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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let Me Tell You About An Incredible New Book

This is the cover of a brand new amazing book.

Broken Road is the story of going home and discovering the person you were meant to be all along.

The story takes place in a little town in Tennessee. Roxie has gone back to wrap up her dead Aunt Delia's estate. But she's got issues about being there that date all the way back to her high school days. The nightmares intensify, but the people she meets, especially Caleb, the electrician who gets the wiring right at Delia's, and Cole, his partner, help her deal with the loss that haunts her. Interesting twists keep the reader guessing, and the ending will catch everyone off-guard. The characters will live on in your mind, and you'll wish you could go to Derry and eat at Sophie's Place.

Learn more about the book at its website: www.shadetreewritings.com or go to Lulu.com and search by title. The book is available in hardback, softback, and eBook formats. Right now, Lulu.com is offering a 25% discount on the book. Just use code: bymybook305 at checkout.

You won't be sorry you read this one!

Monday, June 6, 2011

And This Whole Time I Was Thinking Snakes

So, I'm in the iris bed, one of many at our house. An iris is a rhizome, not a bulb, and puts out rhizome buddies from a single rhizome, which can then be snapped off and replanted.

That's all the botany I know.

We ignored the iris (and what's the plural of iris? Irises? Probably something really grammary like "iri") for years when we moved in. Then my daughter and I dug up and separated them and when we replanted we had over 400. Now, it's time to do it again because they don't all bloom and that same daughter who is now grown, married and in her own house said once, "It'd be nice to have some iris at our place" and I'm planning on scoring big father points with her when I bring them over.

I'm not afraid of the outdoors, in fact, I enjoy my time there. I've even become accustomed to the creatures I encounter there, except for the stingers, the nefarious bastards of the property. But the rest I can deal with, including, and I really can't believe I'm saying this: snakes. I mean to say that the overwhelming urge to destroy a garter snake beyond recognition no longer takes over my entirety when I see a little rustling in the grass.

I've raked a few snakes from the bed over which I toiled last night and as I used my fingers to rake last season's leaves and debris from between the iris I wondered if I would encounter another. Surely, escape would be their only thought when they sensed my presence. And then I laid my hand squarely on the back of a turtle.

There is something to learn in every experience, it's the teacher in me, even if the lesson is how truly crappy some experiences can be. So what, I wonder, is the lesson of the turtle? Most fears in life are unwarranted? It's not the thing you fear that will ultimately get you? An unexpected turtle can make you wet yourself a little while working in the iris bed?

The teacher in me knows that some lessons take longer to suss out than others. And this one will stay with me for awhile.

My wife did teach one quick lesson about turtle encounters when I returned. I had to wash my buddies sal and monella off my hands before I could touch her or anything else.

Hmm...turtles must not be very picky about their friends.

Aha! Another lesson!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wordle Revisited

You know, if you just stay involved, with your eyes and ears open as well, you just continue to learn.

Of course, this is a wordle made at wordle.net. You can put in a group of words, or just enter a url and the software will create a picture of the words based on their appearance rate. I don't completely know the way it's created. Thank goodness I don't need to.

I've also learned that once a picture is put on the web, the way I've just put this one up, the picture itself has a url. Then the picture can be uploaded to any site accepting pictures by url.

I belong to the National Writing Project and just now we are hosting the E Anthology; a place for teachers to share their writing with each other. This year's E offers the possibility to upload a picture by url. So, I'm posting my wordle here and then I'll pick up the url and repost it on the E.

I have no idea HOW all that's done, but I've learned that it can be done and that's enough for me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Wish for You the Best

"What do you mean, 'he won't be back,'" I asked aloud to my principal.

"Well, he could come back on the 6th, but I think his parents are going to put him in a GED program."

I was stunned.

In the credit recovery lab, I work with a lot of disadvantaged and disenfranchised students. The life-quality of my students runs the gamut, but the ones at the bottom end come from backgrounds hard for an educator to comprehend.

