Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Meant to Tell You before I Forget: a creative writing experience

I love teaching "I Meant to Tell You" themed poems. I first heard this lesson from a teacher during a demonstration on copychange poetry while facilitating the Ozarks Writing Project's Summer Institute. I quickly purchased my own copy of James Stevensons' children's book, I Meant to Tell You,  and modified this into a more organic and natural narrative writing opportunity for my students.

This lesson is easily adaptable for all grades levels.  I enjoy teaching it in my English IV class with seniors, particularly at the beginning of their last semester of high school. Seniors in America are often just beginning to think about "what's next?" I try to get my students to not only think about what's next, but also what is now, and what was then? I want to guide their thoughts toward the people who have helped them along the path of their first 18 years, and help place value on the relationships with family, friends, and significant adults in their lives. This lesson guides students through a series of memories and creates a platform to share their connection with someone close to them.

It varies in how I present this lesson. Sometimes I read Stevenson's book as an opener, lead the students in writing, and then follow that with previous students samples and my own poem about my grandmother. Sometimes we begin with the freewriting questions and then provide the samples afterwards. It generally takes two 48-minute classes, or one full 90-minute block.

Ms. Daugherty and Grandma Susie, Valentine's Day, 2007
With all writing, we begin by freewriting, but before we do so, I share my personal writing story and a photo of my Grandma Susie. "This is the mother of my mother" I explain to the students, "and after my mother died when I was 10, this woman became one of the single, most influential and significant women in my life." I go on to talk about the poem I wrote to her for Mother's Day, 2008, based from this writing we are about to do, and I let them know that her death in 2011 is still a painful grief for me to bear. "The death of a beloved is an amputation" wrote C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, and I surely still feel physical loss with the passing of this woman.

As we start, I ask students to think about and write down the names of the closest people to them, These are the people who have made an impression or an impact on them; people who, if were not in their lives, would leave a significant hole. My grandma was one of those people for me. I follow that by posting one question on the board at a time, and then offer students three-four minutes of private, quiet writing time. I also let students know that everything they write during this session is private, not to be shared with a partner, me, or the class.

Work sample from a student
during focused freewriting. Eventually
this student may choose to continue
this into a formal piece of writing.
After questions have been answered, sample poems have been shared, and students have had a few minutes to talk about writing possibilities, writing time is provided. Options are available. Students can use the copychange structure, or any genre within the narrative mode; I encourage creative non-fiction, memoir, essay, or narrative poetry. (A note about the copychange: if you're worried this doesn't produce authentic writing, keep in mind this is a strategy that provides students with the skeleton model of a poem. Mimicking others is not uncommon. Walk into any museum and notice how many art students you may find sketching portraits. Also know the copychange style is sometimes a block for me as a writer. It feels like a worksheet; that I have to get it perfect before I write it down. I share these feelings with my students and show them examples of how I overcome it by starting anywhere on the page and writing in the margins)

Be sure to write with your students. Share in the messiness of crafting together words.

Below is my I Meant to Tell You about my Grandma Susie. I had the privilege of reading this aloud to her. It was framed, placed on the mantel, and eventually read at her funeral.

Dear Grandma, 
I meant to tell you, before I forget:
I remember growing up with you always there.

I remember we used to spend time at Bull Shoals Lake
When you and Grandpa would camp at Pontiac.
You always picked the prime spot--under oak groves overlooking bluffs
And always near water hydrants and bathrooms.

We would play games after dark by lantern light.
We'd clean the checkered tablecloths from the stickiness of fresh cantaloupe and watermelon
And divide up spoons and cards, or sometimes dominoes.
And then you'd bathe us in bug spray and bury us under sleeping bags and blankets in tents.

When I was little and spent the night at your house
You'd sleep in Rick's twin bed beside me,
I asked "Did you lock the door?"
You said "I never lock the door! But tonight I did."
You told me it was because there is something precious in the house.

I looked up out the window from the bed, afraid of approaching thunderstorms.
You said, "Grandpa will take us to the basement if it gets bad."
I fell asleep snuggled with stuffed animals and you.

By morning, you'd be back in your bed next to Grandpa.
I woke up early and crawled in beside you to watch the Smurfs.
Grandpa brought us bacon and juice.
A Saturday morning breakfast in bed.

