Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Never Give Up (For Grandpa)

So many times in my career, both as a teacher and a student, I have seen teachers give up on students.  Often they will judge students before they walk through the door.  My younger brother is a perfect example.  I always excelled academically, but it did not come as easily for him.  He struggled with ADHD as a child which caused him to act out in class.  As you educated readers already know, ADHD can be accompanied with severe depression.  While I am not defending my brother for behaving badly in class, I am even more appalled by how many of teachers just gave up on him.  Most of them judged him before they even walked in the door.

This kind of teacher behavior makes my blood boil.  And I know some of you have been there.  "Oh, you're Jackie Sutton's brother?"  His teachers would say? And then they would be surprised that he was not instantaneously an all-star student.  And so many of them would just....give up.  Instead of trying to work with him, they would just throw their hands up in the air.  Nothing changed when my parents put us in separate schools.  Teachers still just judged him.  Oh, that one.  He's a loser.  He'll never amount to anything.

Well, I am happy to tell you all that my brother is far from a loser.  He has grown up to be one of the most amazing men I have ever known.  He is an extremely hard worker. But unfortunately, many of his teachers didn't see that.  And because of what the teachers said, it also took my brother a long time to realize that they were wrong.

I had one of the most difficult classes of my life today.   Because a student called me racist.  He also exploded in my face, and humiliated me in front of the class.  I left the room in tears (which I have never done before), and I had a colleague excuse the class for the day.

Yes, I am white, I know.  I can't change the color of my skin.  But when you have color in your own family tree, you know a thing or two about racial relations.  You get the confused looks when you introduce your Jamaican-Chinese-Scottish-Irish-English BLOOD cousin to someone and they scan you both trying to figure it out.  You are cousins?!  How does that work?  Well, my aunt and uncle had a baby, that's how.

Those of you that know me know that I have spent my entire academic career studying the sources of injustice and inequality.  For better or for worse, I am particularly interested in racial inequality.  This is my chosen field of study, but yet I am white and I was born into a privileged family.  I went to an Ivy League School and have taught at only private schools. Tough life right?  WRONG.

Since I teach history, and there are many examples of racial inequality injustice from the past, this is a common discussion point in my classes.  I have taught many students of color, many of whom who were awarded prestigious scholarships and grants to pay their tuition.  I know how difficult it is to talk about race in a history class.  I know that students and adults alike are uncomfortable talking about it.  However, it is my fundamental belief that the only way we can overcome this kind of injustice is to talk about it.  Calmly and rationally figure it out.

Anyway, I am ranting.  This student doesn't really think I am racist.  We will calm down and sort out our differences.  The problem was, the student who yelled at me was one that I have taught for a few years.  This is a student that I have worked with for hours cramming for the AP exam, going over his essays, helping him improve his handwriting, and the like.  Sure, he and I have different backgrounds, but in some ways, I think of him like my little brother.  Many of his teachers have given up on him.  But I just can't.  Call me crazy, but HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A TEACHER IF YOU GIVE UP ON CHILDREN?  Would you kick your own child out of your house?

I don't have kids.  These are my kids.  I refuse to give up.

It looks like a snow day for us tomorrow, so at least I get a day to screw my head back on properly.  But then Thursday I am going to get my ass out of bed and sort this out.

Grandpa Sutton (I miss you) -- you never gave up on any of your kids.  And I won't either.  Because I know you are watching me.  I have your framed photo in my classroom, so you watch over me every day.  And I will never give up, Grandpa.  I promise.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ms. Sutton's SPORTS! Um, I mean, politics.

For extra credit, choose ONE of the activities below (you can do all three, but you can not earn EXTRA EXTRA credit, if you know what I mean):

1. Watch the State of the Union (SOTU) on three different channels (i.e. flip back and forth while you are watching):
note: follow specific instructions on live streaming from the news channel's home page.

Ok, you probably know my agenda.  There's bias, right?  But seriously, what do you see?  Are there advertisements on the web page that lean in a certain direction?  Is there a live streaming chat feed that you can follow from the channel?  So what makes these networks biased?  Do people turn to their channel of preference to hear what they already want to hear?


