Saturday, April 30, 2016

Giving Professional Development on a Friday from 3-5 at Yale is Abusive...But I Tried to Make It Fun. Finger Puppets.

I was asked to give a two hour workshop for leadership teams who work with college-bound youth in urban schools on college-ready writing and the college essay.

I'm always amused when I only have two hours to cover such a broad topic with an audience I don't know, but like I learned with writing, knowing the audience was key. Who in their right mind would want to be in a two hour training on a Friday afternoon before being released to the weekend.

I felt the drain the second the leaders entered the room. The last thing they wanted was a workshop, especially since they spent the entire week working in schools where youth face some of the most difficult obstacles in the nation.

They arrived already spent.

Still, I came prepared and gave everyone a finger puppet. My request was that they remain playful for two more hours. I definitely overplanned and got to 1/20th of what I prepared, but they seemed to crack up and smile along the way. I armed them with examples and tools they can use when conferencing one on one with kids.

I left feeling a little panicked that they needed more direct instruction of do this, and do this, and never do that, and do this...but that's not my style. I made it National Writing Project style.

I guessed when a woman came up afterwards and asked, "Do you also do workshops on how to do effective workshops? I want to learn how to engage people like you did," that the exercise was successful.

In contrast, sitting in traffic from New Haven to Stratford was not a success. That corridor of I-95 is horrendous. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Shouting Out To Mr. King, Community Partner for Service Learning 2016 and Fantastic Teacher of ESL Youth

Earlier this semester, I nominated William King for his outstanding dedication to ESL students in Bridgeport and his willingness to partner with my graduate course on Developmental Reading in Secondary Schools. I met Mr. King when he took my EN 411 Writing in the Secondary School course and I immediately grew fond of his originality, voice, and dedication to youth who are often marginalized by the American system.

A year and a half later, I hired William to co-instruct Ubuntu Academy with Jessica Baldizon and since then he has partnered with me to enhance literacies of immigrant and refugee youth at his school. He's been a tremendous supporter of the reading, writing, and thinking achievement of young people from Equador, Nicaragua, Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Mexico. He puts in the day to day support in his high school classroom and serves the multiple needs that relocated youth bring to instruction in the Western world. It is a blending of history, research, personal relationships and a desire to do what is right across national boundaries.

Mr. King was selected to receive the Outstanding Community Partnership award for his tireless hours he's spent dedicated to bringing resources and opportunities into his classroom.

When the news came I was excited (sometimes, the recognition does go to the most deserving). Celebrating his achievement this week has been a highlight of the semester (and is a great way to kick off the weekend ahead).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

And It's Time For the Transition: Grading, Writing, Presenting, Planning, and Putting Teaching Aside For a Month or Two

Sometimes it feels as if we inhale in January, take a deep breath, and hope nobody loses an eye by May. On top of faculty responsibilities of committee work, advising, running professional development, interviewing for the summer institute, collaborating with local schools, reviewing proposals, editing the work of others, working on my own work, and household things, I also teach. Teaching is at the heart of what I love doing...

...and saying, "That's a wrap," is always difficult, especially when you know the final projects - end of the semester work - is on the plates of your students and you sit back and await their arrival.

My goal since the beginning of the semester was to get to the first week of May semi-sane and I'm almost there. Last night, I spent five hours grading to catch up on other work, before the big projects begin arriving (some have already stopped by my email box).

I can say, however, that I don't have to plan for any classes next week (which means keeping up the reading, figuring out the 2.5 hour blocks of time will work, and organizing materials to be discussed). Now, it's on them.

On me? Oh, lots. Up first, getting to the 379 emails in my inbox I read, but haven't had a chance to work on...this is the life I've chosen for myself.

In the meantime, a group hug of the young philosophers of 2016 on the last day of class. I snapped the photograph, but I'm ready for the end-of-the-semester hugs, too.

In the meantime, back to grading.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Intention Was To Have Everyone Write Like Katherine Applegate. The Result Was We Wrote Like Ourselves and Bonded.

Two weeks ago, I had to say thank you to the 10 Bassick Students who joined my Graduate course this semester, as the partnership came to a close and Fairfield students began to look to wind down their semester. We said our goodbyes, but then the students contacted me on Facebook and said they wanted to keep learning. "We enjoy  spending time with your teachers. It helps us so much."

I'm a sucker, and I arranged for another week to extend the collaboration. The trouble was that the University vans were scheduled for the wrong date. Usually I have Service Learning Assistants help me, but they were unable to, so I had to take multiple trips, which allowed us to begin class semi-on time.

It was worth the hustle and castle. While reflecting on the carpooling, I realized that this has been a norm for me since 1999 when I first began working with Sudanese Lost Boys in Louisville. It was my way of life in Syracuse, too.

We spent the evening talking about responsibilities and beliefs, coupled with writing in the genres of several writers. This plan was sidetracked however when a young man, Samuel, said he brought an essay he wanted us to help him with. I stopped everything in place and he said, "Don't worry, I brought everyone a copy." And he did.

After we workshopped his writing, which was good, we went to the original plan (1/20th of it, anyway). We did get to the part where the kids listed what they felt were the responsibilities of adults to them. They were responsive and declared, "As refugee kids, we need help. We need to open our minds to you and have you open your minds to us."

The photo above demonstrates what the semester has been - teachers, graduate students and relocated youth writing together.

If this could be the heart and soul of everything I do, I would. I'm now wondering if there's a way to create a school based on this model, where American-born kids, teachers, and immigrant youth can learn, read, write, and think together under the 180 model. Now that would be something.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Special Thank You to @kwamealexander for Bringing Your Creative Magic to Connecticut Once Again! @FairfieldU @CWPFairfield

Kwame (Rooster) and Chitunga (Eagle)
Over a decade ago, a young man entered his first ESL class at Cesar Batalla, K-8, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Now a graduate of Bassick High School and a student working on a career in accounting and economics, this young man returned to his formative alma mater to meet the one-and-only Kwame Alexander.

