I Know What I Know

Giving Back to the Web since 2015


May 2016

Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nonfiction is so much more difficult to write than fiction. You can’t fudge things. Your research needs to be impeccable, and on top of all of that you need to figure out how to tell the story in a way that satisfies out thirst for drama and character and narrative. Erik Larsen is one of the masters of narrative nonfiction.

Larsen zooms in and out of the event of the sinking, over viewing massive world events, and also discussing the emotions and experiences of individual passengers. This lens makes for a treatment of history that is as vast as is necessary to understand the chain of world events while still honoring the human element.

Larsen doesn’t glorify the morbid fates of the poor passengers or relish them in any way, to shock for the sake of shock. All he had to do to make it real was tell the truth. The line about how the clothing worn by infants and toddlers being heavy and complicated didn’t help their odds was all I needed to start crying and wake up my daughter just to hold her.

The savagery of history doesn’t need to be jazzed up, it just needs to be told with graceful frankness. This was a good book. I learned, I smiled, I cried, and I hated the cruelties of war that are still going on today all over the world.

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Slamming Doors, Open Windows

It is with great… something that I leave Alburnett Community Schools today for a job next fall at Lisbon High School.

I say “something” because I am having a very difficult time identifying what emotions are churning around inside of me. My heart is like a DQ Blizzard — little chunks of different flavors roiled around and turned into a cement-like mixture of indistinguishable flavors.

But, Blizzards are delicious. So does that mean leaving is delicious? Delicious but ill-advised, like eating that much sugar?

It’s been weird. That’s the only way I can describe it. This wasn’t planned. But I’m okay. Is it weird that I’m okay? That I see a slamming door as an opportunity to search for an open window?

The last day of school, no matter where you work, is basically a day of babysitting. Sure, there are locker clean-outs and check out sheets to complete, books to collect, etc. etc. But mostly schools scramble around to set up structured “fun” activities to wrangle the children until they climb on the bus for the last time. For the students, the day is saturated with excitement and impatience, and dripping with drama — a lot of the time in my experience kids who know they won’t see each other all summer, or ever again, sabotage friendships so that the separation hurts less. There are tears. There can be blood.

Point is, students are wrapped up in their own worlds today, which means they are fresh out of cares for teachers, even if they probably will never see them again. I imagined saying a lot more goodbyes today, to get more hugs, to have more of something. But an equally loud voice inside of me is grateful for a gentle slide into oblivion.

I got flowers. I got a balloon. I got a hug from a student I’ve known since sixth grade who will miss me, and who will be missed. This is okay.

This is my third time doing this, this type of leaving. I’ve had students cling on too much, have trouble letting go. And so many others just forget you. All of it is okay. I’m coming to the understanding that leaving a teaching job will always be weird, it will always be okay and not okay. It’s okay to be sad, to dread starting over YET AGAIN, and it’s also okay to be super duper extremely excited about teaching high school next year, meeting new people and challenges.

When you leave a teaching job, you have to write a letter of resignation. It can be as simple as a typed page that says, “I hereby resign my position effective at the end of this year” with your signature at the bottom. But hey, I’m an English teacher, so I couldn’t just write the bare minimum! They said I could write whatever I wanted, so I wrote a poem, which I will paste below. I will also paste a villanelle I wrote today trying to capture my feeling.


Sonnet On My Resignation

Every day, there was a brightness here,

Through trials, hands would help along the way,

A closing noose that suffocates the year,

It doesn’t help to wish that I could stay.


I am numb — a black-space house of stars,

Cosmos of silent disbelief — alas,

To think I could not see a house of cards

For what it was: a sanded hour-glass.


But as they say, fortune favors the bold,

And soft! What light from yonder window breaks?

There’s a longer story yet untold,

A tale of teaching, learning, loving, and mistakes.


And so it seems the planets have aligned.

The post of MS English I hereby resign.


The End, Part III

This is ending number three

and I don’t know what to say

A pharos falls into the sea.

It was time, we all agreed

counting down  until the day

This is ending number three.

A closing door, forgotten key

a window with an open shade

A pharos falls into the sea.

Rotten apples, withered trees

frantic joy and bitter May

This is ending number three.

Ungraspable reality

and the future, leave or stay

A pharos falls into the sea.

Not how it’s supposed to be

but here we are, and it’s the day

This is ending number three

A pharos falls into the sea.

Dungeons and Dragons in the Classroom

The school where I currently teach has two week-long sessions of project-based learning: one in January after holiday break, and the other the last week before school lets out. Students can design their own projects, even go off-site to work, but many students participate in teacher-led projects that they show off at exhibition at the end of the week.

This year, I conscripted my friends Ben and Andrew to help me run a Dungeon Master Boot Camp where students would learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and also discover how to run their own campaign. It’s day two, and the D&D fever is catching!

I’d known for awhile that there were kids interested in the game, and at least two gaming groups currently running, but I thought, why not bring all those interested together, teach them how to be a good gamer and DM, and how to have a quality experience with the game? Then they can look around the room and see who their fellow gamers are in the school and start some games over the summer with other local kids.

Things are going very, very well! As soon as Ben, Andrew and I completed the quick game play demo, the students were foaming at the mouth to start playing!

One question you might ask is, “How did you get permission to do this?”

Because guess what? It’s good teaching.

Really? Dungeons and Dragons in the Classroom?

Yes, and here’s why:

  1. Despite fears of the 70s and 80s, D&D does not promote violence, antisocial behavior, or “demon worship.” Some people might have a problem with the fantasy world (which does include a pantheon of gods) but these would be the same people who think kids shouldn’t read Harry Potter. Bring it into the classroom at your own risk, I guess, but you know your own student population and whether this would be an issue or not.
  2. The game is about collaborative storytelling. It’s a great vehicle to teach about plot, conflict, and character development. Just today Ben showed a student a website about the Hero’s Journey to help them shape the module they were working on.
  3. There is a surprising amount of reading and math involved that students are more than okay with, because it helps them craft a character and play the game. Yay for sneaking in the learning!
  4. It helps students activate their “mental movie,” the images conjured by their minds’ eye. This power of visualization will enhance their enjoyment of reading regular books.
  5. The game promotes compromise and teamwork. If the player characters can’t work together and collaborate, they won’t live long in a hostile world of monsters!
  6. When students are preparing to become Dungeon Masters themselves, they have to use a great deal of critical thinking and imagination to plan and execute a mission for other players. They need to be aware of game mechanics, character quirks, and multiple outcomes for the quest.

I Can’t Just Stop Teaching to Run D&D in the Classroom…

Okay, here are some other suggestions for how to incorporate it in different ways.

  1. Make grammar into an RPG. Have your students create characters, and guide them through adventures where they have to solve grammar puzzles to get treasure or defeat enemies.
  2. Modify an RPG and set it during a historical time period that you want to teach about (like the Civil War). Have the class role-play through different situations and historical events.
  3. Use the concept of role-playing to teach character education. Have students assume different roles (such as bully and victim) and then discuss to access their feelings.
  4. Have students role-play as characters from a class book they’ve read and play out a scene that wasn’t written in the book.

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