Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Conference Haiku #2

Message from home
Blood boils; heart pounds
Solace through blogging.

Conference Haiku

Class and race:
He doesn't make much,
But he's white.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Highlights of the National Council of Teachers of English

I just returned from Pittsburgh, where I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, one that I have been attending regularly for the last few years. As usual, I ate too much, got too little exercise and sleep, and generally had a marvelous time.


*** Dinner on Friday night with about 60 members of the Talkies, a listserv of English teachers who have been my online and in-person friends since I joined several years ago. We ate at Mallorca, a lovely restaurant near one of the rivers in Pittsburgh (don't ask me which one). The waiters were funny and good-looking, the conversation was stimulating, the food was delicious. Good times all around.

*** Attending a session by Leila Christenbury, Anne Gere, and Kelly Sassi on strategies to help students become skilled at on-demand writing (picture the state assessments here) WITHOUT making test prep part of our curriculum. My methods class has been concerned about this issue, and I now have some great ideas to share with them, as well as a book to suggest (Writing on Demand by Christenbury, Gere, and Sassi).

*** Several dinners with teachers from Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, who are dedicated and caring teachers of their students. They are AWESOME people, amazing dinner companions, and very funny to boot. If there's anything I can help with, you guys, let me know!

*** Getting to spend time with Beth, a former student teacher, who is now teaching English in Wyoming. When she said to me, "I love these kids -- and they need me," I couldn't help but get a shiver. Makes me feel like I'm having an impact, and I love that!

*** A serious brainstorm while sitting on the plane, on the way home. I took out a draft of an article and revised the crap out of it, with the end result that it is about ready to send out. Just one more session and it should be done. I think I needed that opportunity to get my mind OFF the list of things to do here, and it got seriously into writing mode.

*** More great materials and ideas for my methods class. In addition, I'm setting up a blog with a few other English ed folks to discuss how we handle the teaching of reading comprehension strategies and pop culture/media literacy in the methods class. I'm also about to start moderating a listserv for those who attended the CEE colloquium on Monday, which was also about pop culture in the English/methods classroom.

*** Several people attended the policy session that we presented, and we have lots of ideas about developing an action network, beginning with those who came. It feels great to be involved and helping people to connect!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I'm exhausted, but it's a good tired.

Now, to get ready for Thanksgiving . . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dialogue from a Stockyard Painting

This bit of a dialogue came about when I was sitting through a meeting that was insufferably boring. On the wall of the meeting room was a painting of 5 men, sitting around a table in a stockyard. It depicted a western scene, western men, with some topic under discussion. I decided that my time could be better spent imagining the characters of the men and creating a bit of dialogue. Here's what came out:

Dialogue from a Stockyard Painting.


Jedediah Montgomery: A rancher from Colorado, Jed spent his youth as a candidate for the priesthood. After an experience of the “dark night of the soul” brought on by heavy drinking and profligate sexual activity, Jed returned to his father’s ranch. He has now taken over the ranch and is a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives.

Arthur Holland: Arthur is a circuit judge in Wyoming and Montana, well respected for his sagacity as well as his understanding of Western customs and values. Arthur was a Pony Express rider and is most at home on horseback.

Frank Marsden: The youngest son in a family of 14 children, Frank has bounced from one career to another, from one wife to another, and from one state to another. Currently homeless and unmarried, Frank is a closeted homosexual. The majority of his energy is spent hiding this fact from his older brother, William

William Marsden: The patriarchal oldest brother, William rules both his family and Golden County, Montana, with an iron fist. Feared by everyone who knows him, William has no friends and many enemies. He is the larges landowner in Golden County, president of the county school board, a county commissioner, leader of the city council of Jewel, Montana, and the father of 6 children. He is also a deacon in the Jewel First Baptist Church.

Flippo Harthead: The town drunk of Jewel, Montana, Flippo grew up in Boston and moved out west after the death of his sweetheart, Clara. Highly educated and sophisticated, though often intoxicated, Flippo rarely speaks.

Scene: All 5 have gathered for a conversation on the last evening of the Golden County Fair. The big event of the day was the Prison Rodeo, which was held in the very arena in which they are meeting.

William: (bangs fist on the table, rises, and bounces on his toes, looming over the others) (Shouts) Jed, this is complete BULLSHIT! Totally out of line, and I’m not going to stand for it.

Jedediah: (shrinks back in chair)

Arthur and Frank (together): Now William, let’s be sensible. William, please. . .

William: (thundering): Jed. What do you say?

(Long, uncomfortable pause, during which Jed looks down at the table and slowly straightens his spine)

Jedediah: (Quietly) I’m not changing it, Mr. Marsden. I can’t. And I won’t.

Arthur: Look, Will. It’s a public rodeo, a public event, for crying out loud. The winner has been announced, the prize was awarded. You saw the crowd, the way they clapped and cheered when Rodney was announced. He’s their golden boy, no matter what he’s done. We can’t reasonably do anything about it now.

William: I don’t care about reasonable – I could give a shit about reasonable. I want results.

Frank: Look, William, it’s all going to work out. Penelope knows how you feel about Rodney –

William: (snarling) I’m Penelope’s father, and I’m the one who will break that little rat’s neck if he comes anywhere near my daughter again.

(Long pause.)

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Here’s the idea – Jed is a judge at the Prison Rodeo. The conflict involves William’s daughter, Penelope, who is pregnant by a prisoner, Rodney, who competed in the rodeo and won. The prize for the winner: release from prison, unconditionally.
William attempts to force Jedediah to change his ruling – using blackmail and other forceful methods.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

On Today's Schedule

New refrigerator being delivered -- right now

African Students' Association Celebration -- 4:00 PM

UW/BYU Football Game (yes, I'm a season ticket holder) -- 4:00 PM

[Hmm. Bit of a conflict there.]

Housewarming Party at a Colleague's House -- 7:00

Interspersed among these things -- grading innumerable papers and stewing over my methods classes.

Should be a fun day!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


A meeting today left me with a familiar feeling. Familiar, that is, from the time when I was teaching high school. Things are falling apart, the world is almost ending, learning will soon cease to exist, and my place in this world is fading.

That feeling.

When I taught high school and had that feeling, it was often from hanging out too long in the teachers' lounge. Now it's from a meeting in which only the negative was addressed.

How did I handle that feeling back then? I went in my classroom, and worked hard to see that my students read and wrote and thought and spoke in deep, critical, and meaningful ways. I taught them how to comprehend what they read, to write in ways that communicated to an audience, and to ask questions. At least then, I could feel that I was making a difference, that I was doing my job well.

Once again, tomorrow, I will enter my classroom and work as hard as I can to give my students what they need. They trust me, and I will not put that trust in jeopardy.

Honestly, if we're not all about the students, what are we about? It's the only way that I have found to put the whirlwind to rest.