Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Power-Walking of the Teachers/ Sisyphus at the School Dance

(Napoleon Dynamite is showing the proper way for high schoolers to dance.)

Before the students arrive at school on their first day, the teachers have already been there for at least a week. During the week before school, we educators plan for the coming year, discuss new policies, prepare our classrooms, and most importantly, sign up for our adjunct duties. Part of our job throughout the school year is to work at no less than four after-school events. So, near the end of our work week, the school secretaries or the athletic director will mention casually at the end of a meeting that the adjunct duties sign-up list is ready.

At this cue, every teacher in the room stiffens. Nostrils twitch. Eyes glance from side to side. We begin breathing heavier and our heart rates increase. A moment after that, we smile nervously at one another and try to look nonchalant as we carefully gather our things and begin slowly moving out of the building where our meeting was held towards the building where the sign-ups are located. We are restraining our urge to leave the group behind and run for it. Once the teachers hit the fresh air outside, things change, and we, this group of highly professional educators, quickly transform into something I like to think of as, “The Power-walking of the Teachers.”

Teachers who will never move at more than a snail’s pace throughout the rest of the year, suddenly become swift like badgers and they begin shaking their fannies and pumping their arms back and forth like that evil cop in the Terminator movies as they make their way to the crucial sign-up list. I have never seen a teacher trip another on their way to the office, but I bet it’s happened.

Woe to you if you stop to talk to your Department Chair. Woe to you if you go back to your classroom to get your keys. Because if you do these things, you will lose the power-walking race, and you will end up at the back of a very agitated line with the rest of the slow teachers. By the time you get to the front desk, all of the easy, safe, adjunct duties will be taken. The band concerts, the basketball games, and the school play: these are all easy jobs. They might even be fun, but if you end up at the back of the line, you will probably get stuck with dance duty.

During my first year, a more experienced teacher advised me. She said, “Never, ever work at a dance if you can help it. You may not be able to get to the front of the line, some of these teachers are pretty fast. But if you possibly can, try to sign up while there are still football games left on the list.” This year, unfortunately, I stopped to talk to the other teachers in the English Department. They wanted to talk about something like assessments or teaching reading or something trivial like that.

As we talked, I kept trying to end the conversation as I darted glances at the other teachers leaving in a mass exodus like some sort of bizarre version of “The Amazing Race.” But by the time we got done talking and we had made our way down to the administration office, it was too late. So far this year, I have worked at two dances. It is difficult to even begin to describe the soul-weary drudgery of chaperoning a high school dance.

It is sort of like being Sisyphus, that dead Greek guy who has to continually roll a boulder up a hill. Just when he gets to the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to roll it up back. According to the story, he is doomed to repeat this for all eternity. School dances are sort of like that. The D.J. always plays sexy music, the lights are always turned down low, and the girl’s dresses are usually provocative. However, I, as a teacher, am somehow supposed to stop these scantily-clad, hormone-raging, teenagers from “freak dancing” while the song, “Tap, it, Baby,” or possibly, “My Lovely Lady Hump,” plays so loudly that the speakers are bouncing off the floor.

I am not easily daunted, however. I bring a hefty flashlight to every dance and valiantly make an effort to keep the students in some modicum of respectability. I have worked out an elaborate system to let students know that their behavior is inappropriate. First, I shine the flashlight directly into their eyes. The music is so loud that this is the only way to get their attention. It also makes them extremely irritated. Then I usually yell something about keeping their hands where they belong. The couple will then look at me, with a wounded, innocent expression on their little faces. With big eyes, they say, “Us? We weren’t doing anything wrong!” Then as soon as my back is turned they go back to freak dancing.

