9 Nov 2006
With September and October now behind us and the ever present call for “More Updates!” from my throngs of readers, I decided it was time to share with you what’s been going on for me these first few months in Milwaukee. I figured with Thanksgiving coming up so soon, I better get some in if I want to still have things to talk about when the holidays of December roll around.
It’s hard to believe that there are only 9 months left in my LVC contract. Soon I’ll actually have to buckle down and move toward making a decision about what I’ll be doing next year, but I won’t say too much about that now. I have been doing some thinking, mainly about how much of a commitment I want to make to a job. Since graduation, I’ve basically made 3 one year commitments, and I’m not sure if I want to take another position that commits me to a substantial about of time based on my current feelings to my vocational calling (namely that I am far from positive what it might be). I’m sure there will be more to say about that in the coming months, but I know why you’re here now, so let the updating begin.
School has started. Actually, it’s been in full swing for a little over 10 weeks now, and we’re nearly done with our first (12-week) trimester. The biggest news about teaching since my previous update is that, after three days in the Life Skills department, I was moved to the Math department. There had been two teachers there, but one was fired/let go, so, for the betterment of the school (since, as we all know, I’m a trained math teacher), I was moved to be the second co-teacher of Math. I had thought about making a special update with this info, but that obviously didn’t happen. As for some of the ideas about non-math work that I had been excited about the possibility of, I may still have the chance to do some kind of film work with them later in the year during a Friday elective opportunity and/or after school.
As for the teaching, the first 6-8 weeks I did a lot of observing of Lucy (my Math partner) teach the Senior (those with more credits) Geometry classes while I then led the Non-Seniors in some remedial fraction and decimal work before diving into basic Algebra principles. She would help them out when I gave them seat work to do, but for the most part we were autonomous teachers. However, starting a few weeks ago we began to take a more team approach. We both present material for both classes, though she still does the majority of planning for the Seniors and I for the Nons. We’re both on our feet, away from our desks, for all five classes, which keeps the students more attentive and fights off-task behavior. To be true, there are some difficult students that don’t have the best attitude to math or who don’t like me (who know that was possible!) and can be classroom management issues, but having both teachers focused more fully on the classes has been helpful to both of us. There is still definitely work to be done, but I think problem issues have been improving and difficult students have been coming around. With the end of the trimester, a few of the Seniors will be leaving as they have obtained enough credits to graduate, and a few of the Non-Seniors will be moving to Senior status and taking Geometry. There is hope, both with me and other teachers (since the students are with the same group all day), that the shuffling and exit of students will help some of the problems go away and create better situations all around. One of the teachers told me that the first trimester is difficult, the second is easier, and the third is a cakewalk. I’m holding out judgment on whether that will be true for me or now.
I think I’ll break here to avoid reader burnout. I’ll continue with school and randomness next time! Where will my magic link send you this time? How about a nice logic puzzle website I’ve found with Sudoku and other great mind challenges? Try it @ http://www.indigopuzzles.com/ipuz/ (register to get full access) But don’t get addicted!
14 Nov 2006
So some more on the subject of school/work, you say? I continue to ride my bike the 5.4 miles roundtrip on days when it’s not raining, despite the cold, which, along with other trips, led me to bike 155 miles in October. Of course, in gas that’s not so much, but with no car insurance to pay or bus fare to buy, it’s still easily the cheapest option. I hope to continue to bike when there isn’t snow or ice to worry about, but I don’t mind the bus, and one of my colleagues lives about 4 blocks away, so I can sometimes get a ride home from him, too. I have a nice route that I take, and I’ve even made a waving friend with one of the crossing guards on the way to school. I actually stopped to say hi one morning, too, because his smile always makes me feel extra special as I trek through the cold mornings. And probably due to the coldness, part of the welding of my kickstand fell off, so that’s out of operation until I get the right tools to put on a new one.
The staff at Shalom continue to be friendly and helpful and extremely supportive. The principal has been very helpful as I adjust to the Shalom environment, and I think she is now pushing me to see what I (along with Lucy) can do on our own to create the best classroom setting possible. While it would be nice to have flexibility to teach subjects outside of math, I really do enjoy the math and getting to the students that way, and I think my being there has helped many of them become more independent. I really feel that those who come daily and work hard and pay attention are truly learning the material. As I’ve told others, it may seem strange, but I think I learned a lot from New Trier that I can apply to the classroom at Shalom, specifically things like “withitness” (being able to see if students are paying attention), checking for understanding, and planning for an active lesson. I’ve thought of writing some kind of piece titled, “How teaching in the suburbs prepared me from the inner city,” but so far nothing has come of it.
