Category Archives: Uncategorized

Too Noisy

In which Carrie thinks about reasons for giving students referrals …

One has to wonder about the state of mind of teachers who give referrals to students.  I was putting some copies away for a secretary and read some of the notes on the forms.  One student received one for “being off task and distracting his classmates.  Also, he was making Donald Duck noises in class.”  I saw this student later in the day and took a good look at him, laughing about what we would laugh about if we could be truly earnest about the personality gap between people giving and taking education.  How to handle Donald Duck noises doesn’t show up in the Classroom Management Manual for Teachers.  It’s up to us, then, to make distinctions.

I remember writing referrals for students who were lying in order to get out of work.  They claimed that since the fifth grade they had learned that the x-axis and the y-axis were reversed from the standard representation.  This evoked great fear and trembling within myself. Our world would tip if “x” was longitudinal; we’d need to remake humanity if “y” was on the horizon.  Do I want our children to enter the world inspired to relativize math?  No.  Give them a referral for lying.  Let admin teach them bliss is mathematical truth.  You don’t just get to rewrite the rules, not at thirteen.  Fear Truth’s wrath.

The commitments of teachers is different from individual to individual.  All of us have bought into standardization, either out of fear or because it is convenient to codify learning with formulaic writing and multiple-choice-only-one-answer-is-true.  Or we don’t buy it, like Ken Robinson. In his new book Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education he writes that in our attempts to reform education so no child is left behind, we’ve created more problems, and that what’s down the road will bring a great deal more.

“… the standards movement favors direct instruction of factual information and skills and whole-class teaching rather than group activities.  It is skeptical about creativity, personal expression, and nonverbal, non-mathematical modes of work and of learning by discovery and imaginative play, even in preschool.”

When I was in high school, my most frequent self-report of my state of mind was “hyper.”  I would often burst into laughter, loud laughter, bottled up, uncorked and eruptive. My brother could probably say the same about himself, and some people urged my parents to put him on medication.  He still has so much energy and uses it in work and play.  I’m not hyper anymore.  One of his former teachers asked me to tell him how proud he was of Bret’s accomplishments.  My former teachers would say the same about me, but would notice how subdued I am.  I worry.  All.  The.  Time.

I’ve lately been trying a new exercise in the classrooms I work in.  When it is quiet, when students are busy being silent and taking an assessment which they have been warned is very important, I have time to sit and watch them.  I began asking myself, who am I not noticing?  Within the student bodies I frequently teach, I remember the names or characters of those who are hyper, especially those I am prepared to remind to stay on task.  They make me smile, or laugh, and challenge my inexplicable urge to send them to the office if if they are being too noisy.

When everyone is quiet, I start to look around at the others, the ones I never notice.  Where did she come from?  Was he here last time I was?  Do I know how many people are even in this room?  The quiet ones just getting through the day.  Some might be genuinely interested in the work and their own achievements.  Some might be miserable or hungry or lacking adequate sleep.  Others have totally fallen off the x-axis, the cliff, and seem to be beyond help.  When it becomes the last five minutes of class, the hyper ones who have been wiggling in their seats for the last twenty minutes or darting provocative looks at their peers throughout the assessment, bounce out of their chair and start moving with the agitation of a caged chimpanzee believing it is time to be fed.

 

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Close to my body

In which Carrie appreciates her body …

 

All of these naked bodies, remarked myself

in the dressing room of a spa, glistening with oil

or to be oiled and roiled with emotions suppressed.

You deposit your clothing and your big bucket purse to the safety locker

and move to rooms of your resolve.

 

Some of you are certain this is your right.

Others take persuading; Is it my body?  Can I afford this symbol of self-affection?

Confusion infused at the hard place in your neck: am I?

Today you give yourself up to one who needs nothing from you.

 

Enter the hero of the hour: Massage Therapist.

I love you.

Your identity becomes mine and this becomes care.

I lay prone on the heated table with my face in a hole watching your human feet go by.

At first I don’t trust and try to map your movements.

I note the amount of oil you use, the grace with which you pull the cover from my back.

I advise myself: stop.

Just exist on a planet in kind feeling room.

Detach from the attachment to trust.

Demand not control but embrace the giving up,

agreed upon, this safety place,

between you and those of the professional.

She needs nothing from you

Except to tell her if the pressure is too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Linda Ferguson, Rainer Maria Rilke

In which Carrie works on her identity . . .

LindaFergusonRilkebooks

This is the week for writing practice, vocabulary building, study and worship.  I have before me two slim books to help.  One belongs to a friend, the other to someone I might have had as a friend.  Rilke speaks to me as one in his Letters to a Young Poet.  There are nine total.  I will read one or two a day as advice on ways to approach poetry.

