Friday, September 05, 2008

rocking the vote

My 19-year-old daughter has always been determined to make up her own mind, and this presidential campaign is no exception. She's oh so excited to be able to cast her very first vote. (They really ought to make a page for that in the baby book.)

We talk about politics daily at our house, even when it's not an election season, so she's grown up with it. This, plus the fact that both my husband and I have been in education for over 20 years, means that conversations about politics often center on education issues.

Despite my temptation to sway my daughter's judgment about where she should cast her vote, I sent her instead to the Pew Research Forum's website where they publish thumbnail sketches of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates' views on a number of issues, including education. (When you go there, don't get thrown off by the "Religion and Politics" banner at the top of the webpage; the candidate profiles are on the right.)

Right below my profile on the right, you'll see links to the Pew website as well as links to both McCain's and Obama's education platforms as stated on their respective websites.

You should check them out so you'll know whom you're voting for and why. You owe it to your parents to think, and vote, for yourself.

And not just because your Mama said so.

Monday, August 18, 2008

take no prisoners

I'm writing this from my back porch. Late summer in CO = 74 degrees, light breeze, hummingbird hovering over the agastache that smells like licorice when I rub my hands against the leaves, and lots of green tomatoes on the vine. It's hard to tell how many of them will actually ripen. The sun is shifting to the south part of west these days, so frost isn't long in coming.

That means that no matter how irresistible the pull of the garden, it's time to get back at it. Same time, one week from today, I won't be counting tomatoes, I'll be teaching.

The pull of the classroom is (finally) becoming irresistible, too. Coming off my sabbatical, I was worried that this might not happen. At a party the other night, though, a colleague reassured me. Without saying something terrifying like "It will be like you never left," he said I would be able to fall back in line. And he made that sound not so terrifying. He said I would be okay.

Right now it feels like it could be true. Over the past month, I've found myself jotting down random lines from magazines, books I'm reading, my own brain, and thinking about how to weave them into my teaching. I'm reviewing the texts I've chosen, bookmarking blogs, and dog-earing journal articles. Will any of it be relevant? No way to know for sure without being in the heat of the teaching moment, but I'm obediently collecting just in case.

Another (potentially) good sign: I'm making lists.

I like to make lists. I like to check items off as I complete them. Doing so at the beginning of the semester allows me to feel smug and industrious. I remember this feeling. But as the semester progresses, the trouble with my lists (and, unfortunately, the plural form is accurate here) is that they breed like bunnies, and before long, I'm only feeling crazed.

Syllabi feel like lists to me. Lists of lovely promises: I/you will...teach/learn, assign/read, request/complete, grade/produce. Everything feels expansive and possible in August (i.e., "After taking the course 'Teaching Reading,' by golly you'll be able to teach reading! Your students will not only be able to read, they will do so with enthusiasm. Bookstores will lure them. You will be thanked."). By December, though, all of us are deeply resentful of those same promises, pulling all-nighters, skimming. Students complete projects begrudgingly, and as they grade said projects, profs kick themselves for making so many assignments in the first place.

Today, though, I came across an article called "The One Who Is Not Busy." In it, Zen Buddhist Norman Fischer talks about being "prisoners of the list" as we realize (again) that there aren't enough hours in the day to do all that we need or want to do. He says,

"But the point is not how many things we have done or will do in a given amount of time; the point is how we do what we do."

As I read that this morning, I substituted "taught/teach" for "done/do," as in:

"But the point is not how many things we have taught or will teach in a given amount of time; the point is how we teach what we teach."

"Learned/learn" works here. "Wrote/write" and "read/read" do, too.

As I move back into Eddy Hall this year, I know I'll be clobbered again by the temptation to become the prisoner of my lists. I know I'll want to be counting tomatoes rather than how many more projects are left in my stack of grading. I'm writing this entry to remind myself that I can't teach it all, no matter how ambitious my syllabi. In fact, maybe being less ambitious would let all of us learn more in the end.