Easter Sunday

Originally posted on Mysteries and Manners:

“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east”

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Holy Saturday

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After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

 

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

 

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
.
- Emily Dickinson

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Good Friday

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Psalm 22

Here we are faced with a bottomless mystery[...] at this precise point the mystery of the divine Trinity is fully proclaimed. The distance is so great—for in God everything is infinitethat there is room in it for all the alienation and sin of the world; the Son can draw all this into his relationship with the Father [...]

Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for him, the less he has merited it. As we have already said, there is nothing familiar about it to him: it is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, he suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of him, to have lost him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering “hell”, for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after his death. (Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Scapegoat and the Trinity“)

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Holy Thursday

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown

“Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet,” by Ford Madox Brown

 

Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (“Ei tauta oidate, makarioi este, ean poiēte auta.”)

[...]

Whenever I hear this reading proclaimed on Holy Thursday, I never fail to think how different Christian churches would be if, in addition to our weekly celebrations of the Eucharist we celebrated the Footwashing. It may sound crazy, and it would be terribly complicated to arrange every Sunday—all those basins of waters and towels and shoes and socks! 

But imagine the symbolism if every week the presider laid aside his vestments and got down on his hands and knees to scrub the feet of his parishioners. What a reminder it would be to all of us—priests included—that this is what Christ asked us to do in addition to the celebration of the Eucharist. After all, what he says about the Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me” at the Last Supper in the Synoptics, he also says about the footwashing in John: “If you know these things, are you blessed if you do them.” 

Seen every Sunday, over and over, the washing of the feet might help us see how power is more intimately linked to service. (Fr. James Martin, SJ, Jesus: A Pilgrimage 

PopeFrancis-washing-feet-young-people-

via Catholic News Agency

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7 Quick Takes Friday (4/11/14)

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My friend Oscar has just started an awesome new website about education that you should check out! It’s called The McGuffey Reader, named after William Holmes McGuffey.

From the “About” Section of the site:

An independent organization committed to the improvement of local schools and to the reform of education in America, The Mcguffey Reader is the first ever online space for the exchange of school-specific solutions, and a source for the latest in education news, policies, and pedagogies that are currently changing education. (The McGuffey Reader About Page)

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source: mcguffeyreaders.com

 

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Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies!

What a Godsend! I am definitely ordering one of these for my classroom next year…

FallaciesPoster

source: yourlogicialfallacyis.com

Especially this one.

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source: churchm.ag

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I love this:

What I Never Would Have Known About Becoming a Teacher Before I Became One

It’s a list of 10 things.

But especially this thing:

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source: takepart.com

Some teachers ask me incredulously why I often wear heels when I teach. Aren’t I just asking for sore feet?

Well, yes.

But I began wearing heels because, during my first year of teaching, I was so much SHORTER than the huge senior boys who came marching into my classroom.

And I realized as well that a decisive click click click on the classroom floor, or in the hallways, can have a surpassing amount of power.

Although of course “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Especially the responsibility of not tripping and falling during class. THAT has almost happened.

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My friend Serena has another great article over at Public Discourse: “Crowdfunding, Selfies, And Mommy Blogs: Finding Community in the Internet Age.”

Very, very interesting. You hear in homilies and articles all the time how “the internet” and its forms of social media have ironically only isolated us from one another–but Mrs. Sigillito (!) challenges that oft-repeated narrative:

I believe that social media have the capacity to help establish new forms of community that fulfill our innate desire to be part of a group that is larger than ourselves, but small enough to for us to be known, accepted, and loved. (Sigillito via Public Discourse)

She gives some great examples:

Blogs like these document the place where the rubber meets the road. They take general political and religious statements about the importance of the family and they make them real, personal, and incarnate. It’s one thing forHumanae Vitae to explain why contraception is wrong; it’s another thing to read the words of a woman who’s struggling to keep the faith through her fourth or fifth surprise pregnancy. And because blogs express their authors’ personalities so strongly, they provide a powerful opportunity to encounter others. (Ibid)

Bottom line: go read it.

Her article also gives me some hope and encouragement about my own blogging here. One wonders, at times, what the point is of sharing one’s musings with a silent computer scene… until you get a comment here or there that acknowledges that someone else has felt the same way, or has come to see things differently or more clearly because of what you said.

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source: gabrielweinberg.com

As I learned in ACE , community can come in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes. And yet God can work through them–even through the Internet.

