Tag Archives: students

Collected Notes and Quotes from 2015

A listing in chronological order:

At Busy Grocery Store: ‘YOU are gonna hafta be a good listener’

‘We Need More Bus’: My Students Explain Things

‘Dose ahr not liess’: The week in quotes

‘An Undigested Bit of Beef’: Pocket pages week in review

‘What I’m doing NOW as opposed to what I’m doing NOW’: This week in quotes

‘Dinging on my thingy’: Things I overheard this week

‘Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood’: Overheard 6 May thru 16 May

‘It’ll be funny SOMEday’: Quotes from students in class of ’15

‘What the hell is that?’: A Thursday at the resale shop

‘I guess we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll’: Byronfest 2015

Limits of storytelling: Notes from 17 to 27 August 2015

Random high fives and ‘how we’re gonna scale that’: Images from six days in Boulder

Everything’s true except for the monkey’: My week in review

Let’s stay friends’: Quotes of this day

See ya, nerd king’: November’s overheard quotes

A little stranger than I thought’: December notes & quotes

‘Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood’: Overheard 6 May thru 16 May

Some of my sophomore students drew my plant form last week.

Some of my sophomore students drew me as a plant two weeks ago.

Closer up, me as a flower. I'm pleased the students used the black (and not the

Closer up, me as a flower. I’m pleased the students used the black (and not the “rapidly graying”) marker to depict my hair.

We were debating whether you were here or not. And then, as an evidentiary claim, you showed up,” I said to a student who arrived late to my 3rd hour class.

I was such a child back then,” said a senior girl in my creative writing class as she read through her journal. When, I asked. “January 14th,” she said.

I just wanna wear pants,” said a student who continued to wear shorts above her leg brace two weeks after her knee surgery. Another student who had previously had knee surgery said, “I just wanted to wear pants after I had MY surgery.”

On seeing another senior girl’s translucent lunch sack, another senior girl said, “You have a banana and water — that’s it!

A senior boy announced to others as they were going to lunch, apropos of nothing, “I got three compliments yesterday from three girls.

Student said another student almost got him flunked from 8th grade. Second student answered, “He plagiarized the whole thing!” Student answered: “At least I was trying.”

After student announced that he was done with the reading assignment, his classmate said, “No, you’re not. My nose itches.”

Say ‘booty’ when we get in the hallway,” said student to classmate, after I’d told them not to shout “booty” in the classroom, per their prior practice. After class, in the hallway, both boys shouted, “Booty, what?”

After student said she had a job interview but didn’t want to tuck in her t-shirt for the interview, because tucking in the shirt would make her look like a nerd, classmate answered: “If you want a job, you’re gonna be a nerd.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

12 May 2015, Byron, IL, near walking path north of the high school.

I heard a male teacher conversing in the school library with a female teacher say: “Are you getting vinyl? I’m getting wood.” After I said that was a quote worth writing down, they both said they were talking about fencing at their respective homes.

On Mother’s Day, my mom cooked homemade vegetable patties for me. “Does this look like something you want more than one of?” she asked as she spatula’d one onto my plate. I did.

All I have to do is type the words,” said a student in my writing class explaining how he was going to get caught up on a semester’s worth of missing writing assignments in the last week of class.

I asked a sophomore student how she was doing last Tuesday. “Dees,” she said, presumably for the first syllable in “decent.”

A student and I were counting up the number of days he’d been alive. Maybe he’d been dead for some of those days, he suggested. Being dead a minute, maybe, I said. “Being dead a day, it’s hard to come back from that,” I said. By the way, this student had been alive for his 6,714th day last Thursday.

After I mentioned to a couple students that I'd written many stories for my college French classes about a

During 10th hour on 8 May, I mentioned to a couple students that I’d written many stories for my college French classes about a “marmotte,” because it was so close to its English equivalent “marmot.” After students left, I noticed all three computers where those students sat had had new pictures installed for backgrounds.

The chicks’ll cream” were the words in the “Greased Lightning” song played for teachers to dance to, in the teachers-versus-students dance-off at my school’s end-of-year assembly last Friday.

