December 16, 2009

My Letter to Momma Bear

Dear Momma Bear,

I understand that you are fiercely protective of your little cub. I don't blame you; it's a dangerous world out there and he has important places to go in his life.

The thing is, your cub has been wandering about the forest too much lately. Not a lot. Just enough that he is in a little trouble. It's okay. He was just testing his boundaries, and he now knows he should stay on the path you have made for him.

Yes, I know he's been wandering just a wee bit, but I have a lot of little animals to watch each day. His little wanderings have been noted, and I have set him back on track. He's a good little cub. He really is going to get back on track.

I know you think I am to blame, but we both have the same goal for your little cub. He does have a mind of his own, and he made his choices. Just because I have given him a glimpse of his possible consequences as a reminder for getting off his designated path does not mean he need actually suffer the consequences. It's just a warning, like a sign that says, "Danger ahead!"

Despite what you say about me--yes word gets around the forest--I like your little cub. He is one of my favorites! And no, I certainly would not have anything against little cubs at all! Not even bears! I like all the animals the same, no matter the fur or size!

But frankly, Momma Bear, if you continue to bare your teeth to me, when I am only trying to help your cub, I will surely start to keep my distance from him. Is that really what you want?

Ms. HappyChyck
Wildlife Management & Education

December 12, 2009

Now Do You Understand Why I'm a Teacher?

I fell out of touch with my best friend from childhood when I was in college. We became BFFs the summer before middle school and stayed that way all through high school--even after she moved to a different city a few hours away during our sophomore year.

There is no exact moment when our friendship ended--that I can recall anyway. We started to grow apart about the time she voiced her disdain for my career choice. You know, being a teacher. We teachers (and teachers-to-be) have a hard enough time in society that we don't need the flak from our friends and family members. Of course, she became a chemical engineer, and right out of college her starting salary was about $30,000 more than mine--especially in Utah, where at the time, had I been able to get a job there 13 years ago, I would have been making about $18,000 a year. (I did much better by moving to Nevada.)

I guess our perspectives about the world were different by that time in our lives. She thought a career like hers was better than mine, and I suggested to her that she would never have gotten where she was had it not been for teachers. She was smart, and I'll admit she was always smarter than I was--especially in math and science--but she didn't come out of the womb ready to be a chemical engineer.

It's hard to say what was going on at her end that she would let our friendship fade. My own motives may not have been all about my career choice, as I lost touch with nearly all of my high school friends by the time I was in my mid-20's, but I know I have always felt particularly bitter about her non-support of me.

We reconnected about six years ago, but it was through just a few fleeting e-mails, and in the end, I felt her judgment through the great tubes of the Internet. The details are not the point of this post, though.

Just last year, we reconnected, once again, through the wonder of Facebook. I'm a major fan of Facebook, as I was of MySpace, too, because it brings me great joy to see how old friends are doing. When she requested my friendship, I was initially reluctant because I have this damn grudge. I am not even one who holds grudges, but this one is deep. After many weeks of ignoring the request, I decided there was no harm.

We don't talk. She's a friend whose updates I read, and only occassional check the "like" button or perhaps will include a lighted-hearted comment about something, like, "Way to go on running your marathon!"

Last night she posted her thoughts about the importance of educating women, after listening to a podcast where Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. If you're not familiar with what he advocates, here's what he has to say about the value of educating girls, in reference to his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

“In Africa, they say, ‘Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community.’” Several global studies show that sending girls to school significantly decreases infant and maternal mortality rates, helps stabilize population growth, and improves the quality of health and life for everyone in the community. And, Mortenson emphasizes, educated mothers are less likely to condone their sons’ joining terrorist groups. He sees a direct link between building schools in an unstable part of the world and security at home.


You know I want to comment on that so badly. This is a concept I use everyday with my alternative education girls, right here in America, especially the ones who are pregnant or have children. I tell them how proud I am that they are trying to make a better life for their families and how important it is for them to be educated mothers. It is so hard for them to stay in school when they have so many responsibilities. Sure, as moms, they won't fight terrorism, but they will fight poverty, broken families, racism, and perhaps even violence. Their circumstances are real and right here.

My middle school girls are typically in much better situations, but right now we happen to be doing a Pennies for Peace campaign, which stems from Mortenson's work, and whenever I can, throughout the year, I emphasize to all my students how blessed we are to live in a country where all students, including girls, have all the opportunities they could ever imagine to have an education. The focus on global awareness in program helps them think about how they might make a difference in the world, in places where there are wonderful people, wonderful cultures, but terrible circumstances.

What I like to say to my friend:

Your revelations about the world saturate my daily life. The power of education, which you find to be a profound thought, is the force that drives my life's work.

I am a teacher.

December 1, 2009

Squeezing Good Writing Out of Them

Lately, my creative writing class has been wearing on my nerves. I thought I blogged about it, but I don't see the post. Basically, in the last few weeks, I've complained to my teacher friends, "What came first? Them being assholes, or me being a bitch?" Either way, what a warm fuzzy classroom environment! If sarcasm is a teddy bear, that is.

Last night, half the class was gone, including some of the students that I might be two inches away from hating, and I was a completely different teacher, and they also had a different tone.

