Inspire That Student! (To Do Something! Anything!)

To hear some people tell it, all teachers need to inspire and motivate students is to clearly state the day’s standard and objective. Students will obviously feel energized knowing what it is they are responsible for and will work diligently to “Create equations in two or more variables to represent relationships between quantities; graph equations on coordinate axes with labels and scales” or “Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.”

The sad truth of the matter is, besides the standards sounding really boring, many of our students do not have the vocabulary to understand what the standards mean. However, that is for another blog post. The happy truth of the matter is that most students are nice little worker bees who want to do well (or at least slide by) and respond to the objectives. They also respond to the lesson plans and classroom management expectations; they may even go so far as to catch the teacher’s enthusiasm and love of the subject– all of the things that help motivate and inspire them. But what about those other bees? You know, the “lazy” bees, the “screw you and Jane Austen” bees, and the “I don’t care what you do, I’m not gonna do it” bees? Every year they fly into the classroom, and instead of squashing them as we are tempted to do, we have to get them to make honey. We live with the knowledge that they don’t/won’t. And it stings.

So what do we do to motivate and inspire them? I mean beyond calling home, setting up appointments with school counselors, and setting up an IST. My school in particular is on its journey to becoming a Professional a Learning Community (PLC) to help strengthen instruction, collaboration, and response to intervention, but the full implementation is a few years out (this is a slow process). How do teachers, as individuals, get students to do something (and maybe learn a thing or two)?

It’s a crapshoot, really. In my experience those who don’t do anything have reasons for doing so that go beyond the classroom walls and have problems much greater for one teacher to bear. This doesn’t preclude that we just give up, and it also doesn’t preclude that once we reach a spark, that the student will be suddenly transformed. It’s a day by day process, and I try to celebrate each success in the moment knowing that tomorrow could land me back at square one. The kicker is finding that spark.

I teach US History, but I hate packet work and work sheets. Instead I have my students write paragraph responses, read primary documents, do creative projects, and analyze and respond to document-based questions among other things. In one class I have two boys–both who refused to do the work. One flat out told me that he didn’t like it and wasn’t going to do it. He then criticized me for not having a packet; a packet is easier, why do I have to make things so hard, blah, blah, blah. We both left that discussion heated and upset. I stewed. How dare he, that lazy bum, criticize me and my teaching when he does nothing, NOTHING? I bet, I thought, he wouldn’t even do a packet if I made one! Yeah, that’s what I’ll do! I’ll make him a packet! Then what will he have to complain about? That afternoon I made him a packet. The next morning when he sat at his desk, I plopped the packet in front of him. “Here.” I said, “Here is your packet.” He picked up the offensive packet gingerly in his hands and gave me a wide-eyed gaze. “You made me a packet?” he asked, “Thank you.”

While I thought I had been calling his bluff, he really wanted a packet. We decided that I was still going to teach the way I planned, but he would work out of the book and do packets. This requires him to bring his book everyday even when the rest of the class doesn’t need it. He is still a lazy kid who still tries to beat the system and has violated my trust, but he slowly does his work and cares about passing the class, because he knows there’s a chance.

The other boy called my class a “farce”. I didn’t know whether I should be annoyed or impressed. However, I did know that the response was aimed to blame me for his inactions. I had asked him why he didn’t answer the essay portion of the test (when I knew he knew the answers) in order to determine what we could do so he could do better next time. He flatly refused to do anything, but with the attitude that he was too good for my farce of a class. But he would talk to me. We share a love of reading and the classics. He constantly checks out books from the library and shares his opinions with me. The one thing we would not discuss is history.

