Saturday, September 30, 2006

An Understanding Heart

Cynthia Carbone Ward, in her introduction to her book, How Writers Grow: A Guide for Middle School Teachers, quotes Carl Jung:

"An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."

A good reminder while writing progress reports.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nothing to Write

Or rather, plenty to write, but too busy grading what others have written.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ant Season

A couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that there are four seasons in Tecwil: mouse season, tick season, mosquito season, and ant season. These aren't in any predictable pattern, but it does seem that when we are dealing with an infestation of one kind of obnoxious beast, we don't have problems with the other three. This may just be because we are so obsessed with finding ways to get rid of one that we don't notice the others.

It's hard to know which I hate the most. Obviously, mosquitoes carry disease, so they are easy to hate. But you can keep them away, mostly, with screens and bug spray and burning coils. And if you wave your hand at them, they fly away. (Mosquitoes in the States seem to be slower and lazier. Often they'll just go right on drinking your blood as you try to swipe them away.) In our eleven years in Tecwil, we've had only two cases of malaria and one case of dengue fever among us, so that's not so bad.

Ticks are irredeemably nasty and they killed one of our dogs, so we don't like them either. I can't write much more about them because I start feeling physically sick.

Mice aren't really such a big deal. We use those glue traps and then I refuse to know any more about what happens. This is one of those things that gets dealt with out of my sight. (Yes, we do have an occasional rat issue and the rats make mice seem hardly worth getting upset over. I fear and hate rats. Again, I have to stop writing about them.)

Right now it's ant season. These critters are biting ants that leave big red welts in their wake. They get into everything. This evening I opened up the water bottle with clean water in it to brush my teeth, and found that ants had gotten inside the lid. Over the weekend they got in a basket of unfolded laundry and I had to go through every piece of clothing and shake out the ants (this is great fun because some of them inevitably end up on your feet and bite you). The tiniest scrap of anything edible brings them in enormous hordes, but often it's hard to figure out what attracted them; suddenly there will be a giant batallion of them sweeping across the kitchen floor, or the living room floor, or ... well, anywhere, really. We've tried everything we know to try, and it's all temporary. They always come back. The only thing that worked long-term was when we called in the professionals (to get rid of the aforementioned ticks). Apparently whatever noxious poisons they used also killed off the ants. We didn't see any for a really, really long time. Of course, who knows what effects all those poisons had on us? Again, let's not think about it.

I really do love living in the tropics. Sometimes I can't remember exactly why, but I know I do.

I have to go now. Piles to grade before I sleep...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Advice for Teachers

Lately several people have been posting some great advice for new teachers, but lots of it is applicable to ALL teachers. Take a look and see what you think.

Amy's advice is as beautifully expressed as everything she writes.

English Language Arts Methods and Madness is a new blog for people learning to be Language Arts teachers. On September 14th there was a wonderful article posted there on teaching. And from that site too, there's a link to this comprehensive list of helpful hints.

Teaching is just about the most rewarding job there is, but it's also one of the hardest and most thankless on some days. We need all the encouragement and practical help we can get!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Non-Aligned Summit

You have to love the Non-Aligned Movement. It's made up of, as this article points out, 118 nations representing two-thirds of the population of the planet.

"Who or what are you not aligned with?" Roger Hearing of the BBC reports asking various people at the conference. What it all boils down to, apparently, is that these countries feel the US and Europe (code name "great powers") have an awfully strong influence in this world. (And you know what? They're right!) The Non-Aligned Movement would like a chance to have a voice too. That's pretty easy to understand.

It's kind of funny that there are way more "non-aligned" countries than there are of the others, but I hope they are able to do some good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The President's Reading List

Matsu and I recently had an entertaining conversation in the comments of this post (entertaining to me, at least) about President Bush's reading list.

Last night I read an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik on the same topic, and here it is online.

I like his conclusion particularly. Regarding Bush's reading choices of Camus (The Stranger), a book about Oppenheimer and the bomb, and a biography of Lincoln, Gopnik writes that "it is encouraging to think that he has spent the summer reflecting on the inscrutable origins of human violence and on the unimaginable destructive powers now available through American science, while contemplating the achievements of a great man who hated wars, made a necessary one, and wandered the halls of the White House agonized by the consequences. It sounds almost like the beginnings of wisdom, or, at least, a compulsory fall reading list for us all."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

War Keeps Kids from School

Along with all the other terrible costs of war to a society, it keeps kids from going to school. This new report from Save the Children says that more than 43 million children worldwide can't attend school because of armed conflict. Here's the PDF of the report itself.

And a country doesn't have to be involved in a full-blown war in order to have this problem. Here in Tecwil we know that, since many children here aren't able to go to school due to the violence in their neighborhoods. Here are the countries, according to the report, where this kind of educational disruption is taking place right now: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Timor Leste, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.

Whew. I don't know about you, but I feel pretty overwhelmed by that list.

Forty-three million children who won't get another chance at a childhood.


This year I am reading a book aloud to my 7th and 8th graders. I've already finished the first novel with my 8th graders and am now reading a few essays aloud before starting on another novel. With my 7th graders I've almost finished the first book.

I have often read things aloud to my middle schoolers in the past, and when I taught younger children I always had a read-aloud going, but this is the first time I have made reading aloud a regular part of every day. I take about ten minutes each day out of my precious class time and read a chapter of a novel.

I am completely sold on this activity for the following reasons:

1. They like to be read to. This helps reinforce the Reading = Pleasure equation.

2. We have something we've all read/heard that we can use as a basis for discussion. This supposedly happens when they are asked to read something on their own, and of course I still do require reading, but when I read it to them I know they all heard it. Reading assignments don't always get done. (Sorry if this is a shock to you.)

