Sleeping… Never Too Much!

The McGhee Sextuplets (born 2010)

The McGhee Sextuplets (born 2010)

As a college teacher who gets summers “off,” I can assure you that summer has rarely felt like a vacation on my trek to tenure.  I am usually so wiped out by the time Memorial Day weekend rolls around, all I want to do is sleep and then sleep some more.

For the most part, my summers are spent writing, reading, researching, and preparing new courses.  I am too exhausted from the schoolyear to jump right into that and too working-class-ethical to just sit around, do nothing, and nap all day.  So to kick-off my days of refusing to think but desperately needing to feel productive, I wash the front of my house, all the windows and the sidewalks… with a superduper powerwasher which provides some of the most fun water-sport activities imaginable.  I also fertilize my flowerbeds/container garden and I spray like a fiend for mosquitos (yes, it is an awful practice but I cannot tolerate them sucking up my blood the way that they do.) I must confess: I am not a very good powerwasher but I see no reason for that to stop me.  I warn my neighbors beforehand because, as NYC rowhouse dwellers, I end up washing their houses too, though not by design.  Like I said, I am not a very good powerwasher.  As my neighborhood, along with all neighborhoods in Brooklyn, have become more and more gentrified, I have noticed many more expensive cars on my block.  I have also noticed that these folk tend to move their cars away as soon as I come out with my 100 feet of hose (we park on the street in my neighborhood; there are no garages).  I don’t intentionally wash the expensive cars on the street because, hey, that would just be rude, but, wellllll, they do get a little wet and I do not feel bad about that.  It is public space and I am very public with the powerwasher.  I put on my big, rubber, rain boots that come to my knees and just get to it.   If my mother is being particularly challenging with too many directives and advice about my process since she lives with me now and so gets all of her windows washed too, I will put on a big, bright rain parka with a hood (and goggles if I have some).  I look so ridiculous that my mother refuses to be seen standing next to me with all the car traffic that passes by.  My peace and quiet are then quickly restored. By the time I am done with all that powerwashing and then putting all of the tools and costume away again, I am tired as hell.  This physical labor allows me to justify the one thing that kicks off my summer: sleeping like a baby.  I have always loved the photo above of the McGhee sextuplets— Rozonno Jr., Isaac, Josiah, Elijah, Madison and Olivia— who are so deep asleep that it is nothing short of inspiring (thank you to the Ohio couple and proud Mom and Dad, Mia and Rozonno McGhee, for truly loving and showing us these glorious babies.)  The baby sleeping on the father’s head most closely approximates what my summer sleep looks like right now.

After my powerwashing, I wake up the next day and, of course, need a new justification to tire myself out again so that I can go back to sleep…. it will be THE BACKYARD!!  There will come a time when I can no longer escape the work that I need to do this summer.  But in the interim, I am avoiding it… with the cleanest, superwashed house imaginable! I wish deep rest and relaxation to every teacher who can relate to what I am saying here.

Plaza Towers & Briarwood Elementary Schools: On My Mind and Heart

Photo from the Washington Post

Photo from the Washington Post

Each hour, the news of the aftermath of the more-than-mile wide tornado that hit Oklahoma City and its suburbs on Monday afternoon seems to worsen.  I am especially thinking about the kids and teachers at Plaza Towers Elementary School and Briarwood Elementary School.  The reports I have read tell me that many children were trapped under the rubble at Plaza, well after rescue workers had cut through fallen beams on Monday evening. At Briarwood, cars were thrown through the school and the roof was torn off.  I can’t help but think about those kids and their teachers during those moments that this twister came right through their schools.

I grew up in Toledo, Ohio and every year, all the way up into high school, we had tornado drills as soon as the schoolyear started.  I heard the city’s tornado sirens growing up in Ohio many, many times.  When that rather smallish tornado hit Brooklyn years back, I knew exactly what was going on when the wind picked up and it turned pitch black instantaneously.  Most of my neighbors, born and raised in New York, had no idea what had happened as we watched the overturned semi-trucks on the bridge within our view.  As a child in Ohio, we were taught how to cover our heads and how to squat under our desks. In the upper levels of my high school, we came to the lowest floor possible and covered ourselves in hallways.  Despite all that training (I can only remember a tornado hitting nearby once, not touching us), I would not have been prepared.  In elementary school, I used the moment under my desk to make glue fingernails, my favorite pastime when the teacher was not looking (which was often).  In high school, I used the drills as a time to have a gossip session with my girlfriend sitting next to me as we delighted in NOT being in class.  No tornado drill can prepare you for what might come when that pitch blackness hits you from nowhere and the winds sound like a series of semi-trucks rolling on top of your head.  You need storm shelters for that (the tax breaks that oil companies in Oklahoma get could alone pay for such shelters.)   That teachers and students, young children at that, survived amazes me.  My heart and thoughts go out to them this week!

Congratulations Seattle Teachers!

