Posts tagged ‘teaching’

December 10, 2016

More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

by lisa st john

censorship-quotes-85

Some things happened recently that made me remember that not everything is okay. Not everyone is okay. And I am not even talking about the elections. I teach English Language Arts in high school. But really, I teach kids. I try and teach kids how to be good adults. I do not always succeed. And that knowledge hurts, because I forget sometimes. We all have choices.

But I have noticed over the years that physical pain can take me away like fucking Calgon. So thanks, Doc, for the cortisone shot in my thumb that brought me to tears. Yes, there is crap and Trump and Orwellian cabinet positions but there is also Art.

I can go an hour south and see Modigliani at the Met or Clyfford Still at MoMA. I can re-read American Gods (again) and visit Roland in his Dark Tower quest again and again.

Until they close the museums.

Until they burn the books.

orwellian

I can go hear live music like the amazing Joanna Teters and Amanda Palmer. I can go to poetry readings and workshops like Word Café, and I can even occasionally get published (thank you Chronogram).

 

Until they close the theaters and the clubs.

Until they round up the artists and intellectuals.

The fear of being helpless is dangerous. We are not weak. We are more connected to each other than any time in human history. When we feel powerless, we can go to real places and virtual places and listen to each other, and share silly cat videos and remember to smile and to see.

My mantra for today: Make Art. SEE. Join. Don’t give up. Don’t go back.

And we will not go back (to the kitchen or the closet or the back of the bus). Will we?

 

This is just a little list. There is SO MUCH MORE out there.

American Civil Liberties Union
LAMBDA Legal
Planned Parenthood
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign

 

Look at the beautiful things going on in the world that we can ALL be a part of!

Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding so, so many.

 

See you in D.C.

pussy                                      a new poem 

August 28, 2016

Nesting into Fall (or) those philosophy books I took out of the library were worth every late fee.

by lisa st john

“I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.” Rita Mae Brown

philosophy

 

Nesting is that weird thing that happens to some pregnant women towards the end of their nine-month ordeal, glow-time, happiest fatness, hemorrhoid awakening, pleasetakeitoutnow uhm, term. But teachers get it too, and it starts in August. Sadly, New York State doesn’t start school until after Labor Day (I’d much rather have June off than August) so I am getting the nesting urge a bit late this year.

I am cleaning and filling the hummingbird feeders, catching up on all laundry, emptying sand as best as I can from the car, looking for clothes that don’t show cleavage, stocking up on everything from cat food to toilet paper, and OH how I wish I could pee ahead of time. I’d save up, like, thirty pees just for September. Urinating any old time you have to go is a blessed luxury; it’s one of the best things about summer break. Truly.

Don’t believe me? Ask a teacher.

Rookie Teacher First Day Worries:
What if the kids don’t like me?
What if the kids won’t listen to me?
What if I am boring?
What if the principal comes in while I’m teaching?
What if a kid acts out or misbehaves?
What if I am no good at this?

Experienced Teacher First Day Worries:
I’m not here to make friends. Where’s the free coffee?
How do I listen to (and learn) the names of 50 kids named Megan and 80 named Tyler?
What if the kids are boring and won’t talk and just want to take tests and stuff?
I hope the principal comes in while I am teaching; I could use help with this year’s group.
Unless someone has a knife and tries to use it NO ONE is leaving this room.

I hope I can sprinkle some love of poetry on them while I teach them how to be good humans.

Empathy 101 anyone? That degree in Comparative Literature can sit in the back for now.

Goodbye long, slow mornings. Goodbye midnight (I’ll probably see you in a week or two while I reach for the insomnia pills). Goodbye drinks before five. Wait. Scratch that.

See ya’ Summer. Thanks for never really leaving me. I will tuck you in well. We’ll share some sweet dreams with Fall when she wakes up. Until then, I have some teenage minds to warp.

ponderingsYou can buy my chapbook, Ponderings, HERE at Finishing Line Press.

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

November 29, 2015

On Teaching Poetry and/or Humans

by lisa st john

How will we get this content covered? IMG_3730How we fit these standards in? Discipline is not my job. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have time for this. I’m not their parent. That should really be “his/her parent.” Is grammar gender-neutral now?  I don’t teach reading–I teach “fill in the blank.”

Really?

I just teach kids.

I could pretend that grammar, punctuation and spelling were my muses and that a world without run-on sentences would be paradise, but that would be a lie.

I prefer to think of teaching young people a little more about what it means to be human a much more important (and infinitely more rewarding) endeavor. Mark Twain said to never to let school get in the way of your education, and I heartily agree.

