Friday, June 21, 2013

Keeping Up

If you stop by during the summer, leave a comment.

During the summer, this blog becomes mine.  I can write about whatever I want - and I may not update it.  You've been warned on both counts.

That said, I've been keeping up with my summer goals - one of which is reading.  I review every book I read, and post them to

Here's my latest.

The Scarlet LetterThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*Goodreads is weird... since I read this before, my status says: "Began June 13, 2013 - Finished January 1, 2004..."

I guess as soon as I write this review, I will no longer be credited with reading this book in 2004. I was there, though. It happened.*

Book club books are great. If you're not in a club, I suggest you join one - and not some online forum (although those can be good as well) but a real club - where you sit down face-to-face with people you love to disagree with (or be disagreeable with...)

We read The Scarlet Letter just after finishing Philip Roth's book: Sabbath's Theater. These two VERY different books have some very similar themes. In fact, I'd argue that the central message of both is the same thing:

(If you don't want the central message of either of these books, avert your eyes now. I'm serious, you may regret it if you keep reading. Just head down to the bottom and click "like" out of appreciation for this warning...)

The central message is this: We try to hide it, but we're all depraved beings.

In the Philip Roth book, Mickey Sabbath isn't just depraved - he's totally depraved. I don't mean that in any theological sense, it's just... that guy is bad news. But (I believe) the point Roth was making is that we're all that way. We have hidden desires that we don't act on. And while we're in no way envious of Mickey or what he becomes, we are a little jealous that he has the uhhh... ...guts... to live life on his terms - without remorse or guilt.

The Scarlet Letter is the exact opposite of that. Whereas Sabbath's Theater was a book of excess; a book of sexual deviancy - The Scarlet Letter is a Puritanical book. The most heinous act occurring before page one.

This isn't a spoiler, I'm only putting it in here because it's boring: (view spoiler)[Page one? PAGE ONE?!?! I ordered my book from an independent book store (as I always do for these books) I started reading it, and wasn't 2 pages in when I realized: I'm missing the first 50 or so pages. I had an edition that left out the introduction. Now, the introduction is fairly boring, but it has it's purposes - and a number of good quotes. Why would a book do that? (hide spoiler)]

Yet the theme is still the same: we are the townspeople. We're judging Hester, thankful we have someone to take the focus off the secrets in our own lives.

Obviously, both books were about much more than that. I'm sure you've already beat this horse to death in 9th or 10th grade English.

The Scarlet Letter's about coming clean. It's about the freedom in the truth, and facing adversity head-on. It's about the differences in gender-roles and punishments. It's about hypocrisy (most blatantly with the good Reverend, but also with the townspeople - from wearing the ornate clothes that Hester herself made to the dirty looks they gave.) (...I know, I know, back-to-back parenthetical asides... May I just add that the scarlet letter - the letter mind you, not the book - served as a nice advertisement for Hester's abilities...)

Reading it now, I also see why it's a staple of high school classrooms. It contains all kinds of literary devices: irony, metaphor, simile, symbolism, etc... I mean, Pearl? It's a challenging read, but not overly-so.

If you weren't forced into reading this during your teenage years, consider picking it up.

Or, if you were forced and didn't like it - consider giving it another shot. (Although, I'd skip the intro... apparently it's not worth it.)

View all my reviews

Friday, June 7, 2013

It's not you, it's me.

I imagine it's difficult for all humans to understand time as a concept.  I do not feel like the year is over.  How and when did it end?

As I was reflecting on the year at home Wednesday night, I had the thought that the end of the school year is so much like a Junior High break up.  How appropriate that I teach Junior High.

I remembered the thought toward the end of the school day yesterday, and shared it with my last class.  I talked about how weird it is that we've spent all this time together, we were around each other everyday.  Generally speaking, we really liked each other, but at times I annoy the class and they annoy me.

I mentioned that things would never be the same between us.  They'd get awkward.  Next year as 8th graders they might see me in the hall, maybe we'd high five.  Maybe they'd ask how Gandhi's doing.  (He's still dead...)  But we'd both know things aren't the same.

I told my class, "it's not you, it's me."  And they asked me if there was someone else.  I told them, well... yes... There's a group of 6th graders that's*

And the class cut me off: "SO YOU'RE TRADING US IN FOR SOMEONE YOUNGER?!?!?!"  (I kid you not, 7th hour really did say this...)

I hemmed and hawed for a while, but admitted it was true.  I apologized, but I think they were too upset at the moment to accept.