Like Sisyphus, I tap them on the shoulders again and repeat the message. Now they get angry as if I have accused them of something they would never do. I repeat the warning, walk away and next thing I know, they’re freak dancing again. Fortunately, unlike Sisyphus, I have an alternative. That’s when I tap them on the shoulders and tell them to get out of the dance. By the time they leave, unhappy, disappointed, and shooting daggers at me with their eyes, I renew my vow to get to the adjunct duties sign-ups sooner next year. I'm not exactly planning to trip any of the other teachers, but they better not get in my way.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Proudly Rejected by Pedestal Magazine

I borrowed the picture to the left from this website.


The lid on my green-grass world flew off and Doubt clawed in.

Some Pandora managed to cram her pestilence back into my box.

Loneliness batted against my tight-closed eyes,

Ignorance screeched into my ears,

and the worst part was, Hope escaped.

One of the good things about writing this blog is that it has changed the way I take rejection from publishers. Sure, it upsets me when I get rejected, but then I think, "Ooh...something to blog about." It takes a negative thing and makes it positive. As I have said before, when I say I've been "proudly" rejected...I'm speaking honestly.

I am proud that I tried, and I plan to try again. If I spend my whole life trying to get published and still never really succeed, I can at least be proud that I made the attempt. And anyways, sooner or later, if I just keep at it, I will succeed. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Although I really want to see my name on the cover of a book someday, I feel that writing is worthwhile just for writing's sake.

My Duotrope Submissions Tracker is getting longer and longer, mostly with rejections, but with a few acceptances. I would like to thank the wonderful folks over at Midnight Screaming for not only selecting my poem for their April edition, but also for telling me about

Anyway, I got rejected by Pedestal Magazine yesterday. They said that they really "enjoyed" reading my writing but that they "cannot use it at this time."

Do you think they are being honest when they say they enjoyed my submission, or are they just trying to soften the blow?

I really don't know.

In any case, I like their magazine, and in six months after I have licked my wounds and written some new and hopefully better poems, I will resubmit.

The poem at the top is one of my favorite poems that they rejected. It might make sense only to me, and to those who know me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We White Folks

I happen to be very, very white, as you can see from the picture. I don't normally spend much time thinking about it, because I've been white for as long as I can remember, but was brought drastically to my attention.

I was perusing the Kern Valley Sun's website today, reading letters to the editor, when I came across this quote from a local resident named Tiffany:

"You White Folks have profited from the Native Americans long enough."

I should have let it slide. I should have just prayed for the person, ignored it and moved on with my day- but something inside me rebelled.

I am a high school teacher. I pay my taxes and do my best to make the world around me a better place. I know that I live and work in a place that used to belong exclusively to the Native Americans. I do feel a little sad by that...but I'm not really sure what to do about it.

I am not out extracting money from poor innocent native americans named Tiffany. Perhaps there are "white folks" out there doing that. But I do not think it is fair to lump every white person in the Kern River Valley into their number.

So I wrote this poem and sent it in to the comments on the website:

We White Folks

You White folks.

Why do those words make my spine grow chill?

The barbarianism of my forefathers damns me, is that it?

I am just a person trying to make my way in this world, just like you.

And my skin just happens to be white.

That doesn’t make me less of a person,

And it doesn’t make me any better or worse than you. "

Perhaps I wasted my time. As a member of a dominant culture, I guess I shouldn't take offense at things like this.

I'm white. I can't control that. My skin is pasty, my hair is mousy, and my thighs are huge. It's the way I was born. I don't go tanning to try to obtain a more socially-acceptable skin tone because I'll probably get skin cancer- plus, I have better things to do with my time and if God made me the shade of a hard boiled egg, why should I try to change that?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Short but Sweet


I covet your laughter

As if it were in short supply.

I covet your hours away

As if there weren’t enough time.

I covet your other nine fingers,

The ones I don’t own.

It's dangerous to be so jealous of you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Back to School" Proudly published by the Kern Valley Sun

This week I had four different students tell me that they thought I was a "cool," "popular" teacher. Obviously, I have never shown them the above picture of myself. As you can see, I am one classy lady.

