Okay, what do you do with a turned off, tuned out group of high school students?
Well, I give them birthday parties. Yep, that’s right. It isn’t in the curriculum guide, it probably won’t improve standardized test scores, it seems childish, and I don’t care. I throw them birthday parties.
I have a group of 27 students in an English III class, 10 of whom are NOT on grade level. 8 are in a sophomore homeroom and 2 are in a senior homeroom.
Their classroom average attendance is horrible. They drag in and out with somber faces, wearing the same clothes and shoes day in and day out, bemoaning life and living and teachers and grades and fate.
They are sad.
Most teachers dread seeing them come in the door. All that make up work. All those zeroes. All those down on their luck, sad kids.
Well, I have decided to love them. To look forward to them. To care about them. To take care of them the best I can for 86 minutes Monday-Friday.
So…here’s what I’ve done.
I told them at the beginning of the semester that:
1. I was not going to judge them for their poor attendance. I don’t know what their reasons are for not coming to school. I was going to be happy when they showed up, help them make up their work when they were absent, and let it go if they didn’t try to make up their work.
2. I was going to “love them to death” and let them have some fun…
3. I was going to design the class and the work so that if they would show up and do exactly what I said every day, they would wind up with a good grade.
4. That sometimes they would get money for good grades (I give them a $1 here and there when they do well), they would always get support, and they would never get criticism for their days missed.
And, I decided a birthday party wasn’t such a bad idea, either.
So, last Friday, I gave a birthday party for three students who had had birthdays in February. Cupcakes (pretty ones, too, I might add), balloons, streamers hanging that were stamped with a colorful “Happy Birthday.” I lit birthday candles perched atop the fluffy white icing and candy sprinkles. I said, “Close your eyes and make a wish.”
I said, “Let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday,’” and the whole class joined in and sang.
I gave each of the three $2 and a nice birthday card signed by me.
A couple of them had tears in their eyes.
One said, “My own family never gives me a cake with a candle on it on my birthday.”
My reply: “What’s a birthday without a cake and some candles?”
They all made a wish. They all blew out their little cupcake candles. We took pictures. We all smiled.
They all said, “Thank you, Mrs. Barger.”
The entire class sat there eating the beautiful colorful cupcakes and they all were SMILING.
They (and I) have been smiling a little more all this week, too.
And I just love them. And I don’t care when they are absent. I’m just glad when they’re there, especially if they show up smiling.
I love this song, and she does an amazing job singing it. I don’t always like the operatic style of singing, but it works with this song. And this song always lifts me up, gives me hope, gives me courage and strength. It’s a beautiful, wonderful composition.
It just hit me…I think all throughout my midteens to late twenties I had a subconscious desire to be Shirley Jones. That makes me laugh. But it’s true. I wore my hair exactly as she is wearing hers in this scene. I wanted to sing just like her and loved all the songs she sang in all the musicals she appeared in. Yes, I think, it must be true…I wanted to be Shirley Jones.
Truthfully, I do think I came along about 15 years too late because I loved this kind of singing and performing, but by the time I was in high school, it was the 70’s and “If I Loved You” and anything that came anywhere close to it was considered TOTALLY stupid, out of style, out of date.
Yep, I was born in the wrong time when it came to my singing!
But hey, Gordon MacRae. Does it get any better than this? What a tremendous, unbelievable talent he had. I don’t think anyone performing these songs today comes near him. He was so masculine and could sing so beautifully. Whew. So good it makes me want to cry.
“One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.” Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald If you know anything about Fitzgerald, you know that there was a good bit of suffering in his life. Some he brought on himself, some was just “fate” or whatever you want to call it that brings calamities our way. And with suffering, it is so true that “there is nothing to be done about it.”
I love this song. We bought a Ricky Skaggs CD recently and discovered this song on the last track of the CD. For all of those I love who are having difficulties, do know that that somebody praying for you is me.
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"…what a wonderful poem. Is it any wonder that whenever I am having a beautiful day…ice-laden tree limbs reflecting the sun’s warm winter rays, a loved one leaning in toward the glowing birthday cake candles to celebrate yet another year of family and love, a quiet day spent alone with beautiful music and poetry, a walk through the woods with my son, a delicious hot roll laden with butter, a flakey piecrust coming fresh from my mother-in-law’s oven…is it any wonder that I sometimes cry in the midst of joy?
Life is so brief, so fragile, so special. “Nothing gold can stay.”
Soak it all up while it is here. It will not stay.
After miles of the winding canyons and passes of the Gunnison Basin, you enter southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. It’s vast and flat, a section of Kansas lifted to 8000 feet, ringed in snow-capped peaks. And hidden in the corner are 30 square miles of the tallest sand dunes in North America.
