Archive for October, 2009

Back to School

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Well, two important things happened this week. Potter and Andrea were married, and I started back to school. Since I started school on Monday and Potts and Andrea got married on Tuesday, first things first.

(Why do we say “got” married? Like we go to the store and pluck a married off the shelf? Anyway.)

It’s my first semester working on a graduate-level teaching certification. I have mixed feelings about it. I’ll admit that there was a little bit of despair at the beginning of the week (no surprise there; despair has sort of been my middle name for the past few weeks). The coursework is not something I am passionate about in the same sense as I am literature and writing.  I am depressed by the fact that we have “homework” assignments … yes, homework, like a bunch of middle schoolers. I haven’t had homework in more than ten years. Oh, yes, there are assignments and journals, but never homework.

Then one of my textbooks didn’t come in. Cue more despair. Bobby ordered it … six weeks ago? So he ordered me a second copy with two-day shipping. And, of course, the first copy arrived the next day.

Having now done most of my reading for the week (because I was hampered by the lack of textbook and aforementioned despair), I can say that it’s interesting to see these things put into words and to have terms to discuss the concepts … but it’s all so intuitive. I’ve been doing many of these things for years, from the time I was a trainer at The Piece till now, when I teach my web-design class.

I am trying very, very hard to maintain a positive attitude about this. If nothing else, I am not called “Hermione” without a reason: I can launch into schoolwork whether I like it or not, and the process of working through a list of assignments is itself rewarding to my well-conditioned brain. I am really hoping, though, to get a good amount of value from these classes. I don’t want to just go through the motions but to feel inspired to think and act on what I learn.

*sigh* I was spoiled by being a literature major where just about every class left me wanting to learn more, read more. Which I have tried to do in my break and am a little resentful that I won’t be able to continue doing now.

On a positive note, lifting the despair a bit is the fact that I feel like I’m finally working towards something tangible. Yes, last year I was too, but it didn’t feel as real. I applied for a classroom-observation internship with Carroll County at the start of the week, and then it felt real. Yes, it will take two years, but moving forward one week at a time is far preferable to the feeling of stagnation (and despair–there’s a theme here!) that has plagued me since school let out in March.

So my classes this semester are the introduction to teaching course, educational psychology (which looks like intro to psych from the PoV of a teacher), and secondary teaching strategies. The last is probably the one I look forward to the most because it seems like I might really get something out of it. Educational psych … well, like I said, it’s like PSYC100 for teachers, and I have a degree in psych. So while it will be interesting to see concepts that I learned as pure theory or in a clinical context applied to educational settings, then I expect that most of the major ideas will be a review … a much-needed review, but a review nonetheless.

I’m on the fence about the intro class. Bobby had this his last semester, and for one, the syllabus is rather confusing with a lot of conflicting information (always annoying), and it required a textbook about Microsoft Office, which thankfully Bobby didn’t insult me by buying for me. I suppose it is reflective of the fact that I more or less grew up with computers that I feel like schools and workplaces shouldn’t cater to people who haven’t managed to figure out how to use basic software programs yet. It’s not like Word and Excel are cutting-edge programs anymore. I had coursework in MS Office when I was in the ninth grade. I’m kind of scornful of having to pay for graduate credits to learn MS Excel.

Oh, and two of the classes require groupwork. Groupwork?! I told Bobby in a rather rantastic moment on the way home from work on Monday that teachers/professors who base one’s grades on groupwork have obviously never been one of the smartest kids in the class who inevitably get stuck in a groupwork setting and end up doing all of the work because, otherwise, the project will be shit. So it’s between choosing to break one’s back to get good grades for one’s peers or doing one’s part and accepting the grades for the mediocrity of one’s peers. I can certainly understand cooperative learning (although as a shy kid who got picked on a lot, I am cautious of over-relying on that), but grading a single student based on group efforts is distasteful to me. So I’m seriously, seriously hoping that these group projects don’t fall into that category. Because, based on what Bobby’s told me about the effort most people put into these education classes, I do not want to be stuck again sharing the rewards for my efforts with a lot of deadweights.


To borrow a cliche, I guess the jury’s out at the moment. I am going to try my best to eek whatever value I can from these classes, but I must admit that I wish I was still studying literature right now!

The Secret Stories of Books

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

The thought occurred to me the other day that books contain the stories that are printed on their pages, but there are other, secret stories on those pages too. I was reading The World According to Garp at Q’doba, and I turned the page, and there was a perfectly preserved little bug in the pages. It wasn’t even that squished. It was quite dead, however. It made me think of how it got there. Maybe the reader who checked it out before me was reading outside? Or near the compost bowl?

The other day, I was reading the same book at lunch, and the pages kept flopping over, so I pinned them down under the microwavable tray of kofta curry that I was eating. I had my fork nowhere near the book, but a big splat of sauce ended up on the edge of one of the pages. So, now, page 148 has a kofta curry stain in the margin.

Some reader after me will doubtlessly see it and wonder how it got there. Probably, they’ll think I’m an asshole who is careless with my library books; in fact, I feel quite bad about the kofta curry stain on page 148 and am not particularly careless with any of my books. In reality, the kofta curry stain speaks of someone who eats lunch alone each day and so reads while eating for company. That could infer a lot of things about me: that maybe I don’t have any friends (not true) or that I don’t like people (a little bit true, sometimes) or just that I don’t feel much of a connection with the people around me at work (which is closest to the truth) and so get more enjoyment from the company of books. What is said about a woman who eats kofta curry for lunch? That I am Indian? (I’m not.) That I’m vegetarian? (I am.) That I’m one of those rare Americans who would sooner eat something “foreign” and without cheese and gravy? That’s true as well. From those facts, all sorts of inferences can be made about me. I probably voted for Obama. (I did.) I’m probably a regular at the farmer’s market and slightly obsessed with recycling. (Both, true.) I probably drive a hybrid car (I don’t, unfortunately) or ride around a lot on buses (I wish I did, but again, I don’t).

All of these inferences could come from a splotch of kofta curry in the margin of a library book. And so my copy of The World According to Garp now contains a new story. So, I wonder what the dead bug means?

One of my favorite “secret stories” is when I acquire a book at the library and find, in the cover or on the first blank page, a person’s name scribed in neat, italic handwriting. I imagine, then, that the book probably belonged to a person old enough to be of the generation that actually learned to write with neat, italic handwriting. My grandmother had beautiful handwriting. The person is now deceased and her/his (usually her) family just didn’t know what to do with all those books. So they donated them to the public library. It seems a nice way for one’s name to go on: in providing stories and knowledge for others in the future.

Or a passage will be underlined (hopefully in pencil, lightly, though sometimes in ink and deep enough to leave an impression on the next page), and I imagine the high-school student hunching over the book when there is a flutter in the heart that comes from one of those magical passages that beg to be underlined (hopefully in pencil, lightly), even if they prove nothing toward one’s thesis.

My first Silmarillion looks like it might have been leashed on a piece of twine and bounced behind a schoolbus Napoleon Dynamite-style. It has marginalia and underlined passages (in pencil, lightly) that have become smudged from years of turning the pages on which they reside. None are particularly insightful to me anymore; in fact, some are downright banal, but I leave them because these represent my first thoughts kindling on this book and this world that would come to change my life in so many ways, some bad but most good. If someone tried to donate this Silmarillion to a public library, I doubt they’d take it; but oh, what stories it tells!