Several weeks ago Kristin and I made a habit of running together on Saturday mornings. I've never really been a huge fan of running with people, but I'm hooked now. Like I told Kristin during our run, I look forward to our long runs together because it's really the one guaranteed break I get during the week from work and grad. school. I love Kristin's company. She's so kind-hearted and genuine. She's one of those really thoughtful people who likes to put others before herself; she told me on Saturday that she and her husband were planning to come cheer Nate and me on at the marathon in May (despite the four hour drive!). She's not boastful, even though she could boast about a lot: she's an accomplished musician, incredibly faithful to her husband, and has made huge strides in living a healthy lifestyle. Though she's not training for any race, she shows up every Saturday morning (even when it's cold and windy) to run what most people would consider an insane amount of miles with me, and she listens to me rant about my job and my incessant chatter about running. Kristin inspires me to dig deeper into the Word of God, treat my husband with more respect, and to be less selfish.
The photo above is from Kristin's blog and was taken after our run a few weeks ago when we conquered the bypass road here in town.
I have a tendancy to feel overwhelmed often, and Facebook has a tendency to eat away all or most of a person's free time. My productivity has climbed---I've written about 20 pages on the thesis (5 of which I scrapped and 15 will probably end up with the same fate) and have read several books both for pleasure and research. My grades have been posted quicker, and I'm racking up the miles on my new running shoes. Overall, my life just feels so much less cluttered. I'm not overstimulated with random tidbits of information, engaging in what can sometimes be mindless chatter. Facebook can sometimes be a healthy distraction, but an undisciplined sap like myself can find herself addicted. The one downfall is feeling out of the loop. Before, Facebook was really my way of communicating with colleagues and friends; even though email would be an adequate replacement, the mode seems more formal, and so I have lost touch with several people since breaking my digital dependency.
I don't know how long I'll maintain a Facebook-free life, but for now I'll enjoy this new-found simplicity...and I'll Tweet instead ;) (I had to throw in some snarkiness!)
"Did you see the news last week? On Friday, we learned that our book Rethinking Columbus was banned — along with other books used in Tucson's Mexican American Studies program, including Paulo Freire's A Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martinez's 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures. So we're in good company.
School authorities confiscated the books during class—boxed them up and hauled them off. As one student said, 'We were in shock ... It was very heartbreaking to see that happening in the middle of class'" (Rethinking Columbus Banned in Tucson).
Confiscating books DURING a class?!? Really? That line fired me up. And while I haven't read Pedagogy of the Oppressed yet (it's in my pile of thesis books), I have read Freire's Education for Critical Consciousness...his ideas have opened my eyes to look at the way we educate students and to revise my curriculum and teaching methods to present a more just, relevant, and overall critical education for students. I don't always succeed in this, but I try everyday. So, I'm a bit outraged that his work would be banned (banning books has always seemed like a draconian concept to me). I couldn't put reading about this aside any longer.
Yesterday NPR featured an interview with TUSD Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal. I listened to it tonight and read the transcript a few times...and I can't keep my mouth shut about this. Brace yourself..I'm stepping on a soapbox for a moment.
As I understand it, the program was hacked because it violated an Arizona law which bars courses that "'encourage resentment toward a race or class of people'" (Mexican American Studies: Bad Ban or Bad Class?). The district would be faced with massive fines if they left the Mexican American Studies program alone. Now I have several issues with this interview and the cut, but for sake of time...I'll key in on a few.
First, the host Michel Martin hits on an important issue. She asks a pivotal question: how do you measure whether or not a course creates or encourages resentment? Any event in history could cause resentment for a particular group of people. Currently I'm teaching the Civil Rights Movement, and I don't know how anyone can speak about this era in history without feeling some sort of sorrow, shame, and some resentment. Martin states, "I'm just wondering how you can teach something in a manner where you are going to guarantee what a student may or may not feel" (Mexican American Studies: Bad Ban or Bad Class). Part of my job as an educator is to reveal injustices in history, society, and culture. Many textbooks gloss over these events, and I'm sorry to say it, but many parents don't speak to their kids about these. So then who will teach kids about these atrocities in order for them to think about the impact and feel the weight of these injustices? If we don't teach them in school, how can we guarantee our students will grow to be productive and just citizens who don't fall into the role of an oppressor or one who is oppressed (a relationship mentioned by Freire that is chided by the TUSD superintendent). And when did students feeling become a negative concept? If students aren't allowed to feel emotions and then taught how to deal with them in an appropriate manner, they may never learn.
