Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Teachers”

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: Day Five–it’s reigning wonder and frightening


Aah–midpoint. Two more days to go and I graduate from Hamlet school. I just gotta polish up my project and present it and practice our group scene and perform it. The wonder (at least part of it) and the frightening is due to the film crew returning on Friday to film our presentations and performances. Forsooth!  

I believe this is the Supreme Court building which is in the neighborhood of the Folger Library

 One of the lesson cappers we use is “I observed…” For example:

  • I observed there are some shoes that definitely cannot be worn in the rain
  • And I observed when necessity calls for walking barefoot in the rain it’s lovely that DC neighborhood sidewalks are primarily brick

I finally managed to get into the LoC reading room.My Intention was to locate my Marvin Composes a Tea Highlights anthology and snap a photo of it; however, NO photographs are allowed in the RR. I was content looking at my LoC call number on the screen with the LoC RR in the background.

The LoC bookstore actually had more people in it than the RR. I could have spent HOURS deciding whst to buy. Alas, I had to hurry and get back to Folgering since I snuck away on my lunch break. I snagged a few buttons, yet wished for more time and a larger suitcase. Really, really cool stuff beckoned from the shelves. Okay-I’ve just talked myself into going back. Good thing I have leftovers from dinner because I will be skipping lunch again.

All my adventuring after hours has caught up to me and I am determined to go to bed before midnight tonight. I even slept in until 8 am today! *gasp*

“Perchance to sleep, to dream–ay there’s the rub.”            

Cricket’s Hamlet Adventure: 3rd Day–of Words and Rarities


Hamlet School began today.

Up at 6:30 am I quickly rustled up a yogurt cup over at Union Station and trotted over to Folger’s with several members of our Hamlet crew. We hoped we would remember together how to find our way there. If all walked in late we couldn’t get mass detention, right?

A very full day. I will say this–reflecting upon my years of teaching Hamlet, I know I could have taught it better. That’s one reason I applied to Folger’s Hamlet Summer Academy, to learn how to engage my students. Plus, Hamlet is THE favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays. After today, I could go home today fulfilled. I picked up so many tips and ideas I might have to teach Hamlet in the fall instead of spring I’m looking so forward to revamping my unit.

After a morning of focusing on the words and ways to enliven the interest of our students, we traipsed off the  Folger Library. This is no ordinary library. In order to access the reference material we had to apply to become readers (ahem–scholars) and then receive photo IDs. No books leave the room. It’s all about Shakespeare–and then some.  

 We were taken down to a special viewing of rare books, including a First Folio, and the lease for Shakespeare’s house, meaning I touched an artifact that the Bard handled. *tingles* For a Bardinator that’s cool stuff. If you’re aren’t a Bardinator, this might not be so impresssive. 

The afternoon involved reading lines, scenes, and eventually the play. Yes, it was a long day. I wonder how our students would fare if school consisted of 12 hour days?

I bid adieu to the remains of the day, exhausted, but still hoping to see more of the sights. My body tired, my mind is whirling from all the Hamletting done today. 

“O, there had been throwing about of brains.”

End of Year Cheer


Last night rounded out the academic year of 2015. I actually feel somewhat refreshed instead of the usual frazzle.

My, to borrow a phrase, “parting of sweet sorrow,” began early in the day. Having posted my grades the day before, a perk of having seniors, and having already tidied up my room, I decided to plant lavender and poppies outside my school window. One teacher greeted me with “Hey, Miss Maudie!” I took that for a compliment.

I then listened to essays of future AP students–promising beginnings. After that I polished some lesson plans for next year, arranged books in the library (you can take a librarian out of the library, but never the library out of a librarian), rearranged my room, and waited for the final bell. Having no students, I listened for how students would react to their release from captivity.

“Summer!” “I can’t get out of this building fast enough!” 

I’m not sure if those were student or staff voices crying out their jubilation.

  
After a quick power nap, it was off to help ready seniors for our community graduation at the football field. A few moments of the usual panic–“my walking partner isn’t here yet!” “I lost my tassel!” “The valedictorian can’t find her speech!” “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” but we managed to line them up, march them off over to the bleachers to the repeated strains of commencement’s “da da dada da da”. Many speeches later,  and after no pranks of slipping the principal interesting bits of memorabilia, the class of 2015 tossed their hats in celebration.

Next stop: grad nite.