One day he decided to write a poem for the library’s poetry contest. He kept telling me about it. The day he finished it I tentatively asked if I could read it. He said yes, so I asked if he would allow me to comment on it, and yes again. It was quite good. I highlighted the especially poetic phrasing and made comments on how he could tighten up areas. After class we discussed it in order for him to understand why I made the suggestions I did. He submitted it to the competition and received a positive response. Wanting to capitalize on his new found interest, I asked if he would consider writing poems about what we were studying in class. He thought that an “interesting prospect”. After a couple of days on his own, he finally asked for help and guidance, “I don’t know where to begin.” With the rest of the class working independently, he and I discussed Shakespearean sonnets and how to write one. He took down notes, asked questions, and looked up some sonnets on-line. Once he felt like he had a grasp of the sonnet form, he cracked open his text book and started to read. That night he wrote a sonnet on Imperialism and then another just for fun.

My students had to do a creative project at the end of the semester, so he chose to do a poetry book. He wrote four sonnets, two villanelles, and a sestina covering the themes learned so far in American history. The room took on the feel of an author reading as he pulled a chair up to the front of the class and began reciting his work. He read well and with passion; the class was floored. His face beamed with pride at their applause.

Both of these ways to get these boys to work are flukes; there’s nothing in the teacher guide that says “give the kid the packet” or “teach history through sonnets”. My class is still not rainbows and kittens. There are other students who weigh on my mind, and I wonder if I will find that spark in them during the last semester of school. One has told me that he prefers summer school, because, “Ms. L, the teachers are so chill, they don’t care what you do, and it’s so easy.” I don’t know what I am going to do about him. Another responded to my request for suggestions for things to do once we get back from break: “I don’t like creative projects. I like book reports and essays.” Hm. It looks like my students will all be reading more next semester.

Teachers: What do you do to find that spark in your unmotivated students? I’d like to hear about your experience.

I Want To Write, But It’s Never The Write Time!

I miss blogging and writing and the freedom of expression. I miss reflecting on my day and thinking of moments to share that were meaningful to me and hopefully to others. I miss the community forged with other writers– those who care about their craft and motivated by having something to say. But I’ve fallen for the cult of busy-ness. I am always busy. My life style as of now does not support the goals of a semi-aspiring writer. In order to write at the level I wish, I need time and dedication to produce they kind of writing I of which I can be proud. If someone is kind enough to leave a comment, I want to have the time to respond. Because if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well.

Everyday I think about writing, but again, I let the moment flit away. What to do?

Well, there’s only one solution: just do it. Just sit down and write.

Let’s Not Go To Work And Say We Did

Well, blog buddies, this weekend is Labor Day, and as far as I can tell, this week is going to make me work for it.  It’s already Monday and I’ve posted on Facebook to forget the margarita mix, just give me the tequila.  Today challenged me beyond normal, so much so that I cried.  In class.  Then I cried later, too.  The thing is… I don’t think I’ve cried from being upset since 2009.  I’m okay now.  Everything’s been resolved, but it was draining to say the least.  Then tomorrow night is back-to-school night.  Here’s my excitement about that: yay.  It will be in the gym, not in our rooms.  The five parents (I’m not exaggerating, okay, maybe a little, but not by much) who show up will not know what their kids say everyday.  They will, however, see all of us in one big noisy room that challenges my hearing as sounds reverberate off the walls.  On Wednesday, I have some meetings in the afternoon: yay.  That evening I also I have my informational meeting about the trip to Ireland and Great Britain, and I don’t have a clue to how many I can expect.

Why am I telling you all of this?  I think I am going to be MIA from WordPress for the rest of the week.  Too much is going on.  My supply of sanity is decreasing.  I’m going to try to get through the week without anymore tears.  I will see you this weekend, hopefully with a tear-free, positive report.

Have a good week WordPressians!  Remember to make a date with yourself over the three day weekend!  I’ve already asked myself out for an afternoon of reading on the couch, and wouldn’t you know it?  I said yes.

