Friday, April 10, 2009

My Swan Songs

(So They Say)
by Rainer Maria Rilke & Morten Lauridsen

"Abandon entoure d'abandon,
tendresse touchant aux tendresses...
C'est ton interieur qui sans cesse
secaresse, dirait-on;

se caresse en soi-meme
par son propre reflet eclaire
Ainsi tu inventes le theme
du Narcisse exauce."

(English Translation)
"Abandon surrounding abandon,
Tenderness touching tenderness
Your oneness endlessly
Caresses itself, so they say;

Through its own clear reflection.
Thus you invent the theme
of Narcissus fulfilled."

There Will Be Rest
by Sara Teasdale & Frank Ticheli

"There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the roof-tops crowned with snow
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness, holy and low.

I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind,
I shall find the crystal of peace; and above me
Stars I shall find."

Calme des Nuits
by Camille Saint-Saens

"Calmes des nuits, fraicheur des soirs,
Vaste scintillement des mondes,
Grand silence des antres noirs
Vous charmez les ames profondes.
L'eclat du soleil, la gaite
Le bruit plaisent aux plus futiles;
Le poete seul est hante
Par l'amour des choses tranquiles."

(English Translation)
"Stillness of the night, cool of the evening,
Vast shimmering of the spheres,
Great silence of black vaults
Deep thinkers delight in you.
The bright sun, merriment,
And noise amuse the more frivolous;
Only the poet is possessed
By the love of quiet things."

The above songs are among my favorites that I have sung in chorales. They have moved me once again even though I am no longer able to sing them with my colleagues. It is not just their melodic harmonies and rhymic nuances, but their lyrics and the meaning they convey for me at this time in my life.

I must now admit that this stint of "blog writing" has been "my process" of letting go and expressing my over-riding interests and concerns in my life and career. It has, for the most part, been narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. It has helped me remember what I've done and what I've believed in. My teaching/learning is not over by any means. I will continue to do both, but I no longer feel the urge or necessity to share about them on the internet in a blog. I wish I could share the full impact of these songs/lyrics by down-loading the actual music in this blog but that is beyond me technically. It is an experiential thing.

"There Will Be Rest" originally moved me as one of our songs for the "Eistedfod"(sp) An Olympics for Choirs in Wales. Now I'm re-examining the meaning in the original poem and what it mean to my life now. Its content is more and more what I seek daily. Rest. I enjoy observing the on-going struggles of "the world", "our nation", "our culture", "our educational institutions" and I just don't have the desire to try to influence it, change it, fight it or comment on it anymore. It is not that I don't care about what seems to be happening, but I just realize that my time(s) have come and gone and I can't do very much about it anymore. I don't even want to. "Que sera, sera." Instead, I seem to enjoy quietness and meditation more and more. I'm not saying that I don't still enjoy "bright sun and merriment with amusing frivolities from time to time. We just celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary in the sun with much merriment and amusing frivolity...but it was at the Huntington Gardens, galleries and Tea Room. We are still very much in love.

So, this is my "Swan Song" for blog posting for now. I might get the urge with another post or two or even a new blog but I think I'm done with this one. This is truly a "Good Friday" for me. RRR

Friday, April 3, 2009

Red River Valley?

The Red River Valley

From this valley they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
For they say you taking the sunshine
Which has brightened our pathways awhile.

ome and sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
But remember the Red River Valley
And the one who has loved you so true.

Won't you think of the valley you're leaving
O how lonely, how sad it will be?
O think of the fond heart you're breaking
And the grief you are causing to me.*

As you go to your home by the ocean (Pacific)
May you never forget those sweet hours
That we spent in the Red River Valley
And the love we exchanged 'mid the flowers.*

Now our valley has been underwater
Snow and ice make our Red River white
How I wish I could leave my dear
Fargo, (N.D.)
And Go Far your warm coast tonight.*

Two days ago I subbed in a third grade class. I asked them if they had ever heard of the Red River Valley?...the place or the folksong? Nope! Nobody had. They might get exposed to it in fourth or fifth grade when they are supposed to study California and U.S. Westward Movement. So...I gave them alittle "pre-lesson" in U.S. geography. Yes, they had a map, which is unusual. I pointed out the Red River in North Dakota and how it flows north to Canada. I should've also pointed out another Red River, flowing southeast on the border of Oklahoma and Texas going through Lousiana to the Mississippi. I then taught them the old folksong "Red River Valley" and we acted it out. They squealed with delight at the suggestive words and how we picked two popular kids, a boy and a girls to go from the east side to the west side of the room. (sitting, waving, throwing kisses) They wanted to do it again with other people. They seem starved for this kind of teaching/learning. Role playing, acting it out, kinesthetic modalities are now mostly neglected in our classrooms. Singing for fun and leaning about our folk history is superfluous. This is part of our cultural history!

We discussed, at length, the current situation in Fargo, North Dakota. How it might feel to have your home and school flooded with icy river water 43' above its normal level. We recalled the news pix of human chains filling and stacking sand/dirt bags to make a levy around the town. These California kids have no idea of what it might be like living in the midwest with the constant threat of flooding, tornados, hurricanes etc. Yes, we have earthquakes but they don't seem as devestating. (We did discuss why I must know where they are at all time in case of an earthquake ie. at the library, computer lab, restroom) We talked about the loose tiles over the recessed lights in the ceiling and how they could fall and slice one up.

