Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to School

Man oh man. I finished the second day of school today after staying in that building for 12 hours. Not how I intended my second day back to be but I guess that's the life I have chosen to lead currently. It's funny. I told myself that I would be more productive during the school day this year so that I could leave no later than 6 pm every day and I made it 2 days. But whatever. I mean, things happen that are beyond my control. I was switched from my cozy outdoor bungalow over the summer into a classroom in the main building so I had to pack all of my stuff up, figure out how to set up my new classroom, and get organized for a new year all in about 3 days, on top of going to workshops and meetings for the staff. Suffice to say, the ones that are really hurting from this awkward transition are the kids. I can handle the long days, the meetings where my female superiors discuss jewelry repair when they should be giving me assignments for the next few weeks, but when I am unable to get my materials for teaching ready in time and I am forced to push ahead while I am ill prepared, those I have chosen to serve are not getting what they deserve. But enough griping. It's a new year and I need to be positive.

I have three classes of 10th grade English. One has 18 students, which is incredible and will be very interesting because the other two have 36 students each (which is what I am used to). Since I began teaching I have been wishing for smaller classes and now that I have one, I don't know what to do. The class is an academy of business and computers where the students go through their core classes as a group for the next 3 years. This is for them to develop stronger relationships with one another, amongst other reasons, and it is really exciting for me to be a part of it. I will teach them as I teach my other English classes, however I will need to develop some more technical reading and writing assignments that will align with the business and computers aspect. I have also come to realize that given their size (half of my other classes) they will complete assignments much faster. I think it should be a good experience for me because I haven't taught too much of the technical writing conventions that I should be and the smaller class will help me develop more of a structure in my overall pedagogy.

I am looking forward to the new year, the new students, the new experiences in and out of the classroom. I will be taking my students on field trips, which is another new experience for me. Of course I will need a little input from other teachers as to what to do and how to handle all of my students on a field trip at the same time. Maybe I can get some of the other academy teachers to give me a hand. Or I can just post on craig's list for volunteer chaperones. Whichever works.

I will NOT allow my job to own me though. I am through with that shit. After the end of my year last year where I was putting in 12-18 hour days I realized why the attrition rate of new teachers is so high. I have been referred to as a "lifer" by a few teachers whom I greatly respect and I would like to think that I am down for life. Fuck it. I am down for life. I just need to better manage my own so I can stay on top of my game, nah mean?

I feel like I can do much better with this post than I just did. I apologize. I will rewrite it once I get some sleep.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Power of Words

I have been slowly developing a unit to teach my students with this title, intending to educate them on just how powerful and strong the words they use in every day language really are. I have been struggling with it though because the ideas I have are somewhat abstract in the sense that I cannot show them the direct impact a word has. I began preparing this one day after I realized how terrible the word "bitch" is. Now I will be the first to admit that I have used this word on many different occasions. I have used it to describe a woman who was rude and frustrating ("That girl is a fucking bitch!"), I have used it when speaking with male friends about their behavior ("Stop being such a little bitch and do it."), and I have used it when talking about how much something sucks("Ain't that a bitch."). Upon further reflection one day, it dawned on me that each use of this word, while used differently, all add to the misogynistic attitude our culture perpetuates towards females. As an educator, part of my job is to ensure that our children grow up understanding the world around them and not just the books they have to read. If I am to pass them on into the higher levels, I am saying that they are maturing and gaining a deeper understanding of what is happening around them. When I think about how often I hear this word being thrown around by boys and girls alike, in and out of the classroom, I fear that I may not be doing my job as I had originally intended. Of course it is foolish for me to think that I can begin to erase this common word from our vocabularies one class at a time, however it bothers me that it is wholly accepted that we use this word without considering the ramifications it holds for the future.

The first question that comes to mind for me is, "What is the male equivalent of a bitch?" Do you have an answer? Because I most certainly do not. I have tried to think of something but really there is nothing you can call a man that would be on the same level as when a woman is called a bitch. Or, for that matter, when you call a man a bitch, it is considered a double insult because not only are you referring to him as a woman, but you are referring to him as the woman whom everybody shares a distaste for.

When a woman is called a bitch by another woman, I feel that there has been some form of female code that has been broken. Maybe some words were said that shouldn't have been, maybe some actions took place that shouldn't have, you get the picture. But when a man calls a woman a bitch, there is so much wrong with it because essentially he is asserting his dominance by using a word that has no male equivalent. In a society where we preach how everyone is equal, using these words make it quite obvious that there is still an inequality, and it is unfortunately one that does not even get recognized due to its abundant usage in every day culture.

Take the music industry for example. When you look at the use of the word bitch in music, usually rap is drawn into the picture. I love rap. I've listened to rap since I can remember. But I also have made a conscious effort to exclude rap that is derogatory towards women, which is no easy task. If you listen to the radio, you'll undoubtedly hear the shitty, commercialized, popular music that throws bitch around with reckless abandon. Women are bitches, objects, to be treated with disrespect. Look at who is buying up all of this music: the children. Starting in middle school now you can hear 12-13 year old boys talking about how many bitches are at a school dance (that starts at 5:00 pm). It is absolutely disgusting. These kids are learning this word and it is becoming ingrained in their minds that is totally acceptable to refer to women in this way. Such is the same with the girls, which is even worse, because they are getting the message at an early age that they ARE objects that CAN be treated with disrespect. And how are they supposed to handle this treatment? Well, if they talk back and tell people to stop they are in turn called a bitch or some other derogatory name. And if they don't, if they sit back and let the words flow through them, they begin to believe that this is the reality and the entire cycle is perpetuated.

