July 11, 2016 marks the day we brought home Finnegan. I was not really a dog person at that point in my life. Needless to say, this has changed. Over the course of the past year, my life has adjusted to a routine built around companionship. In the morning while I eat breakfast, eyes follow my every move. There is no sitting down without the expectation of play time. Walks are mandatory, the longer the better. Being away from home the past few weeks has been all the more of a reminder of how much I have grown to enjoy my dog. German dog owners commonly train their dogs to the point where they can take them anywhere. It is perfectly normal to see a dog under a table in a restaurant or waiting, on its own — not tied up, just sitting — for its owner to come out of a store. I have learned to ask, “Kann ich dein Hund streichen?” Can I pet your dog? Finnegan isn’t yet well trained enough that he would rest at my feet in a restaurant, but I hope he will be some day. Watching people with their dogs, and being away from mine the past few weeks has given me a fresh appreciation for the furry friend who came into my life this past year. About a week into being here I did a google hangout with my family back home. As soon as he heard my voice over the computer, Finnegan jumped up and ran to the door. It was awful to hear his bark change from excitement to confusion as he listened but could not see or smell me there. I didn’t know that having a dog could be like that. When I see him again, I think my tail will wag as well.
I like to think this trip started eight years ago. That puts the ending so far off in the future it’s impossible to imagine. Maybe one day Laith or Owen will come to Freiburg to study, or Felix, who had just been born when we were here four years ago, could come to stay with us. When you open your home to a guest, or stay in the home of a family who welcomes you in, these people’s lives become a part of yours. The day I arrived here my host had just found out his father would need major surgery. A few nights later we were at his parents house for dinner. His father and mother showed me around the garden they had spent their lives building, a landscape they had modeled after the Alhambra in Spain, which they had visited early on their marriage. They had brought trees and flowers from all over the world to a hillside at the end of a valley in the Black Forest where their grandparents had been farmers. Above their house they flew the flag of the European Union. The world does not need to be a divided place. On Sunday, I visited Manuel. His son, Felix, wanted to show me his bedroom. Being four, Felix speaks much better German than I, but we had a conversation about his toys in which I felt like I was pretty much holding my own. My host’s father’s surgery went well on Monday. He’s recovering well, much to everyone’s relief. My bags are packed, and I would prefer to think of myself not so much as leaving as moving on to the next stage of this trip. It started eight years ago with a conversation in the hallway when one of my colleagues mentioned that two teachers from Germany who were guests at our school might enjoy visiting different people’s homes for dinner, and I thought to myself, “I don’t know if my family and I will ever have the chance to visit Europe, but at least we have a chance to have Europe visit us.” What it’s come to now is that I feel like I have neighbors on two continents.
For those who may not know, I’m beginning the summer in Waldkirch, Germany with the GAPP students from ROHS. Like them I am staying with a host family. My German goes back to high school, so I understand it somewhat well, but I have had very little experience with speaking it for the past thirty years. For the past week, though, I’ve noticed some funny things happening with the way I think and speak. My hosts and most of the people I deal with speak English well. When I need to be understood or if we’re having a conversation that is moving quickly, English seems to work fine. At the same time, however, I am constantly thinking of how to say things in a way that will be clear to them, so I’m not exactly speaking the way I would normally. I am also at the same time constantly surrounded by people speaking German. On goal I had for this trip was to improve my own German, so I’m also always trying to think of how to say what I’m saying in German. I find myself switching between languages between sentences, or between words, or translating myself while I speak in ways that I don’t expect. When I start to think and talk, I’m never quite sure what will come out. This is probably how we normally go through the day, but between two languages I’m very conscious of this uncontrollable tossed word salad of my thoughts. Yesterday I was at a music concert and it was about a minute before I realized I could understand what the musician on stage was saying because he was speaking English. Anyhow, keep blogging and check out these AP Lang sites from last year under the tab at the top of this page. Comment on them.
You took me down a narrow path. It was my first
awareness of both shade and forest, strapped
in a seat on the back of your bike.
We fell, but if it hurt I don’t remember. It’s the joy
of being with you that stays in my mind.
I know we teach our sons the things we love, the invisible
paths of golf balls through the air, cue balls on a field
of orange felt, or long, high, home run balls flying
through warm summer air as we sat watching from the
upper deck overhang.
I don’t remember when you took me down the driveway
for the first time, or the trails our skis left in the snow
the day you did that. I remember trailing you
much later, down snowy slopes.
This is the path that I followed, the path you
started even when it took me places
you would not go. My sons have walked through
rain, mosquitoes, dust, and mud on islands
and in forests, sleeping on the ground The path I followed
driving in the winter morning darkness
with two quiet boys holding sleepy conversations
in the back seat on the way to soccer games. The things
we love are almost never things.
The path I follow now, not knowing where it goes
but knowing always that the best part is who we are with.
Ahead of me, you showed me how to be a father
and when you lead the way, you brought my sons along.
