December 31, 2007

The Winter Cleanse

I'm in the mood for some spring cleaning! Er, uh. Winter cleaning! You know, purging my home of all that is unnecessary to ring in the new year!

Compared to others I know in my circle of family and friends, and compared to the person I was 10 years ago, I really do not have a lot of STUFF. How I compare to the rest of the world, I don't know. It is unlikely that I would not qualify for How Clean is Your House? or Clean Sweep, although when the clutter on the kitchen counter where my family drops things that don't have an assigned place in our home leaves me no room to prepare dinner, or when the coffee table starts to overflow onto the floor with books, papers, and computer things, I start to feel like I am living in a sty. Actually, those areas are pretty easy to deal with: "Hey family! Is this important? I'm going to throw it away!" People come running and miraculously they find places to put their belongings, which is often in the trash. (It irritates me to no end that those items--75% papers from school--had to marinate on my counter first.)

About once a year I sort out bigger stuff around the house. Do we need this broken toy? So, it's not broken, but when did you play with it last? How many coffee cups do we need? Have you worn that shirt in the last year? Considering we just moved in August, you know my need to purge cannot be that strong. Also, when we moved to Las Vegas four years ago, we sold, donated, gave away, and threw away a substantial chunk of our belongings in anticipation of not being able to afford a home large enough to hold all of it. The stuff I have is nothing compared to the stuff I once had, and I rather like it that way.

Still...clutter is there. Yesterday, I went through my son's toys and found a boxful to donate, plus I filled a kitchen trash bag with random bits. It wasn't too bad, though. Actually, many of the things I put in the donate box were things that another mom gave him when she was cleaning out her house. How sweet, right? Only, we ended up getting the type things we once owned but had gotten rid of ourselves! For example, we donated his LeapFrog last year when he hadn't used it in months (and he'd had it a few years), so why did we need to get another one? I hope I don't break his little boy heart, but I did try to leave a few treasures, like marbles and rocks as I sorted through his stuff.

My son is actually fairly organized and neat. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn't understand what cleaning her room means. There is that angel on one shoulder telling me that I should not go in and do a major cleaning in her room, as she's old enough to do it herself, and old enough to deserve some privacy. The devil says that I can always claim I'm an evil stepmother, and when the daily conversations and a weekend intervention don't work, it's time to take some action. (Earlier this month, I asked her to find five things she doesn't use that she could donate. She brought down some books and a game that I don't think were even hers to give. How 'bout one of those naked Barbies? Can you spare a few of those?) Apparently her dad threatened to move everything out, so a little cleaning might make a point. Not today, though. I'm going to need backup for that task. If my sweetie is making such big threats, surely he has interest in helping, right?

I'm by no means perfect. Right now I'm sitting in the middle of 50 paperbacks that I've dragged out of the garage to enter into PaperBackSwap. Don't say I'm not dealing with my own issues! (No, Dad, there's nothing for you to read here unless you like vampire romances. Oops! Did I just admit to reading romances? Uh, well...brain candy. Quick fix.) I've cut waaaaaay back on the number of books I buy, but what do I do with the books I own but don't need to keep, and I can't pass on to friends and family members? It just so happens there are plenty of people at PBS that want my books. As soon as I started posting this morning, I had requests come in. Of course someone wants my Christopher Moore and my Chuck Palahniuk, but it's the other stuff, too. Hooray!

Reduce, reuse, recycle, baby!

December 29, 2007

The 7 Wonders of 2007

I've been a break from reality for at least the last week, which is my excuse for neglecting this blog this month. In a meme I didn't even know was going on, I was tagged twice by Ms. Whatsit and Ms. Cornelius.

Here are the rules that Ms. Cornelius had but Ms. Whatsit didn't:

- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on his or her blog.

Since I haven't checked my feeds lately, and I'm sure I'm probably the last kid on the block to do this, I'm leaving it open to any 7 people who want to join in. Tag yourself, yo!

I'm thinking about 7 random things in 2007:

  1. This year marked the 5-year anniversary for me and my sweetie. I like to ask him 20 questions about the first time he saw me because he claims it was love at first sight. I don't believe in such things. I do remember the first time I saw him, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. I do remember the day I met him I was hardly looking to make a first impression on any future husbands. I was goofing with my girlfriends at a pool match the day before Easter (and a spring break cruise vacation), thus I was wearing bunny ears with my league shirt, and uh...probably indulging in copious amounts of rum. Classy.
  2. This has been the year of the babies for people around me. In January, I became a honorary great-auntie when my best friend became a grandma. I became I real auntie--not just an honorary one--in May. To top it off, I became step-granny in October. It is a great thrill when we finally get to see new pictures of our little girls!
  3. I love Edward, too! I was totally sucked into Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series just like many of my students were. In fact, I was just as excited to read the third book in the series as I was to read the last Harry Potter. Seriously! Now it's torture waiting for the next book. (I know two other teachers at my school who are shamelessly waiting, too. Nothing like acting like a twitterpated teen girl over a book character for crying out loud!)
  4. For my birthday, I had my hair permed for the first time in about 6 years. I really liked it until about a week ago. Now I'm wondering how short I have to cut my hair to cut the curls off.
  5. I was overcome by guilt last Christmas when my stepchildren came back from their maternal grandmother's house with photo albums of their lives since birth. Obviously I haven't been in their lives since birth, but since their parents weren't together very long into their lives, I've been around long enough that I could have maybe made some photo albums of their lives with us. (The books are all skimpy on time with their dad. I think there's a picture of his car to signify weekend visits with their dad.) Okay, so I have the scrapbook albums and papers, but I have yet to choose and send off for actual photos. The joy of digital cameras...
  6. When we moved into our new place in August, I made it a priority to hang things up right away, rather than wait months and months like I normally do. I put up every painting I own, except a print that I recently received that needs framing, and the walls still look sparse. (My bedroom has nothing on the walls, but it's quite peaceful, actually.)
  7. This is the year I decided to alphabetize my teacher files. Hilarious, isn't it? The system works pretty well, but sometimes I can't remember the name of the folder where I put the thing for which I'm looking. I'm might be spoiled by the options of Internet folksonomy.

December 24, 2007

The Gift Psychic

My dad has this uncanny--and irritating-- ability to guess his gifts before he opens them. Sometimes his abilities aren't so impressive when the gift is obviously a book or the socks he wanted. (He is a practical man, afterall.) For those reasons, we often go to great lengths to disguise his gifts. For future reference, many things can be wrapped in a coffee can, and then the container can be used in the garage!

There have been times where his abilities are quite impressive. Back in 1990, I bought my Dad an stylish digital alarm clock radio that was shaped like a cube. I didn't tell anyone he was getting it, and he didn't need it. I was simply desperate, and a clock is always practical. When I arrived home from college on Christmas Eve, I showed my dad his gift, and he guessed what it was. I was so irritated with him! How could he know?

Yesterday morning, while we were waiting for the rest of the household to wake up, my dad and my stepson where poking and guessing at the presents under the tree. Dad tested out his skills on a few obvious gifts, like books, so my son attempted to stump him by giving him the gift from him. My dad asked him if he made the gift, and my son told him that he had painted it. After some dramatics that included smelly it, gently poking it (breaking the paper is absolutely taboo), and finally holding it to his forehead with his eyes closed in concentration, my dad annouced, "It's a birdhouse!"

You should have seen my son's face. Completely dejected! Poor kid! In another truly miraculous event, Dad guessed the most obscure and unwanted gift. How could he have known he was getting a homemade birdhouse? He didn't need one, and he didn't ask for one. I also was impressed with my Dad's amazing gift. I had to laugh--I couldn't help it. I know exactly how my son feels, but I'm still awestruck on how my Dad does it. After my poor son recovered from his disappointed, he too was impressed and entertained by my Dad's talent.

December 19, 2007

Why I Make a Bad Soccer Mom

Education comes first.

And I obviously cannot plan a logical timeline.

Yesterday after school I needed to go to the post office, and I wanted to go redeem my 25% coupon at Barnes and Noble for an audio book for our trip home, and I wanted to the office supply store to exchange binder I bought for a larger size. I also needed to meet my sweetie on the other side of town when he got off work so we could drop one of our cars off for repairs by the time the shop closed by 6:00 p.m. And, all of this had to be accomplished between 3:15 p.m., when the kids were out of school, and 7:30 p.m., when I needed to leave for night school.

(That is much more than I ever attempt to do on a week night, but this going-out-of-town-for-Christmas business throws the whole schedule off.)

Before I could accomplish anything, I thought it was important that we run home for bathroom breaks, snacks, and homework time, which is typically about 30 minutes.

Big mistake.

That put us in a line at the post office at 4:00 p.m. Apparently everyone in front of me was trying to mail bombs to Guam or something because I was in that line for 45 minutes, and I was only about 10th in line when I started.

