Sunday, October 16, 2011

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Harper Lee....

It's true, I'm an English teacher at heart and therefore biased when it comes to literature.  But I believe all good teachers teach readers, not texts, and there's few (if any) books that I believe should be mandated curriculum.  But if I were going to argue for a text, the text, that every adolescent or adult reader should have on their reading "bucket list" I could definitely make a case for To Kill A Mockingbird.


Harper Lee's one and only novel, set in the early-mid 1930's, is as relevant today as it was in 1960, the original date of publication.  The Southern gothic tale's hero, Atticus Finch, represents the ideal parent, a model of integrity and human decency during a time and circumstances that were anything but decent.  In 2003, the AFI (American Film Institute) proclaimed the character of Atticus Finch (portrayed memorably by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film) the #1 Greatest Hero of the 20th Century in it's "100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains in Film" special.  

This afternoon, in an intimate matinee performance, on the same day the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall before a throng that waited too long for this day, I watched the Denver Center Theater Company bring Harper Lee's story to the stage.  The theatrical adaptation captured the essence of the book in two hours and fifteen minutes, and reminded me of all of the reasons why I fell in love with To Kill A Mockingbird more than twenty years ago.

I first read the book as a child.  Recommended to me by my mother as her favorite coming of age story, I reluctantly picked it up as a sixth grader, but quickly became lost in the world of Maycomb, Alabama and in the thoughts and life of Scout, whose narration sounded like the voice of a familiar friend or kindred spirit from a time and place far away.  The time period, dialect, and complex issues raised in the text were foreign to me as an eleven-year-old, but the pages turned quickly as I anticipated alongside the Finch children, Boo Radley's appearance or the next finding in the knothole of the old tree.  When I re-read the book as an adult, it was Atticus, not Scout that I found myself falling in love with, his goodness, his kindness, his courage.  The courtroom scenes seemed to jump off the page and onto my own mind's movie screen.  His words more memorable than scripture: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." 

Harper Lee's one and only book.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  Translated into more than 40 languages.  Sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.  Adapted for the silver screen and stage.  Voted by librarians across the country as the best novel of the 20th Century.  Required reading in many a high school English class.  Really, really good required reading.  If its been a while (or you skipped the novel and opted for Cliffnotes in high school), take a trip to the 1930's South and feel the heat of an Alabama summer the way only Harper Lee can write it.  You'll discover that it's a trip worth taking, a lesson worth re-learning, and many pages worth turning.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What I Learned While Waiting for A Latte...

My husband often refers to Starbucks as "five bucks," and indeed, it is ridiculous what the masses (including me) will pay for a latte -- especially when facing facilitating a professional development session at 7 a.m on a crisp, cool Tuesday morning.  Today, as I waited impatiently for a non-fat/no-whip pumpkin spice venti, the only thing that had kept me from hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock one last time, I took a deep breath and mentally walked through the morning's agenda.  Shaking my head, sighing deeply, I began to wonder if the three hours I had devoted to planning this PD over the weekend really mattered.

The promise of a new school year is beginning to dull.  The days are getting shorter, stress is running high as the first grading window draws to a close, Fall Break still feels like a fantasy on a calendar far, far away, and it's getting harder and harder not to question my effectiveness as a lone TOSA shared between two turn-around schools in need of far more resources than I could ever hope to offer.  And just then, in the middle of daydreaming about switching name badges with the barista, sending her into the middle school in my place so that I could hide behind a counter and smell coffee grounds all day, an amazing thing happened.  A sign?  Divine intervention?  Something like whole outlook on the day and my choice of career path was clarified...all before I had my first sip of caffeine.

A tentative tap on the shoulder.  "Um...Mrs. Cuthbertson?"  Turning, a near 6' broad-shouldered, deep voiced, filled in high schooler stood, smiling sheepishly.  A foggy nod and small smile from me was all it took to be wrapped in a bear hug by this grown human being, whose face reminded me of a less-chiseled, softer version that sat used to sit in the second pod of my 6th grade literacy classroom at Columbia Middle School, in what felt like moments, but had in actuality been years, ago.  

"Look at you!  All grown up and at Rangeview....sophomore, right?"

The deep laugh.  "Nope.  Junior!"  Before I could ask a follow-up question he pressed on.  "You'll never believe it.  I've got a 4.3 GPA, marching band is awesome this year, planning a great show, and oh yeah, I love my English class by the way...but I want to be an engineer.  Thinking about School of Mines...or maybe BYU Hawaii..."

"Wow.  That's great," I marveled.

"Well, was good to see you.  And by the way, thank you, "he added pointedly, before handing me a sleeve for my steaming drink.

As he rushed out the door tray of drinks in hand for what I could only assume were fellow marching band or first period friends, I took a sip, exhaled in satisfaction and thought, no...thank you...