An Old Girl and The Sea -What I did over Summer 2016

We are all connected by our love of travel!

This year, my family splurged on an 8-day trip to Cuba for my mother’s birthday. I took advantage of the opportunity and planned for a unique educational exposition I would never forget!

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” ~Sir Richard Burton

It’s an eye-opening experience to visit a third-world, underdeveloped country. It puts the modernized stress we place on ourselves into much-needed perspective. Everything in Cuba is contently old-fashioned. For instance, you won’t find an American car newer than a 1962 model (one result from the 1962 U.S. embargo against Cuba).  Mind you, those cars are in pristine condition as pride in ownership runs rampant.

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As a high school English teacher, I was especially excited to visit Ernest Hemingway’s old stomping grounds and his home in Cuba, where he resided for more than 20 years. His sailboat, Pilar, that he fished on many times not unlike the protagonist in his novella The Old Man and the Sea, still sits decaying off a Caribbean coast. (Fun fact: Ernest’s widow, Mary, wanted to have it sunk so no one could use it again, but Cuban government red tape prevented that from happening). Where allowed, I took pictures to show my students. For instance, we spent quite a bit of time talking to the owner of Hemingway’s favorite restaurant, LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO, who explained how Hemingway’s family, including granddaughter Mariel, still come by when visiting Cuba. Interestingly, a Cuban resident who overheard our conversation that I’m an English teacher, proceeded to show me pictures around the restaurant of other Spanish poets who’ve frequented there. Just a great example of the congeniality of Cuba.

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on wall at LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO

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Hemingway’s grandson

Hemingway's granddaughter

Hemingway’s granddaughter

Mario Beneditti, poet

Mario Beneditti, poet

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

Miguel Bonasso, screenwriter

They say everything happens for a reason. Now I know why I never read  The Old Man and the Sea before. Because I had to read it in its authentic setting!!! Let me just say that lying on a serene, peaceful beach off the Caribbean coast, staring at the very sea in which Santiago’s fishing adventures take place was awe-inspiring. For the record, Hemingway did not write Old Man in Cuba – he actually wrote that in another beautiful setting, the Bahamas. Nevertheless, living for over twenty years ten miles out of Havana had an impact on Hemingway’s writing. I will never forget reading that book in that location. Imagine what an assignment it would be to require students read a book within the setting illustrated within that book!! Safe settings only, of course. One of the main benefits of reading is our ability to experience faraway cultures we may not otherwise have the chance to.

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Besides learning more about Hemingway, our trip to Cuba included visits to Museum of the Revolution, breathtaking cathedrals, baseball games and music. We also took a 3-hour bike tour for a unique perspective of the outskirts of Havana. We saw military sites, memorial monuments, the Colon Cemetery (no pictures allowed!), and dedicated parks and forest preserves.

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Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba in September 2015 and, in doing so he expanded for travelers who have a humanitarian or educational purpose. We have to get visas, but that extra effort is worth it. The president’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 additionally lead the way for further congenial relations.

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Plaza de la Catedral

Although the United States’ past relationship with Cuba may have been portrayed the country as being an unsafe place to travel, it is extremely safe. We talked extensively to Cuban residents and officials who reiterate that Cuba’s crime statistics indicate that it’s one of the safest countries in the world. We walked off the beaten path a few times and felt completely safe and welcome. Just brush up on your Spanish as English is not the dominant language.

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Communication outside of Cuba was a challenge. There is no cellular data. Wi-Fi is available only at certain hotels, and even that has many time and site restrictions too. Honestly, it was wonderful to see local people always socializing, always out and about, even very late into the evening . . . simply talking. No hunched shoulders behind screens!! One other small but very significant detail – travelers used to modern necessities need to bring their own of everything – and I do mean everything. Stores are far and few between, and those that exist hold limited supplies; but, the local artisans selling their handmade unique art will make you forget the “necessities” we choose to spend our money on.

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on the Prado

The food was delicious and fresh. Cubans eat well with what their Earth provides. Seafood, sweet potatoes and plantains are plentiful.

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Who knows how Cuba might change radically within the next few years. Will pro-America slogans start to emerge? Will signs of capitalism bring more goods and services? Signs point to yes but I’m blessed to have had the unique opportunity to venture forth now, to experience Cuba at its most authentic. The world is our authentic classroom.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert

TLC Tells: What I’m reading now

I’m lucky to teach in a school where I’m continually inspired by so many around me – both students and colleagues.  I’ve never been more inspired to learn and grow as an educator.  It feels like home – the rigor, the philosophies, the attitude.  Never one to rest on my laurels, I’m continually looking to get my hands on as much information as I can consume.  Here’s what is currently opened and doggy-eared at the moment.  There’s more journals and books waiting for me, dispersed around my home . . . but these are the ones I’m currently using.(no special order)

Create Compose Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Hicks and Hyler give new meaning to LOL – Learn Out Loud.  The pedagogy they discuss and model for digital learning and connections in the English classroom is inspiring. I’m currently using the book review and corresponding movie trailer/comic strip as an independent reading choice book project with my freshmen.  There’s so many more usable examples here – I can’t wait to try more.