The first time I remember you visiting Gainesville
You brought strawberries in a picnic basket.
We made homemade ice cream on the back porch.
You sat on the redwood deck with Mom, and Dad, and Grandpa, and our dog, Lucky.
You talked and laughed and I brought you lightning bugs in canning jars.

I learned who you were from Susie's Flowers and gained an adult respect and love.
You gave away so much.
You hugged old friends, and made news ones before they walked out your door.
I wanted to become who you are.
I hope I am who you were.

You always said, "She teaches in Willow Springs," to your customers.
You didn't let anyone leave without them knowing my accomplishments.
But mostly, you bragged that I was Carolyn's baby and Lionel's daughter.

I remember you were there when mom was sick, I think
You knew it might be the end.

I remember, once, how the nurses wouldn't let me in to see her in intensive care.
Together, we watched the doors slowly close and heard them latch, locking me out.
And I cried into your chest.

You hugged me tight, and between kisses on my forehead whispered
"I wish I could take her place."
I never knew a love so strong.

One day at the flower shop after a busy Valentine's Day
You hugged me tight.
You told me you couldn't have done it without me.

It was a while ago...
But I remember growing up with you always being there.
And all the things we did together.
I meant to tell you that. 
Love, Casey
Mother's Day 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Six Roles for the Teacher, Five Roles for the Student: A Gentle Reminder from My Syllabus

It's DECEMBER! And that famous Seuss quote gets stuck in my head, repeat on "my goodness how the time as flewn." Because it has. The first day of school floor wax is dull, scratched and stripping away. Desks are in disarray. Pencils aren't sharpened. In fact, the pencil cup has only a battling few bruised #2's, lead broken, erasers peeled off. The end-of-semester weariness isn't just apparent in the stamina of our school supplies. Students straggle in late. Teachers make extra pots of coffee. Administration gets snippy about paper usage. IT'S TIME FOR A BREAK!

And then my fear comes alive. Break!? Wait. What?! Only 10 classes left?! No. It can't be. I haven't covered this? And I haven't covered that! Am I even on track or will we fall flat? (Sorry Seuss fans.) And now I feel it. I've been trapped in the rat race of daily classroom chores: planning on-the-spot mini-lessons and detailing clear structure for better management. I have lost focus on the overarching answer to the goal "what are we learning?"

We've just reached a milestone in English IV: submitting our final Senior Project papers for grading.  As their teacher, with this deadline comes a lot of thinking ahead. Yet it's so important to think back. Are we on track? Have we met learning goals? While reading submission letters for their papers, many students noted how helpful going through an extended writing process was. These students have never committed a full quarter solely on writing one piece--moving between drafts, conferencing with each other, writing peer reviews...over and over again. And while consciously I worry about quote-getting to all the curriculum-end quote, my intuition while reading their letters, and my understanding of the roles we play in the classroom, make me fully aware that we are, indeed, on track.

While together my students and I write classroom protocols and expectations the first week of school, I still (must be the teacher in me) list out in my syllabus (be it they are buried on page 3)
the roles I expect as the lead learner in the classroom. A commitment to not only what I promise my students, but also what I seek from them. 
  • Ms. Daugherty’s role: 
    • I will…
      • provide you with deeper insight to improve your growth as a student; 
      • help you diagnose and respond to your own learning needs;
      • help you write learning targets and goals;
      • lead the class in creating common scoring guides;
      • offer guided instruction in class to help you improve on future assignments;
      • and provide descriptive feedback to you through written notes and conversation.
  • Student’s role: 
    • I expect you…
      • to self-assess your work;
      • to track your own progress through detailed records;
      • to contribute to setting goals;
      • to act upon feedback and assessment results to do better next time;
      • and to believe that you can achieve a high level of personal learning. 
And while we may have rushed through our poetry unit, and may not have gotten to Macbeth, these gentle reminders of our roles in class exceed the boundaries of content. These roles emphasize to me that learning doesn't matter if we cannot stop, respond and react to what has been accomplished, which in turn guides what we accomplish next. Isn't this the essence of learning? With that focus in mind, for the last 15 minutes of our final this semester, I plan to stop with my students, review our list of roles, and reflect on just how far we've come. Who knows what possibilities may be next.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Note from University College London in Camden Town