But there's another story. This one follows after the Rooster departed for a next stint in NYC.

I came home after a compelling afternoon of Surf's Up and Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, totally stoked to have a copy of Page to Stage Writing Workshop given to CWP-Fairfield, where I know I will benefit from it to model effective practices for teachers. Of course, I also had a copy of Booked autographed for Abu and Lossine!

The dog needed a walk, though, so the two of us went out for our four mile loop, galloping by Bunnell High School in Stratford where Glamis ran up to a group of three kids who were leaving the school after track practice. From behind, I believe Glamis thought it was Chitunga, Abu and Lossine and lucky for her they loved dogs. I asked, "You runners?" They said, "Yeah. We play basketball and football, too." I asked them what they were reading in school and they laughed. "Um, nothing. We hate reading." I inquired, "You like sports, right?" They agreed and I asked if they've heard of Kwame Alexander. They said, "Doesn't he play in the NBA?" I was like, "Sort of." And I told them about The Crossover. 

The next thing I know, one of the boys finds the book on his cellphone and shows his friend. The bigger kid - I imagine a shot-putter, says, "I only listen to books. Is it on .mp3." I imagined it was. "Will they have it in our school library?" They should. "What if they don't?" Go to the librarian and request it. "That's cool. We will."

When Glamis and I walked away, we heard one of the boys saying, "That book looks really good. I'm going to read it." The others agreed. I returned home to reflect on the day.

Wow. I am so, so thankful... that Kwame happened to be passing by Bridgeport yesterday and that GSEAP at Fairfield University has a strong partnership with Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport. We acted fast to arrange the workshop, and Vice Principal Steven Cassidy and Principal Hector Sanchez were stupendous All-Stars. The teachers were phenomenal 2nd and 3rd grade coaches, too.

Kwame arrived with teacher and musician Louis Preston and the rest was history. The two, 30-minute workshops simply rocked. No one who can present and build energy with an audience like Kwame Alexander.

Chitunga hears me celebrating Kwame Alexander all the time and he finally got to meet the writer face to face at the school where his American education began. I'm thrilled by the entire event: the laughter and appreciation of the young readers and writers, and the pride of their teachers. I trump all that happiness, however, with being able to introduce two of my favorite people in a location that is central to Chitunga's American beginning.

Ah, but I have to cut this short. It's time for me to go teach for the day, but there will be more pep in my step this morning. The surf really is up, and We gotta read! We gotta write! and We have to appreciate the Great Whatever.

Ubuntu. Kwame, thank you for gifting your talents to our world.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Day of Reflection, Connecticut Family, Intellectual Debate, and New Possibilities (Not to Mention, Great Food)

Chitunga and I were invited into the hospitality of Howard and Alisha, to very important people two our Connecticut lives for an afternoon of phenomenal food, conversation, connection, and faith in the Great Whatever. Our one hour gathering turned into a six hour dialogue about education, politics, opportunity, hard work, labor and doing what is best locally and globally.

I left feeling very blessed by the coincidences in the world and how one chapter leads into the other and without the story of one, there isn't the story that follows. This photograph captures so many ways individual chapters cross plot lines so that protagonists can have an influence on other characters. Right here is Ubuntu, personified. My house can be my house because of what our houses are together.

Howard is working on his Ph.D at UConn and Alisha is setting off to embark on her own Ph.D at UMASS-Amherst. They are using all their cultural and experiential capital to set out to make a name for themselves in their world and the world of others.

Chitunga, smiling in the center of us all, is a direct result of our friendship and ongoing faith in one another. It's a busy work week ahead, but we have this photograph to remind us what it's all about.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Photo To Sum Up "Writing in the Limelight," A Family Event Sponsored by @cwpfairfield @fairfieldu. #Dreaming

A Butterfly Dreaming
We didn't know what to expect for our Fairfield University Bookstore event, as it was the first of its kind and we only had a few reservations. Caryn ordered me to present for a maximum of 20 minutes and then to give the kids 20 minutes to write, with 20 minutes of Open Mic. With a minute before the program began, only two kids were in attendance. Then, then the families arrived en masse.

It was wonderful, especially to have parents, kids, and teachers writing together.

I chose to feature Brown Girl Dreaming, The Crossover, Booked, and Last Stop on Market Street as these books have touched my heart the last couple of years, especially with opportunities to work with and to meet the authors. I took segments of each text and I had the kids analyze each for what they tell us about writing. After we read like sleuths, I announced it was time to be robbers. I said, "It's okay to steal like a writer and to choose writing we admire to emulate." I gave everyone in attendance time to compose and said my job was to help anyone who was stuck.

"I am the king of unsticking blocked writers," I announced. I only had two takers. The rest of the attendees began working fluidly. When it was time for Open Mic, I was impressed that so many volunteered their work (composed rather quickly, but wonderfully). An engineer from German who was in the house came up to me afterwards and asked if I'd be interested in doing a similar exercise with his exchange 20-somethings who come to CT every summer to look at engineering in the United States. I said (with the wisdom of Kwame Alexander), "Yes. I can do that."

Last night, one of the attendees (a graduate of Fairfield University, a friend to CWP-Fairfield, and a spirit who is central to the life Chitunga and I live) posted a photograph of her daughter consumed by Jacqueline Woodson's book. She posted on Facebook that he daughter couldn't put it down.

That was my goal! In addition to the writing workshop, Fairfield University Bookstore put out a display of award-winning books and after we wrote, I did a shout out to several authors who I though the youth would love. It was awesome seeing everyone leave with literature in their hands.