Also at the assembly, in a separate dancing exhibition, the teacher leading three groups of seniors through some so-called “games” told them to perform a “native dance,” which involved students getting dressed up with what looked like Swiffer duster-sheets as headdresses and cones over their mouths. “Let’s see some indigenous movements,” she actually said.

Announcing a prize of two free pork chops at a fall football game next school year, that same teacher described the prize as “Oh, nice, nice, nice, nice.”

This is not ‘Fun with Lasers.’ This is ‘Measuring with Lasers,’ which is even MORE fun than ‘Fun with Lasers,’” propagandized a math teacher to his 7th hour students as they gathered in the hallway Friday. Minutes later, I heard him call out, “two feet, six and a half inches.”

‘Dinging on my thingy’: Things I overheard this week

Rockford College University, 2 May 2015

Rockford College University, 2 May 2015

“I found it on the floor,” said student as she returned from a trip to the bathroom with a cupcake in hand. As others teased her, she said, “it was a chocolate frickin’ cupcake,” to which classmate added, “of sh*t!”

“Nice job last night,” said an old man I didn’t know as he was walking behind me at Wal-Mart on Tuesday April 28th. Then he said, “You didn’t hear me, did you?” and again he said, “Nice job last night.” I said I was at home last night, washing dishes. He apologized, as he’d confused me for someone else. I said, “I don’t mind being complimented on my dishes.”

One sophomore boy to another, after the latter had said “chupacabra” in some comment to the class: “Yay — chupacabra!” and fist-bumped the latter student. I said I needed to write that down on my pocket-page where I collected quotes. A girl said, “it becomes funnier when you say you have to write it down.”

That same girl later said to her friend and classmate, who was confused about an assignment, “See, I told you you were stupid.”

Ant hills

Ant hills

“THAT’S why you don’t ride horses bareback when they’re in heat,” said student, explaining why she had scrapes and bruises on her face and arms.

“Are you on some good pain meds?” I asked a student who had just come back to school after having open-knee surgery. She laughed and said, “Heheehee, yeah.”

Outside Colman Library, Rockford College University, 3 May 2015

Outside Colman Library, Rockford College University, 3 May 2015

“How long does it take a person to see there’s nothing!?!” I heard myself say of a driver who was durably stopped at a four-way stop sign. I was just complaining about a fellow human’s judgment, but then I realized that line could also be a philosophically significant point about ideas being nothing at all.

“Would that be grammarly correct?” a student asked of a particular phrase on April 29. He did later correct himself with “grammatically.”

“If anyone cares, my heels are bleeding,” announced student to me and her 10th hour classmates.

That same girl, the next day, said about using public toilets: “You gotta hover! You gotta hover!”

“They spelled all of my names wrong,” said a girl with three names of a local-newspaper article in which she was wrongly named.

At Kishwaukee College, 28 March 2015

At Kishwaukee College, 28 March 2015

“I don’t care; it’s mine,” said a senior boy after his friend pointed out flaws in the model airplane the boy had just purchased for two dollars from a teacher who’s leaving at the end of the semester.

“One day it’s like, ‘huh-huh, huh-huh’; the other, it’s ‘heh-heh, heh-heh,” said a senior girl describing another girl’s changing laugh.

“But he’s still alive, you know,” said the woman teaching the graduate-level education class I took last weekend, of her husband buying heart medicine in Mexico over her objections.

Rock River beach at Byron, IL, 25 March 2015

Rock River beach at Byron, IL, 25 March 2015

Junior student said if she would start to plan a murder, she’d “just give up because it’s too much work. I’m serious, honestly,” she said.

Student said of her classmate, “She’s like a teddy bear.” “I am,” said second student. “No, you’re not — you’re a bitch,” said first student.

“A word is a thing on the move, a word is a process,” said linguist John McWhorter on NPR’s All Things Considered.

At high school baseball games on April 30th, one woman yelled at a boy who was pitching: “C’mon, Taylor, put it in there,” and after he threw a called strike, she said something like “Right there” or maybe “There it is.” A different woman at a nearby game said of the team she supported, “We’re getting ’em out there; we’re just leavin’ ’em out there.”

