Category Archives: Education

Back to Bennington

Kathy, my co-worker and personal goddess, asked if I’d blog about my weekend events — so I cannot let her down. I served on an alumni panel at Bennington this weekend. it was an event held for current seniors so they could learn about networking, grantwriting, job-getting, life-making, etc. Jon, Kathy’s partner, asked me before I went if that meant that I was among Bennington’s distinguished alumni, and of course the answer is obviosly, “Yes!” Okay, so maybe my life is not insanely glamorous, but it was fun to talk about hardships after graduation, perseverence, and following one’s passions. There’s a real difference graduating from a place like Bennington — more or less an arts school–than graduating frm most other schools. We don’t have hiring firms come in, no crazy job fairs, etc. Bennington really does urge its students to make the world their own.

Part of what was so fun was to hear what some of my fellow Alumni were doing. In a quick web search, I could find a site on Seth DeCroce ’98 and a Google search on Taliesin Thomas ’98 shows lots of her fame on the web. Having a less that common name helps a lot on the web. I could not easily find a site for Matt Moss ’94 or Brandi Wilson ’99 — but both are working in interesting fields. Matt is working in developing real estate and Brandi is a creatve headhunter. There was also another guy, Chris, and I don’t remember his last name (Tilden, maybe?) — but now I cannot find his info from the planning emails from the college. (Sorry!)

It’s always interestng to see classmates as adults. We all have our lives that we are deeply immersed in, and it’s nice to come up for air. I also love talking to current students. It’s great to see the passionate on the verge of going out into the world. I had drinks with two seniors, Jessie and Brian. They are each clearly brilliant minds, and they’ve been doing impressive work. I love working with high school kids — but it’s also great to see kids at this next level. Brian, for example, is working on gender studies and goes to comp lit conferences. He was telling me about some of his impressive projects, and yet — he still loves the movie “Team America.” I, of course, think there’s something serious wrong with him for that — and yet, it’s the kid at heart (and proximity in age). Good luck, Bennington seniors!

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The Sneopard

One of the perks of working at my school is our Symposium signature program. Last year we had Tim O’Brien visit, an author whom I love. This year we had Peter Matthiessen visit. (For those with more discriminating tastes in resources, here’s is your Wikipedia.

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled that he was going to be our author, but once I began reading his non-fiction, I began to dig him. I can’t say that I worship everything he writes. (after all, he is no Arundhati Roy.) But I did begin to appreciate much of his work. I love his interplay of subjectivity and objectivity. Much to Sujal’s chagrin, I am one of those people who believes that everything is subjective.

In terms of Matthiessen’s work, I read from the The Peter Matthiessen Reader. I really enjoyed the excerpt from Wildlife in America that featured the now extinct Great Auk. I also like The Snow Leopard, which I affectionately call The Sneopard. (And I wonder why the kids love me!)

My favorite excerpt cam from In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. The section I read told a section of the narrative on the events June 26, 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation leadning to the incarcertaion of Leonard Peltier. The New York Times has this cool little feature — featured writer section on him.

He is a talker, all right. During both of the “readings” I attended, he mainly told story after story, which was actually quite fun. Since I haven’t read any of his fiction, I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Ahn Trio

I just wanted to do a quick post to say that the Ahn Trio came to K-O recently. They were really good! They play this wonderful variety of music, exclusively contemporary music, I believe. Some of it is the fusion of jazz and classical (western art music).

The other asset they have is that they are three hot, young babes. They make classical music MTV-ishly hip, yet they’re good. Check them out. The kids loved them.

Beth Bye Interview: Part I

I interviewed Beth bye on April 23, 2006. I wrote this after the interview:

I just got back from meeting with Beth Bye. Our chat lasted for a bit more than an hour, and I got to get a better sense of who she is as a parent, education professional, West Hartfordite, school board member, Connecticutian, and candidate for state representative. I had the good fortune of being able to stroll over to her home from school in the cool April drizzle. Let me make this clear to you, as I did to Bye, I am not a reporter. I have not done an interview since high school. While I know a few techniques, I am no professional. I am a teacher, and a creative writing teacher at that. I am all about embellishing, but I will try to be true to the chat.

