Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You Can't Be Too Careful*

* I am still on my blogging "vacation" but I just had to share this story.

It was sitting there when I walked down the hall at 8 a.m. Truth be told, I didn't think anything of it at the time. After class, I walked back to my office and it was still there.

When my next class started, just after lunch, I noticed that it was still there. Now, I was curious--and just a little uneasy. It was an old green suitcase, just sitting there on a table in the hall of the Arts building where I teach. Perhaps, in another time, I would have shrugged, and just ignored it again. But this time, I felt the weight of the craziness in which we live.

We live in an age when people, intent on destroying something, put bombs in suitcases. We live in an age when, because some people plotted to blow up a plane using ordinary liquid chemicals they planned to put into shampoo or other cosmetic bottles , we can no longer take bottles larger than 3 oz. on planes. We live in an age when someone tried to turn his shoe into a bomb, and so now we all dutifully shed our shoes as we approach airport security.

What an age we live in.

So, I put down my class books, turned around and walked back to my office and said to the secretary--here's a strange assignment. There's a green suitcase just sitting in the hallway. It was there at 8 a.m. and now 4 and a half hours later, it's still there. She did not laugh at me; instead her eyes got big, and she said--I'll call security right away. What an age we live in.

When my class was over, the suitcase was gone. I am trying to find out what happened to it--so far, no luck. On seeing the secretary today, I asked her if she had heard anything, but she had not.

Friday, September 19, 2008

We Interrupt this Blog. . .

. . .so that KGMom can go off to Wall Street, and help fix the financial situation? No, no that would not be it.

. . .so that KGMom can make a trip somewhere and bring back tales and photos? No, no that would not be it. (That would be the reason mid-October when I go to San Diego to chair the
PDA meeting.)

. . .so that KGMom can parry the excuses of students who send emails TWO days after missing class when a paper was due, and then say "I skipped class because I was suffering from flu-like symptoms; please excuse my paper being late"? No, no that would not be it, even though such emails do make me go a touch ballistic.

No, dear reader, we interrupt this blog so KGMom can enjoy a visit from a certain wonderful person from the UK.

Be back in a week or so.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pulling Tricks Out of My Bag

One of the things that keeps me returning to teaching each semester is that there is always, always something new to deal with.

I try to keep in mind, I am the teacher, in charge of the class. I walk in, and it's my "show." But there are students who challenge that.

Several semesters back, I had a plain outright BAD section. In desperation, part way through the semester, I asked my husband who works in education what to do. He suggested, given group dynamics, there are times when a group just picks up cues from certain individuals and there is NOTHING you can do. This class had one student who was clearly racist. When I asked, for discussion, what would happen when the ethnic distribution in the U.S. shifts away from majority white what would the result be--this student spoke first and said--NOTHING. Whites will still be in charge. So much for diversity and sensitivity.

Then there was the ESL student who outright plagiarized. How did I know? I started reading her paper, and thought--hhhmm, this sounds familiar. It was. Her sister had turned in the same paper two semesters before. But, in the meantime, I had changed the assignment! Just goes to prove, plagiarizing is ALWAYS a dumb move.

And, who can forget, Mac Cheese? Enough said.

Now this semester--what could be my new challenge?

Why, students who sleep in class. Now, I have had this circumstance before. One student fell asleep and his books slid off the desk, landing on the floor with a LOUD bang, waking him up. I talked to him at the end of class, and he said--oh, I was planning to drop the course anyway.

But this semester, in each of my two sections, I have a student who sleeps consistently. I don't stand for it. First, how can you learn while you are asleep? Second, it is disrespectful. So, I call them out. One section begins at 8 a.m., and there sits this one guy in the back of the room, head propped against the wall, asleep. So I stop talking, wait a bit, then call his name.

The other section begins at 12:30 p.m., and two students, both guys, sit in the FRONT row, put their heads down and sleep. So, I walk over, bend down and peer into their faces. The other students giggle, which wakes them up. One of these two guys does look apologetic, but the other clearly could care less. Time to call them out and say--enough. I have warned them, I will mark them absent if they sleep through the whole class.

What else is there to do? I know these students are over-scheduled. Many work nearly full-time jobs (this is characteristic of a community college). But, I am unapologetic--I have worked in the business world, and people who sleep on the job get fired.

OK--I feel better. Anyone else have tricks to add to my bag?
photo credit: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=brain-gain-brain-wave-boo

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It’s About Time

As it happens, the prior post that I wrote—“Who Will Remember?”—turned out to be my 300th blog entry. I chose not to mention it then, as it seemed out of place to be pointing to my writing, when the issue at hand was an issue of far greater import.

Reading through the comments, I was struck with the observation by my blogging buddy,
Philip. He noted that few people remember 9/11—but not 2001, as most of us would instinctively think, but 1973. That is the date that Salvador Allende, President of Chile, died during a coup d’etat. It is now known that his death was suicide, but at the time it seemed that he died as a result of the hostile action. This infamous coup had U.S. government complicity fingerprints all over it.

This coincidence of events got me to thinking about time—actually, I have frequently had these thoughts, but have not until now written them down. I guess I didn’t take the time before.

It is one of the attributes of being human—this propensity to get all wrapped up with time. Surely one of the things that separates humans from other animals is our ability to recall the past, and anticipate the future. We may not be alone in these traits, but we have refined them more than any other animal on earth.

Remember when we approached the turning of the century—passing from 1999 to 2000? People got down-right crazy. There were millennial predictions of doom. Depending upon one’s religious slant, people thought time could end with the dawn of 2000. That always struck me as incredibly silly since the marking of 2000 years since the birth of Christ is not a precise fixed moment. In fact, theologians who try to pin down the exact year of the birth of Christ calculate that he was most likely born 3 or 4 years B.C. (I love that particular conundrum.)

