Tag Archives: teenagers

Go Fly a Kite

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I used to like kites until the day one tried to kill me. At this point, you’re imagining a Ben Franklin experiment involving a thunderstorm and a key, but it was nothing so glamorous or so foolhardy. I was simply trying to buy a loaf of stale bread.

I had been living in Indonesia for more than two years, and I knew that the only place in town to sell bread was a tiny store on the outskirts of town. I was out of flour to bake my own, and the purchase of more meant a trip up the coast along a winding road that hugged a cliff. It was only 50 miles, but by the time you dodged goats, cows, chickens and people who sat their fannies on the actual asphalt of the highway, you had two hours invested in the venture. So until that monthly trek rolled around again on the calendar, I had to content myself with bread that did a marvelous imitation of bleached cardboard. I had just such a loaf of this striking wheat rendition in my motorcycle basket as I whizzed along through the village at the speed of baked beans.

The other thing you should know is that not only is sitting on the highway after dusk all the rave, but flying kites before dusk is also one of the more popular hobbies in a small fishing town. It falls somewhere between cleaning your day’s catch and beating a ridiculously large spider to death with a machete. If you’re between the ages of 7-14, then it’s pretty much all you do unless it’s raining.

So on this ordinary day, Wonderless Bread in custody, I was puttering along when I noticed a young lad not far ahead, standing beside the road holding a kite string. I immediately scanned the sky for the kite. Not because I wanted to ooh and aah over it, but because its location was mission critical to my journey home. Kids flew those blasted things in the road all the time, something about parents not wanting their cherubs to get swallowed up by lurking pythons in the rice paddies, and if you weren’t careful, you could run through one of those lines with your scooter. So I swiveled my head back and forth trying to find that kite. I shouldn’t have bothered because the string found my face instead. Did I mention that they use twine for kite string? I’m not sure what test it is, but I think you could land Moby Dick with it and he’d feel like a guppy.

A picture of real, honest-to-goodness, Indonesian twine

A picture of real, honest-to-goodness, Indonesian twine

So I’m still riding my scooter as twine slices across my face. You’d think survival skills would kick in at this point and I’d hit the brake, but there’s something about searing pain and panic that short-circuits my brain. I clawed frantically at the demon burrowing with the vigor of a groundhog on crack until the twine won its game of tug-of-war and pinned me right there in the middle of the street. Ever been snatched backwards off a bike doing 25mph? It makes one grouchy to say the least.

So I lay there in the street, staring at the sky and hoping that Jesus was going to appear and just take me on home to glory, but my scooter, a real go-getter by nature, went another 20 feet before falling on its sword out of respect to its felled rider. By this time a crowd of thirty or so people had gathered. No one offered to help me get up or even checked to see if I could. The kite owner was so overwrought by my near demise that he stood calmly aside, slowly wrapping up his kite twine, no doubt checking it for blood stains that could impede future flights. This is the only time in my life that I’ve ever considered throwing something at a teenager. Like my scooter.

One man finally broke the code of silence and picked up my bike and rolled it over to me. At this point I knew my bones were still intact, but my pride lay shattered in pieces that even an atom couldn’t see.

I drove home more slowly than usual. I stood in front of one of the few mirrors in my house and surveyed the burn marks across my face and throat. I have to say, it’s one of the most painful sandwiches I’ve ever made.

For my Kids

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photo grading papers

Written for my students on my decision to take a job several hours away.

I walked into my classroom for the first time in 2006. I taught only underclassmen then, and even a couple of sections of middle school, but I knew as soon as the first class started that I had found my niche: I loved everything about upper school students.

I was hard on you. For many of you, your first day in my classroom was akin to a nightmare because I was so stern and exacting in my approach. I wanted you to take my class seriously. I wanted you to learn to love literature or, at the very least, appreciate it. I wanted you to become effective writers. I wanted you to see my classroom as a tiny slice of the real world, in which responsibility is crucial to survival and excellence is more than creating carbon dioxide in a desk. I wanted you to push yourselves in order to find your true limits.

And so we began this journey together, and you didn’t disappoint me. You have read hundreds of pages of literature and poetry. I know because when you didn’t, I’d catch you on one of my countless pop quizzes that earned me the title Quiz Queen by my third year. You’ve worked on projects, both on the group and individual level, and produced mythological statues, Odyssey board games, skits, poetry anthologies, power point presentations, song parodies that you performed in front of your peers, and even a rap that summarized Othello. You wore head coverings for an entire school day in order to help you connect with cultures around the world, you welcomed and chauffeured a WWII speaker, and you even went on a priest scavenger hunt to reinforce the brutality of communism in Southern Mexico in the 1930’s. And between all of that, you wrote papers. Innumerable drafts of papers. I know because I read every word. I read your thoughts on pieces of great literature and your thoughts on your personal lives. Some of you have even trusted me with sensitive information that few others know. I have valued your hard work. I have valued your transparency. I have valued your trust.

