All posts by kdr

Slice of Life #16: Google Re-Certification

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I was privileged and honored to be the first Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer in the Commonwealth of Virginia back when the GCT program first started. I’m re-certifying in the new framework this year, and I’ve completed several of the big hoops.

I completed the Certification Test and the Performance Scenarios, and got my Google Certified Educator Level 1…

reeves_badge_educator1

…then I completed the Certification Test and the Performance Scenarios, and got my Google Certified Educator Level 2…

reeves_badge_educator2

…and today I will complete the Google Trainer Skills Assessment examination, have completed the mandatory application and the videotaped professional development scenario, so barring some unforeseen glitch, I should be (re-)certifying as a Google Certified Trainer endorsement here shortly…

reeves_badge_trainer

…and so the only thing left is the big enchilada. Google Certified Innovator. It requires nomination for a future cohort, and the current one is in London – which I obviously can’t afford to go to! – so perhaps, dear reader, if you think what you know of me qualifies… perhaps you’ll nominate me to attend a future Google Certified Innovator cohort?

Because the big badge is the red badge, and I believe my work with students through Google has been pretty bang-up, if I do say so, and it would be a great privilege to be able to bring those skills back to the spectacular kids and teachers of Discovery.

reeves_badge_innovator_gray

Why do I do this?

As I said in my GCT recertification application, one of my coremost beliefs as a teacher, as a pedagogue, as a leader, as an author, as a revolutionary… is setting children free.

I aspire to liberate children from the bondage of oppression, institutionalism, traditionalism, racism, bigotry, patriarchy, and scholiocentrism. As I wrote in Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children, children are “for” one thing, and that is to be loved. They are not to be “done to,” and scholiocentric education of all stripes, steeped in banking pedagogy and wrong-headed in its chattel-minded objectification of children – seeking to turn them into engines of economic growth instead of promoting their authentic individuality – has done terrible wrongs to children for far, far too long.

I believe in the power of educational technology to liberate children because I employed it personally as a teacher and saw shackles broken. Then I became a professional developer and coach, and taught others to break those bonds. And now, as an administrator, I pursue the edge of liberation, pursuing ever-new ways to tear down the insidious forces of adult-mindedness, and seeking every chance I get to keep schools grounded in working for children, to help children.

Authentically loving children isn’t hard for those in my tribe. We never lose sight of that. I employed Google Apps for Education (and gods help me this better not sound like a plug) because I needed freely-available collaborative tools. GAFE was there for me when I needed something like it. I’ve remained current in my skill set because Google’s K-12 platform sets my kids free, sets my teachers free. We do great work, and we do it both within GAFE and sometimes around other systems, because we have genuine facility in a freely-collaborative environment.

I don’t use tools because they’re there. I use the best tools I can, to make the most impact, to help the most kids. When a better game is in town, I’ll be doing that, and I’ve certified in a lot of things over the years, but Google stays current. So long as it does, and it helps my kids do what they choose to do and costs me nothing, I’m going to keep pursuing innovation in that milieu.

I aspire never to forget my true mission, and employ whatever I can in making that happen.

Slice of Life #15: Qotsisajak

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


The Jedi Code is a five-part mantra that reinforces the Jedi adherence to the Light Side of The Force:

  • There is no emotion, there is peace.
  • There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
  • There is no passion, there is serenity.
  • There is no chaos, there is harmony.
  • There is no death, there is the Force.

The characters made famous in Star Wars including Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and (for the most part) Luke Skywalker would have to reasonably be considered adherents of the Jedi Code. The Jedi Order holds that peace, wisdom, calm control, and orderly structure (vis-a-vis discipline) lead to great power and balance for the individual as well as for the universe. This is not to say that the Jedi are inactive; they will actively pursue what they perceive as altruism and aid to others in an effort to manifest the Light Side of the Force and better themselves and others. Intrinsically egalitarian, the Jedi hold altruism and the defense of others in high esteem. Consequently, there is a great deal that is attractive in the Jedi Order to those who share values around being good to others.

But it is “goodness” that gets complicated, because “goodness” often holds that “badness” is its opposite. In the Star Wars galaxy, the counterpart to the Jedi Order is the Sith Order.

Whereas the Jedi Order may be considered Light Side wielders of The Force, the Sith Order may be considered Dark Side wielders of The Force. But is the Dark Side “bad?”

The Sith Code is also (effectively) five-part, with the last two lines being unified:

  • Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
  • Through passion, I gain strength.
  • Through strength, I gain power.
  • Through power, I gain victory.
  • Through victory, my chains are broken.
  • The Force shall free me.