The terrain ranges: a 14,000-foot peak, an alpine lake, a mountain wilderness; a creek, Medano, that hugs the dunes, surging with the waves of constantly shifting bed sands for a few months then flowing secretly beneath the ground for the rest; a field of towering dunes home to species found nowhere else; and an abutting wetland.
I arrived at 2pm, became acquainted, and started walking. The Sand Ramp Trail follows the space between the western dunes and eastern Sangre de Christo mountains. It’s pleasant, easy hiking.1 I made camp at Escape Dunes, whose thick firs were just high enough to pitch a shelter beneath. As the sun set, the trees’ dense needles kept the air below 10 degrees warmer than the clears. Asleep at 8pm, I woke around 5am, read, watched the sun rise.2 After a hot breakfast, I broke camp and left the trail, headed straight for the towering wall of sand.
Following the ridgelines is best. But sometimes the dunetops don’t connect, forcing a steep trip up shifting sand. Each step starts a mini-avalanche, sand spilling down with the soft sound of faraway waves.3 You push and pump your legs, dream of firm footing, pant and grunt, scramble.
And then you’re up, greeted with whipping winds, an alien panorama, and brunch. Walking across miles of barren dunes, shoes filling with grit, you finally take them off. It’s February, and you’re barefoot in warm sand, walking dunetops, running down near-vertical walls.
Well, except for the snow still on the trail. Snow on trails gets packed from foot traffic and lacks the heat sinks that vegetation provide, so it melts more slowly. Hiking early helps: cold night temperatures harden up the snowpack, allowing you to stay (mostly) on top. But I was hiking in the late afternoon, when warm late-winter temperatures had turned the snow to mush. Oh postholing, aren’t you lovely? As soon as I started sinking in to my knees with every step, melting snow soaking my boots and socks, I realized:
I should have worn my gaiters.
Wait… I didn’t bring a dry pair of socks.
This is going to suck.
And it did. I did the best I could, putting my wet feet in stuff sacks to form a vapor barrier layer, then wet socks for whatever warmth they had left, then my big puffy mitts to both warm my toes and prevent the socks’ evaporating mositure from wetting out the footbox’s down. But it was still cold, especially when putting on those frozen-solid shoes in the chilly morning. Lesson learned. ↩
It’s amazing how quickly living with the sun and generally being outside resets your biological clock. I never, ever comfortably go to sleep or wake up at those kinds of times. But whenever I camp (and especially on this trip and along the coast, with the long winter nights), it just happens. And rather than feeling like seperate things, the days melt together. Time becomes more cohesive. ↩
Once, standing on the edge of a sharp ridge, I ran my trekking pole back and forth across the top to start a biggish avalanche. It was beautiful, with the shifting lines and moderate whitenoise. Then I began to notice a faint rumbling, which became a completely-new-to-me shaking underfoot. It felt like it came from deep within the dune.
And when you run quickly down a dune, you learn that sand squeaks, and that what your foot finds after sinking two feet into a slope is a sea of grainy cold. ↩
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”—Fyodor Dostoevsky (via psychotherapy) (via romeojulietsierra)
I’m coming near the end of reading every single word of Mark Twain’s HUCK FINN to my second block class. As bad as they hate to admit it, they are getting sad, they know that the book is about to come to a close, they know they soon have to say goodbye to Huckleberry and to Jim.
Why do I teach this novel?
A. a lot of my students have been raised by racists; it’s my way of getting back
B. a lot of my kids have had alcoholic or drug addicted parents and need to know it doesn’t mean they have to turn out that way, too
C. a lot of my students wonder about praying, and so does Huck, and sometimes, so do I
D. a lot of my students need a friend, and Huck and Jim become their friends while we’re reading this together
E. I love Mark Twain’s humor, and I want them to love it, too
F. I love what Mark Twain has to say about “do gooders” and “frauds” and “dreamers” and want to share his philosophy with my students
G. I love the dialect of small-town Missouri in the 1800’s and love reading aloud Jim and Huck and Tom and all the memorable characters in this story
H. I love Huckleberry, and all the Huckleberries that walk through my classroom door each year
Who are my students? mostly white, mostly raised in rural Kentucky, mostly middle-class (with some who are downright poor), hunters, fishers, some dreamers, some artists, some mischievous, some very smart, some not so smart, most from broken homes, some who have just about given up on life already and who need to see that Huckleberry never gives up on himself or his friends.
I went to a funeral yesterday for a beautiful 37-year-old teaching colleague who died from cancer. She only lived about two months from diagnosis to her death, and most of that time, she was very, very sick. She left three children behind, a husband, a race that’s now finished, a life that’s now done. She had them play this song at the end of her funeral…every little thing’s gonna be alright.
And she left a written message, and it ended with, “Enjoy every day of your life, be happy every day of your life, because you never know when that day is going to wind up being the best day of the rest of your life.”