(Disclaimer: I guess I always feel the need to provide background information and disclaimers to what I write these days on my blog. This morning (that being Saturday 09 November) I met with teachers who write monthly. We met at the Wellcome Collection, a library and medical museum, on Euston Road in London. We wrote directions for each other to follow as a writing prompt. It was a fun activity, and the directions I chose from the pile consisted of steps such as "Walk 10 paces left. Go upstairs. Turn counterclockwise and write what you see. Find a corner." I did follow most of the directions, but I found my corner and wrote freely for about 40 minutes straight. Here is my first 10 minutes or so of freewriting. The comes later. xo)

09 November 2013, Wellcome Collection Library, 3rd floor reading room

I am so unsure what is happening in my life sometimes that even having clear directions confuses me. Turn left, look right, mind your step, careful when alighting...what? Just what?? I now, thanks to the British, have confirmed that I cannot even tell my own left from my right, so I am grateful for the visual in the form of arrows provided on crosswalk directions.
Directions, what are they? They guide us through life--maybe help us to accomplish things in life I should clarify. They help us put together IKEA wardrobes and cook up full English breakfasts. They get us from St. Pancras station to 183 Euston Road. They are sometimes simple, and sometimes tricky. They are often one or two words, maybe colorful images, or sometimes they are complex sentences that denote nine instructions with steps A, B, and C in one direction. They are provided as a means to an end. Follow these, and you'll have this. Start here, and you'll end there. Sometimes we have to pace ourselves through directions, and sometimes we even skip steps we feel are not necessary. But sometimes, we get so lost in direction that even Google maps cannot connect to the server and we're (I'm) left to find our (my) way through alleys and around street corners guided only by the unfamiliar.

There is value in getting lost. From moving away from the direction. I once had a quote on my FB wall that encouraged people (well, mostly me) to travel often, and in doing so to get lost, which in turns helps you find yourself. And I believe that in theory. In practice, though, that has proven hard for me. What am I finding out about myself? What am I learning by being lost in English culture and navigating myself around the tricky and convoluted changing educational system that is the UK right now? How can I emerge learning something new, and what will that something new be? 

Could someone write those directions? Tell me where this will all end, and what will be the outcome. Step by step, lead me. My directions today said to face 87 degrees northwest, then turn back 37 degrees (I just pretended I knew what this meant!) and here I found The History of Printing In America by Isaiah Thomas.  I turn around and wander toward Hippocrates' "On Air, Water, and Places' and turn once more toward the New England Primer. Did these writers ask the same questions I ask today? Were they curious and inventive, or were they simply providing the direction in their times of inquiry?

I do know that if you give me the directions, I will find the answer. If you let me write the directions, I will create your answer. I should probably start by writing myself a to-do list...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Two-Week Update from Sheffield, England

DISCLAIMER: My friend, Kathy, faithfully writes me on Saturdays. Her letters are a treasure to me. I try to return the favor within 24 hours, and these two letters are partially what I returned to her. I realized my family and other friends might like to know details of my week, too, especially since they are pressing me to start writing and sharing daily! I asked her if I could share our some of our private conversations, and of course she said yes. I have reversed the two letters so you can read the most up to date first. :) Also, I still do not have uploading pictures on community wifi is HARD and time-consuming. I've been here now a little under six hours, and I already had this material written!! Some of the pictures do not match the text, but I don't give a flip anymore! :)


It has been a great week here. 

One carriage on the Northern Line between Lincoln-Sheffield.
Monday evening I went to Lincoln to visit Eric and Wendy (Kevin in SGF's parents.) They fixed a great dinner of jackets (baked potato), cole slaw, deli ham and roast beef, green leaf salad, tomatoes, cheeses, and breads. For dessert, biscuits and red wine, which we had out by a bonfire that Eric made. We even roasted a couple of marshmallows. We talked and talked and talked, for nearly three hours under a starry sky and beside orange fla
Eric and Wendy in the garden.
Tuesday we drove to Skegness and I visited with and observed three teachers: a reading intervention teacher, (7th grade) a sixth form English teacher (jr/sr) and a sixth form early childhood teacher...meaning she teaches the course for students to get their early childhood certificate. She gave me a sample of her literacy lessons. The Head Teacher (male) is a former secondary English teacher, and although the national curriculum requires literacy in all content areas, he pushes it. Each
Everyone teaches reading and writing.

department has a bulletin board for how  literacy fits into their content area...newspaper articles are posted and are even annotated with things like "noun" "hyperbole" "metaphor"'s pretty phenomenal. I don't even know if some of our teachers know what a hyperbole is--and our PE teachers probably don't even care. Skegness takes students with C's, so many of the kids who are there would be like our "average to below average" students. Somehow they appear "smarter" in their ties and vests.