I am a complete geek. Unfortunately, it's not in that, "I'm a geek, and I started my own multi-million dollar computer company" way that's really popular right now. I also wasn't a geek in the "I have poor hygiene, and other students throw their lunches at me" sort of way, thank goodness.

I was the kind of geek who didn't watch R-Rated movies, looked a lot like Velma from Scooby Doo (I still do, in fact), really liked hanging out with their parents, was shocked by cussing, read 19th century novels for fun, spoke like a walking dictionary, and who teachers always really liked. Ergo, I became an English teacher.

When I got to college, I learned that all of the above traits were actually strengths, which was a relief.

Do the kids who were "cool," or "popular" in high school ever become teachers? It always seems to be the very uncool people who were a little too institutionalized for their own good who become teachers. There are not a lot of rebels in our crowd.

Anyway, there are only a few months of school left, Huzzah! The following article is one I published in the Kern Valley Sun at the beginning of this school year.

Disclaimer to any of my high school students who read this or any of my other teaching related blog entries: I love you dearly and if I seem to write as if you irritate me or as if you are not very smart, please remember that I am using hyperbole. If you don't know what hyperbole is, it would be a good word to look up.

School is starting again in a matter of weeks. I believe I am ready to embark on my fourth year teaching English and Drama at the high school, and as I sat in my classroom this week, trying to get started on the mountain of work waiting for me, I reflected on some of the unique traits of the students who will be placed under my care this year.

High school students are great question-askers. They love to ask questions. They don’t usually want or use the answers, but they do love to question. On occasion, students will walk into my room at the beginning of class and ask my favorite question.

“Mrs. Hughes,” they will say, with big eyes and in all seriousness, “Are we doing anything important today?” I love this question because it really makes me wonder what answer they are expecting me to give. They usually ask this when they want to get out of class for some really important reason, like building a homecoming float that their class should have been working on after school, or going to the gym to play Dodge-Ball with a P.E. class.

I wonder if they are secretly hoping that I will say, “No, not really. In fact, I intended to waste everyone’s time, myself included, with some inane lesson plan about morphemes. But your question has shown me that my planned lesson and its corresponding state standard is so NOT important that we should ALL go down to P.E. and play Dodge-Ball together! The P.E. teachers would love that!”

If I said that, I don’t think my students would bat an eye. In fact, I think they might whisper happily to one another, with a knowing glance, “She’s finally come to her senses. We’ve worn her down, and she can finally see that all those silly English things she’s always trying to make us learn are really very pointless.”
But instead of fulfilling whatever expectation they may have had for my answer to that question, I usually just smile, and say, “Yes, what we’re doing is very important, why don’t you take your seat and get out a pencil!” This makes them groan and squirm, but soon we are on our way to learning about the amazing world of morphemes.

Now, like every teacher, I do occasionally become sick and when this happens, I do my best to drag myself to school and to look as un-sick as possible. But somehow, in every class period, students who have never noticed anything for the entire school year, such as what page we’re supposed to be on, will usually notice my haggard appearance. That’s when I get my other favorite question.

“Mrs. Hughes,” a student will say in a concerned voice, drawing from the years of tact their parents tried to teach them, “You look terrible, what’s the matter with you? Are you sick or something? You look like Death!” Usually, this question comes up at least once per class period when I am ill, sometimes twice, if I have some tardy students who missed the question the first time. Again, I am not really certain what response these lovely darlings are hoping to receive from their inquiry. I usually just grimly smile, and say, “Yes, but I’ll be better soon.”

I like to assume that they’re asking out of some vestige of politeness.

It’s harder to assume this when the student refuses to drop the subject, and makes explanatory comments, like, “I noticed because your voice is all scratchy and you seem crabby, are you crabby today?” That’s when I usually show them just how crabby I am by assigning some sentence diagramming so that they will drop it.

