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That Four-Letter Word: WORK

When I first started painting about three years ago, I just looked at the activity as a tool of stress release. Every afternoon I walked to the back bedroom and slopped some pigment on canvas and called it painting.

Painting, like writing, needs constant attention and practice to get better, so I reached out to my friend Marie who is an outstanding water color artist. At the time she lived in Florida and tried to tutor me over the computer. Learning this way was difficult; I wished I could have attended one of her classes, but I got a little better.

Last summer she moved back home to Racine. Marie out-lived most of her Florida friends, and she wanted to be near her children here in Racine. Since coming back north, Marie has continued to work with me to hone my painting skills.

What I’ve learned through this journey is any artistic talent needs to be honed. Finding and inspiring teacher is a gift and a curse. The teacher can pinpoint the things you need to work on and other things you are do well. The curse is this: if you listen to your teacher and become aware of the proper techniques to use, every time you sit down to do something you started as fun becomes work. Yup, that nasty four-letter word. . . WORK.

I’m not saying work is bad, I’m just saying the activity would never be the same. I felt the same when I took voice lessons and writing classes. I always need a challenge and staying in a stagnant place is harder than striving for better results. So, WORK shows up. Just remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You be the judge.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 (Continued)

Chapter 19

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – Summer, 1940—Mrs. Schneider welcomed Donna to stay in Josie’s bedroom, until Josie came home for the summer. By that time, Donna saved enough money to afford an apartment of her own. She moved into a small, affordable flat downtown within walking distance from her office.

By now Rosalie had recovered from Angelina’s birth, and baby Angelina became her mother’s most precious little girl. Angelo worked overtime on Saturdays, so the girls could visit without male intervention. Autolite got a government contract to make spark plugs for military boats which required the line to be redesigned and Angelo had been promoted to “Apprentice Mechanic” at the plant. Rosalie missed her usual leisurely Saturday morning breakfast with Angelo, but today she happily prepared the house for a visit with Donna and Josie.

Rosalie greeted them with a broad smile. “I’m so glad you both are here. Come in!” She hugged them as they entered the cozy little home. “I made some tea sandwiches and cinnamon rolls for us. Let’s go into the kitchen.”

Donna and Josie gave Rosalie the flowers the brought and followed Rosalie into her bright delightful kitchen. The white walls made the small kitchen appear large. The tiled black and white floor, the trend of the time, gave the room a diner-like aura. White painted cupboards lined two of the four walls, and a new white Formica counter-top edged in chrome trim matched the chrome lighting fixture which dangled from the ceiling. Rosie painted the table and chairs white to match the cupboards. Images of bright red geraniums appeared in the wallpaper, which brought some warmth into the otherwise sterile setting.

The table top was covered with a crisp white and red checked tablecloth, and three heavy restaurant mugs sat waiting to be filled. A dessert plate and a linen napkin sat beside the cup. In the center of the table Rosie arranged the sandwiches in an attractive configuration with colorful fruit pieces surrounding them.

“Jeez, Rosie, your kitchen looks like one pictured in ‘Better Homes and Garden’s magazine.” Donna said. “And I can’t wait to bite into one of those luscious rolls! You’ve become a real Suzy Homemaker, sweetie.”

Josie concurred. “You and Angelo really made a nice cozy home.”

Rosalie beamed. “Thanks. I’m just so glad to have you both over. It seems like eons since we’ve been together. Since the baby, I don’t get out much.” Rosalie looked down. She didn’t want to talk about the birth or her lack of nurturing behavior she felt toward the baby after she got home from the hospital.

“Are you back to normal now?” Josie asked.

“The birth was hard and my recovery took about two months, but I’m okay now. When I first got home, I felt pretty sick, but now it is all worth it. Gina is my precious little girl. I can’t wait to show you how she’s grown!”

The girls relaxed and spent the afternoon catching up on their lives until a tiny cry came  from the next room. Rosalie jumped up to attend to her daughter while Donna and Josie waited for her to return. The new mother came back in a couple of minutes with a rosy cheeked, chubby little baby girl dressed from head to toe in pink.