Teachers, students and parents in Seattle, Washington have drawn a great deal of public attention in the past few months for their campaign to reject standardized tests in reading and math. Despite threats of a 10-day suspension without pay, a January boycott led by teachers at Garfield High School quickly spread.  A week ago, the school district announced that the MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress) is now optional, allowing schools to design/create their own assessment cultures outside of for-profit, corporate-designed/controlled measurements systems.

Here is Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher at Garfield High School, interviewed by Democracy Now.

And here is Jesse Hagopian with Wayne Au, author of Unequal By Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality:

I am most impressed by the website and research that teachers themselves engaged as part of how they would imagine and create alternatives to a rampant testing culture.  Here are the important reminders they give us about standardized testing:

  • Narrows curriculum both within a subject and across the entire scholastic curriculum by de-emphasizing untested subjects
  • Decreases rigor by emphasizing memory recall and test-taking skills over critical and creative thinking
  • Exacerbates inequities for students of color/poverty
  • Is often used for the purpose of implementing policies such as holding back elementary students and tracking students, which are shown to be detrimental
  • Negatively affects students’ self-perception as competent learners
  • Narrows debate on what’s considered important in education– ignores larger issues such as poverty, class size, funding equity

I think their three recommendations are also stunningly clear and provocative:

Assessments should incorporate a variety of measures, possibly gathered into a body of evidence that demonstrates abilities. These measures, taken together, should:

  • Include classroom work
  • Allow teacher and student choice
  • Integrate with curriculum
  • Demonstrate student growth as well as standards achievement
  • Be free of gender, class, and racial bias

Valid assessments:

  • Reflect actual knowledge and learning, not test taking skills
  • Are educational in and of themselves
  • Are differentiated to meet students’ needs
  • Allow opportunity to go back and improve
  • Have tasks that reflect real world thinking and abilities

The creation and review of assessments should:

  • Include community input
  • Undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators
  • Be graded by teachers collaboratively

SeattleTeacherProtest-1As I read these teachers’ collaborative research, watched their protests, and followed their blog, I couldn’t help but think of a Latino high school teacher who I met at 4Cs (Conference on College Composition and Communication) a few years back, himself an educational activist and researcher.  He had come to 4Cs to learn new radical literacy approaches for high school work with his predominantly Latin@ students but instead was dismayed by how irrelevant almost everything he heard was to any critical awareness of race and the experiences of students of color in schools today.  It was the BEST conversation I have ever had at 4Cs and, perhaps, the most engaging.  When I think of him and these teachers at Garfield, I think about how far, far behind we are, as compositionists, in terms of educational activism for communities of color.  I am often surprised by how many compositionists think they are doing something so much more advanced than what happens in high schools with their traditionalist notions of discourse and college curricular content.  I have never met a person who moves towards this self-congratulatory gesture who I thought actually deserved the praise they were bestowing on themselves.  I am grateful for the high school teachers like the ones being chronicled here.  They remind me of what is possible beyond the social limits of composition studies.

Semester Begins to End…

Ida B. Wells "The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press."

Ida B. Wells
“The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

Tired, Tired, Tired…It’s the end of the semester and I am just wiped out.  The tank was inching towards empty a long time ago but now, it’s just fumes.  Part of my fatigue, I believe, comes from the amount of work and time it took to try and make my rhetoric class a richer multimedia experience.  I was doing that at the same time that I was reading an extensive amount of my students’ writing.  I assign writing for each reading, which means I assign writing for every class.  I don’t give quizzes and exams because I am collecting the equivalent of 4-5 pages, at minimum, a week per student (a combination of blogs, vlogs, and print).  I do not grade these weekly writings as finished, polished essays; it’s just for ideas and articulation (there are final writing projects where I do that more traditional thing).  In weekly writing, I am not looking at format, organization, coherence, or even logic… just ideas.  With 30 students, that’s at least 150 pages of student writing per week for one class.  And, yes, I still read and comment to each page, and not with that bland, white liberalist discourse that constitutes most of what gets called response theory in the still-white-dominant composition studies.

Rosa Parks "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear."

Rosa Parks
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

I don’t believe students will actually do the writing unless I comment to it and I don’t think peer critique is enough.  Peer dialogue is a vital part of my class but for the most part, the content here is all new for students so the person who DESIGNED that content has to be present in a student’s progression of ideas and feelings (I can always rest assured that students have not learned much about or read much of anything by black women at my college).  If you don’t have time to read what your students write, I say stop assigning so much of it or, in the least, we have to stop being disappointed when students don’t give us what we are looking for because we haven’t built in enough of a feedback system to articulate our curriculum.  I get that students need to write a lot and do it on their own, but, really, that jus ain’t gonna happen.  I had graduate teachers who followed this liberalist philosophy and assigned us writing that they didn’t collect. Guess how much of that writing I did?  NONE OF IT.  Had NO time for that.  That kind of thing only works for avid journalers; I am not one of them.  The only substantive writing that I do now (I am not talking about texting, etc… I said SUBSTANTIVE) is for public: this blog or print publications.

Judith Jamison "Learn the craft of knowing how to open your heart and to turn on your creativity.  There's a light inside of you."

Judith Jamison
“Learn the craft of knowing how to open your heart and to turn on your creativity. There’s a light inside of you.”

