7 months in 17 minutes, or however long it takes you to read this

wpid-20150625_120351.pngThere’s a rule in teaching that if one student asks a question, there are 5 more who have the same question but won’t ask (or 3, or 8, or a thousand like cockroaches, I’m not much into rules and numbers). So when one reader says Katie are you ever going to blog again or are you just going to leave me hanging and brokenhearted?? then I figure there must be a few others. The site says this still gets a few hits a day (thanks, Mom and Dad) so I envision a half dozen of my loved ones grumbling through their computers at me, on a regular basis. So thanks for the nudge (kick) I needed. I honestly didn’t realize it had been since October. Graduate school is all-consuming. All your time, energy, philosophies, sleep, printer ink… So this blog continues to reflect my reality: I am just now resurfacing from October.

But I do have some delightful news. I’ve completed my Master of Arts in Teaching, just attended commencement from Marylhurst University.

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Matilda, regarding diplomas

I have never felt more adult in my life than when I got my teaching license. Luckily, that moment was short because then I devolved into a giggling mess. I ran around telling the other teachers and students, because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who genuinely cared about the work I was doing and saw my struggles and triumphs.

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Over a weekend, my teacher and I painted this on the most prominent wall of the classroom. Attendance is kind of an issue.

My first work sample unit was centered around satire, social commentary through political cartoons, and censorship. An unfortunate serendipity occurred: the Charlie Hebdo attack. They could not have been better primed to explore and discuss the events as they unfolded. This led to a project where students created detective-style connection-boards of articles and photos related to a new story that they would follow for two weeks. In addition to Charlie Hebdo, they tackled the political posturing that happened around the release of the film The Interview (here’s a little something about that), they commemorated Leelah Alcorn (see here) and explored data about suicide rates among transgender teenagers (unforgiveably high). Anti-vaxxers came under scrutiny, the school shootings since Sandy Hook were plotted on a map, and police brutality against teenagers was viewed with new intensity in light of Trayvon Martin and the countless other deaths they read about.

I gave them a heartfelt rendition of John Green’s Will This Be On The Test? and watched them follow their curiosity (or outrage) in directions I could never have led them. And when everything was  done, tacked on the walls in a hundred pins, the last question on their assessment tried to pull them full circle. “What was the overall point of this Non-Fiction unit? What did I want you to get?” I promise, Girl Scout’s Honor, that these are their honest verbatim answers.

2nd quarterI was so excited about these responses that I printed out several copies of this for the classroom, hallway, staff room, and principal. I think I’m adopting that middle one (bold is my emphasis) for my mission statement. Free of ignorance? A sense of pride and integrity? Be still my teacher heart. I told the student as much, but they still seem reluctant to admit their way with words.

It was with all that under my belt that I decided to try the inevitable unit, the one I’ve seen to be most polarizing in an English classroom: poetry. The groans you get for suggesting it are amazing, and could be really discouraging for a teacher (or even for the student who likes writing poetry). I fully understand that many of the writers and pieces that are “standard” for academic spaces can be difficult to tackle or feel irrelevant. For most students, the worst thing you could do is begin studying poetry in order of historical eras and genres. Yes, a Shakespeare sonnet is a marvel of language, meter, form, and spirit; but you don’t give a baby a bite of steak, they don’t have teeth yet. So I started with the premise that everyone is a poet, but that doesn’t mean everyone is a Poet. Shakespeare, Plath, Poe– these are all poets. So are Silverstein and Billy Collins, and rappers like Tu Pac and Aesop Rock, and comedians like Bo Burnham:

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From his book, Egghead

In order to adequately crush the dead-old-white-poet standard, I kicked it off with my favorite kind of poetry: slam. Since the kids really like movies, there was only one natural starting point: the movie Slam. It’s cast mostly with slam poets, including a cameo from Taylor Mali (teacher/slammer, this is probably his most famous piece). Saul Williams is a powerhouse; and the movie is brilliantly written. The ending was so powerful one of my kids ran out of the room to find his best friend to say “OH MY GOD THAT’S HOW IT ENDS??” Here is a performance of Amethyst Rocks, just one brilliant piece featured in the movie. You’re welcome. It’s sampled in music and even blown up into…

a musical!