“Peace is a lie” must be taken in the universal and universe-sized context in which it is intended, to be understood. “Peace” is defined as either “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility” or, “freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.” The Sith acknowledge that the forces of the universe cannot be free from disturbance and quiet, as the entire universe tends to entropy and involves destruction and conversion of matter and energy, without ceasing. If such destruction-and-creation cycles were to cease, the universe would cease, and certainly a living thing would cease. While it is uncomfortable for some to say, the truth is that these processes are, innately, violent: when we eat food, we macerate it physically, dissolve it in acid, and destroy it, taking power from it to drive the engine of our body and fuel the furnace of our enterprise. Taking this one item, the Sith consider the Jedi’s code to be a “half-truth,” failing to acknowledge that while one looks at a star, gleaming bright and “pure,” one is observing a chaotic, cataclysmic destructive force at work.

The flow of passion, to strength, to power, to victory, to liberty is a linear progression that acknowledges the center of the Sith Code, and the center of the Sith practitioner’s way of being: The individual’s will is the center and start of everything. Whereas the Jedi start from a position of universal equilibrium and stillness – “peace,” if you will, and exclusively universal peace at that; there is no personification of the individual in the Jedi Code – the Sith Code starts from a position of individual perception and will.

It is not a universalized will, but a specific one: Through passion I myself gain strength. This one particular line is, I believe, the most essential difference between the two systems of thinking and being. Whereas the Jedi Code is universalized and serenity-seeking, the Sith Code is personalized and passion-seeking. Just as the Vulcans in Star Trek felt that emotions needed to be identified, controlled, and actively suppressed, Jedi tend to seek calmness and serenity, to the point of excluding if not punishing if not persecuting emotion. As Master Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

But does this progress hold true?

The Jedi suggest that emotions like Fear and Anger must be eschewed, to be identified and actively suppressed, lest one proceed down the “wrong” path, to become more attuned to passion and will, than to the universal altruistic serenity the Order seeks.

The Sith suggest that emotions like Fear and Anger must be harnessed, to be identified and actively employed, precisely so one can become attuned to passion and, therefore, to one’s individual will. Now, it is fair to say that taken to its logical extreme, the pure manifestation of one’s own passion and will to the exclusion of all others, and the desire to harness the fullest possible power to gain the fullest possible victory, could indeed lead to absolute liberty for the individual and absolute oppression or enslavement or annihilation for others, perhaps all others. Megalomania lies down that path somewhere, no question, and I believe most Jedi would use that sort of example – the falling of the gifted and powerful but arrogant and utterly self-concerned (though terribly lied to) Anakin Skywalker into the shadow-form of Darth Vader – to caution against so much as a toe in the water when it comes to the Dark Side.

The Sith, conversely, would likely suggest that this kind of puritanical absurdity is a lie – hence the first line of the Sith Code – because it is impossible to eschew emotion, to fail to feel passion, to be utterly without concern for self and exclusively employ will as a mechanism to help others, without sacrificing one’s self. Granted, the idealistic Jedi were “self-less” in this way, and would probably say that that is entirely appropriate.

Look at the sacrifice of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of Episode IV, as an example: He knows that for Darth Vader (who was his old apprentice, Anakin Skywalker) to be stopped in his unlimited power, by his son, Luke Skywalker, that a sacrifice must be made: By ending his life in “suicide by lightsaber” at Vader’s hands, Obi-Wan plants a seed in the middle of the unbridled rage at the core of Vader and (more importantly) thrusts a live wire right in to the middle of Luke’s being: It will either push the entire conflict in the “right” direction, or something else will have to. (I believe Obi-Wan understands these two individuals profoundly, and knows that his plan will work – hence the little glimmer of a smile Obi-Wan offers before raising his lightsaber out of combat posture and Vader strikes him down.) That act was self-less: it ended the self of Obi-Wan, for what he perceived as a greater good. And certainly in this particular case, one could make the argument that it saved millions of lives, paving the way for the overthrow of Emperor Palpatine.

But…

Is there an argument to be made that without exceptional circumstance of this kind, there might be “room” in a Force-Sensitive or Force-Wielding practitioner for a “gray” area? Certainly there have been those that have tried to walk the line, such as the Revanite Order, which sought to employ equal parts Dark Side and Light Side.

In any case, regardless of one’s opinions and attitudes, I believe that the Sith Code is largely misunderstood, and that there is a place for the concept of self and the employment of the individual will in any person’s individual context that does not axiomatically require selfishness in the way that term is often used.

Is it “evil” or “bad” to have a concept of one’s self?

Is it “dark” or “cruel” to employ one’s will to help advance one’s own cause?

Is it “unnatural” or “wrong” to choose one’s self, one’s own wellness, one’s own safety? One’s own life?