The song, I always associated with a more southern/western region such as the lower map. (Tex.Ok. La) I'm sure our pioneers came west from both North Dakota and Oklahoma. They left loved ones behind. I asked how many had ancestors/relatives from the midwest. Not many, maybe two or three. I told them about mine from Nebraska, Minnesota and Kentucky and how they came west for better jobs etc. They were only one generation back. This folksong probably goes back even further. If I had been their teacher, and/or they were in the fourth or fifth grades I'd assign them a research paper/project to find out about their ancestors and where they came from and why. I'd ask if they had any songs they the blues, lost loves etc. How many would have asked about relatives from Mexico or Canada. This is a workable rubric, don't you think? RRR

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Pooka

This is a scene from the movie "Harvey". Jimmy Stewart played "Elwood P. Dowd", a very happily retired, somewhat inebriated, man in the 1940's. It was from a play by Mary Chase put on in her small town that was so successful it made it to "Broadway" and the "movies". I remember hearing about it, but I never got to see it. Well, last night, my wife and I had the privilege of "experiencing" it at our local amateur, community theater. We knew three of the "actors" (Elwood, Harvey and Myrtle May). I enjoyed "acting" with "Elwood" in an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery a few years back. He was the lead detective. I have sung barbershop with "Harvey". He is a great bass. It was fun and a tight, smooth performance by all.

A "Pooka" is from Irish Folklore/legend. Ms. Chase was raised by some Irish uncles who were "full of it" so to speak. It is known to be a "shape shifting", mischievious spirit that "makes life more interesting" for those to whom it appears. In the play Harvey takes the form, only through Elwood's eyes as a giant, male human with a white rabbit head-an imaginary friend. The only physical evidence of it in the play is a black hat left on stage with two ear-holes in the top. This "Harvey" has a rich, baritone singing voice that we hear from offstage from time to time. This director has very cleverly used a follow-spot to freeze action on stage and then stimulate some "romantic action" between four of the principals. One of the characters reads the definition of a "Pooka" from the dictionary left on stage and it's definition is changed and uses his name. Money conveniently disappears and appears from the main antagonist's purse because of "Harvey".

I'm pretty sure my "pooka" through the years has been an "imaginary musical friend". At the moment I call him "woody". He has taken residence in my baritone ukulele. He goes with me to all my classrooms I visit as a sub now. He inspires and stimulates singing, rhythm and musical "hijinx". Just yesterday, he had the kids rolling on the floor all over the classroom as "meatballs" from our song "On Top of Spaghetti". I had to stop them from rolling out the door..."and into the garden". They especially enjoyed being "nothing but moosh". He and I try to create and inspire imagination wherever we go. I refer to "him" as "Woody" in my case and I tell them about his recent stint in the "Instrument Hospital" for his "crack in the back". (he's made of mostly wood) Hey, don't scoff, it works with Kinders through Thirds.

Previous "pookas" have appeared to me throughout my "musical life" ie. sitting next to me on the piano bench and tapping out the rhythm on a particularly challenging practice piece; being the unseen third (trio) part with my sister and I as we sang "duets" in Swedish for old church friends: thumping the bass viol in the Jr. Hi. Orchestra right next to me; being the invisible 13th madrigal in my strolling groups in H.S. and college to keep me on pitch.(I really wasn't alone on my part); touring with me in two college choirs on the East and West coasts of the U.S. and being in our "gospel quartet"(quintet); not appearing with me, but being there for me in my "naval choir" gigs. (such fortification he provided); steering me clear of a "rock and roll" band as a "back-up" singer in those early days; being an honorary member of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. in three choruses and quartets; standing next to me in the bass and tenor sections of three Master Chorales, one that toured in Europe and sang for the Pope in the Sistine and placed 6th in the Olympics of Choirs in Wales; and tried to stand next to me on local gigs to retirement homes with our Ukulele Jazz Band called, "Pineapple Jam".

I can truly feel a "palpable presence" when I'm out playing and singing now. I never used to know what it was. I must be part Irish and "he" must've been following me all my life. Music as been my life saver and "relief valve" from many a stress and disappointment. It has also provided many of my most joyful moments...which can't be captured or recorded on any CD or Blu-ray. You can see why I'm convinced that music must be shared in our classrooms and of all kinds. Recent State Budget Cuts are going to do away with most, if not all, of the specialists and most of the regular classroom teachers haven't got the time or the inclination to provide any musical leaning as a vehicle for their lessons. I was at a "fund raiser" again this past Friday and this time they "got to the kids" (of all grades) with a "DJ" and all their currently popular rock tunes. She, the DJ, had a contest between boys and girls to see/hear who knew the words (could sing) all of the latest songs better. It was a tie. Wow, were they motivated and intently listening to every profit-making pitch (pun intended). We are losing so many of our kid's "musical minds" and "manic motivations" by not including more music and rhythm in their daily classroom lives. RRR

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;
May the sun shine warm...upon your face;
May the rain fall soft upon your fields'
And until we meet again,
May He hold you in His Hand,
May God hold you...
May He hold you in the palm of his Hand.

