Lessons Learned and the People Who Teach Them

This week has been a challenge. I’m not just talking about writer’s block (which is there) but a darker struggle inside myself, as I question whether or not anything I do has value in this world. I’ve been dealing with:

  • students who seem to think attendance during the last weeks of school is optional
  • students who think that my assignments and the deadlines associated are optional
  • administrators who think that my opinions do not have weight or are not worthy of consideration
  • young students whose lives are so difficult outside of school that its hard to see if anything I am doing is reaching them
  • at least one class where the women in the class refuse to speak up and participate, they defer to the male voices a large percentage of the time. It drives me insane as someone who truly values mentoring young women.
  • a complete lack of faith in myself as director, writer, artist, teacher

But then, Siobhan Curious over at Classroom as Microcosm, posted this prompt as part of her Writing on Learning Exchange Series: she asks this provocative question “Who Taught You?”

That message made me think about what we learn when we least expect it, and who teaches us those important lessons. Sure, hopefully we have teachers throughout our educations that actually teach us something, but I am beginning to think that perhaps true learning comes to us in a different way. This isn’t to say that we have nothing to learn in a classroom environment . . . there’s plenty to learn through those formal methods, but sometimes we learn in unexpected ways, and sometimes we teach without knowing we are  teaching.

In my own life, lessons have come from so many unexpected places and people:

  • the fellow teacher from Australia who didn’t graduate from high school, used less than legal means to get hired to teach English in Japan (you were supposed to have a college degree) and showed me that a love of life and a passion for following your heart is in some ways more important than what you learn  from books. Too bad I didn’t fully absorb that lesson until very recently, despite the fact that she taught me it about 20 years ago.
  • the lessons I learned about prejudice, hate, and racism while working with a group of Roma children in Slovakia.
  • the lessons I’ve learned from the leaders of that Slovakia trip, about caring, sharing, traveling and living life with the understanding that there is more to the world than our small section of it.

    The leaders of Dramatic Adventure Theatre pitching in to make sure we were well fed.

    The leaders of Dramatic Adventure Theatre pitching in to make sure we were well fed.

  • There’s my current student who faces all kinds of challenges including incessant and debilitating migraines, being struck by lightning, and numerous friends dying from suicide or car accidents and things. She’s taken all this sadness, all these challenges, and given herself a goal to help others by becoming a school counselor and learning as much as she can about psychology. She is an inspiration.
  • The lesson I learned this morning from a woman I don’t know. Mia McKenzie’s blog post starts with the words “Hey White Liberals!” and challenges me to reflect on ingrained aspects of racism and injustice that we all need to think about, and somehow change.

This list could go on forever, and my blog is peppered with posts about people of all ages, races, cultures, levels of education who have taught me lessons. The point is that we never know when we will learn something that changes our lives. Nor we will ever truly know when we have taught something that has made a difference.

With that perspective, perhaps my life isn’t as empty as it feels at the moment, because there’s always something new to learn and the possibility that someone actually learns from you.

This is my greatest teacher.

This is my greatest teacher.


I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.


However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.


I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.


Dr. Kramer

People I Have Met . . .

A fabulous couple! Who count in the list of “Bloggers I Have Met”

I’m thinking about connections, again. I write about this often, about the people we meet along the way. People who touch our lives, if only for a moment. People who affect our choices, encourage our dreams, change our paths–without us even realizing that the person or the moment is significant.

Yesterday, I read a post by Linda Katz called “‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’: Celebrate Beauty!”. Linda officially counts as one of the  “Bloggers who I have met,” a small group of people who add to the fascinating  connections in my world.  I met her before I read her blog, during one of my NYC adventures this past year. I connected with her journey to find the Jews of Europe, to understand why they returned to countries which had basically tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. We talked for a while on the evening we first met, and I have followed her through her blog, because meeting her was one of those moments.

Linda’s post discusses the pros and cons of a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors, a contest which really celebrated the inner beauty of a group of women who survived some of the ugliest mankind has to offer, and moved onto live lives that surpassed the horrors of the Holocaust.

