Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Welcome to My Little Corner of the World

I wanted to begin the class sharing some music to celebrate my new blog, "My Little Corner of the World." Let's share a bit about our place through deep maps, poetry, photographs, songs, podcasts, or whatever kind of media you'd like to experiment with this semester. I hope I can assist you if you need it, but I know some of you will probably be able to help me! Welcome to class.

Blessed is the Influence

Blessed is the influence of one true loving human soul on another.

These words by George Eliot epitomize my teaching life. I believe each teacher is a loving human soul who has a tremendous influence on the lives of her or his students. I don't recall when I first came across these words, but they left a lasting impression on me. I think I probably happened upon them some day during my teaching career when I was utterly down. You know those days when you feel like your students didn't understand or care about a thing you said? These words reminded me that there was probably one student whom I did have an influence upon, and in truth, we may be that one truly loving human soul who affects the life of one other human being. And that is enough. It is more than many people ever experience.

Today, I rode my bike to school an entire two blocks and I happened to come up behind Mr. Haden, the 8th grade science teacher. I said, "Hey, Ron, it's the beginning of my 18th year of teaching here at Aurora. What year is it for you?" I really had no idea. "This is my 30th year." I just about wrecked my bike. I have known Ron for 18 years. We share a love of stars. He lives down the block. He coaches cross country. He is out early in the mornings like me; he runs, and I ride my bike to the fitness center to run on a treadmill (my shins and concrete do not like each other). But I had no idea he had been teaching here for 30 years. That is the beauty of teaching in Aurora. Most people stay for a very long time. We like it here. I have seen a lot of very good teachers stay here well ove r 30 years and retire here. We are all invested in this community.

So, I have been fortunate to teach juniors and seniors over the course of my career, finding my way through No Child Left Behind and standards to preparing curriculum for Wesleyan Honors Academy courses. I spent many years directing the three act fall play and the one act and coaching speech. Thankfully, after six years, I was able to just focus on coaching the speech team. I really do enjoy working with students on the team because it wonderful to see them gain confidence as public speakers. It's also just a lot of fun to be with adolescents outside of the classroom. My speech team teaches me over and over again that each student is facing something in their lives. In the daily work of the school day it is easy to forget that.

In 2006, I received an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Nebraska Department of Education, and I wrote a "Where I'm From" poem to commemorate that occasion:

I am From: Teacher Version
(an imitation of George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From")

I am from screaming at the top of my lungs to support a student participating in an athletic event.

I am from waking up when it's still dark on a Saturday during speech season and getting on a cold bus for a long trip to who knows where.

I am from Saturday nights at school grading essays while the football coach is in the next room compiling offensive, defensive and special teams statistics.

I am from nail-biting panic that my students won't memorize their lines for the fall play.

I am from standing backstage in awe when they do nail that line they missed for the past six weeks of rehearsal.

I am from finding the right words to say when a speech competitor doesn't make it to finals.

I am from the joy of a novice competitor who gets up on stage to receive a medal.

I am from young men telling me, confidentially, in their junior and senior years, “This is the first book I’ve ever read.”

I am from going off on a tangent in the classroom (and I do this often) for a spectacular learning moment.

I am from "Excellent," "Exceptional," exclamation points, question marks, triple underlined words, numerous editing marks, and sentences of response in the margins on student papers.

I am from sitting side by side a student and reading and writing and talking about the paper because they really care about writing well.

I am from fifteen years of tear drops on student papers, because each year, someone was depressed, someone was hurt deeply, or someone died.

I am from all the courageous students who have bravely shared their lives with me through their writing,

I am from the poignancy and splendor of their lives,

I am from over a thousand, truly loving human souls who have had

a lasting, a remarkable influence upon me.