Linda has seventeen poems in her chapbook, Baila Conmigo.  One poem has this title.  Others are “Mama Gets Some Road Rage,” “The Speacialists,” and a particular favorite, “Dancing to Mendelssohn’s ‘Venetian Gondola.'”  Her poems here, unlike the ones she shared during the time I took a writing workshop from her, are more elusive and sharp.  I get the feeling the poet has given her all here, not holding back from her reader’s probable judgment, and the fact of that is inspiring.  We all want to cut loose sometimes, like a child at an outdoor fountain on a blistering summer day.  I’d like to do that myself.

So I leave for a week armed with these two friends and a vow to say “I love you” thirty times a day to mirrors I happen upon.  I plan to read one or two from each book every day while I, with aggressive love, cut loose from an old set of debasing practices.  I will write, and create something I like.

Perhaps by Wednesday or Thursday I will know more and care more about what is vital in me.


White Cat

In which Carrie and Ode each write a character poem ….

William is shaved

She should be called

“Fluffy”

(And, as a matter of course, it is the name my thirteen year old neighbor

gave her when she’d sneak out “Demon’s” leftovers, on occasion,

whenever the so-called cat was crying with great pathos about her lot in life.)

 

There was nothing Fluuuuffffy about her then.

Just grey and brown

On matted white clumps

Like over-trammeled snow

In a supermarket

Parking lot.

 

So I took her.

And shaved her.

And de-wormed her.

And loved her.

 

She gave us both fleas.

(But don’t mention this mortifying fact,to her,

to any cat.)

 

She looks up at me

With ancient tired eyes

(invoking pathos)

Like she did when

(I swear)

 

She told me her name

The first day:

William.

Call me William.

 

-Carrie Anne Ebner 12/29/14

Williamlicksherchops

William the cat wears

sturdy German shoes

 

William is gruff with men

All men

Because of her past

Because of their past

 

William takes all women

seriously

 

William grieves women who

do not follow her lead

 

William directs her energies

toward those who respond

 

William is busy with

work of consequence

 

William drinks crap scotch

William is loved.

-Laura “Ode” Webb, 12/29/14

 


Week of Substitute Teaching Highlights

In which Carrie goes where no person has gone before to sing a David Bowie song …..

I am not an evil teacher just because I confiscated a note beheld by a seventh grade boy which read : I still love you.  I recall him bent over the tattered notebook paper like it was the map to the Holy Grail.  He didn’t ask for it back, perhaps out of fear of humiliation for something so important as his love and the protection of his beloved.

I didn’t do anything to draw attention to it, but secretly rejoiced at this early initiation to love of another which befalls all of us at some early age.  Mine happened in kindergarten. His name was Timmy.  There was a classroom culture there at Deer Creek Elementary in Nevada City, California where teachers encouraged us young citizens to work to understand each other by way of student-to-student conference.  We sat outside the room, Indian style. I scolded Timmy with a sheepish mien, “You have to like everybody … not just some people.”

 I was trying to tell him to treat all friends equally, but what I probably meant was: love me.