I think their story would make an amazing play.

But this post isn’t about their story. It is about the stories of all the people I have met along the way.

As I read the story, I thought back to my Hebrew School teacher, Mrs. Sekler who pulled me aside one day to show me blue numbers faded into her arm. She told me her story. I don’t recall the details, although I do know she watched her family die. When she shared her story with me, she changed my world because she was a woman who faced evil and still was able to love.

I wish I knew more about her.

There are so many people who touched my life only briefly, but my contact with them has affected me in numerous ways. I am horrible, in that I cannot remember names much of the time, and I only see snippets of faces–an eye here, hair there, perhaps a smile. But, when I look back at all the people I have met, even if only for a moment, I realize how amazing this world really is:

  • my French pen-pal who I met while I was in high school. She showed me parts of France that I was lucky to see.
  • Akemi, one of my good friends from Japan, who broke all the stereotypes and taught me how to reach for dreams.
  • The Russian women who I met in Bali. They packed up and explored the world after the death of their husbands, which made me aspire to a future where I live my life to the fullest.
  • Kenro, another Japanese friend, a teddy bear with muscles and an adorable smile, who made me believe in romance and the possibility of finding Prince Charming (no he wasn’t a romance he just made me believe in romance)/
  • Rita Smith, my amazing Social Studies teacher in high school, who taught me that learning can and should be joyous fun.
  • The woman who took me under her wing during my summer in Myrtle Beach,  South Carolina, taught me to dance The Shag (badly) and showed me that friendship can be formed through difference, even of age, if you are only open to it.
  • Mindy, one of my fellow teachers in Japan, a feisty, tough Australian woman who broke rules and taught me how to live life with gusto.
  • The man on a flight back to Arizona from Vermont, who talked to me the whole way about research, life, dreams and aspirations. I usually don’t talk much when I fly alone, but somehow the conversation with him seemed very important.

My list could go on forever, with the hundreds of There are also, of course, people who meet and affect life in negative ways. They count too, if only for the lessons they teach. In this case, I am not naming names even if I remember them:

  • My professor from grad school who taught be my first real lesson about power, manipulation, and jealousy.
  • The colleague at another college that continued that lesson, while attempting to destroy our lives and careers.
  • The boy at a swim meet who made biased jokes forcing me to stand up for myself and my beliefs.
  • The family who hated my family throughout my childhood, simply because we were Jews. They taught me to fight against bias based off of ignorance.

Fortunately that list isn’t as long, but it too could continue on if I wanted it too. I don’t want to do that.

I feel like I have met so many more people on this blogging journey, even if I have yet to meet most of them in person. I am so honored to have met a few (you know who you are) and hope to meet more in the future (possibly even at the end of the summer, Tori?)

Dory, one of the “Bloggers I have met.” She lives bravely, and I want to learn from her.

Who are the people you have met, even if only for a moment, that have influenced your life in some way?

The Many Passions (and Confusions) of Lisa

I sat in the bookstore coffee shop, green tea latte at my side, and prepped for the course I am teaching at a nearby university in Theatre for Young Audiences.

A course in my actual field, what a luxury.

Suddenly, as I read the chapters from the book selected for this course (which I went along with as I wasn’t sure what text to use) I found my chest constricting, and a tense feeling in my shoulders. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and wanted to scream or cry despite being in a very public place.

A panic attack settling into my system. A moment for me step back and reflect on what I was feeling and why.

Deep breaths and listen to the silence.

I am a really good teacher. I challenge my students, I make learning fun, I set high expectations, and at the same time I work very hard to help all my students find a way to succeed.

But I’ve lost the joy of teaching. It was sucked out of me because of too much bureaucratic bull#$%* and because of a system that lets the priorities of a powerful few become more important than the needs of the students. I lost the desire from having too many students who plagiarized, or too many who expected–no demanded–to be handed grades rather than to earn grades. I lost the passion by having to fight too hard to even teach what I teach best, or create what I create best, against people who were so caught up in protecting their territory that they didn’t want new ideas, new talent, or anyone who might challenge the status quo.