After my 30 second transaction at the counter, where I felt a little cheated that I didn't get as much time with the postmaster as everyone else, that put me with the 5 0'clock traffic to cross to the opposite side of town. Freeway or surface streets? Either way, my life sucks.

(Reason #456 that being a teacher is awesome: no evening rush hour traffic!)

Every ten minutes my sweetie called: "Where are you now?" At a never ending light. On the freeway looking at brake lights. Behind 30 cars waiting at a stop light. Am I behind an accident and don't know it? So close, yet so far away.

We made it to the dealer service department in time to drop our keys off to a real person, rather than a drop box. (The appointment was in the morning.) The trip back across town wasn't as long, but there was no time for a book store or office supply store stop because kids needed to be fed and bathed before getting ready for bed.

Most days, those few hours between the end of the school day and bedtime are pretty short and hectic, without errands or activities. How do those soccer moms do it?

December 16, 2007

Spread a Little Christmas Meme

I'm dreaming of Christmas break...How about you? Just let me make it through the week...

Here's a Christmas meme, as seen at Mrs. T's. Join in if you like!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper. I'm quite adept at it, too. During my college years, I worked at an independent bookstore that offered free gift wrap. Some days I'd be at the back counter nearly all day. And then, I'd end up getting roped into wrapping every single present for my mother-in-law in those years, too. Now, just because I'm so good at it doesn't mean my gifts are beautiful. In recent years I'm all about just getting the thing wrapped and tagged. Does anyone really inspect the quality of my seams? Hardly!

2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial. I've never had a real tree in my own home, but when I was a kid we did. (But then, who had fake trees back then?) My tree is also super small, but I think it's just cute!

3. When do you put up the tree? No specific time. Thanksgiving is a little early for me, so I suppose I lean more toward the first or second weekend of December.

4. When do you take the tree down? Again, no specific time, but usually before New Year's Day.

5. Do you like eggnog? Yes! And eggnog-flavored things. Lately I've been indulging in eggnog-flavored Creamies.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? I think I enjoyed my roller skates a lot. Oh! And the tape recorder I received when I was around 9-years old.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes. My friend, Mary, gave one to me the first year my sweetie and I were together when the kids came to celebrate Christmas. It's actually a wooden puzzle intended for kids to play with. She and her husband made it, and apparently had made many over the years for various people.

8. Hardest person to buy for? My husband. He wants and needs nothing. Oh, and the things he might like I don't understand. His birthday is on Christmas Day, too, so it's a double whammy.

9. Easiest person to buy for? My sister-in-law is pretty easy to buy for, as is my brother. The hardest part is deciding what they might like the most each year.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever got? An etched glass sculpture of whales. It was nice, but just not my style. I think it was an afterthought gift from my boyfriend-of-the-time who was Jewish. I could not quite figure out what to do about the holiday. He did put a Christmas tree up every year, and gave gifts to his clients, but I don't think he really celebrated it himself. Of course, I didn't know that until after the holiday. So, when I gave him gifts, I think he scrambled to do something for me.

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Neither consistently.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? None. I do enjoy watching Christmas movies, though. I've been having a good time watching all the cheesy holiday movies on television lately.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I'm always looking for things. Unfortunately, this year I did not have much in my gift closet, so I hit the stores the day after Thanksgiving. Crazy, I know.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I can't think of any specific time, but I'm not above it. You know I wanted to re-gift that glass whale thing.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Fudge. And pumpkin pie.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Colored!

17. Favorite Christmas song? I like the traditional Christmas songs we sing in church, but I'm not too particular. I just like to sing along whatever song it is!

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? It depends. This year I'm traveling.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Of course!

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? A crocheted angel that my mom made sits atop my tree.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas morning. Maybe one on Christmas Eve.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The endless lines. Oh! And this year I've run across a lot of people who won't budge when you say, "Excuse me." Not my fault if you get knocked over by my bags or my hips because you won't move that 6 inches to let me pass by!

23. What I love most about Christmas? Spending time with my family, of course!

December 14, 2007

Brutal Honesty Lives On

Last week Ms. Whatsit posted an interesting link to a 60 Minutes report on how the workplace is changing to fit the Millennial generation. A few days later, she had a frustrating experience with a enabling parent and a cheatin' child in her class. This whole idea of how we have to change fit our clientèle is something I think about quite frequently, and I tend to fluctuate between being Ms. Understanding-the-Whole-Child to being Ms. Tough Love.

I'm not always as patient as I should be, and lately I find myself reading students the riot act on a regular basis. The thing with my students is that when I put them in their place, they stand there and take it. I don't know what they do with it when I'm done, but they take it. Even my more hard-core kids take it, but then they are used to reality kicking them in the rear end.

I just have so little patience for b.s. these days, and it seems like I am the only one doing the thinking. For example, I had seven students who did not finish the test I gave yesterday. Did those students say anything to me? No. Instead, they simply did not do a part of the test, so I was left to worry and wonder if they didn't understand the directions, or if they simply blew it off. I didn't think time should have been a issue, but I guess it was. So when I called the students to my desk to ask them about it, they acted like it was no big deal. They know me well enough, that they know I would give them the time needed to finish, but why didn't they advocate for themselves? I guess the 25% they missed wasn't important? Oy!

Lately, I think I've just been on a short fuse and irritable about everything. The nurturing part is whithering as the Cruella part flourishes. I've always been about tough love and have no qualms being honest with kids, but lately it feels like I'm constantly on one of them about something. (And then there are the kids who are daily needing tough love because don't think.) Over the years I've had many more students who reacted better to my keepin' it real than candy coating things for them, so it's kind of who I am. So, after watching the 60 Minutes video that Ms. Whatsit referenced, it really made me think about how the world is changing and how I really hate to coddle kids. Am I particularly ornery lately, or are there more kids in need of a good ass-chewin'?

And then I have to wonder if I am damaging some poor teenager. Or the whole generation of them.

Probably. I'm not the only one, though.

My team had three parents conferences this week. In every single conference it came down to the teachers and the counselor playing it straight with the student, "Yes, you are smart, but you are not working up to your potential. You need to do your homework and study for exams. At the rate you are going, you are going to be removed from the program. By the way, no magnet high school will even consider your application with grades like this." Traumatizing? Perhaps. Something that needed to be said? Of course. Yea, they were brutal meetings. How did the parents take all this raw honesty about their children? They took it. They knew it was coming. They're adults, so they know the realities of life. I'm sure it's so incredibly frightening to them to see their children doing so poorly and charging toward a less-than-desirable path in life.

On a more amusing note, I witnessed one of my former students being put in his place by a potential employer this week on television. Anybody indulge in the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency? She is a woman who speaks her mind and does not put up with any nonsense. Of course the beauty industry is a lot more brutal than life in a the classroom, but when I saw Janice Dickinson putting this former student of mine in his place, I couldn't help but think that I helped prepare him for that moment. I certainly had flashbacks to my interactions with him. (Don't get me wrong, he was a pretty good guy, but he needed a reality check from time to time.) Maybe some students never change--never gain more common sense--but at least he didn't wet himself or go running to his mom. Janice gave him brutal reality, and he took it like a man.

December 11, 2007


My community is in the national news tonight because kids solve problems with guns. There are so many questions in my head about the events that lead to the ambush. Of course there is a giant question in my head:


These kids make me so sad sometimes. The harm they do each other.... the harm done unto them...the environments in which they live.


One of my students told me he was going to be moving at the end the quarter. I've been trying to read between the lines with him, but he shelters me too much. Today he told me, "Miss, it was bad this weekend. You have no idea." I didn't understand what he's trying to communicate to me, so I drilled him with 20 questions based on what I know of his life. All I could squeeze out of him is that he will probably be moving to a different bad neighborhood in northern California, and his parents aren't moving with him. It's frustrating. I like this kid, but he's so hot and cold that I'm about the only teacher on his side these days. Okay, honestly, it's getting harder for me to stay in his corner. But then he hints to the hardships of his life, and what can I do but wonder and worry?

December 1, 2007

Blank Canvas

Mom and Dad e-mailed me this picture of their backyard after the first big snow storm of the year. (Reportedly 10-12 inches of heavy, wet snow.) My sweetie and I looked at each other and said, "Are you sure we want to go there for Christmas?"

They actually sent the picture for my stepson. Imagine being a snow-deprived little boy with that much fresh snow! I am sure it will still be there in a few weeks, and probably double or triple that amount--and it will probably still be as untouched as it is in the picture. You know he'll be trying on his snow boots every chance he gets and dreaming of snowmen, snowballs, and forts!

That is a pretty picture indeed, but looking at it makes my toes cold. And my poor parents! Shoveling the driveway and walks... Oh yeah, that's why snow isn't as exciting when you're an adult!