Later we watched Dead Poets Society, which proved to have more parallels than I could count. Daring, restless young boys (one group black, one white) trapped in an institution designed by old white men (DC prison and Welton Academy) in order to enforce principles and shape behavior by squashing individuality. In each, a teacher encourages their students to write honestly, passionately, and with abandon even when (especially when) someone is trying to silence them. Oh, and there’s a gun in both but I won’t tell you where they hit. I will tell you that a half dozen of my kids have said “Oh Captain, my Captain” to me and I glowed every time.

John Keating is like, 1/3 of why I became an English Teacher. Taylor Mali is another. And then probably my senior English teacher Mrs. Norton.

My kids blew me away with the work they created. Yes, I had to nudge many of them. But once they’d gotten permission to write anything, even if it was ugly or unhappy or angry, they dropped their guard and showed incredible honesty and strength. They are so often silenced, urged to act “appropriately,” and seeing the weight off their shoulders when they were allowed to say anything told me just how much pressure they’re under all those hours outside of my room. It was transformative for them, because one of the things about being adolescent (ok, or an adult) is that your experience feels wholly unique to you, which can be isolating. So when a student writes about their awful experiences with X (a family member, an obstacle, a disease…) it’s a leap of faith. But when they read that out loud, and it resonates with ten other students, suddenly no one is alone. We did not have enough tissues.

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The school district’s art show is held at the school I worked in, so that was a nice close to the year. K’ahi Pele even showed up and spun some fire for a really good group, with good food, outside a school full of really great student art. The show was all ages of course, but my kids wanted to share their writings and performances, so we made our classroom “Exploring the Edge,” the uncensored space that was not for child audiences. A video ran on loop featuring their slam performances, texts were posted in big print, and lots of supplies for blackout poetry were handy.

20150303_133807My internship was challenging, exhausting, sometimes insurmountable, grueling… but also illuminating, inspiring, and hilarious. Alternative schools are not for everyone… but they are for me.

There’s one more thing I’d like to share with you: a reference sheet I created that tries to address many kinds of identity that young adults wrestle with. Adolescent behavior can seem senseless, elusive, even volatile, and it’s important that adults interpret those behaviors carefully. On one side of an 8×10 sheet, Signs of Possible Crisis in Young Adults, arranged as a spectrum of related ideas.

matrix front

The other side of the page shows how I deal with just about anything… books.  Helpful Reading for Teachers of Adolescents Facing Crisis arranges books and authors that may be useful to each topic on the spectrum.

matrixteacherbooks copySo this is how I see things. What I learned in grad school was: to value resilience and growth mindset, to embrace creative risk-taking, to reject the idea that anything is polar, to connect and reflect, and to critically examine your actions and motivations constantly.

I missed you, dear reader. But I have been preoccupied. Happy to be back.

Knit it, sew it, draw it, glue it

Your eyes are not deceiving you, it’s a new blog post! I’ve have been busy creating many fun things. However, none of them included knitting except for this photo. This 29 cent booklet is part of a box that I consider a of a treasure chest. As you can see, Matilda considers it a lovely place to curl up and give the occasional dirty look.

Actually, up until the point where the box was empty enough to accommodate Her Fluffiness, she was right there pawing through envelopes with Emily and I. My parents visited, and they came with gifts. For me, my Mom brought 3 boxes of vintage patterns that span several decades. For Matilda, she brought fabric scraps. We were (still are) totally pleased.

Seriously, these clothing patterns go way back.

I am now equipped to sew a stack of baby clothes, or a gaggle of pants, and a flock of house-dresses. It’s a great progression of fashion. In the face of sheer volume, it was important to take note of the little things. The penny-and-a-half postage rates, the $.75 price tags, and good-old-fashioned social bluntness.

8 1/2 chubbie

I’ve been able to put real work into sewing jobs (commissioned through Etsy!) partly because I’m no longer working with my little monsters artists. But they did not hold back on farewell cards and such, so you can look forward to more kid art even though I won’t be serving time teaching there anymore. I had a few Proud Teacher Moments during my last days there this summer. A note from one student was just “You gave me great ideas” and I felt like putting on a crown. Heck yeah I did.