2.  Watch the SOTU tonight (on any channel--see above!) and Obama's first SOTU from 2010 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTMrs9vpoqg).  What has changed?  Sure, the obvious stuff, like boy, Obama sure has more grey hair, but also what ELSE is different?  Consider the topic of his speech, his tone, his attitude?  Consider even how the audience has changed--are they clapping more, less, or just as much?  Are people sleeping (sad, but it does happen!)?  Other thoughts?

I know, I know.  Time is money, and you have a lot of work to do.  You do not need to watch the entire speech to get credit.  Watch 15-20 minutes (enough so that you can make an educated comment), and then of course, get back to your less-fun homework assignments :)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Silent Teaching

Yesterday was the first day I participated in the Day of Silence--a day to recognize bullying against the LGBT community--and the often passive silence that occurs around it. I have known about this day since I began teaching seven years ago, but I never thought that I would be able to actually participate and still teach.  This year, I decided to try, and I found my experience was one of the most valuable thus far in my teaching career.  I thought I would resurrect my blog from its long hiatus to share three of the major things that I learned:

1. Silence can often generate a more meaningful discussion in the classroom.   I never realized how much I talked--until I forced myself to be quiet.  Suddenly, rather than answer my own questions because of the frustration associated with hearing crickets, I just waited for someone to say something.  And the results were quite surprising.  Sure, some of my more vocal students still generated more comments than others, but many of my shyer students were much more active.  As a teacher, I know how important it is for students to process information, but now I am even more aware of how much I need to sometimes just stop and allow students to think.

2.  Showing can often mean much more than explaining.  Let me make this clear--I did not choose to be silent so that I could "just push play" (read: screen a documentary).  I taught all but one of my classes that day--the one exception was a class that already had a test scheduled.  So, clearly, I needed to get creative with the way that I presented the material.  I am fortunate that I have a projector in my classroom as well as a huge whiteboard with many different colored markers.  So I had them look at things--maps, charts, photos, etc.  And I communicated by writing.  I still allowed myself to write on the board or type on the projector.*  I noticed that when I showed things rather than explain them verbally, there were many more nods of comprehension throughout the classroom.

3. If you actually want to listen, be quiet.  While it is so often tempting to chime in to a conversation stressing similarities ("well, I have three brothers too..." -- you know what I mean), I got so much more out of just listening to those around me.  I knew that remaining silent during lunch would be difficult, because lunch is a time when faculty members usually sit and chat together.  Since everyone around me knew I was silent, I did not have to explain myself.  If I really wanted to say something, I had a pad of paper and a pencil to communicate.  Since writing something down takes much more effort than just saying it, I limited my comments much more than I ordinarily would.  Perhaps if I ever have a day where I am suffering from "foot-in-mouth" syndrome, I can remember this strategy...

Clearly, I could go on...but I think that three main themes that articulate my experience will suffice.  I encourage my fellow teachers to be more open to possibly participating in this event in the future, and seeing how valuable of an experience it can be.  I know that I will continue to implement some silent teaching tactics in the future, solely because they worked so well yesterday.

So thank you to those of you that humored me yesterday and allowed me to do this.  I know that for some, it was probably frustrating to interact with me, but I promise to only do this once a year.  Until then, I will continue to observe rather than simply comment on my experiences, both at work and at home.

*While some would argue that this is not absolute silence, this was very necessary to be able to teach that day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Green Adventures

Nothing says "I'm a grown up!" like planting my own herb garden. Well, I suppose there are many other things, but I suppose my connection between homegrown herbs and adulthood involves my spacious apartment with private outdoor space.

I ventured off to Home Depot today with no intention of buying seeds, but there they were next to the self-checkout, just dying for me to plant them. So, let's see how it goes with Cilantro, Parsley, Oregano, and Basil. Perhaps tomatoes will join the fun after the frost ends.

So here goes: Jackie's herbs, summer of 2011:

Here's hoping there will be some green in the next photo!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Break Catch Up!

Ahh, Spring Break. Something that adults never get, right? Well, that is one of the wonderful things about being an academic. Sure, I will never make any money, but I can't complain about the time off.

Yes, I realize I am coming back from yet another blogging hiatus. I am still in shock that 7 weeks of class have already passed. I actually worry about what the warm weather will do to me, because I already feel that my motivation level has declined since the beginning of the semester. Either that, or I have made the glorious realization that in grad school, you really don't need to do all of the reading. It has improved my sanity, plus it frees up the time to do the finer things in life, which for me right now are yoga, running, and cooking.