How to persuade new grads from going to parties and ending a happy day with a series of unfortunate events? Easy. Throw a party for them. Having done this rodeo three times with my own kinder, I help out by selling tickets and wandering around as a floater. Fun, food, and a chance to hug students one last time? I’m all in–at least until midnight. And the band played on until the wee hours of the morning.

This morning? I still woke up at 5:30 am. I guess my body isn’t quite ready for vacation yet.

I am hoping to dust off the laptop and get some writing projects cranking before fall arrives sooner than I hope it will.

Any other teachers, students, or parents embracing the delights of school being out?

Of Hamlet, Conundrums, Cost Factors–oh my


I have decided that now and then it’s important to dip into the retirement fund to fully appreciate opportunities I may not be up for when I do finally retire. When the opportunity came up to apply for the first ever Folger Shakespeare Library Summer Workshop, I swiftly wrote up my reasons why I should be among the coveted twenty-five teachers who will get to study Hamlet. I don’t know if Midsummer Nights Dream or even King Lear would have caused me to leap without much looking. I don’t even recall what I wrote, I was in such an unmitigated hurry to apply.

Whatever I wrote worked for them.  Come July I’m heading out to Washington DC to learn how to teach Hamlet to my students. Even though it’s costing me about a month’s salary (tuition, airfare, hotel–ooh, I have to eat, forgot about that) my hubs and family and friends convinced me to commit by saying: “Just go already.” They’re right. I would be full of regrets at having turned down the opportunity just because I like to save money instead of spend it. ‘Tis better to be filled with memories than regrets. Shakespeare didn’t write that, but I’m sure he thought along those lines when he trekked off to London for the theater.

I will keep you all informed as I get closer to the event.  I think I’m getting excited–reality emails are arriving about getting prepared for the big trip. 

1. I must supply a recommendation letter in order to secure my Reading Room pass. My local library card will not be sufficient. This puts studying Shakespeare into a totally different realization of *special event*.

One thing I’ve noticed as July gets closer and my departure date, I’m more enthused about seeing Washington DC in movies we watch–“Hey, don’t blow up the White House! It’s on my tourista list.” Or a poke to the hubs “I’m gonna get a photo with Abe. I’ll give my regards.” The MEPA is an excellent fellow allowing me to gloat like this.

I’ve only dipped my toe back East briefly when I attended a Chautauqua workshop back in 2008. Is the east coast still muggy in summer? My part of the planet sports dry  and hot summer fun. Humidifiers and air conditioners are standard issue. 

As for tripworthy goals and accomplishments: I’m hoping Jude Law will stop by. Makes sense doesn’t it? He just did Hamlet on Broadway. I would settle for Patrick Stewart peeking in. David Tennant? I’m also hoping to dig in and get some amazing research done on a Shakespeare project I’ve been toying with the past five years. That Reading Pass will definitely come in handy. Of course, I really hope to bring back such astounding Hamlet lesson plans that they will transform my seniors into iambic spouting Bardinators.

We interrupt this post with an important update:
“participants should pack loose, comfortable clothing for stage work, including a workshop on swordplay.” SWORDS! 

Being a West Coaster, I am so open to suggestions of what I should REALLY see when finding time to be a tourist in Washington DC.

a bit about cricketmuse

I intend to pack a bit more…

NPM: #28–a classroom poem


This poem is for all you teachers out there, and yes, to you students as well. We ask a question, and know our students know the answer, but there is such a reluctance to share the knowledge, unless you are the student who always has the willingness. What about the others? This poem helps to unravel the mystery of the reluctant hand.

The Hand

“Take a chance…” image: galleryhip.com

 

Overbooked


I have become a victim of over booking, and I have only myself to blame. No, I didn’t get postponed at the airport, or delayed at the restaurant. Actually, it’s all my fault I got caught in this dilemma. Life just happens sometimes, you know?

For the first time since fifth grade I am conscious of how many books I am reading this year. In fifth grade Mr. C, my fifth grade teacher, challenged us to read over the summer and bring him the list in fall. I think I read a 100 books–memory tends to fade the accuracy of details. I do recall the look of surprise when I trucked in my list on my way to sixth grade next door. I’d like to think I was the only one who took up his challenge. I would have read all summer anyway. Too bad I didn’t keep the list. It would be fun to revisit what I was interested in reading at eleven years old.

