Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Song in my Head

I’m gearing up to show my Film and Lit kids The Empire of the Sun.  I think that may be why this song has been in my head, off and on, for the last few weeks.

I asked Punk’s flute teacher to bring her the music, and they practiced it today.  Once she gets the timing down, it’s going to be tear-worthy on the flute.

I’m betting that Murphy doesn’t know this song (yet; he’s in my Film and Lit class….).  If it’s still in my head tomorrow, I’ll hum it for him

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Filed under film as literature, I love my job, I've got this kid...., little bits of nothingness, music, the good ones

Why I’m Here

Today, CHS had its first annual community meeting.  This is exactly what it sounds like; the whole student body gets together to talk about what’s going on in the community, to get to ask questions of the student government and the faculty, and to talk about what’s working – and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not.

Because this was the first community meeting of the year, we started this afternoon’s agenda with a “go around the circle and introduce yourself” sort of activity, where we were asked to tell the room why we decided to come to CHS and then say something about the person sitting next to us.  We did this to give the new students a feel for the idea that everyone is involved in this – that every voice matters.

The girl who happened to be sitting next to me is one of my favorites (I know, I know, but I really do love this girl).  This lovely young lady – let’s call her Leslie – is quiet and unassuming, but she doesn’t miss a thing.  She was in my freshman class last year, and I was consistently and deeply impressed by the quality of her thinking.  Add to that that she’s one of my favorite ‘light bulb kids,” when she gets something, her entire being radiates with the discovery.

Leslie explained that she was at CHS because she wanted a school that focused on the arts and had a small, personalized feel to it.  Then, she gestured to me and said, “this lady sitting right here is Mrs. Chili, and she blew my mind last year.  She blew my mind, and then reshaped it to what it is today, and I’m grateful.

I nearly burst into tears.

THAT’S why I’m at CHS.  I’m at CHS because I get to be a mentor to students and not a police officer.  I get to guide students, one by one, along their paths to discovery, not herd them along in a lowing crowd to a predetermined pen.  I get to interact with the kids; I get to know their names and their favorite things to do and their special talents (and their own, unique little idiosyncrasies), and I get to really connect with them.  I get to form relationships.  I get to laugh with my kids.  I get to care about them and, sometimes, to genuinely love them.

I think that, were I in a traditional school with endless cycles of jam-packed classrooms and standardized curricula, I would be having a very different – and completely unacceptable – experience (if, in fact, I would be able to exist in that situation at all).  Today, I am offering gratitude to the Universe for getting me here.


Filed under admiration, compassion and cooperation, heard in the halls..., I love my job, I've got this kid...., success!, Teaching, the good ones

Ten Things Tuesday *Edited*

It’s Banned Books Week.  Here are ten books, which have been banned or challenged, that have shown up in Mrs. Chili’s classes.
*Edited to include some commentary. When I posted this, I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to elaborate…*

1.  Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I haven’t actually read this in its entirety yet, but I know for sure I’ve read a good portion of it in excerpts.  It’s on my freshman syllabus; I expect we’ll get to it around January or February.

2. Separate Peace by John Knowles

Also on the freshman syllabus.  I read this one in high school and remember not really loving it that much.  I plan to revisit it before we read it, though, with my far more mature and trained eye to see what I make of it this time around.  I’m planning on pairing this with a viewing of Dead Poets Society; those two works should make for some really interesting coming-of-age discussions.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I love this novel.  I taught it to my juniors and seniors last year (after having read it only a month beforehand).  While I can hazard a guess as to why some of the other books on this list have been banned or challenged, I can say with some pretty confident certainty that several religious groups found this one objectionable; it imagines a Puritan-like dystopia in which fertile women are used as surrogates for powerful men.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can’t begin to tell you how important this book is in my curriculum.  Again, my freshmen are getting this book, and I’ll likely pair it with The Book Thief (I did this last year to great effect).  There is such richness to be mined from this unassuming little book, and I think that a lot of people will tell you that this novel was pivotal for them; I know it was for me, both as a reader and a teacher.