The cooking has been ongoing since my last blog, but I just haven't bothered to post anything about it. I did muster up a photo of a risotto I made a week or so ago--lemony shrimp with asparagus. Yum.

So, this has been a rather crazy start to the semester, to say the least. I decided to try to hunt for some sort of summer job to start to put a dent in my school loan debt. Its crazy how much I miss teaching after just a few months off. Of course, I miss the good things--the great moments in class, joking around in the department office, coaching (awww coaching...tear), and I never think about all the times I spent writing comments, sitting through faculty meetings, enduring a track meet in the freezing cold/rain. If I understand parenthood from my friends and family with kids, it seems as though I am suffering from a similar kind of amnesia. You forget all the pain and suffering and only think about the good times. Seriously though, to get mushy for a second, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Anyway, all that nostalgia aside, I decided that teaching over the summer was the best way to go. I sent resumes to private schools in the area, and instead of finding a temporary job, I ended up landing a full-time job teaching history again next year. Best part of the position? I am going right back to coaching cross country and track. So that was a surprising development to say the least. It means I will finish up my MA coursework this summer and write my thesis over the course of the school year. Let more insanity commence!

Just the day after the interview, my boyfriend's niece was born--Lucy Therese. She is a wiggle worm and a pumpkin all rolled into one:

The weather has FINALLY been getting warmer, so I am running again, thank goodness! I am weaning my way back into it, since I took a good 6 weeks off when there was snow all over the ground/sidewalk/everywhere. Since I ran a half marathon this fall, it is hard to go back to running just 5 or 6 miles at a time, but the weather is still cool enough that I don't want to be out much more than that anyway. I also feel like a hypocrite because my shoes have definitely seen better days, and I am waiting on my tax refund to buy a new pair. I used to always lecture my athletes about keeping their shoes up to date, and here I am, totally not practicing what I preach.

Ok, so back to cooking. I feel like I had to give you all some sort of update since it has been a while, and a new job/new bundle of joy is certainly news to share. I am not going anywhere for spring break this year. The fact that I won't even fork up the cash for a new pair of running shoes should indicate my current financial situation. So alas, no vacay. Honestly, though, Spring Break at NYU is only a week long, and I have plenty of school work I should be doing, so I'm pretty ok with sticking around. Plus, it frees up some time for culinary experiments.

I took a stab at making my own gnocchi, and it actually turned out pretty well. My only regret is that I made them a little too big, but I was surprised at how easy it was. Time consuming, and creates a lot of dishes, but easy. Don't believe me? Boom:

Homemade Potato Gnocchi
Adapted from Epicurious

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed
1 cup all purpose flour
1 large egg yolk, beaten to blend
1 teaspoon course kosher salt
large pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon olive oil


Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce potatoes in several places and bake until soft, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Cut potatoes in half. Working in batches, scoop hot flesh into potato ricer or food mill. Rice potatoes onto rimmed baking sheet; spread out and cool to room temperature. If you don't have a food mill or potato ricer, just mash them--they will turn out fine!

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer potatoes to large bowl. Add 1 cup flour; toss to coat. Form well in center of potato mixture. Add egg yolk, coarse salt, and nutmeg; stir with fork until mixture is evenly moistened (mixture will look shaggy). Turn mixture out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until dough comes together, sprinkling dough with flour very lightly only if dough is very sticky. Form dough into ball; divide into 4 pieces. Roll each piece between hands and work surface into 3/4-inch-thick rope. Cut each rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Place gnocchi on prepared baking sheet.

Working in batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until gnocchi rise to surface of water. Continue to simmer gnocchi until cooked through and tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Using slotted spoon, carefully transfer gnocchi to bowl. Drizzle gnocchi with olive oil and toss to coat. Gnocchi can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.


Yes, they look like giant dough balls rather than the gnocchi you order at a fancy Italian restaurant, but trust me, they taste really good! For now, I will serve with a simple tomato sauce, but I am off to the store later to find the fixins for a tasty sauce.

That is enough procrastinating for now, I am afraid. This apartment will not clean itself. I wish a roomba could not only vacuum, but also organize your filing cabinet...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yoga is philosophy, right?