The student we were talking about, I'll call him James, was one of those. He'd moved into our district from another where he'd gotten into trouble. He'd been through a program that had helped to straighten him out. He was nothing but "yessir" with me, as cooperative as possible, and a nice kid to work with. He was struggling to learn algebra. There's something about watching a child struggle to accomplish something, watching them strain and persevere that just makes me want for them. They break my heart, then weasel their way in through the crack, living there until we part at the end of a school year-sometimes longer. Such was my relationship with James.

Earlier in the year he had been suspended for something to do with alcohol. I had heard he was not involved with the drink, but knew who was and wouldn't tell, but I might be wrong about that. Yesterday, he left the school in handcuffs, having been fighting with one or maybe more boys in the bathroom after lunch. A student who has seen the fight on video, taken by a student on his phone, says that he'd been picked on by other students in the lunch room.

A second suspension is an automatic 5 days, and there's only 7 left in the school year.

So I probably won't see this student again, this young man who I enjoyed working with, whose success and personal achievement I longed for. Such is the life of a teacher; we control nothing more in our students' lives than an invitation to improvement.

I just have to remember the guy in the picture. He didn't have it so easy in school, either. He foundered in all the traditional systems. But he made his own way, and then made it his own way.

I hope my student will too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I QUIT!!!

We lost four days due to a tornado here in Vilonia; on top of the five snow days.

The tornado days were waived by the state.

For the students.

Recently, the district rolled out the plan devised so that faculty and staff could be paid our entire contract.

We have to come two more days after students leave. From 7:30 to 4:00. That will make up 16 hours. We'll write a one page essay about something, anything, we've done at school. For that we get 2 more hours. Then we'll pick up 6 hours of PD on our own, which won't count toward the 60 required for next year. Then the district can pay us our entire contract.

It's professional hoop jumping, at best.

And as anyone can imagine, it's made the natives just a little restless.

And some of us, as you can also imagine, have decided to quit.

And you might think I mean to say that some teachers have decided not to return next year. But that's not what I'm saying at all. I mean some of them have quit this year. And I'm not saying they are no longer coming to school; they are.

But they've quit.

It's videos and video games. It's basketball and softball games between classes. Walks in the nature trail.

And I don't want to be a hard ass about this. I'm 54 years old and this is my 30th year in the classroom. I know tired. I know burned out. Some days I want to quit too.

But we're a 90-90 school. We get 90 minutes a day for 90 days with our students. Of course, we lose a few class periods to pep rallies, student council speeches, and, well, tornadoes.

Do we have more concepts and curricular activities in which to engage our students than we have time for, or do we have more time with students than we know what to do with?

A few years ago, a lady in our district, whose son was my student, shared with me one of my greatest compliments. "Mom," he said to her, "every day I go to school Mr. Rush has something he wants to teach me."

Thank God for summer breaks.

Let us teach until it comes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Natural, Sure, But Is She a Mother?

The oddest thing happened on May 1. My wife saw the question and answer in the “Ask Marilyn” column of Sunday’s Parade Magazine. If course, that won’t make any sense unless I give the back story.

Just a few days before April ended, I posed the question to my wife. If humans did something to the planet that caused the death of us all, would the planet eventually heal itself and continue without us?

Well, she responded, there is vegetation growing around Chernobyl (the site of the nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in late April of 1986) but you can’t eat it. It’s contaminated. But yeah, I think the planet would eventually heal and thrive without us.

Even more back story.

Back in September, I read Tim Flannery’s, Now or Never: Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future. Not long after, I read, Eaarth: Making a Life on a New Tough Planet, by Bill McKibben. Both of them talked about Gaia, the Mother Earth, the living planet. The planet is a living being with three parts: earth, ocean, and atmosphere. They work together to keep the planet healthy and living. And of course, humans are messing that natural process up.

I knew about global warming, carbon emissions, and pollution in general, but I’d never heard of Gaia and the idea that the planet was alive.

The planet is alive.

On May 1, Cindy opened the paper and read this question as it was posed to Marilyn by Rod Strassburg of Winston Salem, N.C. “If human life were to vanish from Earth, leaving only animals and plants, how long would it take for the environment to return to a pristine state?”

