Archive for February, 2010

Read like a…

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In my class one of our goals is to learn how to read like writers.  I think this is something I do, but I’m not sure, because I’m realizing that a better way to describe what I do is that I read like an editor, and I don’t think editors and writers are quite the same thing.

I think when you read like a writer you’re supposed to be reading with an eye towards how the writer creates the effects in a piece – the sense of character  or of place, or the way the sentences pick you up and pull you along.  What tools does he use?  How does word choice heighten the impact of a particular sentence?  This, I think, is what it means to read like a writer.

Reading like an editor, however, is both more and less than this.  Less because it does not focus on what can be learned from the writer.  More because it looks for what works – and tries to figure out how to fix what doesn’t work.  Reading like an editor sometimes means spending more time thinking about the one awkward sentence in the book than the 100 pages of great writing.  What made this sentence not feel right?  Why does this stand out from the rest?  How could it be better?  It focuses, perhaps, on the art of problem-solving rather than the art of writing.

In responding to my classmates I mute the reader-as-editor voice because that’s not what the class is about – I don’t really want word by word feedback from them, and I’m sure they don’t want it from me.  I do try to pay attention, though, to my internal reactions to their writing – places where I automatically remove words or rearrange sentences, and I wonder if they do the same thing when they read my writing.

I think, too, about what it means to develop an author’s voice, and if there is such a thing as an editor’s voice.  It’s not a term I’ve ever heard a teacher or colleague use, but my own experiences editing and being edited tell me it does exist.  In my own editing I see patterns – strong likes and dislikes in word choice and sentence structure; in the editing others have done on my writing, I see personalities come through too – different likes, different dislikes, a sense of confidence or of timidity.  Our class starts work on revising and editing after spring break.  I wonder what they’ll think about the idea of reading like editors.

Categories: Books, Reflection Tags: , ,

Today’s Career Thoughts

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

After 3 aimless, expensive days in San Francisco at a job fair and 3 hours this morning spent getting to, waiting in line for, and getting home from a job fair (without getting an interview), I’m feeling pretty down on the entire education job search process.  I’m used to working in a meritocracy where skills and potential impact matter more than years of experience, but no on in education seems to care about that.  The only question is how many years I’ve taught; as a new teacher, few people are even willing to sit down with me.  Those who have sat down for a real interview have tended to be impressed…but told me that their boards won’t be happy if they hire a new teacher.

Running alongside these frustrating experiences is my internal questioning of the match between my career goals and my personal goals.  I want to be in an elementary classroom, but I’m terrified of limiting my social world to women and young children.  Unfortunately, that’s not a gap that can be bridged.  Men simply aren’t in elementary schools, and if they are, they’re not single.  So if I’m entering my 30s and thinking about finding a partner and starting a family, how does teaching elementary school line up with that goal?

I spent a lot of the 5 hour wait in the San Francisco airport reading Penelope Trunk’s blog.  She writes about the intersection of life and work, with a focus on women and 20- and 30-somethings.  Throughout her columns she stresses that a career will always be there for smart, talented people, so you shouldn’t put your personal life on hold for your career goals.  She talks a lot about moving in and out of careers as circumstances change, and it has me wondering: should I spend the next 2-3 years working for a big company, getting paid a lot, and being in a mixed gender environment, then come back to teaching?  My teaching certificate, as dad pointed out, doesn’t  go bad – in a good economy, I should be able to be hired, even if I haven’t worked as  a teacher for several years.

I’m not sure how this whole search will end, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind and see where it takes me.

Categories: Career Tags: ,

Writer’s Notebook

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

An optional part of the course I’m taking is to create (and then lug around) a writer’s notebook in which we can record ideas we might write about at some point.  I haven’t done this.

Mostly I haven’t done it because I hate carrying things (hence using a flip wallet and a clutch).  But the idea is a good one.  It’d be great to record all of the ideas I come up with during the day but then forget when it’s time to sit down to write (this context-specific amnesia is one of several reasons I haven’t written much lately).  Maybe I could borrow my friend Ringo’s idea and carry around a digital voice recorder so I could record memos to myself.  Or maybe I’ll just try harder to remember what I’m thinking about.  As a start, I’m writing here a list of the topics I thought about today:

  • Why couples I see in airports and restaurants fascinate me.
  • The flexibility conflict between my short- and long-term goals.
  • In a big group of people with a toddler among them, how do you tell who’s the mom?
  • Impatience: necessary or evil?
  • Choices I make to avoid even the possibility of being stuck in a long conversation with someone.
  • Why do all older men working in international or independent schools look familiar to me?
  • Realization: just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.
  • The dangers (and upsides) of having an expressive face.
  • Job fair comparison: what creates camaraderie?
  • Airport vehicles as a bizarre adaptive ecosystem.
  • City transit systems I have known and (maybe not) loved.
  • Why I sometimes worry I’ve been dropped into a dystopian movie when I’m on a subway.
  • Life as a movie: am I a lead actor or an extra who gets killed off early?
  • In support of arranged marriage.  (In general and in my life.)
  • My current dissatisfaction with all of my existing skill sets and why this could spell financial ruin.
  • I don’t have a husband or babies but I plan my career around them.  Do men do this?
  • The beauty of interstate highways at night.
  • My frustration at being at the bottom of a career ladder again.
  • The careers I think I’d rock.
  • My nostalgic reaction to British, Aussie and South African accents.
  • How airports are an example of the social contract.
  • They’re paging “John Adams.”  Seriously, who does that to their kid?

Okay, that is all.