Yet, I still love teaching when I have a classroom full of students who are open to exploring and seeing the power of learning, no matter what the subject. And I still love directing theatre when it is about a process of creation and exploration rather than trying to become a star and make lots of money. And I still love writing, even if I don’t know where it is heading.

This class (in the one meeting we had so far) seems to be full of students who really want to be there. Well, except for the one student who has already texted me with questions like “where do I find . . .?” “Do I type it into Google?” “How do I look it up?”  “Can I find it at Barnes & Noble?” Questions that I expect people of this generation, raised on technology, to know how to answer. They have more computer skills than I do, or at least they should.

So why did my throat constrict? Why did the panic set in?

I was reading about things I feel passionately about: like the importance of including arts education into the system; or the excellent tool that theatre  is to teach all kinds of skills and educational lessons and reach different types of people; or the need in any culture for theatre and performance and arts programming that reach all levels of society. I didn’t agree with every statement in the book, but still it is a book about my passions.

So why do I feel like crying?

The answer lies in my experience in Slovakia, particularly the time with the Roma. The answer lies in my current struggle with words and search for focus and simplicity. The answer lies in the multiple incarnations of Lisa, and in my inability to figure out how to market myself so that I am DOING rather than only teaching others how to do.

Not that teaching is a bad thing, but if I am not practicing what I preach I feel like an imposter. The answer lies in my imposter syndrome.

The answer lies in the fact that I have lots and lots of passions and projects, but without a deadline, without a “boss”, without a guarantee of a paycheck or some kind of acknowledgment from an outside source I can’t seem to accomplish them. The answer lies in the fact that I don’t have enough self-esteem to do things because I want to, I simply look too much for validation from outside when I know that I should be able to find satisfaction in myself and my projects, and in the joy of sharing what I love.

I am constantly saying that the process is as important (if not more important) than the product, that the journey is the reward. But when it comes to my own life, I can’t get past the block of feeling like I failed somewhere along the way.

This has got to stop!

I look in the mirror and I do not see what other people see.

I look at my list of accomplishments and I do not see what other people see!

I thought that I had finally gotten over this in Slovakia. As a matter of fact, I even wrote this:


Am I only able to find peace and purpose when I am away from my normal environment? Am I only able to see myself when someone else leads the way?

Somehow I must find a way to merge my passions with my abilities, and to become my own support “boss”–the person who gives herself deadlines and achieves every dream with or without validation from others.

My journey began in Slovakia, but now I have to face the painful stuff and move through it. The answers do not lie in an outside source.

The answers lie inside of me.

Re-Defining Terms in Search of Meaning

CLOUD 9 at Castleton State College, Dir. by Lisa Kramer

Yesterday I spent an intense, provocative, and stimulating day at a workshop with members of Cornerstone Theater Company. They do work that I dream of, work that shares the stories of people through the power of theater. Work that can truly change lives. Whether serious projects, or simply silly, they introduce the creative, artistic, ensemble power of theater to communities that may not have an interest otherwise. They do Community Based Theater using an amazing process that ends with a truly powerful product. The second half of the workshop is today, and I am excited.

But, this is not a blog post about them. Check them out for yourself.

This is a post about definitions.  Throughout the day, I found myself questioning how I think, and how I define terms.  How we define terms relates, I believe, to how we define ourselves. But the problem lies in the concept that meaning varies.

For example, what does the word community mean to you? I know that I belong to a number of different communities; where I live, where I work, my friends, my beliefs, where I write , etc. Yet, when we reflected on the community I currently live in, I felt separated and distanced from it somehow. It feels as if I carry an invisible wall that keeps me separate from this community; keeps me unable to fully engage.

Is developing a sense of community something that we need to learn? Am I preventing myself from feeling like I belong?