5. Native Son by Richard Wright

I taught this just before Handmaid last year, and I have to tell you that the entire unit was one long string of out-of-the-park home runs.  This novel is SUCH a contradiction.  It is a technically easy read; there are no complex vocabulary words and nothing mechanical that would keep even the most novice reader from getting through the pages.  The concepts that the book deals in, though, deliver non-stop sucker punches to those willing to dig – no, make that scratch – below the surface of the plot.  We could have talked about this novel for WEEKS longer than I scheduled time for, and the students referred back to this work as a touchstone for almost everything we read after that.  Like Mockingbird, Native Son is a foundational piece in my curriculum, and I can’t imagine that ever changing.

6. Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally

This one was a bit of a cheat.  I don’t actually teach the novel; I teach the film.  Honestly, I don’t think that the book is terribly well written, and I feel like the style of the prose detracts from the vital message of the story.  Speilberg’s film, by contrast, reaches into your chest from the first frame and doesn’t let go until LONG after the final credits have rolled.

7. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

To be honest with you, I’m not sure that I’ve actually read this novel.  I want to say I have, but I can’t, at the moment, call to memory exactly what it was about.  Regardless, it’s on my junior syllabus, and I’m eager to get to it (or get to it again, as the case may be).  I have a deep and abiding respect for Toni Morrison, and I’m looking forward to the conversations this novel is sure to generate in my class.

8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This is our all-school read.  Everyone should have the novel by next Tuesday, when we start reading as a community.  Each of my three core classes has voted to defer the next novel in their reading list in favor of focusing on Alice for the month of October.  Like Huck Finn, this is a novel I’ve never read from cover to cover… yet.  I know the story well enough from the numerous excerpts I’ve read (and interpretations I’ve seen) to feel pretty comfortable teaching it.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry

A teeny-tiny little wisp of a book – seriously; you could probably read it in one good pre-bedtime stretch – but it packs a pretty heavy philosophical punch.  My freshmen are finishing their final wrestling with this novel this week.  So far, we’ve managed to discuss the ethics of “release,” we’ve rooted around the idea that a dystopian novel critiques the present (and what Lowry was critiquing in this work), and we’ve chased down the reasons why human beings seem unable to deal with a perfect society; each of the kids commented that the novel was “creepy” because it was “too perfect,” and one boy (Goddess LOVE him!) brought up the scene in the Matrix where Agent Smith comments that their first attempt at the program failed because it was too good; there was no want or conflict, and the humans couldn’t handle it.  “Whole crops were lost,” he said.  The students had a GREAT time with that.

10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

I’m relatively certain that all the Harry Potter novels have been banned or challenged at one point or another.  This one is on the Film and Lit syllabus because, even though each of the novels deals with the theme of coming of age (Harry comes of age incrementally in each of the works), I really do think this one is where he (and his friends) turns the proverbial corner.  While my students are a little daunted by the thickness of the tome (and I’m a little insecure about teaching the middle book in a long series), I’m desperately looking forward to this unit; I can’t wait to see how the kids re-approach a work they read as kids (and think they know).

Happy Tuesday, Everyone!


Filed under book geek, great writing, lesson planning, politics

Today in History

At CHS, we do what we call “morning circle.” Every morning before classes, the entire community gets together in the common area and goes through whatever announcements are on the board before we begin our day.

I listen to NPR on my way in to work.  Every morning just before 7:00, the local announcer gives one little tidbit of history when he announces the date: “Today is Tuesday, September 21. Today marks the birthday of author H.G. Wells, born on this day in 1866. The news is next.” That sort of thing. I really like that – I find it compelling – so this year, I began a daily habit of presenting a “today in history” segment at the end of announcements.

When I get to school in the morning, I scan through several websites for information about historical events, birthdays, and deaths that happened on that day. The kids seem to look forward to it; other day, we acknowledged both John Coltrain’s and Ray Charles’s birthdays, and earlier this month, I mentioned that the battle of Thermopylae had occurred on that date (much to the delight of the two or three kids who were familiar with that event). One student has even started listing events along with me; I try to go for things that the students would recognize and she finds the more unfamiliar, less famous events.  She told me the other day that she does that because she wants the community to “learn something.”  How awesome is that?