Thirty years later I have had and lost plenty of love, but when I walk through the halls of schools I forget to realize that not only do these people care about other people—orbiting them or being orbited around—but there is a vast perplexity among all people regarding what makes up relationships.  “Only connect” says E.M. Forster, as though it is possible to do otherwise, if even in our own minds only.
It is difficult to point to the best part of my week.  The first two days I taught Humanities to sixth graders, and the last three days, moon phases for eighth and resource awareness to seventh.  Avoiding hyperbole, I’d roughly estimate I made 30 micro-connections per day and four or five substantial ones.   What follows are a few things I wish to remember, and remember, and remember.  To fuel the love in times of frail forgetfulness.
  • There was the struggling student with a sleepy fawnlike posture and temperament, who latched on to the concepts of Fattitude and Longitude in a way guaranteed to be remembered for the rest of her life.
  • The dramatic reading of The Lorax, which no one guessed of thirteen Dr. Seuss books as the one banned by California and Oregon censors.  The discussions leading to it—student contributions to justify why some of the others might be seen as dangerous for reasons of racism, bullying, or just saying mean words—and after—the surprise and shock that such a enlightened message found in The Lorax would earn a cut from school boards everywhere for its anti-conservation implications—were instances of naive philosophizing.  Puzzling, questions, insights, were demonstrated collectively by this next generation of stewards of the new environmentalism status quo.  These students saw the Once-ler change his greedy little mind, but they saw, also, the damage had been done.  I believe they might have felt the thrill of superiority, from getting it in the end.
  • The murder of girls standing by the door a minute before class ended—insecure with their own inner demons—commenting on the strangeness of my eye.
It’s weird when she looks at you.
 “Yeah, it’s kinda spooky.
They were referring to the milky cataract in my left pupil, so I look at one girl and asked, “Were you wondering about my eye?
What.  Me?
Yes, you were talking about my eye.  It is blind.
How did it go blind?”  I had her curiosity there, the other girls had their backs to me and she was on the spot.
Thirty seconds until the bell rang, “It is a sensitive subject and I would rather not talk about it,” I answered,  seriousness as radiant and proud as our moon.
Oh.”  She was very receptive to me the next day, asking for my help with an assignment.
  • I made a few mistakes, too.  I probably lost the chance at amicable relating with one girl forever. But I will try again, extend kindness and perhaps give her the love I assume she needs.  I could relate to her, and her frustration, and the reason she said the eff-word.  I’ve said it plenty of times in my life, under imaginably similar circumstances.  But the empathy doesn’t help the feeling bad.  I’ve learned that when I am hurting inside, or am angry at another, the antidote is extending kindness.  Simple things, when sad, is to give and give and give.  It is easier with strangers and children because I don’t need it to be recognized and appreciated for where in my heart it came from.   This is much harder to do with intimates, or family.  I often don’t “notice” kindness extended to me when I am closed up until days later, upon reflection.  Usually the chance to thank is lost.  Sometimes, though, it can be acknowledged later.  I have bags and bags of these disorganized kindnesses in my closet, arguments against my reasoning that these people don’t like me, or understand me, or are selfishly inattentive to the good sides of me.  I bring them out as an exercise of self-doubt in my memory and the weight given all to often to the “bad horse” rather than the good.
  • The kids are always hungry.  They often make suggestions that I bring them food, or candy (which isn’t food).  One boy with my lunar phases study team suggested on the second day that I should bring them Oreo cookies tomorrow.  When I asked him why, he explained his creative idea: “Because we’re studying the moon, and Oreos are like the moon.”  Excellent!  I had one of my small explosions which happen a lot when bright ideas from bright minds are in our midst.  I told him that that was actually a really good idea and that I would think about it.  By the time I remembered, I was in my pajamas ready for bed.  But before I went back the next day I pillaged my parents’ pantry and decided to take the two boxes of Ritz crackers with me. (Sorry Mom and Dad.  I did it for love, as you would have, given the situation.)  The boy wasn’t terribly upset they weren’t sweet, fattening things, but some of his classmates were upset I didn’t bring Moonpies (what are those?).
  • One of the groups of moon scientists started asking really interesting questions about relative position and “seeing” the moon’s phases.  I asked them back, “Would the moon have phases if we weren’t here to see them?”  Mixed responses, preceded by thinking silently.  “Yes?” they decided, but only after we considered some basic metaphysical assumptions, drawing on our ideas about animals having minds able to “see” as we do, or not, and our ability to organize the world and explain it with words like “phases.”  More philosophy.  At least that is how I interpret it.
  • The seventh graders have a reputation at this particular school of being bad.  The whole lot of them.  Well, I still have my hopes and have secretly imagined they could, if sent to colonize a planet, and would create a better society than our present ones.  I don’t know why I imagine it that way, but there are a lot of little geniuses there, the silent ones and the—name your pathology—ones.
  • I knew in advance that we would have a guest speaker who would share with us some knowledge about water on our planet and our consumption of it.  I planned for their typical behavior and watched them astound us teachers.  They disproved every negative word I had ever heard or said about them as a class and as individuals, and sparkled for the guest speaker.  That behavior carried over the next day.  I told them out loud that I loved them and that I had a lot of good notes for their teacher.  They, however, were cynical on the effect of the possibility that their teacher would take it to heart.  “She hates us,” several explained to me. Some inner grumbling ensued, but I am glad to know how I feel about them—the enlightened outsider—and that I had so many moments to sing their praises individually and as a class, even on the multiple “Behavior Contract” slips they turn into their teachers each day (some likely for the rest of their life, I’ll add with my own cynicism).  Here they come world, ready or not!
  • The boy who told me I was his new favorite teacher.
  • The half hugs.  A year’s supply.  The drawing of a giraffe.
  • The the two girls who confided inner demons, and concerns for their safety to me.
There are many more moments, plenty to populate the mind with a feeling of success and gratitude toward all of the positive traits I saw among these young people.   I crave more time to do my work. I certainly have the energy and motivation.

It’s Easy. Like One, Two, Three.

An old friend.


The Philosophical Child with Jana Mohr Lone

Lone engages fourth graders in a philosophy discussion and explains why teaching philosophical sensitivity can benefit humanity.