Sunday, April 27, 2014

Teaching Award

Here's my English/Chinese interview upon receiving a teaching award for 2013. My organization, Ameson Education & Cultural Exchange Foundation, which places English teachers in Chinese schools, recognized my efforts last year, and honored me with an Ameson Advanced Educator award. This interview was given as part of the company's Outstanding Teacher Series. Originally only available in Chinese, I have uploaded the English translation of the interview to Scribd, which you can read at the link below.

Outstanding Teacher Series--Interview with Lauren Tivey:

Lauren Tivey (center), with her AP English Language & Comp. class,
Nanjing Senior High School, Jiangyin, China

I'm grateful to the organization for the award, and pleased about the interview. I've a wonderful group of students here, who make teaching a real joy for me, and I consider myself lucky to be able to do what I love for work!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shakespeare in Shanghai

Just getting caught up on a lot of posts here! One great thing that happened in the past few months, back in December, was the overnight field trip we took with the junior AP English class to Shanghai, in order to see a live performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth, produced by TNT Theatre Britain. We'd also done this the year before, with another class, in order to see King Lear. Anyway, it was the first live play the kids had seen, and we had a blast. Fellow teachers Gerry and Zhangyan (plus Zhangyan's husband), all helped to chaperone the event.

The month before the show, we began reading and studying Macbeth. We read slowly and in-depth, in class, in order for students to understand the play--it's one thing to have English-speaking Western kids read Shakespeare, but to have Chinese students read it, in a second language, is an entirely different ballgame. They were all mostly terrified of trying to read Shakespeare, and baffled by the Elizabethan English, but with practice and patience, I walked them through it. Students first chose character names out of a hat--one student would get Macbeth, one Macduff, etc.--which they were to "adopt", to study their character's lines, and understand their motivations. This made the study a little more personal. Every day we read scenes, with each student reading the part of their character, and me helping to interpret difficult sections. We discussed plot events, themes, historical and mythical allusions, and more, and watched scene videos from a variety of different productions over the years. The students, of course, LOVED the witches (who doesn't, really?). Banquo's ghost scene was also a big hit. After reading the play, students were required to write four page essays on a thematic element, and then we watched the 2010 Macbeth, with Patrick Stewart in the lead role. The biggest thrill for me, however, was that day in class when we finished reading it--that fantastic final scene of Macbeth's death at the hands of Macduff, and the crowning of Malcolm--when the students broke into loud applause. Whether they were applauding the scene, applauding themselves for reading it, or just applauding because it was over, it didn't matter--we'd all made it through, together. I was so proud of them. What better way to celebrate than to attend a live showing? 
The students' excitement was palpable even on the bus to Shanghai, a couple of hours away. We all checked into the hotel after arriving, then made our way to dinner, and then on to the Lyceum Theater. I'd been to the Lyceum the year before, for King Lear, so I knew the students would be dazzled by the elaborate (yet intimate) playhouse, with its marble entry, chandeliers, winding staircases up to the balcony level, and red velvet chairs. The place was teeming with theater-goers, and we made our way through them to our reserved row of seats, where I had the students turn off their cell phones. Once the play began, the students were hooked. Shakespeare's plays just come alive on stage, and this production of Macbeth was no exception. I looked down the row to see all my students leaning forward, in rapt attention, and I knew, this was an experience they would never forget. 

Here are some photos:

Excitable bus ride to Shanghai

Chaperones: Gerry, Tony, and Zhangyan

TNT Theatre Britain--they put on a helluva show

Outside the theater--it was a heavy smog day (note the masks)

The Lyceum Theater, Shanghai

Happy students, just before the show

Gerry and students, before the show

The play was fabulous, of course. The students really loved the presentation of the witches as nature spirits (more in keeping with the original idea in Holinshed's Chronicles), and their foresty costumes. They laughed hysterically at the drunk porter's bawdy antics, and were completely mesmerized by Lady Macbeth's bloody performance and subsequent sleepwalking scene. After, they pointed out inconsistencies between the script and the performance (smart kiddos, these!). Suffice it to say, the field trip was a success.

This has been one of the best ideas I've implemented into my syllabus--making the study of a Shakespeare play AN EVENT, as meaningful and memorable for me as it is for the students, and I have every intention of doing it again next year. Fingers crossed that Hamlet is next--that's my favorite.