“Well, no doubt she’s your little Italian girl! Look at those big brown eyes and curly red hair! Oh, Rosalie, she’s the cutest thing!” Donna said. “When Angelo made her, he definitely followed the pattern in front of him.”

“Donna!” Josie blushed. “Sometimes the things you say!”

Rosie giggled, “You can’t deny she’s right.”

Josie smiled. Seeing Rosalie with a baby on her hip seemed unreal.  After all a year ago they just graduated from high school. But when Rosalie lifted her blouse to nurse the baby, Josie and Donna felt a little uncomfortable; Rosalie’s reality was a little too much for both of them.

 

Chapter 20

Paris, France-August—The summer of 1940 changed Paris, even though the Nazis wanted the world to believe French citizens went about their lives in the same way they did before the occupation. They allowed many cultural aspects go on without interference. In reality, life in Paris existed with a threatening undercurrent.

The occupation spoiled Paris for Marta. The city no longer appeared as a new toy she wanted to unwrap and explore. Her adventure ceased. Fear took hold.

As Emma predicted, the Nazis required the French Jewish citizens to wear yellow stars on their clothing; they also sectioned off a part of the city for them to live in. Marta hoped Paris would be different from the other cities across Europe, but as time went on, Paris followed the rest of Europe under German rule.  Defenseless people took beatings from Nazi thugs in the streets. Their barbarian behavior made others flee because if they came to the aid of the Jewish man, they received the wrath of the attackers too.

Emma cautioned Marta to be alert at all times. “Marta, you must never be alone. Always walk to the trolley with other people. If you sense you are being followed, duck into a store or cafe where other people are gathered. Never be alone with any Nazi even though you might have gone to school with them. They might consider you a traitor.”

Marta nodded. “I want to gag when they come into the Louvre, especially when giggling French girls are with them. I suppose the girls think they will be treated better by befriending our captors.”

Emma nodded. “Do not worry about such girls. They will suffer in the long run.”

*****

One warm afternoon Marta left the Louvre after her shift and walked to the plaza where she always met her friend Brigetta to ride the trolley home. Today Brigetta seemed to be late because Marta did not find her in the groups which usually gathered there.

Hairs on the back of Marta’s neck stood up when she sensed a SS officer was watching her like a menacing hawk. A chill washed over her when she realized he now walked in her direction. Emma’s words rang in her head as she looked around to seek refuge from this possible stalker. She quickened her gait toward the trolley stop. Where is Brigetta? Her heart hammered as the man in black got closer. The click of his heavy black boots on the stone plaza quickened. Marta ran. Her Nazi pursuer picked up his pace too. Then he yelled, “Marta, please Stop!”

She gasped when she realized the voice belonged to Franz Reinhart.

Marta squirmed like a trapped mouse. She saw no escape. She decided to be pleasant and then excuse herself after a few cordial words.

Franz came up behind her. “Marta! It is you!”

“Franz! What a surprise!” She smiled sweetly.

He smiled back. “When we marched into Paris, I hoped I would meet you again.”

“Really? Why? Leisel wrote and said you are now a married man.”

He looked sheepish. “Well, yes. But we still can be friends. Right?”

She said nothing and looked at her feet.

He shifted his weight from foot to foot like an awkward secondary student. “We did not leave things on a good note before you left the Fatherland.”

“You are right. We did not.” She turned to walk away from him.

He rushed to stay by her side. “I would like to make up for our argument. Can I buy you a glass of wine?”

“You need not be sorry, Franz. I remember you did nothing wrong. I’ll take the blame, but I must go.” She continued toward the trolley stop.

“Please, frauline. I insist.” He grabbed her elbow with a pinching grip and steered her into the nearest tavern called the Le Cheau. He pushed her onto a stool at the bar and barked, “Bitte sitzen.”

She sat on his order.

He banged on the bar to demand service. He ordered a beer for himself and a glass of Merlot for her. When the drinks came, Franz took a long swig of his beer and wiped the foam on his face with the back of his hand. “Not exactly as good as home, but it will do.”

