Third Times a Charm

Last week I received an e-mail from wordpress.  My blog subscription was about to expire.  This e-mail gave me pause.  I liked knowing I had the blog around in case I ever wanted to post, but did I really want to keep paying money to have it look exactly how I want…the answer is yes.  But if I’m going to pay for something, I should probably actually use it, so here goes.  I’m hoping the third time will be the charm and that I will actually blog during the school year. So to make up for the last nine months of no posting I thought I would highlight one thing from each month.  Here goes:

September: What, me, a runner?

David and I with our pie after the pie race in November.

My school has this really old tradition, called the Pie Race.  It’s actually the oldest, continuous road race in America. The race is a 4.3 mile loop around campus.  If you can run the race in under a certain time (40 minutes for women), then you win an apple pie.  The race takes place in November between the fall and winter sports seasons, so a lot of students, faculty, and staff participate.  A couple of David and my friends put together a training group for faculty and staff wanting to do the race.  David decided to participate and I gave into the peer pressure.  Now we have run two races – the Pie Race and Old Sandwich Road Race (in case you were wondering – this race did not end with an old sandwich for the best times – unless freshly grilled hotdogs and hamburgers count…).

October: Snow Days

David’s snowman.

A blizzard, in October.  It was crazy.  We lost power, sent as many students home as we could, and had two days off from school.  Sunday, David and I took and incredible snow walk and then built snowmen with a few students.  Monday, we went down to Hartford to go shopping because somehow the mall had power even though the rest of Hartford was without power – people were literally charging phones and computers in the lounges. It was also hilarious because my students had a big project due Monday and I had given a long speech about how there were no excuses for turning it in late, so then when power went out Saturday night they all were really worried that I still expected a typed, printed paper on Monday morning (I didn’t).

November: The Loss of Wisdom…teeth

Resting post-surgery with Calvin.

I was actually dreading this for almost the entire month of November, mostly because I couldn’t eat or drink anything before the surgery.  As soon as someone tells me I can’t have water I get thirsty.  In the end, it was kind of a fun experience.  It was only mildly painful and David and I used the recovery time to watch the first season of Battlestar Galactica (we finished the series last month).

December: Christmas with the family

Warren Christmas tree

The end of the semester was actually slightly sad for me because I really loved the group of students I was teaching.  The spring was also the beginning of teaching two brand new courses, which was daunting to say the least.  In the middle of all this, it was wonderful to head back to Kansas and spend some quality time with my and David’s family.

January-February: Coaching an Undefeated Basketball Team

Rather than pouring gatorade on my and head coach’s head, the girls gave us cupcakes in the face after our final win.

The highlight of the season was the seventh game, when we played another undefeated team.  At halftime, we were losing by over 12 points (which is a lot in JV girls’ basketball where the average score is like 30 points).  In the second half we opened a can and came back to win by 5 points. It was incredible.  Beyond the actual wins, the girls on the team were (and are) just wonderful.  They were a real team and cared a lot for each other.

March: Spring Break in Chile

Hiking Villarrica Volcano in Pucon, Chile.

Its hard to summarize this trip in a few words. The highlights were getting to be out in nature.  We went on a couple really wonderful hikes, visited the dessert (my first trip to a dessert, and bought some wonderful Chilean yarn.  Sadly the trip ended with David and I both coming down with some sort of traveler’s sickness.  Thankfully it was the last night.

April: Leading a class trip to Turkey

Sunset over the Galata Bridge in Istanbul.

The travel was awesome.  We got to see really amazing sites around western Turkey.  I loved visiting centuries old mosques, churches, an underground city, shopping in the market, and walking through the cities. Traveling with students was wonderful and challenging. I had the opportunity to get to know students in more personal ways and see them get excited about the various sites around the country.  Yet it was also challenging keeping track of the students and caring for their mental and physical health (only one trip to the Turkish hospital…).

May: Finishing a Sweater (pic to come)

With graduation and end of year happening, school was pretty much all consuming during the month of May.  I felt like this year I was more prepared for the end of the year and planned my curriculum better so that my year didn’t end with a lot of long papers to grade, but it was also my first semester teaching seniors and I have a lot to learn about how to energize students (and myself) during the last months of the year.  Oh wait, but the highlight was this sweater.  When I first finished it I thought it looked terrible, but this just proves the power of blocking (washing the sweater and laying it out to dry).  After this process I fell in love with the sweater. Sadly its been too hot for much of the summer to wear it, but come fall…   My mom also came by for a long weekend, we had a wonderful time of fabric shopping and eating out together.