Across The Blogiverse

When I started this blog back in March, I really had no idea what to expect.  I imagined that it would involve me writing my thoughts, hitting “publish”, and catapulting them into the ether where they would float around whatever the internet is.  Are my thoughts tightly crammed in fiber-optic cables trying to not bump into someone else’s thoughts like they’re on a New York subway?  Or is there a grand universe for our thoughts or are they “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup?”  Wherever they are, they found readers.

It’s the readers that I didn’t really contemplate as I began my blogging journey, mostly becuase I wasn’t sure if I’d have any.  I wrote for “a” reader, meaning that I wanted everything I wrote to have a point; it couldn’t be “just because”.  Each post had (as still  has) to be a unit with a beginning, middle, and end, so whoever reads it would get a complete story or at least a reflection.  This was my M.O. for a while until something odd happened: people started to follow me and I had regular readers.  My random unspecified reader turned into an audience– an audience that I could get to know. I read their blogs, hit their follow buttons, and commented on their posts.  Before I knew it, I was transported into different worlds: India, Pakistan, Ireland, Spain, England, Australia, Canada, Arizona, and even to different parts of my neck of the woods.  I learned about different life experiences and ways of thinking, and found a whole troupe of funny, talented, intelligent writers. Everyone has a story to tell.

Two things happened that I didn’t expect from my readers.  One is the amount of my non-blogging friends who follow me.  Many read my posts through Facebook, and others opted to follow me and have my posts sent to their email.  I know that we are all busy and lead hectic lives, and the fact that they make time to read what I write is humbling.  My audience is not made up of anonymous faces, but of people who I admire and people who have their own amazing stories to tell. The second thing I didn’t expect was how many of my  blogging audience I consider as friends.  Even though I’ve never met any of you, I feel that I know you– well at least the “you” you present on your blog.  I look out for your posts, eager to hear about what’s going on in your life or what new idea you’re going to discuss. Reading your work is part of my day.  I didn’t expect the openness of the blog community, but I am glad I found you.  Thank you.

Readers:  What aspect of blogging surprised you?  How is blogging different from how you thought it would be?

“Out Of Hopeful Green Stuff Woven”

Walt Whitman

During the Civil War the American poet Walt Whitman learned that his brother Frederick, a soldier, had been injured.  Whitman made the trek to D.C. to find him, but in the process found something else that would irrevocably change his life.  Washington, D.C. greeted Whitman with a variety of tent “hospitals” bearing piles of sawed-off bloody limbs.  Inside were tens of thousands of men of all ages and walks of life who were far from home, most were uncertain if they’d ever see home again, and all knew that if they returned, it would not be as the men or boys they were when they left.  Most of the soldiers had nothing to their names, were illiterate, and had no way to communicate to their families– not just because they didn’t know how to write, but because they lacked pencils and paper.  Frederick, Whitman learned, was okay; these men in front of him, were not.

Moved by the soldiers’ sacrifices, Whitman stayed on D.C. by taking a variety of odd jobs.  He spent the majority of his time doing his best to look healthy, clean, and keep his long white beard shining for his visits to the troops. He believed that he, like his poetry created a “new” America, could imbue health and good spirits into the soldiers.  But he did more than just look good.  He solicited donations for paper, pencils, money, fruit, anything that he could take to the soldiers.  He gave soldiers small gifts, knowing the power that having something, anything, can have on a person who has nothing.  He served as a scribe by writing letters to their families; he visited; he read to them; he sat quietly with them; and on many occasions silently watched as the blanket was finally pulled over their faces.

Whitman stayed on for two years until his own health began to deteriorate.  He saw his unique opportunity to provide help to other’s in need.  He understood that it did not take much– just a token– to revive men’s spirits or ease their souls.  He did not shy away from his chance to spread hope.  Hope, he realized, was not his alone.  In his most famous poem, “Song Of Myself” he uses the image of grass to convey hope.  A “leaf” of grass is quite small and insignificant, but all of the leaves together cover everything, sprout from those who have come before us, and signal our return to it:

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

At the end of his poem, Whitman reminds us that he, too, is part of the grass, and as such, never leaves us.  He eternally waits to replenish us, make us new, and give us hope:

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.


