Sunday, January 11, 2009

What are we teaching them?

Teacher musings:
So all school year I've felt a conflict between content and skills like never before. Am I teaching my students to read, write and think, or am I teaching them to analyze literature? Of course I hope to do both, but the reality is something has to be a priority. By next Monday we will have finished two novels, that, honestly, only about 60% of my students have actually read all the way through. We have read 6 short stories and 2 non-fiction articles. My students are doing an amazing job asking deep, thoughtful questions about patriarchy, power, sexuality, etc. as we finish The Color Purple, and the fact that we read a summary of the book before reading the actual book really helped take the pressure of "what happened" so that we could talk about "what it means." But what am I teaching them? Yeah, they will have an understanding of cultural icons like Atticus Finch and Celie, but will they be able to research the root causes of the Israli/Palestine conflict? Yeah, they are learning to think more critically and to do stronger close readings of novels, but how will that help them wade through Obama's 14 page economic stimulus plan? Yeah, they are writing thoughtful essays about character development, but how will that help them express their frustration with lack of services they have in a letter to their state representatives?
Which brings me to the wake-up call I had this week. This content/skills debate has been raging in the English teaching world for a long time and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is something I discuss on and off with my colleagues as we all try to work towards including the best of both worlds. I know which side I fall on and which side my current school falls on, and they are not the same. So, I have been doing it my school's way this year to get some traction, try some new things, and to make sure I keep my job. But this week I heard about the BART shooting in Oakland (where I used to teach) and I started to cry. Because that could have been one of my kids. It could have been one of my kids who got shot. It could have been on of my kids who lost a father. It could have been one of my kids arrested while protesting. It could be one of my kids who gets harassed, beaten or killed by a cop acting out of frustration in the next few weeks. It might be useful for my kids to use literature to make meaning from their lives, but is it what they need, right this second? Or does literacy take on a whole new meaning when its a tool for survival, that lets you speak out when you need to, use language to make your voice heard, or that gets you in a position of power that gives you a change to fix this mess of world we live in? Which is why I could care less if my kids remember Atticus Finch's name so long as they remember how to use words to make a difference. I'm not saying that teaching my kids stronger literacy skills would prevent a situation like that from happening. But maybe we need to worry less about preparing kids for intellectual dinner conversations and more for the real problems they will face.

Yummy Stuff:
I almost didn't want to include a food mention in this post, but sometimes its nice to end on a lighter note. Cooking is often act of meditation for me. The chopping, checking the recipe, thinking about spice ratios, etc. has a calming effect, and I find that I sometimes can think more clearly and get beyond my anger and frustration when prepping for dinner. With that said, last night we had Broccoli Sesame Stir-fry from Vegan Planet - my go-to cook book when we get busy. In addition to broccoli and red bell peppers we put in some delicious bok choy to get our greens for the day. Speaking of greens, I have a new favorite way to cook kale, also from Vegan Planet. I rough chop the kale, wash it well, and then stick it in a large saucepan with the water still on in. I turn up the pan to medium heat and cover it and let it cook for about 10 minutes. I do this instead of boiling because it supposedly keeps more of the nutrients in, but who knows. Then, I mix together 1T of balsamic vinegar, 2T of tamari soy sauce and a couple dashes of cayenne pepper. I pour all of that in with the kale and continue to cook it, uncovered, for about 7 more minutes, untill most of the sauce is gone. The kale will be really wilted by this point, which might make it seem unappetizing to some, but is really, really yummy! Then I top it with a ton of pine nuts!! Pair that with some pasta or some soup and bread and you've got what Gary and I call a Levey-Pabst dinner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teacher musings:
Yesterday was the first day back from break. Its always a tough day for all parties considered. I was excited to go back and the kids weren't too wacko. I enjoyed seeing them and had fun catching up with them. It was a little hard to get some of them to get to work, and it was a bit of a struggle to remind them where we had left off, but overall it wasn't too bad. But at the same time, I felt myself struggling for a sense of urgency. We completed the vocabulary lesson (something that usually takes twenty minutes) and when I looked up, forty minutes had gone by - yikes!! It was a reminder that it was time for me to step up my game a bit. I was easily sidetracked yesterday by student comments and irrelevant (yet interesting) questions. Just a reminder that I have to get my head back in the game too!