Categories: Travel Tags:


February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

[The prompt for this exercise was to write down a name – any name – then create a situation in which the character’s life changes. We had five minutes to write.]

“C’mon Sophia, just give it a try.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I mean, it’s not like it can kill you.  It’s just a tomato.”

“A really, really good tomato, Sophia.  Seriously, this is the best tomato I have ever eaten.  It might be the best food I’ve ever eaten.  You have to try it.”

“Just a bite, Soph.  C’mon.”

Sophia sighed.  They knew she hated red foods.  But they kept pushing at her, all the time.  ‘Sophia try this, Sophia have a bite of that.’  She was tired of defending herself.  “Guys, you know I hate red foods.  Leave me alone, okay?”

But they didn’t give up.  Not at ALL.  Finally, Sophia couldn’t take it anymore.  “Fine!  I’ll eat it! Just SHUT UP!”  She took a bite.  “Oh my god…it’s amazing…”

Coming to school: three perspectives

February 17, 2010 1 comment

Abraham says:
“I like coming to school because sometimes there’s fun bits but sometimes it’s just so boring to just sit and be quiet.  I have lots of ideas in my head and I like telling them to my friends because they’re so cool but I always just get yelled at for chatting.  I try to do my work at my table but it can be really hard because sometimes I just want to chat and sometimes I don’t really want to do it so I try to just finish real quick like and sometimes it’s just like there are monkeys in my brain.  I wish we could chat more in school so that I don’t have to be so bored and I don’t get yelled at and school’s more fun.  I like the times that we get to move around and chat – like when we did the jumping thing, that was the best bit.”

Tiffany says:
“I like all the things we do in school, but sometimes I get so sad about my dad, yeah, or my mom makes me walk and I’m late and I get yelled at, or Jenny makes a mean face at me and I just get in such a bad mood and I can’t do anything right, and I don’t want to be nice to anybody.  When we do reading or writing or math I get sad and a little mad and scared because I’m trying real hard, yeah, but I just can’t get it right.  I like it when I get to talk just to the teacher and she listens to me, or when I pretend to be the teacher and I get to tell other people what to do.  I have fun when we get to talk and I have lots of ideas, but when they tell me to write them down I just feel stupid and mad like.”

Emily says:
“I almost always know the answer when the teacher asks a question but she never calls on me first unless we’re really busy – she always asks someone else first, even when I was the first one to raise my hand.  I’m much better at reading and writing than the other kids in the class – I can read almost anything, just like my big sister can, and I write stories all the time – really long ones, in really good handwriting.  When we have math class I almost always know the answer, even when other kids mess up.  I like working with the other kids sometimes because it’s fun to talk to people, but it’s so hard sometimes when I know what to do and they don’t.  I keep telling them over and over what to do but they just say no or they grab the clay and they don’t listen.  I told the teacher that it’s hard to work in groups but she keeps making us do it.  Sometimes she comes over though when we’re in groups and tells me what a great job I’m doing, and she lets me stay in the classroom sometimes to just chat with her.”

Snapshot from a classroom

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

The sun streams into the frame from the left, creating patches of glare on the bulletin board.  Around the spots of sun it’s possible to see a large, hand-drawn calendar – black lines on white posterboard separate the page into 7 boxes across, 6 boxes down.  A bright green label along the top edge says “December” and 4 colored squares below seem to place today as the 4th.  The rest of the bulletin board is covered in paper – some colorful, some not.  There’s a pink strip with blue and green squares that’s labeled “Our odd and even chart,” and elsewhere on the board are weather charts for the preceding months, a page covered in children’s names, and a white strip of paper that proclaims “Ariana thinks yellow!” in bright blue marker.

On the shelves below the bulletin board there is a riot of color.  The small, colorful spines of easy reader books march across on the left side, followed by a red basket piled high with tennis balls.  Below the books sits a blue basket, papers sticking out, and to its right, more papers, more baskets, more cards, folders, supplies – all the debris of a room filled with lessons.

Standing in front of all this is a young boy.  He wears black trousers and a navy blue sweatshirt with a light blue polo shirt peeking out at the collar.  He’s smiling as he looks back over his left shoulder, towards the photographer, marker poised in his left hand as if ready to write down whatever is said next.

Classroom snapshot

Categories: Cambridge Tags: , ,

An attempt at fictionalizing (or, my teacher want me to stretch a little more)

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Julie slapped her binder down on the desk.  It just didn’t make sense.  The activity didn’t have anything to do with anything – and in a class about making lessons relevant!  Maybe the professor was doing some big experiment and wanted to see if someone would notice that what she was teaching and how she was teaching didn’t match up at all.

Or maybe not.

More likely, it was just another course where they tried to cram too much information into too little time and ended up teaching nothing instead of everything.  It would have been better, Julie thought, if she’d at least been matched up with a reasonable partner.  Or if the TA had had a clue what they were supposed to do. Or if there’d been anywhere near enough time to finish the assignment.  But no.  Instead this weekend would be about cranky emails to an ill-suited partner about an assignment that wouldn’t be graded but that had to be turned in.  She had this pattern down pat.

But what if she changed the pattern?  What if this time, instead of just going along and turning in the meaningless work, she stood up to the inanity of it?  What if she explained why this wasn’t a good educational activity, why it undermined objectives instead of helping students reach them?  What if-

Ping!  Julie’s email program chirped with a new mail alert.

“Hey Julie.  I’ve proposed a schedule for getting together to work on the assignment.  You’re free tomorrow afternoon to work on it, right?  I want to make sure we do a good job on this. – Kristen”

Or maybe she’d just give in…

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,
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