November 30, 2007

Crossing the Finish Line

NaBloPoMo wasn't as bad as I thought would be, but I am glad it's over. Some nights I could not think of anything to say as my drowsy head bobbed over the keyboard. I think I have fewer readers than I did when I started at the beginning of the month, and I've thought about giving up this blog several times over the last month. Oh! And the whole issue about finding errors after I've posted just about every day nearly drove me nutty.

As a writing teacher, I am proud of myself for taking the time to write every single day. The more I push myself to come up with something to write, the more I can relate to my students as writers. I started this blog in 2005 as a personal project for the Southern Nevada Writing Project Summer Institute, and before that summer, I hadn't written anything on a consistent basis in more than 5 years. I might have produced a piece of original writing about twice a year. (Uhm, can I count the Northwest Accreditation document?) It was so painful for me to produce writing to share on a daily basis that summer. However, just like I tell my students, writing takes time and practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. As long as I keep writing everyday or even a few times a week, I feel more honest in how and what I teach my students about writing.

November 29, 2007

Crabbyturkey Snippypants

The title? That's my Grinch name according to a link a friend sent to me. I think it was rather fitting of my mood this morning. And I'm not talking about Grinch and the holiday season. I'm talking about Grinch as a lifestyle.

Yesterday I sent notices home to parents that their students were either failing or on the verge of failing. E-mail in my box, a parent visit this morning, and a note from a parent all before the first class started. It was the note that set me off. It was quite cordial but if you read between the lines it went something like this:

My perfect child cannot possibly be getting a D in your class. She does not understand how to use programs on the computer, nor does she know how to turn in assignments. You have neglected her and now she is failing. Please teach her how to use the computer and the programs.

I'm completely broken-hearted that I've done such a terrible job. For two months that poor child has been lost! It seems to be a selective lost because sometimes she is able to figure out how to use that bewildering piece of technology in front of her as she does have some assignments in.


You know I couldn't let that slide. Teenagers for breakfast anyone?

November 28, 2007

Don't Pick on My Book

According to one of my students, we are behind in our class because his friend, who is in another school in another part of the city, is studying Edgar Allen Poe right now. We aren't studying Poe right now, as we are studying The House on Mango Street by Cisneros.

I guess my student has seen a curriculum guide that I have not that actually details what work of literature should be taught at what point in the year. Ha! As far as I know, it doesn't exist. I explained to the student that I don't have to teach specific works. I have to teach specific skills.

Oh. Completely dejected he is.

What's the point of The House on Mango Street? This is the question I get from the boy who would rather read Poe.

What would be the point in reading Poe? That is the question I would like to ask him. Unfortunately, that would begin a pointless debate with a discontent, precocious 8th grader.

Feels like a dig to me. Poke the teacher. See if she bites.

After years of having to defend the literature we read in class, I'm afraid that I might enter each unit with insincere passion. No matter how much I love the work, I know my love will be constantly tested by that group of students who just cannot be pleased. Realistically, I suppose it is difficult to expect that every piece of literature should be loved by every student.

It's just that...well...

This student criticism of literature I love to teach is like relationship baggage that I carry around from book to book and year to year. I can't share all of my joy because I've been hurt in the past.

I blame it on To Kill a Mockingbird. I joyfully read and taught that book every year for seven years, often sharing my first time experiences of reading TKM when I was in 9th grade with my students. For every single one of those seven years, teaching that book was a long, painful fight with too many students. In the end, yes, I did have students who proclaimed it the best book they had ever read. Those were beautiful moments. And right behind the enlightened group, the rowdy, culturally inept would moan and complain in an attempt to destroy everything good and true in TKM.

Why be so cruel to destroy one's love for a book? Mean kids. It hurts. It really does.

Cisneros? Poe? Lee? Shakespeare? Seuss? What's the point in reading any work of literature. I'd rather not say. The work will defend itself if only given the opportunity.

November 27, 2007

Did I Really Have to Tell You That?

This quarter I am asking my students to stretch their independent reading interests by reading about real people who are different from them. The first book task requires that students read a biography or an autobiography. In addition, the book has to be within the student's reading level, it must have chapters and not be a graphic biography. (Nothing against graphic biographies here, but the book report is going to be created in Comic Life, so it would have been odd.)

Although we have a wonderful library and a librarian who is a magician in matching kid to book, I did tell my students that they could find a book at the public library. Of course, they should show me the book. The vast majority of the time, I have nothing to say about a book a students chooses, so it's a formality that I don't make a big deal about.

Needy Nelly had been telling me for a few days that she picked out a book, but she wasn't sure if it was okay. So, today she brought in her book, a lovely coffee table book about Fernando Botero. Sure, it had a lot of pictures, but it also had chapters, and there was as much text in her book as most books her classmates had in theirs. Unfortunately, the book was written entirely in Spanish.

Nelly did not understand why she couldn't use the book for her assignment.


Did I really need to make that part of the criteria? Students, since this is an English class, be sure your read books in English. Your bilingual abilities are indeed impressive, but for this course we will be practicing skills in just one language, and that will be ENGLISH.

November 26, 2007

Looking Inside

Have you seen BODIES the Exhibition? I've been spending a little time looking at the information website this evening because my students are going to see it next week.

BODIES has been in here in Las Vegas for quite some time, yet I've not had a burning desire to see it. However, I am sure I will be simply fascinated, as I hope my students are, too. Looking forward to exciting adventure next week!

November 25, 2007

You Were Always On My Mind

Thankfully it's nearly dinnertime instead of midnight as I finish my plans for the week. It's the first full week of instruction I've had in a long time, and my students are juggling a few different things right now.

I didn't think I had much planning to do today, but then the deeper I dove into my lesson planning, more things kept popping up on my mental to-do list. Sunday, or not, that's such a teacher thing, isn't it? Even if my in-box is cleared, copies made, and lessons planned, in the back of my mind I can't help but think of what I can do to plan up coming units. I don't think my mind is ever totally free of on-going list. Nope, not even in the summer. I'm much better at blocking it out when I want to enjoy life, but that list is always lurking.

Teaching is the only career I've ever had, so I wonder if people in other careers also have the ever-lurking to-do list. I also wonder what it would be like to a completely checked off to-do list.

November 24, 2007

Got USB?

My sweetie took me to Fry's, his favorite place in the world, to buy an inexpensive flash drive to replace the rascal Jack. Unfortunately the 1 GB drive for $7.99 was sold out, but we found another bargain-priced one. Yeah for us!

Before making the final decision, we stopped to ask one of the department consultants (so nicely dressed in his shirt and tie) if the drive was compatible with Macs. The packaging didn't say, but I have a drive by the same manufacturer, so I was confident it would work. My sweetie, who is mystified by Macs and remembers the one time I bought a drive that did not work with my computer, wanted to be 100% sure.

The consultant didn't know, but he did study the information on the container to find the same absence of information we did.

Finally he said, "Does it your Mac have USB?"

Evidently, Macs are mystifying to him, too.

"Yes," I answered.

"Then, it will work," he said.

Keep in mind, I am not the computer nerd here. My sweetie is the nerd. The consultants at Fry's are usually nerdier that he is.

As we were walking away, I said to my sweetie, "Does my computer have USB? Seriously! Don't all computers have USB?"

Of course it might be rather ignorant of me to believe so, but I haven't met a computer that didn't have USB--or rather I've never met one that didn't have a port or two when I needed one. Even my antiquated Micron that sitting in the garage has USB.


November 23, 2007

Half Price Makes Me Happiest

My sweetie and I were among those crazy people who went shopping before dawn today.

While waiting in various lines today, I did wonder if it was worth my time to save some money. Afterall, we weren't looking for big-ticket items, and we could be pretty flexible in what to get the kids. Nobody is just dying to get any particular thing. Thank goodness! (Besides, I do understand that the kids will finally decide on something they want just a few days before Christmas, but by then it will be too late for Santa to do anything...) So, was it truly necessary for me to do things like stand out in the cold for 30 minutes so I could shop for 10 minutes and then stand in line for 45 minutes to pay for some toys and games?

Now that the day is over, I can say that is was worth my time, but in most cases I don't feel like I really found some great deals. Mostly I feel like I paid what some items were worth, which is about 50% of their retail prices. I'm not sure if that's because of my ideas toward the quality of products or if I'm so bargain obsessed that it pains me to pay full price for anything!

November 22, 2007

I'm Thankful For...

  • My harmonious family
  • A stable life
  • A rewarding livelihood
  • Supportive friends
  • Freedom to read, learn, and grow
  • A cozy home

November 21, 2007

Back from the Dead: Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Here we are on Thanksgiving Eve! I'm spending my evening on the couch just hanging out with my sweetie. No cares in the world! The kids are with their grandparents for the holiday, so it is quiet, and I have no obligations. My sweetie and I are playing this little game to see who is finally going to give in and turn on the furnace for the first time. (It's down to 56º outside right now, and for us that is close enough to freezing!)

