A signpost is usually found at a crossroads. So says the definition. And in the teaching book Notice and Note, you’re given six avenues — ways to go or topics of conversation. What should we notice in a book? How do we note what we read?
When discussing literature, there’s often no right or wrong answer. You’re using the signposts to get into the characters of ask the book questions. And questioning is what we want young people to do — in literature and in life. After all, we all have essential questions, such as Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning? The word ‘essential’ has taken on such important meaning this year, with the rise in respect for essential workers.
Have your heard of ‘essential questions?’ When I first started teaching high school five years ago, the department chair told me, “Be sure that you have your Essential Questions posted for all to see somewhere in the classroom.”
I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had no idea. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to have the right — the most essential — questions on my bulletin board. So I did what all teachers do when they don’t know and they don’t want to ask. I googled, “What is an essential question?” And of course, I fell into the rabbit hole of what makes a good question. The more questions I had, the more confused I became. But my mentor at my new school four years ago turned me on to this Notice and Note process. Look for the signposts. Discuss these topics. Yes, one category is called Tough Questions, which to me is the same as Essential Questions.
Ultimately, I decided that an essential question is a deep question — one that that leads to more questions and cannot be answered simply with a yes or no response.
Hey, I love learning about learning. Yes, I’m meta like that!
I do not know what is on my mind until I write it down. I journal every morning and sometimes I write gratitude lists at night.
Why write? This is a difficult national and personal time. My husband Chris’s health is declining. And our democracy may be unraveling. My small contribution — whether I jot down my feelings or write to my congresspeople — feels futile.
The world is falling apart. I’d prefer to write about the joys of female friendship or my take-aways from the Press Club journalism conference? I wonder, Who cares what I think and why bother?
Usually in October, I’ve tried to post on this blog every day. The more I write, the more engaged I feel and the more I engage with other bloggers. New York City is so beautiful in the fall. I feel an uptick in civic and personal contribution when I write on a daily basis.
The impulse or compulsion to write fuels me, provides me with greater resilience to cope with worries, be they about work, family, or country.
I want to write:
to do lists
money matter musings
resume and cover letters
emails to far-flung family
witty status updates on social media
biting commentary on twitter
I want to write about the smell of flowers at the bodega – how they’re trying to be fresh despite their lengthy stays in the refrigerator.
The world is roiling. The anger of the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg is justified and righteous. She does not censor herself. Her words and spirit remind me to not suffer in silence and to speak out about my fears and hopes.
Unashamed to work for Hillary Clinton, I will not be ashamed to work for whomever the Democrat party presents as their candidate — although my top choice is Elizabeth Warren.
The unethical and immoral behavior of our current commander in chief shocks me. I am not afraid for the future because young people – okay, yes, some are obsessed with their own selfies and videogames — but they are also leading the charge for justice and for full inclusion for all people. For after all, the government is supposed to be run by the people for the people.
And that is why I write. That quote from brother’s company, Field Notes, sums it up, ‘I’m not writing to remember it later, I am writing to remember it now.’
On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”
The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.
One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.
like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many
people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example,
Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.
Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.
The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC
New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.
In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!
On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.
Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”
Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.
I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.
To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!
I may look back on my childhood with wonder — idealizing the sunny days spent climbing trees. But let’s face it, childhood years can also be a struggle and a time we may need protection. As children, we do not yet have words or power to express or change our deep and unspoken worries. I know many children have a heart for environmental justice. They care about preserving nature.
I like to think of myself as a good listener. I hear the concerns of children in my job as a teacher. Teaching is my second (or third?) career. I love how uncensored children are – so hilarious, so much nonsense, so many emotions, so playful. I especially love how they can be brave at expressing unpopular opinions, worries, vulnerabilities, and honest emotions.
Sometimes there is cruelty. The Seventh Grade class at school just finished reading Lord of the Flies. Tough stuff.
I cannot stop wondering why and how people can be so cruel – my inclination is first, always, to help, to be kind.
I try not to judge anyone. In my rush to support students, I can be righteous or judgey. I want to remember that I am not always seeing the whole picture — from the leaders at the school or the students — I do not always know what else is going on in a person’s life. As an admitted know-it-all, I have a million good ideas for everyone else’s right actions.
I want to keep the focus on myself. Last weekend, my son and I were talking about how listening makes you feel loved. We wondered whether we truly listen to understand or just to wait for the pause in the conversation to get our words in.
Yesterday, after a long day, I walked home from work. It was about 5:15 pm. It was cold, yes, but the residue of a sunny day hung like a banner across the blue sky.
Whether I know it or realize it — spring is coming — buds on trees and green shoots are going to burst from the frozen ground. I hope that all people with worries, especially children, can hang on to the power of spring.
Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power. – William James
When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems. – Henri Nouwen
At the end of the day at my coworking community, New Work City, occasionally, we’d get jello shots delivered to our work stations. Now I get chocolate chicken chip cookies and hot chocolate. My career has shifted from corporate-y to entrepreneurial to teaching.
