Friday, January 28, 2011

"I Wish I Were..."

Some not-very-nice and just-plain-wrong woman wrote that I shouldn't have been an English teacher (so funny) because on a blog post I wrote, "I wish I were..."

I was peeved when I read that, but someone else quickly jumped on this commenter for getting it wrong and for being obnoxious. Intelligent people know how to use language, after all, because they are well read and have naturally absorbed its rules. Besides, anyone whose opinion I respect knew she was out of line.

Using "were" after "I wish" even if it seems odd is actually CORRECT.

Here's a cute tutorial from Grammar Girl on the subject (and a few others):

Quote from the link:  The mood of the verb "to be" when you use the phrase "I were" is called the subjunctive mood, and you use it for times when you're talking about something that isn't true or you're being wishful.

Modified Quote: If a sentence starts with words "I wish"--I wish I were more perceptive--that's about the biggest clue you can get that a sentence is wishful. Wishful sentences call for the subjunctive mood of the verb "to be," so the right choice is "I were."

Extended Quote: Here's another example to help you remember. Think of the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof. When Tevye sings “If I were a rich man,” he is fantasizing about all the things he would do if he were rich. He's not rich, he's just imagining, so "If I were" is the correct statement. This time you've got a different clue at the beginning of the line: the word "if." Although it's not always the case, sentences that start with "if" are often also wishful or contrary to fact. 

My Quote: I wish that blog commenters who make a hobby of attacking other people's intentions and purpose were more educated.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teaching Is My Gift, but It's One I'd Like to Return Now

A friend who will teach a college writing class just asked me for ideas that might be used in a fiction workshop syllabus. I duly assisted by sending some of my plans, plus my top hints for being a successful creative writing instructor, and suggested readings, viewings, lessons, etc.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I got in reply. That was very nice, I thought. This is SO helpful, I was told by the newly minted college instructor. Well, I'm truly glad.

After this exchange, however, I found myself feeling frustrated and a bit depressed. I tried--in my Zen-mind way, which, believe me, does not come naturally, but is, rather, a self-inflicted practice--to figure out why I felt this way and also to just feel what I was feeling in the hopes of coming to a profound realization. Or not.

For more on this counter-intuitive idea, see

I felt depressed, I realized, not because I am no longer teaching--the thought of teaching often causes me intense anxiety and chest pain, actually, given the horrific experience I had last year, the insane abuse I suffered, not to mention the the profound injustice of it all. 

I actually still do teach, but it's one-on-one tutoring. That has been going great, and half the time, I feel overbooked. I guess the depression creeps back when I think about my old school; it's not about teaching in general. It's only the memory of teaching there.

I felt sad/depressed, I realized, mostly because I am positively spilling over with ideas about education and curricula, and I recalled and, for a brief time, re-lived my perennial frustration--when I was teaching--with trying to take school to a new level.

So many people apparently don't want to be bothered to do that, and sharing ideas and trying to infect others with teaching enthusiasm can feel like trying to push a boulder up Mt. Everest. 

My professional presentations often led, I felt, not to kudos but to palpable resentment. Why was this? I personally get excited when someone else coaxes me into having a new idea for self-improvement. Many others, it seems, don't.

I get this, to a certain extent. As a teacher, you may get into a groove that feels comfortable enough. You might not want to re-examine your syllabi or craft new lessons (that takes so much time and energy). Most other teachers certainly do not want other people, especially other teachers, telling them what to do.

I understand. It has never been my intention to tell anyone else what to do. That's annoying. I know. I have sat through countless "Professional Development" lectures. Some were useful. Many were tedious. After every lecture, there was an audience member (a teacher) who muttered angrily, "When was the last time SHE taught?" 

There exists, oftentimes, a very shaky, tentative relationship between teachers and out-of-touch admin. I am not an administrator, to be clear. What I am is a former teacher. 

Other teachers are among my main audience for my blog. Countless people (teachers, I assume) have requested and viewed my AP English Language syllabus and my "I'm Giving it Away for Free!" multimedia lesson. 