Marta didn’t attempt to drink the wine.

His smile turned to a scowl. “What? Why will you not drink with me? Now that you are in Paris, are you too superior to drink with me?” His voice boomed with a threatening tone.

“Franz, please.” She whispered. “I do not drink alcohol.”

He turned to the other patrons in the bar. “Do you believe a beautiful girl in Paris does not drink wine? The only answer must be she must not be a true French woman, ja?” He laughed.

The patrons seemed to shrink into their booths, and they kept their heads down staring into their drinks.

Marta jumped off the stool. “I am expected at home, Franz. I need to go.”

He caught her arm and twisted her back on the stool and screamed, “Bitte sitzen!”

Sensing trouble, the other patrons got up and left. The bartender scurried into the back room.

“Do you understand what I suffered after you left Berlin?” He yelled.

“Yes. You went on with your life and married Leisel.” She said flatly. “I would think you would be very happy.” She faked a smile.

Franz rose, went to the door, and turned the lock. The bartender ran out the back door slamming the door.

Marta gulped. She was alone to fend for herself.  She froze.  Franz snickered. “It seems your superior French countrymen realize I want to be with you alone, mademoiselle.”

Marta attempted to leave, but Franz dragged her back to a bar stool. He slammed the glass of wine down on the bar. “I will teach you to love wine.” He snarled before he pulled her head back by her hair and poured the wine over her face. “I said we will drink together.”

She sputtered as the wine went up her nose. “Franz, stop!”

“Stop! I am just getting started!” He poured another glass of wine from a bottle sitting on the bar. He slammed the full glass down in front of her and ordered. “Trinken!”

Her hand shook as she picked up the glass and sipped the bitter vintage.

“Much better.” He sneered as he gulped down another beer.

Trinken!” He ordered again. Obediently, she gulped down the wine. Her cheeks warmed and turned red before the wine sent a numbing sensation throughout her body.

“You lied to me, mademoiselle. You do like wine. The blush shows in your pretty traitor face.” He poured another glass. “Trinken!”

Marta wanted his assault to stop. She tried conversation. “So Franz, tell me how you like married life.”

He growled. “I do not want to talk about Leisel.”

“Why?”

“Because she is not the girl I wanted. The good things about her are her flawless beauty, and she’s a lioness in bed. I married her because her father is rich and a senior officer.” He gulped down another glass of beer. “Her old man helped me get good assignments and rise in the ranks.” He pulled at his collar. “I am already a full lieutenant!” His speech started to slur his words.

He slithered close to her. He turned her on the stool to face him then pulled her onto her feet. His arms engulfed her, and he pulled her into his body. The scent of stale beer lingered in his breath as he kissed her mouth with force. His forceful tongue lunged into her mouth. She clenched her jaws shut and struggled to push him away. “Marta. Do not play with me. Clearly, you want me. Do not fight me.”

“What?” Her voice quavered.

“You know you want me.”

“I know nothing of the sort. Let me go, Franz.”

“Not before I get what I want!” He tore at her blouse, ripping the buttons away, exposing her bra. His face turned to stone.

Marta pulled her blouse tightly across her body and attempted to reach the door.

The strong man screamed. “Oh no. You will not deny me!” He wrenched her arm and tore her blouse away. He unlatched her bra and her breasts spilled out. “You will not get away, my little bird.”

Marta stood shivering, too frightened to move. He paced around her like a threatening panther before he grabbed her breast and squeezed with a crushing grasp. He bent down and bit her nipples.

She cried, “Franz, stop! No! You are hurting me!”

He dismissed her pleas. He pressed himself closer His arousal evident.  She squirmed and beat his chest.

He taunted. “You have become a weak little bird, mademoiselle.”

Marta snarled. “Stop! I do not want you! You are disgusting and crude.”

Nein! You will surrender to me!” He pulled out his pistol and pointed the gun at her. “Nehmen sie rock aus!” He ordered her to take off her skirt.

She didn’t move. He moved toward her and put the gun to her head. “Nehmen sie rock aus!”

