Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Plans and Possibilities

It seems I led a few people astray in my previous post.  Despite including a photo of a schoolroom in Tema, Ghana in yesterday’s update, I am not actually in Ghana this year.  I spent the 2010/2011 academic year teaching in at a high school in Tema.  This year, New York City is home base.

So, you ask, what is the intention of this blog?

-                    I want to celebrate many aspects of what that little classroom in the photo represents: promise and possibility. 
-                    I am a teacher and a traveler and this is my fusion of two things I generally do pretty well. (I will NOT be creating a cooking blog, a mathematics blog, a map-reading blog, or a speed-skating blog as these are among the things I most definitely do not do well).
-                    I want to share some of my discoveries – from the soothing effects of idyllic seaside retreats in West Africa to the exciting appeal of cacophonous bars in New York City with people who hope to follow their own curiosity around the world.
-                    I want to write about the cool things I’ve seen and the interesting people I’ve met before I get too old to remember where I was, why I went, and who helped me find my way home.

o   As a traveler I often begin my journeys alone, but I rarely feel lonely.  If you’ve ever been too intimidated to travel solo through Africa or South East Asia, I am here to tell you how, why and where to go.  The world really is full of promise and possibility and sometimes we forget to engage with the places and people we set out to see.  It’s great to share adventures, but sometimes stepping out the door all by yourself is the best way to understand life: yours and that stranger who is about to become your new friend.

-                    I believe that education is an interactive adventure – from the worlds we discover in the books we read to the real world we encounter with own eyes, ears, and hearts.  And yes, I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true. 

-                    I love the chaos and the immediacy of classroom learning, but sometimes our brains need space to stretch out and grow.  And I’m not just talking about kids here, I think teachers need the same space.

So.  That’s my blueprint. 

And like any itinerary (or well-intentioned lesson plan) expect a few changes along the way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Classroom Awaiting Students
Community One,
Tema, Ghana
West Africa

Not the 1st Day of School

It's 8:25am.

Homeroom begins right now.  Without me.

Were I starting my 14th year of teaching today, I'd be taking roll amid a cacophony of teenage voices...

A gaggle of confused and sleepy 10th graders would be trying to make sense of their class schedules.  The room would be cluttered with new backpacks, new binders, a giant pile of student handbooks, and an envelope stuffed with subway passes for kids who live too far from campus to walk there every day.  At least one student would be outraged that the New York Transit Authority deemed his/her address too close to qualify as a true commute.  Someone would be scheduled for two math classes and no English.  An entire group would be slotted to meet their history teacher in Room 319 only to discover that Room 319 does not exist.  The new kid would be totally confused by the school's unconventional layout, and the ESL student would not understand a word I said, but he'd be way too polite to admit it.

At 8:30 the first bell will ring and I will not be there to watch the troupe of newly-minted sophomores pile out the door.  I will not be able to acknowledge the 3 or 4 inches I assume Rocco has grown over the summer.  I will not be updated on what Paul read over the holiday, or given a detailed explanation regarding the current shade of Chloe's hair, or informed as to who broke who's heart via Facebook.

I was in the school building over the weekend - collecting the last of my things from bookshelves and bulletin boards. The school was quiet and lonely.  Schools without students are like pizzas without cheese - pointless and uninteresting.   Today the kids are putting the cheese back into the rooms.

Yep.  I'm a bit wistful right now.

Instead of rushing off to 1st period, I am staring out my window and listening to helicopters buzz over Battery Park City and watching trucks traverse the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway.

What will I do with me today?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Leap!

Full disclosure: I have seen snow.  

As a native Montanan, I have marveled at snow as often as I have cursed it.  I’ve shoveled the stuff until I ached, and I have giggled inside the fragile caves and imaginary forts it formed during my childish play. Snow is cool, but it’s also an icy nemesis when you want to drive to work, run through the sprinklers, or simply walk out your front door without having to bury yourself in bulky sweaters, cumbersome mittens, and seriously unsexy boots.  I know snow and snow knows me.

What I really intend to celebrate through this blog is curiosity and adventure.  Whether the focus is a solo trip through Ethiopia, a first-ever encounter with freezing rain, or quitting a job and leaning into the unknown, Never Seen Snow will document my journeys and explorations and those of others I meet along the way.

I like to wander and I love a good story.

 ·      An explanation of the title, “Never Seen Snow” (part 1):

This blog’s title is literally inspired by the arrival of a handful of young people who are (this week!) moving to North America from Africa to begin their university experience.  I taught these ambitious scholars in Ghana during their 11th grade year of high school. 

They are daring adventurers who have made some remarkable sacrifices in pursuit of education.  While they attended secondary school in West Africa, they are natives of such countries as Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. 

And to the best of my knowledge, not one of them has ever seen snow.

These students are college freshmen, and they have amazing life stories already, but this move will present them with a new set of challenges and successes.  

I will invite some of these individuals to share their observations and opinions here at Never Seen Snow throughout the semester.

-       How will it feel to experience a first American winter in the heart of Michigan?
-       What will they think of the US Presidential election?
-       Who will explain pep rallies and will cheerleaders make any sense? 
-       What does Vancouver have in common with Bujumbura?

·      An explanation of the title, “Never Seen Snow” (part 2):

I just quit my job.  Yes, in this economy and without a parachute I just leapt out of the security of a tenured teaching position and into the void - no lesson plans, no guaranteed paycheck, and no clue as to what my future holds. 

After thirteen years of full-time teaching at public and private schools from the Silicon Valley to West Africa, I resigned to find new inspiration and to take some risks.  My last paycheck was deposited on August 18th and my group health care plan turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight last night.

My father is worried.  My friends are excited.  My bank account is nervous. 

Here I go…