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Monthly Archives: March 2019

Waiting Room

Bloated, domesticated attendants breeze through
doors wheezing behind.
A muffled phone rings twice
You look toward the window blind
imagining the sound of the slats
knocking together in the wind
if there was one.

You wait ten, twenty, thirty minutes
mentally create the invoice for your time lost
Who lost it? Is it lost?
Yes, it is flowing away
in the last drops of rain on a car window
joining together, flowing down
and slipping into the window crack.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2019 in My poems

 

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Welcome to my high school class speech, as if it would be useful for anyone but me

Once I worked in a classroom where there was trust, and not very many rules imposed. When I say imposed, I mean the kind of rules posted or announced by the authority figure, as in, “Here are the rules, and here are the consequences.” Where I was, the rules were more like the Golden Rule, which, if we are sensible enough, we obey because it’s a good one for all of us, and open to interpretation and personalization in different circumstances.

For example, if you understand that a test is something used to determine how much you can recall, comprehend and apply without assistance, so that you can work on your weaknesses and build on that knowledge, then you will not cheat on that test. If you know that getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of instruction will cause you to miss something important, you’ll wait until a better time, not needing to ask. And so on.

It’s about knowing yourself also, as in what you can and can’t handle, what your vision and goals are, and what you need to do to achieve them according to your code of ethics.

I give you rules, because some of you are not yet at the stage of life where you realize the necessity of making your own.

A small minority of you have set for yourself rules, or live according to impulses, which directly conflict with the goals of this community of learning, including its general and reasonable rules for you–that you become more prepared for success in  society and the economy, and do society good and not harm. Disciplinary consequences, similarly, exist because some of you don’t have self discipline.

You’ll all get a chance here. No matter how you feel right now, about school, about yourself, about the people around you, about life and your future, here you’ll get a chance to be a part of a community of learning. My goal for myself is to meet your where you are and help you grow–in the special area of knowledge I teach, as well as in general skills, positive values and attitudes.

We each get a charge out of different things in life, are energized by different kinds of work and environments. You know, the kind of energy that, when you go home after a full day of doing that thing, you feel enlivened, encouraged, and useful. You anticipate more than than dread another day of challenging work. Days off are welcome as a refreshment, but not the highlight of the week or year.

I’m not under the delusion that everyone in this class is fired up about this subject. But I hope that even if you aren’t, and don’t go into a field that relies on this kind of knowledge, you’ll value it some and be a better informed person in general. I would argue that a general knowledge at least of any of the subjects provided in an average high school  will make you better equipped to make informed decisions in your own life and influence our leaders to do the same, rather than being manipulated by popular media and majority opinion.

You’ll often hear me mention the value of understanding and downplay the importance of grades. We all know that in this big world, in the marketplace of masses of young people applying for jobs, colleges, and internships, and generally hoping to stand out, grades can be crude sorting mechanism. I also hope you know that your grades do not necessarily reflect your intelligence or level of readiness for what you want to do in life, or even your level of self discipline.

In any case, I believe you will never regret in the long run putting your main value on understanding. That means putting aside an attitude that generates such questions as “Does this count?”, “Do I have to do this?”, or “Will this be on the test?” I ask you to trust me, and keep me accountable, to provide assessments of your knowledge that truly reflect your level of understanding, so that the grades you earn in this class are meaningful. I also commit, and invite you to keep me accountable, to providing opportunities for to gain that understanding, using best educational practices I can, and providing or helping you find the support you need to do your part. I am growing in this as well.

In addition, I encourage you to challenge some of the assignments I give, by asking, “If I demonstrate my understanding in a different way, can I skip this?” Or, “Can I do a different project instead, something more along my lines of interest?” It’s not one size fits all here–some of you will need to do all the questions or problems to “get” a concept. Some of you have the background experience or knowledge that makes certain types of assignments redundant. The goal is to work at the cutting edge of your learning, spiraling back to review as needed, but not spinning your wheels. This may mean, at times, that different students in one course are working in different ways, so we’ll have to work at staying organized. The management challenges added to my plate are worth it, for the gains in individual learning.

I used the term “community of learning.” This does not simply mean a bunch of individuals learning. One of the things I will help you along with to the best of my ability is to help one another learn. There will be mutual benefit as partners and small groups mentor and guide each other using what you know, and contribute to the academic discourse and problems solving processes we’ll engage in as we go through the course. This is not to be a situation where the more able students do more, and the less able less, of the work. No one gets to ride on anyone’s coat tails. Nor is  it an occasion, I dearly hope, for anyone to feel superior or inferior to their peers, except on a way that challenges you to grow. The smartest person, you will hear me say, is the one who quickly acknowledges their deficit and works to address it.

If you’ve “always been an A student,” and have the attitude that you should continue to be so with a minimum of effort, please drop that idea. This is more challenging work that you’ve had before–expect top work at it. And although fair grading is important to me, my idea of fair is probably different from yours. The sooner you stop labeling yourself as an A-student, a C-student, a smart person, a dumb person, whatever, the more likely you are to be focused on learning, and actually doing so. You will set goals, work toward them, recognize milestones achieved and be proud of yourself, and sometimes you will fall short and redouble your efforts, as well as reach out for help. At times you will need to adjust your goals to suit where you are in life as a whole. So much can impact the amount of time and energy you have for school, and this course in particular, and I get that. I only ask that you think it through, set goals, be active, and stay in dialogue about this. Don’t let yourself get dragged along by life and get discouraged and overwhelmed for long. We, your teachers and support people, can work with you about this.

If all of this philosophical stuff confuses and frustrates you, just file it in the back of your mind, and refer to the syllabus. I have listed what you should bring to class, the concepts we will cover, my grading scheme, and the routines and rules you are expected to follow. All very straightforward. The seating chart is posted. Everything I’ve just said in 1270 words in one big speech, I’ll say to your again as the need arises, in context as needed. Welcome to my class.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2019 in Education, Ideas

 

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Polydactyly: why not let it be?

I was going on about something in to my Algebra 1 students, and mentioned that the gene for six fingers is dominant, and isn’t that something, because it means that if either parent has the gene, then there’s a good chance that children will have six fingers too, and it will turn up again and again. Darned if I can remember the context of that bit of information–there must have been one. I also can’t remember exactly what else I said, but now I wish I did, because I hope it was right, considering what occurred later. I know what it would have been, approximately: that the fact that the gene still existed in humans meant that there was no real disadvantage (except for finding footwear and gloves), and probably advantages in certain circumstances. That when parents have a child with “extra” digits, they often have them removed surgically. “Why?” one student asked. “That’s an interesting question. I wonder why.” I replied. “There’s no real problem wit having extra fingers or toes. But I guess that’s not really an algebra-type conversation.” And so we got back to work.

As often happens, a student came up to me later, I assumed to ask a question or hand me his work. He was holding his binder with the edge of one hand facing me. I saw that there was a curled scar, and he was gesturing quietly to it, but I stupidly did not make the connection. “Are you showing me?” I asked. He paused, and replied, “I had them removed.” Suddenly I realized, and  smiled back at him, told him how cool that was, thanked him, and as he went on his way, I called, “I wrote a poem about that!” I felt, and feel, tender toward this young fellow, sweet and somewhat socially awkward, being a year younger than the rest of the class, and humbled that he felt comfortable to share this with me.

I’m not sure if I should share the poem with him, but I’, thinking it would be all right. It’s here.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Interviews and Conversations

 

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