Well, not exactly my question. But Marilyn took it on saying that the process was thousands of years long. She mentioned the decay of structures we’ve built and when on to nuclear waste citing the same thing Cindy did about life in Chernobyl.

“The planet would forget all about us in maybe 50,000 years—far less time than humankind has existed.”

Ever since the tornado ripped through the town where I teach, any my friends and colleagues stood in utter amazement and horror at the destruction, I’ve been thinking about the planet and the humans and how we think we’ve got pretty much everything under control. So tight is our control, in our own minds, that we live with nearly a 100% expectancy of outcomes.

Take our relationship with the weather or with weather forecasters for example. We expect them to get it right, and we’re angry when the weather is different than that forecasted. Some of us even say, “They’ve changed the weather,” instead of, “They’ve changed the forecast,” or even more accurately, “The weather has changed.”

I’m coming to believe that we who live on a planet that can live without us, who can’t control anything, who cannot survive ten minutes without oxygen, ten days without water, or a few months without food, are the true anomaly.

I hope this thinking changes what I decide to worry about.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Superficiality, Although Long, Is Not A Dirty Word

One day, roughly thirty years ago, my wife and I were grocery-shopping. While we unloaded the cart at the check-out stand, some liquid from a package of chicken got on my hands. I set it on the belt and without much thought about the implications, looked up at the checker and said, “Your breasts are leaking.”

Her name was Carol, and for a moment, she stopped working, we stopped shopping and enjoyed a really good laugh.

The lifeguard in the picture isn’t Molly. I was going to ask Molly if I could take her picture for this post but it just seemed too creepy. She’s a senior in college; in fact, she’ll graduate on Saturday, and she’s been our early morning lifeguard at the college pool for two years.

We have not learned much about Molly during the time we’ve known her. Once, right before spring break, we learned she is from Texas because that’s where she said she’d be for the break. We know she has a boyfriend, because we’ve seen him drop her off some mornings, and that she rides a bike; her transportation on the other days. We know some of the courses she’s taken because her head is often over a book or her Macbook when we get out of the pool.

We have grown to like Molly and we’ll miss her now that she’s graduating and moving back to Texas for graduate school. She has been kind, genuine, and pleasant in our very brief exchanges between pool and locker room. She’s represented stability, you know, “Situation normal: Molly’s here.” And she’s represented safety; if we’d have tried to drown, she’d have tried to save us.

I developed this post on the morning of Molly’s last day as our lifeguard, while I swam the width of the pool over and over. I searched for a word that describes our relationship with Molly. All I could come up with was superficial and shallow, but those are usually ugly terms for people and I guess relationships too. I guess I could say that we are acquaintances, but I don’t feel like that’s all we are.

So, I settled on superficial and as you can tell by the title, decided there was nothing wrong with it. The truth is most of our relationships are superficial. There are a few folks in my family and some others I work with. And as a teacher, I’ve got students that I get to know pretty well. But by and large, the vast majority of people I see on a regular basis-the servers at our favorite restaurants-the checkers at Walmart-my dental hygienist-my doctor’s nurse, all of these are superficial relationships.

And the thing I thought about between the sides of the pool that morning is how meaningful and enjoyable those relationships are, even though they are superficial. There’s much pleasure to be mined from just getting to know someone, and knowing Molly, even as little as it happened, has been a joy.

By the way, we got to know Carol pretty well too. We talked routinely when we shopped in her grocery store. Eventually, her daughter became my student in the junior high where I taught choir. Her daughter matriculated, and then we left the country. When we moved home, the store had been closed and a different business was in the building.

But I remember Carol, after thirty years. And our relationship was a merely superficial.

Mike's book montage

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Girl with a Pearl Earring
The Book of Ruth
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom
Teacher Man: A Memoir
Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
Schools That Work: America's Most Innovative Public Education Programs
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
A Death in Belmont
The Tipping Point
Blink
The Bible: A Biography
Magical Thinking: True Stories
Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High
Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
I Feel Bad About My Neck
The Shack


Mike's favorite books »