Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I know I kick and screech like a mule here in Taiwan but the single truth is that I’ve got some amazing kids that surround me like a family. I know they are not my actual family, but I always think of them like adopted kids, and that makes all the difference. There’s Yuki who comes in every day to talk about The Beatles and baseball and likes showing me the inner workings of wristwatches, and Joy who forgot his homework and so copied word for word the pages out of the textbook and glued them into his notes because it was the right thing to do, his mom is a teacher upstairs and it shows. There’s Edison in his little round glasses drowning me in questions, and Tiffany, who is leaving for Canada, and who I wrote the part of Mario Anthony in our Julius Scissorhands for her
I make it a point to say that yes, Aunt Polly may whack Tom across the temple with a thimble, but she loves him so.
These kids work so hard and never complain. There is the school curriculum and then the national curriculum and then my own curriculum that I force them to do… why? And this is my way of conning them toward greatness…I say, “if I ask you to write a sentence, then you write me a two… and if I ask for a three to five sentence paragraph you write me seven…why?”
And all the kids groan: “Because we’re the best students in the school.”
It’s a confidence game, I know. And if one kids wants to stop class to show me the acorn he found outside, or another a piece of silk from the hem of a dress or how another found a brass door knocker outside…well… then we stop class to talk about it, don’t we?
I tell the kids that someday they will grow up and fall in love. All the stories we read about have romance… and they hew and haw and fall out of their chairs in disgust at the mere thought… but others sit very still and listen. They stop passing notes and gazing out the window because finally, school is useful. I tell them the language of men and women… how sometimes we say the same things but in different ways and words…how Tom makes Becky cry because of his previous engagement to Amy, and feeling so low down, he puts his prize possession in her hand, parting with his favorite slimy green toad. Becky shrieks and runs away, leaving Tom bedazzled and perplexed, and wanting her even more.
‘David and Goliath!’” pg. 41
This is maybe my favorite scene in the book, how Tom trades bullfrogs and dead rats swinging by their tail on a stick for the yellow Bible tickets…anything to get close to Becky Thatcher, who is being introduced with her family to the church that day. Tom thinks, if he can just make them believe that he’s a good and earnest and holy boy, then maybe…well, maybe he’s got a shot.
It’s a lesson my students learn all the time. How they are trapped in these young bodies… hormones out of control, post-puberty jumping out of their skin. The ickiness of peach fuzz on boy’s upper lips and the awkwardness of young girls asking girl after girl after girl and then finally heading to the lavatory carrying small handbags in twos.
I try to tell them… you’ll figure it out, your body and your emotions…you will, but it just takes time. And just like Tom learns he can’t steal his way into heaven, you will find that you can’t steal yourself through middle school. You just have to take your lumps, let yourself be purged clean.
…He sprang to his feet and shouted: ‘I done it!’” pg. 148-49
I see these teachers beat the kids. Believe me, there are some sadistic maniacs in this school and country. Glaring. Carrying sticks. Making kids stand for hours with their nose in the corner. Hurling insults. Isolating kids. Breaking them…
But there are also good teachers here. Those that use soft voices. Who sit and drink tea with young people and try to know them outside of school. It’s not easy for Taiwanese teachers to do this, it pushes them outside their normal abilities, but I see some adapting, challenging themselves, and changing.
But as always, what I most love are the students. Standing up for each other, helping one another finish assignments. I see them learning how to be friends, and that is very rewarding.
It’s a private school and there are a lot of rich, privileged kids. Black Mercedes dropping off at the ‘kiss and go.’ Parents who corner their children to give up a name, any name as a scapegoat… my name, many times… But there are also the kids whose parents drive the motor scooters wrapped in sweaters and shawls and facemasks. Kids whose dad owns the machine shop and whose mother works in the bakery.
I love those kids the most.
I know that Huck is a miscreant, a dirty, dead-cat lugging racist, son of the town drunk. But in my years as a teacher, I’ve met so many of these kids who just didn’t know any better, and the only thing that saved them was a heart of gold. I see you. Even if no one else does.
The biggest problem for my students, I think is that there is no escape for them. They have no place to run to, be free in, to play pretend. I think that’s why so many of them get lost in anime and ‘cos play’ and video games. They need time to walk the plank and dig for buried treasure.
I try to teach them about escape and guilt. How they are both important to feel and experience. That people need to get away, live their life and follow their dreams, but it is also important to know when it is time to come home. Tom knows that, running off to the island but then returning to kiss Aunt Polly at night when he misses her most. We need both: run and come home, always these two.
Kids keep secrets all the time. The good teachers, know when to let secrets stay buried and when they need to be surfaced. I’ve kept so many kid secrets over the years, damaging ones, ones that would crush them, and kids have kept secrets of mine. You see, sometimes you have to just tell the truth, and sometimes telling a lie is the only way to protect what is real.