June: Family Trip to Friday Harbor and Seattle

Celebrating Daniel’s graduation from his residency program with the whole family.

At the end of June, David and I joined the rest of the Warren clan on the San Juan Islands. The Islands were incredible with a lot of fun adventures in the outdoors – like kayaking with orcas, walking the beach as sunset, and hiking.  But the real highlight was spending quality time with David’s family.   Christmas is often incredibly hectic, so having time to share with the family was a real gift.  We also had the pleasure of running into three friends from divinity school – all unexpectedly.  While I generally think the check-in feature on facebook is slightly creepy – in this instance it helped us reconnect with two friends, not bad facebook. Hopefully my next post won’t take 9 months.


Teaching and Self-Doubt

Friday was a difficult class day for many reasons.  In one class, I had a student refuse to take a quiz because he said he didn’t know any answers, despite the fact that it was a simple reading review quiz (and he did know some of the answers).  But it was the other class that proved more challenging.  At present I am teaching about Islam and the topic for discussion was jihad.  This day is always a loaded given the way the media throws around the word, often incorrectly.  My approach is often to have them read about the concept in their textbook, then I hand out Osama Bin Ladin’s 1998 Fatwa calling for jihad, as well as a part of a brochure from the Islamic Society of North America.  My goal is for the students to see the contrast between the two different views and also to recognize the degree to which Osama Bin Ladin’s fatwa doesn’t stand up to the standards of set by much of the Muslim world.  I’m hoping they walk away understand the complexity of the concept. That’s the goal.  Here’s what happened…

We started with Bin Ladin’s fatwa. In it he opens with a very controversial passage from the Quran, which calls Muslims to slay the pagans wherever ye find them, which he doesn’t cite.  For some reason, a very precocious and intellectual student focused in on this section, asking where it came from and wanting to know the context, etc.  While my general memory is that this passage references a very specific instant of tribal warfare where pagan didn’t just mean of a different religion, but spoke to tribal loyalty and implied that the person was opposing Muhammad’s tribe, I didn’t know the specific passage and couldn’t cite my reading/interpretation.  Of course, this was the one thing I have not come prepared to answer.  I have taken notes on Qutb, Wahhabism, Salafists, Ibn Taymiyya, etc.  I was ready to talk about the development of political jihadism.  But I wasn’t ready for this and I felt so idoitic.  Especially because this student then tried to make the argument that Bin Ladin’s fatwa really did represent Islam better than the other, despite my arguments to the contrary.   I walked away from the class feeling like this sophomore had steam-rolled over me somehow.  I mean, I have studied Islam in at least four college and graduate level courses; I went to a conference focused on the Quran; and I spent most mornings of my summer reading about modern-day Islam, one book being Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.  I know I know more about this than this student, but rather than acting like a confident, intelligent teacher, I walked away feeling like an idiot.

While I haven’t dwelled on it all weekend, as I reflect back on the experience, I think there are a few valuable lessons to be learned.

  1. I need to have more confidence in myself as a teacher and intellectual.  It seems like the more I learn about any given subject, the more I realize I still need to learn.  I walked away from my hours of reading this summer overwhelmed by what I hadn’t gotten to read.  While I do still have an incredible amount to learn, I need to also be confident in my knowledge and work to this point.
  2. I shouldn’t let a over-confident speech make me doubt myself.  I have always had a problem of assuming that just because someone talks like they know something it means the actually do.  Then I get nervous that my own knowledge is incorrect and I begin to doubt myself.  I remember one time during graduate school taking a course at Yale College on Eastern Philosophy.  I was sitting around a table with the group talking about the Dao De Ching and putting forth my opinion and this undergrad told me I was wrong and went on to explain how I should correctly view it.  I so I shut up.  Then we returned to large group discussion, only to have the professor explain what was going on in terms very similar to my own.  t(This is not to say I was always right, but it is to say that I didn’t say much after that because I let some girl make me feel stupid).
  3. I also need to find a way to make what happend Friday into a teaching moment that includes the entire class.  As the one student and I debated jihad and Quranic interpretation, I realized that no one else really cared.  While I do want to intellectually challenge this student, I also need to make sure its a challenge that can bring the other students along.  It’s a class of 14, not 1.  Moreover, it can be a good opportunity to teach students how to debate intellectually or how to humbly admit that I don’t know everything.
On to next week.  On Tuesday, we are talking about Women in Islam (equally controversial), you better believe that I’m going to know the citations of my Quranic passages – veil, polygamy, divorce – here I come.

