Friday, December 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Major update. We have jobs – strangely enough at the same company, a retirement community. I have also been officially accepted into the graduate program. Wow – so many things are falling into place. You know how sometimes you question decisions – was it right? Well, as I see it (retroactively) each little part has given way to the next which reassures me that our decision to return to the US was at the right time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Teachers have class

I'm sitting on my deck, enjoying a cup of tea, dog at my feet and Canada geese flying overhead. There were two and I could hear the wind through the flapping of their wings. It is a beautiful morning – a very comfortable mid-70s and sunny. The morning glories are in full purple bloom as they climb up the railing of the deck.

We're diligently working on the house – cleaning, painting and making updates. But, reality of life sets in and we soon need to find jobs. It has felt like an extended summer vacation, though I did feel a pang of nostalgia when the back to school ads came out. We didn't have to buy or pack anything for school this year. You know the old bumper sticker, “Teachers have class.” What about teachers without a classroom? Are they still teachers? I still feel like a teacher – I read teacher magazines, still get my professional magazines and journals, and think like a teacher. Do I still have class?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Spoiled Americans

Yesterday was the first Packer game of the season. It was very exciting – we were able to watch it, with other Packer fans! Living overseas, this didn't happen much. In Brazil, we sometimes got the game a few hours later, but commentary in Portuguese. In Europe, the game didn't come on until 3 am or later – if at all. In Aruba, we had to go to Champions to watch it – which was always filled with East Coast tourists cheering on the Eagles or Patriots. Though, the food was good, we were definitely in the minority of fans. This time, we went to a sports bar that had prizes for certain plays. It was exciting cheering with others, and even better – the Packers won!

We're beginning to get to know our new town. Looking for a church, found the farmer's market and love our local grocery store. We are in a great location – every time we think of a store we'd like to go to, we find it is within a 10 minute drive. Everything is so convenient. Gone are the days of driving 45 minutes to get to a grocery store or restaurant. We're going to get spoiled. And, to even imagine the store hours – open 8 am – 9 pm (or later) and on Sundays! Again, the things that Americans take for granted!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Settling in here in the USA

Okay – this has nothing to do with teaching, but it is an important milestone in my life. We are homeowners for the first time. After about a month of looking – we found a house we liked in our price range. This is the beginning of a very different, settled life. We have a garage, basement, backyard, and soon, a picket fence. After 10 years of being global nomads, it will be very different staying in one place and putting down roots. And, we have a library within walking distance – with English books! I know, that doesn't sound amazing to most, but I really value the ability to checkout books, request books, and read something in English anytime I want – for free! This really is an amazing privilege that Americans often take for granted.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

I am about to embark on a new journey - graduate school. I struggled about the statement of purpose, but here it is!

One of my earliest memories is sitting beside my older brother, listening to him read the comics in the newspaper to me and being extremely frustrated that I couldn't decipher the squiggly marks myself. I couldn't wait to go to school and learn the mysteries of reading. When I received my first library card, I checked out Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter for almost a year until I could read it to myself. This began a life-long interest in literacy and the process of literacy. With over a decade of experience teaching middle and high school English, I strive to impart not only the skills of literacy, but also a life-long enthusiasm for reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking to my students.

I've struggled with witty and interesting ways to write my statement of purpose for graduate study, but my purpose is actually very simple and direct. As a pre-service teacher, I had some great professors and teachers, along with some mediocre and poor ones. Like most first-year teachers, I had my share of challenges and successes, but I made a mental note of the things I wish I had been taught and exposed to before entering the classroom. Since that time, I have mentored teachers, written several articles, and given numerous workshops, but realized that one of the best way to influence the future of education is to become a teacher of future teachers and a researcher of best methods. I wish to pursue my Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction in order to be qualified to work with pre-service teachers, research best practices and contribute to the future policies and methods of education, especially in the area of literacy.