This year I have taken up the GoodReads Challenge and I am diligently marking off my books with reviews. My goal is 50 books, because I think I can manage that amount. I now realize how idealistic that amount might actually be. Therefore, my dilemma. I calculated I will need to read at least 4 books a month to hit my goal. And for honesty sake (former Campfire Girl) I will double or triple up on children’s books because they are so much shorter. Then again, does a 400 page plus book count as double? War and Peace count as triple? I’ll figure it out.

This is why I am currently reading 4 books 3 books (just finished the newest this morning).

  • In the car I’m listening to Lois Lowry’s Silent Boy, a mesmerizing story of a young girl, Kate, remembering back to the time she befriended Jacob, who everyone in town referred to as “touched.”
  • On the living room side table is Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. I have been gnawing away at this one for a while because it is so fabulously rich in content. I should just buy it, since I put a sticky marker in every other page. If you are interested in the texture of Shakespeare and his times, this is THE book to read. Probably explains why it earned National Book Award Finalist.
    • By the bed, and in the bookbag, and at school it’s a rereading Jane Eyre. As long as I teach it, I tend to read it. JE is one of favorite heroines, so it’s a pleasure, not a chore. In fact, there are times that I miss my Jane time because I get so busy I can’t sit down and relish her story. I am involved with this novel. I’m studying it, analyzing it, researching it, and most of all enjoying it. Again.
    • Back to four books. Make that five. Both holds came in: Way of the Peaceful Warrior (saw the movie and I’m curious) and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller–a recommendation from one of my many book review blogs.
    • Actually six–I picked up Number the Stars by Lois Lowry as a reread.

Sigh. Anyone else overbooked this week?

The movie definitely got my attention… image: amazon.com

Will I be able to NOT think Brad Pitt as I read this? image: GoodReads

I have to read a Lois Lowry I haven’t liked image: Wikipedia

 

 

 

Good Taste, Good Reading


Is YA too angst driven? image: The Scream by Edvard Munch/wikipedia.org

 

In my stack of reading material I came across a 2013 Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, entitled “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books” by Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer for The Wall Street Journal. The MEPA had flipped it my way, and I thought it would be interesting enough for reading, later. Later has arrived, a year and a half later. Does anyone else have an overwhelming TBR stack?

The article is a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 12, 2013, and Gurdon hits upon a sensitive issue: the dark topics found in current YA titles. She starts her speech by mentioning the two hot topics on Twitter on June 4, 2011 were the Anthony Weiner scandal and her article “Darkness Too Visible.” Her article discussed how in the four decades that YA has existed as a separate genre, it has become increasingly “lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.”

Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent–and for some kids, very unhappy–but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective.

Gurdon continues to express her concern over how the first person perspective is the narrative choice, which means the immediacy of “I” and “now” is present in YA novels and keeps readers in “the turmoil of the moment,” creating a sense of wearing blinders to the current hormone-laden environment in which they live. To this I agree, to an extent.

Many YA novels focus on the immediacy of choices, or lack of them, the trauma and drama that teens live in. However, it is momentary. I recently switched from teaching ninth grade English to instructing seniors–talk about paradigm shifts. I had to almost reinvent my style of teaching because there is very little drama with 17 and 18 year olds compared to the 14 year olds I’m used to dealing with. And so it goes with what they read. Everything is so much more to a fourteen year old because so much less is happening: they don’t drive yet, don’t hold a job, barely have started dating, maybe barely have started puberty. Less is more. The books I hear them talk about, and see on their desks, reflect their need to read about the amplication of their feelings.

Gurdon related how she was charged by YA book writers JudyBlume and Libba Bray of “giving comfort to book-banners.” However, Gurdon argues that she doesn’t want books to be banned or instill fear into writers; she only wishes there would be an exercise in discretion.

What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.

In the remainder of the article, Gurdon provides examples of lurid YA content, and the results of recent studies conducted at Virginia Tech. Her point is well-taken how media, particularly books, can establish a norm. Federal researchers, Gurdon pointed out, remained puzzled about the anti-drug/tobacco campaigns directed at elementary and middle schools and the actual use of the substances by the students. Apparently the conclusion is that the children were learning a paradox: adults must think you are using if they are telling you the dangers of doing so. Does this same logic apply to novel content?

Gurdon points out that “problem novels” normalize and validate the horrendous experiences of teenagers. She affirms this idea with Emily Bazelon’s book on about bullying, how schools are beginning to use a method that promotes the idea that cruelty isn’t the norm. The idea becomes estabished that there isn’t as much bullying going on as everyone says there is. The proclivity to be cruel isn’t justified, simply because it isn’t as big of deal as everyone is making it to be.