This post is in response to Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope.  Laura from I’d Rather Sit On The Couch passed me the baton, and I’m passing it on to purplemary54 at myelectronicjukebox.  Please check out all of these blogs!

Here are the instructions:

Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you (me, in this case) at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.

Melanie Crutchfield will gather up little snippets from people who wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay.

Regarding sources used: Most of this springs from my memory of previous grad school studies.  If there are any inaccuracies, the fault is all my own.  My thoughts on the poem and what it means to me is my own.  I did, of course, refer to Leaves of Grass.

(On a silly side note: When I teach Whitman to my students I always end the lesson with, “If you guys see me rolling around on the school lawn, you’ll know I’ve found him!”. )

When Creativity Speaks

A recent episode of PBS’s History Detectives featured a woman who wanted to know about the man who drew a picture of her father Bill when he was in a Nazi POW camp during WWII.  She wondered who he was, if he survived, and if he went on to become an artist.  What emerged was an interesting glimpse into wartime suffering, community, and humanity.  Many of the American soldiers held in this camp, located in Austria, had been shot down over France and Germany and were cut off from everyone they knew and all ties back home.  As one can imagine, life was tough there, and it was only through the Geneva Conventions and assistance of the Red Cross, that these soldiers received the little they did.  There were over two hundred men to a barrack, and these were reminiscent of the barracks used in concentrations camps: close quarters, no privacy and wooden pallets for sleeping.  The food was chopped rutabaga, gruel, and bread made mostly of sawdust.  The survivors of the camp recalled how easy it was to forget who they were there.

To combat the forgetting, the men turned to creativity and to each other.  Most were strangers, but they created a community for survival.  They wrote poems and stories.  They put on a Christmas review full of carols, an reenactment of The Christmas Carol, and skits.  They put on other performances, and, of course, they drew.  Bill had traded cigarettes for two onions and a potato with a Russian POW when he met “Gil” Rhoden.  Rhoden offered to draw his picture in exchange for the food.  Bill thought, “I can eat these, but still be hungry.  Or I can give them to him and have something to show for it.”  The result was an excellent pencil sketch of Bill looking healthy, clean, and handsome– an image of the way he was before entering the camp.  Bill looked at the picture throughout his captivity as a reminder to who he was and could be again.

Rhoden, it turns out, survived the camp, too, and went on to become very successful.  He passed away in a plane crash in 1989, but the history detective was able to locate his son and show him the picture.  The son was overcome with emotion as he looked at the sketch. “It’s like shaking my father’s hand again,” he said.  He and Bill had the chance to meet and share stories about Rhoden and life since the camps.

This story of two men and survival is simply beyond words.  Rhoden drew for sustenance and his drawing gave Bill hope.  Bill’s sharing of his picture with Rhoden’s son, allowed the son to reconnect to his father.  This episode serves as a reminder how we never know the impact that we have on others.  Our smallest or most routine actions can mean so much to someone else.  It also shows that even though we can be in the most dire of situations and cruelest of fates, we can seek solace and strength in our humanity.  The men turned to things that were personal and could be shared or created a shared experience.  They sought that which was good.

This story coincided with some thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain of late– the community of bloggers.  Granted, bloggers are not POWs in a Nazi prison camp.  But we do seek connections to others and give each other hope.  We come from all walks of life as there are many blogs about teaching, books, writing, reading, music, motherhood, parenting, poetry, photography, art, mental illness, food, travel, gay rights, community issues, saving historical landmarks, and the list goes on.  Some commonalities that bloggers share is that they are all intelligent and highly educated; all have something to share.  Even though we are all different, we are all doing the best we can.  Together we share our stories and work and offer support and encouragement and new ideas.  By reading about other’s lives and thoughts, we gain wider empathy and insight into other perspectives, even if we do not agree.  In this time when so many things are uncertain, this is a nice community to be a part of.

