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Adopt-a-Family

Sunday, 08 Dec 2019, 10:25 UTC

1. Adopt-a-Family

In years past, as successful as Adopt-a-Student day was, it was a bit awkward for adopted middle school kids to take their gifts home when none of the rest of the household would have anything. Nothing for the brothers or the sisters or the parents. So this year it was Adopt-a-Family.

Each person in the adopted families filled out a wish list (something I need, something I want, something to wear, something to read). Marco (not his real name) was a nine year old student. We adopted his family. There were five of them in all.

Under “something I want”, Marco had written “a drawing tablet”. Under something I need, he had written, “sketching pencils and paper.” Obviously we needed to get him drawing supplies. My students quickly volunteered for these and all the other items on the family’s list.

2. Marco and Marco

It’s the drawing supplies I want to talk about.

Our adopted Marco was clearly a budding artist. And as it turns out, I have a budding artist in that class whose name is also Marco (not his real name). At the end of class, I went up to his desk and kneeled. He was sketching something, as he almost always is. He looked up.

“Did you notice that Marco likes to draw?” I asked.

He smiled and nodded.

“Would you please make a point to talk to Marco about drawing and maybe give him your sketch?” I pointed to the corner of my whiteboard where I post student artwork. A big sketch of his has been taped there prominently for several months.

He smiled broadly and nodded.

3. That Morning

I was nervous on the day the family was supposed to come to our room. We had only had two days to get the gifts, and there was no room for procrastination or forgetting. On the first day, the students signed up for gifts and snacks to bring. On the second day, only one student had brought anything in — Oreo cookies. So on the morning of the day the family was going to arrive, I brought a wrapped sketchbook and pencils just in case no one brought anything — at least we’d have some drawing supplies for Marco.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to be nervous. These kids take this Adopt-a-Family thing seriously. First of all, they had been adamant that our class should adopt a family. Secondly, it took no time at all to get someone to volunteer for absolutely everything on this list. And finally, before school started on the morning of that day, my students started filing into the room to drop off their presents — all of them wrapped, some of them accompanied by other presents beyond what had been on the family’s list.  

4. Gift Giving

It was chaotic that day. (Originally the wrong family was brought to our room. Our Marco showed up at the beginning of the period instead of the 30 minutes at the end when we expected him, meaning no decorations were up, yet. Our adopted Marco came in only with a host “elf”. His family was not with him.)

But my students passed out the cookies. And they poured the orange juice into glasses one of them had brought. And we had Marco open the present with the sketchbook. And then the pencils. And we began putting the other presents to the rest of his family into big boxes.

And then Marco’s mom arrived. Although he spoke English, she did not. So my students translated. They made sure she knew that we had a gift receipt inside the card. They made sure she knew there were names on each of the wrapped presents. We gave her the boxes heaped full of gifts.

And before we knew it, 30 minutes was over, and Marco, his mom, the elf and two other hosts left our room, trying to figure out how they were going to carry all that booty out to her car.

 5. What Marco Gave Marco

Afterwards, I walked up to my Marco’s desk and kneeled. He was sketching something, as he almost always is. He looked up, smiling.

“Did you get a chance to talk to Marco?” I asked. It had been such a whirlwind that I hadn’t even made sure.

He nodded. And he took out his phone and showed me a photo of a new sketch that he had given to young Marco. It was a full notebook-sized sheet of paper. A pencil sketch of a Christmas tree filled the page. The tree filled the drawing, but there were sketched presents around it and a gray hazy fuzziness that perfectly captured (almost in a Norman Rockwell sense) the feeling of Christmas morning to a little kid just waking up.

Marco said he had given the sketch to Marco. And they had talked about it. Young Marco had told big Marco how he would draw a Christmas tree. And they had talked about drawing styles.

These are really good kids.

In Third Person

Sunday, 08 Dec 2019, 09:10 UTC

I don’t know what they were talking about.

Maybe it was the red and green streamers that several of the boys had put up in the room. Or maybe it was the fancier streamers that several of the girls had put up on the other side. Or maybe it was something about the cookies we had. Or the juice. Or all the wrapped presents we gave to the family we adopted this year, how they filled three big boxes to overflowing. Or maybe it was just some nicety at the end of class after the bell had wrung. I just don’t remember.

One of the boys was talking about something I had done. Or something I said. I just don’t remember. But it was something about me. He said, “Mr. Hasan just …”

And although I was not part of the conversation per se, seeing as they were only four feet away, I said (without looking up from the late homework some other student had just given me), “Yes, Mr. Hasan did.”

Then one of the other boys said, “Mr. Hasan just used the third person to refer to himself.”

To which I said, “Indeed he did.” The boys laughed.