Catherine Cave English
October 31, 2006

Monday, August 10, 2009

Home Sweet Home

My home is my own little mansion. No, it's not as palatial as some of the homes in Aurora, but it's my quiet refuge after a long day of teaching or the place I can work on my dissertation in peace. My favorite room in my house is the sun room where I am writing my dissertation in the accompanying photo. I like to spread out here rather than in my office which is down the stairs into the lower half of our split-level home. The sun room is where everyone wants to hang out. My husband, Jerry, is the plant keeper, not me. They would all die if I had to water them. I love being surrounded by all that green. It's calming and keeps me focused. And I love the daylight! The sun room is also just off the kitchen, my second favorite room in the house because it is where I love to cook, especially in the summer with all of the wonderful garden vegetables my green-thumb husband likes to grow. Lately, I have 'put up' ten quarts of green beans and fourteen quarts of corn. 'Put up' were the words my mother and grandmother used for canning vegetables, but I have chosen to freeze them, which is much easier and less steamy during the humid dog days of August. This evening I made homemade marinara sauce from our Roma tomates, garlic, kosher salt, sugar, pepper and fresh herbs: rosemary, basil and oregano. Truly lovely with angel hair pasta!
Our home is two blocks west of the Aurora School complex, so I try to ride my bike the two blocks until the weather gets unbearable or if I have a lot of things to take to school. We are surrounded by several people named Carl. Carl Moore lives across the street caddy corner. Carl Arendt and Karl Larson live across the street to the north, and beyond those two lives Carl Johnson. Carl M. is retired, Carl A. is a retiree who still does handy-man work, Karl L. is the pastor at the Covenant Church down the street, and Carl J. is retired from Bonnavilla homes, but he helped his wife Margaret in her daycare business for a few years. They both helped raise our daughter, Anna. We are also surrounded by English teachers in our neighborhood. You had better speak correctly if you are walking around our neighborhood--four of us live within a block of each other.
We have looked all over Aurora for just the right home for years. Finally, four years ago, the house that we wanted was up for sale. The main thing was that it was in the neighborhood we had been in since we moved here. We really couldn't bear the thought of leaving our friends and neighbors. Anna was especially concerned about that because most of her friends were from our little corner of the Aurora.

Oh, and by the way, the link to "Sweet Home Alabama" at the top is a tribute to my husband, Jerry, and his green thumb, who has loved Lynyrd Skynyrd for a lifetime.

So This is Aurora, Nebraska

This is an excerpt from a chapter titled "Going Where Good People Go." It conveys a good little snippet about my community.

I live and work in a community that many small town Nebraskans would consider a “pretty big town,” with a population of 4,225. In the last decade, I have witnessed more and more graduates of Aurora High School move and live in other areas of the country, or for many Aurorans and rural Nebraskans, the move isn’t so far—it is within the urban area of Omaha, or the state capitol, Lincoln. “Because Nebraska’s institutions of higher education are in the majority located in larger communities, young people can be expected to continue leaving rural areas in large numbers upon completion of high school” (Cantrell 4). Aurora, a micropolis, is the county seat of Hamilton County and seventy-five miles west of the nearest metropolitan center of Lincoln. The open country that buffers us from Lincoln is prime farm ground. On my commutes on Interstate 80 to the University of Nebraska as a graduate student for eleven years, I have watched the seasons pass in the fields—planters in spring; combines in the fall. Aurora’s “downtown” is built around an historic county courthouse completed in 1895, constructed of red brick with Colorado sandstone with a tall spire. A strobe light rests atop the spire in recognition of Harold “Doc” Edgerton, inventor of the strobe light, one of Aurora’s most famous native sons, and a MIT graduate. There are approximately 6-10 businesses on each side of the square. Some buildings are empty, some thrive. Within four or five blocks of Aurora’s downtown, there are many majestic two-story houses that look like something out of the American South: palatial plantations surrounded by grand yards full of deciduous and evergreen trees. I drive M Street almost daily. It is the red brick street that runs from Highway 14, (16th Street) past the square all the way to 1st Street. Aurora High School is at M and 3rd Street. Each year, since I moved here in July 1992, I have taught approximately 100 students, give or take a few peaks in the population.

Listen to Ted Kooser recite his poem "So This is Nebraska."