We have no big plans tomorrow. When we get hungry enough, we'll make a decision about which buffet we should go to, or maybe well just go up the road to the old-fashioned neighborhood diner. Who knows? Maybe turkey won't sound good, and I'll go ahead and make some steamy cabbage soup.

Blasphemy. I know.

(However, it would be acceptable if I were to "Save a turkey! Eat tamales!" as my students suggested today, right?)

It's time to review my history of Thanksgivings, which I wrote about in a special Thanksgivings Past series last year. I present them in the random order in which they were triggered in my head in a kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion.


It all started with a picture that my stepson brought home. Something about that turkey wearing a pot leaf triggered a memory about a melancholy Thanksgiving I spent with a friend of mine.

Thinking about that day triggered a memory of the year that I hosted my first Thanksgiving, but The Moms had difficulty relinquishing control.

Although my Thanksgivings have been pretty awful, I did stop to think about a particularly pleasant time when my parents and brother came to visit me here in Nevada.

Last year I did discuss the idea of having my own traditions, and the next post in the series tells about some lovely times I have spent in rural Idaho with an adopted family, but then the post takes a bittersweet turn as I reflected on the pains of motherhood, which as a new full-time stepmom, were very fresh struggles for me last year.

I finished off the pity party with my very first terrible Thanksgiving. You know the one where I met some very nice firemen and wished I could have met a nice locksmith, too.

Happy Thanksgiving--Present!

November 20, 2007

Cold As a Frozen Turkey Butt

Would you stand outside in the frigid winter air for an hour on a Saturday morning for the chance to win a turkey? Would you do it for five Saturdays in a row? Would you keep up the ritual for decades? My mother would.

Every year between the middle of November to the middle of December, my hometown hosted Turkey Drawings. On Saturday mornings, people would gather in a parking lot where they would receive a ticket upon entrance and wait, hope, and pray that their number would be called to receive a free turkey.

The odds seemed pretty good with 25 free turkeys each week only about 300 people lined up to possibly win. Not impossible odds at all, right? Sure. There was hope.

There was no income requirement to participate. You didn't need an invitation. If you didn't mind turning into a human Popsicle, you could come. My mother didn't mind, so we went. Bundled in multiple layers of clothing, we knew better than to complain. The best we could hope for was that Mom would win early and we could leave.

When my brother and I were old enough to stay home alone, we were also old enough to possibly pass for 16 years of age, which was the minimum age requirement to get a ticket at the entry, so we still had to go to the Turkey Drawing. I know the lies of omission about our ages was just wrong, but we're talking FREE TURKEY! How happy Dad would be we we won a turkey! Oh Tiny Tim, what if there were no Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? We need a free turkey! It tastes so much better!

In retrospect, it was such a thrill to win a turkey that I wonder if turkeys were expensive in the 70's and 80's.

You know when you find yourself in a miserable, yet temporary situation how you psyche yourself out by thinking, "This will be over soon. It's only an hour. That's nothing. Think pleasant thoughts. Don't think about your frostbitten toes. Your scarf has not just frozen to your face. You can do this"? (Okay, maybe without the frostbite part?) Well, I mastered the skills of tolerating misery as a kid while waiting for my mom to win a free turkey on frigid Saturday mornings in northeastern Utah. Endurance, man! Move around a lot. Stand still. Huddle in with the crowd like a bunch of penguins. Nothing changes. It was still 20 degrees.

And on especially cold days do you think we stayed home? No! Other people might stay home (wimps!), so there'd be a better chance of winning! Turkey Drawings are not for the weak.

Did my mother ever win a turkey? I think she must have at some point over the years, but I cannot remember that miraculous day at all. That memory never thawed.

November 19, 2007

Planning Writing Takes More Than a Few Bubbles

Today my students, with every student in our school, participated in a mock proficiency writing exam. Writing is a big focus for us this year, and we are attacking from many sides--from the creative to the serious. Proficiency exams, which figure into our AYP, is of course, the super serious!

I spent quite a bit of time for each class modeling how to brainstorm and plan an essay as we went through the process of the exam. I used the generic topic I gave them, which asked the students to write about a person they remember--you know that basic special person character sketch here. I used a different example each class period so the students could see how much of a struggle it can be even for me to come up with things to say. (The thrill of impromptu in the classroom!) I encouraged them to come up with concrete examples (aka nitty gritty details) and not just vague labels. I pointed out weak areas in my own thinking, suggesting places where I needed to do a little more thinking before actually writing.

Why would I bother to take the time for brainstorming at this point in the year? I've noticed in my students' writing notebooks that their brainstorms are a few bubbles with words--enough to pacify me, I'd imagine. I don't even care how students brainstorm, I just want them to do it, but they obviously do not understand the power and necessity of it. Many of them have mastered the art of writing nothing interesting for several pages. They can do so much better!

After brainstorming for ideas, I tried to make the point that those splatterings of ideas didn't just automatically form themselves into an essay. So, kiddos, you have ideas, but where are you going to put them in your essays? What do the magic bubbles tell you? They followed me while I shaped a working thesis and built the body of my essay based on my bubbles. In some classes, students helped me cross out things I shouldn't include in my essay or helped me reshape my thesis to fit the actual information I had. By the time we were finished, in most cases I still needed to do a little more thinking to firm up my ideas, but I had a pretty solid plan of where my essay was going.

Guess how long each of my planning sessions lasted? A whopping 10 minutes! I know, it seems like a terrible waste of 10 minutes to do all this thinking, doesn't it?

My board was a terrible mess of words, crosses, lines, and bubbles. A stranger would not have been able to decipher my mess, but luckily that mess was for ME to plan my writing. Some of my stubborn students were still irritated that I was "making" them take so much time to plan their essays. These are the wise children who know more than I do. Afterall, they are teenagers and I am over 30. On the other hand, I saw quite a few light bulbs go off today on why brainstorming is important and HOW it actually helps one plan an essay.

I'm crossing my fingers that today is the beginning of some deeper writing and thinking for my students. They've been writing on the surface with vague details lately, so I'm hoping that if they take time to think and plan before draft that revision won't seem so daunting either.

November 18, 2007

Sunday Randomness

Bleah...NaBloPoMo...Just write something so I can go to bed....

**I'm glad NASCAR is over for the season, although the sound of racing cars lulls me to sleep now. (I used to think that my sweetie didn't watch sports on the weekend. Ha! The honeymoon is over. Five years later...)

**We were almost side-swipped today by someone who was text messaging and driving. Idiot. Makes me want to murder.

**We made a Sunday trip to Frys. It was much more pleasant than it normally is, and the place was oddly quiet. A new mall has just opened next door to Frys, so I plan on going separate ways on future trips. Sweetie, you spend all the time in the world looking at random bits of computer parts; I'll be shopping for shoes.

**The boy child is getting sick. Is he going to ruin my Thanksgiving plans this year, too? My plans this year include 3 days of kid-free peace. I have him pretty herbed, drugged, and Vicks-rubbed up to scare away whatever is trying to take hold of him. He has merely one day to ward it off. If he's too sick to go visit his beloved grandmother, my life will be miserable on more than one level.

**My grade book is caught up except for about an hour's worth of writer's notebook checking in the morning. Sigh of relief.

**Passing out progress reports tomorrow. Bracing for attitudes. There are serious consequences for blowing off homework for a few weeks--duh!

**Crossing my fingers that this SCHOOL week FLIES by! Vacation should go at a snail's pace, though.

November 17, 2007

It's Getting Harder to Ignore Christmas

Oh how fondly I remember those days when I gathered little gifts for family and friends throughout the year so when the Christmas shopping season came (after Thanksgiving), I wouldn't be stressed out trying to find thoughtful gifts in a sea of a bunch of crap that we buy people that they don't really want. I've totally blown it this year...

I've spent a few hours tonight searching on-line for cool gifts that are also inexpensive. Overstock. com has not been my friend tonight. Not that I'm totally cheap, but there's something in my brain that doesn't like to buy something unless it's on sale, and even at that, it has to be a total bargain. Hey, it's not a harmful obsession! And I know shopping on-line is not always a deal, but I'm also thinking about family members (that would be all of them) who live far away. I hate waiting in line at the post office or wherever, so let's just ship something straight from a source, right?

What's worse than not finding any deals is not finding anything good. I'm pretty much stumped for what to get everyone. Even the kids! Or perhaps, especially the kids! Let's see, the little one can never have too many Legos and the older one likes anything girly. I'll figure it out.

I don't know, at this point, it's looking like everyone is getting baked goodies and gifts I can make out of family photos. (Flickr, here I come!) All the family members say they are celebrating a simple Christmas this year...that's good because I know we are!

November 16, 2007

New Explorations

I'm letting go.

No more focusing my frustrations and jealousy on not being to explore web2.0 technologies like many edubloggers are. Dear readers, you've only heard a bit of my irritation.

If I stumble upon a cool tool that can enhance my instruction, I'll use it. I won't get too bummed out that it's apparently too dangerous for my students to be unleashed into the scary online world.

