Thursday, April 30, 2015

And It Is That Time of the Semester When It Is Impossible to See The Light. There Is Only One Thing To Say #WalkMyWorl

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cracking Up, When I Could Have Just Cracked. Car Rentals and A Surprise In The Back Seat.

I've been driving a rental this week while Kermit is getting its ice-created indentation repaired (by the way, the color of my Subaru is called "Hulk"). Insurance covers 80% car rental at Hertz so I was put into a Kia Soul - the vehicle the hamsters drive during Super Bowl commercials. Although I never liked the first renditions of the car, the 2015 version is rather sharp. And, I admit, it drives rather awesome. The interior is slick and it handles I-95 very well.

When I got the car, they said I was the second driver, as the previous rental came in from New Jersey. The backseats were down and yesterday, when I lifted the seats to put in my computer bag, I realized they didn't thoroughly clean after the last customer. No, it's not a severed body part like car rental places sometimes found, but the target practice left behind did alarm me a bit. The writer in me was like, "Hmmm. Who had this car before me? Were they at a Target range before some malign murder? Have I been watching too much Empire and Scandal?"

But then I got to thinking about how inappropriate it is to find such an artifact in a car rental and thought about the fact that I could be a PTSD individual and/or had some extreme political view of guns in America. Violence in our nation is absurd, and so finding such a bullet-print in a car rental is a bit disturbing. I'm trying to figure out how to handle this with Hertz. It is poor customer relations on their part.

What if I took it as a threat? Why was the target practice taped to the cushions of the back seat? How did the Hertz agents miss this when cleaning the vehicle after the last customer? Should I return it so they can send it back to the previous renter?

I'm not sure if I was cracking up thinking about it or I was cracking apart in paranoia. Ten bullet holes. Nice way to start out the morning, especially in the chaotic sprint to finish a semester.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reflecting on Hurdles and Bureaucracies...End of the Year Angst. Wait! Are We At The DMV? #WalkMyWorld

Blue pens.

They were instructed, "Bring blue pens."

Last night, 45+ student teachers worked with a certification officer in the state of Connecticut to fill out forms (forms with names like 104.B and 104.BC). But they needed to have blue pens.

"Put your name in the line here."
"You will need an official transcript sent here."
"Oh, that will need a signature of this or that person here."
"Yes, you will need to pay $120 or so to be initially certified. Yes, you will need to have Praxis scores."

Joy. It all comes at the end of the semester, after 12 weeks of getting their heads around the impossibility (and joy) of working in America's elementary, middle and high schools, and it is at the exact time when assessing student work assignments are due and the time has come to create their professional portfolios.

Gasp. Panic. Paranoia. Meltdowns.

It's that time of year.

I remember all the fret and fury of where they are when I went through the process in 1996. A student teacher pays to work 80 hours a week and to get credit for their teaching. They are in debt to their programs, working on resumes and cover letters, hoping to get a job, when WHAM! the blue pens come at them.

"No, I cannot accept your application because you used a black pen. The directions say, USE A BLUE PEN. You can only use a Blue pen."

The only way I can assist the understanding they have of the process is to think about the licensing as a visit to the DMV. When it comes to state agencies and formalities, there's no easy way to get through. Patience is helpful, but even then the process is overwhelming and stressful. It is what every individual in the United States must go through to move through the steps.

I am thinking Ministry of Magic here. This is Umbridge's world and without a sense of humor - think George and Fred Weasley - it is not a fun experience.

New for me, however, is being at the other end of helping newbies navigate the strenuous process of doing the work to move forward at a time when they are simply fried and exhausted. My response was, "I'm not sure if there's any way to do this better. It is what it always is."

I shared the story of how my seniors often went into a tizzy after February when they had the eyes on the graduation prize, but they still had to submit state writing portfolios and finish their senior research and projects. They wanted to lead a coup against me, but I would say that the work was required for them to graduate. They hated "the man" and I allowed one day a year to make giant spit wads to throw at a stick figure man on a blackboard in my room. Of course, in Kentucky, those who held high positions monitoring the expectations were all women, but we still chucked frustration at the man.

My students last night laughed at the gimmick and I think they understood that it is what it is because this is the way that is always is. My doctoral advisor, too, once talked me off the ledge with a similar pep and prep rally. "What did you tell your students in Kentucky when they resisted the expectations?" I shared my story and she said, "Well, this is the same for you. You will get through it and so will they.

They've come way too far not to.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Struggle of End-of-the-Semester Realities and the Desire to Celebrate The Kentucky Derby

It's Monday morning and the semester is off! Actually, it began four months ago with a few snow storms, cancelled classes, and a lot of catching up. Now, the final lap of the semester, everything is very hectic, spastic, frightening, and overwhelming.