3. The students get to hear what good prose sounds like when it is read well. I work hard at reading the book clearly and with expression. Some of my students haven't been read to much at home, and the experience of hearing good sentences is very helpful to them when they start writing their own.

Correspondence with Desmond Tutu

Here's an interesting letter about a young girl who wrote to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the 1980s.

Monday, September 11, 2006


If you haven't read/heard/seen enough today about 9/11, here's the BBC's coverage. Take a look at the Global Voices feature for some perspectives from other places.

Some people reported trouble getting to the list of participants in Project 2996 because of all the traffic. Here's a link that should work.

Here's a multimedia presentation that, for me, brought back a lot of the sadness I felt that day. I was especially glad to see this since I haven't seen any of the TV coverage, and I won't. It's probably good that I won't, because I tend to get obsessive about it - after 9/11 we were living in a place with cable TV and I became a CNN-junkie, almost as if I had some kind of moral obligation to keep up with every little development in the whole panicked, terrorist-filled, anthrax-ridden, fear-driven world. Now we don't have cable, and that's a good thing. But still, I needed to see some of those images again. Not too many, but some.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11 Memorials

Tomorrow, as everyone knows, is the fifth anniversary of September 11th, 2001.

Here is a link to the list of participants in 2,996, a project to have a blogger post a memorial to each one of the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Some of the tributes are already up, and the rest should be there tomorrow.

When 9/11 happened, I was recovering from a miscarriage. I had lost my second child at eight weeks gestation three months before and I was grieving. The recent loss I'd experienced made me more sensitive to loss than usual - I was overwhelmed with the sadness and suffering of so many families all at once. And the realization that every single person was someone's baby, loved and treasured and missed forever.

I think it is wonderful to remember each one of these people so personally. I wish the same would be done for those who died in conflicts and senseless violence everywhere. Because no matter where someone was born, people matter and they are precious.

Perhaps this is a start.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teacher Blogs

I really enjoy reading teacher blogs. Here are a couple I just discovered, via blogrolls of others I discovered a while ago:

Se Hace Camino Al Andar
The Science of Teaching Writing

Traumatized Children

This article about the trauma suffered by the children of New York on September 11th was sad reading. I can only imagine how terrible that day must have been for kids whose schools were right there in that neighborhood. I vividly remember watching what happened on TV that day, and I'm sure everyone reading this does, too. I'm glad the kids are getting some help and a chance to express how they feel.

And yet, this also made me think about other children around the world. Who is helping the kids who have been traumatized by a lifetime of war, bombings, and fear in other, poorer countries? Here in Tecwil, who is debriefing slum children who live in fear of gangs? In Darfur, what kind of mental health services are there for children? What kind of help is there for child soldiers? And what about street children? Or children forced into prostitution?

I know there are people working with children like these. Word Made Flesh, for example. And I'm sure there are many others.

I wish no children would suffer horrifying experiences. Failing that, I wish every child had someone to talk to, to draw pictures with. I wish every kid had help going back to school. I wish every child could go to school in the first place.

I just feel sad.

Check out the Education Carnival

I've been browsing over at the latest Education Carnival.

I definitely want to file away this idea for future reference. I'm not in the mountains but I do work with a population who tend to hear negative stereotypes about themselves.

Lots of other interesting stuff too.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

But Officer, There Weren't Any Goats!

I've heard of creative excuses (I'm a teacher - I hear them every day!), but this one is in a class of its own.

Borrowed View

I've been reading about the gardening concept from China and Japan called "shakkei," or "borrowed view." A gardener takes advantage of the neighboring scenery to create a beautiful vista and add to a garden that is small or cramped.

The view from my window is of a wall with barbed wire on top. A once-luxuriant ficus tree has been pruned back until it looks like a stick with a few leaves on it. There is a streetlight outside - dark now, because the city power is not on.

Boy, do I need a borrowed view.

Of all the Daily Photo sites, the one I find myself clicking on most often is one that isn't very exotic at all, considering that my passport does say I'm an American. I find it tranquil and beautiful, though. It's this one: the Sharon, Connecticut Daily Photo Blog. Somehow it's just the ticket when the tropics are getting to me.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Summer Reading

My students turned in their summer reading assignments the first day of school. At least, lots of them did. They had to read three books and fill out a short form about each one, answering questions like: would they recommend this book to someone else? Did any of the characters remind them of anyone they knew?

Some of the kids said that the summer reading ruined their whole summer. Now, remember, we're dealing with middle schoolers here, and they are prone to hyperbole. But still, I've been thinking about the whole issue of summer reading assignments. I just found two interesting blog posts on the subject.

This teacher's daughter read a lot more when the school district didn't require summer reading. And here the same teacher writes about how sad it is that we send the message to our kids that reading is such an onerous activity that we have to check up on them (in the form of book reports or the kind of questionnaires we gave our kids) to "prove" that they did it.

What do you guys think? I want my students to read, but more importantly I want them to read for the rest of their lives, not just when I'm standing over them. That's why I gave them loads and loads of choices, and accepted any alternative titles they suggested, and tried to make the forms they filled out easy to do. Three books over the whole summer - come on! That is not such a horrible thing to ask, is it?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sad Story

Here's a tragic story from New York.

More details here.

More Doorways

Today is theme day for the Daily Photo blogs, and the theme this time is Doorways. You can start at the Paris Daily Photo site and you'll find links there to the other forty or so blogs participating. (Eric at PDP says it's 42 others, but other sites list different numbers. Yes, I looked at all of the ones Eric listed.)

There are many wonderful photos but I think I have to go with Sainte Maxime and Jakarta as my favorites today.