From my first book, Peter Rabbit, reading has always been a passion of mine. I was surrounded by books as a child, since my mother was a school librarian and later a bookseller. My parents encouraged and required summer reading and writing, with one of my first poems being, “Parents are nice – They eat rice.” Considering this kind of background, it seemed natural to specialize in English/Language Arts as a teacher, and later become a certified Reading Teacher. Yet, as a first-year teacher in a very traditional school district, I balked at the idea of English class being focused on spelling, grammar, vocabulary and short stories. Real reading involved thinking, and thinking could only be articulated through speaking and writing. This was when my philosophy of teaching really materialized. I believe that learning should not be compartmentalized into subjects nor rigid by grade level and growth in one area can be used to encourage growth in other areas. I developed several interdisciplinary units and encouraged my fellow, more traditional, colleagues to consider a more holistic approach. I then entered the world of overseas teaching. My first contract was with the American School of Brasilia, Brazil. Each class consisted of 85-95% non-native English speakers. I became fascinated with the process of acquiring language, which reinforced my philosophy of learning – skills are important, but without context and motivation, learning only skills will plateau. Later, at the International School of Vilnius, Lithuania, I had the opportunity to become involved in the European League for Middle Level Education. Through this organization, I wrote and published several articles and gave presentations at the annual conferences. Each topic I researched focused on an area of literacy such as literature circles, graphic organizers, and the use of technology. My research was practical and personal and designed for in-service teachers.

How do I know I will succeed in a demanding doctoral program? I am reminded of a quote by Robert M. Pirsig, in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes. That's gumption.” I've got “gumption” which, according to the means, “1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness 2. courage; spunk; guts 3. common sense; shrewdness.” This gumption has enabled me to pursue and succeed in several eclectic jobs in my life. Each job I have held gave me the opportunity to rehearse the roles that make me a great teacher, well-rounded person, and student of life. Directly out of high school, I joined the Army National Guard. Basic training was arduous; especially the physical demands; though through this I learned the importance of team work. I helped the women in my platoon with the academics and they pushed and cajoled me to success in running, push-ups and sit-ups. Without each other, none of us would have succeeded. Then I attended my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), which was paramedics. During the training, I learned basic life-saving skills, but more importantly - how to think quickly, make decisions and calmly direct other people in the midst of crisis. In my unit, I quickly became a training non-commissioned officer and directed the training of not only my platoon, but the entire company. Because of my positive experiences as a medic, as a college student, I was first interested in seeking a career in nursing. However, my poor scores in my science classes led me to consider other options, which has led me to my true vocation in life – teaching. The first unit I taught during practicum was a unit on stars, in which I integrated science, math, social studies, and language arts. Besides learning the how and why of stars, the students discovered the wonder and the tales. Their excited chatter and enthusiastic research and observation was contagious and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. Throughout my teaching career, I have sought excellence; constantly updating and refreshing my skills as a teacher through classes, workshops, and my own research. For the past ten years, I taught in three different overseas schools. Each country has presented its own challenges such as culture shock, bureaucracy, lack of supplies, and different views of education. Yet through this, I have learned to be patient, yet persistent; flexible, yet determined. At the International School of Aruba, I became the Curriculum Coordinator. In this capacity, I introduced the concept of curriculum mapping and guided the staff in a two year process of writing maps for all subjects and levels. In addition, I oversaw the creation of class syllabi throughout the school. This past year I completed the portfolio for National Board Certification for Adolescence and Young Adulthood/English Language Arts; although my scores will not be posted until December 2007. The reflection, documentation and writing required for the portfolio has shown my strong commitment and dedication to becoming a better teacher and contributor to the educational community.