This brings me to my next mini-rant: With the advent of No Child Left Behind (thank you George Bush), the purpose of education has changed and not for the better. Honestly, I feel like the purpose of American public education has quickly become centered around getting kids to pass a series of tests that offer them few real-world skills. Do kids need to be effective readers and writers in order to be productive citizens? Certainly. However--does our current system adequately measure these skills? I don't think so. Districts are facing an incredible amount of pressure to get kids to pass these tests....I'm feeling it myself. After a conversation today with someone who will remain unnamed, I'm wondering how long I'll be able to keep teaching valuable units (that all line up with many of the state ELA standards) in my English classes---units like my Social Action unit which teach interviewing skills, business letter writing, news writing, using social media effectively, analyzing non-fiction documents important to our history, and how to effectively take action to make change---all practical skills that students are more likely to use in life--or my House on Mango Street unit which opens my primarily white students' eyes to Mexican American culture and what it's like to grow up poverty stricken in an inner-city---experiences many of them will never have. I predict that in a few years, I will be forced to scrap these units just like the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, trading it for a watered-down, scripted curriculum designed to achieve a certain level of proficiency as defined by law makers who have little to no experience in education.
And the final issue I have with this ban on the Mexican American Studies program is that it looks (from the outside) as though a large reason why the course was eliminated was because it reveals the not-so-pretty picture of American history/culture. As Michel Martin states, this sudden change to a program that's been in existence for at least ten years is simply trading "one bias for another bias." We shouldn't hide our history...we should confront it in order to learn from it.
I don't like it, but I understand the era of cuts in a tight economy. But the issues above make me nervous to be a teacher in this day and age. The minute I'm forced to compromise my values and philosophy and neglect what's in the the best interest of kids, is the minute I'll have to rethink my career path. I pray I don't see that day, and I pray my own kids will receive a critical, just, diverse, and relevant public education....
But a promise is a promise...even to an unidentifiable group of people who may or may not read this....I digress. While scoping out Twitter on Friday, I came across this article posted on The Atlantic: John Steinbeck on Falling in Love: A 1958 Letter.
Steinbeck is one of the greatest American writers and is the author of one of my all time favorites, Travels With Charley. The letter posted in The Atlantic is a response to his son after hearing that his son was in love...it's completely endearing and makes me fall deeper in love with him. The end quote in the article sums the letter up better than I can, "Steinbeck's words of wisdom—tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious—should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being."
Some of my best childhood memories are from that small, southeastern Nebraska town. Now I find myself back in a small town similar to the one I grew up in, but on the opposite end of the state. And maybe it's because I'm older and have the ability to be more critical, but I've noticed that small towns are changing. The town I grew up in has experienced major changes in the last fifteen years: many downtown businesses have either closed or have been converted to Mexican grocery markets due in part to the changing industry and the introduction of a Wal-Mart and the presence of gangs has increased. At one point I looked at applying for a teaching job in that community and was interested in moving back but was discouraged by several colleagues and adults due to the "problems" in the town and the local high school. Similarly, when my husband and I moved to a small town four years ago, I had these romantic visions of teaching kids who valued hard work and whose parents valued education. And while I have been blessed to have many hard-working students whose families really do care about education, it seems that each year the number of these students decline along with our enrollment. In my small town teaching job, I deal with big city issues: drug use, poverty, homelessness, abusive parents, early run-ins with the law...I could go on and on. My job as a small town teacher is not at all what I expected. It's undeniable that small towns are changing.
Many of these once-valued small towns across the Heartland are shrinking at a rapid pace and are experiencing a "hollowing out"--a brain drain due to what seems like a mass exodus of youth (Carr and Kefalas). Urban dwellers might ask, so why does it matter if small towns die off? Not only can small towns provide a way of life and a quality of life that simply can't be replicated in metropolitan areas, this dilemma matters because "[...] the Heartland is the place where our food comes from, it is the place that helps elect our presidents [...] and it is the place that sends more than its fair share of young men and women to fight for this country. The future of the many towns that give the Heartland its shape and its sinews is of vital importance, and we believe that ignoring their hollowing out will be detrimental in the short and long terms" (Carr and Kefalas ix). Without small towns, the face of America would change greatly and not for the better.
My guiding question for my thesis has emerged as: How does social action develop deeper connections to community for rural students? I'm aware that to most, this is dreary material. As I've grown to kind of like living and teaching in a small town (shhh....don't tell!) though, this question has become increasingly important to me. Until this year, I've basically treated activism and place consciousness as two separate units within my curriculum. Last year I listened to kids (particularly my seniors) lament about our town wishing they lived somewhere more exciting making declarations that they will probably never come back to Ogallala because A) it's boring and B) there are no jobs here for them. While I believe these claims are due in part to the natural longing to experience the world, when I prodded them about their civic involvement, I discovered that these experiences were few and far between. My seniors really didn't have a clue as to how decisions about the community were made and lacked involvement with the community. Many of these students were bright and involved heavily in extracurricular activities and most would likely fit into Carr and Kefalas's category of Achievers (students bound for college, destined to move away and never come back). So I began to wonder: would more civic involvement help students consider the possibilities of eventually returning to our small town?