Sine function models, sort of.

The sine function incarnate, sort of.

“You live to serve,” a young-ish man at the seminar said to his 50-something female colleague, as he asked her to get him something. “Why can’t YOU live to serve?” she replied. “I’m only 37,” he said.

Later on, that same woman said of cultural sensitivity, that teachers are not supposed to ignore cultural differences but celebrate them. “You’re supposed to go with a guy and do hookah,” she gave as an example. I wrote this down and read it back to her and she at first denied that she had said it, but then, “No, I DID say that, didn’t I?” she admitted.

“I can’t afford an Ess-You-Vee, but THEY’VE got ’em,” said a middle-aged female teacher, comparing her material wealth to those who claim to be poor.

“That was you dinging on my thingy just now,” said a teacher colleague of mine after I had sent her an email that caused an audible alert on her computer.

Ice, Ogle County, 5 March 2015

Ice, Ogle County, 5 March 2015

“Don’t f__king look at my veins,” said a student who told us she was denied the ability to donate blood because her veins were too small, or something.

“Um-um-um-um-um, can I teach?” asked a student in my 10th hour class, a question she’s asked on about 20 prior days. I’ve said “no” every time before saying “yes” today, and she did a decent job leading our class through reading part of Book 13 of The Odyssey and then supervising essay-writing time.

“Too bad you’re gonna go back to her, just like you always do,” said one senior boy to another in the parking lot after school on 4 May.

I was getting slap-happy tired when I took this picture, but something about there being anything "upcoming" about classics struck me as funny.

I was getting slap-happy tired when I took this picture, but something about there being anything “upcoming” about classics struck me as funny.

‘If you don’t start pretending to learn, I’m gonna start trying to teach’

By the end of the school week, my patience wears thin. I’m not proud to admit this, but last Friday I threatened a student with my pedagogy.

The normally bright student said she didn’t know how to answer a grammar question that we had studied just a few weeks ago. I said, “If you don’t start pretending to learn, I’m gonna start trying to teach.” (I don’t quote myself very often, but after I heard myself say these words, I thought they were worth writing down.)

After a few more minutes of the punctuation worksheet, she begged for mercy: “You don’t have to pretend to teach anymore because I just learned something,” she said.

P.S. When I used the word “pedagogue” in class the other day, this same sophomore student thought it cute that I was suddenly talking about a “pet goat.”

My students put me in pictures

Two of my creative writing students from last semester also got creative with a photo of me from this blog. Here, Sam M. puts my face (from this post) into a charming/creepy holiday depiction:


and Mark B. put my face on currency,


and in my own trading card (Mark also decided I was “secretly … president of the United States”),


and in Mount Rushmore (left of me is my teaching colleague Mr. Fonfara).


I appreciate the wisdom that I, a Humble Genius, should be given the spot of Thomas Jefferson, the president so smart that he was an “extraordinary collecti0n of talent, of human knowledge … when [he] dined alone.

A philosophy of ghosts: How the scary unreal illuminates the real

I don’t like being scared.

If there’s a biological component to thrill-seeking, I don’t have it. (Some people, of course, may have it.) As a kid, I forced myself to go on roller coasters, and I did that, proving to myself I could face my fear, and having done that, I don’t have to go on roller coasters any more. It’s just not fun for me. Likewise, I don’t watch horror films, and I don’t go to “haunted houses,” and I even get a little anxious after seeing my neighbors’  Halloween decorations.

Pretty much all of Halloween is tough on those of us who are prone to anxiety. I get scared enough worrying about the various aspects of my present and my future that I don’t need any more reminders of death or the unknown. I much prefer those holidays were we celebrate life and have pastel bunnies and evergreen trees and whatnot.