Please Read This Post Before You “Like” It

I have a blogging bone to pick.  Recently I have had a rash of other bloggers liking my posts without reading them.  It’s pretty easy to spot them– I hit “publish” and within minutes I have 3 views and 5 likes– two did not read what I actually wrote, but hit the “Like” button on the reader page.  There are only three reasons bloggers do this:

1. They want to increase their readership through their “likes”.  It is common courtesy to check out someone’s blog after they “like” it and hopefully find something in their blog that is funny, inspiring, provoking, or strange to “like” back.  However, when it’s just rampant liking without reading– that’s just blatant attention-getting self-promotion.

2. Same as #1, but they have their ebook to sell.  More self-promotion.

3. They have no life and sit in front of the computer scanning the reader page and liking everything.

Why am I so annoyed?  I mean, really, having a bunch of likes on your post is impressive to other bloggers to see when they stop by.  It’s also really nice to get a “like”.  I am annoyed because it is empty, meaningless praise given for the sake of self-promotion.  I am annoyed because I spend a lot of time writing, as I’m sure you do, too, and someone is passing judgement on my work without even knowing, or taking the time to consider, what I wrote.   I am annoyed because when I go check out the “liker’s” blog, it is selling something.  I am annoyed because it is inauthentic and degrades the sense of community and sharing among bloggers.  I prefer an honest empty like space at the bottom of my post over a space full of “empty likes”.  If you like it, “like” it, but only then.

Whew!  I had to get that off my chest.  Those of you who honestly like my work, I know who you are and your support keeps me writing.  Thank you.

On the homefront: I had a good first day of school today.  My students seem nice, if a bit squirrely.  I think I am going to have a good term.


Does This Make Me A Twit?

My husband, after years of resistance, opened a Twitter account, and encouraged me to explore and use my own lonely account.  To help me along he added the app to me iPad and iPhone, and he got the little bird on the menu bar for the computer.  Thank you, sweetie.  I needed one more distraction.  Really.

Anywho– I am officially up and running on Twitter and even figured out how to put one of those follow button thingys on my blog, and I’m following Paul Krugman.  How cool is that?  So, come on, follow me.  And I’ll follow you.  If I’m going to go Twitter, I might as well go big.

This Is Outstanding!

There are many bloggers that I admire (most likely you’re one of them).  These bloggers constantly bring their unique perspectives on life, their quirky sense of humor, and their genuine talents to the forefront everyday.  I read a lot of posts that I wish I wrote and many issues that I wish I had thought of.  All of you are pretty awesome in your own way, and I look forward to your posts everyday.

Seventhvoice, a mother of two from Australia who posts both articles and poetry about fairness, equality, and most importantly, what it’s like to be a parent of a child with autism, recently selected me to receive the Outstanding Blogger Award.  I don’t think I can convey how special this made me feel.  For one, I have a great amount of respect for her– for sharing her struggles and bringing issues that confront her community and country to light.  Autism can be a divisive topic since its cause is unknown and everyone has a different idea how it should be treated; she handles this subject with grace.  Also, the rules for accepting this award are to nominate five others who “show intellect and a sense of confidence in the subject for which they are blogging about WITHOUT going way over the heads of those us who need things said in layman’s terms.”  The fact that she considers my blog worthy of being part of that five blows me away.

The rules for accepting this award are to nominate 5 others to receive it and add one important piece of information they feel is important to us on their post.  So without further ado:

silverpoetry for creating contemplative and amazing poems

Broadside for writing about a myriad of social issues and what it means to be a “grown up”

as long as i’m singing for writing about life and providing creative pieces that offer a different perspective

truthlets & thought bits for sharing her unique perspectives on life and being honest

Romancing the Bee for sharing everything one needs to know about raising bees and making it interesting.  Lots of recipes and travel photos, too.

