Writing (and telling) stories about your life can lead to some surprising discoveries.
I may not be a Garrison Keillor, yet I can still tell a story that has worth and relevance. Here's one I told my kids Friday.
Stealing Hubcaps With Tony Valentine
(Inspired by a reader response letter concerning a story about kids shoplifting. I chose to tell this story to my class as a way to illustrate the theme, What is Your Story? I edited the story for sixth grade sensibilities. This one's a little more in-your-face.)
Tony Valentine was a hot/cool Italian ice smoothee. Instantly likeable. I hooked up with him one year for some adventures in teenage shenanigans.
One day, Tony asked me if I wanted to help him steal hubcaps. I thought about it. About the coolness factor. I wanted to be cool. Like Tony.
We met that night at his house. He drove us to a ritzy neighborhood. Parked across the street from an Oldsmobile 4-4-2. I carried a flashlight. Tony handled the crowbar.
We duckwalked up to the Olds. The beam of light is shaking a little, betraying my inner turmoil. Tony's prying on the hubcap, and the damn thing is making these metallic squeaking noises.
"Hurry the hell up, man!" The thought cycles through my brain.
More squeak squeak. I'm getting real scared now. I'm wishing I wasn't here with Tony Valentine in the middle of the night stealing some poor shmuck's hubcaps.
Pop! That sucker comes off.
"Let's go!" he says.
What? Tony Valentine wants one hubcap?
We gone in 60 seconds.
I then tell (not ask, cause they're only beginning to understand the reason for my stories) my kids that this event helped define myself as an individual human being. I have discovered that stealing makes me nervous. That I'm not a natural born thief. Hence, I do not steal because I'm afraid I'll be caught. I tell them the moral imperative did not kick in until later. (Is that not the reason many kids do not steal? Because they tested themselves once and found their courage lacking? This is part of growing up.) In the telling of this story, I am empowering my students to tell their own stories as part of an ongoing process of self-realization. This is what Balanced Literacy is all about. Story telling. Oral and written. In context. Always, in context.
My mind has a long history of making odd connections, so it may seem kind of strange that I thought of those two different, but linked women this morning while looking at a picture of Cindy Sheehan holding hands with Sue Niederer, whose son was also killed in action in Iraq. I was thinking about the way lots and lots of people can be aware of something evil for a long time, can speak up about it, chip away at it, plan ways to oppose it, and then suddenly someone acts, in a way that really couldn't be planned. Claudette Colvin refuses to give up her seat. Cindy Sheehan demands answers and won't be patronized. And it touches something. And the world won't ever be the same again.
When I meditated on the word Guidance, I kept seeing "dance" at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God's will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn't flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It's as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.
My eyes drew back to the word Guidance. When I saw "G: I thought of God, followed by "u" and "i". "God, "u" and "i" dance" God, you and I dance. As I lowered my head, I became willing to trust that I would get guidance about my life. Once again, I became willing to let God lead.
My prayer for you today is that God's blessings and mercies be upon you on this day and every day. May you abide in God as God abides in you. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead and to guide you through each season of your life.
Meanwhile, I'm having a ball with my kids. Eighteen sixth grade students who are non-participants in the dual language program at San Miguel Elementary. Which means I get to teach the same kids every day. (Although I agree with the inherent benefits of dual language education, I'm not sold on the program's implementation. Perhaps my own limitations play a major role in my judgment.) Already ideas flood my brain.
Like this one - Last year Mr. Llanez and I used walkie talkies to communicate. This year I'm situated in close proximity to the other sixth grade teachers, so there's really no need for the walkie talkies. So... yesterday it occurred to me that I can work up a lesson which allows for a student to pick a destination at school, describe the landmarks en route (via walkie talkie to the class where a student writes down the transmissions) and the class uses deductive reasoning to guess the final destinantion. Or, something like that. I don't have it all fleshed out just yet, but I'm working on it. First implementation will, of course, spark needed refinements.
