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It’s a couple weeks until summer, I can begin to feel it in the air whenever my students enter the room.  There’s a tenseness about.  Four weeks to clear absences  before they turn into truancies, four weeks left to lift grades before they enter that terribly concrete transcript.

For me, it means it’s time to plan a summer reading group.  This has become one of my favorite things about summer.  This year, we’re going to tackle some recent prize winners.  It seems good to know what’s being written now, what our generation is producing.  I’m curious to consider some of the particular follies and wisdom(s?) of our decade.

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (Pulitzer, Hemingway/PEN: 2000)
The Sea – John Banville (Man Booker: 2005)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz (Pulitzer: 2007)
Shadow of Sirius – W.S. Merwin (Pulitzer: 2009)
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – Man Booker (2009) — if CH and I can persuade anyone else to read the 560 pages …
Tinkers – Paul Harding (Pulitzer: 2010)
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer 2011)

If you’re in the LA/La Mirada area and are interested in joining us for a session or two, let me know.

R. Card Hyatt

“The aesthetic impulse like the thirst for truth might well be called a disease.  It seldom, if ever, appears in a perfectly healthy man.”  (H.L. Mencken)

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I’m lesson planning this morning, researching and typing out detailed notes for the introduction to Shakespeare workshops I’ll be teaching next week.  Sitting at LA Mill Coffee, a couple miles from our apartment, I’m reminded that there are a whole set of people in the world who spend their mornings at coffee shops–in the middle of the week.  I’m not one of these people, and I feel a little out of place– except during spring break.  Then I can turn into an artsy, tea drinking, pastry consuming, note scribbling LA coffee house-ster.

Besides trying to sneak in some fun reading this week, I’ve been tackling all the “forbidden love” novels that my students will be reading in their literature circles while we study Romeo and Juliet in class.  With the exception of the last three on the list, the novels are terrible.  I only have to slog through The Notebook before I can finally graduate to the three books I’m excited to (re)read.  I hope my students appreciate my sacrifice.

Hard Love
Like Water for Chocolate
The Reader
Romiette and Julio
Twilight
The Notebook
Their Eyes Were Watching God
All the Pretty Horses
1984


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Life Knowledge

Ms. C——‘s Advisory class:

A senior explains that his best friend was arrested last Friday (after being on the run with several felony counts).  He explains that he’s going to be in court tomorrow as well.

Freshman:  What’s a felony?

Long pause

Senior: Well, there’s misdemeanors– that’s like getting a traffic ticket.  Then there’s like stealing big sh** (oh, sorry miss), murder, and rape, and stuff.  Those are felonies.  You know, when you’re in big trouble.

Freshman: Oh.

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It’s a cold, windy day in Los Angeles.  Only the clear skies and an uncommon freshness in the air remind me that it is spring.  At week two of student teaching, CH and I are already slipping easily into the new pattern of our lives …

I came into my 9th grade Linguistic Studies course (a duel credit English and Spanish class) at the last two weeks of a quarter–amidst the final preparations for presenting their projects.  This quarter long project has involved the reading and analysis of poetry (in English and Spanish), writing and translating poems, and preparing presentations (some in English, some in Spanish).  I spent the last two days “judging” 90+ poems.  The top 6 poems in each language will move on to finals–a poetry slam on April 15, a large event open to the public, where they will be judged by a LA poetry slam team.  Seven and a half hours of 14 and 15 year olds reading their poems aloud.  Painful?  Certainly.  Insightful?  Often.

The students had been encouraged to write about something personally meaningful–something which had deeply shaped them.  They were encouraged to take a risk–to invite their community into the dark places of their lives.  The freshman do this project every year at LASGS (culminating in a published book), so these students had read the poems of older students.  They’d seen the pain and joy revealed by their upperclassmen.

The poems hover around the same themes: discrimination, familial strife, physical and sexual abuse, young broken hearts, separation, death, gangs, displacement, beatings …

Why did you leave me?
Why did you hit me?
Why did you touch me?
Why did you die?
Why did you change?

Line after line of trauma, expressed in the awkward syntax and limited vocabulary of just barely teens.  The distance between the emotional and verbal capacity of 14 year olds and the depth of trauma some of these children have experienced is startling.  The love poems quickly remind us that these are but children who are placing their tender, unformed emotions into the inadequacies of language.  How does anyone, let alone a 15 year old boy talk about the emotions of watching his friend get shot in the street?  How does a girl put the pain of being molested into words? The emptiness of never knowing your father?  The anger at a mother who beat you?  The shame of watching a little kid be beaten up while you did nothing?

Words, even grown-up words, seem inherently shallow at moments like these.

Ms. H

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I never wanted to be a student teacher.

This last year, among other activities, has been spent trying to find a way, any way, to avoid this requirement.  Having worked in a full-time classroom for 3 years, plus several other short teaching assignments– I was frustrated by the state’s requirement that I give them 2+ months of free labor.  But, here I am.  And, after the year, I’m a much humbler teacher.  Teaching is tough– and if this is really what I think I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life– than I’m game for two months of learning from someone who’s been doing much longer.

I’ve vowed to use the eleven weeks to practice the skills I’d be reticent to try out while receiving a paycheck.  I’ve promised myself (and my former & future students) to tackle the list of bad teaching habits I’ve picked up over the last couple years.

I’m teaching at LA School for Global Studies (at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex)– a small project-based-learning (more on this later) public high school where all courses are team taught.  Also, it’s a NewTech high school.  Needless to say, the first two days were New Information Overload.  But, they were also full of not-so-little ninth graders.  We’re going to have lots of fun.

Editing an article on the school cafeteria in Journalism:

“Miss!  How is ‘disgusting’ opinion, not fact?”

Go Cobras?

Ms. H

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CH and I don’t see much theater these days, mostly due to lack of funds; but, we did make it out to one stage production in December: Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited. We’ve both enjoyed reading McCarthy over the past couple years (CH more extensively than I) and a production of one of his two plays seemed too rare to pass up.  And, it was well-worth the cost. Two middle aged men stuck in an apartment building discussing the meaning of life, for two hours.  Yes, it was riveting. Well staged, well directed, well acted. The sort of play you know is good because it’s still forcing you to ask important questions days later.

A couple of guys in a dingy room talking about the meaning of existence might not sound like the stuff of edge-of-your-seat drama, but leave it to Cormac McCarthy (“The Road,” “No Country for Old Men”) to invest a faith-versus-reason debate with life or death consequences in his taut 2006 two-hander, “The Sunset Limited.”

A superb staging by Rogue Machine’s John Perrin Flynn renders McCarthy’s distinctively spare, evocative dialog with the agility of a fencing match: “You see everything in black and white.” — “It is black and white.” — “I suppose that makes the world easier to understand.” — “You might be surprised about how little time I spend trying to understand the world.” …

Thus says the glowing LA Times review of The Rogue Machine Theater’s production … and nearly every other LA reviewer.  Due to high interest, this production has been extended through January 31.  The Rogue Machine Theater is worth a visit all on its own, especially for those interested in the small and funky bits of the LA theater scene.  Most of the shows are at 8pm and tickets are $25.  I recommend purchasing tickets in advance as the theater is quite small.

Enjoy!

R. Card Hyatt

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