For those students who are like me when it comes to journaling, I KNOW that if I don’t collect their writing, they will not do it; and if I don’t respond to their writing, they will not do it earnestly and they certainly will not fully learn the content.  Most importantly, it is really in the responding to students’ individual writing that an individual and consistent relationship with each of my students forms.  Those kinds of individual relationships don’t happen deep enough in class lectures and office hours alone.  This is all pretty simple.  After all, I’m a compositionist and writing teacher and this is how most of us teach;  however, even those that write and present about pedagogy seem clueless—most folk in the field who I see and hear are some of the worst and most boring teachers around.

Assata Shakur "Freedom in the right to grow, it's the right to blossom, Freedom is the right to be yourself."

Assata Shakur
“Freedom in the right to grow, it’s the right to blossom, Freedom is the right to be yourself.”

Here’s the caveat with all this responding to student writing: by the time the semester ends, you will be wiiiiiiped out.  This particular rhetoric class that I have right now really just OD’ed on this writing stuff.  In the last reflective assignment, what I called Neo-Soul Ruminations, I asked students to stop and pause and piece together the second half of the semester’s learning.  Knowing THESE students, I gave them a five page MAXIMUM!  Yes, no more than five pages!  I just can’t read more than that right now.  But don’t you know some of them hustled that?  Figured, well, she didn’t say double-spaced or size 12 font so they went and gave me tiny-print, single-spaced writing that, yes, met the five page maximum.  Again, that’s one day of class.  Imagine that for 30 students, for one class.  They killllllllin me!  K.I.L.L.I.N. me! Sometimes I wonder about these college teachers who say things like: my students will just agree with what I say or say what they think I want to hear; my students won’t write much or won’t veer from traditional formats, 5-paragraph essays, or standardized Englishes.  Could somebody send some of them squares my way, please?  Cuz I don’t see nuthin like that in front of me this semester and I could really use a break!

Audre Lorde "It is not our difference that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

Audre Lorde
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

The other issue that I am reluctantly admitting is that I live in a severely delusional state by nature of spending so much of my time around 18-22 years old.  It makes me forget that I am old and can’t do the things they do.  All that staying up late at night to write and read and work on problem sets?  Puhlease!  Ain’t no way I can do that anymore. The other week I was in our main student building where my classroom is housed and at 9am, I saw two, little, itty-bitty skinny ol’ things, all of 19 years old, eating an extra-large pizza all to themselves with supersized Mountain Dews, talkin about schoolwork.  At 9am!  I didn’t even know you could buy pizza at 9am in the morning.  By the time I passed them on my way after class, that whole box of pizza was gone and they were talking about potato chips, M&Ms, and French Fries.  I think I gained five pounds, increased my blood pressure, and raised my bad cholesterol levels just listening to their conversation.  You can easily get caught up in a delusional reality in these settings because this is just NOT what you can do when you are my age.  Just because your 20 year old students have energy at the end of a semester, do NOT assume you can hang with that!  Last night I was part of a panel for the sociology honor society.  The students were of course, amazing, and I suddenly realized I was the “deadbeat” that I had always called my aunts, uncles, and parents.  Here we’d be at the family reunion dining hall (it’s a large family so we need a hall when we come together) and all they ever did was sit around and talk, just sittin there, and talkin.  That’s it.  Buncha deadbeats.  Well, last night, after the event, the students were running around, cleaning up, making plans.  Nope, not me. By the time 8:30pm came around (my commute to work starts at 8am), guess what I was doin?  Sittin… and talkin… and THAT’S IT.  Now it’s official: I am a deadbeat.

Eunique Jones All photos here are by Eunique Jones and part of her project at:

Eunique Jones
All photos here are by Eunique Jones and part of her project at:

On a more serious note, no one cares about my fatigue, nothing in my life is about to slow down, none of this stuff ever really lets up— not the bills, not the work that still has to be done, and not the dealings with the “unsafe”/self-proclaimed-radical white racists at the job.  The best thing about being a teacher though is the energy of undergraduate students.  On Wednesday, Christina sent me the link to Eunique Jones’s photography project that E.M. Monroe introduced to me during Black History Month. Christina’s email to me featured a collage of these children’s photos who represented all of the women we have talked about in my course (the photos on this post are some of the photos in the email Christina sent me).  Christina’s email gave me a new realization about Eunique Jones’s project: only a black woman could capture the beauty and deep aesthetic diversity of black children, guide black children in positioning themselves—both literally (i.e., the photo shoot) and figuratively (i.e. the racial memory)— as inheritors/heir of black traditions, and give that back to black people with texts that reach the masses. Yup, I said it: ONLY A BLACK WOMAN.  Now essentialize THAT! The next morning, Christina brought a spoken word poet, Parlay, to class who attends a neighboring university to introduce the day.  Afterwards, by the time the late afternoon rolled around, Karina came to my office with the best damn, homemade empanadas I have ever had.  To riff off of Eunique Johnson’s campaign: because of my students, I can… tired and all… with an avalanche of students’ writing to respond to.