I have two honorable mentions.  The following do not accept awards, so I am not giving them one, just plain old recognition.  Both share poetry and creative pieces and are fun to read.

My Word Your

Crazy Life…

Please check them out if you haven’t already!  Again, thank you, Seventhvoice, for the nomination.

If You Want Something Done, Give It To A Busy Person

This busy person, at the moment, is not me.  Summer vacation has me firmly in its grip, and I’ve become the most slothful of sloths.  Yesterday I mustered up the little energy I had to clean the bathroom and pay the credit card bill.  On a typical day, all bets are off after my morning walk.  My husband suggested that Sex and the City might be on Netflix; this way I wouldn’t have to even get up to put the DVDs in, I could control everything from the couch.  Four o’clock in the afternoon seems like a good time to take a shower.  I have a book to finish for book club.  I stare at it a lot.  It stares back. I’ve even let more than 24 hours pass before posting a new post.

Like other stuff in my life that is meaningful and put on the back burner, there are a few blogging awards that have gone unacknowledged.  I’d like to take this time to recognize those awards and the kind bloggers who have given them to me. I am always honored when other bloggers think that my blog is worth recognition; there are many excellent blogs out there (many I wish I had thought of), and I know they don’t have to choose mine.

The  One Lovely Blog Award comes from Good Old Girl, who always fills her blog with compassion and humor.

This award requires sharing 7 facts about yourself and nominating 15 co-bloggers. Since I have been fortunate enough to have received 3 awards, I will nominate 5 each. All of the bloggers I nominate bring something different to the table and all are interesting, thoughtful, and teach us something new.

My 7 facts:

1.  The sight in my left eye is pretty bad, but the sight in my right is almost perfect.

2.  The hearing in my left ear is pretty bad (10%), but I have 65% hearing in my right.

3.  I have mild scoliosis.  Which direction does my spine veer?  Yes, to the right.

4.  This causes my right shoulder muscle (my trapezius?) to be bunched up and over-developed.  It is clearly noticeable and makes tops fit strangely.  I could see this bulge in my shadow, and this prompted my husband to call me his “little hunchback”.  He’s lucky I didn’t make him a hunchback, if you get my drift.

5.  I am right-handed.

6.  When I get a cold, my right nostril gets plugged up (this is ridiculous, I know).

7.  When I run into poles, which side of my face hits it?  The left.  I’m too busy listening to the person on my right (hence, reading their lips) to notice it’s there.  So, please, if you and I happen to be walking and talking, alert me about the pole.

My 5 nominees:



Books, Tea & Me


Gen Y Girl

Iamrahulashok nominated me for the Thanks For Writing award.  He is constantly looking at life in new and different perspectives.

Criteria for the nomination of this award:

1) Nominate 6 to 7 (or you pick the no.) bloggers, who influenced or inspired you.

2)Pay the love forward: Provide your nominee’s link in your post and comment on their blog to let them know they have been included and invited to participate.

3. Pay the love back with gratitude and a link to the blogger(s) who nominated you.

My nominees:


Nomadic Noesis


Blurb My Enthusiasm


Lastly, truthlets & thought bits nominated me for the Illuminating blogger award. Her blog is positive and inspiring, and she delves into what it means to be human.

Share 1 Random Thing: I think I may know all of the lines to When Harry Met Sally, Bull Durham, Mermaids and Dirty Dancing.  Sally Albright, Annie Savoy, Rachel and Charlotte Flax, and Frances “Baby” Houseman were characters I looked up to growing up. I ended up most like Sally.

Nominate 5 Bloggers:

In My Opinion…

Summer Solstice Musings

Shut Up Dad

Jilanne Hoffmann

Robin Coyle

Again, thank you Good Old Girl, Iamrahulashok, and Truthletsandthoughtbits for the nominations!  They mean a lot to me and encourage me to keep writing.