A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Category: Notes from the Ground

Three Videos Worth Watching

My mother told me last night that she and her husband have decided to drop their cable TV subscription and instead stream programing through website services. I haven’t had TV for years–we never bothered to buy one of those converter boxes for the antennae and we don’t have any reception, and, yes, we are one of about six families left in America without a wide screen television–so I can appreciate the beauty of getting your kicks from online programming. Here are three little bits of online pleasure I’ve come across lately.

Ben Saunders Walks to the North Pole

Obviously I like adventurers, especially cold weather ones (see my obsession with Shackleton and Everest for further proof). I used Ben Saunders’s talk to fit into my character lessons for this year: greatness is reserved for those willing to endure the pain it takes to achieve it. I pointed out that a valid question is what greatness has to do with us–after all, greatness is by definition something only a few can achieve. Saunders uses the word potential, and I submitted to my students that for each of us, greatness is something we achieve when we’ve reached the top percent of our potential.


Janelle Monae Makes a Body Want to Move

I can’t dance, but I wish I could. Someday I hope to take my wife out to dancing lessons as a series of dates, but for now I’ll have to stick to spectating. Janelle Monae’s video is worth spectating . . .


Christmas Worship through Carols

I love Christmas carols and especially love concert choirs. In addition to wishing I’d learned how to dance, learning to sing is something I wish I’d learned to do. I admitted to my students today that it would have been good in high school to take choir–I truly would love knowing how to read music and simply sing the bass line. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that my vocal range is sufficient for such singing, that music is written for “normal” voices like me to sing in parts . . . Who knew? Anyway, “Once in Royal David’s City” gets a lot of play on my computer during Advent.

Thanks for reading–and watching . . .


Being thankful for veterans, jokes, The Iliad, and 20 minutes

It seems fitting to me that Veteran’s day and Thanksgiving are so close together, as they share essentially the same theme. Recently a group of our students created cards for Veterans’ Day and delivered them in person, and I am captivated by this snapshot, taken at one of their stops. You can read about their event at our school newspaper, The Pine Needle.


Every year I tell the same parrot/turkey joke to my students. I tend to make the lead up too long, but that is likely because I have told the joke so many times I can’t resist adding things to it. Here it is in one classic form:

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried very hard to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music, and doing anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, John was fed up and he screamed at the parrot.

The parrot yelled back. John hollered even louder and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer.

For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said, “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.”

John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, “May I ask what the turkey did?”


I’m still reading The Iliad, which I’ve been absorbed in for a while, but with a bit fewer than 200 pages left, I haven’t lost steam and I’m wondering if I’ll finish it over the break. It’s quite engaging; more than I thought it would be, though I can’t say where my prejudice against it came from. I find it interesting how overrated Hektor is, an insight I spotted in Richard Lattimore’s introduction to the text. Just about every time he steps up to battle a champion from the Achians, he ends up having to shy away or he somehow gets let off (like due to darkness, for example). He is Hektor the huge, and Hektor of the great war cry, so perhaps his size and war cry are what frighten those Greeks so much. I hope I’m not a Hektor in my classroom, though–lots of bluster but not much of ultimate consequence to show for it. I’d rather be a Telamonian Aias–great-hearted Aias–that warrior who seems always to be in the thick of battle (he somehow avoids the kinds of injuries that sidelined Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Diomedes), inspires the ranks of warriors, and manages to put Hektor on the ropes twice.


Remember that line from Robert Frost’s “Out Out–” where he wishes they’d let the boy off work a bit early?

Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.

In our district we’re allowed to leave at the same time as students on the day before  a vacation. It’s not even a half hour, but it’s still exciting to be able to run out. Usually I don’t do it, since I don’t want to leave myself in a bind when I return, but Thanksgiving break is different: we have a professional development day immediately following it. This enables me to run out the door at the first possible moment this afternoon. I’m as excited about the break as the kids, even though I’m not burned out at all. I could be halfway through grading an essay and I’ll drop my pencil and walk out the door,  because I can.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving.

Notes from the Ground

A student said his mom’s favorite book was The Great Gatsby and his Dad’s is The Catcher in the Rye. I teased him about the contest–which parent did he love more?–but also mentioned I hoped he’d read both books someday. This quarter he chose to read The Catcher in the Rye. After reading page one, he turned to his classmate. “Hey, there are like three swear words on this first page.” He’ll probably like it, but I doubt he’ll get it.


Slightly more than half my ninth graders actually read today when given a chance in class. The assignment will be due anyway (read a book during the academic quarter). It does make me doubt them when they claim they read it that last week before the assignment was due. “So you couldn’t stay awake and read one time through the quarter, but you suddenly found the tenacity to read the entire book outside of class?” It’s a modern miracle I witness every quarter.


For my health screening this morning, given for free if we are on the company health insurance, the nurse missed my veins, twice. This I do not understand, as my arms look freakishly veiny at the slightest exertion. Yet here is the lesson for my students as I teach them effective speech communications: little comments and non-verbal clues carry great power. When someone is not too comfortable with needles (like me), it is amazing how disconcerting it is to hear a nurse mutter while drawing blood, “Now, how is that possible?”


My sophomores are writing feature articles for the school newspaper. They are required to use four sources, and one must be an interview. Their topics are quite interesting, ranging from the destruction of the rain forest to tattoos to a preview of the basketball team, and their interest in the project is quite high considering their usual interest level in my assignments (which is, um . . . not high). I’m planning on making them insert citations into their non-published draft, which means it may end up being their research paper. They do not know this yet, but my guess is they’ll be thrilled when I tell them afterward. It’s like hiding medicine in juice.


Shakespeare students recently completed a project on archetypes and As You Like It. The task was to show how archetypes used in As You Like It are present in other stories (be they movies, books, or whatever). The material I used to introduce archetypes came from my favorite professor in college, Dr. Leland Ryken, and out of respect for him I won’t republish it here. He constructed a fabulous table of images and experiences in literature and organized them under “Archetypes of Ideal Experience” and “Archetypes of Unideal Experience.” It makes archetypal analysis wonderfully accessible for students, and not surprisingly, my students’ work was some of their best this semester. The task of connecting three dots, three elements of commonality, seemed to be the key to raising the bar on their comparisons. They didn’t have to think of just one random comparison from As You Like It to something else. They had to think of the archetype, the use of it in As You Like It, and then the comparison to something else. The end result was a straighter line and a firmer claim than a two-dotted connection would hold. This is one project I’ll be keeping around for next year.


As always, thanks for reading.


Underwood Typewriter II on Flickr by: Geof Wilson