Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lahey and the Swan

On this, my fourth day of summer "vacation," I am coming up for air.

School actually ended over a week ago, but I agreed to teach a rock climbing camp the week after school got out. I had been dreading the commitment, but the fifteen lovely students enrolled in the camp ended up re-affirming everything I love about teaching, and we all had a great time.

But every moment I belayed those kiddos, watching them twirl and laugh at the end of ropes strung from the rafters of our gymnasium, I could hear deadlines ticking away in the background. Lovely deadlines, deadlines I asked for, deadlines I worked years and years to earn, and gladly accepted, but deadlines that render the concept of a summer vacation quite moot.

Amid the writing deadlines, I also have to design a new course this summer, and the next couple of weeks are dedicated to that project. However, what I really can't wait to get down to is the writing. The lovely process of steeping myself in research, organizing notes, and banging out the words.  

I still have not figured out how to balance all of it, but I have figured out how to say no to the stupid details that matter less than my family and the words I long to craft. Painting the house. Tending to the gardens. Rebuilding the chicken coop. Fixing the garage door.

The fact that those projects need to be dealt with drives me nuts.

In the meantime, I have decided to keep tutoring Latin over the summer. It's one of my favorite hours in the week because the students are a mom and daughter pair. The daughter loves mythology and Roman culture, and the mom loves the grammatical Latin. This week, we reviewed the second declension endings and looked at some Roman and Greek art. I showed them some photographs I took last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asked them to identify representations of the gods based on their symbols, postures, and outfits. It was great fun. At the very end of the hour, the daughter (age 11) asked me a question about the story of Leda and the swan (who was really Zeus, all dressed up his his feathery finery in order to seduce Leda) that I was hard pressed to answer.

"But how did Leda get pregnant by a swan?"

Fortunately, her mom took the reins. She smiled and said, "It's a myth, honey. Sometimes you just have to let go of the little details."

I think I will heed this wise mom's advice on the story of my summer. The next couple of months is just going to have to be about the big picture, not the details.

If Leda could produce Castor, Pollux, Clytemnestra, and Helen all in one concentrated nesting session, I can certainly buckle down for a season in my own nest and produce a couple of articles and a completed book proposal. Leda's creations managed to inspire timeless stories and one even led to the fall of Troy. Certainly I can take down a deadline or two from the comfort of my nest.

Friday, June 8, 2012

It Would Be, It Would Be So Nice

I'm taking my lead from Betsy Lerner and Teri Carter. Both bloggers I truly admire and adore. If they can take some time off to deal with their lives - children, work, the Queen's jubilee, my two young nieces staying with us for a week, and the summer climbing camp I have to teach at Crossroads - I can do the same.

I have promised an editor that I will have my chapters done by the end of the summer, and there is big news coming from the Lahey front on publication, but in the meantime, there's lots of work to be done.

But before I can begin working on all of that, I have to calculate final grades, write grade reports, and proofread grade reports...

Okay. So the beginning of my summer is deadly dull, but still, it's what I have to get done.

In the meantime, I offer up a post that my friend and colleague Teri Carter inspired a while back. Every writer, every teacher, has a bookcase of books they mean to read. We had piles of books next to the bed, but then I found an extra bookcase around, and created our "we really do mean to read these" bookcase in our bedroom.

I'll show you mine if you show me yours. What do you plan to read over the summer?

P.S. The first photo response is from my former student who will be taking on her first full-time post this fall! I wish I could say I had an entire summer to stress out and read before my first real teaching gig, but I was hired 48 hours before school started, so it was more a trial by fire. Yippee for my student, though, and look what she gets to read! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Something Comes From Something

Friday was the last day of classes before we head into a week of rehearsals for the middle school musical. The students provided the perfect conclusion to the year in the form of their King Lear creations. I asked them to create visual representations of the storm - both physical and psychological - in King Lear. That's all I gave them in terms of parameters. I said that the success of their projects hinged on depth of thought, creativity, time, and dedication. Some of the lovely and amazing projects were handed in on Tuesday, and they were lovely. As I had promised to complete my own version of the project as well, I presented it to them on Friday, and then the rest of the class presented their creations.

When I arrived at my office in the morning, there were projects everywhere. On every surface, on my chair, on the floor, on my desk.
Storms exploding out of heads,

self-immolating crowns of purple and gold,
beautifully painted boxes depicting Lear's loss of identity and his inability to see himself clearly.

The creations were smart, creative and revealed the students' understanding of what Lear experienced out there, on the heath, as he descended into madness.

This last creation is a personal favorite of mine. The student had asked if he could present a sort of performance art piece in order to represent his take on Lear's storm. I was skeptical, but as I have written over and over again, my students never cease to surprise and amaze me. I told him I trusted his judgment, and gave him the green light for his performance. What I love most about this creation is that it required him to commit, to put himself out there and pull off a performance that could have easily fallen into frivolous silliness. Yes, we laughed, but not because the performance was funny. We laughed because we loved it, and because we loved him for his courage.

We laughed because his was the last presentation, on the last day of class, in their last year at Crossroads Academy. I laughed because this is what they will remember, after they have left our small, rural community for high schools all over New England.

Thus ends English 7 and 8 for the 2011-2012. It's been a great year.