I think my problem lies in definitions; for me, community equals home. But that does not really have to be the case. I do not have to call Independence home. It does not feel like home, and it may never. I do, however, have to embrace the fact that I am living in this community. As a member of the community, I need to participate fully to help the community thrive. I can do that.

The other term that kept bouncing around my head yesterday, even though it was not raised in the actual workshop, is the term “professional“.

[As a side note, this issue had really nothing to do with the Cornerstone workshop, but more to do with the behavior and attitudes of certain participants]

The meaning of professional has been bothering me for a long time. Why? Because some people in the arts world draw a line — better yet create a chasm -between professionals and educators, insisting that educators are not professionals. That chasm makes me sick.

According to Dictionary.com, the word professional has the following definitions:


1.following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.
2.of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.
3. appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.
4.engaged in one of the learned professions: A lawyer is a professional person.
5. following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional golfer.
6. making a business or constant practice of something not properly to be regarded as a business: “A salesman,” he said,“is a
professional optimist.”
7. undertaken or engaged in as a means of livelihood or for gain: professional baseball.
8. of or for a professional person or his or her place of business or work: a professional apartment; professional equipment.
9. done by a professional; expert: professional car repairs.

10. a person who belongs to one of the professions, esp. one of the learned professions.
11. a person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs: a golf professional.
12. an expert player, as of golf or tennis, serving as a teacher,
consultant, performer, or contestant; pro.
13. a person who is expert at his or her work: You can tell by her comments that this editor is a real professional.

Unless I am reading this wrong, nowhere in this definition claims that professional equals “better than” or “not an educator”. As a matter of fact, #12 incorporates the idea of professional as teacher.  Of course, if someone is getting paid to do something, you would hope that they are better than someone else, but it is not part of the definition. The only criteria, based on this definition, is that the person be an expert in his/her field and be paid for what he/she does.

Now, to be expert at something, I will agree that you need to be out there doing it. But “out there” does not have to mean the big cities, or the world of Broadway or anything else. It simply means you are actually practicing your craft. Those who want to differentiate between educators and professionals seem to think that who you do it for and who you do it with separates the professionals  from the mere teachers.

My response to that is  a resounding raspberry.

People who have studied theater, trained to do theater,  spend most of their time doing theater, and get paid to do theater, are theater professionals! It is as simple as that. It does not matter whether or not your work is seen on Broadway or on the big screen. It does not matter if your casts are made up of students rather than “professional actors”. If you get paid for directing a show, or for acting, or for conducting a workshop, or for designing a set or lights . . . you area theater  professional.

There is the other side of this too. People who claim to be professional educators who do not exhibit or teach professionalism. Or those who use their educational positions merely as a regular paycheck to support their art. I don’t think that equals professional behavior in any field, do you?

So to me, a professional is someone who tries to do good work in whatever field, gets paid for it, and truly commits to learning and growing in that field. Professionals can have numerous professions, just as people have numerous goals. I am a teaching artist who directs theater. I am a writer who teaches. I am a professional, in spite of the nay sayers.

Honestly, in some ways, those who create good theater with novice casts seem more remarkable to me than those who work only with other so-called professionals.  Cornerstone Theater Company proves that, as they produce quality products with casts that come from the communities whose story they are telling. Casts that include; ex-cons, homeless, kids, public workers, steel workers, and so on. The list goes on and on, but I doubt very many members of these diverse communities include “professional actor” on their resumes.

The experience with Cornerstone has been a revelation for me,  in many ways. But perhaps the most important, at this time in my life, is that I can say loudly “I AM A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY OF  THEATER PROFESSIONAL!”  I am also A MEMBER OF THEATER EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS! That’s good too. My work, in schools, in the community, and in “professional” theater companies speaks for itself.

My own definitions of words are what defines me. Nobody else’s.

It All Comes Down to Sex

A scarlet letter

Image by Monceau via Flickr

After reading this article Firing Melissa Petro Would Be Indefensible and Intolerable I’ve come to realize that the biggest problem in American society all comes down to sex.