These are the great questions that lie at the heart of the conflict between the Dark Side and the Light Side. One more great question to ponder, before I end. Consider, if you will, this excerpt from the speech given by Sir Anthony Hopkins playing John Quincy Adams in the film Amistad, in defense of a slave seeking his freedom:

Now, gentlemen, I must say I differ with the keen minds of the South, and with our president, who apparently shares their views, offering that the natural state of mankind is instead — and I know this is a controversial idea — is freedom. Is freedom. And the proof is the length to which a man, woman, or child will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains, He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.

Consider it in context, in this scene:

 

If, as the here-fictional Adams presupposes, that the natural state of man is to be free, then being a practitioner of backward design, who tries to ascertain what the goal is and then work backward to ascertain how to achieve that goal, is there not a powerful motivation, something natural and just and right and proper and appropriate for each and every individual, to begin with the premise that individual freedom ought to be the aim of any system?

If so… what, then, do we do with this strange, ancient, mythical, complex idea of The Sith Code?

Each of us are bound by chains that are unique to us. Is it anything but right to seek to break those chains, employing the forces of the natural universe and the natural state of being that makes us think and feel – employing passion, employing our will – so that we may be free?

I was recently asked about the Sith Code – which is Qotsisajak in the ancient Sith tongue, hence the blog title – and so… it was in my head, come blog time today.

Slice of Life #14: Diamond’s

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


If you’re ever in Ithaca, New York and you want Indian food, you have to go to New Delhi Diamond’s. I’m craving it right now. A mother-daughter team ran the place, the daughter being the ever-gracious Kamaldeep, and I’m telling you, it’s still some of the best stuff I’ve ever had on the Indian cuisine front.

Don’t get me wrong, when I lived in Bailey’s Crossroads in south Arlington near the Fairfax border, Raaga was the tops, and now that I live in Falls Church, Haandi is the place for me.

But man, my first, best Indian love was Diamond’s. What food! I’m having a bit of a memory of being there, during college, with my friends Sue and Mike and Jen and Hilary, and man do I miss those noms.

It’s cold and gray and rainy here in north Arlington today, as I look out the window – can I tell you how much I adore having my first ever office window in sixteen years in public education?! – and it’s making me chilly and, therefore, crave some spicy stuff!

By the way, all this glass is gorgeous, but can we talk about the things they don’t tell you in administrator school? Tornado drills, man. Really makes one rethink the window!

In any case, get thee to an Indian restaurant and get some vindaloo, so I may enjoy it vicariously through you! For at present, I have coffee and a student data analysis spreadsheet to devour. It is the lack of caffeine and the long day ahead that has me sharing this most random of thoughts for today’s slice!

Slice of Life #13: Who Watches the Watchers?

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I was humbled to discover that I was nominated for the National School Board Association’s 20 to Watch list, which identifies “education technology leaders who have the potential to impact the field for the next 20 years.”

My goal has always ever been to help as many kids as I can, and it’s nice to hear sometimes that I’m not not doing that.

I was a music teacher for the first part of my career in public education, a middle-and-high school band director (taught 5 through 12 all in one job!) in a small, rural, poor school division in Western New York. After moving to Virginia, I was an elementary school music teacher and middle school band director for years, and had a self-contained special education music class for children with profound cognitive deficits. I adored the class, and was encouraged to teach my methods for adaptive music education techniques to my colleagues at a county-wide professional development fair. Jan Streich, then the ed tech director for Stafford County, saw my work and said I had a knack for teaching teachers how to teach. She facilitated me joining an M.Ed. cohort to study educational technology, because it would help me help more teachers help more kids.

I confess: I’ve wondered, at times, if I am actually doing that.

I desire deeply to, and believe in my heart that I do, love children authentically. I believe that love is must be the cornerstone of everything we do in the craft of teaching, from pedagogy to design to policy to tone of voice to furniture selection. I need, and demand, that all teachers develop a robust educational philosophy rooted in the love of, and consequently the authentic perception of, children. I’ve no patience for bootstrapping or coercive mentalities in our vocation; a failure to perceive children truly entails an inability to perceive the individual child truly, and that is a tragedy I cannot abide. But in my efforts to make things better for children in one place, so I can model good teaching and enjoin others to our loving cause of empowering and setting free the child mind, I wonder if my work truly matters. If one more revolutionary voice is going to make a difference in the face of such titanic obstacles such as the intransigence of society, the historic misperception of children as chattel, and the ever-present specter of unloving ideology.

Most of the time, I feel like I’m doing good work, and occasionally I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m daunted to tears or frightened to paralysis about how deeply wrong things are, about how far we have to go, about how I’m neither smart enough nor strong enough to truly make a difference.