She stared at him with hate and spat in his face. “I would rather die.”

He backhanded her with the pistol. She reeled backward and crashed into a chair before falling to the ground.

She screamed.

He picked her up with one hand, reached around her back, and unbuttoned the closure of her skirt. Now she stood only in her panties, garter belt, and stockings.

His nose flared as he pawed at her underwear to fully expose her. He growled, “I wanted this since my fourteenth birthday. You shamed me when you rejected my marriage proposal last summer. But before you die, you will experience a real man!” He slammed her face down over one of the tables.

The impact with the table bruised her cheek. Her attacker held her head down with a powerful grip and laid his two hundred pounds of muscle on top of her. Marta shuddered when his belt buckle hit the tiled floor with a clunk. His sweating legs pushed up against her. He separated the cheeks of her buttocks. She screamed as a piercing pain split her in half. His hand smothered her cries as he growled, “Halt den Mund!” She obeyed to keep quiet while she swallowed the powerful pain.  He thrust himself in and out of her virginal body until she collapsed. His semen ran down her legs, leaving a warm sticky mess behind. As soon as he withdrew himself, he spun her around and forced her to look at him. Tears streamed down her face.

“Oh, poor little Marta.” He hit her again. “Am I not good enough for you?” Anger burned in his eyes.

Marta trembled and remained silent. He crushed her onto the table and attacked her again; this time he faced her. After he ejaculated the second time, he collapsed in a chair and closed his eyes. Marta realized this might be the only chance to escape.  She dragged her violated body into the backroom. She stumbled into a shelf of bottles, and the crash of glass woke him. He rushed toward the sound and caught her just before she got to the door. He grabbed her and forced her back into the bar. He had once again regained an erection. He threw her down onto the cold tiled floor and dropped on top of her. He attacked her even more violently than before; Her skin tore as his animal groans made her choke on her vomit.

Marta slipped into unconsciousness. Franz removed himself from her body, stood, and sneered at her. “Never again will you be superior to me! You bitch! No one humiliates Franz Reinhart.” He spat. “You can thank me, frauline. At least you experienced a real man before you die!”

The last thing Marta remembered was the sound of the small bell above the front door tinkling as he left.

*****

When she regained consciousness, the darkness shrouded the bar. Marta struggled to get to her feet, but her broken body didn’t cooperate with her wishes. She lapsed into unconsciousness again. The street lights lit the front of the bar when she woke again. Her head throbbed. A sharp pain pierced her chest when she took a breath. She tasted her own blood from a gash on her lower lip. She couldn’t open her right eye. She crawled to retrieve her torn, dirty clothing. Getting dressed took over an hour. She used a bar towel to wrap her head and to hide her battered face. She limped to the trolley stop, willing herself not to pass out before boarding the vehicle.

She exited the trolley at her usual stop and stumbled in the direction of her flat. She opened the door and collapsed on the stairs. She broke down and sobbed. She cried in a weak voice, “Emma. Emma. Please help me!”

Emma poked her head out of their apartment to find a woman lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh my god!” She rushed down not wanting to believe the woman could be Marta. “Marta! My darling! Whatever happened?”

Marta gazed at Emma with pleading eyes. She wept from the bottom of her soul sounding much like a dying animal.

Marta leaned heavily on Emma to travel up the stairs. She removed the towel from around her head and gasped when she revealed Marta’s battered face.

Anger rose in Emma’s chest.  “Who did this to you?”

Marta eyes went blank. She trembled unable to speak.

Emma laid Marta in their bed and stripped off her tattered clothes. Her bruises came alive throughout her entire body.  Emma cried as she cleansed Marta’s wounds. She redressed Marta in a soft cotton nightgown and covered her with a warm blanket. “I will be here for you, my darling. Do not worry. No one will ever touch you again.” Emma never told Marta she bought a gun and kept it in the night table beside her bed.

Marta’s sobs turned to whimpers like a puppy on his first night away from his litter mates. She fell asleep and Emma’s heart broke as tears rolled down her cheeks imaging what Marta had endured. “I love you, Marta. You are safe.” Emma whispered.