The afternoon was spent at the beach. Although it was chilly, it sure was a pretty, pretty day.
That's right. Donkeys. North Sea in the background.

Full sunshine. We had a "cuppa" tea on the pier. The water was muddy and cloudy. I took off my stockings and shoes and waded out...I felt like I was walking across a muddy creek bed. The sand was much finer on the beach. The tide was out. Waves were not even a foot high. The landscape to the south was the Suffolk Coast, and directly out in front (straight west from the shoreline) were hundreds of windmills. We walked through the streets of Skegness, and Eric took pictures for me.

Having Sheffield on this list is equivalent to having SGF.
We drove home, stopping at The King's Head for dinner, the oldest thatched pub in Lincolnshire, 1367 I think.  It was in a little village called Tealby. Maybe 50 people live there. It was remodeled on the inside, and a fine dining experience. I had Gammon (ham steak) and mushrooms. We got home about 8:30 and about 10:30 friends stopped by, church friends. I was already in my jammies lounging in a recliner, so I felt a little ridiculous. I had just taken a nice long bath, that Eric gave me a glass of red wine for, so I was literally using toothpicks to hold my eyes open. They are struggling at church with a minister who doesn't seem to be too minister-ly. I think the bar is set high with these folks; they minister to everyone, specifically to the "least of these." I listened to them commiserate and plan for how to deal with it (church meeting on Thursday) and they also shared stories of including those with disabilities in church such story of a man playing Jesus with one arm and one leg....carrying the cross. Without making fun, they giggled their way through the entire play. It sounded like something straight from Monty Python, but it was real, and it was their work, and he wanted to
Oldest Thatched roof pub in Lincolnshire, 1367. The Kings Head.
play Jesus. So they made him Jesus for the day. Good people. I feel like a better person just being around them. I miss my friends at home who do this for me.

The next morning we got up for breakfast and Dennis came over, a neighbor and friend. He just knocked and walked on in, unexpectedly, and yet again, I miss my friends who drop by and come on in. "Do you have time for a sit?" was the first question Eric presented to him after initial greetings. "Just 10 minutes" so tea was made and served. I had already met Dennis and his wife, Marlene, on my first visit.  We caught up and he wanted to know all of what I had been doing since our last meeting. I caught the train home at 11:25 a.m. Round trip costs me 18.50 gbp, and three hours. 

Thursday....hmmmmm??????? worked out, did a little yoga, went to the library, coffee shop, and met Steve for dinner for Thai food. I cannot remember anything else. Oh...I remember now. Thursday I was very depressed, homesick for conversation and friends, and frustrated. I must have been at some new level of culture shock. The weight of worry for home was heavy on my heart. The government shut down, the people who have lost pay...I don't really care about the people (and yes I am including Veterans here) who cannot get into their memorials and national parks. Don't get me wrong, I think it's sad and ridiculous, but I also thinks it's sad and ridiculous that these are the types of headlines that show up. I started to feel extremely guilty for being in the middle of England funded by the federal government when many people who are paying college bills for the children, buying food for their tables...and not getting a paycheck. It really, really frustrates me, and I can feel, literally feel, the weight of hatefulness people are sharing for one anothers political views. Steve is a good sounding board for me, and by the end of our dinner my tears were abated, and believe me, it was a full day of crying.

Friday was my first day to meet with Teacher Trainee writing groups. I hadn't worked too much on a presentation, so I got up fairly early and headed to my office...was there by 11:00. Ha--early!! I got up, worked out at my gym (by work out I am running/walking on a treadmill and I try to 2-3 miles each time--30-45 minutes worth,) practiced yoga, and was out the door by 10. This is gooooood for me. I worked all day at the office on a mini-powerpoint and activities. We had a such a good session. I had 11 volunteers and I am over the moon about this. I was hoping 3-5 at least. Eleven just made my day. We will meet for the next three Fridays, break, and then one more before their paper is due. They are young, happy people ready to become teachers. I already adore them in the hour we spent together. I think it will be hard for them to trust the protocol. Trust that you will get some benefit...and it might not be immediate. Just like my students in the US, they also have never participated in getting feedback quite this dynamic. However, I feel this sense of trust toward me, and already looking at me as an expert. I have to remember these students are completely volunteers, so they want to be there. I was at work until 6:30, and then was home by 7:30 or so. I made chili. It was cold, rainy, and windy. I needed chili. I met Steve at The Nursery Tavern and we watched the second half of the England game, which they won 4-1. I was home by 11.