I question everything. I question you, and me, and everything we do. For all my passion and strident tone about things that are right and things that are wrong, about allies and enemies of children… I live in the gray, on a constant set of continuua, and I question everything. It’s my nature. I have a hand-calligraphy-drawn Japanese print in my apartment that reads, “Question Everything,” a gift from many years ago, so apparent is it to those around me that I take a flamethrower to complacency and am never truly sure that anything is so. It’s why I’m an empiricist, and seek facts, and then question truth to see if it’s really true. I don’t know how else to get to the bottom of these terribly complex system and problems. In doing such questioning, I question myself. I question my cause. I question my work. I question my motives, my methods, and my mettle.

I’ve long been accused of being “arrogant.” My classmates called me that. My parents told me that. My brothers told me that. My colleagues told me that. My teachers told me that. And I understand why, I do… the way I speak, the approach I take, that can draw hard lines in the sand when I feel injustice is at work, when I feel coercion or cruelty is in play, or – to be honest – when I feel hurt or sad or angry, and as a Sagittarian, I am often angry, usually on behalf of someone else…

I hope I’m not arrogant. I hope I’m not deluding myself. Spoken aloud in Red’s Shawshank-concluding hushed tone, “I hope…”

I am often insecure, as I don’t take much for granted, and so I don’t take it as a big “pat on the back, attaboy” moment when I realize that a colleague has taken the time to say, to one of the most prestigious educational organizations in the country, “KDR does good work for kids.”

If that is all anyone ever remembers about me, I’ll have done what I set out to do.

My goal has always ever been to help as many kids as I can, and it’s nice to hear sometimes that I’m not not doing that.

Slice of Life #12: Lizard Girl

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I used to be a female lizard street fighter. I was awesome.

My name was Sesketh and I was an Iksar Bruiser. Here’s a picture of Sesky:

sesketh0

Sesketh was a martial artist and she lived in the City of Freeport, on the continent of D’Lere, named after its authoritarian dictator Lucan D’Lere, on the planet Norrath. She lived originally in a slum district called “The Scale Yard,” though she later had other quarters in the city and around the world as she grew stronger and more notable. Freeport was not where she was born, however. You see, Norrath suffered two major cataclysms that wiped out much of the world’s populations, of all races and on all continents. Starting around the Norrathian year 3571 and extending until about 3661 – roughly ninety years – a major and rapid geotectonic disturbance saw a massive, relatively rapid rearrangement of the tectonic plates of the crust of the planet, moving oceans, mountains, and land masses so rapidly, some eyewitnesses described “massive chasms and canyons opening” in very short periods – sometimes minutes – and catastrophic destruction of major cities and population centers. The earthquakes were so violent that one “could barely stand up.” Millions perished and many landforms were lost or utterly destroyed. This global-scale decimation was called “The Rending.”

Only fifty years later or so, a second, almost inconceivable disaster befell the planet: one of the two moons of Norrath – Luclin – broke apart. Huge portions of the moon moved into Norrath’s gravitational field, and plummeted intact to the surface. The pieces that landed caused many continents to be absolutely destroyed and still others to be washed over by the ensuing tsunamis. This event was called “The Shattering.” One can still see the broken moon in the sky on Norrath, from the surviving portions of land that are habitable. Today, the parts of Norrath you can still live on are collectively known as “The Shattered Lands.”

luclin

Sesketh hatched in 3708, about three years before the Shattering. Iksar grow up very quickly, and she was full-sized and at sea when the Shattering occurred. She survived the wreck of her ship, and landed on the shores of the City of Freeport in 3728 after surviving about seventeen years in the wild.

To you, that was April of 2005.

Sesketh, whose relatively-complete biography is available here, was a character in the Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called EverQuest 2, and it is my all-time favorite game. I played EverQuest 2, affectionately called “EQ2” by players, from Spring of 2005 until the Winter of 2012. I worked my way up from “noob” to become the Chief Administrator of my guild, “The Fallen Legion,” and I met so many wonderful people and had some of the most glorious adventures.

I created a female “bad guy” lizard as my character in an effort to explore the edges of my character, to investigate alternative ontology. By inhabiting other beings, we explore other ways of being, and I was fascinated by the experiences and lessons I gained from being Sesketh.

I have a very special place in my heart for her – as is evidenced by the amount of writing I left behind on the internet in her voice! – and while I can still log in to EQ2, I just don’t have much time for it anymore. But during dark and tumultuous times in my life, it was powerful to assume the persona of a well-liked, darker-hearted fighter from an empire fallen from glory on a planet laid to waste, and be able to overcome anything that Norrath threw at me.