Although I have been out of school and the country for over a decade, my real life experiences make me a solid candidate for doctoral work. As my transcript shows, I had excellent grades throughout my masters program. After twelve years of teaching, I have strong experience in both the theoretical and practical aspects of education. I've given numerous presentations for a variety of audiences and written articles for teacher journals and newspapers. Having taught overseas, I have proven that I can handle difficult situations and persevere, plus I have learned to be culturally sensitive in my dealings with others. I have directed my own professional development and continue to update my knowledge through online listserves, journals, and conferences. Personally, I am enthusiastic about education, determined to succeed in whatever endeavor I undertake, creative, organized and resourceful. I currently write a blog entitled “In the Heart of a Teacher is a Student.” I truly believe that the best teachers are always students themselves and I look forward to learning more, not only about teaching and learning, but about myself.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Good Readers Practice

I'm sure your parents have reminded you that “Practice makes perfect.” And the old joke says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer, “Practice, practice, practice.” There are many other proverbs and quotations that support the importance of practicing, but it is common sense – the more you do an activity, the better you become at it. This is true not only in music, dance, and sports, but in learning languages too. One of the best ways to become fluent in a language is to read extensively in the language.

According to Warwick B. Elley, in a study of 9,073 schools from 32 countries, there is a steady increase in academic achievement in student populations who have the greatest amount of voluntary free reading. However, not only does extensive reading correlate with higher academic achievement, it raises the IQ (as measured by standardized tests), improves creativity, and increases the potential job salary earning, according to numerous research studies conducted by the National Institute for Literacy in the United States. In addition, several studies show that reading in a target language increases vocabulary learning and retention.

Aside from these serious academic reasons to read, there are several other benefits to reading. It provides relaxation and an escape from the tensions of life. It can be fun, stimulating and rejuvenating. Several early studies are showing that the habit of reading, well into old age, can help keep the mind active and slow down the onset of senility, which is common in sedentary elderly people.

So the next time you reach for the remote control, hit the “Off” button, turn the pages of a book and exercise your brain cells with a good story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

End of Year 07

This year the end of school snuck up on me. I was busy getting exams prepared, organizing my classroom for my replacement and packing. I didn't really clear my room until the last moment. I like it looking “lived in” up until the end of the year. I think the students “check out” more we they think the teacher has. But, I also think part of it was that reality hadn't sunk in. As I was going through books, I constantly asked if I was going to use this in the next 5 years. If not, it stayed behind. I felt a little sad giving up classroom teaching. Although my colleagues were excited to receive a bunch of free books and materials.

The Seniors also asked me to be the commencement speaker. I struggled for a while on the theme, but I finally adopted a “past, present, future” outlook. Though graduation was full of other people speaking, so I felt a little rushed.

The Sunshine Committee decided to have a farewell dinner on the last day of school. I thought it was very nice, as it allowed everyone to say goodbye. In the past, it was a rush to the end of the year with kids and then the teachers slowing scattered. It seemed like such a let down – or as they say, “No closure.” This kind of tied the ribbon on the year and I knew it was over.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

ISA Class of 2007 Commencement Address

I was honored to be asked by the Class of 2007 to speak at their graduation. Here is the text of that speech.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part.

Yes, I'm the English teacher – therefore it is almost required to quote a little Shakespeare. In As You Like It, Jacques compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and catalogues the seven stages of a man's life: infant, school-boy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". Shakespeare means that the world is nothing but a theatrical stage where we humans are actors. From our birth we enter the stage and keep on acting true to our age, until old age when we act the last scene. It is one of Shakespeare's most frequently-quoted passages. And very appropriate for tonight, when we celebrate the end of one stage of life and the moving on to another for these Seniors.

In taking my cue from Shakespeare, lets examine a little of the first stage of life for these students. They were born in 1988 or 89. Let's put this in perspective, using the Beliot College Mindset List. Each August since 1998, as faculty prepare for the academic year, Beloit College in Wisconsin has released the Beloit College Mindset List. This is a creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it looks at the cultural touchstones that have shaped the lives of today’s first-year students. which is is used by educators and clergy and by the military and business in their efforts to connect with the new generation. Beloit creates the list to share with its faculty in anticipation of the first-year seminars and orientation.

