Saturday, September 19, 2009

Class Meetings and Kanye

Each year room 202 has a defining moment.

It's the instant the kiddos change from a rag-tag group of individuals who happen to have the same teacher to a class. The Schmidties.

Some years they're united by a sense of accomplishment. Some years a tragedy forges a bond that can't be broken by graduation. Some groups are lucky; they ease into a sense of cohesiveness just because they have similar temperaments and motivations.

This year's moment happened today. And before it did, I'll admit – I was nervous. My kiddos this year are eclectic. They're quirky. They're individuals who are proud of that individual status. And all of these things are to be valued and respected… but they weren't engaging with each other. They were too busy noticing each other's differences and setting themselves apart. Too busy isolating within their niche or established friends.

They weren't rude to each other – they just didn't seem to have a use for or need to acknowledge their classmates.

This couldn't continue. I want a collective. I need a community. A grouping of isolates wasn't going to create the type of learning environment in which any of them would thrive.

I knew I'd have to get creative. And I did.

Today's class meeting centered on respecting others' differences. With little introduction other than, "Some of you may have seen this before. I want you to watch this video clip and notice how you react to the people's actions," I played the video of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at MTV's Video Music Awards.

And I watched their faces as they became outraged – or crumpled. We watched the video a second time. This time we paused to discuss how Taylor felt at each stage.

1) Thrilled. Proud of herself for having accomplished her dream.
2) Excited that someone she respected had joined her on stage.
3) Defeated.

They had such insight into Taylor's response: noting her change in posture from tall and animated to slumped and curled in.

One pipsqueak piped up, "No matter what, that award's never going to be as special to her anymore. It's ruined."

Another said, "It's like watching a balloon get popped."

And they got my point. They shared times they'd been proud of an achievement and been disrespected

"I read this book that was really hard and someone said they read it in third grade."
"I got an A on a hard test and someone called me a nerd."
"My team won a tournament and someone teased me for not playing much."

"I just don't get why Kanye would be so rude," was a common sentiment – and I didn't have an answer for them.

"Why do we sometimes make fun of or keep away from others who are different from us?" I asked.


"I wish… I wish that Kanye had gone on stage and sang with Taylor Swift instead," said one idealistic kidlet.

And my final point was set up perfectly. "I know. How awesome would that have been? Even though they have such different music styles, can you imagine what they could accomplish together?"

As the class nodded their agreement, I played the remix below:

(Thank you, Makaio )

And they danced. Together. And encouraged each other's zany moves.

In the last 30 seconds before dismissal, I paused the music and told the group – acting as a group for the first time"We have 28 different individuals in this room. We all have different talents. Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we're willing to work together?"

Cheesy? Perhaps. Unifying? Definitely.

As they drifted off to safety jobs or waited for their buses to be called, they didn't sit in their seats – they clumped up. Talking. Listening. Engaging.

Schmidties, I'm excited for Monday. It's going to be a good year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fearless but not ENDless

Technically the summer's been over for a few weeks now; I just haven't wanted to admit it. I ignored Labor Day. I overlooked the crisp apples at the local farmer's market. I pressed past the aisles full of Halloween candy.

But on Saturday it was only in the 60's. It's hard to pretend it's still summer while curled under a blanket wearing a fleece.

But how can it be over? (I say this despite having completed my 9th day of school).

LUCKY MIA's over too… at least this stage of it. And that's a hard truth to accept. I still wake up with words on my fingertips and itch to insert self-indulgent chapters to the MS. I hear songs and add them to Mia's soundtrack. I miss the story. I miss the characters. I spent more time with them than anyone else this summer.

And how can it be over? (I say this despite the kitchen dance party that commenced when I read The End for the final time).

I'll give up summer. I'll even accept that MIA doesn't need an epilogue. But I'm not giving up my FEARLESS. The challenges I created and accepted this summer changed me. The never-back-down, what's-the-worst-that-could-happen?, scared-is-not-an-acceptable-excuse attitude I adopted still doesn't sit comfortably over my inclination to flee and retreat. But I don't care. I owe myself more than that.

On Saturday night, as I shivered in my fleece and sipped spiced cider, I took a deep breath and erased MIA from the whiteboard walls of the NTB.

Staring at the blank walls was scary. How to fill them? What to fill them with? Would I love the new project as much as MIA? Where to even begin?

I studied them all night, finally falling asleep beneath walls that mocked me with their emptiness.

And I woke with new, nervous words on my fingertips. My first marker strokes were tentative, made of shaky letters and timid bullet points.

But it's a whiteboard, mistake and changes wipe away with the swipe of a dusting cloth.

By mid-afternoon the wall looked like this.

And that fear and doubt? Replaced by hope and inspiration.

Who's up for FEARLESS FALL?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mac the Book...

There's someone I'd like you to meet. I can thank my good buddies at tech support, faux-James and faux-Jordan, for her appearance in my life. If they hadn't terrified me about another impending computer- pocalypse, I probably wouldn't have spent the next week waking up in a cold sweat and running down two flights of stairs to check on Huey.

It was time to get a Mac.