Hot Pastrami Sandwich

Saturday, 07 Dec 2019, 22:18 UTC

“Can I ask you a question?” 

She was making me a hot pastrami sandwich, which is the special this week. I had told her I was a math teacher to justify the book I had been reading while I waited in line, and it evidently made her think of something.

I looked at her, a bit surprised. “Sure.”

She set down the bread and her knife, and she held up her hands, making a circle.

“So how much area does a sphere make when it touches a flat table?”

“Well theoretically it is just a point,” I said, “so there’s no area.”

She nodded as if perhaps that was what she was thinking. Or perhaps there was some kind of bet.

“But in practice…” I added cautiously because I am apt to wax theoretical and overlook all practicality (as anyone in my family will tell you). “In practice there’s a small flat area.”

And with that, I took my hot pastrami sandwich, selected a bag of sea-salt chips, and found a table in the corner. 

As I sat down, I grabbed a book off the book sharing shelf by the door, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals” by Immanuel Kant. Never read Kant. What better time than while eating a hot pastrami sandwich. I opened the book and started reading the preface where I was told

We may call all philosophy empirical, so far as it is based on grounds of experience: on the other hand, that which delivers its doctrines from a priori principles alone we may call pure philosophy…

I wanted to take the book to her. To show her those words. To warn her of the purely philosophical answer I had given her. To caution her on my complete lack of empirical experience with spheres sitting on tables. I wanted to. But I thought better of it and ate my hot pastrami sandwich, instead.

Winter Concert

Saturday, 07 Dec 2019, 18:23 UTC

It was dark in the auditorium when I got there. There were lots of people, but it was quickly obvious that this was because the Intermediate School band was performing in addition to the two High School bands. In spite of the traffic, I had made it in time.

Surrounded by darkness and in hopes that my late arrival would not upset too many parents, I turned left and went up the stairs to sit near the top. I made my way to sit down in the middle of one of the empty rows. With my eyes beginning to adjust, I saw an arm go up and what appeared to be a smiling face looking in my direction. Then another arm above another face. Then another. And another. Perhaps a dozen in all.

My students had spotted my arrival and were clearly forgiving of their teacher’s tardiness. 

These are good kids. Really good kids. They get to class on time (mostly). They smile. They listen. They answer questions. They ask questions. They work (sometimes). And of course, as band kids will, they love being in the band.

And at this moment, they were generous with their applause and whistles and hoots of support for the younger kids on stage who were playing quarter and half notes with only a few squeaks and squawks.

I am so proud to be their teacher.

Daily Notes

Sunday, 01 Dec 2019, 09:49 UTC

It’s common for students to walk into class before the bell and as they make their way to their assigned seats to ask, “Are we taking notes, Mister?”

I usually chuckle. They know what that means, because we have notes almost every day. Part of what I’m teaching them is how to communicate well, and that includes writing. (I told them this on day-one, and it’s written in the syllabus.) Even though they might not master the skills, they will almost certainly remember clearly (which is distinct from “fondly”)  that Algebra 2 class where they filled a notebook with daily notes.

So it was no surprise this day when I heard, “Are we taking notes, Mr. Hasan?”

“Why yes, we are!”

“Ok good,” the student said. 

This, I didn’t expect.

“Good?”

“Yes. I love your notes.”

“Love?”

“Yes, you write like you talk.”

Ok then.

The Need for Practice

Sunday, 01 Dec 2019, 09:34 UTC

After the test, a student came up to my desk. He was holding a homework assignment that was due that day.

“Do you have the answers, Mister?” 

I generally provide answers to the problems so that they can check their own work. It’s reassuring when I see them checking, since it suggests that they are sufficiently engaged to want to know if they got the problems right. This isn’t always the case.

I opened a binder and flipped to the previous days lesson and that days homework. I clicked the rings open and took out the answers and handed them to him.

He glanced briefly at his work and the answers and then handed the answers back to me.

“How’d you do?” I asked.

“Ok… but I’m a little unsure about the quadratic formula. I need more practice.”

That made me smile. Then he walked to the table where they may charge their phones. He picked up his phone, sat nearby, and sank into that oblivion that we all recognize.

So much for more practice.

Thankful For A Slice of Pie

Thursday, 28 Nov 2019, 19:45 UTC

It was the last day before the Thanksgiving holidays. Each period was going to take a test (easy to plan for). It was sixth period. The day was almost done.

The students started filing into the classroom. The sixth period kids all tend to arrive in one great mass. So the room was filled with them walking in and milling around, making their ways not so quickly to their assigned seats. One of them walked up to me and held out his hand. He was holding a plate from the cafeteria.

“This pie is for you,” he said with a smile on his face.