Okay, maybe religion and money play a role too.

But seriously, from my perspective and from the blogs I follow sex holds sway over so much of our society’s twisted attitude toward . . . well . . . everything.

Think about it:

  • Melissa Petro may lose her job and never be able to teach again based on the fact that she was honest about selling sex and stripping in the past. I, for one, would love to have her teaching my daughter. I value innovative, creative, honest teachers. I would rather have her in the classroom than a teacher that hides behind puritanical values that do not allow for the students to learn anything about real life. Should we go back to the days of Schoolmarms of yesteryear, who only taught until they married and took on the role of wife? Or maybe all school teachers who have actually had sex or done something not quite proper in their past should be labelled with a scarlet letter so that students and parents could beware. The school halls would certainly be colorful then.
  • Political races are often won or lost based on the abortion issue. Now remind me, where do babies come from?
  • Rules governing how we raised our children are often based on irrational fears of the predators in our midst. This suggests that as a society we are all warped and twisted people who can never control our sexual urges or any other evil acts. For great insight into this trend check another of my favorite WordPress sites http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/
  • Don’t forget the constant political, social and religious debates about Gay Marriage or DADT. Another issue that is really based on who gets to have sex with whom, and who has the legal right to have sex. (I am not diminishing the complexity of either issue. I know there is more at issue than sex).
  • People may argue that money and power are the real issues, but let’s look at it this way. Many of the people who have more money and/or power in this country, also have more scandal/divorces and . . . let’s say it . . . issues with SEX.

So folks, I’ll say it again. It all comes down to SEX.

What do you think?

Learning to Write, Writing to Learn

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

Image via Wikipedia

I feel that I have learned so much through writing of all types, from research projects to blogs. I’ve learned about myself. I’ve learned about other people. I’ve thought about new ideas, and revised old one’s. Writing is crucial to who I am as a person.

But today I feel like I’ve learned  nothing at all.

What have I gotten myself into?

Next semester, in addition to directing a play and teaching theater classes to college students as well as children, I will be teaching two Comp I classes for the local Community College; one in person, one online.

No problem! I thought to myself when I agreed to do this. I’ve spent the last 4 years teaching Freshman Comp courses at a 4 year college. I can do it.

Bam! Bam! Bam! That’s the sound of me pounding my head on the wall.

Seriously, I know I can do it. I’m a good teacher. I’ve had intense semesters in the past. I’ve had success with students, as well as a few failures. I accomplish more the more I have to do.

Yet, as I work on the syllabi for the coming semester (I’m one of those people who likes to have them done before break so that I can relax more) I realize that the obstacles are new:

  • I’ve never taught an on-line course before, so I need to learn a whole new way of interacting with my students.
  • The text they use is different from the previous school, so I have a new approach to things and new readings. (Which is not a bad thing).
  • The student population here is a little more challenging. Not that it was easy in my former job, but I find it really difficult to teach students who either never come to class or never turn anything in.

So what is my solution to this insanity? Add more complexity to my courses. I’ve decided I want my students to blog. I plan on adding a blog site for my students (and possibly students from other sections). They will be able to contribute new posts. They will be able to respond to each other’s posts. The blog will also be accessible to the public.

Why? Why add this craziness to a group of students who may never like writing; some of whom have basic challenges in grammar.

I believe that the way to become a better writer is by writing. reading other writing, and writing some more.  Knowing that you have an audience helps.  since we teach about purpose and audience, what better way to help them learn than providing a purpose or an audience. If the students realize that their audience moves beyond myself and their classmates, maybe they will approach writing with a different attitude.

Or they will run screaming and I will lose students faster than a tornado.

Stay tuned for this grand experiment.

Oy vey!

Update: If anyone is interested, the new blog is http://icccompositionpage.wordpress.com/. The grand experiment has begun!

Satisfaction with Mediocrity

Math Cards Icon

Image by Sagolla via Flickr

I just turned in my grades for the past semester.