So I'd like to introduce you to my birthday MacBook.*

I decided to use a name from my someday-daughters-list to name her, because St. Matt has issued a double-thumbs-down-veto on this one anyway.

So, meet Dulcinea.

St.Matt pronounces it: Dull-sin-neigh-ah
I say: Dull-sin-knee-ah
Both are correct.

We'll call her Lucie for short.

And Lucie is fabulous! Besides being adorably decked out in a pink&green skin that I designed myself (I am far too proud about this), she WORKS!

Unlike Huey, Lucie will communicate with our wireless printer. I've been printing things Just Because. So… if you want some puggle pictures, let me know. Lucie also has a "SuperDrive." On Huey it's just a CD/DVD drive, but on Lucie, it's SUPER.

Did I mention she comes with a remote control? I love remote controls! St.Matt's first Mp3 player had one and I was ridiculously jealous. Never mind that he repeatedly pointed out mine was waterproof a much more practical feature, and that he didn't need a remote because the Mp3 player was strapped to his arm. I still wanted one.

And Lucie has one! I don't know what I'll do with it, but still… I have one.

If I disappear into a cloud of Laptop-Love full of unicorns and rainbows, I know you'll understand. (Yes, I'm quite sure that Lucie will be a new Distraction Fairy).

… Or maybe because I'm so infatuated with Lucie, my blog explode with posts…. Er, and they won't all be about lame-o things like how I learned to print and my so-far-just-fun-to-look-at remote control.


*Whenever I say MacBook, I want to sing Mack the Knife. Does this happen to everyone, or just me?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

8) Camping requires lots of STUFF

8) Camping has lots of STUFF you can buy.

I kinda like this part of camping. Okay, I really like this part of camping. Along with all new pink and green river outfits, and my waterproof notepads, there was lots of new STUFF.

Like, my flashlight. It has FOUR settings. One of them is the Spinning Disco Lights setting. That is TOO COOL. Yes, everyone else had official looking headlamps. But my flashlight blinked Green, Red, and Yellow. Theirs did NOT.

And there are tents and sleeping bags and cup holders that float. And waterproof bags and sparkly helmets. And campfires that run off of propane tanks. And, did you know that you can buy ice in 18 inch cubes? This reminded me so much of Little House on the Prairie and the blocks of ices they cut from frozen ponds.

There are mattress pads that come in all sorts of colors and waterproof MP3 players (which I totally should have had b/c I stupidly brought Speedy the iPod on the river and he stopped working after day 1… he magically recovered once we were back in PA).

I just wanted to go in a sporting goods store and buy all of the gadgets and widgets and electronic things that look like they fell out of Westerfeld's UGLIES.

In fact, on our way home from the airport – before we'd eaten or showered or done anything prodcutive, I convinced St.Matt to detour to E.M.S. so I could just look at it all again.

He wouldn't let me buy any! Not even when I argued that there may come a time when we need a throw bag in our backyard…

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7) River trips have their own language.

7) The Language of the River.

I spent a good part of the trip having no idea what anyone was talking about. This glossary should be about 12 zillion words long but A) I procrastinated in writing it and forgot most of them B) I tend to tune out things I don't understand, so...

Anyway, here is river-language, according to me.

Groover – A box that is pooped in. So I hear. Not that I would know. Ewwww!

High Side – A command that means throw yourself at whatever part of the raft Capt. D points too. I was glad we never had to actually use this command b/c I am convinced I would have overzealously thrown myself OUT of the boat and onto whatever obstacle we were trying to skirt.

Kubb – My new favorite beach game. It involves throwing things at other things and knocking them down. It also has a castle. I'm good at falling down. I like castles. I don't throw very accurately, but no one seemed to mind.

PFD – Personal Flotation Device. You and I know this as a "life vest." I called it a PDF by accident at least twice a day.

Master Blaster – It has a flame and makes the coffee. That’s all I needed to know.

Throw Bag – This is a bag that is, um, thrown when someone goes overboard. But before you throw it, you have to make sure that you hold on to one end…

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5) If you haven’t used your underwater camera in a year – check it before going shutterbuggy

Doesn’t our underwater camera look cool?

I posed and hammed it up for all sorts of FEARLESS shots – I only learned to row the boat so that St. Matt could take photographic proof. I even took a picture of me completing one of Victoria’s dares. A photo of me cannonballing off of a moving raft into the river.

And I delayed writing this blog until I could go pick up the pictures and photo CD’s. You were all going to be so impressed…

But then the photo place had a machine malfunction and we couldn't pick up the pictures 'til last night. So we bounced in (okay, I bounced and St. Matt walked) and I proudly handed the woman our slip and her face fell. "Oh, yeah. About your order... We were going to call you..."

They're blank!

Two rolls of blank film.

72 frames!

How could that even happen? The camera flashed, blinked, advanced - shouldn't there be images? So I have my safe-on-dry-land Petunia pics, but any photographic evidence that I did more than pose on the banks of a river will have to come from my river compatriots. Guys? *

*And did they! Thanks Katie and Joshi for letting taking pictures that are GORGEOUS and letting me borrow them.

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