Thursday, February 24, 2011

How can you describe the joy of a grandchild? I might give it a try later on.
This is the beginning of my attempt to resurrect this old blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Death and taxes

While I'm not gravely ill, I do find myself contemplating my own mortality more. This may be because my current bathroom book is Death: A User's Guide, a lightweight compilation of customs, traditions and superstitions regarding death through the ages. It's amusing if somewhat macabre. Everybody dies.

Ah, taxes. Thank you, Mr. Obama for the changes that gave me more money in my paycheck and a $1500 tax bill. In any case, they were mailed on time and are complete for another year.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We're teaching, but are they learning?

This is a question teachers spend their lives answering. Today I am giving an assessment in the computer lab. A portion of this assessment was taken from an essay we read together as a class after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was a scholarly essay with some difficult language. We wrote the most salient words on the board and discussed them carefully that day. They stayed on the board two more days and we talked through them again in each class. I told students they needed them in their notes and would be tested on them. Today a student came to me nearly in tears, saying that she did not do well on the assessment because I had not told them yesterday to study for this specifically. Here's how I wish I could respond: "Uh-oh, I didn't make it easy for you to jam the info into your head at the last minute? I wanted you to actually know the concepts based on the teaching, not last minute cramming."

Another student said she had missed the day we first discussed the terms. Did she get the notes from another student? No. Hmmm, is this my problem? I know I sound like a heartless high school teacher. Perhaps I'm becoming one.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some people love power

Today's a strange day. Today I am an observer in my own classroom. Not the proud, evaluating observer I am when students are doing presentations. Today the coordinator of the fancy program I teach in, and the guidance counselor who serves our students are outlining for our students the choices they have and expectations they must meet as they embark on a two year program of study. She spends a great deal of time on theatrics. The second the bell rings she says, "Take out a piece of paper for a pop quiz." Then she asks them about the future that some of them have only just begun to consider. "Write the top two schools you are considering in state, one from out of state and at least one private university." Even though they scribble with a purpose, I know a few of these kids are clueless about their future or what schools are public/private. Not all, of course. I am blessed with bright students. Naturally I don't object to her talking with our students about their futures, I do object to her arcane, almost comical methods. She asks them to remember the colleges they listed--right after she has collected the papers. She spends time talking about how the others classes (present Juniors and Seniors) are doing on this work or that work. She enjoys telling them about how rules and regulations have changed and how hard it used to be, tells them how much easier it is. Then she shifts to tell them how difficult it will be. When I hear it with my students' ears it's just too easy to tune out. Too easy. I'm off to get more coffee.

More about Ms. Let-Me-Make-this-Hard-for-You. She tells them the reason she wants them to copy what she writes on the board as she talks is that if she printed it out and gave it to them, they would read ahead and wouldn't be listening. While this might be true, counting on each of them to faithfully record what she's saying is a little silly. She wants them to share the information with their parents--but many of them would never share their hand-written work with a parent. She ends each concept with "There's much more to say about that, and we may be able to get to it later."  She reminds me of all I hated about school. Even more so when she stopped her presentation to bawl a kid out who had whispered a quick comment to a neighbor. Hard to believe that kids are subjected to this until they are 18+. No wonder the drop-out rate is so high.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Techno fail Tuesday

Today went by in a flash, even though some things were at a standstill. Our district's computer grade book was down after about 10:00 am, this after Blackboard was down most of yesterday. Coincidentally, the learning group I lead was paid a visit by the technology trainers for the district, even though the visit has been set up for months, it was timely, but right next to fruitless. The trainers are nice people, doing the best they can in an organization with rules, checklists, and protocols for every move, but on some of the programs we use, it's clear they're learning along with us. They focus on what the program (Bb) can do for us, but often it's pie in the sky. They try to do what they can to support those of us who are trying to use it, but unless we know the right questions to ask, we're sunk. I asked them about the grading program--not their specialty. I asked about the mystery changes that had been made to my e-mail (help! my contact lists have disappeared)--again, not their specialty. Tonight when I logged on to check e-mail I had 36 pages of messages from the "Mail Delivery System" saying messages were delayed and are being "retried." I promise I didn't send more than a dozen e-mails today. Scary.