I have to admit, I was a little bit in jittery land. At first, when it looked like it would be a small crowd, I made adaptations. Then, as more and more came and the bookstore needed to pull out additional tables and chairs, I got a little nervous. I realized the audience ranged from ages 2 to 72.

But everyone wrote, including one young man who has been part of the professional development I've led all year in Trumbull elementary schools. The kids rocked and I returned home to finally play my Prince albums and to love the fortunate life I live while I have it.

I might have this photo framed: one for me, and one for her mother.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Writing in the Limelight Today @FairfieldUBooks With Connecticut Youth. @writingproject @fairfieldu @cwpfairfield

Caryn Sullivan, my extraordinary program manager, had a great idea! Why not invite Connecticut Youth to the Fairfield University Bookstore for an April writing extravaganza to kick off the excitement we have for summer Young Adult Literacy Labs at Fairfield University.

Today, April 23, 1 p.m., I will highlight several writing techniques used by phenomenal writers such as Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Peña, and Jacqueline Woodson to spark original writing from the young people who attend.

There will be several award-winning words on display to help all of us turn on our writerly lightbulbs.

We will be writing in the limelight, for sure.

The program will be one hour, with opportunity at the end to share our original pieces at the Mic! Several teachers and friends of CWP-Fairfield will be in attendance (many of them invited to read from last summer's publication of POW! Power of Words, the Anthology).

Fairfield University Bookstore has been a phenomenal partner and they've arranged for prizes and tremendous excitement throughout the 60 minutes. I can't wait to see everyone in attendance. Better yet, I can't wait to hear the incredible writing the Newbery and Caldecott winners inspire!

Who knows? Maybe the Donald and the Hilary will stop by as they hustle their campaigns throughout the state!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Purple Thoughts in Anticipation of April Rain. I Wonder How Many Bloggers Are Writing About the Prince Today.

Robin Williams whacked me in the head, but this Prince-thing has me in another place. A number of people decided to go home and take the afternoon to morn. My Facebook feed and Twitter-feed are over-the-top with memorials. It is deserving. Most of us have been intrigued, entertained, bewildered, and inspired by Prince, the artist formally known as Prince, and Prince once again.

The prints he's left on the souls of most in this generation are immeasurable, and so I'm taking the time this morning to script what I am thinking. This isn't a Curt-Cobain-Oh-My-World-Is-Ending occasion nor is it a moment, like 9/11, when everything simply needed to stop. Rather, for me, Prince was childhood...a transition into the impishness of adolescence...and a musical companion through most of my adulthood. He simply was one of a kind and, I admit, I might at some point in my life accruie all the knowledge I can find about him. His influence is of the Gods.

Peter Boy.

Although Cynderballz and I bought Casey the Purple Rain album for her birthday  (actually, it was this album, a Jack Wagner album, and Cindy Lauper, I believe - because we wanted them), it was Peter Boy who hooked me on Let's Go Crazy and The Beautiful Ones. His older sister, Elaine, was a student at SUNY Oswego and Mama Stephanie invited me to ride with them to visit their middle child daughter where Pete and I sat in the back seat. He had the cassette and we pulled out the flaps to read all the lyrics while we listened to the music from his foam-covered ear buds that were popular at the time from Walkmans. We had the volume up loud enough to follow along, but not where his mom - the driver - could hear what he was singing. A Catholic school teacher, we knew she would scold that Darling Nikki was probably not appropriate for middle school kids.

Oh, but that is why we loved it.

It's Okay To Be Outside of the Box

Prince was weird. He transcended boundaries of Blackness, Maleness, Music-ship, Sexuality, and Predictability. Pete and I watched the film several times (when we could get away with it) and I'm unsure if I knew what the movie was really about. I just loved his cockiness, his assuredness, and the damn music. It became a cadence for my high school and college life. Who changes a radio station when a Prince song comes on? No one. Prince is part of the American fabric, and his individuality could not be owned by the labels, cultural groups, and politics of any time. He was who he was and in the back of my mind I always awaited the next Prince shenanigan and wondered how a dude like him could come out of Minnesota. Minnesota? That state needs to make Prince's image their national flag.


The Y-2K scare was real and everyone was paranoid about the end of the world. Up until that year, we were all ready to party like it was 1999 and it seemed so far away - but for the class of 1990, it meant a decade away from high school. I was living in Louisville at the time and in my 2nd year of teaching. I got together with friends and somehow we ended up in a field of Indiana, caught between alleged parties and possible ways to party like we planned to in 1999, so when the New Year came around we were in a car bitching at one another at what an awful 1999 New Year it was. It was buzzkill to the nth degree and, a moment from my history, when I stopped to think, "Really, Crandall. Are these the people you planned on being with in 1999?" They weren't, and I began to transition my world with the maturity of working professionals. It wasn't the last of my youth, but I remembered being bummed by the moment. Then, whenever I heard the song afterwards, I was like, "Now what are we suppose to party like?"


I will always associate Prince with Nadia Craft, class of 1998. She was a tremendous fan and, with an equal passion for Stevie Wonder, she always kept me up to date with the whereabouts of the music. In fact, some time in the 2000s, when she moved to Los Angeles and saw Prince was performing at Staples Arena, she called to say, "Crandall, you need to come with me." I flew out west - one of the few trips I've ever taken for personal reasons - and stayed in Nadia's apartment before the big event. I laughed, because Nadia went all out for the concert. She got her hair did, had an incredible outfit on that was rather risqué for her (with the largest purple sequenced flower I've ever seen), and even sported heels. Usually, Nadia was in a football jersey or a UK Basketball t-shirt. She was decked out for Prince. 