  • The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
  • For most of their lives, major U.S. airlines have been bankrupt.
  • There has always been only one Germany.
  • They have never heard anyone actually "ring it up" on a cash register.
  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • Thanks to pervasive headphones in the back seat, parents have always been able to speak freely in the front.
  • Coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.
  • Smoking has never been permitted on U.S. airlines.
  • "Google" has always been a verb.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
  • Carbon copies are oddities found in their grandparents' attics.
  • Reality shows have always been on television.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • They have always had access to their own credit cards.
  • They have never put their money in a "Savings & Loan."
  • Bad behavior has always been getting captured on amateur videos.
  • Disneyland has always been in Europe and Asia.
  • Dolphin-free canned tuna has always been on sale.
    Disposable contact lenses have always been available.
  • The U.S. has always been studying global warming to confirm its existence.
  • They grew up with virtual pets to feed, water, and play games with, lest they die.

Isn't is amazing how things change!

Then these children entered school. Hopefully, the lessons they have learned will go beyond the languages, math, sciences, and history, because, even though I am a teacher, I can admit that there is a lot more important things to life then the academics. I'd like to remind you of some of these lessons, as so eloquently written by Robert Fulghum, in his book All I Really Needed to Learn, I Learned in Kindergarten. And, even though you will be in college, these lessons are still important.

"All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
[Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum. See his web site at ]

The next age, according to Shakespeare – is the lover. Or, what we would call -the adolescent. A time full of changes and challenges – choices and often, mistakes. A young teenager named Mai, wrote a wonderful poem summing up the importance of this time of “growing up”. Which, many of you are still “enduring.” Hopefully, you will take your own knowledge and experience to share with others on your same path.

Growing Up by Mai
Paths we take

Choices we make

Paths we take alone

Choices we make on our own

We all grow up and learnWe all take different turns

Turns in our path of life

Turns that may lead to strife

Problems we go through

Problems exists in other lives too

Having problems are not wrong

Having problems do not stay forever long

Conflicts causes growth in many ways

Lessons we learn will always stay

Conflicts we gain as years go on

Lessons we learn, makes us more strong

According to Shakespeare – the next age is the soldier - Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation.

Sounds a little like a college student's life – full of the new, different and strange. A time to build your reputation, character, and knowledge.
I'd like to give you a few down to earth tips for surviving and thriving in the next few years. Many we've talked about before. And for those of you who aren't college students yet – these tips work well in high school too!

Seniors, you don't have to take notes, as I have provided a copy of this for you!
Ten Tips You Need to Survive College
1. Begin the first day of class. Know what's expected of you. Take notes from the first day even if it's routine stuff you think you already know.

2. Establish a routine time to study for each class. For every hour you spend in class, you will probably need to study two hours outside class. Studying for each subject should be at the same time, same place, if possible. Study includes more than just doing your homework. You will need to go over your notes from by class, labeling, editing, and making sure you understand them. Study your syllabus daily to see where you are going and where you have been. Be sure to do reading assignments. (Don't put them off just because there's not a written assignment.) Read ahead whenever possible. Prepare for each class as if there will be a pop quiz.

3. Establish a place to study. Your place should have a desk, comfortable chair, good lighting, all the supplies you need, etc., and of course, should be as free of distractions as possible. It should not be a place where you routinely do other things. It should be only your study place.

4. Do as much of your studying in the daytime as you can. What takes you an hour to do during the day may take you an hour and a half at night.

5. Schedule breaks. Take a ten minute break after every hour of study. If possible, avoid long blocks of time for studying. Spread out several short study sessions during the day.

6. Make use of study resources on campus. Find out about and use labs, tutors, videos, computer programs, and alternate texts. Sign up for an orientation session in the campus library and computer facilities. Get to know your professors and advisors. Ask questions. "I didn't know," or "I didn't understand" is never an excuse.

7. Find at least one or two students in each class to study with. Studies show that students who study with someone routinely make better grades. You will probably find yourself more motivated if you know someone else cares about what you are doing in the class. Teaching a concept or new idea to someone else is a sure way for you to understand it. Studying in a group or with a partner can sometimes become too social. It is important to stay focused.