(this, too, shall pass, he tells himself)

And I am thinking about life in Kentucky and the fact that everything slows down for the Derby celebration, including Friday off for the Oaks and all-day parties on Saturday. That's what I want for myself in the new Stratford home. Yet, I have multiple assignments coming in this week that need a quick turn-around with feedback and numerous school engagements during the day. This is, of course, to all the meetings scheduled to finalize university work for the semester. Oh, and I'll be without the car (getting the ice-dent fixed from the winter from hell).

But I am thinking about Derby. And I will keep my eye on the weather. If it looks to be nice, I can't imagine not opening my home for a barbecue and two-minute race. I like to bet.  I like to watch. I like mint-juleps, and I want an opportunity to be silly.

Yet, I hate being stressed and know a post-Henry the Hernia housewarming Derby party might put me over the edge.

That is why I'm simply saying, "Gosh, darn it. We will see." The next six days will be what they are and perhaps I will have it in me to host a Cran-stable gala.

(insert trumpets here)

and breathe.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sesame Street for Adults, Avenue Q: A Theatrical Performance at the U

After a Saturday in the office preparing for the summer and interviewing teachers for the July institute, I met up with friends to see Fairfield University's student production of Avenue Q. For many years, I've heard of the musical and I jumped at the chance to see it live.

The singing and harmonizing was great. The story line was corny, as I expected, and my only critiques were I was exhausted, and sadly the production was indicative of the campus. It lacked in diversity and, as a result, the racial overtones were a bit awkward....odd seeing a tall white male playing Gary Coleman (I couldn't help thinking that this is one of the campus's major faux pas). The musical was great and I enjoyed the talents off all the students, but I couldn't help but think it would have been better if the cast represented the pastiche it was intended to be.

Still, I got many laugh from the show and it was nice to unwind to a well-done rendition of the play. The kids did a great job and I was impressed by the talent. I just can't help wearing my critical lens hat, especially knowing that diversity abounds in southern Connecticut - just not as much with the undergraduate population. There's definitely more cultural sensitivity needed and even if "everyone's a racist," as one song presented, the humor was lost (and somewhat offensive) given the fact that the audience and  performers all looked exactly like me. But, as Brian in the production sang, "It sucks to be me."


Saturday, April 25, 2015

And Just When I Thought My Distractions Were Peaking, Dubsmash Arrives #WalkMyWorld


video

And so my niece and sister send me a video yesterday in the middle of the day (and while interviewing teachers for the Invitational Summer Institute). Actually, my cellphone was exploding with messages and I thought something was wrong. Nope. They found Dubsmash and thought I'd enjoy.

Um, well. Yeah. But now I have a totally new toy to distract me from my end-of-the-semester stress and chaos. How am I supposed to get anything done when there's foolishness and humor to be had.

Damn technology. I can't win. So, I will let it defeat me on this Saturday.
video






Friday, April 24, 2015

What Did I Want To Be When I Grew Up? Duh! Oprah Winfrey, No Brainer. #WalkMyWorld

Yesterday, I was invited to be a Keynote speaker at the Central High School career day in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I opened the panel of professionals: Senator Ed Gomes, CT Attorney General - George Jespen, and other prestigious leaders throughout the state.

I thought to myself, "Really. You want me to open this panel with the journey of Bryan Ripley Crandall and the work I do now as the Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield?"

They did. And I told them my first job was making hotdogs. My second job was selling toys. My third job was working commission off of women's shoes, and eventually I learned I wasn't going to become Oprah Winfrey. She was the goal. I wanted my own talk show.

But, through my conversation about my jobs (how many of you had to make liquid lasagna by running food and water through a food processor so old people without teeth could slurp it up with a straw?), I also discussed my education and my real passion - empowering urban youth and their teachers by providing more authentic opportunities for them in schools.

Really, I got to channel my inner-Oprah and actually became the icon I wanted to be when I grew up. Corny. Yes. Crandall. Totally. Want to know what the top ten terrible jobs really are?

  • Guard at Buckingham Palace 
  • Portable toile cleaner
  • Road Kill Remover
  • Flatus Odor Judge
  • Brazil Mosquito Researcher
  • Manure Inspector
  • Cat Food Quality Taster
  • Crime Scene Cleaner
  • Taxi Driver
  • Sewer Cleaner

I'm sure there are even worse...and as for my advice to the 100+ kids in attendance? That was easy, although not terribly profound: (1) Whistle while you work, but work! School is your job right now, (2) If you can't find a job, volunteer, (3) Find what you love, and love doing it, (4) Believe in UBUNTU, (4) Find mentors, (5) Be involved, be present, and just do YOU - be careful of who you laugh at on the way up; they will laugh at you on the way down, (6) Read, and (7) Empty the ocean with a  ford (It's all you'll ever have and you need to find a sense of humor with it). I'm sure this would change if I was to recreate another list.  Crazy to know anyone would want to hear my advice on having a career. With that noted, I did love a quote I saw on the walls: The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do. And with that, it's Friday.                                      


Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Collection of Thoughts - Getting Advice on Education in the Nation As It Is Right Now #WalkMyWorld

Every year, my colleagues pull together a team of administrators, community partners, teachers, and supporters to ask, "So, what do we need to know about K-12 schools right now so we can better prepare our student teachers and assist your efforts with professional development?" I always think it is good to post what they have to say on my blogs, simply so I can go back to them each year and reflect on them. Here's the list of items on their mind in 2015:

Ø  2 million dollar budget cuts. Positions will not be filled (part-time workers are being brought in)
Ø  Students are coming to school with greater needs – teachers can’t even get to the academic issues. There are tremendous mental health problems needing to be addressed.
Ø  The economic needs of students are growing (Teachers supply students with materials costing them $1000 each out of their own pockets).
Ø  Schools are spending money on new curriculum and then it changes every year – 7 changes in 9 years. Evaluations are locked into new formulas. It's a waste of money.
Ø  Never seen teachers so stressed in 25 years of teaching – it is the worst panic in history (turnover in upper administration exacerbates the ‘state of fear’). Everyone arrives with new ideas – Stop! Turn Left! Stop! Turn Right! It's too much on teachers as professionals.
Ø  New teachers: Veteran teachers feel bad. The classes are very difficult to manage as the social behavior of student populations concerns grow – the need to marry in counselors and guidance…teachers can’t teach without mental support.
Ø  Kids need love, but the pushback is not to give it to them.
Ø  High School is experiencing students with English Language issues and also PTSD. Issues with SLIFEs (and no funding to match it)
Ø  The socio-emotional needs arriving to schools are hard to believe, “You can’t make this up.” – Occasionally a triumph is experienced (and it requires parent buy-in)
Ø  The state tests take more and more time every year. At this point, the salaries of teachers is spend on administrating tests and not instructing students. What can be measured if teachers never have time to teach?
Ø  Murmuring of students resisting the SBAC  – talk of opting out.
Ø  New evaluations and rubrics of teachers are mammoth…keeping track of the data is an added stress of the job, as the numbers that need to be entered are labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Ø  paper/pencil testing works better than the technology testing because the technology always has too many bugs.
Ø  A lot of wonder right now about why anyone would enter the field.
Ø  There is a tremendous need for optimism and positivity - to see light in the darkness.
Ø  New teachers need to be collaborative. There needs to be compassion and strong organizational skills.
Ø  There needs to be strong mentorship of new teachers and a sense of resilience.
Ø  There is a need for stronger classroom management.
Ø  Being a teacher in development is not a bad thing – new teachers are ‘grade conscious’ and get upset that they’re not proficient when evaluations show they need improvement. They need to be able to receive critical feedback. The new teachers grew up in a NCLB culture and the need to be perfect, when there is no such thing.
Ø  Unlikely to get hired fresh out of college without real-world, hands on experience (skills needed to be successful in 21st century classrooms)
Ø  New teachers need to be reflective and humble. They need to go to Master teacher and ask questions. They need to be able to respond to failure.
Ø  Internships open eyes and interns are prepared for the real work of student teaching and teaching. The in-school experience is very beneficial. This needs to continue and expand.
Ø  It is about the students and their learning – it is not about the teacher.
Ø  Teachers need to be there for one another, to have the backs for colleagues. There needs to be gratitude (a few things that you want to celebrate).
Ø  There needs to be a sense of self-awareness, to know how a teacher is perceived by students, parents, and colleagues.
Ø  With professional development, teachers need choices and the opportunity to rotate through workshops during the day. The topics for workshops arrived with teacher input. A one-size-fits-all PD does not work. The PD that is tailored to individual teachers is successful.
Ø  Mini-grants put together PD by teachers in a teachers teaching teachers model is successful. The teachers develop hands-on materials that are useful in the classroom.
Ø  Schools are going paperlesr with an I-Pad theme for all. Teachers are getting Apple TV. How is it hooked up? How does multitasking occur? How do teachers go beyond the fear of the machine?
Ø  There is a need for more exploration of deep thinking with technology and to encourage students to not jump into Google search. Rather, more critical thinking – higher order thinking – about materials. (New Literacies)
Ø  New teachers need to foster good relationships with parents and families – they can’t be intimidated or overwhelmed. They need to be mature in their relationships.
Ø  The technology/media generation needs to learn etiquette for communication with parents: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (it is good to have other adults in meetings with parents).
·      Looking forward to another year of collaboration: Agenda ideas for the fall?
Ø  A Symposium on Being Positive and Supporting One Another
Ø  A Symposium on variations of schooling experiences – working in diverse environments … it needs to be trained.
Ø  A Symposium of Good Things Happening in Education – A Teacher Panel Celebrating Ideas
Ø  A Symposium for New Teachers: Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor
Ø  A New Teacher Series … (but they are inundated with a lot on their plate  - being overwhelmed…asking for help is survival)

Ø  A Symposium about PTSD/Trauma and its affect on classrooms – humanitarian work at the local level.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Poetry. Collaboration. Community. Tapping the Hard Work and Guidance Of An Amazing Student Leader.

