Tag Archives: school

Updates

8 Nov

My thumb and finger have healed as much as they are going to.  My thumb sports a permanent dent, and my finger features a ragged but still impressive scar.

My brothers and I emptied Mom’s garage of the rest of Dad’s stuff, mainly odds and ends of wood, fasteners, and other things too valuable for him to throw away but too small to be useful.  I brought home sandpaper, a few tools, and some of his desk things.  No one wanted his desk things, but I think they are too valuable to just throw away because they are part of who he was.  They are cluttering up our house instead of Mom’s garage, and that’s fine with me.

Dylan died this summer.  He participated in graduation and earned a diploma.  Cancer finally claimed him in July but not without a fight.  Dylan never thought giving up was an option, so he never did.  He would say that the cancer just overwhelmed him, not that it defeated him.  I think nothing ever defeated Dylan.

Our son is doing missionary work in South Africa.  He blogs when he gets a chance (Internet access is spotty and unpredictable).  He writes his blog posts the same way he wrote essays for my English class.

the crucible

21 Nov

The drama department at my school likes to cast faculty and staff as adults in their productions from time to time.  Two years ago, I was Lord Montague in Romeo and Juliet.  I got to wear a cool costume and a sword.  I had three or four lines.  I got to know some great kids, and I had a great time.

This fall, the drama guys wanted to do The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s poke at the HUAC and hypocrisy in general.  They asked another English teacher to play Reverend Hathorne and me to be Deputy Governor Danforth.  It has been five years, I think, since I last taught the piece, so I agreed to play what I thought was a smallish part in a courtroom scene.  That should have been the first hint that my memory was not what I wanted it to be.

Only the character of John Proctor has more lines than Danforth.  Danforth has more than 200 lines, including seven longer speeches.  Six weeks was not enough time to prepare, it turns out.

I approached memorization slowly and with no sense of urgency.  I had been in plays in high school and had had no trouble learning my lines.  I had floating loose in my head chunks of Macbeth and Hamlet and other things I had taught repeatedly over the years.  I got Danforth’s longer speeches pretty quickly.  I knew all of my cues pretty soon.  Then there were the actual lines themselves.

Danforth speaks in non sequiturs, over the speeches of others, and whenever he feels like it.  He has lines that look on the page like conversation but aren’t (unless one assumes he is talking aloud to himself).  Proctor offers a deposition, and Danforth talks about seeing marvels in the court.  Hale goes on about how bad things are in Salem, and Danforth asks if he has been preaching in Andover.  Woof.

After enduring my stumbling through my lines–with my script in my hand–the director finally gave up on my memorizing and told me to make a book to use onstage.  I printed lots of cues and keys words and pasted them into the book.  I felt kind of silly, but the kids felt much more confident that I wouldn’t wreck the show.  So, at final dress, I entered with my book, and things went pretty well.  I had not practiced my blocking in the courtroom scene so it was bumpy, but the rest went just fine.

We did nine shows, including two matinees for nearby high schools, and I was doing very well with my lines and, therefore, my acting when we entered the second week.  The kids, though, were incredible.

The girl who played Mary Warren is a freshman who has never acted before.  She has what we euphemistically call “attendance issues” at school and, initially, had some trouble getting to rehearsals on time.  The director considered removing her and even, quietly, assigned another girl to learn Mary Warren’s lines.  One afternoon, Destinee was an hour late to rehearsal, but she had cleared it first, so no one was upset.  She stepped into the scene and mechanically recited her lines.  The director told her to actually give some feeling to the words.  It was like she had flipped a switch in her head.  Suddenly, I was seeing and hearing the agony and desperation of Mary Warren in Salem, not looking at a student from my school.  Remarkable.

In Romeo and Juliet, a sophomore named Jay was a street fighter.  At rehearsals, he seemed uncertain and nervous.  During performances, he was okay but still seemed to lack confidence.  He played John Proctor in Crucible and knocked it out of the park every show.  His Proctor was strong, opinionated, certain, and confident.  His scenes with Elizabeth were moving and powerful.  I know that some students grow up and mature from tenth to twelfth grade, but Jay’s transformation onstage was a revelation.  His performance was nothing short of incredible.

The student who played the irascible Giles Corey is battling Ewing’s sarcoma.  His doctors reduced his chemo for the show, but he often felt weak and wobbly.  His Corey, though, was pugnacious and funny and stubborn.  He was also a street fighter in Romeo and Juliet and a general pest backstage during that show.  I expect his cancer had something to do with his maturity, but his performance was fantastic, and he was lots of fun in rehearsals and backstage.

When I said “yes” to playing Danforth, I suspected I would see one or two encouraging things from the kids.  That’s how teenagers are: you think they are self-centered stereotypes and then they turn around and show you something else entirely.  Destinee and Jay and Dylan and the rest of the cast were great.  Not everyone was a good actor, but again and again they showed sympathy and understanding and insight and a willingness to take risks.  They helped each other with lines and blocking onstage and some personal things off.  The agony of learning a few lines was worth it for all this.

Teaching is the greatest job in the world.

this is what I meant

18 Oct

I taught my son both his eleventh and twelfth grade English classes, which went much better than it might sound.  He insisted on calling me by my last name, as other students did, so several of his classmates took to calling me Dad.  When he was in my eleventh grade class, I learned how he wrote essays.

There’s a little back story.  Like most parents, I became a necessary nuisance in my son’s life when he was about twelve years old.  I clearly didn’t know anything and existed to make him miserable.  In eighth grade, he took a high school freshman English class.  I read his first essay and made several suggestions about how he could make it an actual essay.  He argued that his writing had always been excellent so this was, too.  A week later when he brought home the graded paper, his teacher had charitably given it a 50.  Her comments for improvement were exactly what I had told him.  From that day forward, I have known what I was doing and what I was talking about, in my son’s estimation (at least when it comes to writing, English, and education in general).

When he was in eleventh grade, I assigned my son (and his classmates) to write an essay.  They had two weeks or so.  After a few days, I asked my son if he had started or jotted down ideas or completed any prewriting activities.  He had not.  A few days before the paper was due, he had made no progress on it.  The evening before the paper was due, he sat down at the computer and typed for a little more than half an hour.  He announced his essay was finished and that he had sent it to the website where my students posted their assignments.  I expressed my dismay that he had not let anyone proofread it or look over it at all.

I needn’t have worried.  His essay was excellent, easily the best in the class.  He had been working on it all along in his head.  He had been turning over ideas and developing them and organizing them in the background of his waking thoughts until he began typing.  My wife and I marveled.

My first post on this blog is something I had been carrying around in my head since late summer.  I finally wrote it down here, and it looks like it did in my head, except that the ending came out as I typed it.  I don’t remember writing like that–in my head for days with nothing on paper until typing–in high school or college, but I think I probably did.  I guess I forgot because there was nothing I could see, nothing I could look at, no papers to file or flip through.  So my son comes by it naturally.

There is a funny story about the online paper site, Turnitin.com. When my school first made the site available to teachers and students, I made midnight deadlines.  After a couple of those, I realized that my students were using my assignments as excuses to stay up late and do other things online.  One essay was due at eleven on a Friday, and my son was on a date.  About 8:00, I decided to login to see who had turned in their essays so far.  Three or four of my students had submitted their essays, but my son was not among them.  My wife said I should text our son and remind him about his assignment.  I pointed out that I didn’t provide that service to my students.  So, his sister texted him.  Shortly after ten, her brother appeared. He messed around for a few minutes, sat down to type, and submitted his paper with fifteen minutes to spare.  Again, his was the best in the class.

I still find this kind of freakish.

 

Here he is in his freshman dorm room.