A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
Here are some images from my NEH road trip in Appalachia.
I thought this movie would make a great film study of character, Appalachian culture, in and out migration, and finally symbolism. Think about the piece of wood Gerdie is attempting to carve as her masterpiece. Why can't she get the face done? What is more important to her -- the face of Christ or the wood itself? Why? What about the argument Gerdie has with Clovis. How is this argument symbolic of Gerdie holding on to her upbringing and story as an Appalachian woman?
This weekend the NEH Voices from the Misty Mountains group went on an optional field trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the variety of museums and monuments in the city. I included some pictures from the trip below:
On Wednesday the 20th we had the great pleasure of participating in a small group teaching session with Frank X Walker. Walker's poetry in Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers was especially poignant and relevant -- even though it focuses on revisionist mythmaking surrounding the murder of Medgar Evers by Byron de la Beckwith in Mississippi in the 1960's.
This work is so powerful and I hope to use Walker's work this year in class. Below you will find an NPR story regarding the book and the links above will get you to Amazon to buy it! It is well worth it and something you can use in the classroom or just to think at home.
Such an amazing 8-mile kayaking journey from Taylor's Landing to Shepherdstown, WV. I was able to snap pictures of lots of wildlife -- including a bald eagle in flight, some deer, heron, and more.
Today we had the opportunity to do a small group acting workshop with professional actress Nafeesa Monroe who is currently appearing in The Wedding Gift at the Contemporary American Theater Festival here at Shepherd University. WOW! So many takeaways and fun activities to do with students to get them into character or to analyze/summarize plot, etc.
I'll be honest -- I almost groan every year when I have to do a drama in English class. I can tell you that this workshop really made me understand how to make this fun and exciting for my kids and I think the icebreakers and activities would be engaging even when studying literature.
To tell the story as an actor you need to know how you appear -- in all aspects. We started the session by simply walking around the space at a normal pace. As we got comfortable walking about Nafessa would tell us at what pace to walk (think 1-10, with a 5 being a standard pace.) Then she would announce that we should use a particular part of our body to change our stride. Maybe being led (like you had a string attached to the left hip/then the right hip/toes/heart/head/belly/etc.) Each minor change to the stride helped to produce the look of a different kind of character. I thought the right hip looked more regal or royal, where the heart appeared more open (arms wide and outstretched.)
The second exercise was an open scene where a set three line and two character interaction is written down and in pairs you act out your interpretation.
Here were the lines:
A: What time is it?
B: Um, it's 7.
A: Oh. Thanks.
This forced us to come up with a backstory and add emotions and interactions to the lines to portray a character. My group decided that character A was a woman on a blind date (he's obviously late or she's being ditched) and character B is the waiter at the restaurant. Here's a video example of an acting class using simple dialog and adding the emotion to the scene with their facial expressions and body language:
I'll post PART 2 of the acting workshop later on...
I am on my second week of the Voices of the Misty Mountains seminar at Shepherd University here in Shepherdstown, WV. I must say this experience working with Appalachian writers and playwrights has been exceptional. I am excited to continue watching the plays going on here with the Contemporary American Theater Festival. I am also loving working with creative figures like Silas House and Adam Booth (this week we have Kentucky based poet Frank X Walker.)
I will post a more detailed post VERY soon!
Mr. Aaron Jura, a local English teacher from Warren Easton Charter High School, has been selected as an NEH Summer Scholar from a national applicant pool to attend one of 26 seminars and institutes supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Endowment is a federal agency that, each summer, supports these enrichment opportunities at colleges, universities, and cultural institutions so that teachers can study with experts in humanities disciplines.
Mr. Jura will participate in a seminar entitled "Voices from the Misty Mountains." The 3-week program will be held at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV and directed by Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt. The 16 teachers selected to participate in the program each receive a stipend of $2,700 to cover their travel, study, and living expenses for this program.