I hear eyebrows being raised. That’s okay. If I’m afraid of being questioned than what am I doing trying to teach anyone anything? OK. I will stop this mini rant for now, back to teaching poetry.

When I hear a teenager say, “I don’t like poetry” I get excited because now my goal for this class has changed—they’ve upped the ante. Dear Student: I will find the poem that reaches you. I will find a way for you to make a connection to the world through words. I will help you see the lyrics of language as powerful. And yes, dear student, your song lyrics are poems. You didn’t know that? Let’s do some analysis. Do you want to start with Led Zeppelin or Lauryn Hill?

“I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood.” If that isn’t poetry, Sir Eddie Vedder, I don’t know what is.

Words matter.

And I can’t think of a shorter sentence that is as important as that one.

If the evolution of a giraffe’s neck is not poetry than what is?

If the Fibonacci sequence is not art than what is? And doesn’t that analogy make Pi the magical Pied Piper of the universe? Where is the Periodic Table of Element’s chemistry recipe that makes hope? Which impasto brushstrokes of a van Gogh dance someone awake at night?
Football’s perfect catch is poetry.
Learning the Spanish word for word (palabra) is poetry.

Lesson #1 The Myth of the Hidden Meaning

There is no correct answer to what a poem “really” means in the back of some dusty teacher’s edition. You speak English. The poetry we are going to study is written in English. All good?

Lesson #2 Poetry Can Mean Whatever You Want

Uhm… no. There are correct interpretations–many of them–but there are also incorrect interpretations. Richard Wilbur’s “Death of a Toad” is not about unicorns or war or peanut butter. It’s about…you guessed it! The death of a freakin’ toad. Of course, it’s also about death and contemplation and mourning and…yeah.

I love teaching. I actually miss interacting with kids when I am away from them for too long. They have so much insight and depth. People who don’t work with teenagers probably don’t understand that, but they (the teenagers) are soulful creatures.

If I could stop sucking on the glass nipple of television (as Stephen King coined) perhaps I could write more and still grade papers and still make phone calls and still fill out the paperwork and read every single word of everything. But there is something to be said for Jessica Jones and reruns of House and counting how many times I’ve seen Armageddon (I know, I know) but Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi are brilliant, to say nothing of Ben Affleck, animal crackers, and Liv Tyler’s tummy. Plus it has a kickin’ soundtrack. Anyway…

Are the arts and the media so far apart? You know when you fell in love with Sawyer from Lost that he was named after Tom Sawyer right? The wild mischievous boy who got everyone else into trouble?

Ah…I am bending towards transmedia, and that discussion is for another time.

I have a few different blogs here all hanging out together like a Shakespeare salad (you know, that salad where Horatio tricks Iago into thinking that Benedick really loves Juliet and Othello wants all of Gloucester’s land, and… .). Sorry about that. It’s what happens when I don’t blog often enough.

I will leave you with a somewhat stolen poem.

“Poems Stolen from the Muses of My Students: A Collage of Class Write-Around Exercises and Then Some”

Textured moments crinkle into a powdery dust (that might be a church), and she reads the quavering shadows and knows that it was all real sometimes.

Run if you will, but know the ripples move regardless; they are the travelers. Whose routine is it to sweep the monkey’s cage? Who the lion’s den? My pre-alarm clock dreams are nothing like the silhouette of your bra through sheer white soaking wet lace. But neither is my breath a true wind. Riddles in sheet music, strangers in time—we are eating the microphone instead of the sword.

So, yeah. I guess you could say, “swallow,” but would that crush your stark circadian rhythm?

Damn it Helen. If only it were that simple.

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Oh, and please don’t forget to buy my chapbook, Ponderings, at Finishing Line Press or Amazon (and if you could, an Amazon review would be wonderful. I need them).

p.s. This post was almost sabotaged. Here is the evidence: erfy

April 30, 2015

Poetry is a Deserved and Necessary Extravagance

by lisa st john

PoetryIsTheShadowCastByOurStreetlightImaginationsByLawrenceFerlinghettiInJackKerouacAlley

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (
Audre Lorde)

The workshop guru said we must fight. Poetry is dying because we over-test the students. “Where is the short story? Where are the poems in your curriculum?” she demands.

I teach high school students. I try and also integrate the language arts. I cannot do a poetry unit for the same reason that I can’t really buy into Black History Month. Poetry is embedded in all my units. Black history is American history, isn’t it? Do I wait to teach the syncopation of Langston Hughes until February? Do I hold off on Zora Neale Hurston or Toni Morrison until “their month” arrives? How do you read Frankenstein without reading Percy Bysshe Shelley or looking at the paintings of William Blake? How do you read Tim O’Brien without writing collage and found poetry? I guess I m not good at separating the arts into little egg cartons. Eggs are too easily broken.

