Monday, July 27, 2009

Research Paper Hell

This is a place all English teachers know. Well, good English teachers. As many have said to me, "I could never teach English. Look at all those papers you have to grade!" Before the comment is even completed, I think to myself, Actually, that's not the reason you're not an English teacher. But I keep my mouth shut to be polite.

Research Paper Hell is even worse in the summer. The course session is MUCH shorter, thus, the turnaround time is MUCH quicker. I spent all day Thursday grading papers. And when I say all day, that's not hyperbole. That means from 7 a.m. to bout 7:30 p.m. I graded research papers, or papers that were supposed to be research papers. I did have breaks, but essentially, all my energy on Thursday went to grading them. I graded the last two this morning.

This is Hell at anytime of the year because most students in my classes have no idea how to research, compile, organize and actually write said Monster. Which is, of course, understandable. That is why, after all, they are in my class. That's my job - to teach them how to do this, so when they write a research paper for history or science or psychology and every other class under the sun, they know how to do it - which is why English is the most important class one can take. (Poop on you math teachers who don't agree. Math isn't even capitalized if it doesn't start a sentence. How important could it be?!)

So, yes, it's my job, but that doesn't mean I have to like this Hell. I have to accept it, yes, but don't have to like it. Students make the very mistakes I covered a bajillion times: cite correctly, cite!, use punctuation, give examples, don't make claims you can't support, alpha by author on the Works Cited page, actually use the essays you said you did . . .


The frustration comes from students not doing what we tell them to. But the fact of the matter is that's the learning process in action. We humans have to actually do something in order to learn how to do it. We can watch it and hear it, but we never actually get it until we do it ourselves. The fact that this is the third - usually the fourth or fifth - paper they have done for me needs to be taken into account, however. They have had a chance to do this. Hello! Thus, this place called Research Paper Hell.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Peacocks and Pigtails

Now that I am finished with my website, I can get back to writing and spending more time with my girls!

Tuesday night, I was thinking I wanted to do something fun with Lorelei on Wednesday morning: Lorelei-and-Mama time while Semeli was at school. Wednesday evening my students would be turning in their research papers, and I have a short turn-around time, so Wednesday was the day. Lorelei, being the perceptive one, said early Wednesday morning, "Hey, Mama, let's go to the Arboretum!"


Off we went, Lorelei in the lead and me in tow.

Per her request, I put her short brown hair in pigtails, and she wore this beautiful Hawaiian dress - orange with black and yellow - that our neighbors Ami and Sean gave to her for her birthday two years ago. Within the past year, she went to the Arboretum with her Girl Scout troupe, so she knew it better than me, as I hadn't been there since I was a reporter about 20 years ago. So, she lead the way, pigtails bobbing along the way.

We had a map and consulted it now and then, and once she knew where she wanted to go, she instinctively walked ahead, leading me. Keeping a brisk pace, we chatted about the cool trees and interesting flowers, and then we hung out by the lake for a bit. Well, it's called a lake, but it's about as big as a pond - and certainly not as big as Walden Pond, which really should be called Walden Lake, if you ask me. But, I digress. Walking behind my girl, I watched her. She looked around, commented on things, and clearly enjoyed being where we were and confidently navigated us through that huge place. I loved being there with her. I was happy.

Wild peacocks roam the Arboretum: Their cries echo throughout, and their exquisite colors
supplement the already beautiful landscape. They clearly have assimilated to having humans around, as they don't move away from us; in fact, they come closer to check us out! When one came close, Lorelei moved over to me.

"What's he gonna do, Lorelei?" I asked.
"He may peck me," she said.
"Oh, that won't hurt much," I reassured her.

It's awesome to see my eight-year-old innately taking the lead. It reassures me she will do well in this competitive world of ours. However, it's also nice to know she still needs me, or thinks she needs me, for protection, for comfort, for reassurance.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Slumbertime in the Summertime

This afternoon after lunch, after cleaning up the kitchen, I walked into the girls' room to get them - and me - napping. Semeli snuggled next to Lorelei as Lorelei read "Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes" (Bruce Koscielniak).

"I'm reading in a funny voice," Lorelei informed me, "'cause I'm her kitty."

They play this often. One is the kitty, and the other is the owner. I think it's ridiculous, but they enjoy it, so who I am to say?

They read together, and I reclined next to them, caressing Semeli's long, still-wet hair, as she now has swimming lessons every morning at her preschool. We finished the book, then Lorelei scratched Semeli's back, and I scratched Lorelei's. The weather in Southern California has been nice; warm and breezy. (Good thing, 'cause I can't function in the HOT.) As I listened to their breathing deepen, the draft gently lifted the shades to waft into their dimly sunned room. It was almost as though the breeze and their breaths rose to meet, carrying them tenderly to sleep.

This is what summertime is about; this is why I work so hard teaching teen-agers all year. This - so I can have time off in the summer and listen to my babies slumber into their naps. And I can fall in with them.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Night Swimming

There is something strangely paradoxical about night swimming: serene, calming while chaotic, silly. At least with half the city's kids in the pool with you it is. Lorelei swims well, and she and her friend Karly, who is an even better swimmer, cruised the pool like dolphins. Watching your baby stand on the diving board wracks you a bit, though she has done it dozens of times. But I never seem to get used to it. Then - off she jumps! Coming up perfectly and swimming to the other side.

Both she and Semeli learned to swim at their preschool, but for Semeli, that was last summer. This was only the second time in the pool for Semeli since then, so she was a bit nervous. I held her with me the whole time, coaxing her to venture a bit more and more as the night wore on. When we arrived, dusk loomed, and soon, the pool lights glowed. This is what I love about night swimming: the water illuminated, the blue-green of the water brightly lit. I just don't know what it is. It's calming and romantic and cool all at once.

Just as I gazed at the lights, Semeli pointed out the half-moon on the rise. Bright and beautiful. What could be more perfect?

As Lorelei and Karly played, Semeli summoned up the courage to put her face in the water. Then, she got some in her nose.

"Wait a minute," she said as she squeezed her little nose. "I have to energize my nose." I laughed out loud and felt very grateful to be mom to these beautiful, crazy children.

The ending to the perfect night was seeing a raccoon on the street on the way home. We see them often, but seeing it at this time, on this night, made for an apt closing to a wondrous evening.