Saturday, March 12, 2005

What I've Been Up to

My friend Steve Marshall has been promoting my blog as one with "regularly updated content", which hasn't been very true of late. As I announced earlier, I have had real-world things to take care of. However, it is Saturday, and I can't make a liar out of Steve, so here goes:

Looking around the blogosphere, it seems that mention of the Fast is virtually obligatory on any blog operated by a Baha'i. I have talked about it before in previous years.
As I've mentioned before, I find fasting difficult, and while I recognize its spiritual significance and all of that, that awareness doesn't make it less difficult. It is actually easier this year, since I'm working with a single student. I virtually *can't* fast if I'm under the stress of taking care of a whole class; I'm afraid that hypoglycemic irritability will cause me to blow it in a major way. For a regular teacher, a bad day is just a bad day, and you can start over tomorrow, but for a substitute teacher a single bad day can mean that school district doesn't call you for the rest of the year.

But I've been fasting, and taking care of my little autistic guy. Any mistakes I've made, I think I would have made even without low blood sugar. As always, the disciplinary aspects are the toughest. The regular classroom teacher thinks I'm not tough enough; the resource teacher who works with him thinks I was too tough -- so what's a person to do? Mostly, it's a matter of finding what works. I feel like I've been too busy to really have the spiritual focus that one should have this month. I could use a little meditation space.

I've been enjoying the classroom we're in. My student sits in a regular fourth grade classroom; I just stay at his side, keeping him on task most of the time. I've been absorbing some Spanish; this teacher mostly teaches in English, of course, but she explains things in Spanish for her limited English students -- and I know enough that it's not all just gibberish to me. What I'm finding interesting is her mistakes in English. Her native language is Spanish, of course, and her English is not at all bad or inadequate -- after all, she went to college in English. But there are certain subtleties that she doesn't really grasp. It really points out just how difficult learning a second language at an academic level really is; that's the reason why professional translators are told only to translate into their native language. Speaking two languages doesn't appear to be a big deal -- my autistic student is bilingual, although, of course, he doesn't do a whole lot of communicating in any language. You don't need super-high intelligence to learn a second language; you just need to be in a position where you must use it in order to communicate. (Without that, learning to speak a second language is pretty difficult.) But it takes 5-7 years for a child to reach a level where he equals his peers in being able to read academic material. The fact that a kid "speaks good English" is deceptive. Literacy in a second-language is a much more complex skill.

The kind of mistakes this teacher makes, I think, are based upon her familiarity with spoken English. For example, in a lesson on object pronouns, she said that it was proper to say "she called Enrique and I". Well, this is a mistake folks make in spoken English all the time, and she was a bit taken aback to find "Enrique and me" in the teacher's manual. She also didn't understand the use of "peoples" to describe several different cultures or nations. Another one was she talked about the use of "homo" meaning "same" (as in "homophone"), and brought up "homo sapiens" as an example. Of course "homo" meaning "same" is Greek, and "homo" meaning "man" is Latin, and the two aren't related at all. Ironically, she is making such mistakes because she's trying to be a good teacher and explain these things to the kids. And, she *is* a good teacher. I'm just finding it interesting because of what it says about bilingualism, and the difficulties of operating in a second language, even for an educated person.

Virtually every elementary school teacher I've ever observed makes factual mistakes in the classroom. We're expected to know everything about everything, and nobody does. All teachers who have to tackle all school subjects have some areas that are weaker than others. Not only that, but we're on stage all the time. Make one spelling mistake in a classroom newsletter, and you have parents shaking their head at the teacher's ignorance and the sad state of American education. It's a high-pressure situation. I tend to fall on my face in math, particularly in the upper grades. I don't always have time to look over the material beforehand, and refresh my memory on a subject which I've never done that well in anyway.

4 comments:

Bill said...


As I've mentioned before, I find fasting difficult, and while I recognize its spiritual significance and all of that, that awareness doesn't make it less difficult. It is actually easier this year, since I'm working with a single student. I virtually *can't* fast if I'm under the stress of taking care of a whole class; I'm afraid that hypoglycemic irritability will cause me to blow it in a major way. For a regular teacher, a bad day is just a bad day, and you can start over tomorrow, but for a substitute teacher a single bad day can mean that school district doesn't call you for the rest of the year.


Interesting comment. As a longtime, card-carrying Baha'i, this is the third year in a row that I am not fasting. Not because I'm exempt under Baha'i law--got a ways to go before that happens--but because I've recognized the fast as the utter nonsense that it is. By not fasting, I'm able to eat small, frugal quantities of food at regular intervals, keeping my blood sugar levels fairly even and making me a better employee at work, a better boss to my subordinates, and a better husband to my wife.

Additionally, I'm actually keeping my weight under control, since I'm not pigging out at 6 AM to make it through the day, and I'm less focused on food since I'm not starving by 4 PM. If you find spiritual worth in the fast, more power to you--but for me, it's just one more of the Islamic vestiges in the Faith that should have been discarded along with polygamy, sharia and jihad.

Karen said...

Hi Bill,

One thing I've discovered by talking to so many Baha'is online is that different Baha'is sink their Baha'i identity into different aspects of the Faith. This can be one of the main sources of conflict -- for instance, I've got a whole different kind of Baha'i identity than someone who is into the administrative stuff, and who believe that the whole raison d'etre for a Baha'i is to build the "Kingdom of God" i.e. a world theocracy. Folks like that don't understand me at all, because they feel like I'm missing the whole point of being a Baha'i -- so what it comes down to is a clash of identities.

For me, the ritual aspects of of being a Baha'i are important to me spiritually. They have actually increased in importance since I resigned my membership. So, yeah, I fast, say my obligatory prayers, recite the Writings morning and evening, recite "Allah'u'abha" 95 times, ablutions beforehand -- the whole shebang.

To me, the Fast is worth doing, even if I fail to do it strictly according to Baha'i law. Trying, and failing, and trying again is rather symbolic of a person's whole spiritual struggle. We all try to live up to our ideals, and fail, and have to admit it and try again. And sometimes, we have to admit there are things we just *can't* do, and must simply rely on God's mercy.

However, I realize that there are Baha'is out there that feel like all this ritual stuff is for the birds, that it gets in the way -- they'd rather say their own prayers rather than written ones, etc. And if that stuff doesn't do anything for your spiritual life, then by all means, don't do it! The way I figure it, we reach for God the way we know how to -- and I can't say your choice is wrong.

Love, Karen

Marco said...

Happy Naw Ruz!
:-)(

Karen said...

Thank you, Marco -- and a happy Naw Ruz to you, too.