Posted by: Tom Triumph | February 27, 2014

205. what your mother tells you now: Mitsuye Yamada

I thought I might find a poem called “Frequently Asked Questions”.  The prompt of “Frequenty Asked Questions (about me)” would, I thought, tie together a lot of insights, both concrete and ethereal, in a poet looking to use a modern phrase to explore their inner self.  But no one has yet produced such a work worthy of notice, according to Google.

Then I typed in “procedure” in hopes of finding a poem that used a process as its backbone.  I know they exist, but they are not so easily found.  Instead, I got back hospitals who offer Peroral Endoscopic Myotomy (POEM) for the treatment of Achalasia.  Because it has to do with the esophagus, I’ll allow the link between the acronym and the procedure it relates to.  Still, not helpful.

Is this, I wonder, the state of poetry?  That the word now is simply an acronym?

This search began because parent conferences just ended.  When I began teaching, my two-person team cycled  through our parents, many of which were together or, if separated, amicably came at the same time to respect the outlay of our time.  Now, being a four person team with over one hundred students, we host a cattle call.  We are available for an eight hour block and parents simply walk in when convenient.  For many students, we have a separate conference for each of their parents.  

And many parents don’t make it in.  

For them, I created a “Frequently Asked Questions” email based on what I was being asked over and over.

When I first began in the field (and I began as a high school teacher), I created a syllabus.  That was the tradition, as taught to me.  It came out the first day, and meant nothing to the students because it was all just theoretical.  Until the first few assignments came back graded, late penalties were handed out, and kids began to wonder what texts were next, the syllabus had no real meaning. 

And they are so unfriendly.  Someone once told me that the syllabus needed to be intimidating in order to set the tone for the year.  We WILL do this.  Your GRADE will be determined like so.  My POLICIES are that.  And so on.

But businesses use the FAQ.  It’s friendly, even if they are snowing you into a huge disappointing rip-off.  I’m not so devious, but I recognize that most parents a) want to do what’s best for their child, b) having the parent on your side really helps the kid succeed (and makes your life easier), and c) most parents come to parent conferences just to gauge you as a person.  So, I created my own FAQ and sent it out via email following the last conference.

Here is a sample:

Hello,

It was great to see parents at conferences, but I know a number of parents could not make it for a variety of reasons.  As I sat listening to and answering questions, I found myself repeating certain things.  For those who could not speak to me in person, I thought it might be helpful to offer a post-conference “Frequently Asked Questions” email.
What is homework, typically?
I assign homework on Monday and collect it the following Monday.  It is called the Packet of Fun, which can be ironic at times.  Students have one week.
We all live busy lives and this allows students to work around obligations to family, school and activities.  But, they need to plan–they will need this skill come CVU (and life).  If they struggle with planning, this assignment provides a safe way to develop the skill (see late penalties below).  I recommend they do their homework for me on Monday, if they can, and be done.  Assignments done Sunday night tend to be rushed, and not their best work.
In addition, students are to read their own independent reading book each night for at least twenty minutes.  My rule-of-thumb is a new book every two weeks.
Where is work passed in?
Any work due for me is placed by the student in a picnic basket next to my desk.  I never take it myself because I don’t want to misplace it.  From the basket it goes into my bag, is taken out only to be corrected in a single spot, and put directly back in the bag.  I keep the loop tight so nothing is lost.  The first step, though, is a student placing it in the basket.
How does my child earn a B, or an A?
The grade of B indicates a student shows proficiency on that assignment: They understand the content and can do the skill.  The B is about the student repeating what has been taught.  
To earn an A, the student needs to shift focus to the reader–the student needs to have something to say, and then focus on the needs of the reader so that the reader leaves the assignment having gained something.  The skills serve the ideas, and the ideas need to have insight.  It is a high bar.
How is my student doing?
Hopefully, you are checking JupiterGrades from time to time.  It can be set up so that you receive a grade report weekly–I recommend Friday afternoon (the default) as most grades are entered by the….
.
See?  Now you know the beginning of how my class works–and a little about me, too!
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If you are sick of “I am…” poems (your students are, except the ones who don’t really like a challenge), try to work on some sort of “FYI About Me” assignment.
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Lacking a decent FAQ poem, it is instructive to look at a poem about advice.  This is from a collection by Mitsuye Yamada written shortly after her internment during World War II.  
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This poem was reprinted in the collection “Poetry Speaks: Who I Am”.  I do not have it (yet), but the reviews are quite positive.  From the comments on Amazon, its contents clearly touched a number of people.
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Perhaps, if reworked for today, Ms. Yamada’s follow-up might be “FAQ From My Mother.”  That, too, might serve as a good prompt.  Imagine the amount of empathy required (and research) to answer questions as another person–a parent, a friend or even an unknown peer.  And it allows the student to direct the advice to, really, those questions they want to ask most frequently.
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Not to show my ignorance, but I am assuming that the first lines are phonetic translated Japanese.  Also know that the formatting of the English text is unclear in my sources (it varies).
.

what your mother tells you now
Mitsuye Yamada

haha ga ima yu-koto
sono uchi ni
wakatte kuru

What your mother tells you
now
in time
you will come to know.

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