Mr. Jura will also create a teaching unit and digital project titled Folklore of Appalachia to bring this experience back to his classroom in New Orleans, LA. The project will include a website where students can engage in the history of the region, read or listen to Appalachian folklore, and a section where the general public can submit their family stories for publication in this digital archive. “The NEH Voices of the Misty Mountains seminar allowed me an opportunity to gain experience in the unique regional voice of the Appalachians and to bring this narrative back to the English classroom in New Orleans,” Jura said, “I hope that the digital project at folkloreofappalachia.com will allow people to continue sharing their stories and that classrooms across the nation will find a use for this free resource.”
Topics for the 26 seminars and institutes offered for teachers this summer include
A Reverence for Words: Muslim Cultures and the Arts; Abolition and Women’s Suffrage, 1830s–1920s; Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad; The African-American Freedom Struggle from Plessy to Brown; America’s Gilded Age and Progressive Era; Appalachia: Land, Literature, and Culture; Central Asia in World History; Charles Dickens; The Chinese Exclusion Act; Communism and American Life; The Dutch Republic, Britain, and the World Economy; Existentialism; Hannah Arendt; Immigration in California: Literature and Theater; Immigration, Industrialization, and Illness in 19th-Century America; John Steinbeck: Social Critic and Ecologist; Philosophers of Education; Punishment, Politics, and Culture; Race and Mental Health in History and Literature; Religious Worlds of New York; Roman Daily Life: Petronius and Pompeii; Shakespeare; Slavery, Equality, and the Constitution; U.S.-Russian/Soviet Relations, 1776-Present
The approximately 544 NEH Summer Scholars who participate in these programs of study will teach almost 68,000 American students the following year.
National Endowment for the Humanities: 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024 P 202.606.8500 F 202.606.8394 E firstname.lastname@example.org www.neh.gov
Today we read through and discussed the poetry of Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta. Several of the poems really spoke to me and I could see their application in the secondary English and/or social studies classroom. You can read more about Marilou Awiakta here.
The Birth of Selu
Mother Nature Sends a Pinkslip
Out of Ashes Peace Will Rise
These pieces help to explore the uniqueness of the Cherokee poet and people. This perspective is important and often left out of our textbooks or provided minimal coverage. The anthology that includes these poems can be purchased here.
We have all been struck by the violence we see each and every day on the news from all around our county. Recently in Louisiana, Baton Rouge (about an hour and a half away from New Orleans) a man named Anton Sterling’s murder, at the hands of officers, was caught on cell phone video and virally hit the Internet. Of course, many were outraged at the multiple angles of different cell phone video, which seemed to show a cold-blooded murder at the hands of officers. This along with other stories of murder and brutality has plagued people of color in our communities for far too long.
The question is: How do you broach the topics of race and race politics in the secondary classroom? The answer seems to be, it depends. Teaching in an urban environment with a high proportion of African American students means I do have to maneuver through these complex issues with students as they grapple with the violence that seems to be all too common in interactions with individuals whose duty it is to protect and serve.
The issue with the concept of the “all lives matter” movement is a complicated one. There are many great articles breaking down how the all lives matter phrase is a boondoggle. See here and here. But, the real question is – if all lives matter, which ones matter most? It’s obvious based upon subjective data that institutions and society at large systematically oppresses people of color and has done this throughout American History.
While there aren’t easy answers we can start with living as an ally not an adversary. The term ally doesn’t mean one who is passively committed, but instead that you are actively pursuing justice and equity. If you aren’t doing that you are not being an ally.
Coming back off my trip to California (where I learned the news of the murder in Louisiana) I knew I had to do something to show support to the community I live in, love, and value. I went online and organized a contingent of teachers to drive down to Baton Rouge and stand in solidarity with the African American community as they struggled to figure out how they could live in peace and without fear.
The protest was a peaceful one (of course, we are teachers) but the emotions were raw. Of the nearly 400 protesters who showed up on Saturday the 9th of July at the site of the murder of Alton Sterling we were greeted with love and gratitude. It really took me back that I was being thanked for showing up with hugs and tears from African American protesters and one thing became clear: the divisions that have long been used to separate us must be broken down.
Show your support, lend your voice. If you don’t want to be political all it takes is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that the community is in mourning. Be there for your fellow man. The parallels to the civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 60’s are clear as day. I choose to support those I serve and not simply serve myself, will you remain silent or will you lend your voice and understanding?
Also, I recommend reading Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education..
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.