Today, I walked out of my administrator's office with a book on multicultural education. Read between the lines--I didn't walk into that office looking for it. A parting gift, aye?

I started reading Beyond Heroes and Holidays, and I've already learned some interesting ideas. I could use some improvement in multicultural education anyway (you know it's harder for us clueless white people), so this could be my new passion, my new bandwagon.

I don't want to stop learning and growing.

No--there's no danger that I'll run out of things to learn as an educator.

I just need a new hobby.

November 15, 2007

Spinning My Wheels

If you'll recall, I was so gung-ho about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work this quarter, but I admitted it might be frustrated this month with all the interruptions and alternative plans. I tried hard to be patient and go with the flow, but I'm so tired of it all.

Oh, I'm also tired of my students being disconnected, too. They don't know what's going on from day to day, and they are forgetting even the basic things I had set up in class before this chaos.

I have to submit progress reports when we come back from Thanksgiving, and technically I should have about half of my grades for the quarter in at the time that the report is made. Funny, isn't it?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I am looking forward to the uninterrupted four weeks of instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

November 14, 2007

Jack is Such a Jerk

Perhaps it was a bad idea to name our flash drive Jack Sparrow. Those pirates, you know.

Last month, he ate our newspaper for breakfast the day we were to take it to press. He left behind something that looked like a file, but it could not be opened.

Now Jack has gone missing with another nearly-finished paper. He just jumped ship--that is, out of the editor's backpack and has wandered off somewhere. He took no hostages--or other flash drives--that were in the backpack.

You know, we were going name the drive Bob. I bet Bob would have been more cooperative.

November 13, 2007

Sex, Candy Necklaces, and Stuff I Already Know

I try to stay positive about professional development days. I've been on the delivering end (to hostile audiences), and I figure that there is always something new I can learn so I try hard to make these days worth my time. Today, however, was more about trying my patience...

I had three choices of seminars this morning: Skillstutor training, learn about classroom uses for ComicLife, and create your own website that is hosted by the district. I've been using Skillstutor for years, so I don't want or need more training, I had training on ComicLife this summer (not too tough), and I already have a district-hosted website. What to do? I chose the district website because although I have one, I don't use it much. Yes, it is easy, yet it is limited. I'm still bitter that I spent many hours working on a class wiki, and now the district has blocked wikispaces, so I begrudgingly worked on making the district hosted website work for me. Only it really doesn't.

Later in the morning, we spent an hour working in groups trying to identify proof that we use best practices in our classrooms. I'm a little unsure what that section of our in-service was about. It might be a precursor to other trainings, or maybe it was a collaborative session for us to provide documentation for district hoops we needed to jump through. I'm confused by the short session on such a meaty subject.

The highlight of my day was the online course I had to take on sexual harassment. That was a series of lessons and quizzes I had to pass and provide proof for my administrator that I'd done it. Oh brother! Every year we've had to watch some video and sign a paper saying we understand why we should not try to have sex with our students. This year it's been taken to a new level with an online course! I do appreciate that the administration set aside time for us to do this on their time, instead of our own time, as it did take about an hour.

After that demeaning experience (you know, for those of us who are jeebed out about the mere thought of relations with our students) other teachers had time to collaborate with their departments or work in their rooms. My department had yet another training for a new differentiated reading program we are using: We were promised that we'd learn some new things, yet in the 90 minutes of training, I learned about 10 minutes' worth of new information.

Although my day was nearly over after that, I wasn't finished with having my time wasted by promises of new knowledge as I had to attend the longest two hours of training at my night school. We spent the first hour reviewing rules of the school. And for much of that review, the principal spoke to us through a bullhorn. There were about 40 of us in a small cafeteria. Yes, the room had poor acoustics, but I could not understand most of what he was saying through the bullhorn. I think perhaps bullhorns are for short statements and not lectures. Sure, it was irritating, so I just sat there eating my candy necklace he gave us. Bullhorn. Candy necklace. Bizarre.

(As a side note, the last principal used to bring in dinner from the Olive Garden for us. This principal had cheesecake, carrot sticks, and Cheetos--with a gift of candy necklaces for us. Uhm...)

The second hour I went into some training about how to set up my gradebook and upload the grades to Edline. Again, I already knew what to do, and I had already set up my gradebook. I was promised some swift tricks for making my life easier in using EasyGradePro, and yet again, I was sorely disappointed.

What I could have used is some tips in using Plato, which is a program I was asked to use with my students this year and have had to figure out on my own. (I'm just one of a few teachers slated to use it the program.) Because I have so much experience (in case you haven't figured it out) using web-based programs, it wasn't too tough, but it feels like I'm missing something because it isn't very user friendly, and it seems kind of lame. However, as you might have guessed, if I ever get the training I've been promised it probably won't offer any more insight for me.

This whole rant and reflection has made me realize how insanely jealous (instead of simply jealous) I am of teachers, schools, and districts who are exploring web2.0 ideas. I'm longing for more--something engaging and progressive--and I'm just bored.

November 12, 2007

Thinking About Veterans from All Wars

What I've said before:
My Favorite Veteran is my husband.
RIP Kenny, a brave young man who grew up and died fighting for our country.

November 11, 2007

Checking In

Little David grew up!

They always grow up. I know that. It's just so much fun to see them when they finally do grow into themselves.

David wasn't really one of my former students. In fact, he actually dodged having me as an English teacher his freshman year when some staffing changes didn't give me every single freshman who attended out school like I had for the previous 5 years.

Instead, he was one of my actors who was so obsessed with theater that I let him join my drama club when he still in 8th grade. He had some connections that helped, as both his mother and grandmother worked for the district. Oh, and it also helped that in a small town where athletics ruled, I wasn't about to turn down one of the few souls who wanted to be on stage.

When I moved to the city, David was bummed out that I wouldn't be there to direct anymore. What would happen to the drama program without the Drama Mama? According to David, his worst fears came true, and the program crashed and burned without anybody to lead it. In fact, he ended up trying to put together some shows on his own with less than a handful of other interest thespians. How I can relate to trying to make something out of nothing on stage with little community support.

The nice thing about being 18 and living in a small town is that you can leave. David moved to Vegas this fall to attend the university, and of course, major in theater. I wasn't there through the rest of his high school days, but I can only imagine how anxious he must have been to leave and find a place to practice his passion.

It's taken months for David and me to meet for coffee. Right before he arrived in the city, he e-mailed me, telling me he was moving here. We've talked on the phone a few times, never finding the right time to go, although the little coffee shop dive where we finally did end up meeting at was less than 10 minutes away for either one of us.

All grown up with stories of our old small town, travels he's made in the last few years, and tales that only come from a college freshman. Eager enthusiasm that only comes from a a young man whose just taken a new path in his life. It was nice seeing how David has turned out, even if he's not finished yet.

November 10, 2007

Blogging Frustrations of an English Teacher

Yes, I proofread my posts. I look at them in the Preview window, too. Unfortunately just about every day I find stupid little errors: misspelled words, missing words, and things that just don't sound quite right.

Embarrassing and frustrating.

I know it's human, but it's not English teacher.


November 9, 2007

One of Those Days

Trying to squeeze two days worth of teaching in one day--period after period although it felt like a train wreck...

subbing for another teacher during one prep...

working through lunch...

eating brownie bites and Pepsi in lieu of breakfast and lunch (and then feeling dizzy and spacey from messing up my blood sugar)...

a parent meeting during my second prep with cheater boy's mom...

not getting a chance to go to the restroom for 7 hours...

dealing with my child who is driving his teacher to drink (and me, too)...

going to the grocery store so the other child can make dinner for her first time...

spending an hour making a pizza for dinner...

--in shoes that became uncomfortable around noon.

November 8, 2007

Square Pegs

In order to create writer response groups, I asked students to write down the names of two classmates they would like to work with. I also said that they could write down any students with whom they have conflicts. And I mean severe conflicts. Not that you don't like the person because his shoes are ugly or he has different friends, or something equally lame.

I believe that students should have to learn to work with people they don't like, but I've also discovered that when sharing writing, students are more comfortable if they have at least one person in their groups that they know and trust.

Oh, and life is miserable on writing response days when there are mortal enemies working in the same group week after week. Some battles aren't worth fighting. And when I say fighting...there has been near bloodshed in the past.

I've had some insight into my classes after asking them to give me personal grouping options. I've found quite a few students who are happy with whatever group they are in, and most students do not have conflicts with others. I love that!

What I did find interesting is that the students who irritate me to no end also irritate their classmates. Cheater kid? Several students do not want to work with him. Chatty Cathy is the least popular student in one of my classes. The way she goes on and on, you'd think she had a lot of friends. Flakey Fred, who I think is probably pretty smart but walks around with his head in the clouds, is apparently not an ideal group mate.

It actually makes me sad to think that these academically inept students are also lacking social skills. Life must be tough for them. Are they misunderstood, or do they just need to grow up? I hope we all have the patience to figure that out.