Oh, high-schoolers. I cannot wait for another year of your clever antics and tactless questions. We will have some good times. We will have some bad times. And hopefully, someone, somewhere, will learn something, even if it’s only me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Selective Memory

This is a piece I wrote for the Kern Valley Sun last year. I got quite a few comments from my students and other community members about it.

As a high school teacher, I have noticed that teenagers have an amazing capability for selective memory. They cannot remember when we have homework due, they cannot recollect where they should stack the books we have been stacking for an entire school year, and they cannot recall whether or not I allow gum in my classroom (I don’t). But if I even once mention that we might watch a movie, they will remember for weeks, possibly months later. If we play a fun game once in the entire school year for five minutes at the end of a class period, they bring this us up every single day thereafter.

“Mrs. Hughes,” they say eagerly, as if they have come up with the apotheosis of all ideas, “I don’t think we should do any work today. Instead, we should watch a movie or play that game!”

That’s when I will turn on the overhead, and say, “Maybe another time. Today, we’re going to review nouns!” Despite my peppy response, groans ensue.

Now, I know for a fact that these students’ elementary school teachers, starting in at least the Second Grade, taught them what a noun is. I know that their junior high teachers taught them what a noun is. We go over nouns in the 9th grade, too. Every student I know can exclaim clearly and confidently the litany that a noun is, say it with me now, “A person, place, thing, or idea.”

Yet when I point to the sentence on the board, “Lenny and George were running,” and ask a student to “find the nouns,” the students look at one another in confusion, and one will reply, “Is ‘running,” a noun?”

“Of course it’s not a noun!” My brain screams silently in response and I have to restrain the urge to shake them by the shoulders and yell in their faces. Instead I ask the class, with a smile, in a restrained voice, “Is ‘running’ a person, place, thing or idea in this sentence?”

“No…?” they state uncertainly.
“Then, no, running must not be used as a noun here.” I respond, gripping my pen so tightly that a faint creaking sound emanates from it. “‘Running’ is an action. What part of speech is an action?”

Their eyes light up and I begin to hope that somewhere in their collective brains, a neuron has fired. I start to believe that this little neuron is directing their consciousness to wherever their brain has stored the precious knowledge for which the State of California has spent so many billions of dollars. I wait, ready for their answer, ready to exult in the fact that they know something that I didn’t have to go over more than once.

“An adverb?” one student might risk innocently. I look at them and, because yelling or screaming won’t help them learn that a verb is an action word or help me keep my job, I squeeze my pen tightly and take a deep breath. I hide my now snapped in-half pen in the folds of my skirt so that the students will not become alarmed and after a few seconds, I smile, and I say,

“Well, you’re close. I think you mean a verb. That must be what you meant.” And I walk away quickly to the sink, because ink is now oozing all over my arm.

By the end of the year, I know we will have mastered nouns, verbs, and even adverbs. By the end of the year, most of them will remember where to stack the books, and not to chew gum in my class. I imagine that thirty years from now, when they think of my class, if they think of it at all, they will not remember those things. But they might remember the game we played once.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poetry Scams....Grrrr!

I am sort of embarrassed. I almost got conned into one of those poetry publishing rackets where you buy their book and they accept any poem that comes their way. I barely even remember submitting my poem to an online poetry contest about 6 months ago.

Yesterday, I got this letter saying that my poem had been moved to the semi-finals, and that I could be a winner.

Then they went on to say that they liked my poem so much that they were going to include it in the next, "Famous Poets of the Heartland" anthology, and I could buy my very own copy.

Thankfully, the warning sirens going off on my brain kicked in, especially when I noticed the "Famous Poets" motto: Where Happiness is Being Published! I also thought that the editor, a woman named Lavender Aurora, seemed a little too thrilled about my "talent." No legitimate editor I have ever submitted to has been that excited, even if they enjoyed and accepted my work.

This screams: VANITY PUBLISHING loud and clear to me.

Anyway, there was something else troubling me about their letter. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I went ahead and looked up their company on, which is one of my all time favorite websites, and sure enough, there were over 90 complaints against them.