And our seats were in the nosebleeds. The tickets were expensive, but we literally were in the last seat, against the wall, in the furthest corner from the stage. It was something. But we were there. We saw Prince. That was my one and only time. She remained fanatical, and even yesterday when he passed - on her birthday of all dates - we were in contact. Actually...this is creepy. We were texting about her birthday when I saw the news and we both reacted together. 

The Great Whatever right there.

Now, What?

I could post songs and make crazy connections, but that time is not for today. Instead, I'm thinking of the frames designed by Coco and Breezy - 3rd Lens - that I saw them wearing at an event with artist Gordon Skinner and reminiscing that I always wanted to get a pair.

A 3rd eye. That was Prince. His perspective transcended the normal way of looking at the world and, for that, he remained the artist that he was. That is the eye I aspire to nurture and maintain the way I do this life thang. Beyond the box, there are other ways of knowing, being, viewing, creating, reflecting, and understanding the world. 

These, the prints left on me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

When All the Pieces Begin To Come Together, The Celebrations at the End of a Semester Are Greatest

All semester, students in my ED 329 class have been doing service learning in a K-8 school in Bridgeport. The rewards gained from tutoring young people in small groups far surpasses the instruction I provide to them when we're on campus. Last week, I through them a monkey wrench and told them I wanted them to visually reflect on their philosophy in a puzzle piece I gave each of them.

They mumbled. They groaned. They got excited. They worried.

But as I told them, there's no wrong answer. And the answers came in.

I will likely post again next week when the entire project comes together (we have a goal of Wednesday and I plan to work in my office a lot this weekend). I am anxious for the final product that results.

The stress trains are on the track to drive all of us in education to pull out our hair at this time of year, but the occasional burst of creativity energizes us all.

And so does Empire. I'm still excited about last night's craziness. Man, mom. It's like Days of Our Lives. Now when does Little Red Riding Hood get together with Dorothy?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Am Not Religious, But I Am Spiritual and Teach At A Religious Institution...This Is Why I Wonder A Lot of Things

I knew I needed an education to advance in the world - that is why I was the first in my immediately family to go to a four-year University. My father asked, though, "Why would you pay a school that much money to read books for four years? What can an English major allow you to do?"

It was a good question, father to son, and I knew I always  wanted to be a public school teacher. When I finished the four year literature degree I immediately went for a Masters in teaching. It was practical. The Masters in Literature and the Masters in Science that followed (well, that was excessive). The Ph.D. - okay, it's an illness.

I have always had a plan and, and like many first-generation college graduates I went towards a career of service (many others enter social work and nursing...steps into the bourgeois and, as Arthur Doolittle told 'Enry Iggins, an introduction towards middle class morality).

I teach at a University that's tuition is almost 3x's the salary I earned as a first-year teacher. That means, one year of tuition equals the total pay of a career-educator. Hmmm. Interesting. Higher Education costs are insane, yet if one analyzes the economic structures of the nation and sees the great divides that exist, it becomes evident of what higher education is really about. It caters to those who can pay and maintain the status quo, and unlike the Biblical quote with the camel and the needle, higher education widens their hoops so that the most affluent and privileged in society jump through the bureaucracy with ease, while the everyday worker struggles to get by (and to even comprehend the inaneness of knowledge 'capital' in the world).

I've been thinking about the Biblical quote a lot lately because I work for a school whose mission is social justice - one that derives out of the same institutional racism that sold Black bodies to uphold the education of privileged White families in America's past. It is becoming evident to me that social injustice is the foundation of higher education and, even with good intentions, the reality is that  inequities are deep. Any institution's claim about fairness is actually spoken out of the corner of their mouth. At the core of how they operate are the inequities, biases, prejudices, and intentional design  to keep "others" out. They benefit from those who can afford to keep their "ideologies" afloat, even when those ideologies are hypocritical and obvious to most. Is this guilt? I'm unsure.

I learned early in my education that with knowledge comes responsibility. My choices are not from religious training, but from an understanding of what it means to do good when one only has 100 years to live. Because of my education, hard work, and opportunities in the United States I have experienced tremendous affordances a vast majority of the world may never know: I travel, own a house and car, invest in retirement,  frequent libraries, have access to a computer, and I go out to dinner. This, I believe, is a result of playing the game and it has proven that education does pay off. Although I don't make  as much as my professional friends I went to college with, I get by (definitely with a lot of help from my friends). I spend a vast amount of my time, too, in K-12 schools - most of them in districts that are underfunded, highly stressed, and sometimes toxic.

I think this is why I get perplexed by my work in higher education, especially when negotiating the labor of employees: faculty, staff, grounds people, food servers, custodians, etc. When an institution of higher education costs what it does, and administrators posit that the University is facing dire financial realities (while they make salaries double, maybe triple, from the staff that works for them), I grow curiouser and curiouser about the bigger picture. I can't help but wonder where the money goes.

When I first moved to Connecticut I witnessed wealthier families who could afford the high cost of summer camp for young writers send their young people to our programs. By cost, the camps only those who could afford them. That perplexed me and I drastically cut them. In fact, I sliced the fees in half. The next year, I had double the number of applicants. The year after, the numbers tripled. In fact, I now offer full scholarship to 50% of attendees so that more young people, from a wider variety of backgrounds, have an opportunity to grow during the summer months.

Again, I'm not religious and I don't make choices based on any verse that was taught to me. I simply do what I feel is right. That's my free will and I've spent a majority of my life in communities beyond the ivory towers of higher education. I know that was is normal in the tower is FAR from normal elsewhere. Higher education grows wealthier off the backs of workers who serve the privileges that exist there. We can all deny that, but it's true (as the artwork of Fred Wilson shows).