When I asked Bye why she was initially interested in running for the school board, she had a detailed and impassioned history explaining why. She began by alluding to something Jodi Rell may have said about women getting into politics, that they get into politics because they feel something is at stake, particularly for their child. When her daughter was an infant in a daycare center, a daycare center that Bye ran, Bye was saddened by the turnover rate of her staff, thus affecting the quality of care her daughter was receiving. Quality care, Bye explains, is affected by how permanent the staff is. She became involved with Worthy Wages Campaign which calls for higher wages to child care employees so employees will be less likely to leave the profession and be more likely to be more effective.

It began with an editorial she wrote. She felt strongly about magnet schools, and her daughter was currently attending one. She began watching board meetings on TV, and soon she began attending them. Being situated close to the school, Bye hosted Mothers’ coffees, where concerned mothers gathered to talk about the issues facing their children’s schools, and thus she decided to run to make a difference. She was also exasperated by the disarray of the board at the time, citing Joe DeLucco’s ability to silence many parents trying to raise concerns. Being an education professional and a mother, Bye certainly had kids’ interest at the forefront.

And now she is running for state representative. This does not seem an uncommon route, as Bye herself explains that she can actually do something about budget allotment for school districts if she is a member of the assembly. Since we are working with an outdated formula for state funding of schools, she hopes to work on this issue.

In her work on the school board, it sounds like she is a pragmatist. In our chat she spoke about research and evidence over and over, making it sound like her every decision is based in empirical evidence. She also said she listens to all sorts of people involved: students, parents, community members. Since I am a teacher, we also chatted shop. I asked her about her views on tracking. She said she needed to be upfront with me, that she has done a large quantity of research in the field on heterogeneous grouping of kids. We seemed to see eye to eye on this issue. I recalled how I read about the regular vs. honors. vs AP discussion in the West Hartford News. I was so annoyed at this article, and Sujal and I had a discussion on it ourselves. Sujal would rather err on the side of tracking. Bye said her first stance was that there should not be an honors biology track. But parents convinced her, again, bringing in evidence from a variety of sources. Bye touts one of her strengths as being a reasonable person and having an open mind in terms of listening to people she does not necessarily agree with. Clearly constituents can talk to her, can approach her, and she will listen.

She talked about being a responsive person, that in her time on the board, people will ask her questions because they know that she will investigate and address these questions. That sounds like real representation to me.

As you can tell, I support her. I encourage anyone who has interest to become involved in her campaign. Let’s get her elected! More of the interview to come…

Wish I could take some credit…

..but I can’t. I’m a debate/speech coach at the school where I teach. I can’t say I the successes of those in my charge are due to my coaching, but I can brag about their successes! One of our kids recently went to the The World Individual Debating & Public Speaking Championships which happened to be hosted at the very exotic location of the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT this year. Luckily, this same student qualified and went to Cyprus last year. He basically won the whole dang thing! He did not win first overall speaker, but he won first place in two out of a possible three categories. Even the “number one” speaker didn’t achieve that. And our kid — he is really talented. Again, I claim no responsibility. But this kid can write. And speak.

He was written up in a Salon.com article by Mark Oppenheimer. I met Mark at the event (I was a judge). He seemed like a great guy, and I really liked his article. But, in typical Heidi fashion, foot-in-mouth disease runs in my family, I said one of my famous “dumb-as-shit” things. He said his brother writes for the Valley Advocate, which I read when I lived in Noho. Remembering his brother’s self-important, pompous articles, I announced how much I disliked his brother’s writing. When Mark asked me why, I explained what a pompous ass I thought he was. It turns out I was talking about Tom Vannah. Oops. Tom’s the pompous ass. I actually liked Mark’s brother’s reviews.

Nonetheless, my debate kid rocks!!!!

Monopoly

No, not the game, which BTW, I have never played. It is one of my less lofty goals in life to never ever play it.