Along with math specific relationships, I’ve been able to get to know some of the students on a deeper level, and they all have such unique and difficult stories of their lives. About 20% of the 100 students have kids of their own. Many have reading or math levels at the 6th grade level or below. There are definitely gang members and instances of students being arrested (including one student who was beat up by the cops) or robbed, but I feel extremely safe nonetheless. What makes it so great is the true feeling of community that allows for all to be a part of the school and leave behind the other things in their outside lives. There’s the usual high school hormones and flirting, too, so in many ways it doesn’t feel very different than any other high school. Though I’m sure some things could be done better, it’s a great school and the students are receiving a very good education at Shalom.
On a last note this time, I thought I’d share a little about one student to give you a little snippet of what some of the students have on their plates. Maggie (not her real name) is 17+ and the mother of 2 boys, one a few months and the other nearly 2, of different fathers. She lives with her mom (I’ve never heard her father mentioned) and sometimes stays with her aunt. She struggled at the start of the year to secure daycare and has to deal with the boys when they are sick, causing her to sometimes miss school. She is totally committed to them and thus does not always put her schooling first. Last week, she had to go to the courthouse twice. First, she was in paternity court because the boy who had been claiming to be the youngest’s father decided to bring her to court over it, and she’ll return in February to get the results and the decision. She said she’s pretty sure he actually isn’t the father, but he had said he wanted to act as such, so why change his mind now? The second visit was because the father of her eldest was seeking custody of her son. She thinks it was mainly because of the boy’s mom, but in any case, when she went to court, they said she wasn’t old enough to represent herself, so she has to go back early 2007. Her math and reading skills are very low, and she has no high school credits to start with, so even if she passes all her classes and worked at the highest level of skills possible (to earn credits, as well), she would still need a full two years to graduate.
I don’t tell you this story for you to say “look at what Eric’s doing,” but rather to share with you just how much need there is out there in the word and how different our lives are compared to these kids. Every student has a story like this – maybe not this dramatic, but compelling in some way nonetheless. It’s hard to think about sometimes when you’re so engulfed in being a teacher, and it shouldn’t ever be an excuse, but it’s definitely something that needs to be recognized as a hurdle in the lives of these students. What can be done to fix the systemic and societal problems that put the students in these positions? I’m speaking generally (as my updates go to so many people), but I’m guessing your life growing up was pretty secure, and you were pretty confident that you’d have the support you would need to grow up, and your childhood was probably pretty carefree, aside from maybe all the pressure you faced in choosing a college or figuring out what you’d do after high school. Things won’t change in a day, but what can we do as a society to allow all children to have a carefree childhood experience, and what can you do personally to help bring that about?
OK — that was a bit long, but next time I’ll start sharing some of the other time specific stories of my time in Milwaukee thus far. I hope you return next time!
This time, the link takes you to www.favoriterun.com Since camp, I’ve been running almost every day, and I use this website to log my runs. It helps me see how far I’ve ran and my pace. It can also be set up for biking and walking. If you exercise in your community, definitely check it out.
17 Nov 2006
So I was thinking of trying to share things chronologically, but since there aren’t different themes each week during the year as there are during a summer at camp, it’s much harder to compartmentalize everything that’s happened in the past two months. Instead, I think I’ll mix topical and chronological sketches of my time here to hopefully provide you, the reader, with the best experience possible!
One thing I knew I had to do upon my arrival in Milwaukee was find a church that I could feel comfortable attending. Even though I’m only here for a year, I wanted to commit to one church regularly, though feel comfortable visiting other places. My first two Sundays, due to each and a commissioning service, I went next door. Then I visited Cross Lutheran, the church next door to Shalom and the location of the health clinic where Aaron, one of my roommates, works. I went with him a few times, and I also visited a small church called The Village Church downtown, attended by the parents of one of my Mowana colleagues (who I actually met randomly while visiting). They were all nice in their own way, but after a few more visits, I decided Cross was where I wanted to commit my Sundays. It’s a predominantly African American church, though it is very diverse in every way possible. I love the music, and after finally hearing the gospel choir sing last month, I decided to join them (I had thought about joining the choir my first Sunday, but I had never heard them until mid-October). Practices are Tuesday nights for about an hour and a half. It’s SO much fun, and when we sang in church a few weeks ago, it was a totally amazing experience. Aaron has joined the congregation, so it’s nice to have someone to attend with, too. The choir also travels to sing, and will be in Chicago on 19 November. I may contact some of you, but let me know if you’re interested and I can send you more details.
