Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Still Chasing My Art...

The twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower illuminate the surrounding park for 15 minutes each night.
On my second night in Paris in May, we visited the Eiffel Tower. We arrived when the sun was still bright and rode the elevator to the top to take pictures as the sun set over the city. By the time we descended, the sky was dark. On the way down, we stopped briefly on the second level to watch a video; after the presentation, we planned to ride the elevator to the bottom. The elevators were running extremely slowly, however, which posed a significant problem. The Eiffel Tower has a twinkling light show every night. Because of the cost of electricity, though, the city can only afford to have the lights twinkle for five minutes at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight. We were cutting it close by riding the elevator down as 11 p.m. neared, and because of the elevators’ slow pace and long lines, we worried we wouldn’t make it to the bottom in time. So several of us chose the path less traveled: we ran down the stairs in the leg of the Eiffel Tower. I have never run so fast or down so many stairs, and we truly felt we were cheating time. It paid off. We made it down the stairs and out to the garden just in time to see the lights begin to twinkle.

This semester has been quite a journey. I have learned much about myself, from future dreams to my growing skills in Microsoft Publisher for my internship. I especially feel that I have taken ownership of and have a better grasp on my writing – my art form. One of my goals, for instance, was to work on making my writing more concise, and I feel as though the blog posts have helped me achieve that; I realize now that not everything I write needs to be (or should be) book-length. Additionally, I have worked to develop my own style of writing feature pieces, which involves combining the reporting of journalism with the style of creative writing. Though I may not have perfectly achieved this with every piece, my awareness of this style alone is an accomplishment. I will certainly have to work to perfect this style in the future.

I have also learned from others this semester, primarily through the readings we did for the blog posts. The observations and details provided by many of the authors have inspired me to be more observant when conducting interviews and research for a piece; then I need to be more descriptive when I write. Tom Junod’s “Can You Say… Hero?” particularly affected me. I feel that Junod not wrote a touching, memorable piece, but he also challenged me as a writer to be more descriptive and to write equally moving stories.

I attempted this with my last piece of the semester. My final story relates my struggle with a loved one’s eating disorder and the methods – good and bad – by which I reacted to it. This was the most frank and open story I have ever written, and it demanded a lot of strength, energy and tears. Ultimately, I am somewhat surprised that I was able to accomplish it. More than that, though, I am proud that I finally put those words out there in a way that, hopefully, touch some people’s lives.

Much like my dash to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, my writing process has been exhausting as the semester has advanced. The effort required paid off, though. When I finally reached the bottom, turning in that final story, I was been able to sit, relax and enjoy the show.

But I have to admit – the journey was half the fun and 95 percent of the memories.

Santa's Calling!

Make sure you answer your phone, because Santa might be on the other end!

Tonight I discovered Send a Call from Santa, a website from Google. The website, which promotes Google Voice, sends family, friends or whomever a message from Santa Claus. The message is based on a questionnaire that includes names, nicknames, favorite foods, desired gifts and the specific holiday the recipient is celebrating, among other things. The website places the call almost instantaneously for free, providing potential hours of entertainment.

I chose to send my roommate a call from Santa as she studied upstairs. I would suggest choosing options such as “home skillet” as the recipient’s nickname, and “Elvis impersonator” as his or her career. It made for amusing facial expressions while my roommate listened to her message. Considering it is a free service, I definitely recommend sending your loved ones a call from Santa this holiday season. It’s a fun way to show them you’re thinking of them, as well as a unique way to wish them “Feliz Navidad.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Searching for School Spirit

St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey Catholic High School needs an injection of enthusiasm.

This morning my education class went on our last school visit for the semester. We visited St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey Catholic High School. Only in its fourth year in Omaha, St. Peter Claver caters to low-income students. Their 200 or so students attend class four days a week, and on the fifth day, they work at companies around the city to earn money to pay for their tuition. It was an interesting concept that I had heard of before but had never witnessed. The students seemed to have mixed feelings about this way of operating a school. Some are forced to attend the school by their parents, and because St. Peter Claver places them in jobs, they have little say over where they work. These jobs also make for long days in the middle of the week. None of the students seemed to really hate this system, though.

I had a hard time getting a feel for St. Peter Claver. This is quite possibly because the school is so small — because it is only four years old, maybe it just hasn’t found its voice. I hope it does so soon, however, because none of the students acted overjoyed to be there. Additionally, they did not seem to have the enthusiasm or passion I witnessed in other schools, such as Omaha South Magnet High School. Hopefully this will improve with time and with its growing student population. I suppose school spirit cannot develop overnight.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Building My Philosophy

I hope my future students give me a thumbs-up, too.

This weekend I have been developing my philosophy of education. Though I had to do it now for my education class, it is something future employers will ask me to define. Thus it is a rather vital part of my future career that I build my philosophy of education.