I’m not the first to say that what’s scary about Halloween decorations like scarecrows and sheet-ghosts, is that they somewhat, but not precisely, resemble real people and inanimate objects. Like the “uncanny valley” of human reactions to robots who have near-but-not-yet-human bodies and movements, seeing levitating, wind-fluttered sheets in a tree and human forms in unaccustomed positions and places (like scarecrow decorations) perhaps causes an anxious need to resolve the differences between what we see and what we expect to see.

And sometimes it’s hard to resolve this difference. In my life, I have had experiences that seemed to be a little “otherworldly.” I have had moments of “déjà vu,” where I’d see a particular situation in front of me and feel like I’d dreamt that situation earlier. Another time, I remember having a strange, almost intoxicated feeling after talking with a person of a religious tradition little known to me. But rather than interpret these feelings as implying that there really was an “other world,” in which there could be prophetic dreams and people in contact with spirits, I just labeled these as odd, unexplained experiences, and I go on living my life in a world of regular physical things with a mind that sometimes has weird experiences.

And of course, how our minds operate, and how they interact with the physical world (for example, how nonphysical minds arise from physical brains) are themselves mysteries. But just because something is unexplained or mysterious does not mean that it can justify belief in the supernatural.

We educated moderns have mostly agreed to let science be the basis of our understanding of reality. What is real are things that many people can witness repeatedly. Rainbows and cows and electricity are real because we can observe these things under repeatable conditions. And in this world, certain things happen, and certain things don’t: for instance, objects don’t pop into and out of existence. If a pen I expected to find on my desk is no longer there, I assume that there is some physical explanation for where it went (maybe I bumped it off the desk, or my cat did, or a vibration from a passing truck pushed it off, etc.), rather than assuming that either the pen disappeared (as if by magic) or that some ghost took the pen.

We never see magical or supernatural things in our everyday perceptions of the world. (This is where it gets tricky: those who do see supernatural things, we would call mentally disordered — because brain malfunction is a more scientific explanation than assuming someone is beyond-human, no matter what a large number of fiction storytellers propose).  If we are to acknowledge ghosts as scientifically real, we would need to see them appear to groups (and not one individual) of people in repeatable ways — like rainbows do. Even if scientists were to verify by repeated observations that some of the phenomena that so-called “ghost hunters” look for — weird voices, cold spots, inexplicable phenomena — were real, scientists could not declare “ghosts” to be real, because “ghost” is a causal interpretation/explanation that requires nonphysical definition. A ghost, as commonly understood, is the soul or spirit of a dead person — and this connection cannot be made by rational argument. It must be made on faith alone.

Now, of course, some people choose to see the world through an understanding based on faith. They believe something is real because, well, they believe it’s real. Faith does not require evidence. Faith takes over where science cannot comment, which is in any realm in which there is no physical evidence. Science has no evidence into my personal, subjective experience; scientists can watch my brain scans and try to correlate those results with what I report experiencing, but no scientist can experience anything directly from or in anyone else’s mind.

But it is within one’s mind that one makes meaning from, one interprets, what one sees and feels. And so one is free to choose what one’s experiences mean. And so some people, including some of my students, assign to their unusual experiences the meaning of “ghost.” I choose not to accept that interpretation for my own irregular experiences because, frankly, I don’t want to believe in ghosts. I don’t want to believe the world is full of supernatural things. I find the idea of ghosts scary, and I choose to not be scared, so I accept the scientific view that ghosts, as a theory of what causes observed reality, cannot be justify as physically real.

However, my students who believe in ghosts often say that they want to believe in ghosts, because this belief allows them to think their deceased family members are still with them. (Mary Todd Lincoln reportedly believed in the ghost of Abe for the same reason.) One student this year told me she believes in ghosts because if they do exist, they would treat her better for having believed in them (an argument that seems silly but is pretty much the same argument made by the respected thinker Blaise Pascal.)

And I like having this discussion in my English classes because it makes clear some of the issues between science and religions, observations and theories, epistemology and metaphysics. I don’t understand ghosts as physically real, but I appreciate the ghosts as a real idea that can be discussed.

‘My metaphors are all elephants’: Palate-cleansers for the mind (Part 1 of 2)

Using the “Exquisite Corpse” method described here, my students and I last week made some new texts that have parts that, like these below, are like palate-cleansers for the mind.