hurricane at a boarding school

So this past week has been like living through a hurricane in more ways than one.  Monday started off with meetings from 9 am until around 10 pm.  Thankfully, it allowed for 10 inches of knitting, but even with that it was a long and boring day.  Whenever we have days like that I think, this must be what my students feel like when they sit and listen to me all day.  Tuesday was more meetings, but thankfully they were more interactive.  International students arrived Wednesday as did my first official night back on duty.  Thursday was the eye of the hurricane, with the day off for class planning.  Then the eye passed and the remaining new students and all sophomores returned.  This began the true craziness with a day full of orientation on Saturday.  At least I had a fun station at canoeing.

And then there was today, when the real hurricane hit.  Or really the tropical storm.  Or really just a lot of rain.  But since the school didn’t quite know what to expect, orientation came to a screeching halt Saturday, with all events postponed until Tuesday and the start of class moved back until Wednesday.  The dorm was on lock-down from Saturday night until the storm passed.  At first it was a bit stressful, getting a plan together to entertain and care for the 30 students in the dorm.  In the end it was a really relaxing day.  The students really bonded over Monopoly and Risk and then enjoyed a mixer with the girls’ dorm next door.  Since a majority of the students are new, it’s been nice for them to have the campus to themselves for a few extra days before school starts because they really seem to feel at home here and have connected with the other guys in the dorm.  It also was somehow rejuvenating for me as a faculty person.  Even though I needed to be around and available all day, it was nice to not have meetings and plans all day and just get a chance to hang out with the students over food and puzzles.  It was a nice break in the hectic-ness, especially given that the hurricane ended up going west of us and so it caused almost no damage aside from a three hour power-outage on campus and a few broken tree limbs.

the last supper…before the dining hall reopens

While school doesn’t officially start until August 30, yesterday was my first day back to work, with dorm planning in the afternoon.  I’m realizing that going back to school is very similar as a teacher as it was when I was a student.  To some degree, I’m really bummed the summer is over.  I enjoy reading, crafting and baking.  On the other hand, this week I’m beginning to get bored being home all day.  Perhaps its because I planned my crafting well and all my major projects – fixing up the apartment, knitting baby presents, and working on my quilt – have now been completed, but Thursday I sort of just wandered around trying to figure out what I should do with myself.  I think I am putting pressure on myself to make this last week of break relaxing, but productive, while also fun.  It’s not really working out.

Last night, for my last hurrah before the dining hall reopens, life gets crazy, and I only bake for the boys on duty night, I decided to make a really tasty dinner with fresh tomato sauce using CSA tomatoes, meatballs, creamed corn, and a peach tart (Baking by Dorie Greenspan).  It was a little over three hours or prep, cooking, and dishes, but I loved every minute.  When the meatballs took slightly longer than I anticipated, I decided to cap the meal off by getting out our wedding China.  David wasn’t quite as excited about cooking for two hours when he got home from work, but he participated willingly, especially once he tasted dinner and then had leftover meatball sandwiches today.

Let’s just say it was a night well spent, capped off by watching the new British miniseries Sherlock on instant netflix.  If you like CSI or Castle then you should give this a try, it was really good, but the episodes are on the long side at 1.5 hours.

Feng Shui Project

As a way to wrap up the first half of the semester and my unit on Confucianism and Daoism, I thought it would be fun to have the students do a hands on type project.  I mean, let’s be honest.  We all remember the week before spring break when all you wanted to do was be on spring break.  I knew my psyche couldn’t take the bored faces while I tried to lead group discussion, so I came up with a project on Feng Shui.  The students had to research the principles of Feng Shui for a day.  The next day they brought in a shoebox sized box and spent the day creating furniture and decorating their rooms using paint, fabric, yarn, magazines, and cardboard.   While I learned a lot on ways to improve the project for next year, including getting more books on Feng Shui for them to have available, it was awesome to see how engaged they were when they got to be creative and work with their hands on a project.