There is the tendency to gravitate towards the sensational. The gruesome, shocking, and disgusting make viral headlines and get repeated enough to establish an acceptance that if it’s in the news it must be what’s happening. Gurdon obviously riled a few people with her plea for discretion–authors, librarians, readers all reacted as if they were being vilified. And it is here that I feel Gurdon’s frustration.

I don’t hear her banning books or rebuking YA content; instead I hear her dismay. She emphasizes that she doesn’t believe that the vast majority of 12 to 18 year olds are living abject, miserable lives, and she doesn’t understand the purpose of providing material that emphasizes that life for those who are. She encourages the book world to seek out books that embrace wisdom and beauty, those books that provide answers to hard questions found in life. Perhaps that is the distinctive between what is today’s bestseller and tomorrow’s classic.

Gurdon closes her article with St. Paul’s words found in Philippians 4:8:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

She then asks the audience to think upon those words when shopping for books for children.

As I sign off, I am given pause about promoting more of the lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy when I provide literature choices to my students. As William Wordsworth once wrote:

What we have loved
others will love, and we will teach them how.

 

 

Breaking Out


December 19th is a happy day for several reasons:
1. Christmas Break begins as soon as I turn the key on my classroom door.
2. I’m invited to the library staff Christmas party (being a trustee has it’s perks)
3. The next time I enter my classroom it’ll be a new year, meaning we’ve turned the corner and we’ll be heading towards June graduation.
4. Because the 20th is when our very own kinder plus the wunderkind begin arriving for Christmas.
5. I will not be grading papers and don’t have to create lesson plans, although I might fuss and dabble with the ones I have ready to go for January.
6. My room is prepped ready to be painted over break, transforming it from bowl-of-oatmeal-blah-grayish taint to contemporary calming tan and teal.
7. I anticipate two weeks of napping, reading, exercising, visiting, snacking, writing, celebrating a joyous season, and overall relaxing.

I’m contemplating some serious Shakespeare reading–I have a mungo long TBR list of background bio books on the Bard. I’ve a hankering to write a middle grade novel about Wm. Shakespeare, something that will fetch up some interest in him prior to forced readings of his plays in middle school and high school–something that will pique their interest. To go where no author has gone before with the Bard. I know, that’s a tall order for two weeks.

I’m also considering revisiting former reads such The Hobbit and then watch the film adaptation.

I might also start a series I’ve never encountered before. Mystery? Adventure? Sci-fi? Historical? So many options. Any suggestions?

Of course, I could do a thorough scrubbing of my writing and edit and revise and market and well, that sounds an awful like work and aren’t I supposed to be relaxing?
Whatever I decide to do, I want you all to know I appreciate your comments, views, likes, and follows. I hope to end out the year with 25,000 views and a 1000 followers.

Happy joyful season of friends, family, feasting, and most of all, thanks for the Star of Bethlehem.

Summer Wonders


Returning school goes beyond getting back into a routine because it means I also have to make adjustments to my practicing for retirement. No more rolling over and going back to sleep, no more schlepping around in jammies, no more naps, no more odd eating hours, or meals for that matter. And worst of all, no more diving into books for an entire day and barely coming up for air. Responsible English teachers don’t partake in any of the above behaviors. At least not during the school year. Yet, summer vacation does allow me to practice the art of retirement and one of those skills is thoroughly enjoying a really good read. I was fortunate this year and enjoyed more than my usual share of good reads:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Breathtaking in its flow and style, I absolutely devoured Doerr’s novel about two lost children. Set in WWII, Doerr portrays the war in a way I’ve not encountered before. One perspective is through the blind eyes of Marie, a young French girl whose indomitable spirit carries her beyond the war’s cruelties. The other perspective is that of Werner, a German youth whose talents land him in the Hitler Youth. The parallel stories eventually telescope down to a satisfying denouement. Doerr, already an award-winning author, will do doubt increase his presence with this amazing tale of how the spirit can overcome its surroundings.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

Sometimes I simply have to take a break from the pedantic pace of classics, or step away from serious literary excursions. Mr. Penumbra helped me to once again find the wit in wordsmithing. This foray into classic literature name dropping reminds me of Jasper Fford’s Thursday Next series, which is a delight in how it metafictionally pokes fun at how serious we tend to take our literature. Robin Sloan not only lovingly jabs at academia, he embraces our wanderings over to the dark side of technology via Google (those villains). Yet, bad guys (technology) aren’t so bad, once you understand them, and often they prove helpful overall because they are just misunderstood.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My first introduction to Ishiguro and of the three novels I read of his over the summer, this one is certainly the best in my opinion. The voice of nationalistic pride and misguided directive is so artfully penned in this memoir of a proper English butler. The bonus being how well the film adaptation captured the slow realization of how corrupted Steven’s outlook was after all.

