Reflecting on light, warmth, and the words of Stuart McLean, Sherman Alexie

The sky is staining light over the snow-covered fields surrounding my house. I love these quiet mornings. Perfect for reflecting on where I am.

Later on today two old friends are coming over. The four of us will eat and laugh together. There is never enough eating and laughing with old friends.

But that is later, right now… I feel content, with a slight backlight of worry to do with the usual money-type issues. I’m learning that owning a home in the winter is expensive. I managed to go through 800 litres of oil between Dec. 15 and Jan. 22. And it wasn’t that cold. The consequences are very romantic though, we’re turning down the furnace and lighting more fires to keep the house warm. This 100 year old house with the dirt-floored, stone-walled basement is not as well-insulated as a newer home might be. Still wouldn’t trade it in, just need to focus on old knowledge concerning the conserving of energy. Like the wood burning stove. And time spent in the arms of another.

Some of that worry also has to do with my daily travels to work. I think, like my lesson with the furnace, I need to tone things down. Simplify. 130 kms/day is not simple. That would entail either my moving closer to work or finding work that is closer to me. To be continued…

The content part has to do with the quiet of the morning. Keith in my life. The coming of the light – it comes earlier and stays later these days. My dogs chewing their bones on the carpet. Betty staring at them from her spot above the fridge, taking her space though safely out of reach. The fast crackle of the fire as the kindling does its magic, preparing for the slow heat of the day.

It also has to do with words. I’m ever in awe of the power of words. Yesterday I laughed out loud to Dave’s plight with the treadmill, told so cleverly by Stuart McLean (January 30th, 2010 “Dave’s Shoelace”). Through the sharing of our stories, Stuart McLean reaches out to that which is common to so many people. Those stories about ourselves that you have to laugh to or else you just might cry. If you’ve never heard of The Vinyl Cafe, go give it a listen. The Vinyl Cafe podcasts automatically feed into my ipod as they are available. Or sometimes I wait for them to play on CBC radio 1, Saturdays or Sundays. I think they play on NPR as well.

I’m just starting Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer. Real words there. He does things differently than Stuart McLean, that’s for sure. Yet the last book I read of his, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was also filled with stories that hold truth, that use humour to get at the essence of what makes us, us. Definitely closer to the painful side of the truth. The more uncomfortable side of the truth, yet with a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of the why. I know at least a few of my students have been drawn to that book, have read it voraciously during our daily reading periods, have snuck it into history or art class as well. Words that connect to teens as well as adults? Wow. Thank you Mr. Alexie.

Have a wonderful Sunday everyone. Keep your eye on the growing light.

Teachers and (Im)Morality: The [Social] World is Flat

I read a quick post by Joanne Jacobs on the story of a teacher who was suspended for one month for a picture of her at a bridal shower. In the picture she is seen near the male stripper who was working the shower. This picture was posted to facebook by someone else.

Seen With Stripper, Suspended

A little while ago I wrote a post on my blog about some of the daily frustrations of teaching, it fed to my facebook account, a parent complained about it, I was cautioned about writing anything that could ‘come back on the school’.

This fed into my twitter feed today:

And MissTeacha and I had a twitter conversation today about morality clauses in teacher contracts, one of which she has. When I asked her who decided on what was immoral behaviour, she replied:


My comment on Joanne’s post is the following:

The economic world is not the only one that has flattened. The social world has as well. Where it used to be easy to manage different social spheres (work-related, school-related, friends, family, etc…) it’s becoming more complex. What Stephen says is true, and social networking a la facebook makes it even easier to find cases that may ‘offend’. We’re playing a new game with the old rules…

So. Either we continue to accept the fact that teachers (and librarians) are held to higher moral standards (whatever that means, depending on whose standards we choose as the metre stick) and try to negotiate our lives within the flattening of our social spheres, or we start to tell new stories and create new norms around how our personal lives are judged in the widening spotlight. Can we really expect our social networks to change without a change in how we navigate and are judged within them?

What I am thankful for at the moment

Coffee in the morning.
Seeing my Betty cat come home after 5 days gone.
My students, for sharing.
That moment in the classroom where learning clicks into a buzz of activity.
Once a month dinner club with the girls is tonight. The theme is Texan. Though I had the best of intentions I hear IGA makes a great pecan pie :)
My students, for caring.