November 7, 2007

The Best International Buffet in Town

(Is it me, or am I talking about food a lot lately?)

You know there are plenty of buffets in town, but today the social studies teacher hosted a huge cultural presentation and feast in the gym. Think 130 students, each one with a dish from his cultural. Homemade (in most cases), authentic, international cuisine. For a limited time, there was no better buffet anywhere in Vegas!

The students' presentations, which included country of origin of the food, a time line of the ingredients, the recipe with accompanying pictures, and some reflections on the importance of food in culture, were pretty well done. In fact, I found myself choosing my foods based on the presentations I saw. Of course, I was very interested in a traditional bread from Ethiopia, but I also saw a good presentation on beef jerky, too.

In the past, I've been excited about homemade tamales, but they weren't very good this year. Instead, my new obsession was for pupusas. It's been years since I had pupusas--and curtido. Yum! There was another cheese pocket kind of thing there, which I believe was Filipino, but I can't remember what it was called. In fact, it may have been the year of the pocket food because I had some good empanadas, too.

I skipped the ceviche, the barbecue rolls, and the potato salad in favor of chili colorado, some delicious but suspicious-looking rice pudding, and basically whatever food students forced me into trying: "Ms. HappyChyck, try mine!" (Needless to say, I don't need to eat for the rest of the week now.)

It's exciting to learn about and try so many different foods. I try to seem more worldly to my students, but you know, it's only been in the last decade or so that I've explored different foods, and that has happened largely though people I've known, the Food Network, and a little bit from traveling. I truly believe most students whose native foods I consider exotic or interesting would probably be just as intrigued by some of the foods I make although they seem quite basic to me. (Hey! What kind of potluck doesn't have any Jello?)

Some of the students didn't quite get the question they had to answer on their projects/presentations about the importance of food in a culture. Why not add questions about what happens when cultures come together? (Other than fusion cuisine.) I certainly hope our students had a little more insight into those concepts after today.

November 6, 2007

Will the Police Department Hire Me?

Why do they mess with me?

I busted a kid for cheating in less than 5 minutes today. He tried to pass off an assignment another student submitted last week as his own assignment. (I wasn't really taking it late. The student claimed that the original empty document he sent to me electronically was a mistake, so I gave him the chance to produce the assignment immediately.)

I bet all the kids are wondering how I immediately knew that the assignment he submitted wasn't his work. It was a graphic organizer created in Inspiration, so it could possibly look similar to his classmates.

Here are some clues Detective HappyChyck gathered:
  • Student approached me at the beginning of the class and asked what the missing assignment on his grade was. We spent 2 days in class working on it last week. How could he not know what it was?
  • After the student learned from his classmates what the assignment was, he was convinced that he did the assignment. Oh, really?
  • I check my electronic in-box, which jogged my memory. He had turned in an empty document. Common kid ploy. They hope that I'll just check off the list off assignments by looking at their names in the file names and not actually open and check the assignment. Is it possible he was trying to dupe me, or was it a technical error?
  • I told the student if he could show me the completed assignment on his computer, I'd accept it. He said he threw it away. If you ever look at these kids' computers, they look much like their backpacks. Funny how when they need an assignment, they've just cleaned and thrown things out. Up until that moment they are teenage pack rats.
  • A few minutes later the student tells me he's found the file on his computer. He brings it to me to look at, and he says, "Here it is. See, here's my name." He is talking about his name labeled on the inside of the document. Thanks for showing me that you put your name on your paper, kid. That's not weird at all.
  • The assignment is very well done. I'd even say it's an A paper. The kid is not an A student. We're talking lacking ability here. I accepted the assignment from the student, but I looked up the assignments from his nearby friends. None of them turned in the assignment.
  • Not many people earned a solid A on the assignment. I looked up the students who had a perfect score on the assignment. The girl who sat one row over and two seats back had a perfect score. Bingo.
Their heads are probably still spinning. Did you see how fast I discovered your cheating ways, children? Still wanna mess with me? I guess it's time for me to tell the story of the time I benched (or rather their actions landed them on the bench) half the baseball team because they were a bunch of cheaters.

November 5, 2007

The Other Shoe Ready to Drop?

My team had been contemplating having a no-late-work policy for most of last year, so when the school came up with a no-late-homework policy, we had confirmation that we should take the plunge. (The subtle difference between the school policy and our team's policy is we aren't taking any late work--including classwork.)

The 7th grade team took the plunge, too, but I think they've backed down on their policy and have started accepting late work with a penalty, which is what we've done in the past. I think accepting late work with with a penalty is a nice compromise to not wanting to accept late work, but the ideal is that students turn in their work and that we teachers don't have to chase them down or beg them for it. Yea, especially students who are bussed from all over the county to attend a magnet program.

I don't know for sure, but I think they was a little pressure from administration for the 7th grade team to back down on their no late-work policy. And it's not like students don't have any chances to turn in late work because the whole 7th grade team was using Oops Passes, as is half of the 8th grade team, where students can turn in an assignment one day late with no penalty. I think most teachers give out about 3-4 passes a quarter. Whoa! That's a lot of chances to forget your work. You know students who miss assignments more than that in a quarter have serious attitude or work ethic issues.

I also felt a little of that pressure from admin at our last team meeting. The principal indicated that there are studies that go against what we're doing and that isn't it better to evaluate student understanding of the content than their abilities to meet deadlines? That is an excellent point that I can agree with; however, if students do not turn in work, I have nothing to evaluate. She could also see my point, and at the time, a few weeks ago, I boasted that I have far more students turning in work this year with our strict policy than I did last year with our graduated reduction of credit policy.

And then...the second quarter started. I have more students failing than passing because they didn't turn in all three assignments last week. Due to testing, last week was a light week in my classroom. This is so bad...

According to the other teachers on my team, the students flaked out in all their classes last week. We're all shifting into a higher gear this quarter and our students are running low on fuel and ambition. We're on the fast track to disaster.

November 4, 2007

Pep Talk

Rarely a Sunday goes by without me having to do some work for the upcoming week. Sometimes it is a full day's work, while other times a few hour's worth that I ended up dragging into a whole day thing because I am the Queen of Procrastination!

Today should be pretty light as I need to write and submit my lesson plans and finish creating a few handouts. It will take a few hours tops. Realistically...

And then I can read a book or take a nap, right?

Oh no! I have this other thing I've been procrastinating on all week. Well, not exactly procrastinating...I thought I'd have time to do it in my classroom while my students were testing this week, but somehow other things demanded my attention. I think More Important Things is an evil step cousin to Procrastination.

Anyway, I have to pretend I know something about the program in which I teach and write up some things for some magnet award application. You and I are both wondering how I was duped into this...

It's because I'm so nice. So competent. I play well with others. Or something...something, indeed!

Bite the bullet, HappyChyck.

Pour another cup of coffee.

Get it done so you can read or nap today.

November 3, 2007

Hotdish is All That!

I asked my stepdaughter what she'd like for her birthday dinner this weekend.

She thought for a bit before answering, "That macaroni, hamburger, and tomato dish."

I couldn't believe it. "You want hotdish for your birthday dinner?"

She grinned and nodded her head vigorously.

"Of all the things you can choose, you seriously want hotdish?"


Oh, boy.

I grew up eating hotdish several times a week. When my mom went to work, I made hotdish several times a week. My parents might disagree with how frequently we ate it, but it seemed like we ate it all the time.

The way I make it is with ground beef cooked with chopped onions and green peppers, added to cooked macaroni and mixed with tomato soup and mushroom soup. And lots of garlic powder! Sometimes I add a vegetable to the mixture, but other times the vegetable is served on the side. I always preferred making the creamy kind of hotdish with the soup added, but many times I had to make it with stewed tomatoes instead of the canned soup. I didn't like the runny tomato in my hotdish. Too soupy.

I'm sure that all that hotdish cookin' shaped the kind of cook I became. I know many people bake their hotdish, but once I mix all the ingredients in a saucepan, I don't know why we just can't eat it. Simplicity is best. You can bake the leftovers in the oven tomorrow night if you really want some crunchy macaroni from the oven.

As my Minnesotan co-worker reminded me just last week, there are many kinds of hotdish. Honestly, I'm no expert on hotdish. I just know we ate it all the time when I was a kid. (I know I mentioned that already. It's important.) I also know that it was boring. So, I was forever adding things to it, thus each time I made hotdish, it was technically different from the time before. You see, hotdish lends itself very well as a leftover dish. Leftover roast beef? Throw it in! Leftover green beans that aren't enough for another full meal? Throw it in! Spaghettie sauce? Barbecue sauce? Yum! Before Iron Chef became cool, I was making meals out of whatever the feature ingredient (aka leftovers in my house) might be. I am proud of how I can make something out of nothing! I call myself creative and resourceful.