Off for more grading. Hope the system's up tomorrow. These numbers are stacking up on me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why are weekends so short?

After a short prompt, (thanks, MJ) I'm back to the blog. After one day of not writing, it seems almost impossible to come up with something worth writing about. After several days, I have to convince myself that it's still the thing to do. But I do love the act of putting sentences together, and some small percentage of the time I even have something to say.

This has been another lovely quiet weekend. I didn't see my kids as they had a date with the circus. I was invited to go along, but the last time we went I was so distressed over what looked like animal abuse that I decided not to go back.  I'll be interested to see what they thought. Sharp sticks to keep the elephants in line, lots of provocation to keep the big cats looking ferocious, etc. Plus, you can't see any of it as well as you'd like to. I think my next circus-like event will be the Cirque du Soleil.  When is anyone's guess.

I lived through my formal observation last week with only a friendly warning that I really should be writing out my lesson plans more completely and noting precisely which standards I'm working on each day, how I am differentiating for weaker students, etc. Yeah, that's going to happen, as soon as I locate another two hours in every day. No really, I know documentation is my weakness and I'm working on it---intermittently.

Like nearly every Sunday night I am eager for a new week and sorry the weekend flew by so quickly. I think four day weeks should be considered more carefully.

Here's a sweet video I found this weekend on Vimeo. I especially love the girl's bluesy sound.

Jam Session 2.0 from Cain Mosni on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This is the part I hate

I'm drowning in grading again. Tomorrow is my formal observation and I'm not as ready as I should be. I'm sure it will go fine, but having the paperwork in order that she'll want to see is iffy at best. Ah, well, as much as I should be nervous, I am apathetic. Today we read a fun story--Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" and tomorrow the students will discuss it in Socratic Seminar. How hard can that be for me? I have the materials set up and we've done it before. I can count on my brilliant students to carry the day.

Yes, there are about a thousand things I need to do to get caught up at school. But I have to have a little bit of a life outside that place. Pacing, pacing, that's the trick. Along with a good night's sleep.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A different view of Haiti

This New York Times feature presents photos and writings that show us more of this beautiful, puzzling place.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Circling the drain

I've been thinking about death lately. Not mine or anyone's close to me, just the phenomenon of it, how short our lives are, how close to death we all are each day. The footage of the disaster in Haiti, the sight of so many shaken and grieving in such need may have provoked this. The other night images of children's bodies stacked and partially covered by the roadside brought a few tears. I sent some money and maybe felt a tiny piece of the pain those people are experiencing. We are so alike. We love our children, we want a home, someone to love and care about us. The circumstances of our lives are accidents of birth, or perhaps it's all carefully planned by Providence. That makes it either too complex or too simple. It's all troubling in a way that defies expression.

In my peaceful little world all is well. Today I cooked a turkey and the kids came to dinner. Not Thanksgiving redo, we had peas and rice, broccoli with cheese, and the Parkerhouse rolls they love, with key lime pie for dessert. Von brought a new friend, a quiet girl who didn't seem to know exactly what to make of us. I'm not sure I know either, but I am sure proud of them. I think my daughters are beautiful and brilliant and just plain fun. But it was fine with me when they were ready to go home, too.  Do I miss them being home? Yes and no--mostly no.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

This would be funnier if it weren't so ridiculous

Need another punctuation mark? I don't. I like my sarcasm straight up, but apparently some folks do need a punctuation mark  and will pay for the privilege of using it. I had to check twice to be sure this wasn't from The Onion.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Independent reading

