Life in small town America

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#44 – Still teaching

Creativity has always been fascinating to me. How do people develop creativity? Over the years I have tried to use art, music, photography, dance and theater in my English classroom to invite students in to the conversations about literature and to spark writing ideas.

I believe creativity is something we nurture in children and that it is not innate any more that reading or math are innate. We must teach children to be observers and thinkers and reflectors about the life they live. When we do that we can expect children to generate new ideas and new things.

Although I am not a professional artist, I love to play with art and see things in new ways. As a small child, I had a great art teacher who took us to the school yard one day, not to play, but to observe. She asked us to get on our bellies and she put a small open square in front of each us on the grass. In this square, we were to look closely at what was going on inside of the square. Then, she gave us a piece of a small board with a piece of art paper taped to it and told us to draw what we saw. I remember drawing a worm and an ant playing in the grass. Little did I know that this was my invitation to observe life.

The arts can do many things for us. Music was so powerful to me as a teenager, whether it was buying my first 45 rpm record or singing in church choir, music spoke to my soul and much of the time as a teacher, I have relied on music to keep me calm and to help kids in their thinking process. When my brother died at the young age of 32, it helped heal my heart and mind because I could not fathom that he was gone. I often wonder how our kids would deal with life’s tragedies if we infused more music into the healing process. Fortunately for me, I work at a place where art therapy is a major and I get to see the impact of integration of arts in to peoples’ lives.

Last fall I learned the power of art to heal the mind. I had the opportunity to use a new art form I was learning to help heal my brain after a nasty fall that resulted in what doctors call CBI, or closed-brain injury,  often called a concussion. I spend days practicing Zentagle, a form of art using pen strokes to create designs. I had learned it earlier in the spring, from my great art teacher, Christine French, so the process of picking up the pen and drawing in this new way, helped my mind to refocus and heal more quickly.

As the school year begins, think about how you can help students be more creative.



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#2 – That first year of teaching – BE THE LIGHT

I stood at the door of my first teaching job in Indianapolis wondering if it would be my life’s work. I loved literature, I loved writing, but deep down inside, I was scared to death because I knew teaching was about kids and that was a huge responsibility.

What would this  year hold as I faced those fresh-faced juniors to teach them American literature and how to write. Little did I know I would fall in love with teaching and spend the next 43 years doing this very thing. The summer before I left for my new job, my grandmother gave me a key ring that said ‘God is love’ on it. She told me to BE THE LIGHT and that has been my motto ever since.

Teaching students to love two hundred years of literature, helping them to develop writing skills and advising them as they build their student newspaper were all part of my day.  I did not know it then, but did find out a few months later that a teacher’s life is a life of very little sleep. We worry, fret, cajole, and anguish over “our kids” just like parents do. That was a real eye opener.

I must say, the world of journalism education has really changed since then. I remember teaching my students how to use a hot wax roller to create an adhesive back on their galley sheets, so they could be mounted on a pica board and taken to the printer. We typed the galleys on an electric typewriter that actually counted the spaces we needed to reset the type in the correct width to present a justified column. We also learned how to mount tool lines with the tiniest of tapes and cross cut the corners on a 45º angle so they looked perfect. I also learned how to develop black and white film and print photos that year. All of this knowledge would come in handy seven years later in another job. I am so glad that little old yearbook adviser took me under her wing and said, you need to learn to do this so you can teach kids to do it, because it is their publication.

Today, it is just not the same doing photos in PhotoShop. Same principles, yes, but the process is not the same. Dektol and developer, I do miss you and the artistic way you enticed us all as photos emerged from the paper. Doing the newspaper was the biggest part of my life as I stayed after school for many hours helping the kids write their best stories and design their best page layouts and print their best photos. It was so intense and I wondered if all of my teaching career it would be this way or if it would get easier.

Another thing I learned that year had to do with tornados. I had never seen one, but had heard that they were dangerous. Our first school drill was a storm drill and not a fire drill. There were many days in that school year and the next school year, that we ducked for cover in hallways where there were no windows and the steel beams of the building would cover us as winds blew over the school. I was never so happy to be in a basement in my life.

In the spring of that year, I went back to my alma mater to visit my roommate and her husband. On the way to their house, I decided to stop by the college to go to the bookstore, my favorite place. When I came out I could see a storm brewing, so I hopped in my beautiful red 1969 Cougar and took off for their house, just 12 miles away from the campus. As I left the last turn before leaving the small college town, I saw this mammoth funnel cloud coming toward me from the left. At that point I thought may days were over and floored the gas pedal. I remember seeing 100 mph on the speedometer and realized that something had hit the room of my car, which made me push the pedal even harder.  As I outraced the tornado and pulled into my college roommate’s driveway, I knew there was a reason I was still here and that was to teach.  Getting out of the car, I noticed that the thud I had heard on the roof of my car as I raced to their house had come from a piece of the flying barn roof I had seen in the funnel cloud. So much for that beautiful vinyl roof.

As I went to the front door, my roommate’s husband opened the door and said “Are you okay?” Of course, I could not talk and ended up passing out from the trauma of the experience.

Yes, it was very dark in that funnel cloud that came at me that day, but I could see the light ahead of me and I kept my eye on the light to get free. After some great tea and a warm bed, I knew that my grandmother’s advice was right: teachers need to BE THE LIGHT ahead of the child, so the child can see the path to the future.

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#1 – What I have learned as a teacher

During the next 43 weeks, I will celebrate my 43 years of teaching with some classroom memories and thoughts about education. Follow along with me as I reminisce.

I will share that my first year of teaching was far from home – 10 hours of driving in the city of Indianapolis. I taught junior English, journalism, and 10th grade Bible.

Also, I advised the Trailblazer Times at Indianapolis Baptist High School, which no longer exists. It was a rather large private school for the time. One of the great memories I have from there is taking my kids to the Indianapolis Star for a field trip. When we got inside, we waited for about 10 minutes to go on our tour. Finally, the tour guide asked the students where their teacher was and one of the students said “She is right here.” It was good to be a young teacher.

Wow, time has flown and I  have loved every minute of teaching. Still love teaching kids to write. All kids should have a high school student publications experience. I am glad I did and glad I was able to give kids that experience for 34 of the last 43 years.

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A Tribute to a Fireman

Today we share time with the family of Brian Trimble, Fuller Hose fire fighter, who will be laid to rest tomorrow as the result of a pedestrian-vehicle accident. Brian’s laughter and smile will be missed. Thank you, Brian, for giving of your time and self to protect our community. Thank you for sharing your family, your talents and your business with our community. You go to rest as a hero and we salute you for giving your life in your prime to serve others. Rest in peace.

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Cherry Festival 2012

Cherry Festival 2012. Great brunch today at the Whitmore block party brunch! 30 years, what a tradition! Hundreds – literally – hundreds of folks there.

Firefighter’s parade – one of the best in many ever! Watched with brother, sister-in-law and nephew and then had great dinner with them. All so terrific. Family rules!

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Silently, it comes!

Cancer. Silently, it comes to skewer those who dare to laugh and love life. How often I have seen it in these past six months.  Who will be the next one to crash with the agony of its power over flesh? How can we see the death of cancer for the next generation? What can we do to help the wounded and weary who face this terrible monster?