People who don’t game are sometimes confused by why some people spend so much time in a fantasy world. To me, those people need more fantasy in their lives, if they judge doing so harshly, because it was a healthy, exciting, inexpensive way for me to feel free and to imagine, to explore and to adventure, to thrive and to relax. Fantasy is good for the soul, and Sesketh was good for Norrath.

Here’s one for you, Seskerdoodle. You were one bad-tailed chiksar.

sesketh1

 

Slice of Life #11: OK, OK, OK

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I was the first child born in my nuclear family, followed by two younger brothers. In 1984 or so, my youngest brother was two years old – I was six – and we were living in a cute little house in the Eastwood neighborhood of Syracuse, New York. My younger brothers shared a bunk bed shaped like a fire truck in the one upstairs bedroom, and I had my own. I got to pick out the decorations when they redid the room a bit for me, so I selected cobalt blue carpet and a sky blue wallpaper with white cirrus clouds and bright pastel-ish rainbows. I had my pink Cheer Bear stuffed animal, my stuffed Snoopy my great-grandfather Butch got me, and my stuffed handpuppet cocker spaniel, Cuddles, and I was – as I recall – generally a pretty happy kid. Dad was a firefighter and wasn’t an officer yet, so he was still home regularly, and Mom was working regular shifts instead of lots of doubles or being a nurse manager; all that happened later as we moved to the suburbs, and life changed a lot. I still went to my city school, rode the city bus or walked, had a library with a big microfilm machine that I thought was so cool, and even got to play with some of the early computers they had there.

I liked stickers, and labels, and stamps. I liked them a lot. I really enjoyed making marks on things, so I drew and painted and doodled and sketched and used more Dymo pressure label tape than my father would have preferred, and spent hours fascinated by the small metal plates from fire apparatus he had, switches and buttons and words I didn’t understand at all on little metal plates that made things happen. Oh, I loved stuff like that.

I had a little round cylindrical self-inking stamp, a round ring around the outside, with blue ink, and in the center, in Helvetica font, it said simply “OK.” I could take the little plastic cap off, and press it onto paper, and BOOM, I had a beautiful mark, like I had put a royal seal on something.

My youngest brother got a hold of it and turned his attention to the bright sky blue wallpaper. OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK…

And the lamp shade, that was a nice touch… OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK OK…

The bed… the window shade… they were all now, officially, OK. Many times over.

For Christmas a couple of years ago, I got his two year old son an OK stamp and helped him open it. He’s a generally happy kid, and he likes to stamp things.

And that’s OK with me.

 

Food for Food’s Sake

Thursday, Mick Mulvaney made a series of comments about the President’s proposed budget framework, which among other things cuts Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs.

This illogic betrays the insidiousness of the objectification and depersonalization that runs rampant through conservative attitudes towards children, especially in the context of education. The idea that feeding children must yield “demonstrable evidence” of students becoming “productive members of society,” or else it’s a “waste of hard-earned money,” is disgusting, disgraceful, discompassionate, and unworthy of America. It should be shouted down as the ridiculous and cruel notion that it is.

Feeding hungry children is always good. SeanSpicerPeriod.

Feeding hungry children is always compassionate. SeanSpicerPeriod.

And feeding hungry children ought to be the duty of any adult who has any ability to do so, let alone the duty of this nation and this society. KDRPeriod.

“There’s no free lunch” is a disgusting attitude as a general rule, but when applied to children, it shows a profound disregard for human life and a deep pathological ability to dehumanize little kids. It should shock us, incite our outrage, and enjoin a commanding strike back at such heinous harshness. We must speak and act vehemently against this kind of anti-child attitude, lest we are complicit in the demise of even one kid. Children should never be starved: not for love, not for affection, not for clothing or shelter, and never, ever, ever for food and water. Not here, not anywhere, not ever.

I’m incensed nearly beyond words – though let’s be honest, I’m rarely without those when it comes to defending kids against this kind of brutal mindset – that any person could be so callous as to suggest that feeding kids should “yield” anything.

This nauseating insanity that everyone – even children – must do entirely for themselves or they “don’t deserve” assistance or aid is one of the hallmark misconceptions, a psychoemotional plague rooted deep in, the conservative attitude toward children. They are not property. They are not objects. They are not instruments of economic growth or vehicles for elder care or small adults or empty incapable vessels.

I’ve written extensively about what I consider the damnable dangers that such attitudes, so I’ll say this, a quote from Page 45 of the first edition of Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children, from Section I: Learning and Teaching, and the chapter entitled “Pedagogy for Freedom:”

“Children are not vessels to be filled. Children are unique, powerful intellectual, emotional, and creative beings, and should be loved as such. As I have said, children have but one purpose, and it is to be. Children are not to be turned into something; they are not to be done to at all, save one thing: Children are to be loved, and you cannot love a person through coercion.”