After several hours of vigilance beside Marta’s bed, Emma slipped into the kitchen. She made a cup of tea and tried to quell the rage overtaking her. She had toyed with the idea of volunteering for the French Resistance movement for a long time, and Marta’s attack made her decision clear. She would serve the resistance in any capacity.

 

Curiosity Results in Life-Long Learning

curiosityPeter Mallet’s blog is one of my favorite blogs. He’s dedicated his blog to giving other writers very good advice. He also offers a variety of links to other helps a writer can use. While I was reading his post this morning, I came across these words:

“The best writers are curious. I think the addition to that rule should be, “Always strive to know more than you do at any given moment.” Never stop learning.”

In those two sentences, Peter summed me up. I think this is why I chose to write historical fiction. First, I was curious about the time period of my parents, and second, I constantly love to learn things I didn’t know.

Right now, I’m researching women  pilots of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Most people have heard about Amelia Earhart, but have you heard about Jackie Cochran? Did you know that British women and American women pilots provided a valuable service of ferrying planes from the factories to the airfields, so men could devote their time to combat flying? Did you know there were women who actually flew in combat? I didn’t either until I started researching.

I believe my natural curiosity drove my mother nuts because she felt, as my parent, she needed to know everything instead of saying, “I don’t know, let’s go find out together,” she made something up. That technique worked until I got old enough to prove her wrong. From then on, I never asked her questions any more. Instead, I headed for my neighbor’s encyclopedias.

When my children came along, I thought the best thing I could do for them was cultivate their curiosity. As we drove along in the car, I’d say something like, “I wonder why that tree grew so crooked.”  As we walked through a park, I’d ask, “I wonder what kind of flower that is.” Then we would go home and look up the answer. I wanted my girls to be aware of the world around them, and I wanted them to grow up asking their own questions.

One of the things which concerns me is the lack of curiosity I’ve seen in today’s young people. I would be happy if they had questions and satisfied them quickly by searching the Internet. They have this powerful tool as close as their “smart” phones, but they are more apt to text their friends and wonder, “Whatssup?”

We live in a world where if you stop learning and asking “Why?”, you may as well lay down and die. When I see this kind of attitude in my students, I worry about their futures as well as that of our country. Curiosity is cultivated by parents and teachers. We need to ask our children, “What do you think?” Light their fire. Make them think. Get them excited about the world around them.

Student Teachers

Tormented writerEarlier in the year, I gave my class a Mastery Test to see what areas they need the most help. After careful consideration, I decided to give them all a taste of their own student medicine and make them the teachers of one of the sections.

At first they were all okay with the idea, after all, how hard could teaching be? All a person had to do was stand in front of the class for a few minutes and write on the board. The class was divided into four groups and given class time to plan their approach to teaching their subject.

Last night was guinea pig night. The first group was up. I sat in the back of the room and tried to help them get through the embarrassment of teaching something they really didn’t take the time to understand; consequently, they totally confused the rest of the class. There was a lot of blank faces in the “audience” and perplexed faces on the four students trying to impart their lack of knowledge.

I think the experiment was a success. The team learned teaching isn’t as easy as they thought, especially when the class asked me to reinforce the ideas that the team was trying to “teach.” Hopefully, Group #3 who are up next in November will learn from the guinea pigs and do a better job of preparation.

I had hoped having the students “teach” would make them at least look at the book and try to understand the material. I’m really concerned that so many of the young students really don’t seem to give a rip about anything. Every class, I try to get them excited about the world around them, but there seems to be no curiosity.

I feel sorry for them that they don’t seem to find joy in learning new things. I understand basic grammar and sentence structure  is boring, but with creative assignments like having a chance to teach the class and have the ability to do it the way they chose would get their juices flowing. Instead, they crawled through the chapter and didn’t present anything fun or stimulating.

Oh well, we’ll see what the other groups do as the dog days of the semester crawl on. Hopefully, we’ll find one teacher in the masses. I hope the profession isn’t a lost art.