I never walked into this school with the goal of becoming your friend. That wasn’t my place; it wasn’t my role. I was your teacher. Which meant that I have been as hard as nails on you. With the exceptions of death in the family or a doctor’s note saying you were having a CAT scan, I cut you zero slack for assignments. A friend will make allowances and give you a free pass; a teacher will hold your feet to the fire. I was unmoved by your tears, and your excuses made no difference. I needed for you to learn your lesson. I wanted you to learn it with me instead of with an employer who doesn’t care why you’re late again or the bank manager who’s threatening to foreclose. I needed for you to learn how to be a responsible adult with me, because the consequences in the real world are far greater than a few penalty points taken on a paper. Many of you just accepted this as my way and learned how to operate under my system. But some of you guessed the reason why I demanded so much: you know it’s because I care.

And I do care. Deeply. That’s why I expected so much from you. I expect a lot of myself. But I’ve learned that by setting the bar high, you begin to jump. And some of you have even soared. I have no other way to explain why my freshman grades are still increasing in the fourth quarter when we’re covering the most difficult material of the year. You’re still jumping, still reaching for that bar. And no one smiles more brightly or has more pride when you reach it than I do. You have worked tirelessly for me this year, and I honor that.

I’m looking back on eight wonderful years. They’ve been gratifying because of you.   The technical term I should use to label you is students. But you’ve rarely been my students to me. Soon after I began teaching here, I started calling you my kids. And you are. My hope is that one day you’ll know why I’ve been so hard on you. Why I made your high school years a trial by fire. Why I came down on you like a sack of hammers. I did it because I want you to live beautiful lives. I want you to meet life’s problems with tenacity. I want you to soar.

And when you do, I’ll be smiling.

© 2014 – Traci Carver

May Days

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I turned the final corner on the school year with the arrival of May, the most exciting month of the year. Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching, but after grading a few thousand essays over the last ten months, the upcoming golden days of June and July are 24 hour gold nuggets that I will hoard like Midas. I bask in the fact that I will finally have time to read something that doesn’t involve a step-by-step process of how to blast a raccoon right out of an oak tree or doesn’t try to persuade me that “young ‘ins really don’t need no schoolin’ beyond the sixth grade.” I can sleep past the hour of 5:30, and I can go to the bathroom any darn time I want. The freedom is dizzying and tempts you into bohemianism. Or at least a few spontaneous days down at the pool. But the month of May is also bittersweet as it means the closure of a good year with my students. As I think back on the 2013-14 year, I see my kids as possessing creativity, humor, and a distinct sense of justice.

For the many years that I’ve taught mythology to my freshman classes, I’ve asked them to create their own god or goddess and write a myth to accompany their statue. The students never fail to impress, and I’ve had beautiful works of art grace my classroom, each with a unique story behind the miniature figure. I’ll never forget the year excessive rains coincided with the presentation of the statues, and when we left them in my classroom overnight, we returned the next day to find dozens of tiny frogs who had wiggled under my outside door only to expire by the shelf with the 4 inch deities. I told the students this was obviously a judgment in the form of a plague of Egypt since we had so many idols in the room. They nodded sagely and carried those frog-killing totems away.

A photo of student brilliance

A photo of student brilliance

My students also make me smile with their sense of humor. Just this week a student walked in after my junior composition class had already started, and one of my boys told her in no certain terms to hit the bricks. I asked what had happened to their Southern hospitality (a recent essay topic), and Bayly quickly amended, “We really enjoyed your visit. Do come back now, ya hear?” And then there was Lisa’s comment on the Paleo diet: “Sure, you’re supposed to eat the way our ancestors did, but let’s be honest here. If our ancestors had had chocolate cake, they would have eaten it.”

I'm pretty sure any stone savage would have put down the club and partaken of the dirt cake.

I’m pretty sure any stone savage would have put down the club and partaken of the dirt cake.

But more than any other trait, my students possess a strong sense of fairness. During our Grandparents’ Day festivities, I had my students participate in a writing activity and then read their creative pieces aloud to our venerated guests. Given that my class demographics are heavy to the XY persuasion, I gave an admonition to make sure that all material in their stories would be appropriate. I’m sure you can guess where this is headed. One story was moving along beautifully until the boys suddenly had a pig stop to smoke something that isn’t exactly sold over the counter. Perfect. As soon as the spokesperson said it, he looked up to meet my eyes and immediately began apologizing and pointing fingers. The next day, I brought in food for my sophomores, and when that spokesperson happened to peek into my room and see the baked goods, he began petitioning for their class.

“I’m sorry, but what part of a reefer-smoking swine do you think warrants a piece of my homemade pound cake?”

He pursed his lips, nodded his head and responded, “You’ve got me there, Ms. Carver. Quite right.”

He walked out and never questioned the verdict or the sentence. Even when they’ve ticked me off, I still love my kids.

© 2014 – Traci Carver