The viciousness of this administration’s attitude toward children is not a new invention, but a perpetuation of the dangerous, deadly misperception of children in far-right ideology. It is incompatible with modern pedagogy, with public education, and with everything we know about what’s healthy for children.

Slice of Life #10: Maya

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I don’t remember the year, but it was a while back. For reasons I hesitate to expound upon, I was in Puerto Morelos in Mexico, and I was going to see Nohoch Mul, a Mayan pyramid, at the ruins of Cobá. I had seen Xel-Há and Tulum, and wanted to see Cobá, which was said to be one of the most extraordinary ruins and had a marvelous pyramid that they said wouldn’t be open to the public much longer. My tour guides were to take me in a van, with several other people, on a pre-planned journey.

Well nobody else showed up, so it was just my traveling companion and I. The driver was a native of Quintana Roo, the area of the Yucatan Peninsula on which Puero Morelos is located, at the north of the Riviera Maya, and the tour guide was a woman whose native stomping grounds evade me, but I recall one thing in particular.

She spoke German.

It is, to this day, the only situation in which I spoke German “in the field,” as I took German for seven years through middle and high school, not that my German is any good anymore.

Without anyone else to constrain us, I was presented with a choice: Did I want to take the tour as planned, or did I want to divert, and go hang out with some Mayans on the way to Cobá?

Uh, duh.

The village (“aldea”) was obviously receptive to tourists poking around, so I assume it wasn’t just our guide’s neighbors, but a bit of an arrangement, but who cares? It was just us, nobody else, and we got to sit and talk and be welcomed into their home.

 

The adults, all women but one male self-identified shaman, were kind, quiet, graceful. The kids were sparsely clothed, laughing, teasing good-naturedly, playing with animals, and making music that they genuinely seemed to love making, obviously for my benefit. Invited to play a drum, I gladly demonstrated that this at-the-time music teacher could jam with the kiddos! The entire place was hazy with a hanging cloud of charcoal smoke that would pervade my suitcase until I returned to Virginia. The food looked incredible, though I did not eat anything, knowing my GI system is somewhat twitchy – another story, another time. There were animals everywhere.  The structures were rounded on the ends, because “spirits live in corners.” There was a large, loping spider monkey who really wanted a hug, and some of the cutest baby monkeys I’ve ever seen.

One animal in particular stood out to me. I learned later, it was a ring-tailed coati, and one of the little girls had it as a beloved pet.

coati

It was like a raccoon and a cat and a baby bear with a lemur tail, bright-eyed and intelligent, and playful! I, of course, being eternally 12 years old, squeed with delight, and of course I put my hand out when it came bouncing over to say hello.

The coati then reached up with surprisingly significant little claws and a biiig happy smiling mouth of ferret-sharp teeth, and claw-bit my hand and latched on. I yelped, of course, which the little girl found… charming? delightful? dunno… and the mother laughed a bit, and I made that “oh, yes, haha, oh $#!%…” half-laugh, and lifted my coati-gauntlet fur-glove. The little fellow – thankfully an adolescent; I understand they can get quite a bit bigger – went along for the ride, before eventually realizing I was climbable. Turns out, coatis like to be up high, so they scamper up things. Trees. Support pillars. Yam-shaped music teachers.

They’re really, really cute, and very brave, as this zoo video highlights. I loved the little guy, and took a few bite wounds with me just to prove it.

I did, eventually, make it to Cobá, and it is a breathtaking, stunning ruin, and the view from the top of Nohoch Mul, which I did get to climb before it closed, was worth the blood.

coba-sunset
Yeah. I climbed that.

 

The temple atop Nohoch Mul is that of the “Diving God,” which may be Ah-Muzen-Cab, the God of Bees and Honey. Reaching the top and looking out over the Yucatan certainly was a sweet experience to savor, though I learned later that Mayan bees were stingless.

Unlike my coati bite.

Slice of Life #9: Jeep, the First

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


It’s 2001. I’ve just graduated from the Ithaca College School of Music after what were, in retrospect, not the best years of my life. I have come to understand that much of what happened was less due to my inherent badness (I am not inherently bad) and far more due to not having the support of those who were tasked with teaching, mentoring, and guiding me. These experiences have formatively shaped my educational philosophy, and so in that regard, I learned a great deal about teaching from Ithaca, but perhaps not in the way it would prefer. That said, the music education program really is second to none, and my professors were by-and-large profoundly excellent artists, conductors, lecturers, theorists, composers, and performers, and I owe a great deal to them. I do wish, though, more people understood that being a professor doesn’t mean one can teach, and my standards for what “teaching” means and what a “teacher” is are astronomically higher than knowing and relating content. But, I digress. Suffice it to say, I needed better adult mentors in my life as I was growing up and becoming a modern adult than I had.