Oh, if I could do this all day instead of reading philosophy that makes NO sense.

This series gave me a couple ooos and ahhhs at a recent yoga class, I'm still working on it though--notice the slight foot slippage when I am coming back into crow from tripod headstand.

Other than that, this is a pretty self explanatory sequence.
Crow (Bakasana)
Shoot back Chaturanga
Tripod headstand
Shoot back Chaturanga.

Oh, how I love yoga. Emmanuel Levinas? Not so much--he took up too much of my weekend and still left me confused and unfulfilled.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Carrying my own weight...and making tasty things.

I may or may not have looked like this the other day on the way home from the grocery store:

Ok, yes, I am extremely stubborn, and I park a few blocks away from my house, and the idea of making two trips to bring in my groceries was just more than I could handle. So I slowly walked around the corner and trudged up to my third floor walk-up. If memory serves me right, I had three reusable grocery bags on each arm and I was carrying a 12 pack of toilet paper in front of me. Oh, and I also picked up a pair of knee-high boots from the cobbler, and somehow I was carrying those too. Don't ask how I got them up there--in retrospect I kind of wish I had a picture. Silly me.

I think this stubbornness dates back to my days working at Hotchkiss where I lived in a 4th floor walk-up. I must admit, the one-trip goal would fall apart whenever I purchased a giant tub of kitty litter.

As I walked towards my house, I noticed no one walking in the neighborhood offering to help--which is fine, because I would have refused it anyway. Partly because there can be sketchy-types around here...and I don't want them to run off with my hot commodities from Trader Joe's! Also because I am trying to prove a point. People often look at me and my slight frame and automatically think that I am weak. That is where I love to prove them wrong. And that is where yoga is so wonderful--in the sense that it allows me to be aware of my body weight and be able to support it, plus a whole lot of groceries, a small child, a 16 pound cat--well, you get the idea.

The other lovely thing about these groceries (after I got them up the stairs, of course) is that I continued my culinary adventures. First, there was a 44 cloves of garlic soup--I regret I did not photograph the finished product (probably because I ate it all), but I did snap some roasted garlic cloves. Word to the wise: you can never have too much garlic:

Just look at that and TELL me you are not hungry. Seriously.

Next--I and I am practically drooling just writing about this one--was a tomato and italian sausage risotto. Behold, the before picture:

SUCH a simple recipe, and mainly made from ingredients I already had. It was so ridiculously creamy, I definitely had seconds on this one. I already can't wait to have company or weekend visitors so I can whip this one up again (are you reading this, mom?) Oh wait, I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight because I actually ate it. You want to see the end result? Well, if you must...voila:

Just seeing the wilted spinach again made me wish that I hadn't already eaten lunch!

I am writing this blog on Sunday, January 23rd, otherwise known as my last day of freedom. I get the sense that this semester will be busy...I am taking on part-time work, and of course, for those of you that know me, there is the lovely 4 hour round-trip commute to class. But I love it, I really do, and I am truly looking forward to going back.

I am getting ahead of myself. Sunday--day before the first day of class. This translates into scone baking day! There is something about a scone that just warms me...I don't care about the mess I make in the kitchen (well, maybe Pat cares, but we'll disregard that), because the end result was all worth it. This time I whipped up some oatmeal raspberry scones. Again, SO easy. Don't believe me? Ask my mom...I literally went from not using my oven once last year in New Jersey to now, where I am seriously contemplating putting a mixer on my next birthday wish list. Right, on to the pictures.
I rustled up these guys--I think the only ingredients I didn't already have were the raspberries (I used frozen and they were fine), and the oats--definitely old fashioned are best. After adding the raspberries, I may or may not have resembled Lady Macbeth when I crafted these with my bare hands--

They were so gooey and pretty that I almost felt bad putting them in the oven. The end result may not look as vivid, but believe me, it certainly makes up for lack of bright colors in its taste:

Let's hope that this semester won't completely thwart my cooking adventures. Maybe if my professors followed this blog, they would sympathize. One can dream, right?

Oh, what's that? You want recipes? Be my guest...

44 Clove Garlic Soup -- Smitten Kitchen
Tomato and Sausage Risotto -- Smitten Kitchen
Oatmeal Raspberry Scones -- Joy the Baker