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Speaking of blogging…

I’m gathering ideas for several different upcoming blog posts, but I wanted to ask if there is any topic in particular that you would like to see explored.

Here are some things I’m thinking of writing about:

1. More About the Common Core and its Implications for Catholic Education

2. Vocation – Br. Justin Hannegan has a disquieting thesis about discernment that all of us should take into consideration. I’ve been meditating on this for a while, and though I am not expert on vocations by any means, I thought I’d tackle it.

3. My Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Teachers – which is kind of funny, because I’m not exactly a veteran teacher myself…

4. Should certain books be excluded from Catholic high school classrooms? If so, any notable ones? Why? – This has become rather a sticky issue at my own school, and though I know the sad majority of Catholic high schools don’t take their identity too seriously anyway, I thought it might be useful to ponder for those of us who do kind of care about being “Catholic” and what that means. For example, one parent does not think Homer is appropriate. (!)

5. Why Anthony Esolen isn’t completely right about writing … See what I did there?

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Well, I’m not going to go into a very long tirade about writing right now…

But I am going to venture into a little one.

I had a student from another English class ask me for help with her paper. Long story short, I didn’t think this student really had a thesis statement at all. I thought her thesis was basically a universal truth that any sane person who read her novel would agree with, and therefore wasn’t really worth writing about.

And then her current English teacher told me her thesis was absolutely fine, because this wasn’t supposed to be a “persuasive essay” anyway. It was an “analysis” essay.

I swallowed my astonishment, and then began to doubt everything I ever knew (and, honestly, everything I have ever taught) about essay writing.

Okay. I know Middle School teachers are taught to teach different “genres” of essay writing: the Descriptive Essay, the Analysis Essay, the ever-revolting Compare-and-Contrast Essay, the Personal Essay, the Persuasive Essay… which seems rather silly in a way. The only benefit I can see from over-complicating essays like this is teaching kids how to take purpose and audience into account. That’s a good thing, but I don’t think you need to make up fake essay genres for that.

But here’s my problem.

To me, an essay–even a thesis for that matter–is nothing at all if it does not argue something.

To me, ALL essays are persuasive essays.

Describe something? Okay, well prove why this thing is best described in this way.

Compare and contrast? Basically it’s just a list of stuff if you don’t throw in an argument somewhere–this thing is BETTER than that thing, or this character achieves X whereas the other one doesn’t.

Personal Essay? It’s just a journal entry if you aren’t trying to teach your reader or yourself something true about human life.

Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Is this just me?

ESSAYS MUST BE PERSUASIVE.

*Caveat: I said essays. Not necessarily science research papers. But even then…

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A little Calvin and Hobbes to put writing back into perspective:

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source: moonlightandhershadow.blogspot.com

Once in a while my students will try something like this. Thing is, I’ve tried it before myself. And ya can’t BS a BS-er.

Please excuse my French.

Happy weekend, everyone!

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Why I Didn’t Quit My First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching is notoriously horrible.

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source: takepart.com

Mine was.

In fact, I came VERY close to leaving ACE around October and November of my first year. I had never worked so hard or felt so overwhelmed or under-qualified. I had never felt so lonely or inept in my life. I was far away from friends, family, security… sanity. I was mired in papers and students whom I cared about but did not know how to help.

I had pretty much made the decision to leave after my first semester of teaching. This just wasn’t for me. So many of my friends were getting married, meeting people, loving their jobs, living healthy, fulfilling lives… and here I was, in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything and everyone I loved, and not making one whit of difference no matter how hard I tried.

Project1I remember sitting at my desk, exhausted, too tired to stand and walk around the room monitoring my students as they labored over their exam.

It was December. Christmas break was in sight. I wondered what I would do when I left Louisiana, or how I could begin to explain my decision to my principal or ACE housemates.

I had never really failed at anything before. I had never tried something, given it all I had, and watched as my efforts crumbled into humiliations, day after day.

I didn’t like failing.

I had never failed a subject in school, and here I was, feeling like a failure as a teacher.

I kind of knew what some of my students must feel like. You try and try and nothing ever seems to get better.

As I sat at my desk, chin on my hand, I began to look at each of my students*. There was Kelly with a frown on her face as she scribbled down the first few sentences of her essay. She had scared me to death when I first met her, because I knew she was exactly the sort of person who would have really intimidated me when I was in high school. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or let you know if she thought you were complete incompetent. And yet we had developed a mutual, if guarded, respect.

