“And I’m supposed to teach them?”

'I think I'm going to throw up.'

Senior year of college meant getting into the classroom and actually teaching. This meant two student teaching opportunities. I had signed up as being interested in secondary education, so my field placement would be at the high school level.

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The theory of teaching

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The education department at my college boasted that they got future teachers in the classroom earlier than other programs.

I trusted that claim. I trusted that it would mean practical experience early on.

Turns out, though, that we had different expectations for what getting in the classroom meant.

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Allusions of Myself: The making of a poem

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We did these exercises in high school where we wrote ourselves a letter, most likely highlighting our goals for the future. Then the teacher collected them and maybe one year later (or five), we received them in the mail. At the time of writing, it seemed silly to write out your goals, completely convinced there’s no way you’re going to forget what’s important. But you do. The elapsed time prompts other interests and priorities. Opening that letter means grasping a piece of the past; tangible evidence of the person you were back then.

That’s how I feel with revisiting my old journals; I’m uncovering buried treasure.

I was reading through my college journals recently and came across several pages where I did some brainstorming for a new poem.

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College poetry readings

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So the coffee shop location where the readings happened was small like this. Not as tight quarters with the tables crammed together, but there is a similar vibe.

My second semester writing course focused more on persuasive writing. There was a structured formula to follow that included making an assertion, backing it up with examples and research, providing a rebuttal, refuting that, and then offering conclusions.

The structured part was intimidating, but I remember that it helped me see how it was possible to write a 5-10 page paper on the same topic.

I liked my professor. Something about her made me trust her judgement, not just in class but in general. Perhaps she mentioned her personal writing, offering a sense of more happening besides teaching classes. I forget how it happened, but her opinion was one I trusted and I shared one of my poems with her. She referred me to a friend of hers who hosted monthly poetry open mic nights in nearby Charlotte and edited a literary magazine.

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Parler-vous anglais?

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Yes, that is French for “Do you speak English?”

I was awesome at French when it came to learning new groups of words. Vocabulary was easy because it was rote memory. You just repeat it enough times and eventually it sticks.

Where I got stuck was forming sentences, specifically going through different verb tenses. I had the same kind of trouble when we addressed this in English class. Distinguishing from past, present and future is easy, but when you throw in various “perfect” tenses, things get tricky. I stumbled with properly identifying these tenses in English.

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View from behind the microphone

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Along with participating in the high ropes course, a major aspect of my experience with LifeTeen and the youth group was pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. This happened on a regular basis during 11th and 12th grades through lectoring at Mass.

One of the adult leaders made the rounds among the teens one night seeking recruits to be readers. I got guilted into signing up. Not because my friends jumped up to agree and I risked being left out. That wasn’t it at all. Hardly anyone stepped forward, and for some reason I felt responsible to fill in since no one else did. The people pleaser in me couldn’t resist the request from an adult. Or maybe it actually indicates some degree of leadership skills, taking on an undesirable task instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

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Ladders, mountains and facing fears

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In April 2001, the church youth group went on retreat at a nearby campground for some team building, bonding, and fun.

By eleventh grade we were embarking on a new program at our church, following Life Teen, which meant having more adult leader support in youth ministry. It wasn’t just one person in charge but more of a team effort. And there was music. Fantastic music.

We met every Sunday after Mass for something fun to break the ice and then learning and discussing the Catholic faith, but in a friendly environment. I really enjoyed having something consistent to participate in. I connected well with the adults, over time feeling like I could trust them.

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The highlights of eighth grade

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Eighth grade meant many more changes. Classes were in a different building on campus. Unlike seventh grade where I was with the same group of students for all of my core classes, this year meant encountering a wide range of students. There were a few individual students who shared classes with me, but for the most part each class had a unique assortment. I really got to see a broader scope in learning abilities and interest in learning. In my English class, that wide range was more pronounced as I was mixed in with several students who spent a lot of time serving in-school suspensions and just didn’t seem to understand or care about the importance of getting an education.

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Poem: Allusions of Myself

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I wrote this during my sophomore year of college. I remember sitting in the cafeteria trying to come up with a poem to share at a poetry reading. Yes, during a freshman writing course, my professor introduced me to a group in a nearby city that hosted monthly poetry readings. She said they would welcome a college student. I just had to find the nerve to give it a chance. Eventually all my favorite poems that I had written in high school had been shared and I was in need of new material.

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How this writer got her start

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Teachers are sneaky about finding ways to get students familiar with talking in front of the class.

In kindergarten, first grade and maybe even second grade, it’s disguised as show and tell. You’re bringing in an item from home that you love and talking about it. Early on, teachers emphasize the importance of sharing what you love.

That’s public speaking in its purest form. Eye contact isn’t evaluated as much and neither is the smoothness of your delivery. You’re just sharing to the best of your ability.

So those are good building blocks that progress through each grade level.

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