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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Poem: We Are Responding

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www.internationalinside.com

Sixteen years ago today, as a senior in high school, I sat in English class working on a random assignment when the teacher’s cell phone went off. It was such an unusual thing to happen; cellphones did not go off during class. She took the call and we heard words like “plane” and “trade center.”

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Governor’s School: The summer program

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In the summer of 2000, between tenth and eleventh grade, I had the opportunity to attend South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. I went for the creative writing program. It was held on a campus near downtown Greenville, S.C., about 2.5 hours away from where my parents lived. Sure I’d gone to overnight Girl Scout camps, but this was the first time to be away from my parents for an extended period of time. And it marked the first time I had to live with a roommate. This was a big deal.

I was excited about going but nervous about what the experience might be like. My style of writing was mostly to wait for inspiration to strike, to have an idea or a vision of where things were going and to complete the piece at that time. There really wasn’t a concept of brainstorming and editing, no stressing over word choices and trying to make things sound better. My approach was to really wait for inspiration and pounce in the moment. It was one of the rare times when I could be spontaneous. So I was nervous about how my writing approach would be tested and shaken up, having to meet certain expectations and requirements within a set time frame.

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Poetry philosophy: Show me, don’t tell me (also struggling with compliments)

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Theodysseyonline.com

I’m not sure where the phrase “show me, don’t tell me” first originated. I think it was through exposure to creative writing exercises and other writing efforts. But I took that to heart. I took that seriously. And in many ways that influenced my approach to poetry writing.

You don’t want to just say “she was upset”; that doesn’t tell you much. But instead you describe the used tissues scattered on the bed, the box laying nearby, how her eyes are puffy. You acknowledge the remnants of a bowl of ice cream. You describe the girl curled up on a bed, clutching tight to a pillow or stuffed bear. These images offer more details, they help tell the story. She probably didn’t just screw up a pop quiz; it’s more likely that she had a fight with her boyfriend or they broke up.

I was much more interested in showing the details of a story and describing the scene versus being straightforward. I still had trouble balancing what was described and how much to describe rather than saying things outright. I often went overboard on the descriptions and imagery, especially early on, but I was trying to find my style, trying to figure out what worked. How much detail do you really have to give?

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Mr. Kremin assigns 10th grade autobiography

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A treasured note I received from Mr. Kremin.

Tenth grade meant taking a religion class with Mr. Kremin. I remember him standing at attention in front of the crucifix (in the way only a former member of the military can) to lead us in prayer at the start of class. He faced forward with his back to us; his reverence was an example for the rest of us.

Kremin’s class was amazing because he gave us one of our first tests of being treated as adults. When you walked in the room, you were met with an air of respect. You had to decide how to respond to it. It was the first time that respect in the classroom really seemed palpable: You walk in and you matter. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s one of those intangible things that really resonated with me.

He was a natural teacher and storyteller. What he shared was captivating, maybe because it seemed to be more than going through a lesson. He wanted to communicate more than just the material but to truly reach you, to challenge preconceived notions.

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Feeling lost in history

In tenth grade I took honors English and history (Ancient and Medieval history, to be more accurate). Both classes thoroughly kicked my butt. Over the summer we had a massive research project for history. I consider having to look up 30-40 people and events and write maybe half a page on them explaining their significance a massive project. Again I wasn’t good with doing research. Some of them didn’t have their own entry in encyclopedias or other resources I looked at, so I didn’t know where else to try. And for whatever reason, it still seemed like a cop out or failure to ask the librarian for help. I didn’t do very well for that project. That wasn’t a good introduction for the class.

I suppose I could have dropped the class upon learning about the summer requirements, but I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t realize that was an option.

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Poem: Dancing Fairies

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At the end of ninth grade, I approached my English teacher about the idea of a literary magazine for the school. She really liked that idea and said she’d look into it. We had a small student newspaper, but there wasn’t a whole lot in there.

I had helped on the literary magazine during eighth grade, and it was a cool experience to see submitted writing and artwork from students. It was also a challenge to put it together. When you’re not directly involved, you don’t think about the details and the process: having to evaluate submissions, handling pieces submitted anonymously, which piece seems right to be first or to close the collection .

I had shared some of my writing with her during the year, some things I had done outside of class. And she encouraged me to submit to a magazine for young writers. (I forget what the magazine was called.) I sent in a bunch of things, but “Dancing Fairies” is the one they published. I can’t say it was a favorite of mine, but at least someone else liked it.

This is another poem that I believe was inspired by a phrase I drafted using the magnetic poetry pieces.

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Eighth grade English: The reality check

Eighth grade English was a small introduction to the real world. Not everyone is eager to learn. Not everyone wants to be in school. Not everyone has respect for teachers or those giving presentations. Kids act up and cause disruptions in class for no reason. Not everyone does the work or makes an effort.

I viewed trying and making an effort, being respectful and paying attention as expected behavior. I wasn’t abnormal for following those protocols, but I viewed others as weird for not doing so.

This year was also a glimpse of the real world because of my teacher. I had known Mrs. Davis for most of my life. Her mother lived two houses down from us. Mrs. Davis had two daughters. Madalyn, the oldest, was my brother’s age, and we’d hang out a lot. I had a deep respect for Mrs. Davis. I knew she taught English, but I never would have guessed she’d end up being my teacher. I was with students who made an effort and then there were several who put up a fight every step of the way and just didn’t care at all.

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The overflowing book bag

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Heavy school bags (blog post)

Why does each teacher insist on their own 3-ring binder for class? I know it’s to keep things organized and separate. But that’s what dividers are for! I understand not using a 5-subject notebook for multiple classes because the established 70 or 100 pages for the section likely won’t be enough and you run the risk of merging notes. Well, if you were like me and diligently wrote down everything that was discussed in class and had no real way of distinguishing super important information from a useless detail, then the single-subject of space wouldn’t be enough. (Although I did realize later on that I learn best by writing things down, so I guess I can’t fault myself too much on this. I just needed help with knowing what should be worth recording.) If you were more selective about what you wrote down, then maybe the 5-subject notebook would work for you.

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All twisted up with learning cursive

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Last year, I had an opportunity to write about my experience with sensory processing disorder. It was an in-depth piece with a broad overview of the symptoms and characteristics that I encountered, as well as areas where I continue to struggle. This is the raw, unedited version of how I began that piece, a snapshot of my classroom experience with learning to write in cursive.

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