It appears that this company not only charges exorbitant prices to publish people's poems, but they frequently NEVER SEND, or send very late, the anthologies that people pay for.

Now, I have no idea if the allegations on are true, but I know I will certainly never do business with these people. I am disturbed that they have my address.

Now, I am going to go feed their letter to my dog and try to forget the whole thing even happened.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Proudly rejected by The Rose and Thorn Journal.

Here is a picture of my writing nook. It's basically just a corner of the trailer we're living in with a laptop and a window. I try to write at least a page a day, and this is where I do it.

Ouch. Another rejection. When it rains, it pours! The Rose and Thorn Journal has a very quick reponse-time, which I must admit is very considerate of them.

Being rejected is like taking off a band-aid. It's best just to do it quick and get it over with. The Rose and Thorn Journal rejected me within 17 days of my submission. Pretty impressive.

Here is one of the poems they rejected.

18.Drowning, Dazed, and Blinded
I always thought love would mean…
Trumpets, trombones and saxophones,
A feeling so loud, it would drown out my self.

I always thought love would mean…
Flashes, fireworks and sparks,
A blinding display that would leave me dazed.

I always thought love would mean…
Perfume, potpourri, and sugary-scented,
An overpowering aroma that would take my breath away.

But I like to hear myself think
And to see the world clearly,
And to breathe in the deep, crisp air.
And when I’m drowning, dazed and blind, I get scared!
Which is why it’s lucky for me that…

Love is calming, comforting and kind,
And does not rob me of anything.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Proudly Rejected by Calyx Journal.

Two rejections in one week? Sigh.

CALYX (A journal of Art and Literature by Women) sent me a very polite form letter today rejecting four of my poems. They wrote,

"We appreciate the opportunity to review your submission and consider it for publication. At least two editors have read your work and found that we are unable to use your submission in the Journal. We apologize for replying with a form letter, but the volume of submissions no longer allows us the luxury of a personal reponse."

I thought it was worded particularly well, and the editor actually wrote my first name on the top in real pen and signed the bottom. That's unique. I've never recieved a rejection letter where they signed it with real pen.

So, Calyx Journal- I rate you FOUR STARS for class.

Here is one of the poems they rejected. Maybe it's not subtle enough. I'm not very good at subtlety yet.


A butterfly can’t return to her chrysalis

No matter how fast the outside winds blow,

No matter how frigid the rain is.

Her wings are too big now,

Too beautiful to be contained in that dark brown cocoon.

And now, she has tasted the nectar of the flowers,

Has flitted in an orange glade with her fellow travelers.

No matter how safe and snug her Chrysalis was,

No matter how content she was there,

She is too large now to ever go back.

Instead, she has to face the world,

wings unfurled, ready to soar or to die.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rejected by Barefoot Books

Oh, the angst of rejection!

Barefoot books rejected me very politely in an email yesterday. Last Friday, I sent in my favorite of all the short stories I have written: Shelly the Brave and the Creature in her Closet.

It's a story about a twin girl (based on my twin, Carolyn) who is very headstrong and clever and is convinced that there is a monster in her closet. It has a lot of alliteration and fun words, and what I think is a nice pace. It's only been rejected 3 times so far- I supposed it is time to try again.

At least Barefoot Books let me know quickly and politely.

I have been teaching my students poetry...and it is very difficult. We have read examples of poetry, talked about the poems, analyzed them, etc, but yet I still have to say 25 times a day, "poetry does not have to rhyme!"

Asking them to actually write poetry is like pulling my own ears off. Some of them get the idea, but only about 1/3rd.

The boys will say, "I don't like that mushy stuff." I'll say, "it doesn't have to be mushy. It can be about violence or bloodshed or honor or power, or anything you want."

The difficult thing is that I love poetry. If I didn't love it, it would be easy to teach. When I love what I teach, it is difficult for me. is a new day. New opportunities for teaching, for writing, for publishing.