Lesson Plans, Literature, and Action!


One of several thank you cards

At last, a 12-week immersion as a high school English Literature, English Language, and a writing instructor has come to an end. My former school, at which I served as a teacher and assistant principal, used my services during a teacher’s maternity leave. It was great to be back in the classroom. Yet, with also working both days of the weekend on my other pursuits, I’d only had 4 days off prior to Thanksgiving weekend.

Since the absent teacher never attempted to contact me or oversee what I was doing with her charges, I was free to modify the curriculum. However, I requested the administration to provide syllabi previously used. The chance to delve into classics like Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” were treats, as I’d never read them before. However, it was nostalgic to re-visit Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter because I’d had it as the main piece of literature in my own high school junior year.

Working with students for their AP English Language course brought studies in grammar, rhetoric, and a slew of literary devices I’d not previously been acquainted with, but I captured a greater appreciation for the structure and strategies used in oral and written communication. We also explored the classical appeals of Aristotle, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” and tactics used by advertisers to influence consumers. Yet, with all these great learning adventures and getting to know and work with my wonderful students, the most exciting result from my teaching term was the chance to make movies!

When we were about halfway through with it, in order to challenge the students with relating the psychosocial dynamics of Hawthorne’s novel, they collaborated via small groups of 5-6 to write modern-day versions of the tale. Upon completion of their stories, they were given the opportunity to vote for continuing the novel along more conventional means of assessment or to cultivate new skills in creating a film. I’d explained that it would entail storyboarding, costumes, props, filming, stage direction, and editing. Of three classes participating in voting through secret ballots, the two honors classes chose to tackle the film project. After starting down this process though, three students requested to not opt for doing the film, so I’d written separate lesson plans for them throughout the 3 weeks that the other students scurried about the school to find settings where they could film. We’d even explored green screen filming, as having school stairwells was often the only place that they could shoot.

I’ll admit that I spent a good portion of their periods popping into monitor their arguments, noting that sometimes they were getting attention because in the boy groups one had to play Hester, and in the girl groups some had to assume the male roles of Rev. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. There were times when they’d have to suspend their filming in the hallways when troops of elementary kids traversed their path to go to prayer or the library. Favors were requested of teachers for their tolerance of my students’ intrusions to request props they’d spied within classrooms, using the Main Office counter and reception windows to simulate a hotel desk, getting knowledge on how to use an SLR camera for recording, and to request administration to allow some of the girls to wear abayas instead of school uniforms to speed up getting into costume each day. At times, I’d wondered if they’d be able to make the deadline I’d set the day before my final day there, but I saw the overall happiness, true engagement, and ownership the students invested in their projects.

The leadership of some students rose as they directed, social skills evolved as one student who normally showed little responsive affect was transformed through his peers coaching him on how to be a leading man. As part of the movie script, one of the students actually gave another a greatly fashionable haircut, and I saw them beam in brotherly solidarity. Girls who had seemingly opposite personalities at first clashed, but then came together as great actors.

Then one day, an obviously very bright, but undermotivated, student stopped by my desk before leaving and said, “Miss, I just want you to know that now I really like coming to school.” My heart melted, then felt sad that it implied that he normally did not like school, and finally I determined whatever the outcome, this crazy venture was worthwhile.

The students’ films varied in the final analysis from Good to Awesome. On our final day together, I’d asked them to please give me a reflection and feedback on how I could support them better if I were ever to do this again. They confirmed what I knew in that there should have been interim goals and milestones established. Now I know what those should be. We really did not appreciate the value of detailed storyboarding until the shooting began. At times I saw students doing numerous re-shoots of scenes, and I’d tell them to leave it, edit later, and move on to the next scene. If I were to do it again, I’d create a rubric that specifies more about required storyboard elements, the expectations for sound effects, music, a shooting schedule, and a standard for opening and closing segments.

Overall, I’d describe this though as one of the most daring and successful experiences. Prior to the start, I’d taken the time to build trust; know my students; openly admit that I’d not tried this with any class before, but that I would help them learn something new in creating their own film.

In 12 weeks, my intention was to move the bar forward for these students in my charge. Working with commitment, integrity, and diligence, and I am gratified when I see it reciprocated in my students’ efforts. Being a teacher is not easy, but never underestimate the impact you can have, hopefully for good.

Next, I’m scheduled for some foot surgery which will involve some bone cutting…. Wearing a special boot, I’ll be creating 2 education presentations for the MAS-ICNA Convention in Chicago the last week in December. Also, as programming chairperson for the ISNA Education Forums, I will be presenting in Costa Mesa, CA January 18-19 and Chicago April 19-21, God willing.

Meanwhile, as I convalesce, I have my iPad Kindle loaded with books and will be listening to piano adagios. 😉

Choosing Joy in Teaching

47194705 - a person is standing on the top of the mountain above the clouds.

Credit: Anton Yankovyi

Choosing Joy
Returning to the classroom has had some interesting moments, a flawed lesson plan, a student’s epiphany, another student who refused to be on-task, and many young minds exposed to new vocabulary, new ideas, and academic rigor.

My enthusiasm for a video, related to a class I am teaching for high school students, is on the state of Native Americans’ lives in South Dakota, Generation Red Nation, and it resulted in me not preparing an accompanying handout with questions about the content, as teachers typically proactively design for students to complete during videos. While I sat riveted and fully attentive to multiple viewings of the film, a few students simply could not relate and chose other distractions while I fumed at my failure to prepare adequately for this scenario.

Yes, even experienced teachers can have a failed lesson. My students could not identify with the people in the video. Therefore, they missed the nuanced messages I’d intended for them to capture; such as, what does this say about preserving one’s heritage in America, and how can Native Americans be disenfranchised in their own land? How can the adjustment to a fast city life be a challenge for people coming from a more slow-paced culture and other insights. These questions were a set up for Crevecoeur’s essay, “What Is an American?”

In another class, through studying Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, it was a thrilling moment to witness a student’s epiphany as she discovered for herself the symbolism of comparing the high quality, almost artistic description, of a repast at the all-male Oxbridge with “soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream…. And …the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson…”,versus the fare at all-female Fernham College where was served, “…beef with its attendant greens and potatoes—a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge….”

The life of a teacher is filled with many ups and downs; and even though I consult and present workshops for classroom management, I know there can always be a student or even an entire class that can make a teacher feel that they are wrestling a seal in an oil pit.

A humbling moment came when I was reading a passage to the class as they were to duplicate the annotations I’d made. This was a lesson in doing annotations while reading some dense material. One student chose to poke his neighbor with a pencil eraser persistently under the desk and not do a single annotation. Nor would he abide when I informed him that I would not tolerate his disruptions. For I keep it simple by clarifying with my classes that I give much leeway to their class culture, but “If you do anything to disrupt my teaching, or anything to disrupt another student’s learning, we have a problem.” This student, receiving a fair warning, and a promise of my documentation, was no longer a disruptive force…to date. Sometimes just a firm acknowledgment with a no-nonsense attitude will suffice.

As a teacher, it is important to be a futurist, to have a sense for what preparation is required to design students’ education and mindset for their near future. Since my trip to Dubai where a colleague shared the Government in 2071 Guidebook, I have seen several YouTube videos of speeches given at the corresponding World Government Summit 2017 event. Tomorrow, several classes will enjoy and respond to a content checklist and argumentative essay about if the modern obsession with being cool adversely affects American’s readiness to stay competitive in technological advances. They have read an essay today and will view Michio Kaku’s video from Dubai’s World Government Summit 2017 as a catalyst for their piece. I like this video so much that I will share it with my own family and heartily suggest it to readers. I’m very much looking forward to our exchange of perspectives and hope to plant the seeds of motivation and inspiration in them. Recognizing that teachers have an undeniable capacity to positively influence students, in my short four-month assignment, I plan to raise them higher. Such challenges, as there are in teaching dynamic youth, brings me joy.


A New Learning Paradigm

10020940964_9a153ac6e2_zEducation in the U.S. is slowly evolving to face its competition–a young, curious and inventive demographic found in countries that highly value their educators, and increasingly in developing countries where youth use technology to access the world.

Somewhere along the way we questioned if teaching penmanship was still relevant in an age of keyboarding. Well, I will verify that it is—as long as we still hand write notes, essays, and the free responses on standardized exams. These are the evidences we associate with learning; and yet, is what we learn in school still relevant to our needs today?

Perhaps the answer to this is dependent on what role in society we assume, or what roles our children will hope to actualize. And one also ponders if teachers, with rapidly evolving technologies, are keeping current?

We live in an age of educational abundance, thanks to the internet. Though, while people in remote developing nations are investing with curiosity in their enhancement of knowledge and commerce, are we significantly invested as a nation in our own self-improvement?

With a smorgasbord of courses, free and paid content, how many spend at least two hours a week accessing professional development and cultivating new skills that will meet the requisite level of competence for adequately responding to global challenges? If not, then we become dinosaurs and demonstrate a miserable model of irrelevance.

Investing in professional development is a wise choice, and just may help secure value-driven personal profit, contentment, and a link to the interconnected matrix of diverse people who are connecting to work well together and prosper.

If interested in this topic for a keynote or professional development, visit my website at susanlabadi.com



Saturday morning, and I’m greeted with more snow and the promise of extreme sub-zero, (i.e., Fahrenheit) bitter cold on its way. This is my life, six people—four offspring—living together, and my husband and I shovel for them! We ditch the patio table in the garage and push the chairs in a row, as you see, to fit four vehicles on the driveway so that we can reverse without having to move another car for one to exit. Crowded, but we save the collective group money by staying together while the majority of them are in college.

It’s that time of year when we pine for springtime’s fresh air, smell of thawing soil, and the twitter of birds. Along with that comes emergence of preliminary flowers, like crocus that foretell the arrival of hyacinth, tulips, and daffodils. But we are not there yet, so I placate myself with photos of gardens I have visited, coffee table picture books for gardeners from the library, and I thoroughly examine the photos in seed catalogs, from which I no longer buy. The one year I invested in some catalog seeds, I traveled overseas with my kids and found someone—you know who you are—had not watered the garden.

Since moving into this house about eighteen years ago, I’d imagined my spacious property would evolve to parallel Monet’s Garden at Giverny. Alas, it has not because little did I realize at the time, my yard has too much shade in summer to adequately support many of the flora I desire. However, I do have trees. Beautiful, towering, strong, and like my kids, leave a huge mess of leaves and broken branches that we incessantly clean off the crop of weeds we call a lawn, over one-third of an acre.

Life sometimes isn’t what you bargained for, but I suppose we have to find the good in things and work within our minds to cope and look forward to the next chapter. Maybe the trials and waiting periods we endure are meant to bring us closer to our Creator and each other. I do know that this morning, after writing the draft of this piece, we admired with amusement the many squirrels that scamper in erratic patterns throughout our wonderland of surrounding trees, as the snow lazily cascaded in billowy flakes, adding to the pile that blocks exit from the drive to the street.

Going back to work has brought another adjustment for my family, who had become blissfully accustomed to my availability and practice of the domestic arts. The location of my new place of employment puts me within fifteen minutes of visiting my father, who continues to progress in his ability to walk and balance. He is still using the walker, but again I am expecting him to upgrade to using a cane. I know he sees himself holding a golf club again, even if only to imagine himself a lion overlooking a fairway…from the 19th hole with his buddies. I also know that he misses his winter crew that goes to the indoor range and then meets for coffee and cookies at McDonald’s.

The power of our imagination is a gift, but it has in its capacity the potential to remove us so far from reality that it can become a liability. Someone recommended the film “Her” to my husband, and we went to see it. It’s about an affable fellow who is struggling within himself about his impending divorce from a neurotic wife who has blamed him, undeservedly, for things. The story takes place in LA in the not-so-distant future when everyone is thoroughly connected to technology, and that they unwittingly separate from real human connections and result in a type of anomie (Originated by Emile Durkeim and evolved to Strain Theory most recently by Zhang Jie). This portrays a society where although a populous place, it still leaves souls very lonely. The protagonist becomes enamored by a virtual reality prompted by purchase of an artificial intelligent operating system. It is like Apple’s Siri on steroids where the “personality” of the system becomes the seemingly perfect companion, except that “she” is not real. It makes a strong statement and a warning to us.

As I do have many residents in my household, I see the ubiquitous technology keeps us entertained, connected to people outside our home, and can easily inhibit us from conversing, sharing, and connecting with each other. It seems like the only bonding we do is when we watch a video or show together, or if we completely leave the home—spend money—and do something outside. Normally, the walk or bike ride would suffice, but in this season the options have a higher price tag. The least would be going to a restaurant or to chat over a cup of coffee. A family vacation would be ideal, but just not feasible now; and it won’t be when spring break rolls around, the kids buzz out to hang with friends, and we stay home to clean and pickup sticks in the yard. Then we may expectantly look for crocus along the edge of the driveway and whack a tennis ball with a real person on the other side of the court.

…Meanwhile, we’ll invite them to bond with us as we cheer the Broncos!

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.


Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!


Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!