And then there was Jeffery, gazing off into space as he absent-mindedly chewed the end of his pen. He was always too “cool” to care about school, or most anything else for that matter. But we got along. He smiled sometimes when I forced him to write an answer down.

Then there was Peter, dark-eyed and kind of scary. The other teachers had warned me about him. But I had always given him things to do from day one. “Hey, Peter, could you please take this to the office for me?” “Peter, would you go and tell Mr. Benoit that…” “Peter, I’m going to trust you with this: please…” And I think he was so surprised I entrusted him with anything that he never acted up in my class. Not once.

I looked at smug Mike, the one who always annoyingly tried to compliment me. “Hey, Ms. Shea, I like that dress.” “Do your bell work, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea, you look beautiful today.” “Irrelevant, Mike. Sit down.” “But Ms. Shea, I’m just trying’ to…” “I don’t care, Mike.” “Hey, Ms. Shea…” “I’m happy to see you too, Mike. Do your work.”

I smiled in spite of myself.

I kept looking around the room at all the faces bent down over my exam, the pens and pencils scratching, heads leaning heavily on hands that occasionally were waved vigorously to get the blood circulating again after so much writing.

And I realized something strange.

So many of my college friends were finding love in so many beautiful ways (okay, mostly via marriage and children), and yet I suddenly saw that I had found love too.

I loved my students.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but that December I realized that somewhere along the way, it had.

God may not have given me the kind of love I was looking for or hoping for, but He had given me these kids.

And I knew I couldn’t leave.

I had to stay.

And that’s why I didn’t quit my first year of teaching.

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source: theteachergarden.blogspot.com

 

 

*All names have been changed.

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7 Quick Takes Friday (4/4/14)

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My students are finishing up Julius Caesar and preparing for their speech recitations on Monday. That’s right – they have to memorize a speech from the play and deliver it to the class. The minimum requirement (for a C grade on that particular section of the rubric) is 10 lines. But a few of them are tackling Mark Antony’s entire speech, or Brutus’, or Cassius’ manipulative tirade back in Act 1.

Here’s one of the best speeches ever, performed by one of the best actors ever – Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in Act 3, Scene 2:

 

Here’s another version we looked at in class that shows a much more emotional Mark Antony. This Mark Antony seems genuinely upset that Caesar has been murdered. He is a lot more sympathetic and seems a lot less sneaky than Marlon Brando’s version:

 

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Funny story.

So when I first showed the second video by the Royal Shakespeare Company (above) to my classes, my 6th hour class started whispering and laughing.

It didn’t take more than 2 seconds to figure out what was amusing them so much.

I rolled my eyes and said to them – “Okay, the cast is black. Get over it, people.”

“Ms. Shea, are you showing us this version because we’re your ‘black’ class?” one of my black students asked. Everyone laughed, including me.

“No, I’ve been showing this version to all my classes today.”

It’s strange to me. The school I teach at now is very diverse, and so race is an issue that people laugh about more than anything else. I had to correct a student a few weeks ago for pretending to be a slave and bowing before her white master (she was black, her friend was white). But the issue seems so distant to many of my students here. They don’t know why I take it so seriously. “Come on, Ms. Shea. We’re just kidding.”

It’s like they think racism doesn’t exist anymore.

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In Louisiana, my students were not laughing when we were discussing racism in Huckleberry Finn, and whether or not they thought it was okay for Mark Twain to repeatedly employ the “N” word. They were very divided about the issue. And some of them got angry. And it was uncomfortable because it’s something that continually brims beneath the surface but no one ever wants to talk about.

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source: wikipedia A less-than-favorable portrayal of Jim.

 

Back in liberal, middle class Boston I was taught that race doesn’t–or shouldn’t–matter.

But then I became a teacher and have realized that it does matter, whether we like it or not.

This may be controversial of me to say, but I’m going to say it anyway:

In my experience I have found that students who don’t know how to “speak white” and “talk white” are at a huge disadvantage. English is, like it or not, a white man’s language. It has evolved and changed over time, certainly, and will continue to do so. But as of right now, my Mexican students, black students, foreign students from Korea and Poland and Argentina and various other parts of the world will always struggle in school if they do not learn how to “speak white” and “talk white.” As an English teacher, it’s not just my job to teach all my students correct grammar and good writing habits. I also have to teach them the rules of the game, whether or not we really like the rules.

Some of my non-white students (both here and in Louisiana) know how to negotiate these boundaries and play the game from both sides. But the ones that don’t know how, or refuse to accommodate, tend to really struggle in school. They don’t speak “white English” at home or with their friends, and therefore they have difficulty using it at school.