Back to chronological details, my first month in town was mainly spent getting settled in and exploring the city. I can’t say I did a whole lot of exploring, but our house family did spend a good amount of time getting to know one another and spending time together. Monday-Thursday one of us cooks a shared meal, and everyone who is home eats together. Though scheduling issues do take some people away, most nights it is a good time for all 6 of us to spend together. Early on we found time to play board games, attended a short film evening @ the art museum, and even an evening of “openness” (a little thanks to some alcohol), and while we try to make an effort to have community nights weekly, I think (both positively and negatively) we’ve become more comfortable as individuals and thus don’t feel the need to do everything together. Last week we were discussing our house covenant during a dinner night, led by two former LVCers, and I think we were able to share some good hopes we have for what it means to live in community. Hopefully there will be a renewed effort during the rest of the year to commit to one another on a regular basis, both in simple community ways and for monthly “faith nights.” I feel like I’ve been able to create good relationships with everyone in the house on various levels, and I hope that we can continue to create a better feeling of unity and family in the coming months.
The biggest adventure our LVC family has yet to experience together was a mid-September trip to Chicago for an LVC house party! I went down early on Friday night. I visited one of the LVC houses and stayed there that evening, and then I went up to Evanston Saturday morning to see my friend Martin before meeting the rest of the house downtown early afternoon. We trekked around downtown a little and got some lunch before heading to Casa Oscar Romero for dinner prior to party. The party included all six of us from Milwaukee and almost all the LVCers from Chicago. It was Clue themed, which meant we tried to play a video version of Clue amidst the drinking that had probably been going on too long already to make the game possible. It also meant people dressed up. The Chicago LVCers did the common, lame thing of dressing up like characters from the game, but the Milwaukee volunteers do things a little differently. We had a few sporting shower caps and colored clothing to resemble the actual game pieces, and we also had Kelly in all gray as the lead pipe, me with a few mop “brushes” (maybe?) draped over me resembling the rope, and Aaron with a great rendering of the wrench on his t-shirt. The evening was a lot of good fun in so many ways, and the next morning I got to visit my Chicago church, Holy Trinity, and see a few of my friends from there. Then it was a little more time downtown before we all caught the 5:30 megabus back to Milwaukee!
With that excitement, I think I’ll call it a wrap on part 3 of my mid-November updates. With that, I’ll put out another shout out to come and visit! With my parents not planning on visiting until March, you still have a VERY good chance of being my first visitor! And if not, I always love mail, and even a post card if you’re not up to writing a whole letter. I have a nice cork board in my room where I keep the ones I have, so you get permanent exposure!
Until next time — eric
20 Nov 2006
The last few weekends in September were pretty uneventful, aside from a Friday night excursion to an “Art Walk” a few blocks away, which entailed some nice art and lots of free wine and cheese. It was good time for reading, writing, and movie watching. I got in a 6-mile run on the 23rd, which I haven’t eclipsed in distance yet. We had our first faith night in early October, which was a good time to share about how we felt about the various LVC tenets (social justice, community, and simplicity/sustainability, in case you forgot).
A big event happened the evening of 4 October, namely me running in a 5K. It was a pretty windy and cold evening, but it was a lot fun and kind of enjoyable to have something to strive toward. I just did beat my goal with a 20:59, which I was happy with because of the weather and because I hadn’t necessarily been training for it, just mainly running for exercise and enjoyment. Alli, Amanda, and I all ran it, and we got some good freebies, like cheese and Gatorade, out of the $15 registration fee. I also got a t-shirt, but I’m not sure if I’ll be wearing that too much. Later that weekend I helped volunteer at my roommate Erick’s place of employment, the Urban Ecology Center, actually pulling an old fashioned carriage for kids who chose to ride on it. Got a free lunch out of it, too, and a nice bike ride there, too. Sunday Aaron, Erick, and I went with 3 members of our Local Support Committee apple picking, which was ton of fun, as well. We played on some straw bales while we were there and then returned to our house to make some apple crisp and apple pie. Who know apple crisp was so easy to make?
