Monday, August 31, 2015

R.I.P. Dr. Oliver Sacks

Sometimes one needs to pause on the obituary page and think about the amazing contributions that one person can make. Dr. Oliver Sacks is worth reading about, especially if you have not heard him interviewed by Terry Gross or seen "Awakenings." One of the nicer tributes that I have read came out in May in The Atlantic.

As the teaching profession progresses, instructors are increasingly focused on "teaching with the brain in mind." One of the most compelling books that we have had to read for the Champlain College Teachers' Apprentice Program (TAP) is a book bearing exactly that phrase as its title.

It seems startlingly obvious, but, in fact, one of the biggest revelations that I have had this summer is that one cannot possibly be a well-prepared teacher in this day and age without understanding how people learn, retain, and apply information and skills. Dr. Sacks helped so much in this field.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poetry about my new profession

The History Teacher

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Poem: "The History Teacher," by Billy Collins from Questions About Angels (University of Pittsburgh Press).
The History Teacher
Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.
And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.
The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"
The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.
The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,
while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Professional Development: "The People's Civill War"

When I arrived Friday morning at the beautiful Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College, my alma mater, for a four-day class on the People's Civil War with Prof. Amy Morsman, I consumed a delicious breakfast--at a college whose new president spoke powerfully, in her first address to an assembly of alumni/ae, to us about its commitment to moral food practices--and then I sat in a comfortable armchair to wait. Here, in the lobby of the main inn building, I noticed a defibrillator and wondered why an undergraduate college would have that so prominently placed. Now I know! I have been surrounded by a very progressive (one might even say liberal) group of 133 other alums, parents and friends of the college, 95% of whom are septuagenarians and octogenarians. Most seem to come year after year.

As I write, we are debating how I would have constructed a Reconstruction plan with a group that includes a Pakistani student educated in Hong Kong and currently a senior at the College on the hill, with a retired estates and divorce lawyer, with a Quaker, and with parents of a beloved underclassman from my time at this institution of higher learning. Add this to our having colored (with colored-pencils!) on maps, listened carefully and joyfully to half an hour of Civil War era music, compared and contrasted the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and the final draft, compared the unsuccessful 13 Amendment with the subsequent 13th Amendment, and plowed through nine primary source related to, among other things:

  • Jews kicked out of the Department of Tennessee by Grant, an order mercifully and righteously countermanded by General-in-Chief Halleck
  • Minnesota Sioux sentenced to death
  • Southern dames from New Orleans who would have been accused of being "ladies of the night" for being inhospitable to their Union occupiers
  • freeborn black men pleading for the $13 paid to white soldiers instead of the $10 paid to emancipated slaves cum "laborers" in the army
This has been an incredible few hours facing a blackboard and PowerPoint screen filled with images of people, maps, and provocative quotations. I am thrilled that my mentor and the program director at Champlain College allowed me to participate in this professional development experience. Additionally, I have connected with some wonderful, aged alums, many of whom have been teachers.

Having walked trudged and fast-marched through the details of the war over the last three days, I am looking forward to tomorrow's promising discussion about how the Civil War continues in our time. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

First Assignment: Golf with the Ninth Grade

Tomorrow is orientation for the ninth grade and I am assigned to the group that will go golfing. I may be the great-grandson of Laurence Bowring Stoddart, who won the match-play competition at St. Andrews (New Jersey) in 1894, and have played two rounds of miniature golf this weekend (a normal activity for my little sister's birthday), my father may have once gotten a hole-in-one and my twin sister might own her own clubs, but I am not a golfer.

My experiences with golf are limited to being run over by a golf cart, while working as a page during the 1988 US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, MA--an incident that put me in a cast for six weeks with a fractured tibia--and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad (traumatic) game with my family about a year or so later.

This is going to be an adventure. I hope I can get the iron (or wood?) to make contact with the ball. I have a distinct memory that this was a lot harder than it looks on TV. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Here we go.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Day of In-Service: Reflections on Education Issues

Looking forward to meeting my principal and fellow social studies department colleagues, as well as a long list of other people who make the school run smoothly.

Common Core

On a different note, the New York Times has reported that six of the aspirant Republican candidates for President of the United States have spoken about Common Core. You can read the article here. Basically, if you read between the lines some of the Republicans are rejecting Common Core, because of a perception that it is federally-mandated when, in fact, that is not at all the case. Each state has been through a process driven by their own department of education, governor, and legislature.

Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have adopted the Common Core State Standards. The map at Standards in Your State provides information about the process each state and territory followed to adopt their new academic standards. (In addition, links are provided to state and territory department of education websites that provide information about how the standards are being implemented, plans for aligned assessments, supports for teachers, and plans to help all students succeed.)

Teachers Unions

Some Republicans, especially anti-union Scott Walker and Chris Christie, have taken aim at the largest professional employee organization in the country.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's three million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. (See NEA.)

What do you think of teachers unions? I believe they protect employees and that the NLRB keeps them in check, but there are, as with any human institution, opportunities for abuse and corruption.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

More on my Plate?

Stay posted, but I plan to offer a course on Chinese Culture and Language at the Mount Mansfield Union High School After Dark series. If I am lucky, it will be offered Tuesday nights for six consecutive weeks starting October 6.  Here is the rough outline:

Having returned from four years in China, I would like to share with the community and students my interest in Chinese tea, Chinese language, The Game of Go, Chinese books, and Chinese history. We will cover one of these topics each week.

Class One: Learn the GongFu tea ceremony from an expert and try many kinds of Chinese tea.

Class Two: Play with calligraphy brushes and learn some elementary Chinese language.

Class Three: Introductory look at Chinese History with a special focus on US/Chinese relations since 1900. We will use China Mirage as the text and you are responsible for getting your own copy and reading it ahead of the class meeting.

Class Four: The literature class will utilize books of poetry and English translations of the four great novels, as well as a quick look at Confucius' The Analects, Suntzu's Art of War, and the Tibetan Buddhist Thangkas. Handouts will be provided at the previous class and made available on-line.

Class Five: We will play Wei Qi (aka The Game of Go), which is one of the four skills required of a Chinese gentleman. (The others are calligraphy, painting, and playing the Qin.)
N.B. Ancient requirements included skill at archery and we may do an optional field trip to an archery range.
Class Six: Chinese classical music is very different than Western music, utilizing many instruments that many may have never seen or heard. This will be a listening class, in large part, with a special focus on the two major kinds of Chinese zither (guzheng and guqin).

I will be working to get a couple guest speakers if and once the class is approved. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Day One: What's On My Plate?

While the look and feel of this blog are a work-in-progress (low priority), I began my time at the Champlain College Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP) today and want to make my first post.

One assignment tonight was to reflect on what else, in addition to TAP, is on my plate as I face the year ahead. In fact, I had to make an actual plate to show my priorities. Here it is:

God: Like the Three-in-One, the rosary here entwines with all else. Hoping to make it to DC to see "my Pope" again in September and have registered at a parish in Underhill, called St Thomas...which will probably be the name of my first-born son if I find someone with whom to create one and she agrees. (N.B. The rosary was made in 1999 for me and one major "bead" [er, fetish] broke shortly before the Maker rattled my faith. I am still trying to figure out which mystery went missing. Was it a Sorrowful or Joyful?)

Three apples: My initials are APL. The apple is a symbol of teaching and the logo of TAP.

USPS: The Forever stamp (49 cents!!!) is symbolic of my desire to resume my letter-writing habits of olde and to find someone with whom I can correspond "till death us do part."

Writing: The pen and "John Hancock" are emblematic of my ongoing novel-writing project and this blog effort.

Tea: The tea bag ties into the former and also represents my opium pipe-dream of opening a high-brow Boston Tea Party teahouse in The Hub.

Camera: The camera (actually a lighter and "keychain camera" "Made in China") stands for my passion for photography. I will do the Member-of-the-Month display at the Onion River Coop's City Market (Burlington, VT) in November with selected China photographs and some of my calligraphy on display.

Bernie: I hope to help lead GOTV efforts to organize Bernie's constituents in "the 14th colony." I am not talking about Vermont, which is a) solidly behind his effort and b) was the 14th state to join the Union. No, I am talking about the Americans living abroad who would comprise the 14th most populous state in the country if they could apply for statehood. Alas, they are like colonists who really lack meaningful representation despite being liable for taxation.

Clothespin: The clothespin represents all of the quotidian mysteries of living simply, but also indicates my inability to sever the umbilical cord with Project Laundry List. What lies ahead in regard to this, only the Shadow knows. A shout-out to El Profe for believing in me.


There is some raw, over-sharing in the above post, but that is characteristic of blogs. You can help me by commenting on what you would find most useful for me to discuss as I embark on this new chapter: seeking licensure and a job in Vermont as a social studies teacher. I hope some of my fans from Waking Green Dragon will follow this blog, too. There is a "follow by email" option in the upper right corner of the new blog: Poor Ricardo.