I don't know if anyone is using my exact syllabus, and I'd be surprised if anyone was; teachers generally like to create their own, and I think that's a good thing. If anyone is using it, fine. It could be that those teachers are feeling overwhelmed or just plum out of ideas. Maybe an AP class was suddenly thrown at them (happened to me twice; I know how stressful that is!) and they need to get it together, fast.

I haven't gotten credit, yet, for any of my syllabi and ideas about teaching. Whatever. I also helped craft AP textbooks that are out in the stores now and I didn't get credit for that, either. No matter. I know what I did, and I was paid, so that's all fine and dandy.

I really do this out of a sense of service. I have always wanted to help people. Take the help or don't. Thank me or don't. It's not about the credit; it's about helping people who need the help because I can help them. 

Perhaps the sadness I feel when I think about my former teaching life will eventually dissipate because I've completely forgotten it. To be sure, I am often very glad that I don't have to go there and do that now. My teaching career was tainted by trauma, and it's really not something I care to think about at all. I do think about it, but I'd honestly rather not.

It is time for personal reinvention and new paths. In the meantime, I don't want all of my painstakingly crafted lessons to go to waste. I have a motherlode of teaching ideas and plans. If you can use them, I am happy to share. Even if it hurts me to think about teaching when I look at my syllabi again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Poetry Matters More Than Ever: Take a Listen

Much has been made, lately, of the need for civil, sophisticated, thoughtful discourse. It was my personal mission to promote the use of such words last year, when I was teaching.  Moving away from hostile, partisan rhetoric has been in the news everywhere this past week (and even before that, though many people were probably not paying much attention), as important for life in our very society.

Poetry is the epitome of the right kind of civilized discourse: it is thought-provoking, lovely, apt, and sophisticated.

I have blogged a couple of times on teaching poetry and--this surprises me, really--those blog posts are among my most popular. 

Either students are Googling for help in doing a literature assignment, or teachers who never got much poetry in school themselves (it certainly happens; one thing that bothers me about poetry is the fact that there are 10 or so poems that people seem to get in classes, and that is it, and of course they don't read poetry beyond that) are seeking guidance. I am glad to help; I hope my postings on poetry have proven useful.

The point, though, is this: poetry is not hard to understand; poetry can enrich our lives; and poetry is worth reading and hearing.

Click the link below. It will take you to (thanks to my reader and commenter, Dornier Pfeil) an American Public Radio podcast of a wonderful show about "Words That Shimmer."

It's fascinating, euphonic stuff, and well worth your time if you want to learn more about poetry, simply renew your faith in the world or only decompress.


Monday, January 10, 2011

I Could Have Told You This Would Happen

We've got a few big problems going on:

1.  People-- even questionably sane people--are allowed to own and carry semi-automatic weapons in the U.S. 

There has long been a push-pull battle between people who think everyone should bear arms (because duh, the Constitution says we have a right to!) and those who believe maybe only people with a true need, like police officers or soldiers, should have weapons.

I hate guns. I hate guns. I hate guns so much it's not even something I can intelligently discuss beyond muttering incessantly, "I hate guns."  I have a visceral repulsion when I see a gun. 

If you own a gun, I don't hate you, but I want you to keep that gun out of my sight.

If there is a sincere, documented need for a gun in your life, I think you need to keep it in a locked cabinet, hide the ammo, and don't take it out unless there's a rabid bobcat in the backyard that's just about to eat your dog. Seriously. 

Guns are only for killing, and very rarely do I believe that killing is necessary.

Now, having said that, why the hell does anyone need a semi-automatic weapon? Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter in the Tucson debacle that killed six people and gravely injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, had a Glock 9mm. Do you know how many rounds that gun can shoot?

Unfortunately, I do know. I know someone who owns one. And let me just take a moment to add there is no reason why people should be able to 1) buy such a weapon and/or 2) legally carry it around. 

