Thanksgiving in School

‘Twas Wednesday the week before Thanksgiving. An English IV student volunteered to read Gwendolyn Brooks 1959 poem…

We Real Cool

THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

(Courtesy of poets.org)

“What do you notice?” I say.

Crickets.

“What makes this a poem?”

Here they speak of the rhymes, the structure, the alliteration, the repetition of “we.”

“Who is the ‘we’?”

They speculate.

“Why do they think they’re cool?”

They provide examples from the text. 

When there’s not much more to say, we read Andrew Spacey’s article, “Analysis of Poem ‘We Real Cool’ by Gwendolyn Brooks.” Spacey takes some of our beginning ideas about the poem to the next level with sophisticated sounding words about the enjambment, ambiguity, and monosyllables along with insight on the anti-establishment and a miniature tragedy in eight-lines.

“I would love to see you all write like this,” I say. But on this day, I don’t make them write. Instead, we listen to an audio of Gwendolyn Brooks explaining her inspiration behind this poem and giving a reading. The words from her mouth and rhythms of her speech sound different than how my student had read.

Then we watch a video. Same poem another person’s thoughts. The ending goes straight to my heart. I might have seen students wiping their eyes. Students in a class later that day laughed, a contagious laugh. I’ve learned I can’t control anyone else’s reactions, only my own. 

I move on to another poet for comparison, United States poet laureate Joy Harjo. We read an NPR article: “In ‘An American Sunrise,’ Joy Harjo Speaks With A Timeless Compassion.” The article reviews Harjo’s 2019 poetry collection. Then we read along to Joy Harjo’s audio of “An American Sunrise,” a poem within the collection of the same name.

An American Sunrise

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin

was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We

were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin

chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin

will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We

had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz

I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,

forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We

know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

soon.

 

(Courtesy of poetryfoundation.org)

 

We speak of the first Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans were later robbed. The lesson is heavy, but thought-provoking, and the students quite like the two poems side-by-side. I’m posting from my phone today and unable to format this poem as intended. Otherwise, you would clearly see that each line ends with the following words consecutively: We strike straight. We sing Sin We thin gin We Jazz June, We die soon). The students minds are blown.

“Now I want you to create something as a celebration of Thanksgiving—maybe a poem, a song, or art—and give a mini presentation. This is how it works. You entertain me, and I give you a 100. I would be so happy if someone would sing me a song. You have thirty minutes. Go.”

5th period dances to “Beans, Greens, Potatoes, Tomatoes,” also known as the Grandma Thanksgiving Rap.
These images include endangered species. The text says, “To all animals and plants: Thank you for your time spent on this earth. From all humanity: our condolences and apologies for what has been brought upon this earth. May your spirits find a peaceful life after they leave this one. To all humanity: The time has passed to repair for our crimes. Now we are obligated to make the earth comfortable in these times of strife, conflict, loss, and change.
Thanksgiving, a day we spend with family

We eat and munch like an abnormality

We sit around and argue with each other

It never stops, but we love one another.

—1st Period Mariachi

Let’s Have Fun with Jane Eyre

I teach high school English. Can I say how much I hate multiple-choice tests over literature? I never took a multiple-choice test in my college English classes. Instead, I wrote.

In a perfect world, I would teach books I love, and the kids would experience the love of story and language. Then again, the world isn’t perfect. Students have obligations and jobs, and I would be naïve to believe they’re all reading. Let me take a stab and say 50% of them, give or take, are not. Most classic pieces of literature have been made into movies. Take for instance, Jane Eyre. How many of my students watched the movie and called  it a day? Should I give up on the classics? Should I give up on reading checks?

I’m locked into this year’s general plan, but I’m rethinking for next year, my how and my what. Meanwhile, I endeavor to pull my students through a novel I love. In my classroom, I have seven table groups of four or five, thirty-two students total in my largest classes. I have a few go-to activities for literature re-cap: reader’s theatre (students act out a chapter or passage with books in hand, narrating and acting out the dialogue) and ShrinkLits (shrinking the literature or a chapter down to a rhyming summary, a concept developed by Maurice Sagoff in a book by the same title). Of course, there are times I assign specific passages to be read (hopefully re-read) closely for discussion and analysis. And of course, there are writing assignments, too. For the activities, I assign table groups  a specific chapter, as a summary (or a preview for those who have fallen behind), and they present to the class. At a performing and visual arts high school, they take their acting seriously. Our reader’s theatre was quite outstanding. However, as with anything, overdoing it loses the magic. This year when I had used all my best tricks for Jane Eyre, I confessed: “I’m out of ideas. I’m going to give your table a chapter, and you can decide how to present it. You have thirty minutes.”  

And so today I’m thankful for white board space and students with ideas. Some students presented in news reporting format, others did interviews, one group played charades, which actually happens in the novel, and my dancers danced to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” for Chapter XVI, where Mr. Rochester tries to make Jane jealous through a feigned relationship with Blanche Ingram. (The lyrics go like this: “Hey, Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one / Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend…)

And you know what? Some of my students love Jane Eyre as much as I do. That makes me happy.

Gratitude for My Geometry Teacher

A co-worker told me recently about a teacher who inspired him. He had visited his teacher once years later, and the teacher pulled one of his essays from a file and gave it to him. My friend was shocked and flattered that his teacher had kept his work for all those years. We spoke of sending our past teachers thank you notes and apologies.

I said, “I did that once. I’m sure I owe a few more teachers.”

My high school geometry teacher was elderly and kind. In retrospect, she was probably ten to fifteen years older than I am at present.

Back in my high school days, I took my socializing seriously for an introvert. I maximized my time in the hallway between classes, chatting with friends making eyes (or something like that) with my boyfriend. I would arrive at the classroom threshold as the bell rang. Mrs. Lee always stood there waiting with a patient smile. If I remember correctly, I asked her if I could go to the restroom almost daily as I arrived almost late. She always let me go. At some point in the school year, she just started taking my books for me, never with an ounce of exasperation. When I returned to class, my books waited for me on my desk.

When Mrs. Lee’s husband passed (He was my elementary school counselor who administered standardized testing and told us to bubble our answers “dark and glossy”), I searched for Mrs. Lee’s address. I found it and mailed my condolences, along with an apology from my former self and a note of appreciation from my adult-teacher self. Now I’m the one who allows restroom breaks when they might not be convenient and even when the students try my patience. I told her that, and you know what? She wrote me back, the kindest note in keeping with my memories of her.

In my twenty-first year of teaching, I still remind myself that kids are kids. We learn character, by witnessing character. I did anyway. Although I made A’s in my geometry class that year, I’ll remember what Mrs. Lee taught me about patience and kindness above all. And I’m grateful.

Do you have a Mrs. Lee? Someone who made a difference that might not even know?

Anything Is Possible

In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.

Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.

Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.

At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.

Zumba?

I clicked into the online class because the title said, “20 Minute ZUMBA Fitness.”

I said to myself, “I can do anything for twenty minutes.”

From the first downbeat, the instructor Ayhan Sulu is high energy. His sleevless shirt says, “EGO IS NOT YOUR AMIGO.” And his smile—well—you might just need to click play to see for yourself. Better yet, stand up wherever you are, set your ego aside, and give it a try.

Let me warn you, at about the seven-minute mark, I nearly cried mercy, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Just when I found myself almost dying, the music switched, and we slowed down. Not for long. The intensity built once more. But if this guy’s energy doesn’t make you smile, then picture me—a 51-one-year-old woman who has never ever Zumba-ed, trying to keep up with his moves. Maybe you had to be there, but I’m still tickled.

Around fourteen minutes, I hit pause and went to pee for the sheer excuse of taking a time out. The workout would be over at 22:17. “I can do anything for eight minutes,” I reminded myself. Just as I hit play, there was another slowdown. And then another speed up. And then somewhere in the nineteen-minute range, we started cooling down. I had made it! Through the class. Through my A-Z blogging challenge. Through my month of action. Miracles do happen. Bring on May.  

Yoga?

Once upon a time, I went to a yoga class. In fact, two different classes kept me balanced for about four years. That was probably at least seven years ago. I just realized I miss it—the strength, the flexibility, the relaxation.