I just spent a whole week subbing in a very needy first grade. My hat is off to their regular teacher. She definitely needs an Irish Blessing. I agreed to take the class for a whole week a few months ago as a favor. Little did I know then what this class has been through. It is just full (20) of sweet and challenging 7 and 8 year olds. There is a whole range of problems they are having and yet there are some outstanding (and typical) students. I was just told yesterday, Friday, that this class had been abandoned by their original teacher at the beginning of the school year and had had a series of subs until their latest teacher, a young and very organized teacher, had consented to stay. However, now she has gotten her "pink slip" and probably won't be coming back. She had been given a week of "training", I think, as a consolation or a preparation for another level or district. What a shame. I haven't been in a better, neater organized class. The prep she had done for my lessons was extraordinary. I only hope I did her justice and my best as I plowed through almost every "rubric". Of course I added my own little "touches" musically and dramatically to make it fun for them...and for me.
Here are some "high lights" (and low lights) from the preceeding week:
  • St. Patrict's Day on Tuesday meant that we had to have lots of Irish music and fun. We sang, heard or learned: "Cockles and Mussels" (acted it out-they loved being the "wheelbarrow", "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (sang, practiced two ways of smiling), "The Happy Wanderer" (German, see previous post, but we had sing/act it out), "Here Comes the Sun" (the Beatles would've loved our rendition), "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" (done on the actual Vernal Equinox with explanations about Spring, 12/12 of light/dark),"What A Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong would be proud of our take on it), "Over in the Meadow" (a counting song, they loved it)
  • The Reading/Social Studies Theme for the week was "Recycling, Planting" so we had something to read or write about that everyday. We had a too long, all-school,assembly of rapid slides about recycling sponsored by the City's Mayor Pro-Tem. We called attention to the "New School Garden" being started by the Principal with railroad ties. A good plan, I tried to offer some advice, having done that for 5 years at my retirement school. Nope. Two of my "hyper-kinesthetic" kids got in trouble from another teacher when they were caught balancing on the 3' tie walls to and from running the attendance into the office (a long and tempting trip from the back 40 where the classroom is located) Next time I'll sing the "Garden Song" and "Anti-Garden Song" with them.
  • Language Enrichment/Gross Motor Coordination...which they desperately needed, brought out my creative side. I had one day, Wednesday, after I noticed they were all-over the room knocking over baskets of desk supplies, of "balancing on blue-tape (on the floor) lines. We connected it to Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go" and my favorite part, "...Life's a Great Balancing Act..." This was a real challenge for walk only on the lines to and from their desks. We added the imagery of "Hot Lava/Alligator Pits" if you fell off the lines. Then "you were a "ghost" until the next recess. One kid was very concerned to get his name off the board-ghost-list. It sure calmed and slowed them down for a day.
  • In honor of St. Patty's Day, we challenged them to find larger shamrocks and 4-leaf clovers at recess in their massive grass playgound. We sang "...I'm looking over a 4-leaf clover..." The prize for the largest shamrock (no 4-leaf's were found) was a little paperbag puppet of a green frog they could make at home. The kid that won, brought it back the next day and he gave us a late-in-the-day puppet show. That gave us the idea to have them write their own puppet plays about recycling as one of their daily writing assignments (must be 5 sentences at least) We had a contest and the top four "playwrights" were given other puppet packets (from Martha Stewart) to take home. They then got to present puppet shows of their own with 15 different hand puppets I brought from my grandkid's stash. What fun we had with that. (Sharks, catfish, Crush, cats, frogs etc.)
  • Most of the math learning was not from the torn-out workbook sheets pre-set for them, but from calculating the "marble points" for the "party marble jar" She runs a "scoreboard" which starts over after each recess based on "student behaviors" vs. "teacher correction time". If the lesson is stopped or distracted by the students the teacher gets a negative point that takes away from the positive reinforcement points the "class" gets for individuals who help each other or the class to learn by the usual helpful behaviors...or catching the teacher in a mistake. Great game, but it takes up alot of time to maintain and calculate. She also has the "green card" reward system and "group points" with hand stamps and stickers at the end of each day. We ended the week with a + 10 for the students so ten marbles were put in the jar toward a party. The jar is almost full.
  • Three boys were the constant challenge and took the most negative time away from the lessons and class. One was finally able to come two day without being tardy (one day a half hour)He doesn't get to sit in a group but has "island" status. He has trouble staying there. He loves to clean up others messes and blame other for the trouble he gets into in class or on the playground(if he even gets recess)He is very frustrated because he can't really read or write yet at this 1st grade level. He was asked to spend a half hour in another classroom on Friday. One boy has some disabilities that cause him to touch everything (mild asbergers?) and make his speech very hard to understand. He bugs the kids (teacher) and knocked off a glass jar of reward "money" and broke it. He sits right next to the front where the regular teacher must spend most of her time. Another boy is so hyper both physically and verbally that he gets himself into all kinds of trouble. He is smart and gets his work done fast and then butts into others with "trying to help them" unrequested. He "has no brakes" and has to have his hand held in line to go anywhere. He pushes and fights with the first boy and they have to be separated.
  • Among the several sweet and extremely quiet Hispanic students is one girl who is a real "firecracker" a good way. She is like a cheerleader in training. She leads the flag salute and songs in the A.M. Dances around the room, especially to my Irish Jig Music in the A.M. before school. She always puts the chairs down. She's a "tom-boy" with more boy "pals" than girls. She writes well and won the puppet-playwrite contest. She also shed the most tears during the week...crying when the first boy above scribbled on her beautifully done writing paper. She laboriously and tearfully erased it though and got top marks. On St. P's day she came dressed all in green and played "Molly Malone" with her "wheelbarrow".