High School Poetry Slam

On April 1st, we held our first annual poetry slam here at Nanjing Senior High School. Participating were 35 students from three grade levels--all of our American Program Chinese students, plus our visiting German students. After a month of preparation, the evening event was held in the lecture hall, to great success. Cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place were given, along with four honorable mentions, and the slam was even filmed. Fellow teachers, Simeon Campbell and Katherine Marie Priddy also helped organize and run the event, for which I am very grateful, and some of our other teachers, Gerry, Reuben, Ollie, and Lillian were our volunteer judges.

Since many of our Chinese students hadn't had much exposure to poetry slams, or to poetry, for that matter, the entire month before the event was spent studying poems. Though my junior AP English class had been reading a few poems, here and there, since the beginning of the school year, mostly as supplementary material to other literature, and had even read Shakespeare, we really needed to delve into mechanics and modern style. I also did a poetry unit review with my senior AP English class. This involved the reading and study of many poems, lessons in figurative language, short poetry videos and PPTs, writing workshops, outdoor writing exercises, and the poetry slam documentary, Louder Than A Bomb, which the students greatly enjoyed. Students wrote their own poems, workshopped them with their peers, revised them, workshopped them with me, and revised them again. We discussed the performance aspect of a poetry slam, and students practiced their poems aloud, both at home and in front of their peers, even doing a rehearsal run in the lecture hall the afternoon before the slam. Though they were all nervous about the slam that evening, they did well. And they had created some wonderful poems!

Here are some photos:

Cool poetry slam posters, designed by fellow teacher, Kate

Poetry slam judges: Gerry, Reuben, Ollie, and Lillian

Poetry slam in full swing

Winners, from left to right: Jasmine (HM); Claire (HM); Andy (HM);
Tom (HM); Shimmer (3rd); Chen (2nd); Andrew (1st)

Andrew won first place with his poem, "Pretentious Pimples", a piece that was not only brave, but cleverly structured as a conversation with his acne, and had a strong delivery. Chen won second place with "Homeless Dog", a persona piece, and Shimmer took third place with the confessional poem, "Her". All students, whether winners, honorable mentions, or not, did a fantastic job with their poems, and showed a lot of courage in reading their work in front of an audience--a first, for many. This helped build confidence, as many of the students expressed afterward.

All in all, our poetry slam was not only fun, but made a deep impression on the students. As one said, "Writing a poem is not as easy as I used to think. I had to modify the lines again and again, and read them aloud to seek the best voice to express them. It is funny--I earned award money in the poetry slam. It was the first time I earned money through my own effort". Another student said, "After this poetry slam, it seems that everything in life can be the subjects of poems. The matter is, what do I pay attention to? I have started observing life more clearly and carefully, and I've found a lot of beauty which I never paid attention to before."

As a teacher, I can't ask for more than that...

The Prodigal Poet Returns

Sooo...I've been a very bad blogger. Seven months have passed since I last updated. What happened? Well, I went through a sort-of devastating loss--of my own making--and I'm just now getting back to the poetry (and blogging!) life. While in Rome last summer, I dropped my external hard drive, which held ALL of my writing, onto the tile floor of our apartment, and it broke. No one, not even the so-called "experts", have been able to retrieve the data. I had no backup. That's right, I was stupid, stupid, stupid. See, before I left for my summer travel to Scotland, Italy, and Turkey, I was busy and distracted, and though the thought occurred to me to "back that shit up", I never did.

When I say ALL my writing was on my external hard drive, I do mean ALL of it: my poetry manuscript, which I'd been working on for four years, and which was getting close to completion; all my poems under construction; all completed poems not part of the manuscript; all my publishing contacts, correspondence, and submission records; and the journal I'd been keeping for four years. In addition, I lost all the photos I had taken in Scotland, and half of the ones I took in Italy. I lost all my teaching materials--syllabi, course outlines, student records, resources, and more. Though I've spent the past seven months rebuilding all my teaching materials (and backing them up regularly!), I'm afraid I'll never get the creative writing or photos back. The IT shop I use here, after working on my external hard drive for two months, was unable to do anything, so they sent it off to the "experts" in Nanjing, who kept it for another month, and came up empty-handed, as well. Some business about needing an exact copy of the disc used in the external hard drive to copy the material to. I don't know...if the FBI can retrieve data off burnt, crushed, drowned hard drives, why can't someone pull some poems and photos off mine? I've still got the drive, and I'm going to bring it to my crack-IT guy/nephew in the U.S. when I go back next winter for a visit. He may not be able to do anything, either, but at least there's still a glimmer of hope.