Over the past four years, enrollment at our high school has dropped, and we've gone from a class B school to a class C school. My music teacher husband and I have sat on edge as discussions of RIFfing swirled around the district resulting in just a few (luckily) positions eliminated. Each year when contracts are issued I grow a little nervous thinking about the possibility that either me or my husband could be issued the dreaded pink slip due to declining numbers in enrollment. I haven't done any deep census studies, but from listening to locals chat, I hear worry and concern in voices as they talk about how Ogallala once was compared to its state now. And as I listen to my students' state that Ogallala is fine to grow up in, but not fine to move back to--my concern for the town's well-being is growing.
So, this year I've decided to merge activism and place consciousness in my curriculum; I guess it's my own little attempt to plug the rural brain drain....
In my next post I'll include some of Carr and Kefalas's findings and ideas that support what I'm doing in my own classroom...bear with me as I work through research and try to navigate my way back on track for my thesis. I promise to try and post something this weekend that is non-thesis related :)
If you want to excel at basketball, football, golf, volleyball, etc; if you want to learn all you can about the sport, who would you go to? I want to learn more about long distance running, so I'm reading Hal Higdon's book. Higdon (now 80) has run 111 marathons (as of 2006) winning four of them and earning several age-group firsts; he has written for Runner's World magazine longer than any other writer and has written a list of books too long to remember (Hal Higdon). The guy's a freaking machine and a running guru.
When we want to do the best we can at an activity, one of the things we do is go to the source or a master of the source to learn from. The same principles apply for being a follower of Christ. If we believe that God is who He says He is (created the entire universe and sent His only son as an atonement for our sins)--then we should want to honor Him and learn from Him. And we can learn about how best to honor Him by going straight to the source: the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, "All Scripture is breathed by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work."
The first part of these verses makes an incredible statement about the word of God: that it's breathed by him, it's directly from Him written by a variety of people throughout the years. The Bible is our source for learning how best to honor and follow God. Pastors, other believers, and Christian writers are all helpful people, but if we really want to know how to live for Him, then we should read the Bible. Not only is it breathed by God, it shows us what to do and what not to do. The Bible corrects us. Now, we don't always like to be corrected. Being told we're wrong pretty much sucks...but without this, we don't grow. We need to be corrected in order to succeed or be all we're made to be.
A regular habit of reading the Bible is life-changing; you kind of have to try it out for yourself to know what I mean. Just as taking golf lessons from Tiger Woods would take my incredibly poor golf skills to a higher level, taking lessons from God by reading His word will take my walk with Him to a higher level. So...if you're not in a regular habit of reading the Bible, I encourage you to find time to do so. When I first became a believer, I started with the book of Romans based on advice from a campus ministry leader. Start small--try reading a few verses three times a day. Then build up to a chapter a day. It doesn't really matter where you start; God will use whatever you're reading to teach you. Like practicing or training for any athletic event, reading the Bible won't always be pleasant. Sometimes you'll hit dry spells, but persevering and making a habit out of reading the Bible will revolutionize your life and take your faith to a newer level.
1. Always carry Kleenex while running. A mile into our run last week, blood began gushing out of my nose. Fortunately, my running partner is a planner (unlike me) and we were near a gas station.
2. Just because you are a runner, doesn't mean you can eat anything you want. A few weeks ago I ate a cookie, a piece of peanut brittle, and a few pieces of candy 45 minutes before my run. About a mile in, the side aches nearly doubled me over forcing me to kick my pace back to what seemed like a turtle's shuffle. I'm learning to be smarter about what I eat. My goals: no soda, cut back on the candy (during thesis writing sessions or grading sessions, I tend to pound down the sugar), and eliminate processed foods.
3. Long runs are more bearable with a buddy. From June to October I ran with our XC kids, so I've grown accustomed to running with people. It was a bit disheartening to head out for a run on my own after XC season. About a month ago, Kristin and I began running together on Saturday mornings. She is my motivation to get my you-know-what out of bed on a Saturday morning and out in the cold. It helps that she's a great conversationalist. She's a mellow person while I'm rather high strung, so our personalities balance each other out well. I feel blessed to have her as a running partner especially because she's not training for anything right now. She's just running with me out of the goodness of her heart :)
4. Nice running gear makes it easier to run. I realize this seems shallow. But, Nate and I decided to splurge and purchase a few staples to make our road to 26.2 even a little less painful. I HATE treadmills with a fiery passion and have decided I'll do all of my training in God's great outdoors. So I invested in a nice running coat built for 30 degrees or colder, a pair of windblocking compression tights, a nice pair of running mittens that actually keep my fingers warm (wearing two pair of gloves was getting annoying), blister prevention wool socks made for running (it's gross, but I get nasty blisters on my toes when training hard), a few cold weather running hats, a nice thermal running shirt, and another pair of shoes to swap out during training (primarily to wear on my long runs and the day of the marathon). And though I still feel self-conscious walking out the door in my butt hugging running tights, this gear sure does make running long more comfortable.