Live is just a verb for I was just young.

Bananaless lunches are so horrible, taste of chocolate cake.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed to be very small world after all.

Mangoes fall from the tree huggers.

My metaphors are all elephants.

Feel like I was hit by a big bus that ran over a person who knows nothing.

This right here is my swag is off.

It really does suck oiling the tires on a flower.

Let’s go swimming with me and you at the movies with mom.

Kill me very slowly please. Help me find my parrot.

Very thrillfully I lunged toward a big house on the left, haunted.

America is the opposite of somewhere over the rainbow.

Money makes me sad like the wind I ran across.

Love can be fake, although peanut butter is delicious.

“Pen” is my pen-name.

Why try to change your ugly face? Please show what you are.

Everyone got annoyed smiling at what no chimpanzee made out of copper.

Today I will wash my words are nonsense banana.

Sky rhymes with words like a fish out of the dead horse.

the McDonald’s parking lot of cats

Violently beat a man to make food right now.

That was not what I was expecting a bakery to have.

Work with what you own, a waffle cone.

Rocks are hard like metal hospital garage roof kittens get eaten by ants.

Piano is the dumbest instrument of your utter demise.

Morons are really dumb. I never knew that. I now know.

I could be anything, all you need. You will fight me now.

Life is like a story gone wrong because of mice and men.

I chose the right egg, Jimmy.

House is a word like a unicorn because yeah.

Tomorrow is the day when I get older.

Now the fighting began because Harold lost his pants.

So now I am your favorite mouse.

Love is a four letter to my lover, Bob.

Stop yourself before you need to stop talking to my wallaby.

How do you spell the world’s longest word of the great man who is also a pig in a pen full of blood?

A longer listing is here. Last semester’s poems made by similar method are here and here.

‘The Great Gatsby’ and age: The older I get, the less I don’t know

So, there’s a new movie of Gatsby. This isn’t as newsy now as it would’ve been a few weeks ago, but, you know, the book has been around for, oh, four-score and some years now, and my high school’s students read it in our “American Lit after 1900” class, and I read it in high school and didn’t enjoy it (my memory is of my teacher flat-out telling us “the green light symbolizes money”) and I reread it in recent years and thought it was better than I had remembered it, but that it still wasn’t all that great. I mean, I liked that last line, about boats being ceaselessly  beaten back, etc. etc., but much of the book was not that lyrically beautiful.

And I found a fellow-traveler in  Kathryn Schulz’s critique of this book:

What was Fitzgerald doing instead of figuring out such things about his characters? Precision-engineering his plot, chiefly, and putting in overtime at the symbol factory. Gatsby takes place over a single summer: three months, three acts, three chapters each, with a denouement—the car accident and murder—of near-Greek (but also near-silly) symmetry. Inside that story, almost everything in sight serves a symbolic purpose: the automobiles and ash heaps, the upright Midwest and poisonous East, the white dresses and decadent mansions.

Heavy plot, heavy symbolism, zero ­psychological motivation: Those are the genre conventions of fables and fairy tales. Gatsby has been compared to both, typically to suggest a mythical quality to Fitzgerald’s characters or a moral significance to his tale. But moral significance requires moral engagement: challenge, discomfort, illumination, or transformation. The Great Gatsby offers none of that. In fact, it offers the opposite: aloofness.

When I saw that I wasn’t alone in my lack of enthusiasm, I started wondering why this particular book was taught and continues to be taught so much to high-school literature students. There are many, many other novels published in the last hundred years that could also be taught.

One of my colleagues suggested that the theme of the American dream in “Gatsby” makes it worth reading — and, sure, that’s a valid theme to discuss in a lit. class. But “the American dream” isn’t a theme at all until the author takes a position on that topic — “the American dream is hollow” or “the American dream is worthwhile” — and at that point, why do we need a story at all? Fitzgerald could just have written an op-ed to make that point, and have been done with it.

