Many Kinds of Blessings

Instruction ended today. Of course, I can’t celebrate too enthusiastically because after the last day of classes the most difficult work begins.

At this moment, university professors everywhere are clenching their teeth and focusing all their energy on overcoming the major hurdle of final grading and the accompanying drama of begging, pleading, and “shopping” for grades. We keep reminding ourselves that the end is in sight and a sweet summer of rest is on the way. [For many of us rest means working just as hard–but in our own space and on our own time].

At the end of the semester we must constantly remind ourselves of the general good in our students and the good we do for our students. My [former] student Raven made that effort a bit easier for me this week. When I finally made it to our P.O. Box a few days ago, I found among the cheerful greetings and cards from Love Notes pals a sweet and encouraging card from Raven. [Yes, Raven, I checked my mail days ago.]

The card reminded me that though we experience moments when we doubt our work, we actually do some good in the world; our students appreciate our pouring into them; and eventually, they get it.  Thankfully, some, like Raven, “get it” immediately.

Here’s part of her message:

You have been on my mind lately and I wanted to show you just how great you are and how thankful I am for your having been in my life as more than a professor and advisor. You share so much of yourself with your students and we are better for it. Thank you for being you. Your words of love and wisdom, the postcards you send, the blogs you post, the pictures you take…they all illustrate the beauty and intelligence that you are…

I am humbled by such messages. I do not take the influence or the gifts mentioned in Raven’s note lightly. I am blessed through my interactions with students and thankful–even if not always immediately–for the ways they help me stretch and grow.

I chose the [English] professoriate because through literature and language study, students and I open up and enter countless worlds together. It is my hope that through such study they ultimately become change agents in the hands of God.

Who Can Separate Belief from Occupations?

On this final day of NaBloPoMo, I’m sharing an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s “On Religion” from The Prophet, which is one of my forever favorites.

Today, I’m thinking about work, my students, and all the grading ahead of me. I’m also thinking about separate conversations I’ve had this week with a long-ago student and a current student. They were both “extolling my virtues” as a professor and talking about the profound impact I made on them and their peers, not just professionally but personally. Their words were encouraging–because it is always at the end of the semester that I worry over whether my courses did what they were supposed to do and whether I’ve helped my students on their own road to becoming–more than “just” academically.

Although my primary goal is to facilitate students’ development as writers, thinkers, and scholars, I see my role as something greater; therefore, I attempt to do more than teach writing, thinking, and literature. I work to push my students toward agency, authenticity, and wholeness so that they can ably meet the challenges beyond the college experience.

Like other areas of my life, what happens in the classroom is service, ministry, and an act of worship. It is seeing my work in this way that keeps me motivated and committed to students–no matter how they [and some of the other aspects of professor life] drive me crazy at times.

Gibran’s poem “On Religion” blurs the lines and shows us that every facet of our lives must be imbued with religion. Religion is not played out once a week in the company of likeminded others. It is in our every movement, action, and interaction. It is part of our essence, who we are, not a performance or garb we take on and off.

I am saturating my soul with prayer and Gibran’s words as I head into the weekend–a period of rest from students and madness. When Monday comes I’ll be equipped for the challenges the final grading period always brings and will handle them with grace.

Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, “This for God and this for myself;
This for my soul, and this other for my body?”

Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your
failures.
And take with you all men:
For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower
than their despair. –Kahlil Gibran, “On Religion,” The Prophet

Wishing you a weekend filled with contemplation and rest.


Thanks for reading along for NaBloPoMo18. I didn’t think I was going to make it this time. In fact, I declared I was quitting two weeks ago because my plate was spilling over, but my precious Tyhara encouraged me to keep going, reminding me that I needed to do this for myself–to balance out all the head-stuff. Thanks, Ty!

Linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the final Festival of Leaves photo challenge post for 2018.

Guest Post: When I Fell in Love with Words

One of the things I absolutely love about being an English professor is the regularity of my encounters with students who love language and literature as much as I do. I enjoy the connections we make over literature and the animated discussions that result from our (often divergent) readings of the same texts. Today’s post is written by Tyhara Rain, one of the brilliant students I’ve connected with over the last couple of years. Tyhara is a talented writer and artist with a sweet spirit and bubbly personality that draw people to her. She always has a lot to say, and here, she writes about where her love for words began.

Tyhara Rain. Photo Credit: Amanda Pitt

My family and I moved to the United States from Paraguay a year before I was old enough to begin kindergarten. At the time, my sister, Taleah, was six-years-old, so as in most things, she pioneered the way to school in the U.S. As a first grader, she learned the English language quickly, as did I, but she was taught something I could only dream of for two more years.  She learned to read.  I watched as my sister would become engrossed in small books and envied her age and her ability to read.

Although many children learn to read even before attending school, with a working father and a non-English speaking mother, reading before entering the first grade did not happen for me.