I mean, I guess I do believe there is such a thing as “proper English,” but I am well-aware it is far more fluid and arbitrary than a lot of people think it is.

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Awesome video on English and it’s development:

 

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A really fascinating talk by Pope Francis on authentic prayer: “Real prayer is courageous, frank dialogue with God” via Catholic News Agency.

The Pope went on to express how when Moses prayed, he did so freely, courageously and with insistence, stating that prayer ought to be a “negotiation with God” to which we bring our “arguments.”

[...]

Drawing attention to how the scripture passaged describes Moses as speaking to God “face to face, like a friend,” the pontiff observed “This is how prayer should be: free, insistent, with debate, and should also scold “the Lord a little: ‘But, you promised me this, and you haven’t done it…’”

“Open the heart to this prayer,” he implored of those in attendance, stating that after his encounter with God “Moses came down from the mountain invigorated: ‘I have known the Lord more.’” (Catholic News Agency)

Wow. Some theologians and experts on spirituality might be rather uncomfortable with “scolding” the Lord and “arguing” or even “negotiating” with Him.

And yet I think Francis is right. Prayer must be honest. Too often I think we (Catholics in particular) dress up our prayers with pieties that aren’t really true. I would venture to say it is better to pray “Lord, I don’t feel like doing your Will right now. Help me to want to. But I don’t feel like it” than to pray “Lord, thy will be done” inauthentically.

On the other hand, one of the reasons we pray “The Our Father” is so that our desires can be formed and shaped by Jesus’ words. We want to be able to say “Thy will be done” with all of our hearts.

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Via Leah Libresco at Unequally Yoked: “every story Jesus tells and enacts is really a story about the Mass:”

The Healing of the Deaf-Mute Man. I love this story, because it summarizes the entire Gospel. Jesus heals us, and says Ephphatha, be open. Be open! Be open to grace. Be open to the Gospel. (By the way, the grace of God opens us, but then it’s up to us to cooperate with that grace. #CatholicPitches) What else happens? Jesus puts his saliva on the man’s lips and tongue. What an incredible gesture! I can’t ever shake that image. Jesus and the deaf-mute man, face to face. Jesus licking his fingers and putting his saliva on him. Imagine Jesus Christ, the Lord, touching your lips so tenderly. It’s a kiss. In some ways, it’s even more intimate than a kiss. He’s the Word of God! He doesn’t need to mess around with saliva to heal a deaf-mute man. But he wants to! It’s communion. Jesus puts His body on the man’s tongue. That’s what opens him. He receives the Body of Christ.

The Emmaus Pilgrims. This is the most striking one. The story of the Emmaus Pilgrims is one of my favorite from the entire Bible. Are we not all the Emmaus Pilgrims, wandering around, totally clueless, with Jesus walking on our side, and us not noticing Him? That’s the superficial (and true) meaning of that story. The other superficial (and true) meaning of that story is that, yes, Jesus of Nazareth really did bodily rise from the dead–people saw it. But what is the story of the Emmaus Pilgrims? What is its structure, its nature? It’s a Mass! It follows the Order of the Mass. First the Pilgrims hear Scripture, and expository preaching on Scripture. Then they come to a table, for what? The Eucharist! Jesus blesses the bread and the wine, and that’s when their eyes are opened. What just happened? Christ the High Priest performed the sacrament of the Eucharist! You just got ephphatha’d, bro. (“Everything in the Gospels is About the Mass”)

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Also via Leah Libresco, but I really couldn’t resist posting this one:

“A Teaching Philosophy I am Not Ashamed Of” at Math and Bad Drawings

I’ve always dreaded being asked for my “teaching philosophy.”

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For years, I gave nonsense or scattershot answers. “Logic and critical thinking are paramount.” “I care more about conceptual understanding than computational skill.” “A balanced, student-centered approach is always best.” “We buzzword to buzzword, not for the buzzword, but for the buzzword.” At best, each of my disjointed half-theories captured only a piece of the puzzle.

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Worse still, none of my replies explained why I devote so much class time to plain old practice. If I was such an enlightened liberal educator, why did I assign repetitive computations for homework? On the other hand, if I was a traditionalist at heart, why did I fall head-over-heels for high-minded progressive rhetoric? Was I an old-school wolf, a new-school lamb, or some strange chimera? (Math With Bad Drawings)

Hm.

I wonder what I would say my “teaching philosophy” is…

 

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