Write Like This – Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts by Kelly Gallagher . . .I actually purchased this when it was first published a few years ago but am re-visiting it this year.  I use writing exercises in here as supplements to “hook” my student writers, to help them understand the connections between their academic writing and the “real-world” writing they will be performing beyond school.  I appreciate Gallagher’s sensible ideas.

They Say, I Say The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein – I’m intrigued by this one.  My department chair recommended it – I see use of this on all levels that I teach.  Templates for helping students understand the rhetoric of argument is arguably doable.  Articulating sound arguments with supported evidence is such an essential life skills – each year at school, students need practice with this.

“Uncovering Substance:  Teaching Revision in High School Classrooms by Jessica Singer Early & Christina Saidy in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy . . . I’m continually looking for ways to revise the way I teach revision.  Revision is an integral part of writing, and I don’t want students to think it’s just one more step they need to go through the motions to “get the grade” on their essays.  Reflection is key for learning and growing, and students should master this essential real-life skill before tackling greater writing experiences.

“Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading” by Patricia Scriffny in Educational Leadership . . . My principal and assistant principal spoke about this very recently.  While I’ve heard and read about SBG before, it makes more and more sense to me as we move forward.  I’m still wrapping my head around it, learning and trying – articles like this one make the theories and applications more clear.

The Art of Social Media – Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki & Peg Fitzpatrick – As an educator, I’m very interested in ways we can use social media to impact student learning.  I truly feel, when planned carefully, student interest and habitual use of social media can be channeled in a way to further understanding of class content.  As a blogger, I’m intrigued on ways to “brand” oneself to gain significant connections with others in your professional fields.

Journalism Education Today from the Journalism Education Association . . . I’m anxious to read my first copy of this!   I recently added this membership to my list of professional associations as I’m thoroughly enjoying my first year with my school’s newspaper.   This is another great way I get to fulfill my passion for digital writing, media, p.r. and journalism!

BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle is a book I refer to again & again for reading strategies!

BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle is a book I refer to again & again for reading strategies to help students love to read. Check the book out for ways to increase stamina in kids’ reading habits.

What are you currently reading?  I’d love to hear what fellow educators are reading to stay inspired?  Thanks for stopping by!~

AUTHOR VISIT: Laura Caldwell

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Mystery Writer, Attorney, Loyola Professor Visits my Reading Class!

Laura Caldwell, mystery writer, Loyola professor and civil rights attorney came to speak with my reading students this week. They have been reading excerpts from her book, Long Way Home, which is Ms. Caldwell’s account of a case she took on for Chicagoan Jovan Mosely, a person wrongfully convicted of murder as a teenager. Today, Ms. Caldwell oversees the program she founded at Loyola called, LIFE AFTER INNOCENCE. This program helps exonerees who are wrongfully convicted gain productive access back into society. Rightfully so, my students were very interested to find out how Jovan and other exonerees are doing today.  Read the book for an intriguing account, not only of how Jovan became mixed up in the murder case, but also how Laura helped clean his record later and gain his life back. What really excited me as a teacher was just how inspired my Reading Improvement students were to find out about writing and even getting published some day. The students – in my reading improvement class – had so many questions. Some were literally walking down the hall with Ms. Caldwell well after the bell rang!

A life lesson Laura Caldwell learned in working with the wrongfully convicted is our abilities to choose gratitude over anger. This is something we will talk about in class through the end of the year!  Those convicted of crimes they never committed are souls who spend a significant amount of time in a horrible place they don’t deserve to be in. Ms. Caldwell intriguingly accounted how they wake up every single morning, open their eyes and think it was all a bad dream only to be awakened by the harsh reality of cold jail – day after day after day. She explained that, for survival, these wrongfully convicted learn that for every situation in life, each of us has a choice about how to react. Acting out in revenge or anger hurts only ourselves – no one else. While some situations may be harder than others, we CAN control are thoughts and, therefore, choose more productive choices. Sometimes it may mean taking a step back and breathing before speaking or reacting, but it is always a choice.

Ms. Caldwell gave the example of specific, remarkable men she’s worked with who spent years in prison but chose to not be angry about the years of life they lost. Instead, they are grateful for and concentrate on the chance to start anew – however late it is. Gratitude can be chosen over anger in every single life experience.  This sounds cliché, but it is true that there is always something to be thankful for. A man may divorce but be grateful for his children and the good years he shared with his ex-wife. A student may fail a math test but be grateful for learning afterward how to solve a difficult question.  A young woman may lose a job but be thankful for the time to re-evaluate goals. These are only pieces of examples of the gratitude so prevalent within each of us. So next time you are feeling blue, realize it’s a normal emotion and okay to feel that way. It is also okay to, in turn, make a choice to help yourself out of the slump and move forward. If we can do this more often for ourselves, the little things that can bug us will disappear and the bigger things that test us will promote growth!  Gratitude promotes growth!