For the last few years, Charlotte Pecquex has been working under the mentorship of poet, Carol Ann Davis, and Writing Center Director, Beth Boquet, to reach out into communities of Connecticut through the Newtown Poetry Project, Cathedral Academy, and the Parkway School. With partial support from Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield, their work has mentored hundreds of kids to compose, express, heal, wonder, explore, and create.

The picture to the right was created by Charlotte in her senior year as part of the service-learning she's taken a leadership role with. Last November, I had the honor of co-presenting with their team at the National Council of Teachers of English conference in DC. The audience was favorably impressed - in fact, several educators from Ferguson wondered how they could do similar community work to help young people in their communities.

When the poster was sent to me in celebration of Charlotte's work, I couldn't help but beam with pride. The work of their team has been amazing and I feel honored to have CWP-Fairfield listed as collaborators and supporters of writing projects that make a difference.

Charlotte will be presenting her leadership work at several conferences on campus, showcasing her skill-set, design, maturity, and craft. I am writing today to simply shout out to an amazing student who has found a way to bring her learning at Fairfield University to life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Get By With a Little Words With My Friends. #WalkMyWorld #AdmittingAFlaw #Truth

As a high school student, there was an occasional game of Scrabble with my parents (in which Butch would get mad at Sue and one of them would curse out the other and we never finished a game). In college, I used to play scrabble on dates, judging intellect of the women I met (and resulting in my high school students thinking that playing "Scrabble" was a code word for something else - true story).

In adulthood, I bought a fancy board and loved to pull it out with smart company and an evening of word-competition. Alice, at the time, was a fierce competitor and while playing she also made "Eureka" claims about history, globalization, and the giant puzzle that is life.

In Amagansett, I began playing my Aunt Sue in a ritual during summers: wine, catching up, family, and talk.

Then Words With Friends happened. Once upon a time, the word jousting was a once-a-year excursion that tickled my brain and made me love the luck and strategy that comes with the game. Now, I admit it, I play everyday. I wake up and play. Before I go to bed I play. I play people in Kentucky, New York, Connecticut, and Japan (although my Japanese friends aren't very good with their English words). I have competitors who are evenly matched, those who keep up with me, and one who cleans my socks during every game because I always, ALWAYS, get the crappy letters when I play her. It is infuriating.

Words With Friends is my mental down time...the sipping coffee/sipping wine part of my day where I lose focus on a daily agenda, and simply veg with strategy and a passion for letters and vocabulary.

And I wonder if this is a good thing. I don't want to add up the time I spend playing, because I'm not sure it's the most budgeted way to spend a day, but I have to admit - the game keeps me sane in the hustle and bustle that is life.

But I must admit...I hate when I get i, i, i, i, c, v, i. What are you supposed to do with those?

Monday, April 20, 2015

My First Political Post: Thinking Ahead To The Next Presidential Election. I Vote Education All The Way

Dear Potential President of the United States,

I am writing this Monday morning with first thoughts about the next Presidential election and referencing the video above: Add Tests and Stir - Education Reform in the 21st Century. I've been a teacher for the last twenty years, ten in the classroom and ten in higher education. I've worked in urban, suburban, and rural schools. Although the majority of my time has been spent interacting with public facilities, I've also collaborated and assisted educators in Charter Schools and teachers who work for Teach For America.

I am always for students. I believe in high standards. I believe in literacy. I support choice as an effective practice and I trust differentiation to help a heterogeneous population of youth to achieve amazing things.

I'm not a fan of the test-crazed culture that has overtaken our nation or the post traumatic stress disorder that it is causing public school teachers and students. Many of my teaching champions - individuals I look up to and admire - have contacted me about exhaustion, frustration and a total lack of hope that has been caused by the reforms since No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. Personally, I was a fan of No Child Left Behind because it made my colleagues accountable to every student in our classrooms: (1) we had to contact parents/guardians, (2) we had to demonstrate our flexibility in practice to meet the needs of all kids, (3) we had to hold standards high be high for all kids, and (4) we were forced to be reflective of our work.

The change that occurred, however, has been with assessment. Kentucky's highly celebrated writing portfolio system, for instance, was altered to on demand writing assessments and easier-to-measure multiple choice questions. The pressure to teach to the tests began trumped the college and career readiness that came with having students write in multiple genres. Powers that be began to doubt the portfolio process and, at the Brown School, research and culminating project processes we held in place to raise the bar for all our students were also nay-sayed. Ten years after leaving the classroom,  the portfolios of Kentucky and the expectations for seniors have disappeared, all because the nation moved to a state of fear and the panoptic police state of trickle down, state bureaucracy.