My other moment was one of those discoveries that can’t ever be planned for. I was fidgeting with the cap from my water bottle, playing with the little ring under the cap. One of my students came up to investigate and watched me turning the plastic pieces between my fingers.

“What are you going to make?” she asked.

My honest impulse was of course, oh nothing I’m just fidgeting with this trash— but I caught myself in time.
“I don’t know yet,” and I held it out to her. “Can you think of something?”

Yes, of course she could. It was worth the hot glue gun burns to see her first impulse on something so trivial be one of creativity. They looked like bug antennae to her, and since we’re both #1 fans of ladybugs, it had to go this way.

Feeling lucky– my own four leaf clover and other good news

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now, let me address this: I’m crazy about the flowers in our yard. It’s going to break my heart to move away from the irises and hydrangeas and roses and peonies… and lilacs.

I clipped a big fragrant stem of lilacs and while I was huffing gently sniffing it, I noticed a flower with 5 petals instead of the standard 4. I had my own little game of horticultural Where’s Waldo and found several more over-achieving blossoms. Then jackpot– I giggled with glee when I found this 6 petal lilac. It’s my version of a 4 leaf clover. Smells better, too.

I have another reason to feel lucky. My loving husband recently donned the velvet robe/cap/hood of high academia and walked the line to claim his JD degree. The weather was perfect (no one melted or fainted from the heat of those gowns, and the audience sat in the shade), the speaker was engaging and easy to relate to despite being a rock star of the lawyer community.

We had a delightful pot luck at the house and as usual our friends came with delicious goodies. I made everyone’s favorite mac and cheese– and deep fried it. Emily baked me a birthday cake that was not just allergy-friendly, but scrumptious. Fresh fruit, classy salad, wine, beer… a good time all around.

What else? Believe it or not I still have two weeks until the last day of school in this district. Sometimes in the afternoon it feels like recess alone takes two weeks. Anyway, stop asking about the end-of-school-squirrely kids. We’re not close enough to the end, you’re just teasing me.

This means I’ll have plenty of time to make Fine Art with my little Picassos. For example:

First I put polka dots on the Hunchback’s shorts underwear. Then my co-artist colored his shirt and gave him a bow tie. I gave him an anchor tattoo, she gave him roller skates. I gave him a pet spider, she gave the spider a place for “emergency pee poo.” You like? Wait til I show you the portrait we colored of Shrek and his family.

Playground Dr’s diagnoisis: Malignant Boredom -or- Don’t care if I fit, I’m still gonna sit

Handmade Squirrel House by Mimi, in my kitchen window

Latest gem from the playground:

Kid 1 has been complaining about feeling sick, but is struggling to describe it better than I feel weird in my tummy, and tries “It feels like maybe… I have like, Kansas.”

Kid 2: You mean… cancer?

Kid 1: Yeah! Yeah Miss Pip I think maybe I have cancer!

Luckily there are times when the kids are happy AND healthy, and feeling creative. It started with a picture of Maty playing fetch in the snow.

But now he is valiantly pulling a water boat. Because he has so much energy he defies physics! Completely plausible to those who know him– this 10 year old has found the Fountain of Puppyhood.

Been busy in the kitchen too, of course. Last week I did what one might call Lazy Kebabs. I’ve used rosemary twigs in place of skewers before and totally loved it. So this time while I let the steaks sit in a dry rub, I seasoned the inside too.

So if you get your hands on some fresh rosemary, try it. Take off all the needles–trust me, it still works. Plus then you’ve got all those loose rosemary leaves to chop up and put on potatoes or meat or bread or carrots or…

I’ve been overdue to share my stories with you. I know I miss the cat very much when I am away from her. So for your kitty fix, here’s my little Fluff Muffin.

Oh, were you using this?

How can my cat afford Dish Network? She hasn’t payed me rent in 6 YEARS!

Greetings again, with another Frame My Cat picture.

Today’s installment of Kids Say the Darndest Things takes place on a playground. After two creative minds clashed in their visions of sidewalk-chalk-masterpieces, I sat with one of the artists. I understand her, as I have noticed she shares several qualities with Matilda. I regularly have conversations with both in which our only words are meow-meow. They both covet small shiny objects and love chasing bugs. They are both fatally cute. Completely adorable even (or especially) when they are angry. Stomping her feet wasn’t helping. She kept saying UGH and informing anyone nearby that she was STILL ANGRY.