Saturday, up at 5:15 am. for a train at 6:25 to London. I buy my tickets in advance for a cheaper rate, but this means there are no refunds and I cannot get on any other train, so I cannot miss my trains. I made it to London at 8:35, tube to Russell Square, and then breakfast in the Russell Square park, where I cuddled with a puppy Labrador retriever. So sweet. Puppy breath and all.

Met with eight teachers on the steps of the Museum. I have been to the British Museum twice before, and I think of all the places in London to visit, it's my favorite. We wrote together in the cafe, and then separated to where ever for an hour, then came back to the cafe and shared. I sat and visited with Jeni, one of the WP directors, and then finally made it to the clock room and the North American room.
Teachers, all secondary, listening to read alouds in the writing group.
I love the clock room...I go to that room EVERY time, but I have never written in the room before. It's a good, good writing space. I am doing a research project with the WP, too, so I have some interviews to conduct.

We finished about 12:30, but we sat around until 2:00 p.m. I raced to the Duke of York's Theater to watch Ibsen's A Doll's House, but I missed it. :( Next time. I then walked around the neighborhood, just losing myself on the streets of London. I went into clothing shop, shoe shops, astrology shops, health food shops, bookshops and such. Made my way to Covent Garden, and then found a Mexican restaurant. Bless my soul...I barely made it to my train home. Seven Dials was hosting cocktail week, and I made friends at the Mexican restaurant with a very handsome gay couple from Hungary who were participants in cocktail week. We compared travel stories in Budapest. It was a delight. I had purchased a first class ticket home (only 3 pounds more,) so

Covent Garden, near Neal's Yard Remedies.
this was nice to sooth my exhaustion. Home at 10 p.m. and bed straight away. I was tired. Up and at Starbucks at 9:00 this am. I have a long list of work to accomplish. I need to decide when to start writing...not just notetaking and bits and pieces here and there.

I think first quarter at home is up, and grades are due. Ugh. Busy time that I do not envy. Nor do I miss it. I thought I would, but I do not. I enjoy being in the classroom here, and being with students, but I like having different responsibilities with them. I already do not know how I will assimilate back into the life of a teacher. I thought a 20-year pattern would be so hard to break. Turns out...nope. 

Think about living your life where the only conversations you have are with people at the cash register. There are days when I literally do not talk to anyone because I do not have anyone to talk to. It's been a lonely experience. So when I am in places where people will engage in conversation with me, I find myself at home. 

Happy Sunday morning. I came down to Starbucks about 10:00. I drank my coffee in a comfy chair and never even got my computer out. Just sat there enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine from the window and the people filtering through to get their coffees before heading out for their day of adventure, fun, whatnot. Sundays seem to be a day for sports. I have noticed often children and teenagers in soccer uniforms and cheer/dance team uniforms on Sundays. 

The steam engine to Haworth.
I love the fact that the schools do not have organized sports like we do, which many know I oppose even though I coached for 13 years of my career. We do have alternatives...communities and clubs can easily take over this agenda, and are. I saw this article last week, and my mouth was salivating.

It's been a full and industrious week. Sunday I spent the day at the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth. I met Becca, Hank, and
Anna there. We walked, shopped, ate, had afternoon tea and scones, and toured the Parsonage. I will go back. My ticket is good for the next year. Hope I haven't lost it. The countryside, the village, the tapestry of the green hills dotted with sheep and quilted together with rock walls...I cannot wait for my sister and dad to visit (hopefully!) I have decided that with them, we will journey north rather than south, but maybe going over to Wales, too. The people are just so nice in the north. So very nice. I
haven't run into mean people in London and south, but it's certainly a different culture.
Me just after Yorkshire Tea in Haworth.


The Brontes Parsonage, Haworth.
Monday...I cannot even remember that far back. Ha.

Tuesday...Teacher Strike. I blogged that. 

