Poem in Your Pocket

ReadingthuRsday-R2I like to purchase at least one book when I travel. I came across Poem in Your Pocket (2009, edited by Elaine Bleakney, published by Abrams Image: New York) while I was in Asheville, North Carolina. Poem in Your Pocket caught my attention because the format allows for each page to be torn out of the book and stuffed in a pocket or in a purse or in backpack or in, well, anything. Two hundred poems are ready for carrying and reading. This little handy book has several sections, and the titles sound like poems themselves: “Love and Rockets,” “Dwellings,” “Eating and Drinking, Friends and Ghosts,” “Myself I Speak and Spell,” “Sonic Youth, City My City,”  and “Spring and After.”poempocket

I particularly like the poems “The Old Man on the Motorcycle” that declares the feeling of freedom as one man goes down backroads reliving his youth, and “Grown-up” that laments all the work it took to get to the stage in life where one feels the need to go to bed early. Alas, I believe my age is speaking. However, there are poems for every age, every emotion, and every seeker.

“The Hungarian Pastry Shop and Café” reminds me of working on my dissertation, and it reminds me of all the coffee shops many souls flock to for refreshment and words. The description is so wonderful, I can see all the folks writing and creating; I can almost smell the sugar with a hint of coffee.

pastryshopI could not bring myself to tear the poems out and stuff them in my pocket, my purse, or my backpack. Alas, again, I think it is my age. I am very happy just flipping through the book and picking out a poem to carry me through the day.
U. S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, in her introductory comments, talks about the “murmured conversation between the poem and the reader.” Two hundred poems can lead to a lot of conversations either with oneself or with some other lucky soul.

Mr. De Niro Teaches Soft Skills

Building SkillsIf you haven’t yet seen the film The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, stop reading right now and go buy a ticket. This one is a must-see for anyone old enough and fortunate enough to be teaching at a community college. Spoilers are about to follow in this post, so keep reading only if you don’t mind having your cinematic experience tainted by my efforts.

The Intern recounts the experiences of 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (De Niro), who accepts a “senior internship” with an e-commerce company run by Jules (Anne Hathaway). The story is a feel-good movie in the best possible way. It walks the tightrope between heart-warming and saccharine, between thought-provoking and moralizing, between farce and melodrama. The characters are fully developed and superbly cast.

As the story unfolded, the “soft skills” celebrated in Beth Mann’s recent presentation to our faculty kept springing to mind. Ben learns from his younger colleagues even as he teaches them a thing or two…or twelve…about how to be a good employee and a decent human being.  Ben clearly understands:

  • The importance of being on time. He sets not one but two alarm clocks each night before retiring.
  • That clothes make the employee. Ben wears a suit in spite of the company’s casual dress code, noting that, “I’m comfortable in a suit.” The_Intern_Poster-Robert-De-Niro-Anne-Hathaway
  • That you can learn something from everyone. He graciously accepts tutorials on tech skills from his savvier coworkers.
  • That helping others trumps sitting around. He offers to help with mundane tasks and comes in early to tackle jobs to make his boss’s life easier.
  • That explosive issues require prompt but thoughtful solutions. (I won’t ruin those parts for you.)
  • The importance of showcasing the talents and accomplishments of others.

You will probably find enough examples in The Intern to fill a blog post of your own. In fact, why don’t you see it and then send me your thoughts? I promise to publish and give you the glory…because that’s what Ben would do.

Blue Tuesday Week #7

Brian picIt was Tuesday morning and time to check email assignments due Monday night. Only half of the students had submitted the assignment. I can’t remember that happening in a class. Let’s see: this was not a new and different assignment. In fact, it mirrored an assignment the class had two weeks ago in a previous unit. All that differed this time was the topic.confused-face

It is week seven of an eight week term. My officemates, Anne and Karen have felt the stress (or shall we say the student stresses) of week seven. So many expectations are on the line, and at times, with unrealistic hopes by students not keeping pace or not digging into the material with enough depth. Still, this did not add up. Even a few of my stellar students had not sent an assignment, or had sent a puny one.

facepalm-polarbearClass began. There seemed no reason not to extend a grace period. After all, when even good students are lagging, it is good to take note and make an adjustment. Things went well in class, but it was surprising how sweet the atmosphere was, yet it was one of unexpected trudging for some of the students. Clearly, everyone felt relaxed, but this was not a sharp operation. You would have thought coffee had been postponed too long that morning. This was Tuesday, not Monday.

Work progressed, and it was obvious that the extension had brought a measure of good cheer and a steady trickle of students asking questions while the class worked away at their computers. I mused over this odd phenomenon.