Today, about 20 minutes of each English class was independent reading. My students mostly love this time and use it well.  I decided to join them since it was not the entire class period. Since the book I'm reading was at home, I borrowed a book from a boy in my first period called Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini. I've never been overly enthusiastic about young adult literature, but there are some entertaining books out there, and for the most part, if students are reading, I think that's a good thing. This book has an intriguing cover and one of the blurbs was "Imagine Holden Caulfield with Internet access." Not sure why that attracted me; I thought Holden Caulfield was a jerk when I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school. The book was entertaining, but disturbing at the same time. I know, and have known for some time, what subject is uppermost in the mind of most (all?) teenage boys. But this book was so in your face with the "guys just gotta get in" theme that it was disconcerting. The concept of the story: the nerdly boy buys a squib, a computer-in-the-head life coach, who teaches him how to be cool. But the depictions of the girls in the story, the off-hand way they talked about sex, the whacking off, etc., made me so sad for kids today.  There sure isn't much mystery left.  And if girls internalize the message of this book, they'll feel like meat.

I read the book--okay I skimmed a couple of chapters in order to give it back to a student during sixth period, and I won't object to kids reading it. But I think I might say straight out that it distorts something very beautiful--more valuable than any 16 year old can know.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My current obsession

Like the rest of the world, I've begun the new year concentrating on losing weight. Here's my assistant--it's or more specifically, The Daily Plate. I've counted calories successful a few times before, but this site makes it fun. First, they have everything in the world in the database, every brand, every flavor, every thing. It's amazing. I love that they show me the complete nutrition breakdown, tracks sodium, etc. I think I'll upgrade to Gold when I've tracked daily for two weeks. Hey, whatever keeps me moving forward, I'm for it. Another more troubling obsession tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What would we say if we could?

Read this blog with some professional reading today. The man's point is legit. Teachers are where the rubber meets the road (the juice meets the cell-phone?) in education, but there isn't much energy in finding out what we want and need to do the job successfully. It seems as though in the big picture, we're treated like a crowd of students, everyone gets punished for what some will (or won't) do. Imagine a roomful of politicians deciding what might truly change education. The school they are picturing can't be much like reality. They probably think fondly of the smell of mimeographed copies and remember pounding erasers to curry the teacher's favor. Oh wait, that was my school experience.

But if the question were posed to teachers, "What should be done to improve the overall results of education?" I'm not sure we'd get much information from the answers. There are almost as many answers as there are students. The things I would ask for are intangibles: don't kill their curiosity before they even start school, teach them that learning is fun, that it matters. I want students who are skeptical, but not cynical. Change schools so our work is relevant, connects to what concerns us all in the world, and seeks to prepare our children for an uncertain future. When are those Chinese classes coming on board, anyway?

I do know the answers can't be found in the federal government's pitiful new education program "Race to the Top." I was surprised that even 15 counties in Florida have signed on for a shot at these funds and it's telling that only one union leader out of those counties has agreed. The documentation disseminated about this program before the vote said that a county had to have the union on board, now that only one does, I'm sure that rule will be changed. The state legislature can only see the dollar signs, even though the amounts can't change the big picture. The details are so murky even the superintendents who've signed say they don't know how it will play out. Why would anyone sign a form saying "Yes, I am interested in getting money with many strings attached even while it's unclear what they are"? This writer says it more nicely than I have. But I don't think eyes wide open will cover it. Can you imagine a school board saying no to money that costs them nothing more than increased pressure on teachers?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dropped out

I took the day off after spending the night up several times with incredible sinus pain and a low grade fever. The doctor saw me early and I dosed up with antibiotics in time to feel better for much of the day.  Tomorrow will have to be soon enough to talk about "Young Good man Brown" with my students. I hate that tight feverish "getting sick" feeling and was happy to sleep it off today and wake up feeling better.

Tonight is one of the first night I've dreaded posting, not because I don't have much to say, but because my hands hurt so badly. Ironic that the writing career that has yet to take off --hey, Grandma Moses started late, too--must be challenged by arthritis in the hands.  I keep thinking of my grandmother's gnarled hands and how she doggedly continued her work, crocheting, tatting, basketry, whatever. She wanted something to show for each and every day. She loved to garden and cook.  I miss her. She was one of my first friends, one of my only for a while when we moved out of Miami.

I really must get a bit more orderly about posting. I need a series of some sort. My brainstormed list starts tomorrow.