Wednesday....rain and I spent the entire day at the office at Sheffield Hallam. I arrived about 10:00 a.m. and didn't leave until after 8:30 p.m. (Discovered I was locked in. Had to walk two floors down the back fire escape stairs to the 9th floor where night classes were still going on.) I think it's true what Walden wrote (I think it was Walden) that if we give ourselves space and time, that we will eventually get back to the intellect and produce something. And I sort of think that might be what Fulbright expects, or what happens with the Scholars. They so often encourage this idea of "do NOT overwork yourselves. Get out, meet people, take time, reflect, work. And guess what--that theory might actually work in producing. I have days where I literally do not get anything accomplished, and I feel bad about that. I have even told my colleague, Steve, that I fear this journey sometimes because left to my own devices, I can be very lazy. And I think it's because at home my work is so much work, all the time, going going going. Teachers reading this now know what I mean. Even on a day of respite from teaching, we are never encouraged to reflect and be still. Meeting here, meeting there, meeting over lunch. Sign in. Sign out. Go. Go. Go. 

At the same time, there are days here that I get so into my work that I forget to eat, go to the bathroom, talk to people. I am absorbed with it, and absorbed differently than I am in the States.

Inside Sheffield Wednesday Stadium.
I was supposed to go to a yoga class that night at 6:30, but I had planned to return home before going to change, get my mat, etc. It's just too hard for me to carry around all that crap on two bus rides then a half-mile walk. So, because I was working, I just kept working. I will try to go this week.

I also met with the Lecturer, Martin, for the PGCE Teacher Trainees. These are our student teachers. They all have bachelor degrees, and now it takes another year to get their teaching certificate...which they are student teaching during the entire time. On Fridays, they come to the university for a Seminar. Martin has agreed to help me organize a volunteer group of students who want to participate in small writing groups. The PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) students who are taking the course for graduate credit are required to write two essays, and a draft is due on November 15. So, I'm running a trial writing group with them to see how the writing is influenced. It is also a way teachers can participate in alternative ways of teaching writing and offering feedback outside of the more prescriptive and formulaic approaches to teaching writing. I'm looking forward to it and their feedback.

Thursday...rain. I worked from the Learning Centre just across the street from my flat, which is the building next to my gym. If you search it (Tom F. will probably do this) it's the Sheffield Hallam Collegiate Crescent campus on Ecclesall Road. My gym is in the Pearson Building, and the Learning Centre is next door. I have found a nice path to cut through, an easy three-minute walk from my flat. Although I'm with the college students, I find I can still work there. I created a letter and invitation to the Teacher Trainees for Martin to hand out at the seminar. I also had some Fulbright surveys to complete, and I am taking a 4-week course on writing up research through the University of Maryland, so I posted to ELMS (blackboard) for some feedback. I love this course, and think I want to write a course like this for OWP teachers. In the past, I do not think we have been successful at getting products to come from teacher research courses--maybe it's just me who has been unsuccessful. I am getting a better grasp on what is valuable, and what is not necessary. And I am understanding time frames much better. This has been clear, distinct, and helpful in helping me focus on what needs to be accomplished and what needs to be discarded. We are reading short, practical articles on conducting research, and I think that has been super. of my best days yet.
"Two paths"...go ahead and quote it in your heads Frost fans.
Up early and took the train to Cambridge. Met the Directors of the UK National Writing Project at Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust Site, which I get in for free because a full membership to the National Trust came with my Fulbright. Bonus! We met in the cafe all day long, from 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. We talked, talked, and talked some more.  I adore these two people, and I hope our collegial friendship lasts long after my return to the States. I spent 63 minutes with them in a formal interview, and sent that off yesterday to be transcribed, which is going to cost me over a hundred pounds. Gulp. Out of this came a whole new research project that includes me visiting all 17 writing groups around England, if I can make it happen. This is what I will do with my extra $1500
Angelsey Abbey, a National Trust Site in Lode.
research grant funds. I was so tired, that I decided to come home from Cambridge rather than spend the night. I will return. Although the train ride home was disastrous. Nearly three hours of standing room only. And I had to switch trains four times. ALL of them packed. I will rethink train travel on Friday nights from 5:00-9:00 p.m. I finally switched my phone to military time. Locals do not use it on store signs or in conversations, but the trains and buses always use it, and I just do not have the mental energy to convert it and make my train on time. Ha.