After taking time to adjust to my family and city in August and September, I decided to be a lto more active during October. The second weekend I got up early Saturday morning to bike downtown for a 10 cent book sale at the main library. I got there a few minutes after they opened and there were already tons of people there, but I made out with some pretty good stuff for less than $2. Then I biked to an orientation session for Habitat for Humanity volunteering. I haven’t volunteered yet, but (as you’re see) my weekend have been quite busy since then, but I will hopefully start doing that on some Saturdays for 6 hours a go. I can’t say I did a whole heck of a lot else memorable that weekend. Maybe grocery shopping. Grocery shopping has been a bit of a chore for us as a house (as I’m sure my housemates, who also get my updates, would agree). We haven’t developed a system on who goes, and with people being out of town and the simple commitment of going, it’s always interesting to see who, if anyone goes. The third weekend in October, when I was in Chicago, no one got groceries, and though I picked up milk and a few other things later on in the week so we had a little to live with, it worked out pretty well and maybe ended up saving us some money. We’re trying to get something going, but we’ll see what happens on that front. This past weekend I used to bus system to get some groceries, which was fun, but since we have some cars, that is in some ways more efficient.
That following Tuesday I started choir rehearsal, as mentioned earlier. On Thursday the 19th and the following Monday I worked as a volunteer at the Milwaukee International Film Festival. I was an usher, mainly taking tickets and helping people go where they were supposed to. I volunteered twice and got vouchers for two free movies I used near the end of the festival (more later). During one of my shifts I got to sit in and watch an Iranian movie, though I didn’t particularly like it.
That weekend between my volunteering I went to Chicago/Evanston for homecoming, but that story is a bit too long to share in this update. Until next time, have you heard of wikipedia? You really should have by now. If not, here’s a fun entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_monster and here’s a more informative one for a tiny bit of info about where I grew up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holgate%2C_OH It’s a great online research resource to use when you want to know pretty much anything about anything, so explore!
God Bless! eric
21 Nov 2006
So on 20 October at 3:00, I hopped on the megabus to Chicago (for a total of $2.50 roundtrip this time) for a whirlwind homecoming weekend spent mainly in Evanston. The bus ride took a little too long for my liking (2hr 45min) in Friday evening traffic, but I was able to arrive in Evanston in time for the end of the pep rally and the ensuing parade. I stayed with my band friend Julie, along with two other NUMBalums. We went to a bar social gathering that evening, got much to little sleep, and then got up early for a pre-game breakfast out before heading to the stadium for the big day of the game. We had some practice time but also got to relax a little before the “Fire Up!” concert and 10:40 pre-game. During that time, I got to visit a little with my fellow Mowana staffer Tim who is a freshmen @ NU and in the drumline.
The game itself you ask? Well, if you didn’t already know, I was lucky enough to attend the game that is in the history books for the greatest deficit overcome in Division I football history, 35 points. Unfortunately, it was Northwestern who was at one time ahead 38-3 who then lost 41-38, without even the necessity of overtime. Julie at one point said, “This is the best homecoming ever!” but that sentiment quickly faded as Michigan State poured on the points that led to an NU loss. Martin also played trumpet with me, and I got to spend some time with other NUMB members from my days in band, and even with the loss, it was a lot of fun to break out the trumpet. And even though I may be running regularly, I still wasn’t prepared for the little marching that we did do.
After the game, I took the El down to Wrigleyville. On a whim, I stopped by the condo of one of my former colleagues from the New Trier Math department and talked with him about life for a half-hour or so. Then it was on to my planned destination of Holy Trinity (my Chicago church) for their young adults’ Oktoberfest evening. While I had to eat potato salad and bread to hold me over (no brats for me), I got to see a lot of my church buddies, especially those I had missed on my first trip. We had food and then played a little Taboo (we played everyone for themselves, and even though I kept score, I still think I won). On my way back to Evanston, I made a quick pit stop at the LVC house on the north side to say hello and pick up my camera I had left at the party the month previous.
Sunday morning I went to University Lutheran Church, my church home during college. I met Tim and we went together. The main reason I went to ULC was that I gave a presentation on LVC while I was there. I gave a short spiel during the service and another one during brunch. A lot of the undergrads were young, but I hopefully planted some seeds, as I remember the first time I heard about LVC as my freshmen year, and then 5 years later, I was applying. I hung out with Tim a little more, but then I (luckily) decided to head back downtown a little early to see what else I might do. The marathon was that weekend, so the train was a little slow, but I made it to my bus on time and returned to Milwaukee, ending my very eventful weekend.
That next week was pretty busy/eventful, too. Along with film volunteering Monday and choir practice Tuesday, Wednesday we had parent-teacher conferences, during which time I saw parents of about 15 of my students. It was a long evening but I think also productive in many ways. Luckily, due to something called “teacher convention,” I had Thursday and Friday off. Thursday morning I went to school and caught up on some work and relaxed in the afternoon. Friday morning I decided was as good a time as any to head to the DMV and get my Wisconsin driver’s license. I was still carrying my Ohio license, and seeing as it expired in May, I would need a new one sometime during the year. Of course, not having a car, I decided to bike there (I’m guessing the percentage of bikers who hit up the DMV is quite small). There was a good line but not too long, and afterward I biked downtown and went to this great used bookstore where I spent too much money and not enough time. I watched an old French film, Jules et Jim, which was interestingly OK, but seemingly somewhat of an inspiration for Amelie.