And the river runs through it.
I started writing this blog post on Pajama Day last week. Yes, I got up and changed out of one pair of PJs and put on another pair. Working in a classroom is so way better than working in a cubicle. If only for pajama day. (At New Work City, I could’ve worn PJs, I’m sure; but not at GBGM.)
I asked my husband last night, “Do you think I’ll ever want to go back to corporate-y or non-profit work?”
“No,” he paused, then added, “But you did love your office.”
Ah, gone are the days of having a beautiful office on the 14th floor overlooking Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church. With a big desk (containing a drawer full of shoes) and an expansive view of George Washington Bridge spanning the beautiful Hudson River…Those were the days… (Here, I enter a reverie state…..)
Ahem. Back to reality. From my shared Green Room drama classroom space at the school, I have a drawer in a desk. And still, to be sure, a view of the Hudson River — this time from the first floor.
Between the school buildings and the river, the children run, play, scream. I love the outdoor space of the country school. I love that the kids breathe in cold air between classes. Fresh air is enlivening. I love running outside myself between classes. Hugging my heavy sweater tightly around me.
And all along my pathways, the Hudson River is my guardian angel. Watching over. Gliding beside. Big-shouldered and steady. Freezing over and then, thawing.
I do believe the big floats of ice will melt. Our parkas will be replaced by sweaters. And we’ll see the muddy ground.
First crocus. Then daffodil. Raises her hand. And asks, “Is it my turn?”
Spring asks Winter, “Isn’t it my turn soon?”
“Can I go now?” Spring asks. And then, Winter takes a sabbatical.
So a few weeks ago, when I saw the play Tamburlaine, I reconnected with my fellow audience member and friend Amy. She’s been my friend for almost 20 years. We hung out many an afternoon at the Jones Beach on Lake Champlain.
Anyway, at the Brooklyn play, Amy was big and pregnant and beautiful. And I said, “Oh, I’d heard you were working at my kids’ school.” (But teaches on a different campus.)
“Yes, but I’m going on maternity leave and they can’t find anyone to replace me.”
“I can replace you,” I said, chirpily. See, I’ve been substitute teaching at some Upper West Side private schools for the last year or so. Mostly I’ve taught Middle School English. (But I also love teaching History. And I discovered the beauty of teaching Science too. In the lab setting, kids can wander around, talk amongst themselves as they conduct their lab experiments. Yes, I’ve led experiments. (Mostly about chlorophyll)).
“You can,” she agreed.
I found out whom to contact. And then, I emailed and waited. Then I emailed a reminder. Thanksgiving came and went. Then the phone rang and I had a couple of phone interviews. And then I was invited in to see the school and be interviewed by some leaders of the schools. And teach a class. Which felt like a lot of pressure. How can I teach with so many people watching me? There were seven adults in the room. But I did a pretty good job. I played improv games with the kids and we had some laughs.
Of course, while this whole process was going on, I had several other pots I was stirring – teaching an afterschool class for first graders, editing a wonderful book, writing for Interpreter magazine and, my favorite job, blogging for SPSARV.
My friend Alicia said I reminded her of this skit from In Living Color where every member of the West Indian family works eight jobs. While asleep, they stir the pot. That’s my style. I stir the pot.
In any case, I was offered the job pending the approval of my background check. Which — even though I’ve done nothing (seriously) wrong — still rattled me. I hoped to pass. They checked my education, work and several of my references. And, surprise! Surprise! I passed. Then, I had to wait for the pay offer. Which I hoped would be as good as my last full time job, but it wasn’t.
It was better. Why did no one tell me that teaching paid better than corporate writing? And you don’t have to sit in a cubicle all day. You get to hang out at recess with kids. Outdoors!
So I temporarily took over Amy’s position teaching drama for first through fifth graders last week. And I love it. I’m so glad that I saw that bloody play Tamburlaine. Not because of the play. Because I saw Amy there.
Incidentally, when I first got my job as a consultant at the Women’s Division, maybe 25 years ago, it was because I bumped into a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a special exhibit on the art of Mexico. So it pays to be cultural!
I love the school – the kids, the teachers, the staff. I even love the school bus. That’s right. I get back and forth to the campus on the yellow school bus. Like all of the other children on the bus, I just tuck my head into my technology and play on my device for the 20 minutes of travel time.