I hope everyone has had a chance to relax and enjoy the summer. But now it is time to start thinking about the new school year that is just around the corner. When I stopped feeling the anticipation of a new year, I knew it was time to retire. But it is back for me. I am preparing for a much
smaller group now and with a lot less stress...maybe. I volunteered to teach Paint Shop Pro to elementary students in our afterschool program. Some day I will learn not to volunteer. (grin)
The Teachers' Mentor site has been updated. If you haven't been there for a while, you will also notice a few differences in the look. Otherwise, everything works the same. The site should load faster since the buttons are no longer graphics, but were done using CSS. If you are using an older
browser (version 4.x or older), you won't find it very pretty. But it should still be readable. Click to see what's new.
I have also started a photoblog. I hope you will visit. Students and teachers are welcome to use my photographs for school projects. For most photographs there is a less compressed version linked to the smaller one on the page. The larger file should print better than the smaller one.
If you are interested in photography, you might enjoy the Photography Cafe. There are lots of friendly, helpful people there. All photographers, from the newbie to the professional, are welcome.
If you no longer wish to receive update notifications, just reply to this message and ask to be removed.
(Note - this was not a dry-as-dust presentation. Roberts sparked the two hours with intriguing anecdotes from his own life, punctuated by some uproarious humor. This was presentation done right!)
Participants were given the 40 Developmental Assets for Middle Childhood. We took a few minutes to checkmark the assets we remember being present in our adolescent lives, and circle those of particular importance growing up.
The presence of these assets are broken down into four partitions: 0-10, 11-20, 21-30, and 31-40. The more assets you checkmarked, the liklier you were to succeed in school (and in life).
We then paired up and shared our results. When it was my time to share, I said that I could only find three assets that were present in my adolescent life. (I later amended this to 2, because I misunderstood asset #20.) The two I remember were #16 (high expectations from parents and teachers) and #25 (reading for pleasure - I add to that reading to find "the answer" to a question I couldn't even formulate.)
Of the two, #25 was by far the most important for me. (I would expect #16 to be extremely common in most kids' lives.)
How well did the assets predict my success in school? Pretty darn well. Here's a recap of my life up to age 18...
Early childhood - loved torturing bugs in many creative ways. Freezing, burning, live dissections, etc. Parents fought a lot. Older brother/father extremely stormy relationship, which persisted throughout father's lifetime. I was close to neither parent. Friendships were limited. I felt like I was an alien who had been dropped on Earth for some ungodly reason.
Born a Jew. Parents never went to Synagogue, but I was forced to attend Hebrew School and, at 13, have a bar mitzvah. Never went back after that. (Red Rodney, jazz trumpeter, was my cousin. He played at my bar mitzvah.)
Testing showed IQ about 129. Teachers/parents constantly reminded me I was not working up to my ability. In junior high I made fanciful plans to kill myself. I would take sleeping pills and sit down to watch people bowling. (I hung at the bowling alley playing pinball and smoking Marlboros.) When the place closed someone would try to wake me, but I'd be gone. Feeling even more like an alien, I began searching in books. I thought that somewhere, somehow, I would find "the answer" to... what? (See film, "Welcome to the Dollhouse" for a good portrait of the hell that is junior high for those who don't fit in. I was the "Dawn Wiener" of Thomas Williams Junior High.)
High school - More misery. Flunked 10th grade. More tests. Aptitude in math, they said. But I preferred writing. Began seeing a private psychologist. Then a psychiatrist. I kept wondering why it was only me who had to see these guys. Why not the whole family? Flunked 10th grade. (Did not pass a single subject.) Next year I discovered my few friends would have nothing to do with me. Learned my lesson. Did just enough to get by.
Post high school - Parents were on European vacation. I joined U.S. Army while they were gone, October, 1965. They came home... I told them I was leaving in two weeks... my father was kind of sad but also kind of proud. My mother... I don't really remember... sad, I guess.
I believe Army saved my life. Meanwhile, my search for answers has evolved. In fact, no longer do I look for "the answer." Instead, I describe my life in terms of, "What is my story?" For, in fact, not everyone spends their formative years searching for an answer. But everyone has an ongoing story that is their life.