5. I still love running. Nate got back from a run this week and found me stretching with a goofy smile on my face. He looked pissed. I asked him how his run went, and he replied: "You really love running that much? I'm sick of it." Running is my distraction. It gives me time to digest the day's or week's events and get away from grading, researching, cleaning, etc. It allows me to push myself, and it physically makes me feel great. Hopefully I'll still love running after running 26.2 miles!
This is just the tip of the iceberg; I'm sure to learn more as I start adding the miles. Week one of training is completed---17 more to go! In five weeks we'll be running a half-marathon in Arvada, Colorado. Pray for good weather--Colorado in February can be nasty!
I'm aware of the predicament in which rural schools often find themselves. In my neck of the woods--southwest Nebraska--it's hard to attract young, motivated, critical teachers and it's even harder to get them to stay. My career is a testament to this predicament. I was hired to teach in a small, consolidated district before I had even completed my student teaching experience simply because the district was faced with a retiring teacher and no applicants....other than me: an overly ambitious college student handing out resumes to any principals who'd take them. They really had no choice but to hire me. The district is solid, the kids (for the most part) are hard-working, and the administration is fairly supportive, but it only took me a a few months to realize I didn't have the stamina or experience to maintain the schedule handed to me by the district: 8 preps in an 8 period day is practically homicide for a novice teacher. A few years later I find myself teaching in a larger school twenty miles down the road---a class C school with a rapidly declining student population in a town where the majority seems to shrug its shoulders at problems the district faces. Either the massive work loads or the lack of community investment in its most precious commodity, education, push many young and ambitious teachers out (especially those with no roots in the region). Who can blame them? I'm interested in how we can retain these teachers because ultimately, the students are losing out the most. Research proves that students do not learn as much from a first-year teacher as they do from a more experienced teacher. It's not rocket science. From my experience, the first three years of teaching are pretty much trial and error and survival. So when jobs become "revolving door" positions, what are students gaining?
For the past three years I've been studying Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas's work dealing with The Rural Brain Drain phenomenon. Students in my English 12 class read, discuss, and write about their article, "The Rural Brain Drain," that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. These conversations with students have been fruitful and encouraging for me, causing me to invest more in examining the dilemmas rural students face. So looking for inspiration for my thesis, last night I picked up Carr and Kefalas's book Hollowing Out The Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America. Not only does the book scientifically examine this phenomenon, it also blends in rich profiles of rural people and the dilemmas they face. The writers' descriptions are vivid and prove that writing about research can result in a compelling read that is anything but dry. I'm really hoping this book will provide me with some direction in which to direct my thesis. However, I'm also looking forward to examining this brain drain more deeply and am hoping it will invigorate my teaching at a time when I'm feeling tired and overworked.
Each time I've sat down to sift thorough data and write has been a chore. I feel lost with no clear direction of where to go or what do; most everything I'm writing is pure crap. I knew writing a thesis would be challenging, but I never thought it would be this difficult. I am so afraid of failing with this major endeavor. I started my Master's program a few weeks after earning my Bachelor's Degree and haven't rested since. I've invested thousands of dollars and three (almost four) long years of coursework...what if I never finish this? What if everything I write is worthless causing my committee to lose complete faith in my prospects as a potential PhD candidate in UNL's Composition and Rhetoric program? It's overwhelming and is holding me back from being productive. For those of you who have been in my shoes, any advice on working through this?
I have high hopes for 2012 and am looking forward to watching it unfold. Last night we got together with four friends from here in town for dinner. It seemed very celebratory--celebratory of the new year and of our friendship. While we ate, drank good wine, and laughed, the conversation turned towards new years' resolutions. We sort of haphazardly went around the table and shared our resolutions: lose weight, get in shape, and stop smoking were just a few. When it was my turn to share, I found myself at a loss of words (this doesn't happen much). I typically don't declare a resolution for the new year and hadn't really thought about a resolution until that point. Maybe it was the wine, but I cautiously mentioned that I wanted to be less selfish in 2012.
It's not a concrete resolution that can really be measured by anyone other than myself, but I think it's an important goal nonetheless. Over the last few years I've become very self-centered. I put myself first in too many situations to even list off right now. So in 2012, I hope to set my comforts aside more to help others. I hope to be more hospitable, to open my home to more people and serve them. I hope to take some of my focus off furthering my career and focus more on being relational with my colleagues and students.
Hope you've all enjoyed the first few days of 2012 and are reflecting on how to make this year better than the last.