Instead, there is a long story that’s about as subtle in its condemnation as a fairy tale, as Schulz says above. To take a scenario as complex as Gatsby’s (ill-gotten gains, unrequited-and-then-illicitly-requited love, etc.) and just boil it down to something like “achieving our goals may not make us happy” feels like it deserves a “duh” response from adult readers. Teens may not know this yet, and maybe it’s worthwhile for them to consider it, but I’m not sure adults will take this book all that seriously. Maybe the readers who will most enjoy and appreciate a work are those who are younger than the author was when he/she wrote the work.

According to his Wikipedia page, Fitzgerald wrote most of “Gatsby” in 1924, when he would’ve been (1896 to 1924) 28 years old. Twenty-eight is pretty darn young for someone to comment on the nature of “the American dream.” Of course, chronological age does not always match personal maturity or artistic ability, but when a writer is only 28 years old — has been an adult for only 10 years — he doesn’t really have much authority, other than authority over those who are younger yet than he is.

I’m now almost 40, and I can now look back at my 28-year-old self and see that I strongly held certain beliefs and judgments about which I am now not sure certain. This is not to say that I was wrong, exactly, about the things I said then, nor that I am perfect now, but that I now try to be more humble about my opinions (Humble enough to blog them to the rest of the reading public, of course. Also, the delusions of grandeur endure).

And so I can now look at “The Great Gatsby” and admire some of the writing but I also look at the story and think that there’s not much there for me to learn. I feel like I’m smarter than the characters, and also wiser than the author. With other books and authors, too: I don’t have to agree with Hemingway’s biases towards his characters in “The Sun Also Rises,” written when he was 26, and I don’t have to think that Kerouac’s characters could find satisfaction in their lives “On the Road,” published when Kerouac was 35. I look at some of these books now and wonder why the authors really have to tell me about the condition of being alive that I haven’t already learned on my own.

It’s age-ism to say that I can’t learn anything from writers who are younger than me (or were when they wrote — and of course, I did learn from reading Hemingway and Kerouac when I was a late-teens, early-20s reader). And yet, as I get older, and as I get more familiar with the fuller range of ideas, the range of ways of writing, the range of tones/perspectives, etc. that writers can use, I find myself less thrilled, less enthused, to read the writings of most other writers.

That’s a huge generalization, of course. And I’m not talking about reading things for “escapist” purposes — a writer of any age, presumably, can write a story. But I often read in order to learn something, and the older I get, the less I don’t know.

That sounds terrible — terribly closed-minded, and typical of an old (read: inflexible) person. And not entirely true — I am able to better appreciate some things now — including some of the classic texts — than I was when younger. But when I now read Plato’s “Apology” or the epic poem “Beowulf” (as I read last year for the “World Lit” class I was teaching), I’m more likely to approach these texts as a peer of the writer — I’m less likely to cede authority to that author. I’m gonna question the author’s veracity, legitimacy, purpose, etc. — all that stuff that my college lit. profs. probably wanted me to question when I was 20.

But I’m here now, and some of the magic of the texts is gone, or maybe it was never “magic” — maybe I’m just more clear-eyed and less reverent when I approach texts. Maybe I’m not buying into the Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Kerouac myths that I used to accept — that there was something gloriously important and rapturously tragic (or vice versa) about Being an Author and Writing Novels, etc.

I don’t feel bad about my current approach — and once one is aware of the myths and the magic, one “can never return again.” Not only do I not feel bad about my current mindset, I feel pretty good about it — I feel wiser than I used to be. Where I used to see intellectual limits, I now see boundaries whose lines can be crossed. It feels pretty good.

And one thing I feel good about is not wanting to merely criticize others and their works. I want my fault-finding to lead me into a positive, substantial new direction — and I think for me, this means that I no longer really accept texts as beyond reproach and I no longer accept ideas as unassailable answers (everything is reproachable and/or assailable). But I trust now in the process, in the act of thinking and writing, and in this way, I can continue to discuss and consider even works I disagree with — I can continue to teach my students (and myself), and I can be humble enough to see also that I may also one day find something beyond process that I like even better.