I discovered, on this Saturday morning, that the “today in history” is becoming a habit.  I don’t have to report on today’s events, yet I found myself looking them up, nevertheless.  Today, it turns out, was a pretty big day for civil rights in the U.S.; on September 25, nine black high school students entered Little Rock High School under the very real threat of a very angry mob.

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I also found out that today is the day, in 1789, that the U.S. Congress passed the ten amendments to the Constitution that became our Bill of Rights.

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If I didn’t teach English, I would likely have become a history teacher.

Happy Saturday, Everyone!


Filed under Civics and Citizenship, crossover, doing my own homework, fun, history, I love my job, I've got this kid...., Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world

Help? *Edited!*

A few days ago, one of you teacher bloggers posted a clip from the HBO John Adams series in which Adams was debating whether to suspend the First Amendment.  I’m desperately seeking that scene.  Does anyone remember who posted it, or can someone (Hi, KIZZ!) help me find it?

Edited to say I FOUND IT! I went through my feed reader one by one and found that it was over at Traveling Through Time and Space! YAY!

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The Curse of Technology

Alternately titled: Muahahahahaha!

Mrs. Chili is enjoying a little bit of an evil teacher moment.

On Monday, I discovered that Elaina has a toy on her desk that can turn paper copies into PDF attachments.  I asked her to please work that magic for a handout that I had given my freshman class that morning.  She did, and I promptly attached that sucker to the homework assignment on the class’s website.

This evening, I received this email from one of the students in the class:

Seeing how I was absent on Monday, I have no idea what the homework is, and I was sidetracked today to ask you about it. So I hope you would understand I don’t get the homework.

Um, no.  Sorry, Kiddo; you lose.  Here was my reply:

In fact, Megan, it’s not okay that you didn’t do the homework.  As soon as the class was over on Monday, I uploaded a PDF of the reading, along with a pretty clear description of the assignment, to the class’s web page.  You have everything available to you that you need; there’s no reason you can’t get it done.

Let’s see if the homework gets handed in tomorrow.  Any bets?


Filed under colleagues, dumbassery, failure, fun, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, I've got this kid...., really?!, student chutzpah, success!, That's your EXCUSE?!, You're kidding...right?

The Bodhisattva Bathroom Buddy


We are a very small school here at CHS, and we operate in an environment that most people don’t call to mind when they think of “school.”

We’re working out of an old textile mill. The gigantic, cavernous space has been modified so that there are walls for classrooms around the perimeter of a vast, open common area. Elaina, the Goddess of the Front Desk, has a wall of windows at the front of her office, so she can command a pretty good view of that open space. Also? The bathrooms are just on the other side of her door, so students needing to use the facilities must walk past her to get there.

The teachers decided, long before I came to work here, that paper passes to get from a class to another destination were just not going to work; something more creative needed to be employed (we are, after all, an arts school). One teacher has a three-foot tall, wire stature of a frog playing the saxophone. One teacher has half a giant, paper-mache egg on a long, Mardi Gras bead necklace. My predecessor had the most singularly annoying pass in the place; a leather Christmas tree with jingle bells on it. I couldn’t keep that; I needed something that would indicate to The Goddess that the student holding the pass was one of mine, but it needed to be something that wouldn’t annoy everyone in the building every time one of my kids needed to pee.

With The Goddess in mind, I went on a hunt, and this is what I came up with:

She’s Quan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. She’s 7 pounds of concrete, and when I first brought her in, Elaina knew right away who she was. She was delighted by the thing, and was looking forward to seeing her walk by with my babies.

When I signed on to IM the other day, I saw that Elaina had added a comment about the Bodhisattva bathroom buddy on her instant message status. Observe:

One of the highlights here has to be the hall passes, which are as eclectic as our school. Personal favorite: Mrs. Chili’s. It’s a 7-pound cement statue of Kwan Yin, who represents warmth and compassion. Pass with a purpose.

I love that she loves her, and I love that she gets a little grin every time one of my kids goes by.


Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, fun, I love my job, success!