don't walk for it or haul it. One morning, recently, I woke up. Stumbled into the kitchen. Put a glass under the faucet for some water. Turned the white ceramic handle and nothing. The pump on our well had gone bad. Even then, the contractor did a same-day fix while I was at work. We didn't even have to be here to witness the miracle. Water was restored by the time we got home from school and track practice.

Second Day Air

Shipping is mysterious. I understand the concept and some of the distribution or transportation channels involved, but really it's amorphous. The idea that a package or an envelope can travel across the country or across the world in two days by plane is one I can image but not quite practically explain. We recently received a second day air mailing label so that we could send our passports in to get visas to travel. Of course it worked. The passports got where they needed to be. Then they flew fleetly back to us and we are sticker ready for four a.m. Friday travel. 


Photocopiers continue to fascinate me. I need to invest in this wondering, but I love thinking about it, so I don't read too deeply into opposites attracking, photo-electric charges or the elementals involved in printing the image from the rotating semi-conductor-coated drum. I love photocopiers. I love thinking about how they work. Perhaps the fascination stems from my early days teaching. I started during the in-between age. Between the photocopier and the end of the  Purple-Ink Age, the age when making copies meant cranking a handle. Both were available to me in the mail room at Winter Park High School. Somedays standing at the copier, I can imagine the wuft, wuft of the copy machine while smelling the ink from the drum and seeing Rosalie Gwinn standing at the counter, turning the handle.

Portable Document Format

PDF documents: oh so crisp, so clean, so sharp. I remember saving documents in PDF format from Adobe PageMaker. I loved the early read-only format. Documents on a screen, rendered at high resolutions are nearly as old world charming as Adobe Garamond. Now there are all sorts of ways to capture and alter PDFs. Readable, shareable, downloadable, change-able. beautiful, the PDF sure is gorgeous at a resolution of 300 dpi.

Image credit: http://tinyurl.com/electric-image
Domestic Electrification

Sure, we have had domestic electrification several relative life times, but it has enable many of my favorite every day appliances: the programmable coffee machine, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator and who would I be to forget the electric light. The lighting cords currently charging personal devices on the kitchen counter and the USB AC/DC plug adapter. I do not even have the vocabulary to describe such technological marvels. All though, seem to have been parented by domesticated electricity (Thank you, Edison and Tesla). 


Love wins. Love endures. Love conquers. Love strengthens and supports. Love shows me everyday what is possible even in the face of seeming impossibilities. So many of these marvels are the result of love and a passion to invest love in learning, in doing, in creating, in helping, in solving and in making the world the place of wonders we know it is.

Six impossible things, that don't quite tell a slice of life story as I've written them, but that I'm happily thinking about as the last day before spring break approaches.