I actually stopped making hotdish years ago. In my early 20's when I was single, and then later in my first marriage, I tried to make hotdish, but I could only make a big pot of it, as I was programmed to make it for a family plus have some for leftovers. And, for some reason, it didn't taste the same.

A few weeks ago, my sweetie said, "You know what sounds good? Macaroni, hamburger, and tomatoes. Do you know how to make that?"

You know I've been cooking for my sweetie for 5 years, and he asked if I knew how to make hotdish. Seriously! Of course I know how to make it! It's part of my heritage! Not to mention that it's hardly a difficult dinner to make.

The first time I introduced hotdish to my family, I made it chunky with onions, green pepper, and stewed tomatoes, and I used whole wheat macaroni. I know it was more than he wanted, but that's the way I roll! My sweetie and the kids ate it up like it was gourmet fare. Unbelievable! I have to admit it was pretty good, though. Come to find out, the kids really miss eating ground beef. (They get ground beef if they eat a hamburger outside the house. Most of the time when I make dishes that require hamburger, such as burritos, I use fake meat.) It's the simple things in life, though, isn't it?

My sweetie isn't 100% pleased with my hotdish because the way his mother made it was much runnier with stewed tomatoes. Although, I don't have the aversion I once had to stewed tomatoes and I load my hotdish with them now (Bring on the lycopene, baby!), it's not runny enough for him. I've tried to explain to him that his mother, like mine probably used homemade stewed tomatoes, and it was a little juicier than what we buy in the store.

So, just that easily, hotdish is quickly working its way back into my life. I'm the one who plans meals now, and I have to admit, it is a versatile, inexpensive, filling meal. Once again I am making it all the time--or so it seems. It's such a natural thing for me to make that I can't believe I stopped making it for so long.

I wonder how long until hotdish loses its magical appeal, and the kids are begging me not to make it, rather than requesting it as a special meal. I have a few other forgotten foods from my childhood I should unearth. I haven't made pigs in a blanket in a long time...

November 2, 2007

According to the Circular Ads...

It's time to buy Christmas trees, lighted lawn decorations, and toys for under the tree.

I'm not quite in the mood--how about you?

November 1, 2007

When Grumpy Men Soften Up

As soon as dinner was over tonight, my sweetie jumped up to make a phone call. Strange. He's not really a chatty kind of guy.

Until lately.

On October 23, he became a grandpa. (Yea, I know that makes me a step grandma. Whatever.) When he first heard the news he was going become a grandpa back in June, he didn't want to talk about it. It wasn't necessarily a stress-free, joyful event because his oldest daughter has had a bumpy ride into adulthood. Has she grown up enough to have a baby--even if she is in her mid-2o's? I know part of it was about worry about her, but part of it was also his vanity.

The last couple of months he's been on the phone checking on his daughter, who lives in Tennessee, more than he has talked to her in a long time. In the weeks before she was due, he called just about every day. When she passed her due date, he didn't want to admit it, but he was worried about her. And after she finally gave birth, she had a hard time of it (had to be induced and then ended up delivering cesarean), so she didn't sound so great each time he talked to her. Of course, this made him worry even more. Awwww!

Listen in on his side phone conversation and tell me this isn't so sweet:

"You sound better."
"How's the munchkin?"
"Is she sleeping now?"
"So, who does she look like?"
"She has brown hair?"
"Do you have pictures yet?"
"Did you get the crib set up?"
"So...when should I come visit? Do you have a place for me to stay if I come out?"
"Well, I'm glad you're sounding a lot better."
"Stay in touch."
"Love you. Bye."

I tease him about how much he just can't wait to get a picture of his cute little granddaughter for his wallet so he can show everyone.

He pretends like this isn't a big deal, but it is.

It's a whole new game. He's a grandpa now!

October 31, 2007

Joining the Crazies

At the last minute I decided to dress up and participate this lame holiday we call Halloween. I rarely go all out, but the last few years I've tried to make a sincere effort. Unfortunately, I guess my sense of humor is just too bizarre for most people.

In 2004, I dressed up as myself in 25 years. I thought it was a subtly brilliant idea, but my students didn’t even notice that I had wrinkles and gray hair, nor did they notice my insanely tacky, cheesy old-lady clothing. Perhaps it spoke more of my rudimentary theater makeup skills and my lack of current fashion sense than my students’ observation skills, but I seriously doubt it. That was the year I almost quit teaching. Ironically those students gave me real wrinkles and gray hair. (Also, very few students in my classes dressed up, so it was just another day for me to look like a fool.)

In 2005, the objective of my costume was to be unusual and comfortable. I stole an idea I read somewhere about attaching a big yellow circle to white t-shirt and putting on devil horns and a tail to become a deviled egg. (After I made it, I spotted a packaged costume with that same concept.) Very few people guessed what I was, and most of the students, once told, were still quite confused.

In 2006, with comfort and creativity still the most important idea, I donned a pink sweat suit, draped and wrapped myself in a plastic tablecloth and went to school as bubblegum—the ABC kind. My students ended up taking guesses about my costume, and their guesses were much more creative that what I actually was. Technically, I was a fat chick dressed in way too much pink. The lengths I go to humiliate myself.

So, what did I come up with this year? I almost came up with nothing, as I didn't want to spend any money--nor much time putting it together. Gotta get use out of that Hawaiian shirt I bought for a luau last summer. I know, I know. How boring. A tourist. But never fear! I tweaked it a little by adding a third eye, thus becoming a tourist from another planet.

Everyone loves a vacation in Vegas, baby!

October 30, 2007

A Great Day to Succeed!

My night school students are incredulous that they have to come to school on Halloween Night. Most of them won't come, but there are about 50 students who need to attend because tomorrow is the state proficiency writing exam.

You know the proficiency exam that determines whether students can graduate? (Okay, so they do have more than one chance to take the exam.) The same proficiency exam that determines AYP for high schools? Yea, that proficiency exam.

Night school students have to suffer because they'd rather run the streets like wild animals go trick or treating. Boo-hoo. We feel so sorry for them. Taking an important test isn't going to affect regular high schools on Halloween because the students will surely attend during the day since all the fun is at night.

Yea, and in what crazy costumes will these students be taking this exam? Will their minds be on this important test? Will they be all hyped up on Smarties?

I believe that most of us teachers try to carry on with school during these crazy holidays. Sure, maybe we deviate from the regular curriculum and do something related to the spooks within our content area, but do we plan important tests on Halloween? (Or on Valentine's Day? Or Homecoming Week? Or the day before Winter Break?) I doubt it.

The hardcore teachers don't care what holiday it is or what teen distraction there might be when they plan exams. Of course, it's up to the students to grow up and be prepared. I can respect that point of view.

When it comes to graduation rates and meeting AYP, would even the hardest, most cynical teacher still give a test?

I wonder.

So, who exactly in the state department of education thought that it would be a good idea to administer a state-wide proficiency exam on Halloween? I'm sure there are teachers and testing administrators asking this question in every single high school in the state.

October 29, 2007

Game On!

Beginning of the 2nd quarter. Lesson plans in on time. Quarter project information delivered to my students. A plan in place...for the most part.

November is going to be exasperating. We begin the month with two day of testing. During one day in the second week, our team will be out of the classroom to participate in a special event sponsored by the social studies teacher. The third week will begin on Wednesday, as we all take Veteran's Day off, and then the student get to enjoy an additional day while we teachers have an in-service day. The following week is, of course, Thanksgiving. Oh poo! I just remembered that the English department has planned a mock writing proficiency exam that week--you know because it's such a difficult week to count on students showing up anyway. Finally, at the end of the month, I'll get a full week of instruction.

So what are we doing? Writing and reading My students will be writing a book this quarter in the spirit The House on Mango Street. Basically, it will be a book of vignettes about their own lives. I tried to convince them that it wouldn't be so painful because each piece of writing will start in their writer's notebooks, which is something my students are accustomed to anyway. They just aren't used to having to polish every piece they write in their notebooks.

I'm also going to introduce writing response groups into my classroom this month. I had been spoiled the last few years because the 7th grade teacher trained them on the protocol, which she modified from our work in the Southern Nevada Writing Project, so I was able to jump right into using response groups without much modeling. The students I have this year had a different teacher last year, so I will need to establish the protocol. I'm a little rusty at it, and I am sure I'll forget some important points that I'll need to make it run more smoothly, but it will be well worth it when we get going. (I keep telling the students that, too. They are skeptical of permanent response groups.)

Although I'm not ready to present it to my students yet, I am raising the bar on their reading goals this quarter. I'm still irritated that some of them chose not to do any reading at all last quarter. (Some of them appeared to be reading, but I believe they did not follow through and actually finish anything--in 6 weeks!) I spent some time collaborating with the librarian today, and she helped me firm up some ideas on some specific reading tasks I'm going to ask my students to complete this quarter. Of course, these reading tasks aren't just reading...there will be thinking and writing, too.