In my experience, all students want to learn and a vast majority of teachers are in schools to teach. The disconnect arrives, however, by mandated curriculum, page-by-page preparation for state assessments, and limited windows into student learning these assessments provide. In short, they've almost ruined the profession for educators and they are harming young people from the potential they truly have inside. I have hope, however, as I continue to read about resistance and opting out trickling across the nation.

I am looking for a President who will restore common sense, sanity, and hope back in American schools. Sadly, President Obama's Hope campaign did just the opposite for public school teachers and students. His policies and Arne Duncan's charge have created a state of Hopelessness in schools across the United States. For these reasons, I am bulleting the following as possible first steps:
  • End the tests. Return assessments back to professionals in each state. Do not necessarily lose the Common Core State Standards, but expand them to allow creativity, history, science, the arts, and extracurriculars so they begin to matter in our national conversations once again.
  • Do not ignore national organizations and their standards. For centuries, like-minded professionals have worked hard to advocate for effective practices - these arrived from teachers who worked in K-12 schools and who have actual experience with children.
  • Lose the corporate dazzle. Yes, they fund campaigns and paint billboards with glittering glory and exaggerated partial truths, but many of the well-financed Charter movement mega-chains have created Gladiator arenas that award the most competitive and vicious individuals, both children and the adults who work with them.
  • Invest in professional development with a teachers teaching teachers model, such as that promoted by Critical Friends Groups and the National Writing Project. Find ways to put money into schools so that teachers can attend local, state, and national conferences to stay abreast in their school.
  • Work collaboratively with institutions of higher education to better establish supportive systems that solve educational problems and raise the bar in effective, not punitive, ways.
  • Contact teachers. Talk to them. 
  • Contact kids. Talk to them. 
  • Contact Administrators. Talk to them.
  • Contact Parents. Talk to them. Solicit knowledge on what works from their perspectives and ask their opinions.
  • Lose the blame game. Yes, society has tremendous ills in education. The struggle, however, is one of poverty. Rather than harass teachers and students, work harder to find economic opportunities for more families. Figure out away to close the economical gaps and  the achievement gaps will lessen.
The video above has a lot of talking points to consider (yes, it is long, and yes, it is one-sided in many ways). But Wendy Lecker, Jonathan Pelto, Yohuru Williams, and Thomas Scarice advocate for democracy, truth, equity, and justice. What they are stating here is the reforms are horrible. The reforms have bastardized the civil rights movement and exploited poverty to make a few wealthier.

I'm voting for any individual who comes back to earth and understands the world of schools. I don't care what side they are on as long as they get public school teaching and the passion for America's youth. If they don't...I don't want them leading our nation. They have no business at the helm.

Thank You,

Bryan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Saturday Night With Mojitos, Basketball Coaches, and a Restaurant Owner Doing Shots Makes For Magic

It's been almost a year since I've eaten at Dao's Fusion in Stratford. I discovered the Thai restaurant when my writing friend Sonya Huber introduced it to me several years ago and since then I've used it as a venue for entertaining friends, hosting parties, and enjoying delicious food with exceptional company.

Last night, I returned to the restaurant with a teaching friend, a division one basketball coach, and his wife. The occasion was simply to get together for good company and Sweet Thai Basil shrimp with a side order of scallion pancakes.

As always, the food was exceptionally good, but new to the occasion was that the restaurant owner, Tek, had a few shots. With his Taiwanese roots, he had an Asian gene of letting alcohol get to his head a little too quickly. It was a slow night in the restaurant and he came to our table to entertain us with magic tricks and a sense of humor I've not seen from previous visits. In all honesty, he was a hammered hoot and even with his slurs, long interludes of storytelling and excuses for his accidental insobriety, he managed to succeed with card tricks that dumbfounded us and a rubber band trick that not one of us could figure out. He was hilarious and his humor (and the occasion) was one for the record books.

Yesterday, Chitunga was on a quest to make our lawn the nicest one in Stratford and somehow I thought I could do a little more than I probably should have. When he left for work, I knew I needed to rest so I could be in good spirits for the evening at Dao's. I expected awesome food - which I got - but I didn't expect to see a side of the owner I've never seen before. Between his elaborate excuses about why a restaurant owner shouldn't be drinking, he kept dazzling us with elaborate magic tricks. His performance, a little tequila and rum induced, was absolutely hilarious and will have me cracking up for weeks to come.

But I'm still trying to figure out the rubber band trick he did. I couldn't see how he made the illusion happen and I am totally perplexed.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wishing @NikkiIsgar & The Brigadiers The Best Today in Dayton During IO Championship Competition

My niece, Nikki, will be competing with the Brigadiers Winterguard during championship competition in Dayton, Ohio, during the final week of WGI Internationals. I feel fortunate that I was able to catch an early performance when they competed in New Jersey earlier in February (and hate that Henry the Hernia acted up when they also competed at Monmouth University a few weeks later. I couldn't see an encore performance).

From Connecticut, I've been able to keep up with her happiness through photographs, a few videos, and all-around pure joy whenever I talked with her about her experiences on this particular team. They perform to the music of Tracy Chapman (The Promise) and their show fluidly flows from start to finish in an exciting, emotional, and rhythmic story of relationships. It is easy to see why the judges have scored them at the top of their class all season.

I wish her and her fellow Brigadiers the best in their performance today. My father marched with their drum and bugle corp in his much younger years while carrying the Sherburne Pageant of Bands tradition with him to Syracuse. Now, 50+ years later, Nikki continues to push sport-of-the-arts boundaries with her dedication, practice, performance, and equipment work..

It would be wonderful to see the Brigadiers perform live in the Dayton Flyers arena (a two hour drive from Louisville), but I am still in "rest" mode and will have to hear their updates through text messaging throughout their day.

Don't know what Winterguard is? Here's a quick video of its history from YouTube.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Zest, The No-Need For Rest, The Excitement, and The Celebration of 30 Years of @CWPFairfield - A Friday Post

You know you're a nerd (or work-a-holic)(or both) when you review 2015 applications for the Invitational Summer Institute for teachers and can't wait to spend hours upon hours in preparation for another incredible July! Yes, the selected teachers will take part in the southern Connecticut arm of the National Writing Project and it is the work that never gets old. It is the work I believe in.

This will be CWP-Fairfield's 30th year of literacy work in the state and we have secured funding for teachers through a Supporting Effective Educator Development - Teacher Leadership offered through the NWP offices.

I also learned yesterday that my colleague, Dr. Susan James in Florida, is launching her first summer of National Writing Project work. Mentoring her over the last year, I became extremely excited to know she is joining the family of the best professional development organization in the nation.

Yes, I know that a majority of faculty members spend their summers writing and recuperating after an exhausting year of academic work, but this is the time when NWP sites really get going. The myth of summer vacations has never been true for teachers who are active in our network and who work around the year to improve literacy instruction in our schools.

I am looking forwarding to continuing the traditions of the summer institute and for carrying the 2nd year of Young Adult Literacy Labs into another year of innovative work. As I sit (doctor's orders) and heal Henry the Hernia, I am motivated to get moving so that the creativity, pedagogy, and teachers teaching teachers excellence can continue.

And with this, I'm stoked for the labor ahead this weekend and throughout the next several weeks.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another Year With College Access Program - Bridgeport. ALL EYES ON US! #WalkMyWorld @cwpfairfield

They seemed older this year. Wiser. More mature and college and career ready. Several seniors in Bridgeport High Schools: Harding, Bassick, and Central, gave up two days of their spring break vacation to attend workshops sponsored by the College Access Program offered by the Bridgeport Public Education Fund. Their excellence is under the incredible devotion of Marge Hiller.

This year, over 50 students attended workshops on financial aid, navigating the first year, college readiness and writing with several presenters, including me, who shared their worlds for a while in support of the stellar students who take part in the program.

In attendance was Yolehema Felican, who is a Bassick High School and Fairfield University graduate who serves as a leader in the Mentoring for Academic Achievement and College Success program - a wing of the Bridgeport Public Education Fund work. Their goals  are sharp:

  • Increase the community's involvement in and support for the Bridgeport public schools.
  • Strengthen communication between the educational, civic and business constituencies.
  • Deepen awareness of excellence in our schools. 
  • Encourage and reward teacher's outstanding efforts through support for classroom projects.
  • Develop programs and opportunities which will enrich and improve public education in Bridgeport.
Since arriving to Connecticut in 2011, the individuals behind this organization have been stupendous collaborators with CWP-Fairfield and advocates for Bridgeport youth. 

It is always a pleasure to be invited to their events and they are an organization that really does make a difference in the lives of students.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

So, Papi Butch Didn't Like The Ray Charles Song I Sent Via Text - "Turn That Noise Off."

Papi Butch (without a piano or keyboard)
(This is a son-of-a-Butch post)

Yesterday, my father had the first of two cataract procedures to correct his vision and to bring him back to the vision we've all come to love: his harassing of my mother and his looking for someone...anyone... to talk to while drinking a beer.

His first words to me on the phone after the procedure was, "Everything is so damn bright now. I look at your mother and, man, has she gotten old" (a joke he borrowed from my mother's Facebook post).

He then told me how he jimmied a make-shift eye patch because the light was a little too intense and that his Ray Charles glasses weren't helping. That's when I texted a Ray Charles' song to my sister and she played it. His response, "Get that noise out of my house."

That's Butch. He's feeling just fine.

Seriously, I am so happy to know that the first eye went okay (at least better than his first colonoscopy) and that sometime today he will be able to see clearly that the clouds are gone. It's gonna be a bright...bright...bright, sunshiny day!

And it's funny that Butch and I both had medical procedures this spring because neither  of us cares much for doctors (I inherited that gene from him). We'd rather go about our business, living in our heads with our stories and mission to drive everyone nuts, than pay someone to tell us what is wrong with us. But, we  both sought professional help this month and are be better men because of it.

We love Papi Butch and are thrilled to know that for the first time in our lives his ol' stink eye isn't because he's pissed at us, but because he had a surgical procedure.

Yes, Dad. We love you. Here's to your quick recovery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thinking About A May 2nd Party, and I'll Tell You Why (Insert Derby Horns Here) #WalkMyWorld @fairfieldu

I teach on the preppiest campus in the United States. I'm not sure if that is true, but when I was investigating my post-doctoral relocation and reading about available National Writing Project jobs, I remember reading that about Fairfield County (I also read about Super Super Wiener, too, and I have yet to try their famous hotdogs).

Truth is, I came to Fairfield University so I would have close proximity to Bridgeport and New Haven Public Schools. I am an urban educator and I feel the most alive when I am in K-12 schools vibrant with diversity.  I will forever long for my Kentucky teaching days and working in a school that had pastiche and multiculturalism as its mission and shared values - every other environment I've ever worked in has been stale in comparison.

Perhaps that is why the Kentucky Derby Run For the Roses sign in the lobby of the Barone Campus Center caught my attention - the 56th Annual Dogwood Dance on Fairfield University's campus has a Kentucky Derby theme! It made me nostalgic for my Louisville life, the students I was fortunate to work with while there.

And it made me look forward to May, especially the first Saturday when everything stops in Kentucky and everyone embraces mint juleps, Barnstable parties, the potential of tornados, and horse racing. Simply seeing the sign put a spark in my heart!

Of course, I'm not sure how far I am supposed to be walking, but I walked to the campus center to get fresh air. I did well on the walk, too, and was pleased by the pace I was keeping (no thoroughbred, granted, but a little faster than you're average donkey).

That's when I decided that a perfect time for a post-Henry the Hernia Mt. Pleasant House-Warming Party might be Derby weekend. It may be when the porch can be debuted and the home can be opened up to guests.

Time to place some bets....

Monday, April 13, 2015

When Families Unite In Brockport, This CNY Transplant Instantly Smiles @LBility @AbuBility @NikkiIsgar

Nikki Isgar and Lossine Bility
The sun was shining. Outside my window I watched cyclists, walkers, and runners enjoying the spring weather. I looked at them with longing, knowing I was stuck indoors with limited movement and doctor's orders to "sit still, already."

But then Lossine texted me to say, "Yo, that Colorguard stuff is going on in our gym." It wasn't until then that I made the connection that that Colorguard stuff involved my niece who was performing for the Northeast Colorguard circuit with the CNY Brigadiers - one week before they head off to national championships in Dayton, Ohio.

I texted back, "Nikki's there. Go find her."

Unfortunately, Abu and Lossine were both stationed in the gym with their duties and weren't able to make it into the performance. But then Nikki texted to note, "I think I see one of the twins pushing a broom."

Yup. Lossine had clean-up duty and sported an incredible looking pair of Barney-purple gloves. It then took a series of texts that said, "Run. Hurry Up. I want a picture of you guys together," which eventually arrived.

The twins became part of the Crandall, Isgar, and Barnwell crew in 2008, ever since they convinced me that they needed to see a SU lacrosse game and Mike insisted he wanted to resurrect his love of the sport and bought himself a mid-life stick. The rest, of course, is history. We went to the game together and that was the beginning of lifelong academic and personal friendship and family.

I wish I could of been at SUNY Brockport to cheer on Nikki and to see Abu and Lossine's world but medical and professional obligations kept me from making the trip (seriously, it wan't even on m radar). But the photo above made my Sunday and will remain fodder for beginning this work week with a smile. I only wish that Abu was able to get into the photograph, too. Ubuntu.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

21st Century Technology Allows They Who Lyeth In Bed To Attend Those Who Marry In Louisville. Nice.

video
I was sitting at home writing and lying still as prescribed when I got to feel the Louisville love.