Consequently, at age 22, I had my head all the way up my posterior, and I took over the band program at the school at which I had student taught. I was now the sole instrumental music teacher for a small, very rural, very poor, very isolated school district in Western New York where I had been spent the last many months.

Firstly, 22 year-olds should not be teaching high school as their first job. I say this with fervent first-hand-experience conviction. To become strong pedagogues, and to develop their craft and their professional skills, young twenty-somethings fresh out of the chute should begin at elementary or middle school. If they don’t have a passion for pedagogy, for children, for learning, then they ought not to be teachers. Too many people fall too much in love with their subject and the idea of teaching, then immediately relish being back in the too-recent environment of high school and being the “expert” (HA) on the other side of the desk, and develop those same intractable traditional habits they so easily rallied against only four years prior. I had to deal with stresses and pitfalls, again without a mentor, in a hostile environment, and it was not a good match.

Secondly, no one should take a job where they student taught. It’s a terrible idea. You’re already too familiar with things and have no broader a set of experiences to draw upon by locking yourself in. Moreover, while you might think it will aid in the transition in “taking over” the program that you’re already a known quantity, in my experience, there are drawbacks that one can’t foresee that outweigh the transitional benefits. I should have had to look around the country, and consider my options, and then try something new, take a risk, and expand my experiences as well as my peer group. For a great many reasons, it would have been better for me to “see the world” a bit and realize that the options before me were not my only options.

Thirdly, this place was in the middle of nowhere. For reasons that would take a memoir and not a blog post to recount, I was living on Route 90 in a little town called Aurora, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. (If you Google it, it looks beautiful and serene and lovely. It’s not, and that wasn’t the life I was living in any way. Aurora is a den of vipers, save for Wells College, which at the time was still a lovely and excellent little women’s liberal arts college.) Where I was teaching was up north of Cayuga Lake – I shan’t articulate where in this written setting – was even more remote, and required, at times, four wheel drive to access. Why?

Because Upstate New York is among the snowiest places in the country. Feet and feet of unplowed snow is not at all uncommon, especially going where I was going.

SO, I needed to trade in my 1993 Ford Taurus, which looked nearly identical to this one…

taurus

…for something with proper 4WD and enough room to haul around tubas and bass drums and such.

This is where some good adult mentoring would have come in very handy.

I went to a nearby used car dealership, and looked at a 1996 GMC Jimmy SLT, which looked nearly identical to this one…

jimmy

…and man did I love it right away. Push-button 4WD, all leather, great stereo, just gorgeous. It was a bit more expensive than I’d planned, but I really felt like I’d gotten a steal.

It’s distinctly possible I got exactly that. A literal steal. Or a repossession. But either way, I got a total. A total, and a lemon. A total lemon.

I discovered this after a couple of months when the axles basically fell out of the car. After a bankrupting repair using money I simply did not have – I was in the red hugely and splitting cans of food to get through the days; I made nowhere near enough cover expenses and was putting in 16 and 18 hour days just to not get by – I went to trade in the Jimmy, hoping to recoup some of my inevitable losses. The gentleman who inspected the Jimmy gave it quite the look when I showed it to him.

“That’s a beautiful two-tone gunmetal-and-gray paint job,” he said. I nodded, and said something about how that was one of the reasons I’d bought it, spirits lifted that he seemed to appreciate it, and would hopefully give me what I needed for it. “I wish they’d made the ’96 Jimmy in those colors. But they didn’t.”

Come again?

Using a small pen knife, he pointed out the paint runs and dried-drips on the interior of the door panels and along seams that are hidden by the closed doors, and pointed out that this is indicative of a paint job. So we did a tiny scrape to see what was beneath it.

One door was originally red.

Another was originally yellow.

One body panel was black.

Another was green.

Franken-Jimmy had been reassembled using whatever body parts the former owner could get, and upon running the title – which the guy did for free, because he was obviously feeling for my plight – he discovered it was totaled some time back. It was worth nothing. I got a thousand bucks for it out of the generosity of their hearts when I bought the replacement. I had to roll the cost of the Jimmy into the cost of the Jeep.

It took me nine years to pay it off.

I really could have used some adult mentoring. Don’t take that job. Don’t move to Aurora. Don’t buy that Jimmy. Definitely sue the used car dealership. So many things that, provided help, I might have changed, that could have changed the trajectory of my life for the better.

But the one good thing through all of this was the Jeep, which looked very much like this one…

cherokee

A 2000 Jeep XJ “Cherokee” Sport. It was one of the most reliable cars I ever owned, and served me beautifully from 2001 until 2010.