Now you can see why I love doing this "reprise" of my career...especially at this age. They are challenging, eager to learn and "love" you as a "fun teacher". I get an Irish Blessing everyday I go out and teach. RRR

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Packed Knapsack

The Happy Wanderer
I love to go a-wandering
Along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
*Valderi, valdera, valderi,
Valdera -ha-ha-ha-ha-ha
Valderi, valdera, my knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun
So joyously it calls to me
Come join my happy song.*
I wave my hat to all I meet,
And they wave back to me.
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From every greenwood tree.*
High overhead the skylarks wing,
They never rest at home.
But just like me, they love to sing,
As o'er the world we roam.*
Oh may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die
And may I always laugh and sing
Beneath God's clear blue sky.*
But now I tread upon a "mill"
A-watching my TV
My knapsack has a long handle
I pull it as I sing.*
My second son recently sent me some You-Tube renditions of the above song. He even sent me the German words. My favorite was the Muppet version, with one unfortunate muppet climber falling back down the mountain on each successive chorus (Ha-Ha-Ha, Ja-Ja-Ja german) The last surviving muppet gets blind-sided by a giant boulder. I think the song goes along with his tyrolean hat with feather and his wanting to learn German.
I used to be a hiker in my college days. I actually sang this song as I hiked along with various groups in Yosemite's High Country (Vogelsang etc.) At that time my goal was to hike the length of the John Muir Trail along the spine of the Sierra Nevadas. Sorry, too late, cross that off the "bucket list". A small backpack (our version) is very handy on a day-hike. It carries the essentials, water canteen, Sierra Cup, trail mix, a book, first aide kit etc. Knapsacks, originally from the low German etymology (knappsack) or Dutch (knappzak) was carried by all the troops between the 17th and 20th Century. Actually it was called a Rucksack and was more triangular in shape with one or two straps for over the shoulders. (above is the front and back views of the knapsack on sale on the internet)
Now I have a backpack with wheels and a long handle. (as pictured above) I wheel it from room to room, school to school, as I sub. It is packed full of "goodies", "tools of my trade", "prizes", "balloon balls", "20 Q -room size" and usually some other games. I lug it along with my baritone uke case which contains my uke,(recently repaired), my "piercing attention chimes", tuners, sheet music, conductor's baton etc. Yesterday I had three hand-puppets, "Crush" "Bruce" "Cat-Without-the-Hat-Fish" Recently I've brought panoramic photos of our Milky Way for my star song(see previous post). I try to be a "welcome relief teacher" who is very mobile, flexible and extemporaeous. Some (most) teachers enjoy the break and invite me back. Some (a few) are "threatened" (the kids like him too much) and don't invite me back. I'm more for the romance of learning/teaching and less for the rigor of the same at this point in my long, extended career.
So, it turns out I'm not hiking the Sierras but "walking the treadmill" in our bedroom. I put on a "travel channel" and have a go at it. now most every day. We are trying to lose weight for our up-coming cruise to Hawaii. Hope to do some hiking there...with a knapsack on my back! Maybe I'll even sing like the birds...Ne-ne's in H.I. Can I do this "until the day I die"? I hope so. It would be a great way to go out! RRR

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Man-In-the-Moon Marigolds?

These are probably not "Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds", but I like their look. My wife just planted a flat and a half of them down by the curb on our corner next to her drastically pruned "French Perfume Roses". Amidst them she put some dark blue daisies. What a colorful corner it is going to be in full bloom. About this time of year, every year, she gets the urge to plant flowers. I love that about her. It reminds me of a short play/musical I was in with "Adam" watering the flowers after "Eve's" death and talking about her love of flowers. It never failed to bring tears to my eyes. He missed her will I. It happens to all of us eventually and we have to face the inevitable. By the way, I was "The Serpent" in that play and got to "seduce" Eve with a "song and dance"...can you imagine? You would think it was totally a "miscast"...but you never know...

As I was walking up to my favorite "subbing school" today I ran into the Principal. After greeting me, she pointed to a dreary little planter near the entrance and commented about how the attempt at flowering plants there always got trampled. I suggested marigolds as a more hardy plant/flower and told her about my wife's recent plantings between the recent rains. I could tell she wanted to put some color there too. This is a wonderful Principal who does her best to bring a bright and positive spirit to her school. She's not just an administrator. Everyone loves her...especially the kids.

Of course, being a drama person, I was reminded of that play I read years ago. I looked it up. I thought it was written by the late (yesterday) Horton Foote. RIP. He was responsible for other masterpieces, i.e. "To Kill A Mockingbird" (screenplay/oscar) "Trip to Bountiful" "Tender Mercies" which, in many ways are similar to the play I was remembering: "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds". It was written by Paul Zindel back in the 70's I think and directed Paul Newman. His wife, Joanne was the main character. It was the story of a very disfunctional family. The daughter was trying to grow marigold seeds that had been zapped by gamma rays for a school science fair. The mother and other daughter had a "toxic" relationship that tainted the whole play. It was a classic tragedy. The experimentor, the mal-formed flowers were blissfully unaffected by all the "radiation"- rampant relationships.

What I'm observing as I sub more and more lately is what I think are similar siblings and families. I watch how so many of these young ones cannot focus or concentrate on their learnings/teachings for more than micro-seconds and I wonder, what is going on, or not going on at there even a home? Is it one day-care after another? Is it TV, video games, Wii, and whatever requires split second attention with NO INVESTMENT, UNDERSTANDING OR INTIMACY. I see little caring concern from parents or teachers alike in my brief dealings. Granted, I don't have the long-term, in depth connections that I used to have when I taught full time. But I certainly see tips of icebergs and hints of "radiation". It's is like they are all running around with "blue-tooth" earphones attached to their ears, totally oblivious to what is going on in their immediate surroundings. (maybe the radiation from those phones is getting to their brains too). I suggested recently to another principal that he alternate science fairs with invention conventions to get the families more involved in their child's learning.

They are not aware of the the Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (kids) all around them and how briefly they flower and bloom...waxing and waning like the moon. Is this lunacy another sign of our culture's decline? Toxic radiation at the core...the family, the school. "DOOM!" Isn't that the name of a popular video game? RRR

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Twinkle vs. Starkle? Points of View

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!

