Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Africa

at Two Writing Teachers!
Those tests are nestled tight in my magenta accordion folder, waiting to be graded.  I can hear them calling to me from the layers of polka-dot file folders that are enveloped by the bright outer plastic.

But the sun is shining.  And this story has been calling to me too.  It's been calling for seven weeks now, patiently tumbling around inside my head.  Some days it just whispers, but on Tuesdays it pokes and prods and screams.

So today, I spread open the drapes, settle onto the bed, and take a few deep glances out the window.  Slanting sunlight on the slanting roof, green leaves still obscuring the orange and red ones across the street.  I breathe in the world.  Time to write...

It's Friday afternoon of the first week of school and my advanced class is halfway through their country sharing.  A Mexican-American boy and girl have just finished a spontaneous joint sharing session because, coincidentally, they both brought images of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  After a spirited discussion about Mexico, Mary, Catholicism, and religions, the usual between-presentations chaos fills the room for a minute: whispering, giggling, squirming.

W. gets up and touches the SMARTboard to make a star on the map for where he's from.  The star lands on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"What did you bring to share?"  I prompt him.
"I have a map of Africa."
Uh oh, kinda missed the point.  There's not much to share about a map.  My brain starts spinning with guiding questions.  "What do you want to tell us about Africa?"

"In Africa, life is very hard."  His rich, musical accent is a soft but deep rumble through the room.  I lean forward to try to decipher the words through the accent.

"What'd he say?" I'm not the only one who's having a little trouble.  A few giggles scatter through the room.  They aren't mean giggles.  The kids are just hyped up from the liveliness of the last presentation and it's hard not to be filled with a kind of curious delight as you listen to the rhythm of his voice.

"He said life is hard there.  Why is it hard, W.?"

"In Africa, many people can't get a job.  There is not enough food.  Sometimes you only eat 1 meal a day."  The room is still now.  No whispering, no squirming, definitely no giggling.  "That's why many people want to come to America."  W. shuffles around in front of the room and scratches his head.

Time for one of those guiding questions my brain was working on earlier.  "What was school like in your country?  What do you think of our schools here?"

W. grins and nods.  "Oh, America schools is so good.  They give you books to study."

"So in your country, you didn't have books at school?"

"If you pay, you can have a book.  But books is expensive and so many people cannot pay to have a book.  Here, it's easy to study because everyone can have a book."  Now the kids are leaning forward, eyes shining with interest.  "And school language is French, but at home we speak Lingala."

A hand shoots up off to my left.  "Wait, so you speak TWO languages?!"
"3 -- don't forget English!" I add.

W's bright white teeth light up his face.  "I speak four languages: Lingala and French, also Swahili and [he makes some clicking noises]."  Whoa. I've never actually met someone who spoke one of those clicking languages. So cool.  

"That's 5 -- don't forget English!"  I grin at him.  He shrugs as if he's not so sure if he should count English just yet.

The astonishment and admiration swirling inside me are mirrored on the faces of the other students.
"No way!"  "5 languages!"  "That's so cool!"

More hands shoot up. "What do you eat in your country?"  He mentions a few special dishes and then, "We eat dog and cat.  Here nobody would eat it but it's so good."

"Dog and cat?"  "You actually like it?"  "Does it taste like chicken?"

"Oh yes, cat is sweeter than chicken. I wish I could go back to my country just to eat cat!"

Nobody says "eww" or "gross".  Their heads are full of new thoughts: eating only once a day, having to buy textbooks, and speaking five languages.  And yes, eating cat.

New thoughts make minds grow.  Growing minds make a community.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How do you do it?

at Two Writing Teachers!
Ok superteachers, how do you do it?

You craft amazing lessons.  You love your students and inspire them to grow in incredible ways.

You learn from your colleagues and they learn from you.  And you become friends with them!

You read teaching books.  You read young-adult and children's books to share with your students.  You blog.  You tweet. You write for your students.  And sometimes, you even read and write just for yourselves!

AND you have lives! You go on walks.  You go on bike rides.  You go on trips.  You play with dogs.  You take care of children.  You exercise.  You cook.

I assume that you also sleep at some point.

Just one question: HOW?

There are not enough hours in the day.  Right now, I go to school when it's dark and come home 11 hours later, when it's getting dark again.  Sometimes, I do more work when I get home.  Then I go to bed.  (A reasonable amount of sleep is non-negotiable for me.  Maybe that's my problem?)

I know: I have 3 new preps in a new subject at a new school with a new age level.  It will get better.

But I could use a dose of your super-ness.  Any tips?