Monday, January 23, 2012

Not a Teacher.

After a first semester with wonderful classes and students, but personal health problems, I was forced to take a semester off from teaching.  I am already panicking.  How do I not teach?  Teaching is what I do.  It's in my blood, in runs in my veins.  It wakes me up, and makes me think about the world.  It makes me laugh.  It makes me happy.

I quickly sank into a schedule that is the opposite of teaching, and working.  I don't want to get out of bed.  I don't want to do anything.  I'm sad.  I'm sick with what seems to be the cold that never ends. But I would rather be teaching.  The blessing, is that I am here with my twins.  They needed me...

One thing that is making me particularly sad is missing the the excitement of starting new literature with my classes.  

I begin Sophomore English class reading the short story, "A Perfect Day for Bananfish," by J.D. Salinger aloud with my students.  The character, Sybil, reminds me so much of Stella.  And the story introduces them to the "bigger" themes, and life lessons and all of that.  And the story is particularly relevant to my life, now that I am home, with my young children, but lost too...  Lost without teaching.  You'll have to read the entire story to understand...  Do you believe in bananafish?  

"Don't let go," Sybil ordered. "You hold me, now."

"Miss Carpenter. Please. I know my business," the young man said. "You just keep your eyes open for any bananafish. This is a perfect day for bananafish."

"I don't see any," Sybil said.

"That's understandable. Their habits are very peculiar." He kept pushing the float. The water was not quite up to his chest. "They lead a very tragic life," he said. "You know what they do, Sybil?"

She shook her head.

"Well, they swim into a hole where there's a lot of bananas. They're very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I've known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas." He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. "Naturally, after that they're so fat they can't get out of the hole again. Can't fit through the door."

"Not too far out," Sybil said. "What happens to them?"

"What happens to who?"

"The bananafish."

"Oh, you mean after they eat so many bananas they can't get out of the banana hole?"

"Yes," said Sybil.

"Well, I hate to tell you, Sybil. They die."

"Why?" asked Sybil.

"Well, they get banana fever. It's a terrible disease."

"Here comes a wave," Sybil said nervously.

"We'll ignore it. We'll snub it," said the young man. "Two snobs." He took Sybil's ankles in his hands and pressed down and forward. The float nosed over the top of the wave. The water soaked Sybil's blond hair, but her scream was full of pleasure.

With her hand, when the float was level again, she wiped away a flat, wet band of hair from her eyes, and reported, "I just saw one."

"Saw what, my love?"

"A bananafish."

"My God, no!" said the young man. "Did he have any bananas in his mouth?"

"Yes," said Sybil. "Six."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ice Cube and Me.

On the exterior, Ice Cube and I have very little in common.  Actually, I was surprised how little I could find that made us similar.  I thought this would be a funny post, because come on...  I actually chose the Check Yourself (before you wreck yourself) line because it was featured in Veronica Mars, a TV series long cancelled, but one I love like crazy, in the episode, Drinking the Kool-Aid:

Wallace: You better recognize.
Veronica: Thank you for being my own personal Springer audience. Should I check myself before I wreck myself?
Ice Cube? That connection came later.  

Yet, when I listened to his interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, I found him to be eloquent with an important message.  He spoke of an ignored, unseen, unpublicized side of LA and the gang culture, racism, and police brutality that he said was prevalent and real in his life.
He said:  "It was us screaming at the top of our lungs what was going on in the neighborhood and the ego bravado that was as important to the rap as the rhyme."

On Fresh Air, Terry Gross asked Ice Cube whether or not he allowed his children to listen to his music, he responded: "What's worked for me is instilling in my kids a level of self-respect," helping them to understand the content of not just music but the violence found on the evening news. When asked what he tells his children about profanity, he recalled telling his kids that there are "appropriate times to use any kind of language...  Adults should never hear you use these words. If you want to use these words around your friends, that's really on you."

Hey, here it is:

Ice Cube/Joanna

Both of our last names start with J (And I mean my maiden name)...  That's about all we have in common.
South Central, LA/Springfield, VT

Wrote his first rap in typing class/I took a typing class.

Studied Architectural Drawing at Phoenix Institute of Technology/ I like to draw.

Friends with Dr. Dre/I'm not.

Despite rumors of conflicts with other rappers in 2010, Ice Cube stated in an interview on Sirius Shade 45 that he has "no beef."/  I also have no beef with other rappers.

He has a clothing line called SOLO by Cube/  I like clothes.

He got married in 1992/ I got married in 2002

He has 5 children/ I have 2 children

Ice Cube says his scowl is his "natural look"/My students get scared when I scowl.

At the beginning of the school year I did a lesson with one of my classes about music.  We are involved in this new teaching program called PLN, that provided specific tools to use to get the kids writing.  I'm not a big fan of prescribed teaching programs, but I did use a "Word Splash"to begin a lesson following a day of listening to many rap songs with profanity and offensive language which the students insisted, "represented their generation." Remember, we live in small town, VT.  Some of these kids have some tough lives, but drive byes, we do not have.

I began with a freaking "wordsplash" featuring words from the song, "Heartless," by Kanye West.  I told them it was a Kanye West song to start the writing prompt.  I wrote the words: heartless, homies, Coldest, Dr. Evil,  and "into the night,"   on the board. All of the students wrote about gangsters, big city people, violence...  They wrote their stereotypes for rap and the people who sing rap songs.  Then I played the class the piano version by Dia Frampton.

They didn't expect this song.  I asked them if it made the song different, having someone else sing it?  I asked them if they heard that version of the song first, would they have written something different for their story?

We talked about rap music.  We talked about how some songs about gang violence, racism, and police brutality might not really reflect their particular lives, as in the lives of the kids sitting in my old classroom...  You know that special talk, "Kids, you are not gangster rappers.  I'm sorry to break it to you."  (All the students were white, born and raised in VT.  Many were wearing steel toe boots for horticulture class).

Finally, we talked about the language in the songs, particularly the word nigger, which they seem to sing along with so comfortably.  We had talked about lyrics as poetry so I showed them Julian Curry's slam poem, Nigger, Nigga, Niggaz, and it was very eye opening for them.  Honestly, in my classroom, we still have the outdated dictionaries that define "nigger" as people with darker complexions.  (SAY WHAT? Stop voting down the budget Springfield citizens!)   The kids couldn't believe that.  There are definite downsides to a town with so little ethnic diversity.