Mr. Scott

The Mountain

1It seemed we would never reach the top. The winding mountain road in central Slovakia would pose no problem to a motorized vehicle, but after seventy miles on a bike, I was wondering whether we could make it. My wife — then only my girlfriend — probably felt the same way. The journey, even if we made it to the top, couldn’t be considered a success; it was a question of brute survival.

We’d started off in the morning in Poland. The plan was to ride through Slovakia, into Hungary, and spend several days in Budapest. We were a little behind schedule due to rain and an unexpected break as we waited out the cloud burst. For most of the day, though, the road had been easy going: fairly flat, some downhill portions, a climb or two. Nothing serious.

That was before we hit the mountain. It sneaked up on us, really: we felt a gradually increasing incline, and like two frogs in boiling water, we were in danger before we realized danger was approaching.

On two packed bikes, we were struggling fairly quickly after the realization that we were riding up a mountain, not a hill. Each pedal stroke became a battle, and the veins in our temples bulged and quivered as they tried to carry our blood at the furious pace our heart was beating. Our lungs began to burn, then simply went numb as the heavy, post-rain, damp air practically strangled us. Our legs followed suit: first a tingle, then a burn, followed by flames and complete numbness.

2With every switch-back, we were sure it had to be the last; time and time again, we were almost knocked off our bikes by the sight of another uphill stretch concluding with another switch-back. “Maybe that one is the last one,” I said to my girlfriend. When it wasn’t, I’d repeat the speculation on the next one, often following it with a skeptical laugh.

What we both knew we couldn’t do was stop. It wasn’t some kind of macho, push through the pain nonsense. No — the simple truth of the matter is that stopping only makes it worse. Muscles cool down and the pedaling becomes more painful after the break. There’s only one thing to do: be macho and push through the pain.

After a while, though, cyclists climbing seemingly endless inclines stop thinking about reaching the top. Goals become short term: “Just make it to that twig that’s lying in the road twenty-five meters in front of me.” The instant disappearance of pain when stopping is tempting, but one makes an honest effort to go a little further: “Before I can possibly consider stopping, I have to make it to that tree.” And once the goal is accomplished, one thinks, “well, perhaps a little further.”

3At that point, a strange thing happens: the pain becomes enjoyable. There are all kinds of physiological explanations for the euphoria athletes feel when the pain becomes pleasure, but at least part of it is mental. The surety of completing short-term goals and the realization of how many such goals have already been reached transforms the pain into a sure sign — symbol, if one wants to get metaphysical — of one’s ability and a confirmation that one’s self-confidence is not misplaced.

It’s something we can apply to life: a series of short-term goals adds up to a large accomplishment. Focusing on the here and now, concentrating on getting through the present pain, we find ourselves enjoying even pain.

We finally made it to the top, and just to the right was a hotel. “We’re staying here,” I said, knowing we were still fifteen miles from our planned stopping point. “I know,” said a voice behind me.

If you’d asked me that night, I would have said that success is indeed a destination. Success is finally lying down on a bed after climbing a seemingly endless mountain. Two days after that, I would have said that success is finally walking down a street in Budapest, looking for a cheap restaurant.

But when I recall the whole trip, I think back to that mountain, and how some part of me wanted it never to end.

First period began preparing citations in their research papers. I mis-planned, though: I thought the activity would take ten minutes; it took the whole class. Therefore, the EQ for the day was not realized.

Fourth and sixth periods worked on transitions.



First period began working on their second draft by examining the second indicator of the PASS writing rubric and breaking it down into its individual parts. We did this for the first indicator some weeks ago; now we’re adding a second indicator: organization.

It’s always helpful to break down rubrics as far as possible, though, and that’s how we began.