When the blazing sun is gone,

When there's nothing he shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

In the dark blue sky so deep,

Through my curtains often peep

For you never close your eyes

'Til the morning sun does rise

Starkle, starkle, little tink,

Who you are, I do not think.

Sitting in your house so small,

On that little blue-green ball.

Starkle, starkle, little tink

I can even see you wink.

Starkle, starkle, little tinky,

For all I know, you might be stinky.

Your sun is in the way all day,

Then I cannot see you play.

Starkle, starkle, little tinky,

You look like my little pinky.

In this place called outer space,

I'm a lonely little face.

I try to sparkle and give light, (smile)

Especially when it is your night.

Starkle, starkle, little tink,

What I AM, you now can think.

Below this small picture of our galaxy, the Milky Way, I wrote the three old verses of the "public domain's" -Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star. It is still a favorite of all kindergarteners. I then took the liberty of rearranging and inverting those words to create my impression of what we might look like from a distant star..."a little tink" on our small, blue-green planet orbiting a medium-sized star in our small galaxy called the "Milky Way". It involves "verbal play" and humor which is so much a part of a kindergartener. It should be part of their teachers too, in my opinion.

It also puts "our world" (through a kindergartener's eye) in perspective. So much, now days, depends on our attitude. Our attitude "creates" our perceptions, thus our world. We may all think we have, economic, cultural etc. but they seem to pale, shrink and become infinitismally small when considering the immensity of the Universe, let alone our small Galaxy and Solar System.

When I introduced and taught this song four times to four different Kindergartens this week, I showed them a big, four-foot long "photo" of our "Milky Way" from a side view. It was created by assembled snapshot from Hubble. Quite alot of artistic liberty was involved. However, it made the point to students and teacher alike that...our Sun and Solar System, a tiny, pin-point speck in a middle arm of our average-sized Galaxy is...awesomely minuscule in the scheme of ALL. Our effect/affect on any of it/us is therefore so small and seemingly unimportant that it causes us to "wonder what we are" doing here? seeing here? Is "here" really here? Maybe it is "there".

Our new "hight frequency word" in class Friday was "here"...I showed them how easy it was to change it to "T here" It all depends on where you put your eyes and your point of view. The teacher I was subbing for had just been called away suddenly with a death in the family. She has also been struggling this year with being a cancer survivor. She has been supported by her wonderful staff and colleagues at her school who stepped in and wrote her lesson plans. I'll be back there next week to help out in any small way that I can. It is the class/teacher that I have been volunteering for these past/passed four years of retirement. I am privileged and blessed. RRR

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Appalachia Orthodontia

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
Stood a cow on the railroad tracks.
'Twas a nice old cow,
With eyes so fine...
But you can't expect a cow
To read a railroad sign.
So, she stood in the middle of the track,
And the train came along
And hit her right in the back!
Now, her horns are in the mountains of Virginia,
And her tail is on the lonesome spine.
Whenever I hear about Appalachia, I remember this "parody" song my mother taught me. She probably learned it when she married and went to visit her inlaws in Eastern Kentucky. This is right next to Western Virginia. I think the original song was "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine" and was popular in her day. I think it referred to the "animals" in Appalachia not being too smart or used to civilization. This is an isolated area of our country and it is out of touch even today. Last week, Diane Sawyer, who is from Ky., did a "20/20" dedicated to the children of this poverty stricken area.
It was very heart wrenching for me having visited there many times as a kid. I wasn't aware of their plight then and saw no evidence of poor nutrition, drugs etc. I have written about my blissful summer days there and all the fun we had. The homes in the area I visited, my grandparent's, had small farms with "kitchen gardens" for "greens" and chickens, cows etc. Their "collard greens, string beans, corn bread etc. were delicious. Yes, they smoked and chewed "tobacky", as they called it. Their teeth were probably not the adults. I went online and volunteered to help.
This last week, I had a bit of a shock teaching a local second grader. She came in early and showed me a big gap in her teeth. This isn't unusual for this age to lose their "baby teeth". I replied, as I usually do, "You saved them for the tooth fairy, right?" "No," she said, "the Dental kept them." "Oh, you had them pulled?" "No, they were loose, like this one and had to come out." I then noticed how decayed her few other teeth were. "Too many sweets," she said, matter-of-factly.
On the long walk to the cafeteria, she was last in line and continued her "comments" me(?) "I hope I get some extra food from some of the kids today because all we have at home is a box of cereal." "Will the ladies give you extra?" "No, but some kids will, before they throw it away."
I came over to where she was sitting with her friend and noticed she only had a sweet, chocolate milk pouch and five small chicken nuggets. She and her buddy proceeded to take each nugget and break it up into little (less than) bite-sized pieces. I asked her why she did that and she said they were easier to chew. Other kids had also chosen an apple and a box of raisins. I asked her why she hadn't picked an apple. "I can't bite it, my teeth will come out...(painful face)." I went and found her a raisin box. I asked her later if she had eaten the raisins? She said no because she didn't like raisins. They are full of iron, but sweet.
At the 2:P.M. recess the regular teacher had left a snack of graham crackers in wax paper. I asked her to pass them out individually to each kid as they went out to the playground. There were four left at the bottom of the pack. I told her she could have them and take them home. "Don't eat them in class." She was overjoyed.
She did all her lessons and got 100% on her math test. She was attentive and had fun with our music and drama skits later. She was out-going and vivacious with many of her classmates. I felt so sorry for her and I left the regular teacher a detailed note. I hope the nurse or principal follows up. You have an excellent example here of the beginning of a real health/educational problem that is probably more prevalent in our local classrooms. It is a real-life demonstration of "hierarchy of needs" (Maslow?) Most of the kids get breakfast and lunch from this school. The bus brings many of them early and they have to stand and wait in the cold, windy, outdoor hallway for several minutes before the food is ready in the A.M. The schedule of the bus gets them there too early and school doesn't start until 9:05. Lunch is before noon and a P.M. snack is afterschool for those (most) who have to stay until 5 or 6 P.M. in day care waiting for their parents to pick them up. And we wonder why our educational system is failing us? It starts at home and seems to continue at school. Have we learned nothing from that cow in the Blue Ridge Mountains? RRR

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Young bloom?