Now, on to ETS, the real monopoly. The New York Times has an article on errors in scoring the SAT. I’ve been saying for years that ETS has a pretty damn clear monopoly. They charge pretty outrageous fees, especially for their post-grad tests, and there is virtually no competition. I also firmly believe they are crappy indicators. The article details how finally 2 students out of 4,000 affected by the incorrect scoring came forward. Those of you in the ETS “know” are well aware of the fact that all they send you are scores. If you disagree or want to further check out their accuracy, you need to pay additional fees to have them send you a scored copy. They’ve got a pretty great system of protecting themselves there. And they have a serious impact on kids’ and adults’ futures. I am astounded by how long they have been able to get away with this unfair monopoly.

Celebrity Magnetism

So my school seems to be a celebrity magnet lately. For the past few days, we have received an announcement that there would be a “surprise” assembly on Thursday, at a school with no shortage of assemblies (not at all like a public school). So we all piled into the auditorium just like any other Thursday, but instead of only hearing a few announcements, we also got filmclip. Finally David Strathairn stepped out onto the stage! Earlier in the school year, we took the entire upper school to see “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow in that flic. It was very cool to have him come. He talked a bit abut doing film, staying true to a character, particularly when the character was once a real person. We also talked a bit about Murrow. When he first came out, he kept telling the kids just how lucky they are. He’s absolutely right. It was my exact thought as I realized who the guest must be. The students at my school are exposed to all sorts of great opportunities. I can’t say I was exposed to anywhere near as much great talent and art that they are. But I also have to add, as a faculty member there, I’m pretty lucky. I also was not exposed to this much talent teaching in the public system that I used to. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the public school. I did, and very much. But I am lucky to be at this school, too — authors, artists, actors, researchers, former generals and presidential candidates, social theorists, etc. There are some pretty exciting things going on at my school. (Remind me of this the next time I am wildly stressed out grading 50,000 essays.) Privilege carries responsibilities indeed, but it is also something good to savor and appreciate.

So That’s Why I have to Write Letters of Recommendation!!!

I was on the “New Yorker’s” site looking for interesting essays to use for my Creative Writing class, something hip and new, and I came across this interesting article about the evolving (at one time) admissions process for getting into Harvard and the other ivy leagues. As it turns out, the reasons I get swamped with requests for letters of recommendation every fall is because Harvard admissions folks were anti-semetic. Thanks, you snotty-snotpantses. It’s actually a really interesting read.

Tim O’Brien at my School

So Tim O’Brien’s visit has come and gone. I had dinner with him Thursday night. I like the way that sounds like it was just the two of us, but it wasn’t. The class that studied him all semester was his primary companion, and the few of us teachers were mainly onlookers. But it was great to see him interact with the kids. We were also privy to a bit more of what he had to say, interesting answers to poignant questions. Basically we had more time.

He spent the entire next day at the school. We had a morning assembly where he delivered what was basically this address. When I talked to kids afterwards and they found this address on the net, many were pretty disappointed that he did not “bother” to come up with something new for them. I understand their feelings, and yet it is a lot expect that someone will personalize an address to a group of strangers. Regardless of whether it had been delivered previously or not, I really liked his talk. I loved his answers to the kids’ questions. And even though he often said he was side-stepping answering them, he usually got right at the heart of the questions with the best possible answer. His answers tended to be grey, and often that’s his whole point in his writing: truth exists in the shades of grey. The only negative point was when he said that you never find out the “answer” in the novel In the Lake of the Woods. Due to my ridiculous planning, I had not had my juniors complete the novel before he came. They were roughly 1/4 through the novel, so he more or less ruined it for them. Again, that’s not truly his fault.