I work as best as I can and appreciate the fortune of having what I have. Still,  I can't help but think about human greed, hypocrisies, inequities, and Western vulgarities that are at the core of the castle from where I work. I think that is why the camel and the eye of the needle is on my mind. In fairy tales, bad behavior gets punished. If a kingdom is the reward, then it is my wishful thinking that the door to the kingdom will be unwelcoming to the selfish, the righteous, and the "powerful" - those who feed their pockets off the hard work of the laboring people.

My thinking solves nothing...I know that. Rather, it only helps me to recenter my frustration that arrives from working in the tower. I've aimed for an intellectual Robin Hood approach, where I set out to take from the haves to bring to the have-nots, but being amongst the haves is hard for me to stomach. I guess I'm looking for ways to take the needle to sew a better world.

And that is why I write. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It Was a Garfield Monday (Ugh), But I Scored Some Triumphs, Too. Now I'm Ready for Tuesday.

Each year, Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz hosts a book dialogue at Fairfield University under an Everyone Reads model. This year, the book was Our Kids by Robert Putman, which once again looks at the incredible disparity between haves and have nots in our nations, and asks critical questions of how we create fairness between our nation's schools and rectify America's social ills.

Teachers, administrators, scholars, and Deans get together to discuss their understanding of the book and to think of possible new ways we can better work with one another. The views vary from optimism to pessimism, but the conversations - I believe - is always a step in the right direction. At least we're talking about the issues our communities face. There are two Americas and rarely does one have an opportunity to dialogue with the other. Rabinowitz's leadership is a step in the right direction.

Rarely, too, do Bridgeport Public School educators have an evening with a catered event to talk with one another about their thinking and wonders.

I came home from the event ready to get into action, but when I entered my house, the Internet was down. Tunga and I bonded over catching up on our days, but then were defeated by having no technology (um, we were stuck until I figured out how to get it back online).

The result was my evening was a bust (perhaps a sign to take it easy), but now I will pay this morning when I have to go into supercharge mode to do all the digital work that keeps me afloat. I lost about six hours that I needed.

So, I'm out. See ya later...time to be in my office working!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Point of the Year When You Measure How Green Your Thumb Was The Summer Before. S P R I N G

I procrastinated some more yesterday afternoon, in between reading and planning for the week. I put down more fertilizer, filled some holes (thanks, Glamis), and began to investigate possibilities for new plants and locations. I always love this time of year when hopeful heads pop their brains from the soil singing, "Here we are again! Did you miss us? Your babies are back and Mother Nature wishes to thank you for caring about her Earth and giving back some!"

I had a lot of luck with last year's plantings, but the annuals were even better (and I know they aren't coming back). Occasionally, they do reseed themselves and surprise me (the geraniums were out of control last year), but I'm not too optimistic. I'm also happy that the grass seed filled in some of the gaps from a very dried out lawn. The house sat vacant for a couple of years and with Connecticut crab grass, it was not the most sightly yard. In fact, Chitunga Google-Earthed our house and wanted me to know that the lawn looked terrible. He was embarrassed. Yesterday, however, he looked around and said, "Hey, it's looking a lot better. There's just a few more patches to take care of" (this from a kid who leaves me notes about ways he wants ME to re-landscape the house - he takes flyers put in our mailbox and writes, "I think we need to activate a relationship with these people).

My neighbors did that last year - worked with a door to door lawn person. They spent $1,800 and their lawn never grew. It looked like a dry desert. I just went by my dad's teachings....fertilizer...raking...grass seed...and water. It already looks better this year. Tonga, though, says, "This is a competition...we need the nicest lawn in the neighborhood."

What? Does have Papi Butch's blood? Does he hope we'll get a Sherburne-Earlville pitchfork in our yard for being the most green.

Seriously, though, I could work in the soil as a career. I love digging, rearranging, planting, and waiting. I think it is enjoyable because it is time I can spend away from technology and the keyboard.

And with that, it's time for Monday. Off to work I go.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Wall For Reentering Myself with @AbuBility @LBility Chitunga, Attallah and Others. Calm In the House.

On Friday, before I left for a day of meetings, I stopped and looked at the photo collection in my hallway and said, "yup, this re-centers me purpose."

Yesterday was a day of Fairfield University in the morning, then an afternoon of outdoor work, to celebrate the 64 degrees (today, it will be 70 degrees!). I mowed the lawn (am I Butch or what?), did spring cleaning indoors, cooked, and basically avoided everything intellectual that I was supposed to get to...

My punishment? I need to do it today with (a) Chitunga has the entire day off! and (b) the temperatures are going to tease me to go outside every second of the day.

The twins had an EOP celebration at Brockport last night and they are less than a month away to their college graduation. Who would have thunk that possible 8 years ago? I guess I did, but I didn't know it would be a SUNY school, Say Yes, Ubuntu Academy, and emergency funding along the way (cough cough...they say they will keep me from a nursing home. I just want them to keep me laughing).

When I walked Glamis yesterday (and later when I had a glass of wine), I thought about how awesome it would be to have Cynde, Mike, Dave, Casey, Mom & Dad in the neighborhood, too, especially now that the weather is breaking. All my neighbors were out doing yard work and we caught up with anticipation that warmer nights are ahead...but it's not the same as the CNY unit who are simply 5 hours, too far away. My mom says she's ready to have someone come to clean her house and if I lived in Syracuse, I might tap into that luxury and ask, "Hey, you want to do my indoor stuff, too? I'm about done with indoor choirs." It's all good. They'll get done.

Three more weeks of classes, and then summer chaos begins (although it is more joy and excitement than chaos).