As usual, my emotions are a mixed bag: relief that I finished (early this semester); frustration at myself for what I didn’t accomplish; elation because of the few students that I actually reached and saw shine; anger at the students who were willing to scrape by in mediocrity.

This last feeling is the most frustrating for me. I have seen it in numerous situations lately; not just in the classroom but in people’s general attitude toward life . There seems to be a willingness to accept the mediocre. Why work for an A when a C will do? And, if you don’t get the A, then of course it is the fault of the instructor, never oneself. If you are getting less than a C, particularly an F, you can always beg for withdrawal as long as you can come up with a heart-wrenching explanation for why you never bothered to attend class or turn anything in. I am giving lots of “F”s this year.

I gave an assignment for students to create a portfolio of their work. “Lay it out nicely,” I said. “This will be useful for you in the future. Create something that you would turn in if you were applying for a job. Create a cover, label your images . . . etc.” I get a collection of images labeled with a blue pen. The cover is notebook paper, blue handwriting scribbled across.

I give the students the opportunity to create a final that is interesting to them, where they can latch onto whatever intrigued them throughout the semester and pursue that topic. I set guidelines, but I allowed. I get, an odd mixture of well thought out work merged with half-accomplished efforts.

This is not just a refection of the school I am at, but a general attitude of students today.  They want knowledge handed to them in the simplest way possible, and then they want some kind of guarantee that all of this work will lead to a lucrative job. I cannot give those guarantees, because I would never hire them. If I owned my own company, I would only want to hire people who are willing to put something more than mediocrity into everything they do. I want to work with people who can find inspiration in anything, so that they do it all with joy. I want to work with people who are not satisfied with a C.

I wonder if this is a reflection of American culture. Have we become so complacent that we are somehow “the best” that we no longer strive to become better. I hate to think that the best we can do is middle of the road.

What do you think?

The Power of Facebook

Daniel-Marios---World Wide Web

Image by Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer via Flickr

As usual, one of the first things I did this morning was turn on the computer to check my various e-mail accounts, read a comic or two, and catch up on Facebook. This morning, one friend had posted a video that I tried to watch yesterday, but couldn’t because I did not have a good internet connection. This video, Gay Michigan student defends suspended teacher – Yahoo! News shows Graeme Taylor acknowledging his sexual identity to a room full of adults in defense of a teacher who is facing disciplinary action after asking a student to remove her Confederate flag belt buckle which, in that particular town, is associated with hate.

Now, I don’t know the legal ramifications of this particular case, especially regarding freedom of expression. But, my reaction to this video, as to many that I have seen and reposted recently was “Wow! We have lot of brave people in this world, who take small steps towards bettering the world.” I got a tear in my eye.

This got me thinking about the changes that have come about in society because of the internet, particularly social networking sites like Facebook, media sites like Youtube and blogging sites like WordPress. I know there are negatives, the time suck alone sometimes make me aggravated by the end of the day when I feel I have accomplished nothing but stare at a screen and chat with friends. But the computer is not to blame, nor is Facebook. If I don’t have control over my own behavior, than I have only myself to blame. I also recognize that, in some ways, people are losing the ability to communicate without texting, or e-mailing. We’ve lost the art of letter writing or talking on the phone.  Many of the students I see of all ages, struggle when presented with the necessity to communicate in person, or to present ideas in front of a group. Those are definitely things to be concerned about.

But then I think about the knowledge that is at our fingertips because of these sites. I have wept over inspirational videos of Graeme and “It Gets Better.” I have been angered by comments from politicians  who speak inane gibberish trying to destroy any hope for this country. I have laughed at kittens drinking water. I have watched people selflessly helping others. I have read inspirational words from friends and strangers. I have made new connections and renewed old ones. I have helped friends facing hard times, and been helped myself. Because of the new knowledge, I have become a little more political–signing petitions and writing letters for causes I believe in. Maybe what I do seems like a tiny drop compared to people like Graeme, but I may not have even done that without this tool that makes me expand my horizons from the comfort of my own home.

