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.

Freedom Quilt Patterns | Farewell, Mrs. Crarey

(Log Cabin)

School ends in a few days and Mrs. Crarey, my favorite second grade teacher, is retiring.  I’m sad for all the children who will miss the opportunity of learning under such an amazing person, but I’m happy for her.  She’s earned her retirement and  she will certainly make deep impressions wherever she goes.

Mrs. Crarey is simply awesome.  Even with a classroom full of many different personalities and learning styles, she has a way of dealing with her students as individuals and stimulating their intellectual curiosity.  I love her not only because she is awesome but because she just loves my son, and even today–three years after he finished second grade–she is a friend of his heart.

I will always be grateful for the way she kept his curiosity piqued and gave him more challenging work when he surpassed benchmarks.  She used his love for reading, robots, science, animals, Star Wars, and mystery to keep him engaged.  That meant a lot to this mom who was uncomfortable in a newish environment with a kid who was pining for home (New Orleans) and still adjusting to a school day structure and approach to teaching and learning that were very different from the Montessori curriculum of his previous experience.

When I blogged about the fifth grade African masks a few months ago, I mentioned there was so much more art to see–much more than I can cover in a couple of blog posts.  But in honor of Mrs. Crarey’s retirement and the tremendous gift she has been to the school, this post focuses on her group’s art fair exhibit.

Mrs. Crarey approaches art purposefully.  She typically has her students complete art projects that connect to a lesson. When my son was in her class, the students drew and learned about owls, West African-style dwellings, jewelry, and women’s attire, geckos, dinosaurs, which I blogged about three and a half years ago, Dr. Seuss, and so much more.  I’m going to miss taking a walk down to her classroom and taking a peek at her students’ masterpieces.

In addition to other art pieces, the class created quilt blocks. After reading Bettye Stroud’s The Patchwork Quilt: A Quilt Map to Freedom, reading about the Underground Railroad, viewing and studying maps of the “slave states” and “free states,” students selected a quilt pattern to draw and color.

“Freedom Quilt”

According to some studies, the quilts played an important role in helping enslaved persons make their way to freedom.  Each quilt piece held significant meaning and provided directions and warnings. Although there have been verbal statements from descendants of enslaved persons regarding the quilt code, there has been no physical proof.

Take a look at the children’s quilt pieces [click an image for a closer look]:

Follow the link to find out what each of the patterns mean: Freedom Quilt Codes.

Farewell, Mrs. Crarey…We’re not sure how we’ll survive the coming years without running into you for our quick chats, but we wish you well on your journey.  Thank you for the fond memories, for your generous spirit, and your heart of gold.

Much love…XOXOX

Mrs. Crarey and My Little One, December 2013

A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.

Collage Art: The Little Matisses

“In the Style of Matisse” by Vaughan

[Art] is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.  –Henri Matisse

By now, you know that there’s a special place in my heart for children’s art and art created for children, so as promised, I’m back with another dose of fourth grade goodness.

About a month ago, Mrs. Johnson, my son’s fourth grade teacher, introduced the students to the art of French artist Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse.  Matisse, whose work spanned many decades, worked with various styles and media.  Mrs. Johnson’s art lesson focused on a technique Matisse mastered late in his career after illness and surgery left him physically unable to paint and sculpt–collages made from brightly colored paper cut in various shapes and sizes. I’m sure the students loved playing with construction paper, glue, and scissors to create their own masterpieces à la Matisse!

My little one created the one above. These (below) were created by the other students in the class. [Click on an image for a closer look].

Sixteen little Matisses. The bold colors and unique shapes are mesmerizing.  It is obvious that the children enjoyed creating the collages. I wonder if they felt as “mysterious” and “adventurous” as some of these pieces feel.

I’m no art expert, but as far as I’m concerned, children’s art–even when it is imitative–is always fresh and always bears a stroke of originality and innocence.

To find out more about Matisse’s life and career, check him out here: Matisse: Life and Painting.

The weekend is here:  Why not take some time to create something with construction paper, scissors, and a little glue?

Dinosaur Sightings!

"Dinosaur Sightings" by Mrs. C's Second Grade Class

“Dinosaur Sightings” by Mrs. C’s Second Grade Class

Like a lot of little boys, my little one is really into dinosaurs.  I can’t remember what sparked his interest in them, but I know he’s been intrigued by them since he was about two and a half.  He has dinosaur toys, books, dinosaur origami, drawing activities, puzzles, and other activities.  You can imagine his delight when his second grade teacher spent part of the fossil unit on dinosaurs.   And if you know how much I like children’s art, you should know I was tickled pink to see the bright and cheerful dinosaur art gracing the wall outside his classroom.  [See earlier posts here and here].

(Side note: I cannot say enough about his teacher and what she does to get little boys excited about school.  Yes, excited.  I’m talking  “Oh, no! What do you mean I can’t go to school?! 101.1 degree temp isn’t that high. I must.go.to.school” excited.  I’m convinced she performed a miracle on the first day of school).

The little one likes to “store” in his memory or on camera all the beautiful things he sees, so he requested that I take a picture of his classmates’ artwork.  Needless to say, he didn’t have to pull my arm to get me to do it.  He was rightfully very proud of his work–even though, as he pointed out, he didn’t draw his favorite, the Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex).

"Spike the Sailfin Lizard," by Vaughan, Second Grade

A Pelycosaur Named “Spike” by Vaughan, Second Grade

It’s no surprise that my little one drew “Spike” because he has been very interested in sailfin lizards lately.   The sailfin lizard looks very much like the Dimetrodon which was actually a pelycosaur, not a dinosaur.  Pelycosaurs preceded dinosaurs.

Someone thinks this is way too much information and that we should just enjoy his class’s magnificent artwork. [Click an image for a closer look]

I spy a T-Rex, another Dimetrodon, a Brontosaurus, a Brachiosaurus, a Triceratops, and a Velociraptor.  What do you see?