Today, a day of rest. Um, well, a day of not having to be anywhere accept behind books and a laptop. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Out of the House Early on a Saturday Morning. Wish I Was Mean-Mugging, but I am Just Mugging with a Cup of Coffee

Definitely want to make this into a coffee mug. That day will happen. In the meantime, I'm off to a Men's Breakfast with Upward Bound in support of integrity of Bridgeport seniors who are soon to graduate. I got home last night with phenomenal intentions to get on my game, but resulted in walking the dog, enjoying the sunshine, putzing about the yard, making Guac, getting groceries, and talking to Cynderballz on FaceTime. The good intentions will need to be relocated until this afternoon.

Sometimes, I simply need to make excuses not to do mind work and to simply be in a vegetative state while contending with domestic realities. Of course, I could have vacuumed, folded laundry, clean windows or even mowed the lawn, but I simply wanted to be in the zone of the moment (which, in Glamis terms, means sitting on the couch so she can chew my hands, lick my ears, and bring me tennis balls to be thrown).

Ah, but morning. There is nothing I love more than a mug of coffee (or two) and, in fact, I just reminded myself that I need more mocha because I'm out.

This is the transitional period of the semester where i know I need to get on top of the anarchy about to ensue: celebrations, coursework, summer plans, graduations, and all the other jazz that comes with the territory. I am clean shaven and ready, though.

Hmmmmm. I think people would like this as a coffee mug so they wake up with me. I need to look into this.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Year Five for Them, Year Four For Me! Congratulations to Hill Central Academy, K-8, for the Silver Edition of Their Poetry Slam

Ladies and Gentleman, the 2016 Slam Poets of Hill Central, K-8 --- all 19 of them, with their poetic mentors.

  • Jah-Bles
  • Breyiona
  • Lean
  • Trinity
  • Jacob
  • Jaleel
  • Sandy
  • Johanaris
  • Neishaly
  • Janiah
  • Sosa
  • Rae-Gran
  • Jayleen,
  • Kadejah
  • Honesty
  • Samuel
  • Shante
  • Wendy

Each year, I look forward to the few hours I spend at Hill Central in celebration of their student writers. Each and every year, the performances get better and the occasion becomes more of a celebrity occasion. The kids pour their hearts out on stage, write from lived experiences, and articulate their lives for others to hear. Two years ago, it was great to add Kwame Alexander to the mix.

At the core, however, is an incredible faculty with leadership that trusts in the excellence of teaching and the power of youth voices.

Today is Friday and it really is my fried-day. I can't wait to get home this afternoon to crash. I think, however, my afternoon will be extended to 7 pm. This too shall pass.

For now, I have the rhythm of the kids and that will fuel me for a while.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

My undergraduates read about Waldorf Schools and Tagore's philosophy of the arts, so I took a few minutes yesterday and let them go outside (Spring! Spring! Spring!) to write. They began with a walk and talk, then wrote for a while, returned with a  walk and talk, then shared.

Rabindranath Tagore,
argued for a creative style of teaching and learning and would encompass the education of the whole child, advocating (1) the need for joyous learning and the experience of mental and physical freedom, (2) a linguistic medium connected to a child’s social and cultural environment, (3) accessible well-educated teachers who inspire, (4) a multilevel curriculum to stimulate critical thought and creative imagination, and (5) learning the holistic world of nature for empathy. (Hansen, 2013, p. 130)
As a result, we went outside and part of yesterday's college class was to think about the world as, I believe, Tagore would encourage it. Similar, “Waldorf educators emphasize an artistic approach that engages students in mind and body. Teaching though stories and storytelling, for example, is a pedagogical device worthy of emulation” (Hansen, 2013, p. 156).

There's always a tremendous joy when one breaks away from the boundaries of traditional classroom walls. I learned this in Kentucky, I learned this in New York, and I am sharing it in Connecticut. Knowledge transcends the superficiality of what we've created as schools. If I can plant anything in my students, it is that they should always push against the walls that are enforced upon them in the name of tradition, bureaucracy, and assessment. 

Funny to have students write 22 poems on the spot in the name of philosophy of education (but that is what we read...I felt at home)

Learning is such a complicated endeavor.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Then a Call from Juno, Alaska at 10 p.m. Opens Up a Pathway to Memories and the Way Life Used to Be

Dfli, the Dragonfly, entered my classroom in 1997 as a wide-eyed, enthusiastic and highly creative creature who was curious of the Frog character that entered the Brown School and even more trusting that his lily pad would guide a group of pond knuckleheads through high school for the next four years. She, more than most of the others, had total investment and faith that this clown knew what he was doing. The adventures were many, the writing even more, the trinkets and gifts plentiful, and the belief in one another superb.

18 years later and it's 2016. Zoom. Just like that.

Dfli called last night when I was wrapping up grading for the evening. She FaceTimed, actually, from Alaskan drizzle and day light to show me her little Grayson running around the back yard with his retriever and to update me on her there again, back again, there again journey of working as a social worker and case worker for domestic violence in Juno. Obviously she's older than I was at the time I taught the class of 2001, and it still remains surreal that they implanted such a wonderful mark (scars?) upon my soul. My first freshman class moved with me to the sophomore class. I changed positions, and they moved with me for their junior year and I had them again for their senior year, too. If any of them are slighted in their adult life for the way they think, speak, or write - well, that's all my fault and I am fully responsible.

Alice is still at the Brown School and this next year, she will see her 20th class graduate. Had I stayed, it would be the same for me. I can't imagine what another decade of Brown grads would be like because my last 10 years have introduced me to my own adventures and roadways.

But at the core, still, remains Frog's first year as a pollywog being inspired, prodded, challenged, and humored by a Dragon Fly. With her was a duck, a goldfish, a tree, a deer, a turtle, a swan, a sprite, a worm, a crow, a fox, and forests and seas of other creatures to follow. They invested in me just as much as I was fortunate enough to invest in them.