Though learning to read was a life changing experience, I cannot pretend to recall the process. It seemed as if I were reborn after the move to this different country. I have very few memories of the first three or four years of living in America, but I do recall my fifth grade year vividly.

With all the initial expenses of our move to the United States, there simply wasn’t enough money for lavish things such as televisions or computers in our tiny apartment. Even as we became more established in the U.S., my parents still did not purchase a television for our home. Therefore, I found my source of entertainment in books. I had a wild imagination and every adjective, noun, and verb written by the author helped me paint the most detailed illustrations in my head as I delved deeper and deeper into the pages of mystery or science fiction novels.

Because of all the reading I did at home, during class free time, and–if the book was really good–during lunch and recess as well, it was no surprise that I had an extremely well developed vocabulary and high reading level.

I remember begging my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Clark, to allow me to go upstairs where the high schoolers were to pick out a book from their much larger and more diverse selection of books. For the first few months Mr. Clark denied my request and told me to read the books that were in his library. It was incredibly irritating; we both knew that I had been reading his books since I was in the third grade, and there were very few books in his small library that I hadn’t read that interested me. To make matters worse, my sister had become less tolerant of my reading books she’d checked out for herself, so she returned them immediately after finishing them, not giving me time to finish the chapters I still had left to read.

Finally in the beginning of the third quarter Mr. Clark allowed me to go upstairs to Mr. Mugane’s English classroom to check out a book. I was thrilled. Mr. Mugane welcomed me, recognized me as a sibling of one of his best students, and ushered me into his classroom lined with endless shelves of books and a thousand different worlds I could enter simply by opening them.

Reading higher level books had its challenges, especially the frequency with which I would come across new and difficult words. It was much easier to simply ask what the words mean, but my dad was adamant about sending me to look words up for myself if I did not know the meaning. I began to read higher level books with a dictionary at my side, just in case I came across an unfamiliar word. As a result, my vocabulary continued to increase exponentially throughout the next years. Whenever I discovered new words, I found ways to incorporate them into everyday conversations to remember them in the future.

Reading a broad base of authors helped me tremendously with presenting proper sentence structures, correctly spelled words, and different writing styles. As a result, I excelled in English classes. What had once been a simple hobby, morphed into a wonderful passion for words, reading, and writing.

As a thirteen-year-old eighth grader I decided that I wanted to become an English professor. Mr.  Paul Mugane, my incredibly brilliant and dedicated English teacher from Kenya, inspired me. I wanted to verbalize my thoughts like him, compose my sentences as he did, and express myself with the same eloquence. I fell in love with his mind and expressiveness. He had such a way with words I would sit in the front row of class enchanted, like a schoolgirl in love with the classmate giving a presentation, as he taught. I soaked up everything he had to teach from Greek and Latin roots to the different connotations of words.

Mr. Mugane doted on me, as I was one of the most attentive and passionate students he had. He rarely reprimanded me for talking too much–which I always did–and took extra time to grade my papers, writing lengthy notes on the margins and even letting me review my paper with him after class.

In that classroom I truly fell in love with the English language and after sharing this with him, Mr. Mugane told me that to follow in his footsteps I would need to become an English major in college. I kept that information with me as well as my passion for English throughout the rest of my high school years.

Five years later, I messaged him from college, thanking him for the work he invested in me and for nurturing the seed of passion I had for English and for helping me reach a milestone.

As an English major, I am one step closer to reaching my dream.

*Book photos from Pixabay.

There Came a Wind: An Artist’s Interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s Poem 1593

As usual during summer break, I’ve been taking some time to declutter our home. In one day, I cleared several crates of stuff and found a number of treasures. One such treasure was a beautiful piece of art one of my students completed many, many, many years ago for a literature class.

Response to Emily Dickinson, Poem 1593 by Z. Lott

Students typically have difficulty reading poetry. Gasp! I’m convinced they create a mental block when they hear the word “poetry.” To decrease the pressure and to help them realize their capacity for understanding and interpreting poetry, I have students craft a creative response to a poem.  Students can write another poem, compose a song, create an art piece, etc. in response to a poetic work (from a list of “approved” poems). Through the exercise, students typically learn they understand more than they think and develop confidence to complete the other poetry assignments.

My student chose Poem 1593 by Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite American poets.

There came a Wind like a Bugle –
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost –
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
The very instant passed –
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived – that Day –
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told –
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

The picture does the visual work of the poem. Do you see it?

I like the message of Dickinson’s poem. Whether literal or figurative, storms come. Storms wreak havoc and destruction. Storms go. The world remains. Life is righted again…eventually.

Exactly (almost) three years ago, I “discovered” another student’s artistic rendering of a poem and blogged about it. You can see it here: “The Lamb, The Tyger, and the Lion.”

Enjoy!