And lets be honest.  It's not me.  It's you.  We've both changed, but you're the ones who are moving on.  If we're being honest, it's this 7th grade class that's breaking up with me.

At any rate, it's not a perfect analogy.

As all endings are, yesterday was a time of reflection.  As a teacher, I think that's one thing many teachers don't do well enough (myself included...)  We're so focused on doing, that we leave little time to sit, and think, and reflect.  It's always go, go, go.

That's been one of the benefits of the blog - it's good for the students, but it's also good for me.  I get a chance to sit down and think about how the day went.  What we did, what went well, what didn't...

And so, we reflected on the year.  But we also thought about the future.  Every year I make 5 goals for the summer and 5 goals for the next school year.  I also make a 5 year goal and a 10 year goal. We discuss keeping the goals attainable - yet not too attainable.  I tried to talk them into choosing goals that make them into the person they want to be.  (So we discussed academic goals, athletic goals, relational goals - helping out around the house, etc...)

They didn't have to write any, but many students did.  If they wrote them, I encouraged them to put them somewhere they can be seen.  I keep mine on the side of the fridge.  They're not in a very prominent spot, but one that I see everyday.  Every once in a while I look at them and it reminds me of where I want to be going, and it helps me regain my focus.

If you didn't write any, it's not too late.

Here are my goals from last year - in case you're interested:

I've got to finish cleaning my classroom.  Thanks for a great year.  If you're ever wondering what's going on, feel free to leave a comment.

If you're reading and discussing the blog for extra credit... seriously... you probably have enough.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Stop by Tomorrow

This was a fantastic last day of school.  Unfortunately, with all the partying, I don't have time to give my final thoughts/ reflections on the year.

Of course, you can't get extra credit for them anyway...  But they might be fun to read.  Especially if you're really bored or something... summer's like that.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Feel free to check back in over the summer and leave comments - but this is it: the last chance at getting extra credit for reading/ discussing the blog.

We've done a lot this year.  (Just read back through old posts and see for yourself...)

What I'd like you to do for this blog post is discuss how the year went with the adult.  I'd prefer if you focused specifically on this class, but you can venture into school in general if you please.

What was your favorite activity or moment from this class?  What lessons went well?  What didn't go well?  Can you name anything you learned?  Do you remember anything from back at the beginning of the year?  (Think about latitude and longitude; culture; ethnocentrism; globalization; etc...)  What are you going to do this summer to avoid brain drain?  When reflecting on the year, there's plenty to discuss.  So reflect; discuss.

Maybe I'll post tomorrow and give you my thoughts on the year, and how I plan on avoiding summer brain drain.

To get the extra credit, write 3 sentences from your discussion, and have the adult you discussed with sign the paper.  Turn it in tomorrow.  (I wouldn't wait until Friday.)

Summer... here we come.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In the Lead

We're looking at the leaders of Ancient China.  The chancellors met with groups of people in various provinces.  They had to determine who was most fit to rule China.

All three groups won at different times of the day - which was nice, because it is also true of China.

The emperor met with the chancellors, and listened to their advice.  I was impressed with the maturity showed by these leaders.  They asked valid questions and generally took the advice of their chancellors.  There was one case where 3 chancellors voted one way, while 2 voted another way - and the emperor went with the minority.  When he was questioned about this, he said it was because his most trusted chancellor was in the minority.  Great answer, man.  Great answer.

If you want the extra credit for reading and discussing the blog... well... you have to read and discuss it.

Tell the adult you read the blog with about the role you played.  What did you do?  Who did the emperor choose?  Why do you think he choose them?

On a scrap of paper, write down 2 thoughts about this activity.

Have the adult you read the blog with sign the scrap of paper.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Winding Up, Winding Down

When there are less than 5 days of school left, and everybody around us is already on vacation, it's sometimes difficult to retain focus.

Yet here we are.

We started an activity today on the Chinese dynasties.  There are 3 groups we are looking at: aristocrats, scholars, and foreigners.  Each group believes they should rule.  They plead their case before the chancellor of their province.  The chancellors will take their case before the emperor, and the emperor will decide.

Today, the students are still in their groups, trying to figure out why they should lead.  Tomorrow, they'll argue.

If you want the extra credit, you were supposed to have read this blog with an adult.  If you did that, discuss with them what makes a good leader.  Then, on a scrap of paper, tell me whether you see yourself as a leader or not, and tell me why.  Have the adult sign the paper.

Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit tray.