The iridescent wings of that magical creature still flutter around my heart, even as the chronicles have moved to a new state and settled in another branch of adulthood I never thought was possible.

Ah, life. But now I must await the arrival of a new washer in the window frame of 7 a.m. - 11. They need to get her early, because I teach at 10:55.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another Great Year Working with Bridgeport Soon-To-Be-Graduates Through the College Assistance Program

The Annual CAP Selfie with Yolehema Felican of M.A.A.C.S.
For the fourth year in a row, I've worked with wonderful staff of the M.A.A.C.S. program of Bridgeport (Motivation for Academic Achievement and College Success), part of the Bridgeport Higher Education Fund. During spring break, invited seniors are brought to Housatonic Community College to stay on track for graduation and their soon-to-arrive entrance into higher education. They've asked me to provide 90 minutes of advice to get them thinking about next steps.

I was impressed that this year, after both sessions, students - especially male students who are self-proclaimed haters of reading and writing - came up to me to say, "Thank you." The session is highly interactive, I share stories of successful students, and I challenge them to take more initiative to find their passions, challenge the histories being written for them, and exhibiting control over their literacy. "You should all have a list of five books you want to read between now and the first day of your college classes."

At first they snickered. By the end of the presentation, they tell me they want more advice on books they should look for in the local library.

It's the power of storytelling, and in the workshop I tell stories of achievement, especially of young people who took ownership of their education to do remarkable things.

My advice? Well, I always keep it to a top-ten list.

  1. Know your passions.
  2. Be ready for T.R.A.N.S.I.T.I.O.N.S. (to write fluidly in college).
  3. College writing is about finding your voice.
  4. The best writers are clever with language (and titles).
  5. The better college writers vary their word choice.
  6. Writers read for deeper meaning while in college.
  7. Writers in college question the Universe.
  8. Writing in college is a quest for textual evidence.
  9. College writing requires intense development of thought.
  10. College writers write, rewrite, revise, & rewrite again.
I'm thankful to my ol' Affrilachian poet friend, Frank X. Walker, too, who provided a poem that was used to dissect, make a point, and to rest my case. Of course, the workshop tires me out (because I'm old), but I totally love the drive of the youth and the dedicated people, such as Yolehema, who work with them on a daily basis.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Adjusting the Attitude to Adhere to the Economic Reality of Being a Home Owner. Frugality a Must

I'm having a Garfield kind of Monday morning. Grrrmmmph. Coffee is enjoyable, but it costs money, too. I've been thinking that I need to pull back on my normal cheapness to be even more cheap to make up for the IRS invasion of this year's taxes and the new washer (which was purchased yesterday). Nothing's really free, but I will make a list of things that are "best" that don't cost me very much.

10. Walking the dog,
9. Going for a run,
8. Doodling,
7. Getting a book from the "free" public library,
6. Meandering through memories of yesteryear,
5. Digging dirt and rearranging the lawn,
4. Talking with friends,
3. Napping (I think I've taken 4 naps in my life),
2. People watching,
1. Listening to music (that was purchases when the Government didn't clean my clock)

Actually, when I was an undergraduate, I once said that I never wanted to lose the sense of having no money and being present in the moment before items owned us: houses, cars, jobs, etc. Of course, now I'm owned by those worlds and wondering, "Yuck. When did I lose myself?"

I guess I will just have to eat out less and stop buying silly toys for everyone. If I do that for a year, I will feel I'm back to even.

And, I realize that my contributions to the government will allow others to have things for food for their children and public education, both which are more important than the slurping of my bank account by the Feds.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Oh, Pooh! I Could Use A Little Less Rain and a Lot More Sun. It's No Fun Playing Eeyore

My Saturday started out wonky, and then got wonkier. I got my taxes back, and two days later I got a letter from the IRS saying that Bridgeport Public Schools didn't send payment for consultant services until last year (they never sent me anything, so I assumed it was an honorarium) and now I owe taxes on that, which wipes away this year's return.

Sigh. I'm a good American, though. I do what is right.

Then I was doing laundry and I didn't hear the washer turn over to the spin cycle. It didn't drain, either. No matter what I did, it wouldn't kick over, so I had to take the soaked towels and clothes, transport them to the tub, then suck out the water with the Shop Vac. I then pulled it apart, and several parts were broken and in pieces. I watched multiple YouTube videos and realized I'm screwed. The washer is dead.

Of course, the floor needed to be mopped from the water mess it created, then everything had to be drained in the tub. Needless to say, I lost five hours of my evening playing Home Improvement and now my Sunday needs to be even more aggressive and focused than I already planned it to be. Obviously, I'm going to need to get on top of the replacement. I just traded in credit card points for a Home Depot card, which I planned on using for lawn care and outdoor landscaping.


It's all good. That's the mantra I live by. This too shall pass.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Conversations with Teachers Who Have Taught For Two or Three or Tweny Years - Um, Theory vs. Reality

Richard Stein's "A Romantic Enters The World"
We are thigh-deep in Invitational Summer Institute interviewing and have another round of conversations today (only one more week to go to narrow down the pool of participants). I am amazed, again and again, as I talk with teachers who have worked for 20 years, even 5 years, in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges and Universities, how "upside down" they turned when first having a classroom of their own.

"I was naive." "I was fresh." "I was optimistic." "I had a grandiose idea of the change I could make." "I had a house full of books." "It was a career change, and I thought I would be touching lives."

The words repeat themselves (repeat themselves, repeat themselves, repeat themselves) as interviewees seek out CWP-Fairfield (any National Writing Project sites for that matter) looking for rejuvenation, hope, a rebirth, and excitement.