8. Study the hardest subject first. Work on your hardest subjects at a time when you are fresh. Putting them off until you're tired compounds the problem.

9. Be good to yourself. Studying on four hours of sleep and an empty stomach or junk-food diet is a waste of time. Avoid food and drink containing caffeine just before or just after studying.

The next age is that of justice – or what we would consider settling into adulthood.

Right now, you all are really focused on college. The goal has been to get into a good college, and now you are thinking about doing well, so you can get the job you want. But, one of the earmarks of being part of Generation Y is the rapid change going on around you, and you have the opportunity to take advantage of this – your working life will be much different from your parents. According to Ian Jukes, a futurist, teacher and writer, there some massive changes happening in the working world.

“How many of you had a parent that worked for the same company for more than 20 years? How many of you remember a time when people were expected to have a single career in their lifetime? Things certainly have changed. A US Department of Labor report in 2004 indicated that 1 out of 2 workers today has been working for the company that they are currently employed by for less than one year and that two in three have been working for the same company for less than five years. Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley was quoted in a recent speech as saying that the top ten in demands jobs for the year 2010 do not exist today – that as a result, we are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems that they’ve never been introduced to. Most people assume that the estimate of 4 to 7 careers in a lifetime still applies today – this is wrong – the US Department of Labor now estimates that today’s learners can expect to have 10 to 14 career – not 10 to 14 jobs, but careers.

The new workplace requires lifelong learning. Just a few years ago, a university degree was a seeming guarantee of a job for life. Today a 4-year degree is just the beginning of a lifelong process. Today people can’t just earn a living, they must learn a living. So even though most of educational dollars and efforts seem to be focused on K-12 and undergraduate students, in reality, they are only a minority of the educational clientele. In the past ten years working adults have become the fastest growing group clients, measuring more than 50% of those seeking further training beyond high school.”

Yes – this means that you will NEVER be finished with your education!
Although Shakespeare goes on to discuss mature adults and the “second childhood” of old age, I think I will leave that to another time, as our time is short and your attention is wandering. But I would like to return to the first lines:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances...

Some of you have been at ISA for most of your school careers, others just joined us this year. But now it is time for your exits. It has been a joy and pleasure working with you and an honor to be chosen as your commencement speaker. I'd like to close with some words from the great philosopher and writer Dr. Seuss and one of the most common poems used in graduations as it has such heartfelt emotions:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Congratulations and good luck!

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Currently I am reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I've been meaning to read this book since I worked at Waldenbooks in Southridge and every Christmas, people would come in to buy it for a nephew or grandson because it was such a meaningful book to them. I am currently reading it with a student of mine who has been a difficult student to reach. He is smart, articulate and intuitive but doesn't want to “fit in” or “play the system.” However, his strong need to be different and independent is going to cost him in some lost opportunities. I'm hoping this book will touch a part of him and help him figure out his direction in life.

The book is very complex, as the subtitle says, “An Inquiry into Values.” The author uses the physical journey of a motorcycle trip across the US to set up his premise of a Chautauqua – an ongoing lecture about various topics which all revolve around the idea of Quality. The story weaves between the past ( his early years as a searching/seeking philosopher Phaedrus), the present (his journey on the motorcycle with his son, Chris) and the future (what really is Quality?)

One idea that has captured my interest is the discussion of “gumption.” Pirsig says, “A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes. That's gumption.” pg 310 Harper Perennial edition. According to gumption is:

“1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness: With his gumption he'll make a success of himself.
2. courage; spunk; guts: It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job.
3. common sense; shrewdness. “

This idea of gumption has stuck with me because I see a serious lack of it in my students. When something gets tough, many of my students quit or complain that the task was too hard or they don't know how to do it. There isn't enough of the initiative, aggressiveness and resourcefulness in students, which will take them past the difficult and into confidence. This brings to mind several questions. Why don't students have gumption? How can students gain gumption? Can gumption be taught?