The First of Many Days

bookwormWe’ve turned over a page of the calendar over the weekend, bringing us to September–my favorite month of the year. The weather is warm, but not hot, the mums start blooming, and school starts again.

For the past three summers, I have taught writing part-time at the community college, which was followed by a two-week hiatus before the next semester began. Tomorrow I will meet a new crop of recruits. A new chance to inspire a another group to learn the basics of English grammar and writing.

Even though I’ve taught this same class a half dozen times, each first day of school is filled with apprehension for me. Will I have chemistry with my students, or will they stare at me with glassed-over eyes? Will they see me as a vibrant teacher or some old babe who is making them sit for two hours to plow through the dry subjects of parts of speech. Will the new things I have planned flop or fly? Will I get lucky and impress upon a few students that writing is a fun, creative outlet or will I have to fail over half of them for lack of interest? I ask myself the same questions every time I step in front of a new class.

I’m just happy that we are introduced to each other at such a pleasant time of the year. For some reason, the Fall Semester signals a time to let the fun of summer go and begin work again. It’s been ingrained in us since we were five and toddled off to kindergarten. I only hope my adults students will carry that same excitement I remember when I went back to school every Fall. It would make everything so much easier for all of us.

Epilogue and Prologue of a New School Session

downloadThe unofficial end to summer is only days away, but the weather is protesting this premature ending. It will be close to 90 again today. For a northerner, this is not exactly the climate we signed up for. So, while many other people prepare their last hurrahs for the end of summer, I will be home in the air conditioning preparing my syllabus and waiting for my letter of employment to be sent to my “in” box.

The college “powers that be” decided they would jump into the 21st century and use the internet to broadcast this most important document to all adjunct teachers. The document was supposed to come yesterday, but if I know technology, it will probably show up sometime next week. The delay will be caused by unexpected bugs and the necessary training the administration staff needs to complete their end of this process. It should go smoothly–in a couple of years, that is.

Why is it everything that is supposed to make your life easier never really does? It’s been my experience that such changes are painful at first. It seems no one has the empirical knowledge to take into account all of the variables that need to be considered and then compensate for them. It isn’t until the program crashes a few times before the pesty computer gremlins are rooted out before the programmers get the results everyone is expecting. In the meantime, everyone sweats the deadline and fears they won’t get paid because of some computer glitch.

Last Saturday all adjunct teachers attended an “In Service” training session to get the latest greatest news and developments on campus. This automated LOE (letter of employment) was one of the things presented to us. When the IT guru said the service wasn’t quite ready, I groaned. You see, I’ve worked with technology people for years in web development, and I learned the nuances of the trade. If I had been in charge of this project, I would have had a stack of paper LOEs in the wings for back-up. Everyone would sign their John Hancock’s on the paper in case the automated system fell on its butt. Yeah. But that’s just me.

So, over the weekend, I will be preparing my lesson plans, syllabus, and other new things I want to try in my class this fall, while the computer gods make the technology folks nuts with their tricks. We’ll just have to wait and see who wins the battle.

Putting Writing & Work Together

writingHave you ever noticed students don’t seem to think “work” and “writing” belong together? They believe they can sit down with pencil and paper, or with their hands on the keyboard in front of a computer screen and turn out a work of art–the first try.

Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to explain to them that writing is not unlike a sculpturer who chips and chisels away at a granite stone until he reveals the shape he desires. Writing can also be compared to a painter who has a blank canvas and slaps on shade after shade of pigment until his or her painting comes alive. It’s the same with writing. It’s hard work. It’s a process.

Today I’m giving a practice exam so when my students take their final, they won’t freak out. Test anxiety seems to be high in my class. I have more confidence in them than they have in themselves. One problem is, they over-think their answers.

Since the first day of class,16 out of 20 students have diligently dragged themselves out of bed to attend class, and I showed them they have actually learned something. I proved to them they have grasped spotting grammatical errors with a proof reading exercise we did in class on Monday.