"I feel so isolated as a classroom teacher." "Our administration alienates." "It's a culture of testing, not teaching." "I know what the kids need. The kids know what they need. I'm policed so severely that none of us are getting what we need."

It's the ubiquitous hum of in-practice educators looking for an alternative to the brow-beating, exhaustion, and misery they report experiencing in the field.

"I don't need credits or a stipend. I just need to feel like a professional again."

I'm heading back to the office for another round of interviews and was there late on a Friday night conducting a few more. Here are people who give up nights and weekends to hopefully give up a summer with the support of the National Writing Project model.

"I've heard the work will save me in my career." "I'm looking for a way to believe in the profession again." "I want to connect with other educators who are fighting against the anarchy politicians are making in our schools."

I couldn't help but think of Richard Stein's "A Romantic Enters the World." K-16 schools can, indeed, be a pack of wolves. I, however, like to bring optimism and possibility (call it naiveté and stupidity) of the magic that is possible if you learn to take a different path. Don't live in their worlds, because they will eat you alive and there will be someone to replace you. Rather, live in the head, in books, and with other dreams (you're not the only one) and keep the attitude on the positive.

And with that, time to go.

Friday, April 8, 2016

It's Friday and I'm on Edge, But Nowhere Near the Edge Olivia Pope Was on Last Night. Phew.

It's the time of the year where most of us in college/public school education (assessments, projects, breaks, transitions, deadlines, committee meetings, frustrations, empty promises, egos, and politics) are on ledge ready of fall off...

...or as Shel Silverstein put it, on the edge.

Ledge/Edge. Doesn't matter what you call it, but were hanging from it.

Of course, as I'm reflecting on my insanity, I choose to grade while watching Scandal. Um, that was not the best episode to clear my mind with - now I'm thinking that all my conspiracy theories and anti-political worries are authentic and that all of us can't believe anything we're fed from above.

Well, maybe I thought that before, but I like to be optimistic, too.

That was an intense episode. I'm picking my battles. I don't think I could ever bludgeon someone to death with a chair, but I've never been kidnapped or tortured. I also don't work for the POTUS.

Rather, I work with public schools and they're intense enough - they have their own power struggles, as does the university, and I'd rather stay far away from them. But hanging on for sanity is tough at this time of the year (especially when the March madness ends).

I will endure.

TGIF. I need the weekend to work!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ah, Man, Taraji P. Hanson, You and That Show. Too Much, And Hating Myself For Being Too Slow.

While teaching in Kentucky, I woke up one morning and basically had the plot line for a show like Empire. Actually, I was mid-Shakespeare units with my students and we spent some time brainstorming ways to make the Bard's work accessible to 21st century audiences.  My sleep during that time (hyperactive as it is) envisioned a West Coast/East Coast empire for music where a woman, somewhat Lady Macbeth and some what Taming of the Shrew, used her power to play two sides of the nations.

Empire isn't quite that story, but this spring season, I keep thinking, "Yep. This is the plot line that captures the raw, power-hungry tale of so many Greek plays and Elizabethan drama."

I'm fascinated by it.

I know it is hyped-up drama, over the top, cheesy, and somewhat ridiculous, but it truly is fascinating to see where the writers take the story. The hubris each week changes, but the characters are each so flawed that it makes it somewhat mesmerizing - that, and the unraveling of Lucious's story, makes for much drama. I keep coming back.

And when I think about this, I realize that there's a lot of Days of Our Lives to the heightened silliness of backstabbing, killing, lying, and recalculating. I grew up on soap operas, so I guess I have to admit that this one is mine.

Ah, Taraji P. are one of my favorite characters ever. XOXOXO. Wow. I'm in love with your fiction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Merging Loves Today: Teaching, Diva, Bridgeport Youth, Service-Learning @fairfieldu, #Ubuntu

Today marks the last day ED 329 will work one-on-one with young people at Barnum K-8 in Bridgeport. It is a Philosophy of Education course and all semester, the students have been thinking about their personal philosophies of school while working in....well....a school.

Administrators, teachers, and I kicked around multiple ideas to culminate the partnership, but settled on a presentation/workshop from me. I asked if I could bring my friend and they said, "Sure."

So, today, the Diva & The Frog do Barnum with undergraduate philosophers at Fairfield. We are doing our spoken word poetry jam locally, in the ways we've done it nationally. It should be a great day and I look forward to partnering with the Barnum kids.

Here's the Magic Box poem draft that resulted for the workshop:

A Poem for Barnum, 2016

Bridgeport is a philosophy,
         the finding of harmony and serenity
                  in Salsa and cilantro,
the simple complexity within complex simplicity
of the fried dough that sets us free
         (look for a trophy of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Barnum is friendship,
a billion binoculars focused on the diversity
of a group hug -  
         the bodacious joke that makes children go bananas
         and the brilliance of hands holding hands
                   before we go bonkers in laughter.

We are the hot flames of the universe
who come together for knowledge.
We are the wisdom of our elders sharing stories,
         the teachers, & their glory,
         who caress us with library books
         & mentor classroom skies in chalk.
burning intellect in our minds as if we’re apple pie, coffee,
         and the discovery from an all you can eat buffet.

We are youth tutored in multiplied screams
who read through laughter & screaming,
Yeah, we want to know, to grow,
the noise in the cafeteria (it’s a middle school show)
& gossip in hallways (did you hear about so & so, yo!)
the subtraction from talking,
         rapping through teaching,
         & wrapping of everything we’re supposed to know.

We go forward, challenging the opportunities that divide us;
become the poetry of Fairfield in the linguistic art
         of Super Duper Weenies and Stepford wives.
We are the rhythm and the magic
         caught in traffic
         that offers soul music to make linguistic art.

We are Barnum, and from this point on we start….

…this is the beginning.