The resulting mini-rubric looked like this:





Organization Has an effective introduction, body, and conclusion. Has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Attempts an introduction, body, and conclusion; however, one or more of these components could be weak or ineffective. Attempts an introduction, body, and conclusion; however, one or more of these components could be absent or confusing.
Transitions Provides a smooth  progression of ideas by using transitional devices throughout the writing. Provides a logical progression of ideas throughout the writing. Provides a simplistic, repetitious, or somewhat random progression of ideas throughout the writing. Presents information in a random or illogical order throughout the writing.

Afterward, students worked in pairs to examine their first drafts for organization (having a clear introduction, body, and conclusion), followed by solo work on transitions.

Fourth and sixth periods slowed things down a little, looking only at the first portion of the second indicator. We concentrated on introductions.

  • Finish second draft (if not completed).
  • Complete introduction.

First period began organizing for a “Works Cited” page. We took our original source cards and worked with our books and a partner to re-create them with the proper MLA format. Once we’re ready to make our actual “Works Cited” page, we’ll only have to alphabetize our newly re-organized source cards and copy them.

Fourth and sixth periods began their first drafts. We’ll be heading to the library tomorrow for more research.

  • First peroid: none.
  • Fourth and sixth: complete first draft.

Today, first, fourth and sixth periods went to the library for some more research. We concentrated on using encyclopedias and, more importantly, documenting them.

Tomorrow we have a big assignment due: the Anne Frank diary project. Hopefully everyone will turn it in.

  • Diary project

First, fourth, and sixth periods are still doing research. We’ll be going to the library tomorrow to finish up, then Friday, we’ll be starting our first draft.

Second period (English I) update coming later.

No homework.

First, fourth, and sixth did more research today. The goal was to leave the class with at least 5 note cards completed; most students accomplished that goal.

This is a response to a writing prompt given to second period.

Tromp! Tromp! Tromp! I clumped across the bridge crossing the Lipniczanka every day, and Monday through Friday, it was the beginning of my favorite time of day. Crossing over the small creek that ran through Lipnica Wielka, the village in which I lived for seven years, was a moment of accomplishment: it was the end of the school day, and I seldom crossed that bridge feeling I’d wasted my day.

Teaching in Lipnica gave me an opportunity to see daily improvement: a student who couldn’t say “I would like a loaf of bread” the day before would be able to say it that day; a class that didn’t understand a particular tense the day before could begin using it that day. Learning was immediately evident in the English classroom, and it always gave me something to smile about as I walked down the gravel drive that led to the house where I rented a room.

It was more than the sense of accomplishment, though. The bridge I crossed daily offered a lovely view of the Lipniczanka it flowed down from Babia Gora, its mountain source, through the village, behind the church. In the winter, with the creek frozen and covered with powder, I couldn’t help but stop almost daily and look at the snow–laden trees that drooped over the creek, with the snow–covered church in rising above the trees in the background. It was as if the world had been powered with sugar at a galactic bakery, and I was lucky enough to see it every day.

Crossing the Lipniczanka reminded me daily about the purposefulness of even the most trivial events in our lives. “Every step I’ve taken has led up this moment, this thump, thump, thump of boots as I cross the bridge–a seemingly inconsequential act,” I would think as I crossed the bridge. I would trace the steps–literal and figurative–that had led me to that day, and I knew that everything in my life prior to that had led me to that moment of walking across the bridge, savoring the view and the sense of accomplishment. The realization gave way to something more significant: the understanding that everything in my life happens for a reason, leads to something knew, and that ironically enough, I can control it.

Students in first, fourth, and sixth periods worked on research for their research project. Things are slow going because everyone insists that note cards are something completely new to them. I’m skeptical, but we work around it nonetheless.

For the next week or so there will be no homework other than additional research any students want to do.

Second period updates will be slowly taken over by students from the class, starting today.

Today we had Career Day, and as such, several classes were altered and/or disrupted. First period worked on documentation. We determined how to document a book and practiced with our text book.

Second period eagerly read their dystopian novels, and then we learned how to update Our English Class.  We learned a little about the best content management system in the world: WordPress.

Fourth period was canceled due to the Career Day schedule.