Do I have any solutions? Of course I can say stop using the word, but I feel as if it is too far gone at this point to eliminate such a powerful word from our language. What I will do is address this word when it comes up and offer dialog with my students. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. But I feel we, as a society, as a culture, as a people, need to be aware of the impact our language has on us and those coming after us. If we truly want equality, we have to look at the way we speak with each other and what we deem as acceptable speech. We need self awareness. I always refer to the golden rule which I post in my classroom because I truly believe in it. If we treat others with respect, we in turn shall receive it. However direct or indirect it may be, we must be aware of the power within our words.


It's not every day when you can hear a voice and fall in love with it. I have been so lucky, or unlucky seeing as how my emotion is misdirected towards a voice I will never meet, to have fallen in love with two voices. The first voice is that of Emma Clarke. She is the voice every Londoner knows all too well as they ride the tube around town. Her soft, comforting (yet sensual) voice caresses your ears as you ride along, passing "Kings Cross, St. Pancras" on your way to Camden Town or Edgeware. There were days when I would ride the circle line all the way around from Bayswater to Paddington and just lose myself in her beauty. I would doze off, dreaming of what she looked like. Surely this magical voice was matched by a body just as heavenly. Some days I remember thinking that I would one day find her. I had the same discussion with many other men and we all felt the same way.

When she would say "Mind the Gap" you would feel as if she truly cared for your safety and your safety alone. I never left the tube in a foul mood. I had Emma's voice to keep me comfortable and calm. Of course, I never saw what she looked like, nor did I ever get the chance to meet her. It wasn't until I sat down and started writing this that I even knew her real name. I will forever remember her as the voice of all that is beautiful in life. Thank you Emma.

The other voice I have fallen in love with is that of Cat Power, a female musician that can bring me to my knees after a single note. I rediscovered her a while back after talking to a friend of mine about female voices and how beautiful they can be. He then mentioned Cat Power being one of the most moving shows he has ever seen and I remembered that one day I listened to her and the world stopped. I was swallowed whole by her lyrics and felt as if I was swimming in down feathers, slowly falling and flying. Call it what you will, but that feeling is hard to come by. Only two voices have had that effect on me and I feel blessed. I am sure there are some people who can fall in love with a voice with reckless abandon and leave it just as quickly when a new one enters their ears. And then there are others who will go their whole lives without ever hearing Emma tell them to "Mind the Gap" or get a chance to listen to Cat Power's rendition of "Sea of Love". I don't know what I would do if I didn't have their voices with me.

Writing about these voices also makes me think about the power of a voice in general. There are voices that will draw the rawest forms of emotion from deep within when you least expect it. There have been times when all I want to hear is my mother's voice and when I do, it drops me to the floor. Then there are those times when I hear the voice of a particular person from work or my life and I cringe. I have had moments when I hear a voice and it takes me from a calm and happy place to one of total annoyance and it throws me off guard every time because all I heard was the voice of someone. It wasn't the words, it wasn't the actions, it was just the sound of their voice. When it comes to musicians, I feel like everyone has a song or two that they can listen to to put themselves in any mood they desire. I have my sad songs, my happy songs, my leave-me-the-fuck-alone songs, my I'm-so-in-love-I-can't-breathe songs, and so on. A lot of times it isn't even the lyrics or the music itself, but the sound of the voices and the associations I have between them and my emotion. It's as if my heart sings to in response to the sound of others. While this may sound like the sappiest thoughts, it's what has been filling my mind recently. I don't mean to write as if these are new, original thoughts. I am sure people have had these revelations before, albeit they have probably kept them to themselves as it is pretty self evident that voices of musicians and loved ones can draw out emotions, however it's nice to think about voices that make you happy (or sad or angry or just feel emotions) because I feel like sometimes we don't take the time to enjoy the sound of others. Sometimes I feel as if I focus so much on what is being said and not enough on how it is said. Vocabulary be damned, give me a sweet voice telling me good morning and I will give you gold. Just waking up to the humming or sound of someone you enjoy talking to and there is nothing that compares.

If I could embed audio in this stupid blog I would play you Cat Power, but I don't know how so I won't. Instead, go here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ryan Silberman is awesome

One of the things I have realized in my tenure as a blogger is that Ryan Silberman, and his wife Emily are awesome. Ryan has the grace of a dancing butterfly floating about, but the stern brashness of a homeless person upset at your donation. His utter calmness in times of extreme emergency and terror are uncanny to anything I have ever seen, he is operating on one heart beat a minute. His intelligence cannot even be described here, although I will try. He can think fast , like a cheetah, he processes information in his head that the super computers in the bowels of Google can only dream of processing. He can perform mathematical functions in his head that the guy that invented the calculator can't even figure out. His strength is that of a Caterpillar giant mining machine that lifts thousands of tons of dirt at once. His politeness is s insane that strangers thank him for things he hasn't even done. His looks are so good that people often faint when he walks by. And most important of all, I worship him, plain and simple. I Charles Brinton worship Ryan Silberman, there I said it. Ryan is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!