It was the first, but not the last Jeep, that I would ever own.

Sometime I’ll tell you about Megaman, which you can read a bit about in a previous blog post, and about how my beloved Blue Bomber left my life not long ago.

Slice of Life #8: Turtles

sliceoflife

The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


In 2005, I was living in Spotsylvania, Virginia, in a little apartment in a wooden building with a deck for an entryway. I’d just moved down to Virginia from New York, and after being an itinerant elementary music teacher for three quarters, I was enjoying the summer before I started working as a middle school band director in Stafford County. I’d begun teaching marching band at Stafford High School as their visual coordinator – that’s the person who teaches how to march; I was always pretty good at that! – and the summer wasn’t nearly as swelteringly humid and disgusting as I thought it’d be.

I had a 2000 Jeep XJ – that’s the “Cherokee” for you non-gearheads – and I used to have to check traffic pretty righteously before diving onto Courthouse Road, because my apartment was at the bottom of a valley (read: canyon) that had steep roads up going in either direction. It was a divided highway, with a little swale between. The strong I-6 engine in the XJ had no troubles with this, and I enjoyed putting it through its paces. (I’ve got three more stories about Jeeps that perhaps I’ll use for my next few posts!)

I was happily jamming out to something loud and fun – it wasn’t Tokio Hotel or The Rocket Summer yet; too early for that, but it was like that – and zoom! I turned right and roared up the hill… er, wait. No. What’s that?

On the other side of the divided highway, was an object.

It was moving.

Being from Upstate New York, I know a turtle when I see one. After my folks moved us to the suburbs when I was eight, I grew up literally in a swamp – Cicero Swamp, to be exact – and I’ve seen more turtles, to use my grandmother’s expression, than Carter’s has pills.

And then the light at the top of the hill turned green.

Now, as I said, the hill down to the valley is steep, and long, and people such as myself who knew there wasn’t any traffic on that side of the road and no place to pull over or pull off tended to roar down said hill.

To this day, I don’t know what came over me, but all I remember thinking was NO NO NO NO NO, not on my watch!

Brakes squealing, slamming into neutral – that transmission would pop into N without depressing the clutch button; as I said, we’ll talk more about this wunderauto – and tugging up the 4WD transaxle before popping back into gear, and thundering across the swale, I gunned up onto the road, with plenty of visibility from the hill to me, as the cars came down, threw on my blinkers, threw open the door, and ran to the huge turtle in the middle of the road.

Now, the eastern snapping turtle is many things, but friendly on land is not one of those things. I’m no herpetologist, so I have no idea the gender of this turtle, so we’re going to use the neutral xe pronoun. Xe was a big turtle, but not massive. Snapping turtles don’t cross the road very often, and it was July, so this one should have been happily in the big muddy pond it was heading toward long ago, but I suppose this “what the heck am I doing here” situation may have contributed to xyr being very unhappy about being picked up by a long-haired yam-shaped wacko shouting “I’VE GOT YOU BUDDY” after having hatched from a strange square-ish maroon colored metal egg that was now sitting crosswise in the middle of the road.

I was cautious to approach from behind, and grab it on the back part of the shell as to be out of neck-bending range – those turtles can snap to serious injury and can get an angle with their neck, in my experience! – and started waddling over to the safety of the ditch that led down to the muddy pond.

Inevitably, some jerk lays on the horn, leaning out of his window to snap at me in his own way.

I don’t know what came over me. I was so angry, so incensed that this person couldn’t wait the surely-brief period of time I was taking to save this hapless snappy, that I did the only thing that one does in such a situation.

Turning toward him – he was leaning well out of his window, visible over the hood of my Jeep as I was nearly to the side of the road now, and probably 20 feet away – I thrust the turtle at him like a weapon, and indignantly shouted a line that has followed me around to this day:

TURTLES ARE IMPORTANT!

The drive was so nonplussed, evidenced by the utterly baffled look on his face, that he simply slunk back into his car and sat quietly while I glared at him – or rather, we glared at him, as my snappy friend had joined me in staring down the driver, no longer thrashing, I think sensing that I was a fellow shielded and hard-backed nature paladin with a wonky face and a tendency to attack – before I resumed my trek to the edge. I placed the snapping turtle down, and xe simply waddled off into the marshy ditch. I strode back to the Jeep, disengaged four wheel, and gently made my way back to the opening in the divided highway to U-turn a second time in ten minutes, and head back on my way.

So, if you’re ever wondering why there are several turtles in my office, like the one below fashioned by a Mayan family I visited in Quintana Roo, just outside of Cobá (another story), it’s because… that’s right…

Turtles are important.

turtle