Eating Local

Ever since I sat down to read Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir,  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve started thinking more about the food I eat and the ways in which it is prepared. Since I was little, I have been cooking for myself and my family,though this was usually out of necessity (no one else wanted to cook). Only in my mid-twenties did I actually start to properly plan meals and gather various ingredients like spices and fresh herbs. As a citizen of the world, I have been able to observe diverse cooking styles and have gradually implemented these into my cooking. I was inspired by the movie “Julie and Julia,” to one, take up French cooking and two, start a blog as a means to find a focus for my life. With Kingsolver’s admonitions to buy local produce, I procured fresh white mushrooms from the market and decided to attempt Cream of Mushroom soup. The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but there was one factor that I did not anticipate: white mushrooms that turn black when you cook them. I’m not sure what color the soup should be (most can versions are white), but mine ended up being grey even after I added the cream. Nevertheless, it was very tasty. I ate the soup with a tossed salad (arabic style) and resurrected freezer bread (don’t you love ovens?). So, I am on my journey to support the local farmers and become a good cook insha Allah.

Curriculum Mapping, or Doing School Work Over the Holiday

If there is one thing that has bothered me about my current school is the amount of work they give teachers. I have not been teaching that long (3 years), but I cannot remember being as stressed out about work as I have been this year. Now, if giving teachers more work actually results in students acquiring more knowledge, then it’s a great idea, right? So far, I cannot any see any immediate benefit to what we are doing.

As an English teacher at my school, I am responsible for documenting all of the lesson plans, quizzes, worksheets, etc. that I use each quarter. Normally, I would not mind doing this except I am expected to have this done before the quarter has ended and I must complete the work during my holiday (“free time”). My head of department is calling this “curriculum mapping” and believes this well help make the department more solid. I believe it’s a good idea to come together as a team of teachers and discuss what you are teaching and how the kids are learning; however, our department’s process assumes that the lesson plans and assessments will stay the same each year. As I understand this process, curriculum mapping is a system that is not static and something that teachers can contribute to at anytime during the school year. It is also something that involves the whole school, rather than one department, and allows for cross-curriculum instruction.

As you can see, I am approaching this task of mapping out the curriculum with little enthusiasm. It’s a lot of work and I would rather spend my holiday resting, reading, and writing. Nonetheless, the job must be done and I will get the job done insha Allah!

“When I Speak, You Listen!”

This is phrase I borrowed from my former head of department to reinforce the principle that students must listen to me. As you can see, I am not a pro at teaching if I have still have issues with students listening to me. I’ve found this to be the most challenging part of teaching because once you can get all of the students to listen to you and follow your directions, your job becomes invariably easier. With adolscent learners, especially middle schoolers, this task feels as though it is nearly impossible.

I’ve learned that one of the best ways of getting students to listen to me is to first listen to them. In other words, build a good rapport with students. I think this is easier with high school students that have an idea of who they are and why they come to school. As for 11 and 12 year olds, this is a different ball game. Yes, you want to have a good relationship with them, but you also have to be the authority figure that lays down the law. The cultural context that you live in also shapes the relationships that you have with students. For example, when I worked in an inner-city school in the States, a nice and polite teacher was considered weak and a push over. So, naturally, I learned to be tough and to deal with the students in a rough manner. This disposition has earned me cheers and jeers where I presently work due to a climate of “I can have whatever I want and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t enable my students to be more spoiled than they already are. As a result, I’m usually not the popular teacher or at least not the one that all of the kids like. Nonetheless, I did not get into teaching to be liked or popular, but to do a job. A good job.

So, how do I get all of the students to listen to me when I want them to? I’m still working on that.

Finding a good bookstore

Like many bloggers, I am also a reader. Though since being in the gulf, I have not read as much. Why? Simply put, I good bookstore is hard to find (if not impossible). Back home in the states, we have many mainstream bookstores, namely Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Borders. There are also plenty of independent bookstores that offer both character and atmosphere, especially if they sell coffee. Most important, there are public libraries, of varying qualities, close to where you live that can at least offer you the latest best sellers.

Unfortunately, repositories of knowledge are absent in my current home. A public library? I’ve never heard of it here. A good bookstore? Forget it. Last year, I went to a Virgin Megastore outlet and indeed they had a small book section where you could find selected works of fiction. And, just yesterday, I found the the one major bookstore in this country. Sure, it looked like a proper bookstore. There were shelves full of books, but also computers, school supplies, office stationary, and games. Towards the back, I found the English books’ section. Yes! I thought. I perused the shelves and after about 20 minutes I was disappointed. Number one, I immediately went to the cookbook (or cookery for the British out there) section and did not a find a soup cookbook that I have been desperately looking for. Number two, the non-fiction section was comprised of half of a shelf and it seemed to be filled with tell-all books, i.e. how I escaped from my abusive husband/country. I looked at the fiction section, but I realized something. I can’t buy fiction. I haven’t been able to read a novel in nearly a year. I keep buying them thinking I will sit down and read, but I don’t. I guess I can’t deal with invented stories. I must read about real people and their stories. To that effect, I walked away with The Autobiography of Malcom X and Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle (Kingsolver). As if I could anticipate the lack of suitable nonfiction reading available locally, I ordered some books from my good friend, Mr., last week.

On trying to become somebody

So, these last few days I’ve been trying to figure out what I will write about on this blog. Since I have time off from school, I figured this would be the perfect time to plan out my writing. So, I sat down and actually drew up a “Plan for Blogging.” I have many ideas, perhaps so many that I don’t know where to start. Meanwhile, I posted a question on my facebook page that stated “What do you do when have two weeks of from school?” I was surprised that people actually responded. My favorite comment was “what do you want to do?” You know, I actually had to sit back and think about that. What do I want to do? I believe this question has been the motivating factor behind me becoming the ‘itinerant teacher.’ In fact, it has lead me to once again search for the job that I can love. So far, my efforts in this area have proved fruitless.

If I am getting close to answering the ‘what do you want to do question,’ then I would probably say that I want to be SOMEBODY. Sure, maybe Jesse Jackson said it first, but this is important. I think perhaps many of us are searching for the distinguishing factor that makes us standout from the masses. And, of course, people from my generation (Generation Y), have to need to find fulfilling work.

I may not know exactly what I want to do, but I know that I definitely want to be somebody. I want to be special. I want to do some important and significant work. I want to love my job. I want to feel happy when I come to work. I want to feel satisfied when I return home from work at the end of the day. I want to be able to connect with others who have a similar experiences.

For these reasons, I feel like the next big step in journey to becoming “somebody” is to earn a PhD. Now, the task upon me is to decide on a dissertation topic (no one starts a PhD program unless they already know what they want to study, otherwise you’ll be stuck in the program for years). I’m not sure if I want to continue studying History or move on to Islamic Studies. I tinkered with the idea of Sociology. But at heart, I am a Humanities thinker, not a Social Scientist. Perhaps, I could include Sociological concepts in my research and historicize it. Ah hah… Finally, I have some ideas. Could this be my way to become somebody? Or, am I already somebody and I have not realized it yet?