My goal is to inspire them so they can go on and be successful. I also want them to find that inner creative streak. Their creativity might not show up in the arts–it might raise its beautiful head in accounting, computer science, horticulture or even mechanics. I’ve given them permission (some people also seem to need this) to think creatively to ask “why?”

So as our class draws to an end, if they aren’t yet in touch with their inner two-year old, then perhaps more than half of them will pass the final.

Raising the Curiosity Quotient

bookwormAs we turn the page of the calendar to August, again all thoughts turn to school supplies—or so the ads on television make us want to believe. I swear you don’t even need a calendar any more because you can gauge the time of the year by what ads you endure on the “tube.”

I find it ironic these ads appear when my writing class is winding down. We have this upcoming week of classes and then a final the next week. On the 19th of August, my students will know if the work they did with me is worthy of passing onto the next class or whether they will have to repeat the course with a different instructor.

In three more weeks, the Fall semester will begin. I’m assigned to teach the same prep writing class, but at a campus ten minutes from my home, which will make any impending winter weather no threat. The educational cycle will repeat. Some students will excel, others will not. Some students will be inspired; others will sit like lumps waiting for me to pour the necessary information into their heads with little effort on their part. And like my class now, some will pass and others will not. And so it goes.

After teaching for two years, I have learned a lot. One thing is the curiosity level of most student is almost non-existent. If I can influence one thing in their lives, this would be it. I’d like to get them to wonder about the world around them and ask why are things the way they are, and what can they do to change them.  Most young people I’ve met seem to have no zest to learn or to ask questions about matters that affect them. Has their world made them so apathetic and discouraged at such a young age?

So as this semester ends and the next begins, I will spend the following sixteen weeks to try to turn on some little part of my students to show them learning is fun. I will try to open their eyes to see education is the key to unlock the doors of the future.  It’s a tough job, but I’m up for the task. My hope is at least one young mind will be switched on to have the curiosity toask “why,”  the persistence to get an answer, and the courage to fix what is broken,

Mondays and Antecedents

Garfield and MondayWell it was Monday again. As usual, I put off grading papers until the eleventh hour last night, so I had to get up early this morning to finish the job and post the grades on the school “blackboard” before I left to teach my nine o’clock class.

In the beginning of the semester, I put off grading papers because  the plethora of grammar and misspelling mistakes fill me with pain and show me how much work I have to do. By now, though, I am pleased to report most students have advanced leaps and bounds, and I enjoy hearing their stories. Why I procrastinate at this time of the semester, well, I don’t get it. I guess it’s just a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

Truly, I love this time of the semester with my folks. By now, I’m left with the people who really want to learn, and we’ve reached a level of trust. Today, we covered the different elements of pronouns. As I went through the text and stood in front of the room, I spied several heads looking at the test. Oh, no. Classroom, we have a problem!  I recognized some of the grammatical terms were perplexing them. OK, grammar has terms–after all, we have to call a part of speech by a specific term, otherwise we couldn’t communicate when we dissect sentences. A term like “Antecedent” threw them for a loop.

So, I shut the door and said in a quiet voice, “I want you all to know that this room is a safe place. If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to think less of you if you tell me you don’t understand. You are letting me know that I need to try again to help you turn on that little light in your head. If you’re having trouble, don’t you think someone else might be having the same problem? By asking a question, you’re helping your classmates and you’re helping me be a better teacher. And as long as I’m your instructor, I will do my best to help you learn.”  Everybody took a collective sigh of relief. It was like I recognized a huge elephant in the back of the room and had the audacity to talk about it.

Finally, a hand went up and the student said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t get this.” Then another student said, “I was having trouble, too.” We all laughed together and took another swing at antecedents. I felt confident when they walked out the door today of two things. One, I don’t think anyone will be afraid to ask a question going forward, and two, I had slayed the antecedent mystery.

It was a good day, wouldn’t you say?

Building Vocabulary, Word by Word

colorful libraryDon’t you just love how things in this world all work together? We have to separate knowledge into different departments in school to make subjects manageable, but if you’re smart enough and take enough classes, you’ll realize that what you learn in a film class affects literature and what you study in an English lit class is mirrored in history. So on and so on.