I just love to say tonatordo…

…still so angry she could scream. I told her that since we were outside, it was ok with me if she walked away from other people and screamed until she felt better. She thought about it but said it might not be enough. “I’m so angry I want to scream a bad word.”

I’m a cool teacher, and I often turn to the calming power of profanity (reason #1 no kids are allowed in my car). So I told her that since we were outside, it was ok with me if she walked waaaay away from other people and screamed a bad word. If it would make her feel better. This was still displeasing to her.

She sat down, crossed her arms with a huff. Then she took a big long inhale, paused a moment to let it all boil up (just long enough for me to wonder how I was going to explain to the other kids why this one was screaming profanity) and finally let it rip.

“GUTS!!!”

You ever have someone laugh at you when you are that wound up? It is literally enRAGEing. Keep a straight face looking at that scowl under a flowery headband, hollering gutsgutsgutsgutsguts! I dare you. And if you can do that, then I hire you to go get the other angry girl who is hanging on the monkey bars in the fashion of… well,  a sit-in protest. A hang-in, you might say. Careful, she kicks.

After I clean up their water color paintings, I come home and bust out mine. I’ve recently devoted time to this medium that I abandoned about the same time I stopped wearing jelly shoes. I’m pleased with my results so far, so here is a sample. My scanner is back in working order so I can finally digitize my new art. Thanks for sharing in my Anger Management lesson!

A moment of self-reflection: Do your pants fit? How are you progressing cognitively?

Well how about that for slightly random yet educational art. All the labeling is what really makes it for me. Also the little walking platform Matilda would LOVE this spaceship. She wants me to mention that her birthday is coming up this summer.

Oh, um, how long have you been standing there?

A couple moments from work:

Kid: Miss Pip, you should wear a belt.
Me: Yeah? Why, are my pants falling down?
Kid: Yes!
Me: That’s because you’re hanging on them like a koala. Go play on the swings.

After tying a string to the cardboard tube, kid takes a couple laps, swinging arms and all…finishes with a sigh,

When will I finally be old enough to know I can’t fly a kite in the cafeteria??*

Speaking of the little monsters, it’s time for my pre-work double espresso. Nobody has more energy at the end of a full day of school than these kids.

Yeah very funny give Miss Pip her camera back now. Now. NOW.

*Incidentally, her answers were: 5th grade, 7th grade, or college.

Documented sighting of rare Nutriabearsheepalope, and other silly art

This week’s activities are all inspired by animals. They have constructed caterpillars/turtles/a crab out of craft pompoms and googly eyes. Some of them have even given them habitats (though that seems an odd word when you’re giving your “calapiller” a big screen television.

We also covered a table with animal magazines and pieced together hybrid animals–not the least of which being the Basilkleoparbird.

It would be a shame to ignore the less-exotic animals of the world: pets. So yesterday we all looked up our pets in an encyclopedia of cat and dog breeds. Yup, this is my tortoiseshell calico ragdoll/persian. Or whatever. I realized that my cat and students share an endless love of cardboard boxes.

I support this addiction wholeheartedly. Basically, I subscribe to the Not A Box Philosophy.

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

So I took this Matilda-in-a-box picture and applies Not A Box. Now she’s popping out of a….

Spaceship. Maty came too.

There are already 2 new Where’s Matilda pictures, so you’ll have some to look forward to next week. For now, Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Don’t haiet the player, haiet the game (of life)

graffiti of the youth

Hello? Is anyone there? I know I’ve been conspicuously absent these last couple weeks. I thought that having a new job with regular predictable hours would bring just a small splinter of regular predictable-ness into my life. That’s what I get for thinking.

I have been working more hours than anticipated, have put in some considerable time on several art projects, done a little dancing, and have been absent from the internet while trying to deal with Life’s Surprises. Thank you to everybody who’s been here for us this Out Of Control March (and Left-Footed February, and WTF January).