But in the case of Tom and Huck, it’s not the secret they keep that will set Muff Potter free, it’s that the whole town keeps a secret that no one is willing to talk about… it’s written in the character of the man-child called Jim.
Setting in Tom Sawyer is always talked about. People who have visited Hannibal Missouri know what I’m talking about. White picket fences and boys in straw hats, little girls in curls singing songs on their way to church, Twain tries to capture the innocence of idealism before the murder and rage of the Civil War. But lurking underneath, always boiling to the surface, is evil… and Tom and Becky find that in the cave… Tom and Huck find that in Injun Joe in the abandoned house too. Always there, waiting to strike.
What an ending! What kid wouldn’t love to find buried treasure and be hailed a hero? Well, may all our children be carried off the field on the shoulders of their hometown, at least once. May we all find redemption, somehow, I hope.
a. He offers them cake.
b. He promises to go swimming with them later.
c. He tells them Aunt Polly wants their help.
d. He convinces them the job is fun.
2. After the whitewash scene, what can be concluded that Tom learns about work?
a. Because Amy is very pretty and Becky is jealous.
b. Because Amy spread evil rumors about Becky.
c. Because Tom was engaged to be married to Amy first.
d. Because Tom gave the brass door knocker to Amy.
4. After breaking up with Amy and chasing after Becky, who acts deceitfully to him, what can be concluded about what Tom learns from love?
a. He memories 2,000 Bible Verses.
b. He takes the blame for someone else’s misdeed.
c. He trades the other children for their tickets.
d. He testifies at Muff Potter’s trial.
6. What is ironic about Tom trying to “steal his way” into Heaven by lying to get a Bible?
a. I love you.
b. Meet me later, Baby.
c. Let’s complain about the teacher and get him fired.
d. How could you be so noble?
8. What does Tom learn about education after his experience in the school with Mr. Dobbins?
a. A brass door knocker.
b. A dead cat.
c. A half-eaten apple.
d. A slimy toad.
10. What does Tom learn about men and women after his exchange with Becky, where he gives her his prized possession and she runs away crying?
a. Barks like a dog.
b. Crows like a rooster.
c. Meows like a cat.
d. Hoots like an owl.
12. Why do Tom and Huck first go to the graveyard?
a. To dig up a body.
b. To charm away warts with a dead cat.
c. To dig for buried treasure.
d. To look for ghosts.
13. Who is Huck Finn and what does he represent in the novel?
Monday, January 16, 2012
This letter is to recommend my student Suzie Cho for entry into your Youth Summit. Suzie is a 7th grade student in my Literature and Writing class, and I have known her for one semester. In this short time, I feel I can write an accurate and meaningful evaluation of her talents and gifts.
Suzie is a very creative, thoughtful, and dedicated student. Whatever the academic task, she seeks to personalize it through artistic expression. Whether it is writing an essay, creating a poster, organizing a personal dictionary, taking notes in class, or completing a critical thinking puzzle, Suzie shows flair, interpretive design, and personal touch.
On examinations Suzie is well prepared and prone to answer more than is asked of her. On oral presentations, she is careful and insightful. Furthermore, Suzie’s classroom behavior is impeccable. All of these things combine to make a perfect candidate to represent her school, city, and country in any kind of environment.
Yet perhaps the most important reason that Suzie should be considered for this Youth Summit is that she would benefit greatly from it. Leadership is not a strong subject for many Taiwanese students. They curse each other publically, create divisions based on petty disagreements, they don’t foster trust, don’t offer support, and are trained from an early age that success means being number one, and everything else is failure. I believe Suzie has the traits to be a new kind of Taiwanese student. One that compassionately encourages others, who councils troubled peers, who speaks out against injustices and isn’t afraid to enact changes if necessary. I believe Suzie has that potential courage, but has never seen it in action.
To be honest, when I first heard about a Youth Summit that a Taiwanese student could attend, I was surprised. After three years teaching here, that should tell you something. I am honored to recommend Suzie for entry into your camp and believe she is just the kind of person, student, and future leader you are looking for.
Yet perhaps the most important reason that Suzie should be considered for this Youth Summit is that our school culture would benefit greatly from having someone with foreign experience. I am honored to recommend Jenny for entry into your camp and believe she is just the kind of person, student, and future leader you are looking for.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
With this in mind, please read the following article from the China Post about this weekend’s Presidential Election, and believe me, as impossible as it sounds, they are actually being serious.
On the eve of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections, “election syndrome” patients should get plenty of rest and keep calm to avoid aggravating their symptoms, doctors at a Taipei clinic said yesterday.