Do you remember your first crush?...Your first "puppy luv"? Did it happen at school?...In kindergarten or first grade? Did it hit you in pre-school? I've recently witnessed all of the above and it is inspiring on a day like today...Valentine's Day. It must be a cultural thing to some degree. I saw an article in the newspaper about India's public disdain for such "PDA's". Their traditions are being threatened by our "western proclivities" (also Christian i.e. Saint Valentine) They prefer to keep it all private and in the family-at-large with eventual brides and grooms being chosen and pre-arranged by the family elders. Then there is the slow process of "growing into" love. Who knows what is best...what works? Their divorce rate is much lower.

However, I digress once again. I had to sub in a classroom yesterday that celebrated Valentine's Day Eve. (Friday, the 13th! we didn't go there...since it was a first grade) I have been subbing in this room alot this year and have gotten to know them all by name/personality. I have observed "young luv" blossoming. Last week it was in assembly seating, holding hands, arms around shoulders etc....yes, in first grade. I separated the couples and wrote notes to their regular teacher. Yesterday, during early lessons, I again noticed they had switched seats without permission. All very "tame" mind you but still very evident and persistent.

We did the usual party the last hour of class. Certain students/parents had brought cupcakes, cookies, candy treats. No parents volunteered to stay. This is usually a given in the primary, but not at this school I guess. Those who brought treats got to pass them out during the preceeding recess. They loved it. It was cold and almost rainy outside. Then those who brought Valentines Cards for "all class members" had to walk around and delivier them to the desks. They had been warned by their regular teacher not to pass out to "favorites" first (or only). We put on some "music about love" and some happy banjo music (see previous post) and...let them go at it. Since it was Friday, they were used to the last half hour being "Fun Friday" if they had turned in their homework. This was a "review week" homework. Fun Friday allows "free choice" of computer games, floor games, table games or...a big hit, writing on the white board. So I insisted that they finish their food treats and reading their valentines before they got up to roam the room for games...with their sticking hands. I played dominoes with 5 at a time. We sang a love song (without uke) that they could sing to their little brothers and sisters when they got home: "Skiddamarinky dinky dink" Most of them knew it.

We only had one child who couldn't handle the "freedom" without getting upset and tattling twice. He was put in "P.O.C." (Prisoner of Chair) for the rest of the party hour...tears. This was the way we motivated undivided attention all during the day's lessons...P.O.C. They got 4 warnings i.e. name on board, and three subsequent warnings where they had distracted themselves or others from the lesson. They also had to put their name on the board if they asked to go to the restroom more than once during the lessons. (some want to run to the distant restrooms every 15 mins.) Recess is for playing, not drinks and restrooms. Sounds harsh, but it become necessary at this level. One cutie, all dressed in pink, red and white stripes...even her leotards, came back from a trip in tears. She had been running, tripped and fell. She tore a big hole in her stockings at the knee and was bleeding. I sent her, with a friend, to the nurse for a bandaid.

The absent teacher's desk was piled high with "love notes" and treats. They missed her. I even got a couple cards and a balloon. Her lesson plans included printed, colored heart candy treats that they had to organize, count and make a bar graph with. They enjoyed that but had to be reminded not to eat the lesson too soon. "We did this last year in Kindergarten." "Oh well," I replied, "this time you can do it better and faster. What else could we count and display in a graph?" Cards? Pencils? Crayons? Classmates we luv? RRR

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Daddy Played The Banjo?

"Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard,
an old time melody.
I loved to hear the music.
I was only five.
I listened as his fingers made
the banjo come alive.
Sometimes I'd wake up at night
and hear a distant tune.
The banjo would echo
'round my childhood room.
I'd sneak down the back stairs.
Daddy never knew.
I'd grab a broom and make believe
I was pickin' too.
One day Daddy put my fingers
down upon the strings.
He picked it with his other hand.
We made the banjo ring.
Now the music takes me back
across the yellowed age,
to the summers with my Dad
and the tunes he played.
But I'm just tellin' lies
about the things I did.
See I'm that banjo player
who never had a kid.
Now I sit beneath that yellow tree...
hopin' that a kid somewhere
is listenin' to me.
Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard
and wove a spell on me.
Now the banjo takes me through
(all) the foggy days...
where memories of
what never was
become the good old days.
S. Martin & G. Scruggs
"The Crow"
This is the first song on Steve Martin's new CD. It sets the stage for fourteen more truly exquisite banjo masterpieces. This particular song (above) "strikes a chord" (pun intended) with me because it does just what the words me memories of what could've been but never were. When you are retired and getting older, nostalgia is big, especially cloudy, partial memories that get all mixed up with good feelings and fun times. Banjos seem to do that for me. They say, "Banjos can't play a sad tune." I don't know about that...maybe "a heritage of mountain music (blue grass) that could've been. I've always had an affinity for this type of music, i.e. fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, even ukulele, autoharp and dulimer. Whenever I hear it now days, I pause and really listen and tap my toe, or slap my knee. I might whistle the tune if I don't know the words. I think my folks played it on the radio in L.A. and about two weeks every year in the summer for many years we took our trip to dad's homestead in Kentucky. He grew up in "coal-mining" country with lots of hills and the hollows (valleys in between) called "hollers"...because the form of communication from one to another was just that. On most evenings, warm and humid we'd all sit on the front porch, chairs, double swings on chains and the steps and tell stories, listen to the radio or even play/sing live music. He had 10 brothers and sisters and some were still around. I, then, didn't realize what precious times those were. I was out chasing fireflies and catching them for the fruit-canning jar. I was in kid heaven because I got to go barefoot the whole time. I got to eat gramma's biscuits and gravy and fried chicken that she got from the backyard. She matter-of-factly caught one, swung it around over her head by the neck and let it run around the yard...headless. What a shock to a "city boy". I found and collected a weed called "life everlasting" and tried to smoke it. Yuk!
Steve Martin has brought me other memories that are kind of "foggy". I remember seeing him perform as a very young man at the "Birdcage Theater" in Knott's Berry Farm. He played the banjo then as part of his "warm-up" act and then he was the hero in the on-going melodramas there. I kinda remember taking my best girlfriend there on a "church social" and after the theater and the chicken dinner with rhubarb dessert, I got down on my knee in the car (my monza) and proposed to her ...In Song! "Two lovin' arms one faithful heart..."
When I began to teach it was a natural-no-brainer to incorporate music into my lessons - both performing/listening and participating/singing in groups. I went to the folk music center to learn banjo, guitar and autoharp from the owner. She was amazing. In my plays/dramas I always tried to put in appropriate intro/exit mood music of a folk or classical nature. I sang with my classes the folk ways and had regular "hootin' Nannies". I even held the autoharp the upright, folk way. I felt the most accomplished with the baritone uke. I play it to this day. It is in the shop (Folk Music Center) getting a crack repaired. The rooms of kids I visit as a sub usually request it..."only if you sing along", I say. It always leads into many verses and a "dramatizations" of some sort. Our latest was "Alligators All Around" from "Really Rosie" by Carole King. This was from her musical for young kids. It goes through the whole alphabet with alliterative activities.
So many kids now days have "absent fathers". It takes a toll. They have to develop their own "memories" of ghost fathers who might play the banjo, or teachers who might love to play and sing their lessons. I'm a lucky guy. RRR

Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Weekly Reader

I used to just love getting the "Weekly Reader" in my classroom. It was usually the first item I ordered for the school year. Then I'd get a new packet almost every week. It was chuck full of short articles and pictures and graphs that were fascinating. I'm sure some of my students were not quite as interested. Another "reading assignment/quiz" they'd probably moan.

I was around long enough to see most of its "life cycle" from a small, two-page, black and white leaflet to a multi-page, color photo, graphic newspaper with "pull-outs". It cost alot and took quite a sacrifice of my "school/family budget"...yes, I was (am) guilty of using my "own/family funds" to buy "extra" school supplies. Most teachers still do it. I think, when I retired, it was up to over $2.50 per student. I was in the habit of ordering 15 to 17 so we'd have enough if we shared (two students per issue).

It always stimulated so much class discussion and writing. It was always "non-fiction", current World and National News and it made us "feel important" as we "solved" the World's problems. Then there were the quizzes and tests. Quarterly, we'd have the "Reading Comprehension Test" in the Teacher's Edition. (answers/answer sheet to bubble) I'd alway take a hold-punch and make an answer template that could be "centered" over the student answer sheet for easy correcting. It was different and more realistically accurate as a "test of reading" in those days. (B.S.S.T.- Before Statewide Standardized Testing) It then allowed you to go over it with the students and discuss why one or another question was "tricky"...something a standardized test never let you do. We are talking 4th, 5th, 6th grade level here.

Now, the copy is all "slick" and glossy on expensive paper. Back then, it was on newsprint/foolscap and very cheap. Back then, it would lead into and enhance their own, required weekly "Current Event Report". Yes, I let them use it for their weekly, assigned, oral report to the class (individually and in groups). Unheard of today...not enough time in the schedule, plus kids just aren't asked to get up and share, verbally, on a regular basis. My kids knew we had a "rotating report schedule" that took up the first 15 mins. of class with 5 days and 5 different groups responsible. One kid would do World News, one, National/local, one, Sports, one, free choice or human interest. They had to tell the "5 W's" + H of news/journalism. (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How). If they didn't, their classmates/me, would call them on it.

I was in two 4th grades this past week. One had a new packet of Weekly Readers; one didn't. The one who didn't was more open to discussion of "current events" even without the WR stimulus. The one who did, kind of moaned about having to go through it again. They were assigned to take it with them as "extra reading" when we went to the computer lab to take a TEST...MAP Test. (and I don't mean a "spacial map" Their current issue had a pull out on Science and the the "latest" discovery that "Pluto is no longer considered a planet in our Solar System". This was news to them as we discussed it. They thought there were still nine planets i.e. My Very Energetic Mom etc. for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars (inner planets). It was mildly interesting news to them that Pluto is now a "dwarf planet" or "plutoid" along with several others of similar size and distance from our Sun. I just happened to bring an elongated "photo" (artist's rendition of pieced together Hubble photos) of our Galaxy - The Milky Way. They were more than mildly interested in that. I had a student hold the other end while I pointed out a small speck that just might be our Sun (a medium star) in this vast display. Then we were blown away by the fact that our Milky Way Galaxy is just a medium to small Galaxy in our known Universe of billions of them (uncounted). Talk about your "Horton Hears a Who"...moment!