Teachers who give hugs when needed.
52 Sketchbooks to look at today.
The warmth and crackle of the fire.
Yesterday the sun came out. And was still out past 4:30.
The crunch of the snow under my dogs’ paws.
Pedagogical days.

What motivates us to do good?

This was what I posted on the blog for my Contemporary World Issues class today. I decided to share it here, too. Have you been thinking of essential questions to do with our reaction to the devastation in Haiti? Have you been talking about this with your students?

I have been addicted to the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. I spent much of the weekend reading news updates, blog updates, facebook group statuses, and listening to radio shows about how the world is reacting to what is happening in Haiti.

Countries, organizations, and individuals around the world are reaching out, to help in any way. A question that comes to mind for me is…

What motivates us to do good in the face of tragedy?

Some of the documents that triggered this question for me were the following:

A family’s wait for news from Haiti – I heard about this story in an interview on CBC this morning. I asked myself what motivated the journalist to help? Does it matter?

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Donate $1 Million to Doctors Without Borders – Angelina Jolie said, “It is incredibly horrible to see a catastrophe of this size hit a people who have been suffering from extreme poverty, violence and unrest for so many decades,” If that is the case, why did it have to take an earthquake to inspire the donation?

B.C. students in Haiti arrive in Canada – Are Canadians helping Canadians in Haiti first? Is that why the Canadian government is sending help?

Wyclef Jean and Yele Haiti – The website of Wyclef Jean’s Haiti Relief organization.

Here is a video of Wyclef Jean defending himself and his organization in the face of accusations of misconduct. I found it via this page at npr.

Here are some other resources:

Disaster in Haiti – CBC full coverage

Haiti Earthquake 2010 – New York Times coverage

Satellite images help focus Haiti earthquake relief

Haiti Earthquake – Day 5: Reporting with a camera

What do you think?

For those who are interested, this is what I’ve asked my students to do. It was a last minute, put together kind of assignment. I’ve put our current work in Contemporary World Issues on hold so as to focus on the events unfolding around the world in response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Start alone – Write a quick comment to our class blog with your gut reaction to the question, What motivates us to do good in the face of tragedy?

Branch out – Explore the question in your research groups. Start with these documents and then find your own. Your group will need to:

Document your resources – this means include links to any and all articles/images/video/audio etc… that you use in your research.

Your group needs to come up with a new question that springs from the research you do about this question. Sound complicated? Don’t worry you’ll figure it out :)

Present your research and your new question in an innovative way. Some ideas are:

webpageshortText is easy to use though less flexible than something like a wiki, which is easier for all group members to access. PBWorks is free for educational use and super easy to get started.

Video – you can decide how to present your ideas via video. If you choose this option you must include your resource list separately.

If you have another idea, clear it with me but please note that I will not allow PowerPoint for these research projects. Time to think outside the PowerPoint box!

Twitter is replacing my feed reader

Luc Latulippe's twitter birdsThese twitter birds were created by Luc Latulippe and are available as a free download on his site. Click the image to go there.

Really. I am afraid to hit my feed reader. In the past if I missed a day or two I’d be overwhelmed with the amount of information that fed into my system once I clicked update. And now it’s been ages since I’ve checked my feed reader. I see the link to it right now on my desktop panel and I consistently, consciously, studiously ignore it.

I now read blog posts as I see them announced on twitter, either by the authors themselves – ‘New blog post tweet, tweet, tweet…’ or, more emphatically (not quite the word I am looking for but it will do until I find it), by others referring those in their network to ‘Read a great post about … tweet, tweet, tweet’.

I trust this process way more than the feed reading process. I trust Marcy and Miss Teacha and Linda and Mike and Jacques and Jose and Kevin and John and…. there are so many people who refer me to good posts all the time.

The point is I trust this process over the arbitrary new post count next to the blog title in my reader. I trust this process to point me towards cutting edge, or sometimes just plain amusing, blog posts by people both in and on the edges of my learning network. The post has been read and subsequently reviewed (via the existence of the tweet) by someone I trust to have discriminating judgement or taste or however you want to dice it on subjects educational, or musical, or artistic, or doggy. It is a people centered process. I trust the process because I trust the people who keep it going.

So bye bye feed reader – and the overwhelming nature of it for me, how unnecessary. As long as twitter remains relevant as a space for communication that is how I will get updates on what to read. It suits me just fine.