And though my keyboard has been silent, I have kept my readers in mind. I have my camera and notebook handy. So, one thing I’ve been wanting to gush about:

Soup! There have been literally hours of simmering happening here. I caught this story on the radio, and in culinary coincidence found out the next day that the nearest grocery store has a freezer full of beef soup bones. If you’re going to be serious about soup then you gotta start with stock instead of broth. The difference?* Broth is made by boiling meat. Stock is made with the addition of bones (and in my case, loads of herbs and vegetables).

Drawing on my reserve of pure homemade beef stock has yielded nothing but warm fuzzies and good news. Leek and potato soup sounds like dinner for a pauper, but it tasted expensive and filling and thick despite being cheap and full of vegetables and not actually any cream. I just enjoyed some truly stellar minestrone– which I think is Italian for “whatever’s in the cupboard” with truly little effort. 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, cans of corn/peas/beans etc, and stelline pasta. Lentils and rice get elevated to legitimately exciting food. Also the house smells AMAZING.

Here is a sneak peek at one wee little piece of my newest big honking collage. Cross your fingers for me, I submitted 3 pieces for a special show this summer. I miiiight just make you wait til then to see the big picture.**

Thanks again for reading, I hope you enjoy!

*For more on broth v stock, read here.

**probably not.

Cue the music! It’s time for a Happy Dance

I am now and have always been, Down With the Sickness*

I completed my first full week at my new job. I didn’t lose any kids, and none of them killed me off or even maimed me, so I guess I’m in. I did have a couple conversations with a first grader that reminded me of interactions I’ve had with high school guys. Like a student who listed Disturbed* as a band on his iPod. “Oh, yeah I know Disturbed.” Reeeally? Yup. Then I said the 5 syllables that gave me instant everlasting admiration: Ooooo WA AH AH AH

This week one of my little ones drew a stereo and was writing PUMP IT across it. I gambled on the reference, I raised the roof, and instructed him to pump it louder, pump it louder. He dropped his jaw, you know that song??

The next day I had to have a talk with him about how “I’m Sexy and I Know It” is not a playground song. Parents, you think your kids aren’t listening?

Parents, your kids can be pretty cute sometimes. Thanks for decorating my new paper crown:

Yes, I am indeed cool and awesome and I like flowers.

Parents, your kids can be pretty smart-ass sometimes. Reverse:

Sometimes no matter how cool and awesome you are, the “Main Idea” is still that you are a “but head.”

Time flies when you're slobbering sideways.

The last notable thing for this week is that this is my 200th blog post.

I’m shocked, too! And pretty pleased with myself.

What’s more is I know several people who have been following this since the beginning, and I’m thrilled I’ve kept your interest this long and this often. Thank you!

No doubt that there are more school stories yet to come, and you know I’ll keep cooking new food. I’m naturally obligated to keep Matilda’s Fan Club updated on her fluffiness, and I have new goals for dance and art.

The point is, more to come!

Tales from the classroom: On white lines and double-word score SCRABBLE

Jen's too shy to show this to you, so I will.

Tale from the Classroom #104

The setting: 8 person table. SCRABBLE Junior

The players: Staff like myself, vs students.

The stakes: 7 points on the classroom tally of good behavior, bringing them that much closer to a pizza party. Or whatever.

Today’s House Rule: double points for any word that you can relate to this week’s Health lesson.

This week’s Health lesson: The ways that drugs can negatively affect your health and life.

Starting word: DRUGS

Their opener: LOVE. You would think that’s a pretty vague one to connect to drugs. But in a classroom setting, it’s sometimes best NOT to think.

SCRABBLE rules be damned! They played LOVEDRUGS.

Staff exchange sideways glances. Hm, a kid-friendly euphemism for date rape drug? Ok, double points.

We seemed to have all of the E’s for the game, so we were a little limited. We were looking for ANY word and found LINES.

Staff exchange sideways glances. Ok, here goes.

“LINES for 5 points. When people take drugs like cocaine, they put it in little lines before they suck it up their nose. 10 points.”

So add that to the list of places I never thought I’d go and still can’t believe I went there already. Explaining to students how people take cocaine, over a friendly game of SCRABBLE junior.

My stories are true. That’s the weirdest part! I hope you enjoyed.

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