Class ended, and not even with vexation or undue frustration among students, even though some needed me to extend the extension. And why not? I’d rather get an assignment that is complete and later than hoped for, than get a partial that is still muddled. I wondered for a moment, “Is this too much grace?” That idea got dismissed in the better interest of more learning and less panic. Yes, it is week seven, and a week of tired mothers and employees, as well as other classes, illness, and stress over trying to wedge more life into a day than a day will rightly tolerate.tiredstudent

Leaving class, I headed down the hallway, and the flash came. I knew what had happened—why this weird occurrence. The lunar eclipse had been Sunday night. That’s it. Students were experiencing lunar eclipse hangover. I’m not prepared to defend this thesis scientifically. I am prepared to defend this thesis sci-fi-istically.  That gives me pleasure, even if my speculation is wrong. After all, certain thoughts are fun to entertain despite not being facts, or a basis for any rational decisions. Trouble only comes when truth and fiction are not discerned.

Flash in the Mind

ReadingthuRsday-R2“No one can possibly tell what tiny detail of a drawing or what seemingly trivial phrase in a story will be the spark that sets off a great flash in the mind of some child, a flash that will leave a glow there until the day he dies.” Robert Lawson (author and artist)

I re-discovered this quote as I was thumbing through one of my favorite go-to books for inspiration, The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 49th Anniversary (2005, Dutton Publishing). Reading is Fundamental is the nation’s largest non-profit literary organization. RIF’s mission is to put “books into the hands of children.” As part of the 40th Anniversary, 40 illustrators were asked to “re-imagine a book from their childhood.” The result is a delight. Illustrators share an essay about their inspirational childhood book along with an original illustration. The book is beautiful and memorable.The-Art-of-Reading-9780525474845

One of my favorite essays and illustrations is from Patricia Polacco writing about Horton Hatches the Egg. Her drawing is a young girl sitting on a sofa reading a book. We are looking at the reader from behind, so we can see Horton in the book’s illustration. Sitting right beside the girl with his head turned ever so slightly, as to give us the hint he is paying attention, is Horton listening. Polacco shares her difficulties with learning to read, and she shares how Horton inspired her creativity and childhood mischief. More importantly, Polacco explains that reading about how Horton carefully cares for the egg, she learned about faith. Horton does not doubt; Horton does what it takes to hatch the egg.

HortonJust as Horton inspired Polacco, many writers and illustrators of children’s books have blazed the path for reading for endless children. I always say “the right book in the right hand at the right time” makes all the difference for engaging readers. This Anniversary edition in my hand at any time is just the inspiration I need to continue on the quest of helping young readers, adolescent readers and adult readers find their special books.

Brad and the Raccoon

Brian picMy in-laws used to go camping two weeks in the summer at a spot on Kentucky Lake only accessible by boat but a five minute cruise from the marina. This was a big family event and meant living in tents, water sports, and camp fires. Sometimes at night, my brother-in-law, Brad, a creative teenager, would wait until the camp fire was going well and dark had settled in all around.

He would slip off away from the fire into the dark and sit quietly, waiting. This was a calculated wait and a game, for he took a small bite of food and held it gently between the tips of his thumb and first finger while shining a tad of light on the food with a small flashlight in his other hand.bestcoon

Soon there’d be a rustling, and a raccoon would appear 10-15 feet from Brad. The raccoon would cautiously, with stops and starts, make its way toward the pinch of food. Finally, it would be right there, and our delight was watching it pluck the bite with its mouth and take off. To get the best view meant being off in the dark ourselves and very still as the whole thing unfolded.

lightbookAn occasional student can be like a raccoon. The student finds it too fearful to approach in the light for a bite of academic nutrient. The teacher is positioned too openly in front of a group where the group appears to know what it is doing. Further, the teacher is too conspicuous and too much the point. Only when the bite of academic nutrient is isolated in view by means of a small light shining upon it, will the student slowly go for the bite. Then it is just the student and that desirable bite.

The student may only later know the skill of the teacher and the plan employed. That is not the point for the teacher. The teacher is fascinated with the raccoon’s eating habits and wants the raccoon to retain the best of its habitat while interacting with a new one.

Ending on an Up Note: Yogisms

200px-Yogi_Berra_1956The great Yogi Berra left for the clubhouse in the sky this week, leaving a legacy of chuckles as we remember his signature malapropisms. Many of his memorable quotes offer a generous helping of truth and wisdom. Educators might agree with these two:

You can observe a lot by watching.

There are some people who, if they don’t already know, you just can’t tell ’em.

Well said.  Wait…one more for my math friends:

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.

Enjoy your weekend.