The philosophy I developed is based largely on the philosophies of progressivism and social reconstructionism. These revolve around students working together to improve society. I also favor the focus on criticism that postmodernism creates, as well as the supportive and open classroom it tries to build. Finally, I still value the traditional subjects and liberal arts education promoted by perennialism. Essentially, I believe that schools and teachers should strive to develop well-rounded students who collaborate to take what they learn and apply it outside the classroom to create a better society.

While detailing my philosophy, I worried that I was being too idealistic and even attempting to include too many beliefs. My ideal curriculum, for instance, seems almost impossible to attain. I suppose that is what a philosophy is for, though: to have a basis on which I form my eventually classroom. I don’t necessarily have to incorporate everything I wrote. I simply have to have a clear vision of what I believe so that everything I do in the classroom supports my beliefs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not So Giddy About Glee

This person looks almost as crazy as the women of "Glee."

Over Sunday brunch at Qdoba Mexican Grill, my roommates and I began discussing one of our favorite guilty pleasures: the TV show “Glee.” Though we love the show and play (and sing) the songs constantly around our house, we discovered something that made us uneasy today. Whether purposefully or not, the writers of “Glee” seem to be saying something malicious about women. The differences between the male and female characters make this clear.

The male characters are all attractive, reasonable men. Though they make some poor choices occasionally, they have their wits about them. Mr. Schuester, played by Matthew Morrison, is a good-looking teacher who just wants to be happy and see his students succeed. Nearly all of the male students, such as Finn (Cory Monteith) and Artie (Kevin McHale), are portrayed as typical high school boys; they are confused and hormone-crazed, but mostly nice guys.

Then we have the women. Terri Schuester (Jessalynn Gilsig), Mr. Scheuster’s wife, pretends to be pregnant to keep him around, even offering to take a teenage mother’s baby. That teen is Quinn (Dianna Agron), who—despite being the president of the Celibacy Club—cheated on her boyfriend and got pregnant. The diva Rachel (Lea Michele) displays her craziness nearly every episode by driving everyone around her nuts. And Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) takes the cake with her vengeful antics and odd schemes, such as attempting to marry herself.

These vast discrepancies made my roommates and me wonder if the writers realize what terrible stereotypes they are perpetuating on this show. Certainly not all women are delusional enough to fake pregnancy—and not all men are angels, either. I hope the producers realize this and make the show a bit more realistic in the near future; that is, as realistic as a musical show can get.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Lesson in Education

One school visit has possibly turned my future upside down.

On Thursday I visited Omaha South Magnet High School for my education class. Throughout the semester I have thought I would eventually teach in an elementary school, but my visit to this high school has me questioning this choice. Omaha South has a focus on the performing arts and information technology. While the students must take all of the required classes, they center their education on these areas. The students who attend this school, then, are motivated to be there and have a passion for much of what they are learning.

It was a ninth grade honors biology class that got me thinking about teaching in high school. The environment was relaxed, and the students seemed excited about what they were learning. Though none of them attends this school to learn biology, the teacher had helped make them enthusiastic about the subject. She also said that she encourages them to “take ownership of their education,” which helps make is relevant to them.

The relaxed atmosphere and the ability of the teacher to relate to the students really made me wonder if I could fit into this level of education. Would I be able to make it as a high school teacher? My focus would be English or journalism, so the atmosphere of my classroom would be somewhat different from that of a biology room, and not all of the students would be like those at Omaha South; I could not even guarantee I would be in a magnet school (which I would love). Perhaps the most important thing I took away from this school visit, then, was that I really could picture myself teaching in this school. Now I just have to choose between children and teenagers.

Friday, December 3, 2010

All Aboard

I have a hunch that many of us secretly wish we could take a train to the North Pole.

This evening, my roommates and I hosted an ugly Christmas sweater and appetizer-based dinner party. We cooked all day, cleaned the house, turned on the seasonal music and lights and donned our most hideous sweaters and sweatshirts. When our guests arrived, we filled our plates with hummus and bruschetta and settled in with ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas on TV.

Tonight’s movie was “The Polar Express,” the 2004 computer-animated film based on Chris Van Allsburg’s popular children’s Christmas book. The book is magical and held a special place in all our guests’ memories of the holiday season. One friend even mentioned her family reads the book every Christmas Eve.

It was interesting to note, then, that few of us liked the movie. I tried throughout the evening to figure out why. Was it the typical argument of a book just being better than the movie? Was it the plot elements the screenplay added—such as a scary drifter character on top of the train who fights with the little boy—that strayed too far from the original story? Or was is the slightly creepy effect of computer-animated people? I lean more toward the last possibility. (Why not hire the actors, rather than simply using their voices? The conductor looks just like Tom Hanks anyway.) I realized the answer may be a combination of all three problems. For those of us who grew up reading the book, the movie’s twisted storyline and weird computer animations are too much of a departure from the enchanting original story. Perhaps the producers would have done better to make “The Polar Express” a short film rather than feature-length.

But no matter the issues with the movie, it provided a nice opportunity to see the connection we all had with the story. For a children’s book, it has made a remarkable impact—at least on a small group of college students.