With that in mind, yesterday, in my writing class I gave a different kind of spelling test. It wasn’t a “normal” spelling test–a list of words to memorize or even better, to sound out to help them increase their vocabularies and make them cognizant of tricky spellings.   The words came from an assigned reading about a day in the life of an ER nurse. At the bottom of the pages in the reading, the unusual words and their meanings were pulled from the text and defined. All the class had to do was read the lesson and pay attention to the footnotes.

Yesterday, the test was given. SURPRISE, SURPRISE! All but one student failed. I proved my point.

This demonstration showed them that reading and writing work together in many different ways, and one of the most important ways is to expand one’s vocabulary. I asked them what they did when they came across a word they didn’t understand. One student said, “Look it up,” of course this is the apple-polisher in the group. Another honest student said, “Skip it and go on.”

Now granted, in common vernacular we don’t use words like cacophony, bane, or palpable too often, but in order to get the most out of the reading a person can just stumble over such words and go on. Their first instinct should have been to head for the nearest dictionary. If they had taken the time to look up the word, their memories would file away another tool in their word arsenal to use later on. They would have accomplished a goal and increased their vocabularies by one more word. My students are adults, but somewhere along the line, they haven’t been taught such a wise idea, or they have become apathetic and don’t care. In either case, they are cheating themselves from growing.

Once again, I attempted to throw another plate of imaginative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. In this case, I can only hope some of my class will learn from my little practical demonstration. After all, it would be nice to know one other person who knows what cacophony means.

P. S. I didn’t grade the test.

Fallout From “Freshly Pressed”

festival_of_books1Since I was “Freshly Pressed” a week ago, so much has happened. It’s thrilling to receive such a terrific honor, but the best part has been all the great teachers and students who have responded to the post with their own experiences. One fellow adjunct instructor wrote a brilliant line I want to share with you. Listen to this: Education is about exploration, not memorization. I love it!

How true it is. Memorizing something is only good for something specific. I’ m thankful I learned the “Times Tables” in third grade, and I still remember being so proud when I got to the “9’s” — little did I realize I already knew all the “9 times 1 through 9.” Dah. But at the time, it was a proud accomplishment which I use to this day.

I also memorized the little jingle about the months of the year. “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, except February with 28 in leap year when you add one.”  I’m sure you can conjure up some little ditties you learned  helped you remember things you didn’t have to think about often.

We also had to memorize battle dates of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. How boring. That information stayed in my head just long enough to ace the test and then it was gone!

Wouldn’t have been wonderful to have learned history through the experiences of the people who lived it. Like a teacher who came into class one day dressed like a frontiersman or a woman with a spinning wheel and a butter churn? I would have loved history if I had a teacher who would have taught the subject by turning us on to how people lived. Wouldn’t have been a hoot to have a Confederate or Union soldier show up one day and argue their different points of view. What would it have been like to try a hard-tack cracker, which was the food the soldiers carried with them when nothing else was available? Or how about hearing from a person who brought a picnic lunch to watch a battle unfold in front of them like entertainment. Let them tell you about how they ran away when the reality of the noise of the cannons shook the earth and made huge holes in the ground and mud flew into the air. Let them tell of the cries of the wounded and the screams of amputations without anesthesia.

Assignments could also be so creative. How about writing a journal from one of the drummer boys’ or junior officers’ perspectives? Assignments like this would spur students into the libraries to read about such accounts and fire up their imaginations to think about life in a different time period that proved to be so integral to who Americans nowadays.

Learning has become lazy for so many students, but sometimes I think teaching has become so, too, not because teachers don’t want to teach but because so much of their time is wasted on administration or it is taken up with discipline issue which should begin handled at home Teachers in my day were respected  and if you got into trouble at school, you would pay the consequences at home.

I have lots of ideas, but no real authority or even education to make such changes come about. I just know what kinds of things would send me to the library to know more. I’m simply a person who never thought she wanted to teach, but discovered how much I loved being in front of a class to encourage blank faces into inquisitive minds who want to know more. What a quest!