In the meantime, I've been dealing with a lot of anger over the whole thing. I was pretty mad at the universe for DOING THIS TO ME, but really, I was angry with myself for dropping the drive (I'm such a klutz--always have been), and for not backing up my material in the first place. In fact, I was so disgusted with the whole thing that I just stopped writing. Yes, I have refused to write for seven months. Muse appears, and I turn her away, which is probably some sort of sacrilege, for which I'll probably be punished later, in some other horrifying turn of events. Instead, I turned my creative attentions in other directions--I concentrated on my photography, built a Facebook bohemian community page (almost 6,000 followers, which you can check out, here), went traveling and adventuring, etc. Things have been okay. But there has been a nagging feeling all along, that I need to get on with my writing, get over the anger, and start listening to the muse again.

Poetry doesn't want to leave me alone--it's made that quite clear. Whether it's waking me in the middle of the night with lines begging to be written, or sending me requests for material from editors, or asking me to judge a kids' poetry competition, or surprising me with an acceptance from a long-forgotten submission, or requesting that I write reviews for other poets, or having me help organize a poetry slam at my school (all of which have happened these past seven months), poetry has not given up on me, no matter how much I've shunned it. So, it's time to get back on with it, and start rebuilding my portfolio. I'm looking at it this way: that the loss of the manuscript and other work is an opportunity to start over, and create something even better this time. I've had my hissy fit, given poetry the silent treatment, and now I'm ready to forgive myself. As Hugh White said, "When you make a mistake, don't look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power". 

Wish me luck. I'm going to back up all my material now... 

Nepal Photo Set

Here's another photo set I just finished for Nepal, which I visited back in February. This was an incredible journey, one filled with new insights, new friendships, and new adventures. Kathmandu was bustling, poor, dusty, and exciting, and one of my favorite places. There, we visited the great stupa at Boudhanath, the stunning Monkey Temple at Swayambhunath, the temple and burning ghats at Pashupatinath (where I met some cool sadhus!), wandered around Thamel and Patan, got a new Green Tara tattoo, and had a kurta custom made for myself. It was fantastic. From there, we traveled by bus up to Pokhara, at the base of the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas, which was equally fantastic, in a whole other way, and where we hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda, overlooking Phewa Lake and the mountains, and I even went on an ultra light flight. You can view the complete set of my public photos at the link below:

Nepal Album:

Here are some highlights:

Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Boudhanath Area, Kathmandu

Prayer Flags at Boudhanath

Main Square at Patan

With the sadhus at Pashupatinath, Kathmandu

Cow at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

Prayer Wheels, Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

At the World Peace Pagoda, Pokhara

Boats at Dusk, Phewa Lake, Pokhara

That's me in the back! Ultra light flight, Annapurna Range

In short, Nepal was fascinating. Interestingly, though millions of dollars pour in via tourism every year, the country is quite poor, with alternating six hour electric grid load shedding, deplorable roads, abundant litter, much begging, and lack of basic sanitation in many places. In contrast, the people we met were happy and friendly, and always ready with a "Namaste" and a smile. I met up with Nepalese friends I'd made over the internet, and had a great time with them at cafes and bars and temples. It was an experience I'll never forget, one which opened my eyes a little more to the conditions in which so many people live outside of the Western "comfort ideal". I hope to go back sometime.

Turkey Photo Set

Finally, I've completed another public photo set on Flickr. Turkey was really amazing, one of the coolest places to visit. So much so that we're going back this summer, to see some things we had to miss the first time. Anyway, in this Turkey album, you'll see both Istanbul (Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, Galata Bridge and Tower, Istiklal Street, Taksim Square, the Art Nouveau district, the Orient Express, and more), and the Seussian landscape of Cappadocia, where we stayed in a cave hotel, and explored around (fairy chimneys, Goreme Open Air Museum, Kaymakli Underground City, Rose Valley, Pigeon Valley, and the quaint villages of Goreme, Cavusin, Urgup, and Uchisar). You can view the complete set of my public photos at:

Turkey Album

Here are few highlights:

Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Whirling Dervishes of the Dede Efendi Ensemble

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Overview of Istanbul from Galata Tower

Cavusin, Cappadocia

Troglodyte Dwellings, Goreme, Cappadocia

Fairy Chimneys, Goreme, Cappadocia

Amazing striations of the salt flats, Tuz Golu, Cappadocia

Turkey's just wonderful: there's so much to see and do, people are friendly, and costs are reasonable. I can't wait to go back this summer--we'll visit Izmir, Ephesus, and Sirince, and then go back to Cappadocia to fly in the hot air balloons, and do some hiking, before heading back to Istanbul for a couple of days. C'mon, summer!