This doesn’t man I will never leave my home, or have never left to fight for what I believe in. I have done that all my life. What is interesting, though, is that (for people who own computers and take advantage of them) this tool can enable anyone to help even in the small way of simply pushing send.

I still value the letters I get (although I don’t write many myself anymore). I will always value holding a real book in my hand rather than reading it on the screen. I love face-to-face conversations with dear friends, and even the occasional phone call (I’ve never liked talking on the phone). Yet, I have to acknowledge that this little screen in front of me has truly broadened my world. It may also have made the world  a little more dangerous, but I hope to learn to use its power to promote good.

After all, technology is here to stay.

The Perennial Student, A Collector of Experiences

Join me at a table in a restaurant set for eight. One empty seat for the woman who does not show. The rest of the seats filled with people who seem to have one passion in common. Well, maybe two . . . the most obvious is their passion for theatre, but the one I am interested in is their passion for experiences and for learning. To this group, I believe, that is the meaning of life. Or perhaps I should say, from this group, I am learning the meanings of my life.

On the end, the youngest member of the party, seven years old with a personality all her own. Bright, energetic, and embracing everything as if it was new. Because it is new. Through her eyes, I re-learn the discoveries of childhood, and begin to learn the truths of parenthood.

Next to her, her father. My partner. A talented man with a job he likes, and a dream he’d love. Through him, I learn about relationships and struggle, as well as how to live embracing simple joys.

Next, after the empty seat, a man who lives his life passionately.  Whether it is raising the child that is his theater company, or helping his family, or fighting for justice and democracy, or saying goodbye to his father (who passed away last week) he throws himself in 110%. From him, I learn the power of passion, but also the necessity of balance.

Next, an actor who is recognized for his work. He has a thriving career, but more importantly he has the desire to share his experiences with others. I don’t know him very well, but listening to him talk I recognize a kindred spirit, one who believes that creating an atmosphere where everyone feels involved is crucial. Through him I learn the value of making choices and committing to them, and that teaching and sharing is part of the journey and the joy.

Across from him, a director who lived through the 60s and evaluates life and belief systems in everyday conversation. He is silent when he has no opinion, but that silence speaks volumes. Through him I learn the subtlety of questioning and experiencing in order to find meaning that rings true to your heart.

Next to him, a man in his 70s who lives and breathes Shakespeare, but is even more than that.  I have been watching him create character in  a way I cannot describe. He takes each word written and uncovers more meanings and variety in ways that I have yet to discover, both as a director and as a writer. Yet, his humble quietness is as powerful as his use of language. From him, I learn to trust the words, because the answers lie in them.

Next to him, a playwright, who writes whatever she is passionate about.  Love. Religion. Tango. She seems to look at the world as an opportunity for learning and questioning. What about this moment, this time, this place is interesting? What can I learn from this person’s story?  What story can I share with others? These are questions that I think she asks herself regularly, and then she tries to answer through words.  From her, I am learning my thoughts matter and that it is time to put them out there,  in my own way.

Finally, we come to me. A well-educated woman who is still searching for what I want to be when I grow up.  At this moment in time, I’m also experiencing an odd layering of life. There is the me who is knowledgeable and professional, who knows a lot about her field. Then there is the me who feels like a student next to these people, and recognizes that is okay. There is the me who feels like a novice, and is afraid of doing something wrong. Then there is the me who is a teacher and a mentor, for my students and my daughter; that is the me of responsibility. Finally, there is the me who simply is.

As I pursue this week of multiple layers, or this meal of multiple moments, I realize that the experiences I have, the learning that I do, is who I am. I am a perennial student.  When I try to be the expert, I feel uncomfortable in my skin. When I embrace the unknown, and admit that I do not know everything, then I feel joy.  Sometimes the unknown is scary and uncomfortable, but what I learn after that is filled with energy.

My work is learning. My work is sharing.

My classroom is life.

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