It’s fun to visit Keane at Centre College. It’s always beautiful there, at any time of year, and he is always glad to see us and we have fun shopping, taking him out to eat, etc. He’s so funny…he loves Cracker Barrel and nine times out of ten, orders the fried catfish, being the southern gentleman that he is! Today, we got to see his stupendous, BIG dorm room that is located in an old house that began as a funeral home and most recently served as Centre’s college bookstore. It’s so historic and inviting. He really loves it and we loved seeing it! And him!
[T]he real value of a real education […] has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
It’s hard to watch your children struggle as they cope with wondering, “Where do I fit in?”
It’s a vast universe, and we’re each just one small speck. A world in a grain of sand. I have to believe that to those of who are thrown into the vast reaches of space and time together/at the same time, we’re just that one world for someone, somehow, somewhere, in the brief instant that we live and breathe on this earth.
May we all come to feel that where we are, doing what we do, is where we belong in the vast reaches of time, in the glorious reaches of space, we’re one speck fitting in exactly where and as it should, for one spark of a moment.
I’ve been teaching Emerson and Thoreau. It’s fascinating to expose a bright young person to these great writers for the first time and to watch them soak up these ideas, sometimes to reject them and sometimes to embrace them. Teaching can be so wonderful sometimes.
I really look forward to spring. Recently, I strolled through the St. Louis Botanical Gardens with my oldest brother, Kim, and saw so many plants and swollen buds…you had to look closely, but there they were…harbingers of spring. Spring is coming. New life. Promises of color and blossoms and fragrance.
School and kids and life are all-consuming at times. A house to clean. Flowers to water. Sheets to change. Meals to cook. Dishes to wash. Cars to vacuum. Decks to sweep. Grass to mow. Trash to carry out. Clothes to fold and put away. Tubs to scrub. Dogs to feed/walk/water. Bills to pay. Parents to visit. Children that need a listener who cares. A husband who needs encouragement and understanding. Time to rest. Time to love. Time to live.
It’s been 29 days since I posted anything. This week won’t be any better. Papers to grade, tasks to accomplish, lists to check, plans to make, lessons to write, meetings to attend. Sometimes I want it to all go away and sometimes I dread a future where there is time to fill and no idea about what to fill it with.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”—John Quincy Adams quotes (American 6th US President (1825-29), eldest son of John Adams, 2nd US president. 1767-1848)
Well, tomorrow is Day 1 of the 2008-2009 school year. There is nothing quite like going back to new students, new ideas, new schedules. I have readied my classroom better than ever before, so that part is done. It’s organized, labeled, filed, shelved…ready and waiting for learners and learning to begin.
But I am convinced that the greatest impact on learning is not about the books or the lessons or the material being taught…the greatest element in the learning process is a student who truly desires to please himself/herself, who truly wants to achieve at high levels, a student that somehow we have instilled confidence in, a student that somehow, for some reason, truly wants to learn and tries to learn and believes he/she can learn and then voila! learning occurs.
I believe that this takes inspiration. Students must be inspired to learn. Not coerced, not cajoled, not bribed. Inspired. This is why the personalities of the principals and the teachers are so crucial to the process. Inspiration must come from someone who can inspire. Sounds so simple.
May I find a way to inspire my students. To give them confidence. To give them the time and the lessons that make it possible for them to learn to their fullest potential.
Try as I may, I can never get so happy and comfortable in a house that I don’t eventually think of moving into another one, preferably a new one.
I love a new house. Everything fresh and clean and bright. Shiny new faucets. Kitchen cabinets that smell of wood and stain and varnish. Floors that sparkle in their newness. Soft clean carpets everywhere.
I have always wanted to build what I call a “New Orleans” house because the first time I ever saw one, I was in the New Orleans area where my sister lived at the time.
A white house with a dark green roof. Large shutters across the front. Narrow dormers across the top of the roof. Deep, overhanging eaves that shelter lovely porches. A front porch, a back porch, and a side screened in porch. Long, large windows across the front. French doors from the dining room onto the screened porch. French doors from the master bedroom onto the covered back porch.
I found such a houseplan recently. It wasn’t easy to find. I am amazed that everyone doesn’t want a house like this. We have a friend who would love to be our builder and who would do a good job.
I found a lot…a perfect lot, right outside of town.
I just haven’t found the nerve to dive into a major upset, the money to refinance, purchase land, or the time to sell the house we own (if we could sell the one we own).
Maybe I will someday build my New Orleans house with the porches and the screened in room.
There’s nothing like a screened porch on a summer’s day when a sudden rain shower blows in and cools the earth and afterward, the drip drip drip you hear from the leaves and the shrubs and the flowers of summer. And you sit on the porch and you swing and you breathe in the cool rain-washed air and you hear the drip drip drip and you know that this is paradise.