Saturday...I slept in, went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens (right behind my flat) and then spent the whole afternoon at Cafe Nero. I alternate coffee shops. :) I like Nero better than Starbucks. It's cleaner, the crowd is a little older, it seems a little more sophisticated I think, and the coffee is smooth. Steve's friend Jeanne is here to visit from London. We ate dinner about 9:00 p.m. at The Mogel (in my neighborhood) and then crossed the street to The Lescar. The Mogel is Indian food. Jeanne writes for the Wall Street Journal. I had dinner and great conversation with a writer for the Wall Street Journal and a Harvard graduate. Never suspected this for an Ozark County girl. She writes about healthcare, and was in a conference last week (in London) where the Director of the FDA was to appear. Then the US Government shut down. Everyone at the conference was totally bummed. Twice now I have been slightly embarrassed by America since I've been here...the Syria issue, and now the government issue. I had a gentleman ask me Friday on the train "Americans seem to be so proud to be Americans, but yet they do not want to take care of other Americas. Why is this?" He is coming from a culture of British pride, and a deeply-rooted sense of taking care of one's fellow countrymen. Many locals, not the media, see Americans as selfish when they say they do not want their tax dollars to pay for someone (more than likely a neighbor) to get healthcare, but they do want their tax dollars going to fight in a war. It's an odd sense of ethics for many.
Time is flying. Fall is here, and leaves are sprinkling the streets and gathering in gutters. I reread Keats' Ode to Autumn yesterday. Hedge-crickets sing; redbreast whistles; swallows twitter....

I miss watching the Cardinals and listening to the games on the radio in post-season play.  

England's smallest train station.

Anna, Hank, and Becca on our Harry Potter train from Haworth to Keighley.
Snapshot from train to Haworth.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Day I Went on Strike: My First March for and with Teachers

Yesterday, as the U.S. Government shut down, so did many schools in the middle of England; two very different worlds with one commonality: one group isn't getting what they want.

I participated in a teacher strike here in Sheffield. Forty-six schools in the city were shut down, and over 1500 teachers showed up for the event, maybe more. There were many more area schools represented than I could count or even remember. You can read a BBC article here.

I went just hoping to see the event and maybe talk to a teacher or two, and I went with three questions in mind: why are you here?, If you knew Michael Gove would listen to you, what is the one thing you would change instantly? And how do the parents of your students feel about what is happening to teachers, or about you being here?

As soon as I arrived I was greeted by union representatives and teachers placing stickers on people and handing out flags. The buzz was loud and energetic. I ran first into a group of secondary history and math teachers from Nottingham, young teachers, all within their first five years. The teacher pension age has moved up to age 68, and what is the first thing on my mind, was actually the last thing on these young teachers minds. First on their list was to reverse the decision to pay teachers based on their student performances, and this concept was on everyone's mind. "If all the money comes from the same place, and no money has been allocated to pay these so-called great teachers, then who decides and how do they decide who gets the pay cut?" Unfortunately, we have this same debate happening in America right now.

I didn't have any problem getting anyone to talk to me. Most teachers were happy to visit about their dislikes about the new policies, and especially their dislike of their secretary of education, which you can see through various signs and posters in my pictures. I am not really sure why I asked the parent question. Now in retrospect, I think it must be because in America we are faced with this question all the time. As a teacher, I was unconsciously trained to fear parents and their reactions to me, my classroom, and the assessment of the work their child has or has not done in my classroom. I have even been told that parents control what I do.

As I have matured in teaching, I realize that talking with parents has become one of my great tools, and they are a great ally to have in my corner, but still, sometimes school-wide decisions are made based on what we think parents want (citing "taxpayer money",) and administrators often speak of how they have "protected" teachers from irate parents. The teachers I spoke with were confused, and even perplexed by the question, most stating that it did not matter how parents felt about them being away from their jobs. Their suspicions were that their parents would not care about their abscence, and would support them, knowing that what is happening to teachers right now could happen to them in their jobs as well.

It was easy to find supporters along the way, too, like the gentleman to the left who cheered and clapped for the passing marchers. Those who oppose the teacher strikes (aka the government officials in charge) have stated strikes such as these will damage the reputation of teachers. I found none of them along the streets of Sheffield, and many of those I talked to were handy because they were inconvenienced in their travel routes and were sidelined until the march had passed. Not one person I visited with shared discontent for these teachers and their protest. Most talked about how hard teachers worked and how everyone should stand up for a wrong that is being done against them. Several even said what a church caretaker told me "don't ask me--you won't get a balanced response--I'm a socialist! I agree with them!"

It's an exciting time to be in England, and because of my public school background in America, I am sympathetic toward the teachers moreso than the government. I, too, believe that anyone who hasn't, doesn't, or gave up doing the classroom teaching job I do should have little influence on creating policy that affects my workload, my pay, and my retirement.