That Glock 9mm is a weapon for mass murder--nothing less than that.

Self-defense? No way. No one needs a Glock for self defense.

Anyone carrying a gun is, I believe, just itching for a chance to use it, and just asking for trouble. The likelihood of a gun-owner shooting and killing someone goes up exponentially when he or she is actually carrying a gun.

I want to see stricter gun laws. I want to see semi-automatic weapons made unavailable for purchase. Guess who is anti-gun-restrictions, even semi-automatic weapon restrictions? People like Pat Toomey, and other "conservative," and, ironically, staunchly anti-abortion Christians.

Does that make any sense? No, my friends, it does not. It is just plain absurd. 

I've said it before, and I will say it again: you cannot be "pro-life" and pro-gun. You just can't. One negates the other.  I think that some people need to re-examine the issues and take note of this inherent contradiction. I think that some people need to work harder at trying to make the world or even just the United States a more humane and civil place.

2.  Political rhetoric has been more violent in tone and imagery for quite a while now. When Sarah Palin first posted her infamous "crosshairs" SarahPAC page that used gunsight logos over certain states with a list of politicians who had voted for health care reform and the call for her supporters to "RELOAD!"--well, when she did that last March, many sensible people said, "That's really going too far. That's just asking for trouble. That's frankly dangerous."

Even Gabrielle Giffords spoke about how inciting anger and hostility that way "targeted" her and will undoubtedly have "consequences."

Sarah Palin only scrubbed that notorious page the other day, after Giffords was the victim of an assassination attempt.

Many people are all over the place now either commenting how Palin is partially to blame for the AZ massacre or in no way to blame. But one person whose words I read on Twitter had an excellent point: if anyone BUT Sarah Palin had disseminated such a list of targets with freaking gun sights by their home states and names, that person would probably be in jail right now and under questioning.

I don't doubt that there is an epic lawsuit about to come Sarah Palin's way, courtesy of the dead and wounded in Arizona. 

Whether or not you agree that Palin had anything to with Giffords' shooting and the cold-blooded murder of six innocent people, I think it's pretty clear that her hunter rhetoric did not help matters and perhaps even gave a crazy man a really bad idea.

3.  When I taught writing, I made a serious, well-intentioned effort to teach non-hostile tone, especially (even though I specifically said that I did not want to see political speeches) when dealing with naturally contentious issues.

I was then "dismayed" by the tone of a speech. I said so, on this blog. I was dismayed by the tone and the rhetoric I heard (absolutely nothing personal involved)...mostly because I requested something completely different. 

We all have to watch our tone and our rhetoric because even if you argue that "only a crazy person" would act on certain words or ideas, there exist people who just do not understand metaphor, who will take everything literally. 

Those people cannot be fed with their favorite pablum: angry we all must watch our words. We all must be civil and gentle and careful.

I don't want to live on the set of "The View," after all. I can't bear that show and I certainly don't want to experience a "View" like scene in a classroom.  I doubt anyone does.

Ironically, after blogging about my "dismay," I then lost my job in part because of it. I was simply telling the truth and making a point about teaching speechwriting to other teachers: it is, in fact, dismaying (understatement, a word specifically chosen in order to be kind) to hear or read words filled with blame that exemplify the hyper-partisan, deeply divided mindsets that currently co-exist in this nation. 

It is also deeply disturbing to get a palpable sense (mostly through publications, online or otherwise, and on television) of all the hatred in the air, and even, in some cases, hear or read calls for violence. 

It makes me fear for not only the future but also the present.

I am dismayed now by the tone and rhetoric of total strangers who are arguing the Palin issue, the weapons issue, and the sanity of the shooter.

I regret to say that I predicted this was going to happen. Many thoughtful people did. That's why we all said, "Hey--let's be careful and not use violence-inciting rhetoric."

Will the lesson finally get through now?

Watch this gentle, well-planned speech by Keith Olbermann, who very sensibly calls for a "repudiation" of anyone who--intentionally or unintentionally--incites violence through words and images: