Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Why is it so hard to round up the stage crew kids?

The backstage area seems as big as a warehouse today, and as I yell at some kids in one room to head to the stage, I realize other kids have filtered into the room I had just cleared. I'm going in circles, and I can't get everyone to assemble in one place.

Plus, I've got the core group on stage, playing around with the ropes, hanging each other by the legs and then swinging around. And a secondary group opening up pizza boxes, sneaking pieces of awful pepperoni. 

My voice is hoarse from yelling, yet no one can hear me.

It's 4 a.m., and I'm dreaming about the fall play. I fell asleep at 10:30, exhausted, and now I roll around in bed, covers over my head to keep warm, still exhausted.

Rehearsals, in fact, have been going great, with very little work from me. Yet I can't help but worry about the first show, which is Thursday. The stage crew has been the weak link. While the student director's personality is loud and demanding, the stage crew head is very laid back. The actors have been whipped into shape, but the running crew and makeup group are still disorganized. The crew hasn't assembled in its entirety once, and there's too much lag time between acts. The audience will be bored.

But ... for some reason, I have complete faith. As I lie in bed, I think about my experiences here the past four months. The students really seem to respond when given freedom to do their thing. In fact, when I try to control things, whether assignments in English class or play rehearsals, things fall apart. But when I let go, when I set high expectations and walk away, the great majority of students do a great job.

This is a very difficult thing for me. I tend to micromanage. Control every element of every assignment. Make sure kids listen to every word I say. Have them do things exactly right. But, really, they can achieve so much more when I take a step back and let things happen.

And, really, this has been true in all my years teaching. Whenever assignments call for creativity and independence, whenever I say "impress me," students impress me. The less I interfere, the more they accomplish. I start to think I've figured out some great, big secret here.

Is that why can't I sleep? 

I mean, is this why I can't sleep? (Or write properly?)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Best excuse note of the year nominee:

Mr. P.,
V. is late to English because he was still oiling his horn when the bell rang.
Sorry ... :(

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Player hater

"Mr. P, you're such a drama queen!"

"Me? What do you mean?" 

"I mean, you're always gossiping. Always trying to create drama."

Of course I knew exactly what she was talking about, so I had to defend myself.

"Gossip is when you talk about someone behind her back. If I said something to you, it's not gossip. Maybe I was teasing you, but not gossiping about you."

"You ... are ... so mean! I'm not a bad person!"

"I never said you're a bad person. In fact, I don't think that. I think the German is a bad person."

You knew he'd eventually reappear, didn't you? 

Recently, this one eleventh grader, who I refer to affectionately as the German, has been making his rounds through the twelfth grade girls. He's pretty smooth, fairly charming, and decent looking. He pursues these girls, and as soon as he has them, he drops them and moves on to the next victim. "I have this problem," he once told me. "As soon as a girl likes me, I'm not interested anymore."

So ... last weekend was the Junior-Senior Ball, and the German went with one of the prettiest girls. This week, I've seen him chatting up this other girl, a girl I'll name Sam.

So ... earlier in the day, I saw Sam not talking to this other guy in her class. When I asked her about it, she said that the two of them were trying to see how long they could go without speaking to each other.

"Oh really? Interesting," I said, and as she walked away, I called after her, "What about the German? Is it OK for you to talk to him?" She ran off blushing. Then later at the flagpole area, she accused me of gossiping.

"If it wasn't true," I said, "then it wouldn't bother you."

"But why me?"  Sam asked. "Why don't you tease him about it?"

"Oh, I have. I've told him that, one day, all the girls at this school would get smart and not give him the time of day," I told her. "And do you know how he responded? He said, 'No, that will never happen!' So, like I said, I don't think you're a bad person."

"He said that? Well, someone is going to say no to him."

I hurried off before Sam could declare war on me or all of Germany, and I wondered if it was my place to protect the girls against the players at this place, and I decided that, yes, someone has to do it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Strike 2

In the middle of second period today, everyone was called to the auditorium for a special assembly. Without giving too many details, the head of high school announced that, because of what's going on in the country, a national strike had been called, and students would be dismissed immediately following the assembly.

This is the second strike of the year, second half-day like this. And I'm still not too sure what's going on, except that it's something about religious/political tensions. Also, this might not be the best time to live and work in India. Then again, whenever there are problems and changes, wherever there's action, that might be the best time to live in a particular place.

Our first priority is the students, so I'll be heading up to dorms in a few minutes to relieve staff there for a while. It'll be another afternoon of just hanging out with the eleventh and twelfth grade boys. 

After the assembly this morning, one of my students said, "I was thinking about you. Thinking how you probably had been thinking that we'd have a whole week of school this week." He was right. It seems that, with so many things going on here at this school, there's rarely a full, uninterrupted week of classes. That's one thing that makes it great and interesting, but it also makes it tough to teach sometimes.

Another student said, "I heard about the strike this morning. And during your class, I was praying the whole time that we'd get the day off."

"Maybe your prayers came true," I said. "But I just thank God that at least I had my twelfth grade English class today." 

She just scowled. "You must have been such a nerd in high school," she said.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "I was an awful student. I hated school. I was fairly smart, but I was lazy. And now, this is my punishment, being a teacher to students just like me."

Not sure she believed me. Or even listened. But as she walked off, I yelled after her, "Since you have the rest of the day off, work on your poetry!"

I know I wouldn't.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn Movement

By Carl Sandburg

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.