At the beginning of the class, with a "first time class" (this was), I tell them alittle about myself and my career as a teacher. (38 years, drama, music, etc.) I usually end with a questions, "Anything else you want to know about me?" (oh yeah, "I'm not going to embarrass any of you today.") One girl pops her hand up, "Do you believe in God?" That was a first. This was before I showed them "The Milky Way" and talked of the immensity of our Universe. I answered, "That is an inappropriate question for a Public School. I'll be willing to discuss it with you, personally, at recess if you want." By recess, she had forgotten. I wonder if our "Universal Discussion" helped her decide? RRR

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roosters In The Classroom

This last Friday I had the "fun" of subbing in a classroom that requested me again. I had been there once before this year and a few times last year. This time was different. I've written about this class before, i.e. the posts about Playwrights and Dancing. Now the students have expectancies and specific requests. I'm getting to know them better and especially certain "individuals" who might present more of a challenge to "group learning".

First of all, I got there early to check out the lesson plan. I right away noticed, walking into the portable next to the perimeter fence of the playground, roosters crowing. Outside they were pretty loud. Inside they were still pretty loud. I thought, "Oh well, it's early...this is what roosters do." Well, they continued to serenade us the rest of the day. To me it was distracting, but the children had gotten used to it. I asked them if they even noticed it anymore. "Not really." Maybe it is a "generational thing" i.e. ipods/blue tooths in the ears etc. This is a part of town where it is not unusual to have "livestock" in the backyard...especially chickens. I asked them if they had ever tried to visit the roosters. They were not allowed to go behind the portables in a very small space/wired-off fence. Had they "named" the roosters? "Nope." Had they written letters to them or to their owners? "Nope." By now, I would've had the roosters named and writing letters to the kids asking for responses. They would each have personalities and appeal to different types and interests. They'd have their own "signatures" and I'd have an art contest to draw pictures of them. After all, this is only a 2nd grade...imaginations run wild at this tender age.

I wasn't long before I noticed that there were some "rooster-kids" in the room. Usually you will always have one or two who crave attention (especially the teacher's) and who have a whole "other agenda" than what has been planned in the lesson by the regular teacher or the sub. They are the last to get started on the assignment, or the first to have an alternate suggestion, at least for themselves. They don't usually strut around the room physically but they make sure you know, and their fellow students know, that they are there. The leading one in this classroom was in the habit of speaking out and back to "the teacher" and always having an attitude of defiance...or "I don't care". After about 3 or 4 interruptions..."suggestions" of how to teach the class or "what our regular teacher always does". I asked him to move his "behavior clothespin" from green to yellow. This is a warning procedure to get them to stop before it escalates to 2. missed recess, 3. take work to a next door room 4. note home and the colors go from "def-com" yellow to orange to red to black. This disrruptive student was one of two or three who were always sucking on something that you thought might be gum...2nd grade, mind you! His was a metal necklace of less than sterile condition. I had to take that away next. Then it was denial and hiding other objects. He was very verbal, I'm sure, had a high IQ. Work was usually easy and done super fast/first with ostentation. He also suggested the book to read to the class first thing...when we were on "the carpet". I had my own plans with some "nonfiction" posters and magazine articles. When called upon to recite the next part of the lesson, no problem, quick and correct. He was even answering other student's questions.

When it came time to have "fun friday" the last hour of the day he had a did 3 or 4 others. They hadn't brought back their week's homework packet (all done) so they were "prisoner of chair" for that last period. He was fit to be tied. "I did it but I just left it home." The guy next to him "couldn't remember if he had done it or turned it One wanted to work on it right then and there..."Sure, I'll help you with the parts you don't understand," I said, an proceeded to teach her again how to do subtraction with regrouping. Suddenly, "rooster #1" comes up to me with the homework packed in hand. "It was at the bottom of my backpack. I guess my mom stuffed it in there when I didn't notice." Wow! It was correct. He made a beeline to the one remaining computer for the "games" available at this time.

Now, when I look back on the day's interactions, especially with the "roosters", I realize that...I'm somewhat of a "Rooster Myself". I'm a male teacher in a primary setting where there are very few "roosters" to relate to. Their sweet regular teacher has different, more effective, ways of dealing with these "pecking order" challenges I'm sure. They are used to her ways. I'm not...but then, isn't this a big part of what public education is all about? Adapting to changing conditions which are usually less than "ideal". What would you do if you, as a little kid, were confronted by "Foghorn Leghorn" on a rainy day... couped up with a bunch of chickens? RRR

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"What I want for...every Child in America"

As I sit at my computer desk looking out my office window at the majestic, panoramic view of snow-capped Mt. San Gorgonio, I can't help but be inspired and hopeful. I can see for miles on this clear eve of M.L.K.jr. Day and the upcoming 44th Presidential Inaugural. I so want to be optimistic for our Country and Its Future (Its Children especially) They continue to be the "Building Blocks" of all the great and wonderful things to which we individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation. We hope to be able to "line them up straight" and prepare them for their "brave new world".

In the Los Angeles Times' Parade Magazine today there is a "letter" written by our President-Elect, Barack Obama to his daughters. I'd like to quote from this letter:

"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me - about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation."
"I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential - schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college - even if their parents aren't rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity."
..."That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something."
"She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better - and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It's a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be."
"I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you've had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much - although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential."
"These are the things I want for you - to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That's why I've taken our family on this great adventure."
"I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful everyday for your patience, poise, grace and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House."
This sums it up for me and says it better than I could. It is still what I want for my sons and their children. It is the reason I'm still teaching and volunteering in our public school classrooms. Our President-elect has asked that tomorrow, M.L.K. Day, to be a day of "In Service" to our country. I say, let's strech it out to days, weeks and years. We need it. RRR