As for the rest of the weekend, I think I’ll halt there and tease one more update out of you (or out of me, I’m not sure which). I think instead of a link, I would love to recommend to you the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It’s a bit of a rock opera with an interesting premise, but it’s a great story with amazing music. I saw it a few months ago, and it’s hopped pretty close to the top of my list of favorites. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing, and probably come December, I’ll give you a run down of all the books I’ve read in the past 6 months. I’ve even surprised by them all!
23 Nov 2006
So the last weekend of October I cashed in on my MIFF (film fest) passes. Saturday afternoon I saw a documentary called Summercamp! I have always thought about doing a documentary about Mowana and was interested in seeing how this doc about a nature camp in Wisconsin pulled it off. It was actually a little underwhelming, following the campers for their 3-week stay, but I’m glad I saw it anyway. One of the directors held a conversation afterward, which I attended to learn some more about it. I still think I could make a different and better documentary about Mowana, so look out for that in the not too distant future :-) Sunday I went with Alli and Aaron to see of matinee of the big name casted of Departed. The acting, as should be expected, was all top notch, and the movie was interesting but not amazing. After that, I moved quickly to my second film festival movie, titled Wristcutters: A Love Story. I must say – it was probably the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. It stars Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous fame and you also get Gob from Arrested Development to do a little cameo. It’s about an afterlife where all the suiciders go to spend eternity and follows Fugit’s character as he seeks love. It’s a small movie that probably won’t go most places, but you should put it on a list somewhere to see some how, some way, at least on DVD.
The first weekend of November wasn’t horribly exciting but extremely productive. Not only did I get to see Northwestern beat Iowa at football again (on TV this year), but that Saturday I was also able to run, write a letter, do laundry, go grocery shopping, talk to my parents, and still have time to relax. The Casa Oscar Romero girls were in town that weekend for a conference, and while there were there all day Saturday, the three of us DD House members still in town were able to hang out with them a little on Friday and Saturday nights. Sunday after church I wanted to continue my active weekendness, so I got out the rakes and, along with two of our visitors, raked up the leaves into a nice big pile, perfect for jumping in and various other forms of horseplay. Who says you can’t do those kind of things when you’re 24? I’d hate to live in a world or discover a time when jumping in the leaves is beyond me. We had some great custard time that Sunday afternoon before sending our visitors away.
That following week was a short one, because on Thursday morning, the 9th, we all headed to a retreat for the Midwest LVC volunteers at Sugar Creak Bible Camp in western Wisconsin. There was much fun and excitement had, but I think I’ll actually push off the details more than a few days and on into the next batch of updates, as it will be a great place to end this set and start the next.
I’ve mentioned that I’ve been reading and writing a lot, and I truly have. I’ve been able to dedicate an hour on most nights to writing new or editing old some of my work. I like the idea of the self-contained 40-hour workweek that I seek to hold myself to in LVC to get the full experience that I set out to have. My only main TV during the week is Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars (check them out!), along with some news every so often, sports of course, and the occasional TV show on DVD. I like the fact that I’m able to refrain from TV and do other things. I actually feel a lot more clean, somehow, or refreshed when I’m not watching TV. It’s kind of a weird feeling, but I like it. And the more I go without cable, the more I wonder if I’ll every pay for TV again.
On that note, I’ve spent a lot of time writing for your pleasure, and I hope you enjoy what I’ve had to say. As always, I’d love to hear more about your life, e-mail, letter, phone call, or otherwise. If you’re a praying person, continue to keep me in your prayers as I work at Shalom, live in Milwaukee and in my house, and as I discern where God is leading me past this year.
Otherwise, show’s over! God Bless, and I hope you have/had a Happy Thanksgiving.
One more website: thefilmconnection.org Sign up to receive free movies sent to you! They have socially aware movies for you to view and return. The idea is that you to start a group to watch the movies with and have conversations about the movies and maybe learn something, too. I made a group based on my LVC house, but I’m sure you could create one based on just about anything. Check it out!
(And in case you were curious, I’ve been not capitalizing my name lately after reading an essay by my friend Jason about a man who did the same such thing many years a go with his name. The man helped those who had no home or inadequate housing find it in one of the worst parts of Cincinnati.)