And that’s how I’m reinventing myself from communicator to teacher. (Thanks, Amy!)
let it go.
be silly. have fun. get out of bed in the morning. make your bed.
get out of your own way.
too much to do. every day is a new beginning. this is the season of the new. leading to Christmas. to new life. to a new year.
disappointments are natural. my son’s college application process was too easy. last night he hit a glitch. don’t want to go into the details. (the kids tell me, “you post too many facebook pics!” “you’re too obsessed with social media.” “you tell everyone everything.” yes. yes. yes.)
tell a story. make it good.
make it meaningful.
it’s today. today is all.
i have it all. i have today.
i have been subbing. and i heard that one of my students, one who causes me no trouble, a nice kid, has something seriously wrong. (like, really serious!) why does this happen? not that i would want it to happen to one of my mischief-makers but maybe that would explain why she doesn’t listen or why he shouts out. but why the quiet, kind one? it so sucks. makes me not believe in God. makes me hurt for all the stupid injustice. life’s unfair.
why the shooting of unarmed teens? of one mother’s son? why, God?
when I get to heaven, i need a lot of answers.
until then, i will make today count. tell a story. make it meaningful.
then, let it go. have fun.
i’m choosing a word for 2015. it is happiness. what’s your word? what’s your story?
I noticed I called myself a Communications Consultant and I thought Multimedia Journalist sounded better. And Blogger sounded better than Writer. Consultant was better than Freelancer.
Also, I was Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Boot Camp for Writers, but, in a way, that sounded like I owned a health club so I changed it to Creative Director.
And then, I saw that I hadn’t really done justice to my teaching. Yes, I’m an Afterschool and Substitute teacher. (Today I had so much fun teaching science and digital music!). Should I name the fabulous schools where I work? And what about my recent work art handling at the art gallery? Do I mention that? How about my videography work at Columbia University? Too part time? Is it all just too confusing?
I confused myself. I don’t know if we find out who we are by looking at what we do.
So I decided to resolve this by staring at Facebook and taking an online quiz, over at 16Personalities. I did the Myers Briggs test years ago, when I was splitting up from my exhusband, in 1991? And I was an ENFP then, and I’m still an ENFP.
They tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected – but unlike Analysts, who tend to see that puzzle as a series of systemic machinations, ENFPs see it through a prism of emotion, compassion and mysticism, and are always looking for a deeper meaning.
ENFPs are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, they crave creativity and freedom.
… Few personality types are as creative and charismatic as ENFPs. Known for their idealism and enthusiasm, ENFPs are good at dealing with unexpected challenges and brightening the lives of those around them.
Awww, that was really fun. It did explain me — even my weaknesses — too many jobs and talents! (I was a little worried when I noticed that Robin Williams was an ENFP too.)
I wonder if I can put ENFP on my business card. Nah, that’s just silly.
I may not know who I am by what I do. But I do know how to have fun.
Here’s a fountain near my house. It has nothing to do with this post.
Reducing poverty? “It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Harder than Rocket Science.”
Geoffrey Canada, very charismatic, threw away his notes at the beginning of the talk. Notes may comfort the audience, but this speaker didn’t need them.
His topic? “Changing Lives, Changing Communities.” It was my NYU college reunion on Saturday (25 years since undergrad, and 20 years since grad).
I’m interested in what makes for community and how to uplift people caught in the multi-tentacled beast of poverty.
Canada is the genius behind the Harlem Children’s Zone. Their slogan? “Whatever It Takes.” The zone is a 100 block radius to lift about 15,000 Harlem kids socially, educationally, medically. The zone promises to stick with a child through college.
Goals for Children
“We have to have the same goals for poor children, as for our own children. We aspire for college, not technical schools or the military, for our children. Because, at different times, people have break-throughs,” Canada said. The one kid that no one thought would amount to anything continues through college and earned their Master’s degree in education. “So, we don’t know.”
Do Lots of Things
“The U.S. is a rogue nation. We lock up more people than any other country. There’s a school to prison pipeline… You believe that children are our future and you love America.” So do something. But, Canada said, we have to do lots of things.
“Growing up in the ’60s, we always thought there was a conspiracy. The government had a plan. I’ve talked to presidents. There is no plan. There is no answer…. We keep thinking we can do one thing. We have to do everything,” Canada said.
The cure for poverty is like the current treatment for AIDS, he said. You can’t give one pill – like better schools – you have to provide many antidotes – “hold people’s egos in tact while getting them to work harder.” What you need is an AIDS cocktail of pills, not just one anti-viral.
How We Talk to Children
“Poor parents use far more negatives when talking to kids. ‘Stop. Don’t. How dare you!'” Canada acted out an example of this. When a child with educated parents, dumps his juice on the floor, the parent gently corrects, coddles, maybe even uses the spillage as a teaching moment about gravity. When a poor child does the same thing, the family yells, “Stop that!”
The guy is engaging. The speech was a part of NYU Silver School of Social Work as it kicks off the new McSilver Institute of Poverty Policy, Practice and Research in a week or two.
At NYU, I attended the English department for grad and undergrad. I believe writing is a form of advocacy and social work. In college, I loved abnormal psych, anthropology, drama, literature, and writing.
Having written about reducing poverty through my work for Global Ministries, I like to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what the average person can do to help dig another person out of poverty. The Harlem Children’s Zone is digging deep to reduce entrenched poverty.
This post is a slight rewrite from a post from October, ’09. I am posting every day of October 2014, but am going to recycle my early blog posts a little bit. Today’s the day I have: