Play up strengths, tone down the criticism…check!

The following is what I wrote to my coordinators after I had refreshed myself on how to send a more encouraging feedback letter to young high school students. I admitted the error of my ways. But hopefully they will heed that our own scoring rubrics encourage us as raters to tell the students what we see in order for them to improve in their essay writing. I have not heard a response from my coordinators since I wrote to them. Hopefully this missive hit the mark.

I guess I have taken so much tough critiques from my husband and a newspaper editor friend of mine about my second book coming out in June, that I had forgotten my role as a reader and rater of fragile 11th grade students. I do not know what these teenagers are going through with cliques, bullying and feeling rejection perhaps in their own family. The teacher sees them day in and day out, we don’t.

I see after reading the website how I need to FIRST give the strengths of the essay, I have been remiss in this. Then provide some of the challenges (which I amply dole out) and then give helpful feedback about “strategies for improvement.”

I guess I’m so eager to get help from my own readers about my writing and change things as quick as they give them to me, that I forget that some young writers (and young teachers) are not willing to receive what may be perceived as insensitive and cruel feedback. I will say that words matter and from my own life experience overseas, “Ideas REALLY matter.” Ideologies have killed more people in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere where I have lived. Enough said.

Indeed, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in MY case. Words alone do not hurt unless the malicious intent is to harm people’s reputations. My pursuit in history and in global issues stems from my quest in learning more, being curious about my environment. According to the scoring rubric “Ideas” for a college ready writer should be “original and clear and generate and convey fresh ideas and avoid dull and obvious observations.” Slavery was bad 200 years ago and in the deep South, we all acknowledge that. Even so, prejudice continues today. We fought a terrible “civil” war over that issue, I have Norwegian ancestors who fought for the African Americans’ freedoms because they themselves believed in freedom so much! They came of their own volition to the “New Land” for greater opportunity.

According to the “Organization” of an essay that is college ready, the “structure and framework which the ideas are arranged should be smoothly and logically arranged…so that readers don’t get lost or confused.” Logic is very important, hopefully we have not lost that with our current educational system. I would hope that teachers would explain better about Argument essays having a claim and then counterclaim, pro and con. Argument essays should not be a slam dunk of just one side and I am seeing that in some of the essays that are submitted. From now on I will write you to have them changed to “Explain and Inform” if I see that happen again where the essay does not fit the criteria for “Argument.”

Definitely you will see an adjustment in my feedback letters as I will be using the scoring rubric more and inserting comments there when necessary.

Yes, a teachable moment for us all.

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Entitlement, Victim Mentality vs. Responsible Accountability

I just finished having an hour long conversation with a very sensitive coordinator who got some negative feedback from a high school teacher about my rating of their students’ writings. I don’t know who these students are, they don’t know who I am. Everything is anonymous and usually that is good, right? The teacher gets involved when the students feel hurt about the feedback I give. For instance, I may give a student a poor rating because their writing is not up to the level it should be. I am an outside, objective person who doesn’t know what the exact assignment requirements are, however, I DO know what a good essay should look like and read like. Then, I am finding out, when I give a negative on the writing it reflects poorly on the teacher.

Therefore, I have had the support of my coordinator thus far. He knows my work and appreciates what I write for feedback. However, he had to tell me that I have to curb my comments on the students’ ideas because I might be stepping on their toes. Some of them might be feeling down already and NOT confident in their writing abilities. Others, however, might be feeling over-confident in their writing skills. I told my boss that in some cases I see that the students are being passed on through and are ill prepared to go on to college. The high school writing teachers are overburdened with much pressure to succeed. I can only empathize with the teachers who are expected to perform well in getting the high school students up to a certain standard.

In my case, I wrote feedback challenging their thinking so that they would actively think about other perspectives. I KNOW some of them are just receiving the cookie cutter way of thinking and narrow scope. Whereas, I bring out my globalized thinking when it comes to human trafficking. It is an awful topic to explore but I believe it is something that the students need to think about and not how blacks were treated unfairly in ALL cases. This creates the entitlement attitude and also perpetuates the victim mentality. I am flummoxed why this has to be discussed when what is a present day problem is swept under the rug.

Suffice it to say, I have been reprimanded in a very kind way. I have gotten feedback from a stressed out composition teacher that she believes that I have a racist agenda. She is accusing me of things that are not true and is defending her students, they are theater types and probably the touchy feely types. Anyway, I think students need to learn these days about being accountable and responsible. They are not getting that lesson if they are whining about the rater’s score which is low. I don’t know, I think I will let this slide off my back. The coordinator thought I would be wounded by this. I was not. I pity the teacher, they are going through a difficult time trying to teach these kids to write better. I’ve been there and done that!

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A Real Book, a Real Conference and Heaven

This morning I enjoyed the supreme luxury of sitting in a hotel room after attending a conference yesterday. I presented on a topic that is very close to my heart, interviewing grandparents in order to capture the history before it is gone for good. Those who are older are perhaps closer to heaven than us middle aged, baby-boomer types. Though we never know when our assigned time to join God will be. I talked a bit about Writing Teacher’s Privilege, kind of like “White Man’s Privilege” where we can see into the hearts of our writing students through their compositions.

The privilege that I supremely enjoyed was to sit down with a book I have wanted to read for some time, “Heaven is for Real.” By some strange series of events, my husband borrowed the book from someone else and hadn’t gotten to it yet. I popped it into my suitcase knowing it would be a very quick read. I am glad I did since I also knew I would have some down time. I was expecting a good cry, that didn’t happen. But I did feel my faith in God confirmed.

Now, I am very interested in going to Ulysses, KS this summer for my husband’s class reunion. Those who have read the book already, will know why I have this sudden interest. With fair certainty, I am convinced that a photo in the book, that was taken in 1943, was probably done by my husband’s dad, a professional photographer. Strange that a book from a 4 year old’s perspective can have such an impact with TRUTH but that is what I had as a “take-away.”

Heaven is a real place and not everyone will be going there. I went to my sister’s Bible study the other night and we talked about that as a prevailing philosophy that everyone has this erroneous notion that ALL people, whether they believe in God or not, will end up in heaven. In the U.S. we already are enjoying so many of the privileges and luxury of heaven, we live in a Disneyland. Therefore, I’m not sure why people can assume that they will get more of the same, only better, once they die. For many people in the world who struggle in poverty or in modern day slavery, heaven is a hope for them to get away from the sadness and sheer misery they live in, day in and day out. Who will tell those who have NOT heard the Word, the good news, the gospel?

My husband and I do not know if we are going to Ukraine or not, things are on hold because of what the guy in Russia does. God knows the outcome there. The little boy in the book says there will be a final battle “Armageddon.” My husband and I have been there in Israel, it is called Megiddo, in the northwestern part of the country. It is amazing what we have seen with our own eyes, the physical location of this last great battle. I do believe it is around the corner. I believe Jesus is coming back soon and very soon.

Funny what a book, a conference that forced me away from my day to day activities will do to make me think of heaven. Indeed, a better place for those of us who believe in what Jesus did for us. According to Coulton Burpo, He has “markers” on His hands and His feet. God bless him and his family for bringing these truths out in a story that is sweet and sincere and TRUE!

“Here I am Lord, send me.”

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Politely “Unfriended” because of Russian Politics

I have a “former” Russian friend or really she was more like an acquaintance from Kazakhstan who I knew several years ago in Almaty. Last week she informed me that her grandparents were from Belarussia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland. They had undergone much heartache with the purges under Stalin. In no uncertain terms she told me that the Russians suffered under Stalin as well. I knew that.

She was responding to one of my posts on Facebook about the Ukrainian Holodomor. I guess she was warning me a week ago that I was offending her because she thought I was blaming the Russians for what is currently going on in Crimea. I told her I was very careful to NOT say that the Russians are attacking Ukraine but rather Putin is. He, in turn, expects people to follow his orders so those in the army, who happen to be Russian, are invading Crimea and eventually Ukraine. (I have an adopted Russian nephew whom I love dearly and I realize all Russians are living under some tragic circumstances, not of their own doing!)

I am careful to not blame the Russians because I realize they have been brainwashed about what really happened on Maidan. I was not there at Maidan, but I believe video clips and eye witness accounts from my friends who were there on the ground are reliable. Russia Today (RT) is not credible. That is why one American journalist, Elizabeth Wahl, had to quit. She had to step down because she admitted there was a lot of hatred being vented toward Americans. It continues to foment, unabated.

For Putin, it is all about hatred of the U.S. and other western nations. That is what he is broadcasting to his own people, believing there are Russians trapped in the former Soviet countries. He still has the Soviet Union mentality when it was a “super power.” I believe his own country is about to implode, economically and emotionally. His own people are not happy with the way things are going. Indeed, some are satisfied with Putin. In fact, they are very proud of the Russians’ records at the latest winter Olympics. However, talk to the people who lived next to all that construction in Sochi. I’m wondering if those construction workers who helped build all the opulent buildings for the Olympics were actually paid. I believe they were slaves who HAD to do this for Putin’s own ego.

In my devotional yesterday I came across several verses that applied to Putin from Psalms 33:16-19:
“No king is saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety, neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.”

Yes, the Ukrainians have the famine of 1932-33 deeply ingrained in their very being. Those who survived told their families about it. They do NOT trust anything coming out of Moscow because of what happened last time. So, due to Russian politics, I have been unfriended on Facebook. I will be praying for this individual who is feeling hurt because she is probably misunderstood and feeling ostracized by other westerns where she is living in Turkey. (I’d hate to be living in Turkey next year, because of what the young Turks did to the Armenians in 1915, but that is another tragedy.)

Here is what my friend wrote to me: Sorry, I am writing you a personal message – not on your wall, just to let you know that I am unfriending you and blocking on top of it. I don’t really believe you know what God is – this is your personal opinion. Instead of living and being friends you are spreading messages of hate. You and people like you splitting others. All the best.”

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Lost Malaysian Jet and Humpty Dumpty Politics

Let the mourning begin. The closure can now happen for all those families whose loved ones perished in the Indian Ocean with the Malaysian airliner tragedy. I can’t even begin to know or understand what the family members went through with the misinformation that was thrown their way. Twenty-six countries were involved in the search and rescue and maybe that is what muddled things in the first place due to language and cultural barriers. They were trying to use the latest in technology and pinning the blame on the pilot. I have a difficult time believing that a pilot would willfully take down hundreds of people on a suicide mission. Once they find the jet’s black box and the bodies, they will know what happened. Until then, the puzzles remain.

I get many comments still on what I wrote on this blog over five years ago. I just got a comment from a Voron who is Kazakh, teaching in Malaysia. He was saddened by my misperceptions of his great country of Kazakhstan. I responded that I must have been having a bad day, week, month, well year teaching at the university in Almaty. I saw things that were over-controlled and dealing with minute details to the fraction of points on how to grade composition papers. What was most galling to me was the composition teachers would assign nearly impossible writing assignments which made it easier for them to grade but made it very difficult for students to write. If these same teachers had done their own assignments they would have found out what a crazy assignment it really was. Some of these “English” teachers could not put a sentence together in English to save their soul. I am still angry about what I went through under that system that was still very Soviet in nature.

It is true what Voron wrote that I didn’t have a chance to really know and understand what is under the surface of the Kazakh culture. I have a very high respect for Kazakhstan and what they went through in their long and troubled history. In fact, when I write about what happened in Ukraine during the Holodomor (forced starvation period of 1932-33), I cannot neglect to try and educate people that Kazakhstan went through the same devastation. You only have to read “The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin” by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published in 2006 to know what the typical Kazakh survived during the purges.

That is how this blog got its name, “Kazakhnomad,” in honor of what Mukhamet wrote out in his ten years of seeing what Stalin was doing to his country and how it affected his family. Right now, the focus is on Ukraine and what Putin will do next. I would hazard to guess that Kazakhstan is very vulnerable right now in the northern area of Kazakhstan because Putin would use the same logic of saying that he needs to protect the Russian speakers from the Kazakhs. No different than what he is saying about going into eastern Ukraine to protect those of Russian ethnicity. I saw a joke something to the effect of a Russian in eastern Ukraine not speaking Russian anymore. How come? Well, he didn’t want Putin to come and save him from the Ukrainians. The Russians in Ukraine have more freedom than the Russians in Russia. Eventually what Putin is trying to do may implode on him. While all his troops are off to Estonia or Moldova, he will have unrest in his own capital.

For now, we just wait and see and try to puzzle out what remains of the former Soviet Union that Putin is trying to put back together. Probably no different than when the experts finally find the big pieces of the Malaysian jetliner. Only thing is that Putin is really Humpty Dumpty and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

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Difficult to watch…plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean

I haven’t posted for a while simply because it is so difficult to know what will happen next. I’m sad about the Malaysian airliner going in to the ocean, if that is what really happened, because there are so many families affected by this tragedy. However, I wish the news media would quit showing all the possible scenarios of plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean views from satellites. REALLY?! That is such yellow journalism, meaning that it is cowardly and not asking the hard questions about what is really happening in Ukraine.

What county would be next for Putin to “save!?” I am betting on Kazakhstan as a possible candidate. Although the fearless leader who is power in Astana would not let that happen. If something were to happen to him though, you can bet that Putin would be right there to save the Russians from all that is Kazakh! I do believe that there is enough information that has been disseminated to the people in both countries about their Soviet past so that they would not welcome a re-visit of those times again. That is what Putin wants, a re-establishing of the great and mighty empire of the Soviet Union. However, from what I have read there is much unrest and too many people who know what is going on in Russia to have that happen. Those who know the truth have been put down or marginalized which only makes things worse. The truth will eventually come to the top.

I read about Estonia where they might have a visit from Putin’s troops too once he is through with Ukraine. They made no bones about kicking out the Russian people and went back to their Estonian language with the fall of the Soviet Union. I think that would be a bad move on Putin’s part to try to tell the rest of the world that Estonia is next on his agenda. Maybe the West will wake up to this power-hungry dictator in the making. Maybe not.

Sochi Olympics was such a farce. Putin wanted everyone to think he was some benevolent benefactor of the games while all the time he is masterminding the invasion of Crimea. This has been in the works for years. Kazakhstan needs to pay attention and be ready. Perhaps the leaders in Astana are already awake to this fact. In the meantime, it is difficult to watch plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean.

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Watching the Situation in Crimea

So much has happened since the last time I posted. Maidan was a surprise and perhaps this ultimatum at 5:00 a.m. in Ukraine will be another upset for the evil side. Of course, all the propaganda that has been pumped into Russia about what has happened the last three months in Ukraine has been showing doctored up photos and changed scenarios. Interesting how the media is trying to make it look like extremists have taken over from the western part of Ukraine. I am finding out from my former students that people who live in Eastern Ukraine and are Russian ethnicity and Russian speakers do not feel compelled to be speaking the Ukrainian language. That is one of the major reasons for Russia to enter into this new set up government in Kyiv, they feel them must come in and “protect” their loyal subjects. The truth of the matter is that these people who have lived in Ukraine all their lives feel themselves to be Ukrainian even though they speak Russian. Interesting, huh?

Well, with enough countries dropping out of the G-8 meeting and the market going down for their investors in Russia, they will see that the lies they propagated are backfiring on them. Putin had his crowning success with the Sochi games, he should have been happy that they had the most medals at the Olympics. Instead, it looked like he was pre-occupied and scowling the whole time.

What is interesting is to see all the footage that has appeared of the former president Yanocovich’s (sp) palatial “dacha” just 12 miles north of Kiev. He had been given money to pave the pock marked roads in Ukraine instead he had a very nice asphalt road made to go to his dacha. That is now being called the “Museum of Corruption” and showed the opulence that he “enjoyed.” He managed to steal the people’s money in three years time and put it into this house and other toys that he collected. His wife or ex-wife lived in Donetsk and probably didn’t know anything about what lifestyle he got accustomed to. Now that has all vanished as he has sought cover from the Russian government and under Putler (Putin + Hitler).

I have read many reports on the social media about what is actually happening in the Crimea and in Ukraine along the eastern border. I have been to Sevastopol several times. I remember seeing some Crimean, Ukrainian and Russian flags flying. The city has a LOT of history and has museums about some of the great battles that have been fought on the Black Sea. It is a strategic place for Putin to secure. The Russian government was leasing it from Ukraine but now it wants it without paying anymore. It also probably wants the eastern half of Ukraine as well. Good luck with that.

What has happened, from what I can tell, is that this division created from the outside has only solidified the two parts of Ukraine because the east for sure doesn’t want to be controlled by Moscow. That smacks too much of what it used to be like under the Soviet Union.

Well, I wait and see if the 5:00 a.m. ultimatum has been met or if they are in the middle of a bloodbath as promised. I’ll find out tomorrow…stay tuned.

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