So I go to writing workshops like Nina Shengold’s Word Cafe, and rejoice in the publication and popularity of Chronogram (in print no less). And I nod in understanding when Gretchen Primack describes poetic form as a “lattice for your roses.”

I smile at the incredulity of teachers when they find out my oh-so-optional Poetry Elective (pass/fail—no credit) is full.

I laugh a full belly-laugh when a students says, “Look at that kid—he looks like a purple crayon!” And then I tell the student that he has the start of a poem.

I take them on field trips to hear poets like Tina Chang at SUNY Ulster. I am thrilled when they buy her book or want a picture. Who says poets cannot be celebrities?

When I Google the phrase “21st century poetry” I get 11,200,000 hits. That’s not so bad. Google used to be a number spelled googol and then it was a noun and now it’s a verb. Poetry used to be oral, sung; it changed to include the written, recited, slammed, recorded (audio and visual), animated, mashed, digitized. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek, meaning “to create.”

It’s not going away any time soon. I need poetry like I need cooked food. If I only ate grass, I’d be a sheep.

My first chapbook, Ponderings, is being published by Finishing Line Press. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

The number of copies sold before May 8th determines the size of the pressrun, which explains this gentle reminder.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

I wrote the following poem at a Word Cafe Workshop with a collaboration of teaching and writing and not separating in mind.

“Sonnet for Adam: Denied Donation”

I would leave off a line for you,
not a whole couplet, obviously, but—
a line. Oh Adam, you are not the first.
So many bled—ahead—to pave this way.

At least you had the guts to tell the truth.
You say, “Heighten your attention. See Me.”
“Come back next year,” they told you yet again.
You say, “Listen to truth with wider eyes.”

To savor your story will take longer
than one Stonewall and a few thousand lives.
For you, Adam, for you—oh! Not the first.
For you, the blood will come around again.

See me. See me. Anapest just this once.

January 26, 2015

Will This Be On The Test?

by lisa st john

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This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me. —Maya Angelou

Could someone give me a number please? My humanity is questioned daily by captchas (should I be worried that it takes me at least two tries each time?) The robot on the other end of the phone wants my routing number, not my name. And guess how my clients (public school children and parents) are supposed to tell if I am “highly effective?”

A number.

I don’t have a number.

I work for kids and their parents (sorry administration, but you can change far more often than seasons so even though you sign the checks…the parents taxfully write them.)

So I am asking the blogosphere for help.

I need a number.

Please send the appropriate algorithm, formula, or matrix–via the comments section below—so non-educators can assign me the correct scores. You know, from the tests.

Please assign a numerical score to the following scenarios.

Sam lost her scholarship and Renee lost her virginity. Both are equally upset. Do I (A) make the time to talk to Sam, (B) make the time to talk to Renee, (C) make the time to talk to them both, or (D) send them to the counselor and go make copies of a multiple choice packet that will certainly be on the test?

Lily just got out of rehab for heroin addiction so I bet she doesn’t much feel like writing an essay about whether or not the United States should hold another Olympic game. Probably not too high on her priority list, but hell. It’s part of the test. (Do I get a high score for getting her to write it anyway, luring her with some one on one time after school?)

Erik, who prefers Erika thank you very much, needs to talk about the fact that s/he thinks Gerri has an eating disorder. Do I skip lunch, sit with them, and listen, or do I send them to the social worker with a signed pass? Then I would have time to yell at them with my big red pen because they incorrectly used the oxford comma.

BUT WHEN DO I COPY THE MULTIPLE-CHOICE PACKETS!?

Did I mention that I teach in a public high school? I teach English (according to all the paperwork). I teach English. Damn. Here I thought that I taught kids. You know, YOUNG … HUMAN … PEOPLE?!

Sorry. Back to the numbers. It’s difficult because I don’t know numbers. I know words. I do remember the numbers 10:32 (when I called David to see why he wasn’t in school for the third day in a row). I remember that the coroner said he was already dead—that he had shot himself at around 9:00. I know that number.

I wrote J up for ditching my class and when he asked why I told him that I cared about where he was.

I called home about S and the long sleeves in the summer and when she asked why (since she was a straight A student) I told her that I cared about her, not her grades.

But… I still need a number, a score. Did I mention that my effectiveness as an educator must be linked to the students’ test scores? None of this will be on any standardized test.

I want to give Ann an “A” for showing up and graduating on time even though her dad is in jail and she has to get her younger siblings to school every day because her mom works the graveyard shift.

I want to give Bill a “B” because he is smart but lazy.