My summer blog reflects who I am during the months when my teacher self goes into hibernation. This year it will probably focus on reading, travel, and projects around my house. If you’re in my class next year, write about what you want. Definitely follow and post to #roreads on Twitter (you should read a lot during the summer). Also, check out the sites on the ELA 11 and AP Language Blog tab at the top. Read about the topics students researched in the spring and join the conversations they invite you to join by posting to their hashtags or using their sites’ comments threads. Have fun. Start your summer reading and writing.
Here are some more sites to visit to read and think about the topics and issues that matter right now to us here at Royal Oak High School. Join the conversation.
For a complete list of these sites, go to the Student Blog ELA 11 and AP Language page.
My students and I were inspired by KQED’s Do Now project to create sites that invite conversations on topics that matter to them. We understand that these topics connect to a variety of issues in communities today, and we want these sites to provide space for students at Royal Oak High School – or anywhere else – to share their perspectives and discuss their ideas about these issues in a civic-minded manner as a way of moving our communities forward through the challenges we face.
How can you use these sites?
Visit them. If you see one that sparks your interest or that you feel strongly about, read about the issue. Take a look at the hashtag for the site on Twitter, or read the comment thread, or both, and see what others have said about the topic. Then add your voice to the conversation.
Here are a few to get you started. More on the way soon.
Rohsmyschoolmyfuture.weebly.com — About changes to education policies under President Trump.
http://rohsanimaltesting17.weebly.com/ — About testing of products on animals.
https://donowactivism.wordpress.com/ — About activism and social media.
influenceofsocialmediaonbodyimage.weebly.com — About social media and body image.
https://royprochazkaa54.wixsite.com/memeteam — Fun with memes.
http://ro17environmental.weebly.com/ — Pressures of recreational activity on nature.
http://asleducationnow.weebly.com/ — About sign language and culture.
When you talk to each other about a piece of writing, you reveal what you understand about the choices writers make. When you reflect on your writing, either as you work on revision planning, or as you look back on a finished draft, you reveal what you understand about the choices writers make.
However you may think of yourself, the moment you begin to compose your thoughts into a cohesive text — online, on a screen, on paper, in crayon on a napkin — you are a writer. You are using a technology people invented — symbolic recorded language — for an uncertain purpose that has been evolving and expanding for thousands of years. And that continues to evolve. Whatever your aspirations may be with regard to writing, when you encounter a technology, you have one of two choices: to improve your use of it, or not. Given that you’ll probably have to write in some form or another for the rest of your life, there really isn’t much choice. Who wants to do something poorly their entire life?
So now you signed on for this class and your teacher has been suggesting that the best way he can grade your growth as a writer is by reading your feedback, your reflections, and your revision plans. Maybe not what you expected.
I’ve told you what I’m looking for, and I think I’ve told you why.
The catch, the sticking point, is that for you to have a variety of things to give feedback about and to reflect on, you have to practice being willing writers. You have to give yourselves opportunities to make choices about the writing you do about the things that matter to you.
Imagine how intelligently you would be able to reflect on all the different kinds of choices you made as a writer if you wrote daily on your blog, read blogs by classmates, responded, joined all manner of written conversations all the time, and then at the end of the month reflected on the ways you tried to have an impact on your readers. Imagine the different ways you might talk about your choices if I asked you to do a revision plan for one proposed post during the following month. Contrast how you might imagine this kind of practice to doing an assignment I create every two or three week and reflecting on it when you’re done. Imagine the different ways you could reflect on your writing all the time, the different things that you could try, the different feedback you would give and receive.
If you’re not my student and you got this far, I hope there was something of value in this for you. If there wasn’t, I tried to warn you in the title. Sorry.
If you are my student, please respond and comment.
The embryonic dog
Developed in my
Heart, loyal but
Unnamed, nourished with
Fatherhood, the soft
Beads of its
Spine a necklace
Looped around my
Bloodstream, absorbing oxygen
And memories of
Days spent with
My sons. On
The fading afternoon
It finally gallops
Out tail flying
Like the windblown
Golden leaves of
Autumn, it springs
To catch small
Parts of myself
I have tried
To throw away.
Boys loyal to
Addictions that destroyed
Them. A river’s
Bend, the deep
Pools filled with
Ghosts of drownings.
How we leaned
Into the wind
Until we almost
Fell. The chill
Of a disease
A broom of
Pain that sweeps
Clean everything but
The desire for
An end. The
Dog holds in
His mouth the
Broken leg bones
Of my sons.
He will not
Let me close
Enough to take
Them from him,
But he will
Not hide them
Either, or run
Away without me.
For an antidote to the attention Royal Oak Middle School has garnered in the past week, click go to National Writing Project’s Letters to the Next President site. Teens from all over the country have posted their informed viewpoints and added their voices to a national conversation about issues that matter to them. About 80 of the letters are from students here at Royal Oak High School. The viewpoints span the political spectrum. The site is searchable in a variety of ways, although you cannot search for specific authors. Students publish by first name. As long as you’re there, though, why not just browse? It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the kind of respectful dialogue of ideas that builds bridges, not walls; that democracy craves, and which our future voters are proving they are willing to have.