Sixth period continued working on their research projects. We learned how to create source cards and note cards.

  • First, fourth, and sixth periods: bring a pack of index cards Monday.
  • Second period: work on evaluation of essay.

First period began doing a bit of research. Since a significant amount of our research will be online, we had a presentation from our media specialist about evaluating websites.

Second period continued with the poetry project presentations. The second group looked at imagery as well as some specific types of poetry.

Fourth period and sixth period did what first period did yesterday: spend some time in the library working to revise and narrow their research topics.

  • First period: none.
  • Second period: compare/contrast evaluation.
  • Fourth and sixth periods: write an EQ for your research paper.

First period began working on their research paper. We took their three-topic homework assignment and began narrowing down those topics. We’re well on the way to writing a research paper.

Second period continued with the poetry project. The group working with meter and rhyme finished up today.

Fourth and sixth periods finished The Diary of Anne Frank. Students will have to turn in their diary assignment by next Friday. Sixth period fell behind fourth period a little, and as such, the homework is different.

  • First period: none.
  • Second period: compare/contrast essay evaluation.
  • Fourth period: three possible topics/interests for research project.
  • Sixth period: none.

apartmentI wasn’t in the States for the 2004 presidential election. I watched from afar, in my small apartment above an elementary school in southern Poland. It was, in fact two, rooms (each with a bath) joined by a opening not in the original plans. It took me almost six months to convince the powers that be to join two useless rooms into one small apartment. My Internet connection was supplied by the village planning office across the hall.

It was all done Polish style: “We’ve got a router with an open connection if you’re interested,” the gentleman who worked in the office informed me one day. “If you want, we can run a bit of network cable over to your apartment.” So we took a drill with a very long bit, drilled through the walls just above the doors, and stretched a cable through to my apartment.

Returning from school that Tuesday, I bounced around the Internet, looking for very early results: it was only nine in the morning on the East Coast, so there wasn’t much information yet. Throughout the night, I checked; throughout the night, it became clearer that Bush had won. When I finally went to bed, it was with the strange realization that it was the second time — in a row — that I’d gone to bed not knowing the outcome of the election.

And today? Will it be any different?

If Dixville Notch, New Hampshire is any indication, we’ll know relatively quickly:

In Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, 100 percent of registered voters — all 21 of them — cast their ballots just after midnight in the first moments of Tuesday morning. For the first time in 40 years, the town voted Democratic in the presidential election, 15-6. (CNN)

Whatever the outcome, one thing seems sure: people around world are paying closer attention to this US election than to almost any other in history.

First, fourth, and sixth periods began looking at the PASS rubric’s “Content and Development” criteria.

4 Presents a clear central idea about the topic
Fully develops the central idea with specific, relevant details
Sustains focus on central idea throughout the writing
3 Presents a central idea about the topic
Develops the central idea but details are general, or the elaboration may be uneven
Focus may shift slightly, but is generally sustained
2 Central idea may be unclear
Details need elaboration to clarify the central idea
Focus may shift or be lost causing confusion for the reader
1 There is no clear central idea
Details are sparse and/ or confusing
There is no sense of focus

We looked at some specific examples, judged their merit as a class, then worked as in pairs with additional passages. We were trying to get a feel for what will be required to maximize students’ scores for the “C/D” criteria.

Sixth period, due to poor choices regarding talking and attentiveness, did not work in groups, but basically covered the same material.

Fourth period, in addition to completing the rubric activity, went through a final scene from Anne Frank. They were a great-working group today, as they usually are.

Second period continued with the poetry project. The first group has now finished, more or less. It was a learning process for everyone: probably more painful for the group than for the class, but hopefully it will be helpful for all, especially the groups that follow.

  • First period: come up with three topics for research paper (which we’ll be starting Wednesday).
  • Second period:
    • continue working on project;
    • check notes about group one on Moodle (courses) website.
  • Fourth period: explosive diary entry.
  • Sixth period: evaluate one entry.