The photo at the top was one of my favorites because of the attention to detail.  They actually made framed pictures, a rotary telephone, bean bag chair, coat hanger, etc.  It was was awesome.  The photo just above comes from a group of guys who created this whole story about a man who lives alone and works as an astronaut.  The picture below was from a couple guys, one of whom struggles on tests and papers, but showed so much creativity and enthusiasm while working on this project because art is one of his strengths.  He actually sculpted the couch out of modeling clay before covering it in fabric and making cushions.

While a little part of me worries that the project wasn’t ‘academic’ enough, at the same time, watching the process of creating the rooms and seeing the final projects was such a joy and I like to think that it at least got them thinking about Daoism and feng shui and yin and yang and the flow of chi energy.

Yep, That’s Me

A couple weeks ago, I participated in a student vs. student vs. faculty competition.  It  was one of those competitions where each class competed against one another and the faculty.  I volunteered to participate in the obstacle course.   The obstacle was meant to be the day in the life of a student, so you start by getting dressed, then maneuver through laundry baskets, twirl around on a bat (I think this symbolized class?), sweep a ball through cones (the service component), make a lay-up (atheletics), then take off the clothes and hand them off to your partner.  I was third of four for our group.  We start off strong, but then our second person can’t keep up the pace.  Then I go and…

yep that hurt for a few days

As you can see I don’t have the most graceful of endings. The pants were slightly too long and when they hit the court running close to full speed, my feet just came out from under me.  Looking at the picture, I’m impressed I even got that good of a shot off.  But it of course took awhile to get up and even longer to make the lay-up, putting us squarely in last place.  I would have shared this with you sooner, but a friend just sent me the photos.  Seeing this explained so much about how much my side and arm hurt the next three days.

Back in Business


i'm working in a winter wonderland...check it out

To all my loyal readers (that’s a shout out to those 2-3 of you who keep checking on the blog despite my absence)…I’M BACK!  At least I hope to try to be back more regularly.  Note the hesitancy of that statement…

But I think it may really happen this time because in one short week, basketball season will be over and I will have two more hours a day + all of my Saturdays back.  While this is good for my personal life, my blog life, and my knitting, I’m actually a little bummed about the season ending.  In all honesty it is probably the best part of my job right now.  The girls we coach are really great.  Nice, enthusiastic, team-players, I could go on and on.  Our record, not the best ever, but better than my team’s record my senior year.  I also love the woman I co-coach with.  She’s been coaching and teaching for over 30 years and teaches me a lot everyday.  There have been so many days I have come to practice after a frustrating day of class or worry about my lesson plan or fear of how to grade and she talks it through with me.  She is also a real coach, and so I am finally learning how to coach rather than struggling alongside another newbie.

Teaching…well teaching has been a challenge this term.  At this school, students take three full classes in one semester.  So coming back in January, I have all new students, even though I am teaching the same material.  I thought it would make the semester go much smoother, but I have actually found this semester to be more difficult.  I really grew to know and care a lot for my students last semester and so walking into a new term with new faces, new personalities, new annoyances, and new gifts has been hard.  I keep reminding myself that it took weeks before I developed a rapport with my students last term, but what I remember is the last week of classes where I knew the students really well and they knew me well.  I knew how to get them to settle down, how to get them excited about the material.  I knew who to go to with difficult questions and I was starting to learn how to draw out the quiet students.  This semester it is definately a whole new ball game.

Rather than ending on a hard note, I thought I would tell you a funny story from my first week of class.   So on the Friday of the first week of class we were discussing our method for studying religions and I was trying to explain how it is difficult to compare the religions because we would just be scratching the surface of each of the traditions.  To make my point I decided to draw a diagram.  I started off drawing a big circle and saying, “Imagine this is all there is to know about Buddhism…”  Then I draw a smallish dot in the middle of the circle and say, “And this is about what we will get to cover in this class.”  Some of you have probably already figured out where this is going.  Next I draw another big circle, right next to the first and say, “And this is all there is to know about Hinduism,” as with the first, I again draw a smallish dot in the middle and say, “And this is about what we will get to cover in this class.”  At this point, I hear some snickering behind me and I look down and I realize what I’ve drawn…BOOBS.  That’s right, I drew a big pair of boobs right on the board of a class full of sophomores.  I’m shocked they did not lose it.  I then proceed to keep talking as if nothing was unusual and as I talk, I quickly erase the board and start writing up something different.  To add icing to the cake, after class I walk over to tell the man who hired me what happens and his response is, “Well you know you have to do that in the next class because they’ll be expecting it.”  That’s why I like working at in my department, they don’t take themselves too seriously.