I want to give Carrie a “C” because she is an “A” student on paper but it’s causing so much stress that Ativan has been prescribed and no “A” should cost that much.

And I really, really want to give Daniel a “D” even though he is technically failing because taking English III a second time is not going to benefit him in any way, shape, or form.

So. Have you learned enough? Can you please give me a number?

Then I can add it to the kids’ scores to figure out if I am effective or not. Okay? Easy, no?

When non-educators stop telling educators how to teach—oh what a world that would be.

Dear Politicians:

I feel like a square in a Sudoku puzzle. Just line me up, fill me in and by the time you are done I will still be in the trenches laughing when L finally “gets” the deeper meanings about human kindness from reading (insert redundant novel title here since it’s not on the test).

I will still be hugging T when he gets into (insert far too expensive ivy-league school title here).

I will still share their joys and their sorrows. I promise to teach ninth graders how to use a tissue instead of their sleeve. I hereby solemnly swear I will still be teaching children and not tests. I’ll see you on the other side of this pendulum.

Sincerely,

Teacher

Disclaimer: At no time were any students’ real names used in this blog. No FERPA or HIPPA or confidentiality agreements have been broken, bent, or twisted. This is all fucking hypothetical, fictional, and hair-tearing-ly ethical.

March 15, 2011

I’m Not Afraid of Lightning! And I Get Summers Off!

by lisa st john

I’m Not Afraid of Lightning! And I Get Summers Off!

Yeah. I tend to forget about that fallacious perk when a kid comes in with bruises all over her arm because she “ran into a door.” For the eight weeks that we are not in the classroom with kids most teachers I know are working a second job to help pay the mortgage or taking graduate classes to keep their teaching certificates. But the point of this little tirade is this: Why is the field of education so inexplicable to anyone not in it or closely tied to it? What is so hard to understand?

Perhaps because we think in metaphor and analogy, and there really is no comparison to teaching. Plug the business analogy in. Do cubicle workers go home wondering if their clients are hungry? Or contemplating suicide? Do they wonder why J_____ wears the same clothes every day? Do they loan money to their “clients” who “forgot” their lunch AGAIN? Do they take into consideration that their “client’s” parents are either in rehab or jail or both and they are busy taking care of their siblings which is why they did not hand their paperwork (homework) in on time? Oh yeah. That analogy does not work because businesspeople are not also in loco parentis. That’s right.  We are not in a business, per se. I mean, is it reasonable to ask you, as an office worker, to track the progress of each and every client (while teaching them the beauty of mathematics), to find out why they are crying (since it probably does not have to do with differential equations), to hug them when they need it (for good news or bad), to answer their questions about sexuality or love or life in general when your masters degrees are in calculus?

Let’s try another popular analogy—that of the “professional” (like a doctor or lawyer apparently). Let’s pretend that educators have multiple degrees from academic institutions of higher learning like other professionals. OH WAIT! They DO! So. How often have you gone into your doctor’s office and demanded to know why she thinks your daughter has strep throat? How many times have you gone into a lawyer’s office without an appointment demanding to be seen? Have you ever asked for a meeting with your dentist just to question their judgment or demand that they take a pay cut? Why are their certificates more important than ours? Because everyone knows how to teach? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s so easy.

We go to graduations and weddings. But we also go to hospitals and funerals. We wake up early and work late so we can create meaningful lessons, assess the students’ work, and complete all the paperwork that any bureaucracy demands. We also spend evenings calling parents and going to concerts and games and meetings, and OH WAIT! I forgot. No we don’t. We all get out at 3:00. Oops. We don’t study and research and collaborate so we do what is best for kids—OH NO! We do that so we can show off the expensive cars and boats we get from getting paid extra for all of our time outside of 7AM – 3PM. Oh wait. We don’t get paid extra for that. Or for advising clubs or staying late to listen to a student heartbroken over … whatever teenagers are heartbroken over at that particular time because it is important to them. They are important to us. That’s why we do it.

During an interview, if a rookie ever answers the question, “Why do you want to teach?” with any response other than, “Because I love kids” they are out. I have no time for anyone who was not born into this profession—who has not found teaching as their Jungian calling. Teaching is not about giving students some information that you have and they don’t. That’s boring (at best). It’s indoctrination (at worst).  It’s about learning with them and sharing the joy of new perspectives, not showing them what they could learn all by themselves with a valid library card.

Content is just that. English, biology, calculus, algebra, studio art, drama, music, history, second languages, digital editing, consumer science, freaking basket weaving—we teach human beings how to be human beings. We don’t just teach content. We teach people. Make an analogy for that.

Talk to a teacher or someone close to a teacher.

Volunteer in a public school.

Shadow a teacher for a day.

I dare you.

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