Pirsig continues with a listing of “gumption traps.” The first is category are those traps caused by external circumstances or “setbacks” and the second is “primarily within yourself . . hang-ups.” pg 312. Both types of traps drain gumption and create anger and frustration. Although Pirsig relates this ideas specifically to the maintenance of a motorcycle, many of the ideas have applications to other areas of life.

One type of setback is “out-of-sequence-reassembly.” When we do things to quickly, or without thought, a step of the task may be left out, which ruins the entire task. I've done this often in cooking, when I think I've used an ingredient, yet when the cake is baked, it is only ½ inch think and heavier than lead. I missed a set. As my dad says, “Haste makes waste.” To prevent this, Pirisig explains two of his techniques – taking good notes and laying everything out.

Another setback is intermittent failure. This is when something works some of the time, but not always. When it works, you think you have the problem fixed, but then, it doesn't work again. To understand what was really wrong, you have to recreate the environment of the failure. Or, look at the pattern of the failure – what other factors figure into the failure and try to eliminate them.

Finally, parts problems. In this setback, you know what part needs replacing but can't get the part – either it is out of stock and needs to be ordered, the part is misnamed/labeled so you don't get the right one, or the quality of the new part doesn't match the original. Pirsig's solution to this problem is learning to create his own parts.

The internal traps, or hang-ups, Pirsig says, come from values, truth and muscle. If someone has a rigid view of the problem and the world, and he/she can't see from another point of view, then the solutions may not be found. When we expect a certain outcome, and it doesn't happen, it is difficult to see beyond our expectations. This also applies to making judgements – when we judge something or someone quickly, it is hard to see past our first impression to see the reality of the situation. But, ego also forces us to not truly see a situation. With a large ego, it is hard to admit mistake or failure, therefore many people prefer dishonesty with themselves rather than the reality. Yet the opposite of ego is anxiety, which will paralyze people just as easily as ego. If a person is to anxious they will do nothing. Finally, boredom often goes hand in hand with ego, but is a step further. With boredom, there is no attention to the task and mistakes – big and small are made, which may lead to impatience. This is caused by “an underestimation of the amount of time a job will take. . . Impatience is the first reaction against a setback and can soon turn to anger if you're not careful.” pg 325

I think it is important for students to recognize their own setbacks and hang-ups and before they begin blaming the task or the material, address the setback or hang-up. As Pirsig says, “You're bound to discover plenty of them [setbacks or hang-ups] for yourself on almost every job. Perhaps the best single thing to learn is to recognize a value trap when you're in it and work on that before you continue on the machine.” pg 325-326.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Author Visit

We were privileged with a visit from two writers, Nukila Amal from Indonesia , and Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa . Nukila Amal has had her 2005 short story collection, Laluba, named Best Literary Work of the Year by Tempo magazine, and her novel Cala Ibi (2003) shortlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award. Gabeba Boderoon is the author of The Dream in the Next Body (Kwela/Snailpress, 2005), The Museum of Ordinary Life (DaimlerChrysler, 2005), and A Hundred Silences (Kwela/Snailpress, 2006). In 2005 she received the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry and held the Guest Writer Fellowship at the Nordic Africa Institute, the second person after Ama Ata Aidoo to receive this honor. Her poetry appears in the anthologies Worldscapes (Oxford University Press, 2005), Ten Hallam Poets (Mews Press, 2005), Voices from All Over (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Birds in Words (Umuzi/Random House, 2006). Her poetry has been published in journals in South Africa , the United States and Britain , and in translation in Karavan ( Stockholm ) and Adamar ( Madrid ). Her fiction appears in Chimurenga magazine and Twist, a short story anthology (Oshun, 2006). Gabeba is also a scholar, and has written for the media. In 2006 she was a guest at Poetry International in Rotterdam . Their visit was organized by the Winternachten in The Hague in coordination with Aruba ’s National Library. Since 1995 Winternachten dedicates itself to keeping up a writers and poet's network in The Netherlands and the historically related countries Indonesia , Surinam , Aruba and the Dutch Antilles and South-Africa. Annually Winternachten organizes a festival in The Hague , with writers, music and film from these countries. Secondly, Winternachten is responsible for the organization of editions of the Winternachten festival in the related countries.