In the evening, there was a faculty (and area teachers) dinner and reading. After the dinner, I got my chance to chat with him. He’s from Minnesota, and I really wanted to know how he felt being from Minnesota impacted his writing, though I never got the chance to directly ask him that. Many of his pieces are at least partially set in Minnesota. Clearly it affects him. He currently lives in Austin, TX, where my sister lives. I asked him if he’d take a package down there and he was obliging. We chatted a bit about Worthington, his hometown, and the Twin Cities. I told him I once spent a night in Worthington. He was shocked — asked what the hell I was doing in Worthington. I told him that my boyfriend’s grandmother had a house in Worthington, and we stayed for the weekend. He asked, “Wasn’t it boring?” in the kind of tone that means the responder should agree. I told him that since I hadn’t been from there, I thought it was quaint. I told him I didn’t remember much, that all I really remembered was that it was in a valley. He said that it’s not in a valley, that it is very flat. At about that moment, I figured I might have made a mistake. And I just looked it up on Google Maps, and it is 3.5 hours from Minneapolis. The place we went to, I think it was only an hour or so. My memory doesn’t serve me so well, so if anyone knows James Kraling, ask him for me where his grandmother’s house was — where we spent the weekend about, oh, ten years ago. It’s funny what memory does. I always imagine coming into the little town, which was quite rural, but had a “quaint” little town center, a Main St. with a pizza place — I imagine coming down into a valley from the side of a cliff. Well, a cliff is to steep, but in my memory we dive into a valley from up high. But I think I get that mixed up with a description I read in a novel a long time ago. The novel is Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, and it has the beautiful and detailed description of the protagonist entering this “ghost” town (the town is literally inhabited by ghosts — if I recall correctly). And again, if I recall, there is a description of him entering on a winding path into a valley town. SO the image I have very well may be a fictitious image created partially by reality, a novel, and my own soft, brain tissue.

It’s funny how memory works like that. I have this very distinct memory of being around 4. We had our relatives at our house, aunt, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. I had already gone to bed, but I got up and came downstairs to the living room where everyone was, talking and laughing. I sat down on the carpet in front of my Aunt Pat, sitting with my legs in that upside-down W shape, and proceeded to pee on the carpet. Here’s the thing, I was in a crowded room, yet no one else remembers this. I most likely made it up, yet it is one of my most vivid childhood memories, complete with colors and sounds.

Nonetheless, O’Brien and I chatted about Macalester College, St. Paul, The Hungry Mind Bookstore that is no more, the Macalester Chapel where all the Hungry Mind readings were held, etc. I told him about my lovely neighborhood in MPLS, the cockroaches, etc. And then after the reading, when I got my book signed, he remembered my name. I felt special. I get very star-struck by authors. I really do.

His reading was also very good, though he was really tired. He read “A Letter to my Son” which caused him to break into almost tears. Then he read a piece from his latest novel July, July, which was also very good. Overall, it was a great event. Now my juniors are Deep into In the Lake of the Woods and I think they are getting a bit O’Brien’d out. This is the third text they’ve read by him this year. It is also a challenging and confusing text. Hopefully it will soon strike them.

My Lag and Romney’s Assininity

I know, I haven’t posted in a bit. My life had become insanely hectic (and I swear I have a few hour reprieve right now) with grading, comment writing, and doing end of semester work. Plus Sujal and I wee doing a wedding planning marathon, though it seems like we have accomplished little. I did lots of good work doing my grades and comments, and I am happy with the effort I put in. Alas, now I have one of those nasty teacher colds.

And to think about what nasty Mitt Romney said about us at an MLK Day tribute breakfast:

“Sad to say that the teachers union and their supporters will fight these answers [how to solve problems with the achievement gap between white and minority students] with every tool they have…They will distort and deprive, they will torture and twist, but don’t forget, to them, it’s first about compensation and jobs. To you, it’s about kids and their future.”

I heard that on WFCR on my way to work (and to get coffee) on Tuesday morning. It made me so angry. I taught in that state for five years, and it pains me that I quasi-served under him in some capacity. No one ever questions doctors’ concern over compensation and jobs. And then to be most timely, as I told a class of mine that I once managed a record store at the Mall of America, yes our nation’s largest mall and some of my darkest days, they siad they thought managing a record store must have been cool. They asked why I quit to take a job as a secretary, and I said the pay was bad, one student aptly questioned, “Then why did you become a teacher?” after which he quickly apologized. I was hardly offended (by the truth), and it just further illustrated how OFF Romney is. NO ONE TEACHES FOR THE MONEY!!! I am not saying we teachers are paupers necessarily, though some are, but we are not paid handsomely. Fact. And boy is it a fact in Massachusetts.