“For me?” I asked. “You brought a slice of pumpkin pie for me all the way from the cafeteria?”

“Yes.”

I smiled and joked, “Ahh. I know what you’re doing.” And I left the fact that it was test day for him and the other students to connect with the gift. 

The others laughed. He turned and walked back to his seat.  “Fine,” he said in a partial laugh, as if to imply “I see how it is.”

Five minutes later, the room was silent and they were all working on the test.

I grabbed a piece of stiff paper and my scissors. I cut the paper in half. I drew a design on it and put some words on the cover. On the inside I drew a slice of pie and shaded it with colored pencils. I wrote a thank you note on it. And waited until the end of class, after all of them had finished.

Before the bell rang, I walked up to his desk. He looked up. I handed him the card.

“I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful,” I said.

He smiled tentatively. His table partner leaned over to look and smiled widely.

He stood up and packed his stuff in his backpack, leaving the card on the desk. I thought to myself, “This is the way it always seems to go with the cards.” They serve their purpose but then they get discarded.

When the students were gone, I looked over at his desk again. The card wasn’t there. He had taken it with him. 

I guess his smile was not so tentative, after all. And I am thankful for that… and the slice of pie.

That’s Weird

Wednesday, 27 Nov 2019, 14:16 UTC

It was a warm weekend evening. Acorns were falling from the Oak trees, banging onto car tops, crunching underfoot. Izzy was pulling at the leash.

I dialed my cousin. “Hi, David!” she said.

We spoke about school. We spoke about the kids. She asked about my progress in year two. I asked about her recent trip to Frankfort and her plans for the future. And I told her about a dream I had.

It was a dream in which the kids were posing in a photograph. They were all there, the whole family and some others, but what stuck in my mind was Jack’s pose. The look on his face. The angle of his shoulders. And the silver-grey suit he was wearing that made him look like a model in a high-end men’s clothing catalog.

She was silent for a moment. “You mean the photo Bette sent?” 

“No,” I said. “This was a dream.” I described how I remembered nothing from the dream itself. How I just remembered that image. But it was from a dream.

“Hm,” she said. “That’s weird.” But she said nothing else. And we returned to talking about other things.

The next day, when trying to stitch together the remaining pieces of my blog/email setup, I looked at my inbox and saw an email from Bette. And I only then recalled having reading it. And I only then realized that my dream wasn’t a dream but rather the memory of the photo Bette had sent.

So here is the point of this story…

This year teaching is admittedly much, much better than last year (especially at this point in the year). But it is still consuming me. I get home and collapse for a while to read, and then we eat, and then I sit at the computer and work on upcoming lessons late into the night. And evidently this is consuming enough of me that memory and dream have mixed together in a jumbled mess.

“Hm,” she said. “That’s weird.”

Indeed.

The Acorns Wouldn’t Wait

Sunday, 17 Nov 2019, 17:58 UTC

I gathered them up from the gravel along the sidewalk: acorns fallen from the four young Lacy Oaks struggling in the strip of ground between the restaurant and the parking lot. On two separate occasions, I gathered full pockets of them.

This has been a bumper acorn year. Although I am told trees just 30 minutes south have little fruit, those in town have been dropping acorns in masses. Sidewalks and streets and lawns are covered in nuts great and small. 

And so it was that the temptation to gather them was irresistible as I walked between the restaurant and parking lot. The desire to raise another generation. But I had no time, so last weekend I put them in glass jars on the counter (after removing those that floated to the top of the bucket). Five glass jars for acorns from five species of white oaks. For a weekend when I might find the time to plant them in various containers with chicken wire to keep the squirrels at bay.

This was not supposed to be such a weekend. But upon admiring the crop on the counter, I noticed that, soil or not soil, the Lacy Oak acorns were pushing out sprouts. They had no intention of waiting. And so it was that I got some dirt, filled some containers, pushed down a few handfuls of acorns, covered them with more soil and fastened the all-important chicken wire.

So that they might sprout further and we might given more young trees as gifts to more of our neighbors in a year or two.

Putting the Pieces Together Again

Friday, 15 Nov 2019, 19:00 UTC

Yes, yes. I know. You might guess, so don’t ask.

But now I’m here, and all sorts of technical glitches are making this enterprise somehow … difficult. My brother is out buying truck tires at the tire store next to his office. And here I am, trying to get the blog and the laptop and the desktop and my (various — wherein lies perhaps a cause of some grief) emails to talk to each other. I think I would prefer truck tires, even though I have not truck and never will.

What else would I want to be doing? Oh, maybe working on how to teach quadratic inequalities.

But here’s the point: please bear with me if I send some administrative messages as I try to put the pieces together again.