Yummy stuff:
I am totally in love with roasting. Give me a veggie - any veggie you want and this month, I roast it. For dinner Sunday we had roasted butternut squash (mixed with evoo, salt and pepper - roast at 425 for 40 minutes) and roasted brussell sprouts (mixed with evoo, salt and pepper - roast for 20 minutes) with waffles. It was a great way to do "breakfast for dinner." Today I am at my sister's house helping her recover from surgery. She had some quinoa and a few veggies in fridge. I found half a head of cauliflower and - you guessed it - roasted it!! I cut it up and covered it with evoo, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and roasted it for 20 minutes and then put it on top of quinoa. It was a great post-hospital meal, and it was exciting to make it as spicy as I like since I didn't have to share with Gary. Not bad for a vegan on the go!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Teaching is a Job

This is probably the first and last time I'll write two posts in two days, but as any teacher knows, when you have the time, use it! Today I was pondering what is worth missing a day of teaching for. My sister in D.C. is having surgery (routine, but still surgery) on Tuesday, and I am going to fly down for the day to help out, take her to the hospital, etc. To me its a no-brainer - my family needs me, I'm there. No questions asked. Of course, with my family, nothing is simple. We have to figure out which family members to tell about my sister's surgery and in what order. Will my mom fly out from Arizona? Will I take a cab from the airport or take the metro - and who will pay for it? Its all so complicated for no reason at all. What surprises me though, is my reaction to missing a day of school. It will be the second day back from the two week break that was already too long because of snow days. It is the day of the week that I see my students the most because of my school's wacky schedule. It was the day we were supposed to finish the novel, and so I will need to do some serious lesson plan adjusting. And yet, when I told my sister it was no big deal to miss a day of work, I meant it.

Having all of this going on reminded me of Gary's second lung collapse, during my first year of teaching. Then I had to take a day off to stay home with him since he couldn't really do anything for himself. That time I was seriously stressed about missing work even considering the context. I think I honestly believed that if I was gone for a day and left lame sub-plans (the students were left with busy work that only three of them actually did) then my students' learning would be seriously damaged. Now I look back and can't believe my arrogance. Yes, I am the teacher, and the students learn more when I am there (at least I hope so!) But having someone else cover for a day does not hurt them and it certainly isn't the end of the world. One of the main benefits to getting laid off last year, from a job that I worked insanely hard at, was the realization that, when push comes to shove, teaching is a job. It might feel like a calling or identity sometimes, but when my family or friends need me, the job takes a backseat. So, my students will be using a handout to aid in their understanding of the end of The Color Purple on Tuesday, but we'll get back to the discussion, deeper analysis and writing on Wednesday. And maybe putting family first isn't a bad thing for my students to see.

Yummy Stuff
Last night we splurged and ordered Indian food (Gary was not happy about it, but I really, really wanted samosas and I haven't figured out how to make them well myself). However, rather than pay ten bucks for chana masala, I made a quick version of my own to go with our appetizer plate. I sauteed a chopped up onion with 2 T of garam masala, some chili powder and coriander. Then I dumped in a cup and a half of chickpeas and a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and 4 T of tomato paste. Then I just let it simmer until the delivery showed up - about 20 minutes. It wasn't bad for a randomly tossed together dish, and it tasted great with samosas!
Tonight, in the interest of getting back to being healthy we are making Southern New Year's Day Soup from Vegetarian Times with black-eyed peas, collard greens and veggies galore! I think I'll make some whole-wheat bread in the bread machine to go with it. That should counteract the greasy-goodness from last night.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Dawn of 2009

Now that '09 is upon us I feel a renewed sense of hope: Obama will be our new president soon, I am back to doing a job I love, the snow outside makes everything look new and fresh and it has been one year since I resolved to be fully vegan. Thats right, my 2008 resolution was to be an honest-to-goodness vegan (no more falling off the cheese wagon!) I made the resolution because it was something I had been wanting to do and I'm an all-or-nothing gal - it takes a big goal to make me change. But as I reflect on my place in the world today I honestly can't remember a time when I've been happier. On the surface, being back to teaching in the classroom (a change from 2008) and being vegan (also a big change) don't seem similar. In reality, they are both allowing me to "live my truth." I love teaching. I love the challenge, I love my students, I love the people I work with, and I love belonging to a community. I love being vegan. I love the fact that I am healthier. I love the fact that no creatures are harmed because of my diet. I love the food!!! I guess, when it comes down to it, I have entered 2009 living the life that seems to fit me, and it doesn't get much better than that.

Yummy Stuff!!
For our New Year's Eve dinner we made three-bean chili with what my hubby calls "Marie's willy-nilly spices" (it drives him nuts when I just put spices in without measuring or using a recipie!) The chili had kidney, pinto and black beans and tomatos and was seasoned with chili power, cumin, oregano, and a little bit of allspice and cloves. It was spicy and delicious topped with avacado!!
For our New Year's Day brunch I made Pumpkin Scones (with blueberries instead of cranberries) from Veganomicron and my own tofu-scramble with the potato-veggie medley from Trader Joe's. We didn't eat until 11:30, but hey, isn't that what Brunch is all about?