Even with my COVID vaccines, I can’t get super excited about going to a class. Meanwhile, I found one online at Sarah Beth Yoga. It seemed like perfect start—30-minute Full Body Yoga for Flexibility and Strength.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

The class begins in child’s pose, my knees on the mat, belly between thighs, hands stretched in front of me, forehead and chest resting downward, and from there a flow to downward facing dog. I can do this, I thought.

The class progressed with a walk to the top of the mat, a slow roll to standing. Sarah Beth says, “Consider what kind of a practice you would like to have today. What is the intention you would like to set for your practice? You don’t have to think too hard. Just let it be the first thing that comes to mind and let that set the pace of your flow and intensity.”

And sometimes that’s all we need—a little guidance to remind us of our intentions—that we don’t need to think too hard—but we do need to choose our purpose. That seems like common sense, but sometimes I forget. Clearly, I need more yoga.

Namaste.

Walk!

Just Take the Step

All it takes is a step,
then another and another,
until momentum takes over
and propels you forward.

The steps we don’t take
are the ones we regret.
Just take the step.  
Don’t worry or fret.

Our paths, like our steps,
always lead to the next.
Billions of us on journeys
with paths that intersect

Plan all you want.
At some point you’ll see
what happens in life
might be destiny.    

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

Cassius in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141

Update.

This April here on the blog, I’ve stuck to an alphabetized theme of action. Allow me to update you.

Updates are good—especially in job situations and within families and with friends. Updates keep your people in the loop and strengthen your connections. This week I phoned my sister, and my bestie called me. We updated each other. Those are my favorite updates.

However, I have a little problem with today’s blog update. If you’ve been reading recently, you know that most of my posts for the last twenty-three days or so have been updates of sorts. I’m starting to bore myself with the topic of me. If you’ve been reading, and you’re back again today, God Bless You! You could be doing anything right now, and I’m not loving this post. Hopefully, some of the others have been better. If you’ve missed any, I’ve linked them in the update below.

Starting on April 1st, I chose to abstain from alcohol. Today is my twenty-fourth day. This action freed me to accomplish more in a month than I have probably ever. Weirdly, I haven’t missed my nightly drinking much. I can’t say I’m quitting forever, but I am totally rethinking my relationship with my booze habit. Oh, the extra calories!

This month I’ve taken three ballet classes and turned a few cartwheels. I’ve continued reading my devotional book almost every day, or at least I catch up when I fall behind. Hopefully along the way, I’ve encouraged someone somehow. One of my reader-friends said my post on forgiveness was her favorite.

While thinking about actions from A-Z this month, I’ve noticed myself Googling throughout most of my days. One day I read about the benefits of headstands, so I’ve been practicing. I held one for about thirty seconds the other night. This challenge has taught me to innovate. One day I wrote about not jogging, but since that post, I pushed myself to try it again. Mostly I’ve been trying to Keep It Stupid Simple and listen to God and good advice and people who matter and the birds in the trees.

Along the way, I put some thought into some memorization, some nominations, and observations. I photographed some murals, quested forward with personal goals, and read a few memoirs.

I’m not sure what makes me more proud this month, completing 1245 situps and pushups and 1320 squats or revising 215 pages of my memoir for my thesis due date on Monday (I still have 30 pages and a final inspection to go) or the 3 interviews I had this week (that’s a post for another time). One thing I know for certain is that none of it would’ve been possible without believing I could do it and giving it a try.

Try!

When I started this A-Z Challenge, I didn’t have a plan for over half of the alphabet. I just thought I would stick to a theme of action and try. I even thought I might skip a day if necessary. Somehow, I kept showing up and doing it. That’s what try means to me. You show up. You do it. If you fail, you try again. You keep showing up. You do things differently.

When I returned to school for my masters, I didn’t have the money for tuition. I just thought I would figure it out, and I did. I had probably thought about going back to school for ten years before I committed, and now I’m probably most proud of myself for just doing it.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve absorbed in my life. I grew up with this one—

It’s never too late to absorb the good stuff…and it’s never too late to try…