Reading, thinking, and writing. That's right, students. This isn't cushy first quarter, anymore. Game on.

October 28, 2007


I'm going from persistent absence from this blog, which was so bad that my Dad called to see if I was still alive, to participating in NaBloPoMo. Frumteacher's and pissedoffteacher's comments from my last post struck a cord with me. Yes, it is therapeutic, and ranting blogging does help bring clarity to this crazy life.

I seriously contemplated NaBloPoMo last year, but didn't think I could do it, mostly because I was planning on being gone for the holiday. As it turns out my stepson came down with some infectious disease, so we had to stay home. (Those of you who followed the whole Thanksgiving trauma series know some infectious disease was to be expected. I'll link back to the series closer to the holiday.) I did make a sincere effort last November to blog more frequently, and I believe I did post 17 days. That's much better than going 17 days between posts, aye?

October 26, 2007

Back from Being Buried Alive

I understand the teachers who go missing from their blogs for weeks, but I can't understand those of you who somehow find the time to blog everyday. I know it's a discipline, but I've a few weeks where I seriously could not find the time. I thought about it a lot, though! So, here are some random ideas in HappyChyck's brain:

  • Safety Issues. I noticed in the news that there was a gang/race riot in the area where I work last night. Specifically, it was in the neighborhood where I work and drive through at night. Note to self: It might seem quiet at night, but when residents are quoted as saying that fights happen there often, they know more than you do.
  • ChChChChanges.We've had a change in administration at our school in the last month. Our wonderful principal was offered a job in the district office. You can't go around being Principal of the Year, leading a Title 1 Distinguished Award-winning school, and dragging a school up from Watch List to Meeting AYP (and High Achieving one year) without getting snatched up by district level administration. It's been a rough few weeks for us, but the district wisely hired our vice-principal to take over as principal, so we are again in safe and competent hands. Our new principal is not as beloved as our old principal, but those who don't love her are quite happy with having the devil we know at the helm. I get along quite well with the devil and am happy for her promotion. Isn't it nice to have administrators that we hold in esteem?
  • Get a Book! For the most part, my students read a lot of books. Some do it willingly, while some are forced. We use Accelerated Reader at our school, although it is more elementary geared and we 8th grade teachers don't do much with it. I use to to set reading goals for my students, and these goals are based on individual reading abilities. Meeting the AR goal counts as a test grade at the end of the quarter, and it's basically an independent project. It should be something every students can do during a quarter, yet every year I have students who do not read even one book! This quarter it I had about 20 students who chose not to read anything. Therefore, they also chose to take a 0% on a test grade. Assessments are weighted at 50% of their grades. Average a 0% into that, kiddo! Can anyone explain to me how damn hard it is to read a couple of books in a quarter--especially when it's a standing homework assignment to read 30 minutes a night?
  • What Essay, Miss? It took me two weeks to give feedback to my students on an essay. I cannot believe what a struggle it is! Sure, I only teach one English prep, but when papers are due, there are over 100 of them. It took me a few years to figure out why it has become so hard for me to process essays. At my last school I taught 2-4 preps, but I certainly did not assign essays all at the same time. So, if I had over 100 essays waiting to be graded or evaluated it was my own poor planning. Now, it's just life. Unfortunately, some of my students waited so long to get their essays back that they forgot about them. (Student mentality: I did it. It's done. Don't give it back to me.)
  • What if... While I've been buried under a mountain of essays, I've caught myself daydreaming about a different path my life might have gone down if I had made a few different choice. I was hired for my first teaching job just days before school started. I didn't want to leave Utah, but there weren't any full time jobs in hometown area, so I did apply all over the West. I also applied for some less-than-desirable jobs in my hometown area, just in case I didn't get a teaching position. The whole idea of not getting a teaching position was an fear I'd had, so minored in business information systems, thinking that if I had to I could work in an office. (The need for computer knowledge and skills was just becoming a necessity when I was in college.) I had some opportunities on that business/computer related path that came up just about the time I left Utah to take a position in rural Nevada. (By the way,CaliforniaTeacherGuy's Jewel School Town sounds suspiciously like my rural Nevada town.) One was for as a computer lab "aide" at an elementary school 3o miles away, and the other was for a computer/keyboarding instructor at the local technical college. Both were part time. Part time work does not pay the bills, especially when student loans are coming due. Although I really wanted to stay in my hometown area, I needed a full time teaching job. Of course, I made the right and only decision I had to move to Nevada, I can't help but wonder where the business/computer path would have eventually taken me. Probably not chained to a bottomless file folder of ungraded essays...
  • Mama Drama. Last weekend, I discovered that my stepchildren, who live with us, had Myspace accounts. Wow, pretty interesting considering that they don't have e-mail addresses and their computer usage is monitored and limited! The edgiest site they visit is are only 6 and 8 years old, afterall! It took a few days, but after notifying Myspace, the accounts were deleted. As it turns it, the accounts were new, and it was one of the first thing my first grader told us about when he came home from visiting his maternal family: "I got a Myspace!" (We found the spaces first, though.) Of course, the accounts were created so the kids could communicate with other family members, and that is a nice idea, but a tad ignorant. I seriously doubt our kids would fall prey to pedophilic predators on Myspace, but Myspace is an adult space. It is designed for adults and features adult things. Here I mean simply, grown-up, but we all know there are other kinds of adult things that young eyes could accidentally stumble upon--more easily there than another other place young people might go. In fact, these other kinds of adult things can be found on profiles of their own family members. Talk about poor judgment! I don't really consider myself conservative, but I feel like such a Pollyanna in trying to keep our children innocent, and well, simply children in our world.

October 17, 2007

Wasted Class Time

Forget how many hours a year are wasted waiting for students to pass their papers in.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted when kids pack up their things two minutes early.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted digging in backpacks for the assignment that should have been ready at the beginning of class.

Forget how many hours a year are wasted dealing with computer problems.

I'd like to know...

How many hours a year are wasted watching Ms. HappyChyck
--reduced to a cartoon-character of a teacher--
as she struggles to get the projector screen to stay down?

October 13, 2007

The Great Shoelace Rebellion

I heard whisperings that Friday would be No-Shoelace Day. I didn't think anything of it because there is a group of 8th graders who like to declare special dress-up days on Fridays. We've already had Greaser Day (in remembrance of a group of boys who were at our school last year) and Cowboy Day (uhm, yea) this year. It's a pretty small group of students, mostly girls, who have their little fun, and considering these little theme days must work within our dress code (solid colors, and collared shirts), an outsider probably would not even realize they were dressed differently. It mostly has to do with hair and accessories, of course.

Before school started on Friday I had dozens of students in my classroom trying to print their weekly assignments for Ms. Social Studies, and while they were in line, many of them were discussing whether they would remove their shoelaces or not. As it turns out, one of their classmates was written up for dress code violation because he had taken the shoelaces out of his shoes. Of course, this was just wrong in their eyes because there isn't any such rule about not having shoelaces. So, they were going to show those deans and not wear their shoelaces, too.

A couple of students asked to borrow safety pins on Friday morning, and it turns out they were using them to hold their shoes on after they removed their laces. Once I learned what they needed the safety pins, I reminded them that shoelaces serve a purpose. Determined to make a point, they ignored me while shuffling around with the tongues of their Chucks flopping around.

Ah, the rebellion! Cracks me up.

I decided that perhaps they didn't want to hear the reason why not having shoelaces might be a problem. God forbid that we should have to evacuate the school with these loose-shoed teens. And people, that is not a far-fetched idea. We've had fires at our school twice in the years I've been here, and just last week we had to evacuate because of a gas leak on the adjacent construction site of our new school. Oh, well. I'm an adult. I'm way over 30, and I don't know anything.

Instead, I went next door to share laughter with the 7th grade English teacher who had my group of students last year. We giggled and rolled our eyes over our goofy kids. She told me that particular group of students did have a tendency to get riled up. She admitted that had she not been a first year teacher last year, she might have been able to channel their rebellious energy into something positive. (Sounds like a challenge to me, doesn't it?)

I'm not sure if anything came of the great rebellion. I know a few students were late to class because they were detained so they could lace their shoes. I also know the student who had first endured the injustice earned himself two days of detention, but I don't know if it was related to his shoelaces.

Throughout the day I'd hear snippets of conversation related to the shoelace rebellion, but it wasn't until after lunch that I found a copy of the student handbook where I looked up the dress code. Okay, so I fell down on the job because it plainly says (in kid speak, not lawyer speak) that if students wear shoes that have laces, those laces should be laced. Of course rather than being mildly amused by their antics, I should have set them straight and enforced the code. Oops!

I do feel a little bad for my students, though. The code pertaining to shoes is black and white. There was nothing to dispute. Those shoes came with laces? Wear them! Poor kids wasted their energy on an issue where they were clearly in the wrong.

I'm sure they'll find a better cause next week.