Since there are only 365 days in a year, the chance of there being multiple events that have occurred on any specific date, but in different years, is myriad. One of the assignments I sometimes give to my English Composition students is to research something of world significance that happened on the day and month of their birthdays. I begin this assignment by telling them about the bombing of Dresden at the close of World War II. This exercise always gets their attention—students are suckers for any story. I go into great detail about the fire-bombing that resulted in such massive destruction and thousands of deaths. Then I say—why do you think I am telling you this story? Usually, I get blank looks. So, then I say—the event occurred on the day I was born. Now, your assignment is to find out something of world significance that occurred on the day you were born.

So, another 9/11 has come and gone. And we all remembered the events of 2001, having long forgotten the events of 1973, if we ever noted that date. It’s about time that we expanded our horizons, and note our dates of significance and also note the dates of significance elsewhere in the world.

Explanation of photos:
Sunrise, sunset, moonrise—all markers of time for us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who Will Remember?

When the planes flew into buildings seven years ago, our focus--like the entire world's--was on Manhattan. But we were also particularly concerned about and focused on Washington, D.C. At the time, our daughter was a student at Georgetown, and from the house where she was living, she and her roommates could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon burning after the plane crashed into it.

While seven years is not a long time, it is enough time that some memory begins to fade. In class today, I departed from my usual approach, and just spent a bit of time asking the students how their lives have changed because of the events of September 11, 2001. The truth is--they are so young, most of them 18, that they do not recall a time when you didn't have to remove your shoes to fly on a plane. One student said--well, his life had changed because with the high price of gas, he had to drive the speed limit. (Humph, not a bad thing, maybe!)

But there are many, of course, whose lives changed forever. The people who died in the planes, in the World Trade Center, and in the Pentagon all had families. Those family members will always remember how their lives were changed that day.

However, time will pass--and some day, the observances will be historical, not personal. Fewer people will remember where they were when they heard the news. September 11, 2001 will become like November 22, 1963, or December 7, 1941.

I want to share with you a terrific poem by a Brooklyn born poet, Martín Espada . I first read this poem very soon after September 11, 2001, and thought the poem captured perfectly how to remember this event.
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.

Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:

I will teach you. Music is all we have.
from Alabanza: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2002 (W.W. Norton, April 2003).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Don't You Just Love the English Language?

Every year, when I get the first set of papers from students, I look forward to (or do I dread) reading them.

There are always some mistakes that are so funny they cause me to laugh. Homophones provide much of the humor. English has so many words that sound alike--and for whatever reasons, students seem particularly prone to using just the wrong word in the right situation.

I wrote about this phenomena last year, and you can see the mistakes from that semester here.

Here's the new gathering of hilarious mistakes. I will start with the more mundane ones:

What the student said----------What the student meant
maybe------------------------------ may be
rite--------------------------------- right

Now the more amusing ones:
What the student said----------What the student meant
pasted----------------------------passed (as in died)
mist------------------------------missed (as in missed the train)
back round-----------------------background
ferrous---------------------------feral (as in cats--of course, ferrous cats are those iron ones!)

And my favorite:
O-zone-------------------------- ozone (maybe the student meant as in O-zone, not P-Zone or Q-zone)

Ahh, teaching English. A source of endless amusement.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Poor Pearlington

About a year ago, I travelled to the Gulf Coast, as a member of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance advisory group. One of the places we visited was Pearlington, Mississippi.

It was with great sadness that I read today that Pearlington was once again hit hard by a hurricane, this time Gustav. And now folks are wondering if they should just pack up and leave. The New York Times featured an article on this tiny place. As the article notes:

"Now, Pearlington once again finds itself facing a painful question: Is it worth
it to rebuild?
Flooding from the latest hurricane covered roads and stranded several residents who could not bear the thought of leaving what they had only just renovated. The damage meant more construction bills, more calls to the insurance agent, more tearing out waterlogged walls and more neighbors who just disappear."

Read the whole piece here.

Disasters always affect people, as well as buildings and such. Life is sometimes too hard. Think about the people in Pearlington this week. And hope that the two new hurricanes forming in the Atlantic spare other small places such as Pearlington. And, if you are so moved, you can give time or money to help.

Monday, September 01, 2008

What are Families For?

For years, my mother's family has had a family reunion, usually on the Saturday before Labor Day. Sometimes we go, sometimes we don't. Since the reunion is held yearly, and since folks only stay around for a couple of hours, we haven't always taken the time to travel several hours on the PA Turnpike to eat a lunch, catch up on bits of family news, and see who is ageing faster than we are.

But this year, we did attend the reunion. In fact, we arranged a double-header. The schedules of my brother and my sister made it possible for them to come to Pennsylvania for this annual reunion. This is not the norm--usually schedules keep them away, in Indiana, or in Manitoba. But this year, the stars aligned, and people returned to central PA.

So in anticipatory recognition of another event, my husband and I held a family dinner at our house the night before the family reunion. The other event is my father's 90th birthday. Next June, he will turn 90. Since it is not certain that everyone would be able to gather then, we celebrated that birthday now. The photo at the top is one taken at that gathering.

Of course, photos allow us to mark the moment that something singular occurred. This photo above was brought to my mother's family reunion, and I bought it in an auction we had. Pictured are my mother (far right) and her entire birth family--her five brothers, and her two sisters. And of course her father and mother. The photo is over 50 years old, and all the people pictured are no longer living. The photo keeps our memories clear. Families--they are our bedrock foundation, if we are lucky.