Technically, I was supposed to be in Louisville this weekend to attend the wedding of Elizabeth Russell, Class of 2001, and Richard Sanford, Oxford University. Liz'bef, aka Bambi, has been working on her doctorate in history for many years (after earning a degree in history from the University of Louisville). Yes, she is part of the graduating class (2 G's and a $1) that had yours truly as their English teacher...for four straight years. Four straight years of Crandall. As they moved up in years, teachers retired and I moved up with them. I ruined them. The poor kids never stood a chance in the world because they had my shenanigans in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

I knew it was going to be a rough to make it to Kentucky this month for the wedding, but the hernia did me in. It became an impossibility. Still, thanks to Meggie Masten and IPhones, I received clips of the ceremony, including this first dance --- another of my babies hit the dance floor in matrimony. Foolish kid. What is she thinking? I'm kidding. I am always happy for any and all who walk down that path (well, aisle) and experience the joy of such a day.  Then, they called. Wow! Bambi looked so beautiful and the Frog is very, very proud.

14 years since they graduated. It took me months to get my head on straight after they left. Actually, that was the summer I was a Fulbright Memorial Scholar in Tokyo -  I needed a distraction and applied so that I'd have a way to move on.

The videos sent of everyone (ha! all in their 30s) made me happy yesterday. They are older now than I was when I was teaching them. They knew me as a 26, 27, 28, and 29 year-old. It is insane to think they have passed the age I was when I had so many memories of them. Eerie.

That decade of my life remains the strongest, most powerful experience to date. There's no scholarly journal, academic book, movie, professional study, or government report that can get anywhere near the influence of that building and its students. I will go to my grave fighting for everything they taught me there.

Brown School and the Universe - 1. Bureaucracies, scholarship, institutions, Common Cores - 0. Give me innovation, the arts, creativity, funk, music, diversity, and originality any day. The rest of it doesn't work (and really doesn't matter).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends. Welcoming The Weekend With Celebration To Leo.

The doctor said in my post-op, one-week meeting that I was still not to walk, lift, or run. She didn't say anything about baking a cake for Leo's birthday and for having friends over for pizza on a Friday night for a few Newcastles and shots of tequila (I didn't do a shot of tequila...promise).

Still, I did have friends over who have been wonderful to me. Since arriving to Connecticut, they've taken me under their wings, treated me with kindness and respect, and been there for laughter, support, games, adventures, and togetherness. It was great to pay Leo pack for all the help he gave us moving into the new house, and to allow him an opportunity to indulge in cheesy pizza and scrumbbdiddlyumptious cake (which he proudly took home with him saying, "But, Bev...I will share it with Kai and Nick" (only time will tell if that comes true).

And now I'm ready to settle into the weekend. The story is that the weather is supposed to be wonderful, but my primary goal is to reenact last weekend where I sit with ice in my lap and I take it easy. I truly want to heal as soon as possible and with a month to go until I get the next follow up visit, I want to enter Dr. Roselle Crombie's office with pep in my step and pride in my stride requesting, "Now is it okay to start running again?"

Either way, last night was a good time to be with friends in the new house...a ritual I hope will continue as we break in the neighborhood and learn to enjoy the back porch.

Friday, April 10, 2015

In Honor Of National Poetry Month - And Tears. So Proud of Hill Central Slam Poets #WalkMyWorld

The woman next to me, a high school administrator in New Haven  also invited to judge the 2015 Hill Central Poetry Slam, whispered halfway through the performance, "This is what students can do when we invest in them, when we trust them, when we allow  creativity to grow, when we support the arts, and we believe they can make magic. A performance like this goes unmeasured by state assessments and the mythology that young people can't -- and don't want to -- write."

Bingo. Wusah! Shazaam!

She was right.

When curriculum is shaped to meet the needs of kids rather than force kids to meet the needs of curriculum, artistry explodes.

Such was the case for the 2015 Hill Central Poetry slam hosted yesterday in New Haven, Connecticut. This year's performers raised the bar for sure. It's year four for the event and last year CWP-Fairfield, with support from a NWP Supporting Effective Educator Development in a High Needs School grant and expertise of Kwame Alexander (who debuted of The Crossover), the SLAM took on a life of its own. This year, Donna and Nicole, two teachers invested in the excellence of young people and writing, proved once again what can happen when teachers raise the bar for performance, poetry, and having something to say.

From the first poet to the last, I kept looking over to Attallah Sheppard, a spoken poet who works with me, saying, "Wow. This is just wow." On several occasions, too, I found myself welling up with tears - the poetry was that powerful and I was beyond proud of the kids.

Yes, the doctor would probably frown that I left the couch to enter a school, but as I told Attallah, Nicole, and Donna, I wouldn't miss an opportunity like the Hill Central Poetry Slam for the world. It truly is a remarkable occasion and a reminder that the deficit constructions created by politicians, test-makers, and high-brow reformists haven't a clue about the capabilities of young people in our schools. When tools are provided to youth by their teachers, they soar to their talents. When limiting writing, thinking, speaking, and reading to test-taking, alone, the kids have their wings clipped and never show what they're truly capable of.

Congratulations, young poets! You make the universe a more spectacular place!