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

As a TKAM devotee I jumped on ordering Mills’s account of her time with Harper Lee faster than freckles popping out during a July heat wave. Lee has become such a recluse over the years it has been feared this national treasure will leave little behind in way of knowing who she really was. Fortunately Marja Mills went beyond her journalistic assignment and got to know Harper Lee as friend and neighbor allowing fans and readers a delightful glimpse into what Scout might have been like in the real.

The Push Cart War by Jean Merrill

This cannot possibly be a kids’ book! The wit is droll in delivery and its lampooning so adroit I don’t see how children could appreciate it fully. Maybe I’m only bereft in my opinion since I missed this one growing up. I think I got sidelined by Encyclopedia Brown. Just like The Phantom Tollbooth or Alice in Wonderland is not strictly for children, neither is Merrill’s classic. I’m ever so glad I found it and I made up for lost time.

The_Pushcart_War_-_cover_image_1964

image: Wikipedia

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke. A Printz Honor Award
YA reads are hit and miss for me. There tend to be riveting and noteworthy like Hunger Games and Divergent or fall into high school drama–been there done that and see it everyday. Now and then I do get to pick up a YA which should be in what I call the YA+ category, meaning it’s more towards literary then temporal contemporary (I think it has lasting merit, not trendy, and an adult shouldn’t be embarrassed reading it). Clarke’s novel concerning a girl’s desire to have one day where her family is not dysfunctional fills that YA+ bill. Set in Australia, Lily does indeed have an odd family and what is even more odd is Clarke’s approach to the Point of View–it’s omnipotent, which has fallen out of favor. With almost Dickensian flair for characters and situations, Clarke provides a plot that slowly builds to the becoming a whole and perfect story–pretty nearly.

What’s really the wonder of these summer reads is that they were all recommends found on blogs I perused. Following other Book Boosters definitely has its benefits and I no longer have to forlornly drift the stacks hoping to uncover the newest hot read or find a lost treasure.

How about you?  Any really good reads found and savored over the summer?  Any great recommends discovered while catching up on your blogs?

Labor Intensive Days


Well, those laid-back, lazy days of summer break get stowed away with my white shoes after September 2. (Yes, I know I’m showing my age by my stodgy self-imposed fashionista rule).

White shoes for summer

September whites still a no-no? image: theclothingmenu.com

 

What I don’t like about the first day of school:

  • Trying to get through the name rosters without totally slicing and dicing the pronunciation.
  • Going over classroom expectations because even though I need to, I doubt anyone is seriously listening to yet another teacher reeling off the rule spiel.
  • Fretting over what I’m wearing. Hair and wardrobe malfunctions do not create good first impressions.
  • Trying to reason with my stomach that grazing days are done for now, and to please hush it’s malcontent state. Especially since our hallway is slated for second lunch this year.
  • How tired I am at the end of the day. Remember the Barbie clip in Toy Story? Yep, that “it’s exhausting being that up and happy feeling” really does slam a person.
  •  My feet hurt. Stylish shoes still rule over sense. I doubt I will rock Reeboks to school.
  • Timing bathroom breaks. And no, my classroom is not even close to the staff rest rooms. I have line up with everyone else. On the other hand, I do get to hear some unexpected choice bits while stalled for time.
  • Dreading that stage fright feeling of “am I gonna bomb or be the bomb?” Really, it’s like running a three show routine with three different audiences. Are they going to get my jokes? Do they respond in the right places? I commiserate with ever Saturday Night Live host about this time of year.

But the cool thing about September is that I do get to go back to school.

  •  There’s that excited buzz of the new as everyone returns to the hive of learning.
  •  What about the opportunity of “clean slate”–never mind last year, this year is gonna be even better.
  •  New clothes! I took advantage of Coldwater Creek closeouts this year.
  • Renewing and forming friendships among staff. “Old and new faces sharing spaces.”
  • Trying out new ideas on old curriculum. “I can’t wait to release this new perspective of Beowulf.”
  •  Schedule–I like a well-ordered life and getting back into a routine makes me humm like a happy llama.

What are your back-to-school thoughts? What side of the desk are you on?

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