I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it 1; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea cosy. I can’t say that I am really comfortable, and 2 there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And3 I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring. I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen house. Though even that isn’t a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn’t write any more of it. 

It is comforting to look away from the windows and towards the kitchen fire, near which my sister Rose is ironing though she obviously can’t see properly, and it will be a pity if she scorches her only nightgown. (I have two, but one is minus its behind.)4 Rose looks particularly fetching by firelight because she is a pinkish person; her skin has a pink glow and her hair is pinkish gold, very light and feathery. Although5 I am rather used to her I know she is a beauty. She is nearly twenty one and very bitter with life. I am seventeen, look younger, feel older. I am no beauty but have a neatish6 face. 

I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud. I must admit that our home is an unreasonable place to live in. Yet I love it.7Intentional fragment: This short sentence, although not an independent clause, creates emphasis by standing on its own. By disconnecting this phrase from the first independent clause, Casandra portrays the conviction of her love for her home despite its being unreasonable, and she makes the idea more important.

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Unwind by Neal Shusterman

The ring of Connor’s cell phone wakes him out of a deep sleep.  He fights consciousness.8  He wants to go back to the dream he was having.  It was about a place he was sure he had been to, although he couldn’t quite remember when.2     He was at a cabin on a beach with his parents, before his brother was born.  Connor’s leg has fallen through a rotted board on the porch into spiderwebs so thick, they felt like cotton.  Connor had screamed and screamed from the pain, and the fear of the giant spiders that he was convinced would eat his leg off.  And yet,this was a good dream3—a good memory—4 because his father was there to pull him free, and carry him inside, where they bandaged his leg and set him by the fire with some kind of cider so flavorful, he could still taste it when he thought about it.5 His father told him a story that he can no longer remember, but that’s all right.  It wasn’t the story but the tone of his voice that mattered, a gentle baritone rumble as calming as waves breaking on a shore.6Little-boy-Connor drank his cider and leaned back against his mother pretending to fall asleep, but what he was really doing was trying to dissolve into the moment and make it last forever.  In the dream he did dissolve.  His whole being flowed into the cider cup, and his parents placed it gently on the table, close enough to the fire to keep it warm forever and always.

Stupid dreams.7 Even the good ones are bad, because they remind you how poorly reality measures up.

Holler If You Hear Me by Gregory Michie

The topics that dominate our upper-grade staff meetings rarely have much to do with how we can better teach our kids, how we can help them see themselves and the world in new ways. In truth, we seldom have time to talk about individual students at all, unless one of them is being suspended or has broken some sort of rule.8 Instead we go back and forth about detention schedules, or state goals, or lesson plan formatting, or bathroom supervision, or girls wearing too much makeup.2 The lipstick situation is getting out of hand.3 The minutiae become the agenda, and our mission, if we can even remember ever having one, gets buried underneath it all. It can all seem so overwhelming and discouraging that at times like tonight I ask myself why I continue. Why teach? Why do I do it? Why even go in to work tomorrow morning?

A few weeks ago I went to see Gyasi Kress, a talented high school student and actor I know, perform in a play.4 While waiting for the opening act to begin, I flipped through the program, which contained the typical capsule biographies of all the show’s performers.5 The only difference was that these had obviously been written by the actors themselves. Gyasi’s paragraph, written in the first person, predictably listed a few of his theatre credits and mentioned that he was part of a local rap trio. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it said: “I plan to change the world.”6

The words jumped off the page at me.7 I plan to change the world. A naïve notion? Maybe. Clichéd? Perhaps.8 But Gyasi’s bold declaration nonetheless crystallizes why I—and I think most teachers—chose our vocation in the first place, and, more importantly, why we keep on keeping on. At the core of our work is the belief, despite the distressing signs around us, that the world is indeed changeable; that it can be transformed into a better, more just, more peaceful place; and that kids who show up in our classrooms each day not only deserve such a world, but can be instrumental in helping to bring it about.9 Their voices are abiding reminders that there is something to hope for in spite of the hopelessness that seems to be closing in around us—something tangible, something real, something in the here and now.10

Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle that it is the difference between being defeated and admitting defeat that keeps the world going. The kids I teach know full well that the odds are stacked against them. They can find reasons to give up, to stop caring, to not go to school, almost anywhere they look. But I know that despite all that, come 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, Quincy’s opening bell will sound and, as if by a miracle, they will be there, ready for a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to be seen and heard anew.11 It is that realization that will propel me out of bed in the morning, and it is that through that I hold onto as I turn off my bedroom light ad try to get some sleep. We can make a difference. We can change the world.

Michie, Gregory. Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students. Teacher’s College Press, 2009. pgs. 192-193.