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Ms. Amal began her presentation with an excerpt of one of her essays about the prevalence and blatancy of advertisements in Indonesia . Ms. Baderoon read some of her poems, which ranged from learning to throw a Frisbee to love. The rest of the session was for question and answers. Both authors spoke of how they got started as writers. For Ms. Amal, she recognized that her job in the hospitality industry was not fulfilling her, so she took a risk and quit her job to begin writing. After several months of “goofing around” and writing, some of her work found its way to a literary journal. The editor requested more work from her and eventually her first novel was published from this. For Ms. Baderoon, writing poetry came later in her life. She had intended to become a doctor like her mother, but fell in love with literature because of an inspirational teacher in high school. After university, she became a teacher, but continued to seek other experiences. One workshop introduced her to writing poetry. As she passed her poetry around to writer friends, they passed them on to publishers, which eventually sought her out for a full anthology. However, both writers stated that at this time, writing is not sustaining them as a profession, so Ms. Amal does translating work and Ms. Boderoon teaches at university.

The strongest advice, for new writers is to write. Ms. Boderoon writes every morning, whether it is 2 minutes or 20 minutes. Her feeling is that a writer has to work both from inspiration and from scheduled writing. Conversely, Ms. Amal mostly writes when the motivation hits, which may not be for months, or in marathon writing sessions. Both authors agreed that a good writer most begin to know their own patterns and muses and use whatever works best as every writer is an individual.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Silence Has Ended

As of tomorrow, I am finished with National Board Certification, at least until I look up my scores in December. It has been a long, tedious process, but as many before me have said, one of the best professional development activities I've been involved in. I've made some great connections and learning through the Yahoo Groups listserv. Although I haven't been very active on the MiddleTalk listserv, it still was quite supportive throughout. I also had a colleague read through my entries, and according to her, she learned a lot from just reading it. I am a little disappointed because if I had completed this process in the States, I might have had more face-to-face support and been able to be part of a cohort group. I like being able to discuss my practice with other teachers and see what they do in their classrooms. On the listserv, people talked about trying to get together to talk over their entries and having packaging “parties.” That would have been fun. However, I have had an incredibly supportive and understanding husband, who has helped me throughout this process. Especially the last few weeks, when writing has consumed my every waking moment outside of school. He even celebrated with me last night, when I finished packaging. The pitiful thing is, he's really the only one that really saw what it took to do this. Well, anyone who has been through the process would also, but I don't personally know any!

It has been a tough process, not because of the work involved, but because of life. This all forced me to do my writing much later than I has planned. When I bought a how-to book about certification, I had planned to use the time line it suggested. I started video taping in October and November, but then got very sick and didn't do any more because I was really off my game. Then when I was going to sit and analyze and write, I had to suddenly travel to the States for family reasons. When I returned, I had a week and a half, before traveling again to find a new job. So, the month of March has been consumed in completing the work. As I viewed my small group video, I realized I did it wrong and had to redo it. Then, when packaging Entry 4, I realized I wrote it completely wrong. But, better to see these things when I had enough time to fix it, rather than after. As much as I don't want to go back and look at it all, I need to continue collecting work and video taping as I will not know if I have passed until December. That will be too late to start over.

Well, hopefully I will have more time now to continue blogging. I've missed having this forum to discuss my ideas. With all the writing, I have had many days of lethologica – forgetting the one word that I really want to finish the sentence. If the adage that men use about half the words that women use, my husband has a lot of catching up to do, because I have seriously overused my quota. This process has made me appreciate the work that professional writers do – and I only had to write about 60 pages.