Anyway, last night, I had a nice group of students (some of them are not really that nice, but their antagonistic buddies were gone), and I gave them a writing challenge to write a 6-sentence paragraph without repeating any words. I encouraged them to look in their writer's notebooks for topic ideas (finding a topic is always a struggle) and to brainstorm on the topic first so they would have a word bank (not an unusual concept to them, yet not one they don't necessarily subscribe to). Finally, I said, "The dictionaries are on the shelf. Does anyone want a thesaurus?" (I only have 4. They have to share.)

Hands shot up all over the classroom. I LOVE IT! These are the students I adore.

At the end of class, I gathered their paragraphs, which they verbally lamented about throughout the entire period, and I was so impressed by their creativity, ingenuity, and overall quality of writing. I was gushing about how good they were to the point where they started accusing me of doing drugs. Again. Weird behavior = substance abuse. They just don't get English teachers.

I don't know if it was because it was a "short" piece of writing, or because it looked like a puzzle--a challenge, that is, but I need to get some more of that going on! I can praise them all night long and into tomorrow when they can create such inspired pieces of writing. (Take my word for it, as I don't have any examples.) When they act like jerks and hand in things looks like my 3rd grade son wrote (and he doesn't like writing, either), I can't say complimentary things. Sure, I can bit my tongue against saying what I really think--sometimes.

But as my story goes, and has for the last 5 years in my time at this school, they are a fickle bunch. What they think is lame and what is cool changes constantly.

November 30, 2009

Just Showing Up

So, I fell apart toward the end of NaBloPoMo and didn't end up posting everyday, but I'm okay with it. No sense beating myself up for not making my goal on something like this. Since my life became inhumanely busy, I've learned to let a lot of things go. So far the world has not come to an end--not even close, not even once!

I am pleased with myself for finding a few minutes to blog. Most nights it was me dozing off at the keyboard, and I have some inane posts, but hey, at least I showed up to the party. I can't be entertaining all the time!

Cheers to trying to find more time again!

Thanks for reading!

November 29, 2009

Sunday Blues from Turkey Overdose

Okay, so it's not really turkey overdose, since I ate turkey exactly twice this weekend: Thanksgiving dinner and Friday night dinner from the leftovers the hostess graciously sent home with us.

I guess what I overdosed on was Turkey weekend fun. You know--relaxing with friends and eating good food on Thanksgiving. Shopping, laughing, and relaxing with my husband on Friday. (We were oddly silly all day. I haven't laughed so hard in a while!) Shopping and relaxing with a friend on Saturday. Relaxing with my family on Sunday. Doing some nesting, last of unpacking and some arranging, throughout the weekend.

In other words, I spent the whole weekend acting like a normal person enjoying a long weekend off.

Only, I'm not a normal person. I'm a teacher. I'm a yearbook adviser. I'm a grad student. I have midterm grades due in the computer on Monday. I'm way far behind on the yearbook. My stupid weekly paper is due Wednesday. In other words, I needed to spend my weekend WORKING. But I didn't.

So I have the blues.

I'm not sure if I'm more blue that I didn't follow through on my responsibilities or the fact that I have such responsibilities that demand that I must work on a lovely long holiday weekend.

Blew, blew, blew it off!

November 28, 2009

Hair-on-the-Brain Reflections

Last night I was unpacking and shelving our books, which is pretty well the last of what's in boxes, but I kept getting distracted with photo albums and scrap books.

I first took a walk down memory lane with my graduation scrapbook. Boy did I have big hair and how the heck did I ever think I was fat? I wish I had the massive hair and supposed fatness I had 20 years ago. I was much thinner then, but all that tall, curly, teased hair, probably made me look smaller, too.

I also found the staff picture from my first year of teaching. Boy, was my hair blond, and I wore a lot of eye make-up! (Okay, I still wear a lot of eye make-up...) I asked my sweetie, "Should I go blonder?" I was blonder when I met him. His stock answer, "Whatever you want, hun!"

Perhaps I should go light auburn like that picture from my sophomore year in college. And it wasn't just the red, it was the cut that was flattering, too. I went to some random beautician in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, and she pulled off "The Rachel". Yes, I actually remember that short period of time when I had cute hair, stylish hair.

The majority of my photos show variations of a bob, with a million different hair colors. Except purple. I am waiting until I am an old lady for that.

What a sad statement that is about me when I look back on photos and think about my hair.

November 25, 2009

Never Underestimate the Power of Stickers

I remember that moment in my second year of teaching when one of my freshmen asked, "Why don't you ever give us stickers?"

Several students agreed, nodding their heads, "Yeah! Stickers!"

"Stickers?" I said, wrinkling my nose, "For what?"

"You know, like when we do good on something."

"What? Are you kidding me? This is high school! You want me to put stickers on your papers?" I could not believe this craziness.

Many of the students were enthusiastic at the idea of stickers.

So, I bought stickers. I'm not really that cutesy, but making the transition to stickers was not so tough. I'm kind of a smiley face fan. I used stickers for special occasions, for example, when they received a good score on a test. Or sometimes I would pass out stickers when homework wasn't being completed. I was always shocked when even the macho boy athletes would beg for stickers. And then the next day more people would have homework...

I know it's dirty and wrong to bribe like that, but it's a freakin' STICKER! If it works...

I even started doing other cutesy stuff like stamping things with scented ink, and sending out smiley face postcards for students performing well in class. Those postcards were a pretty big deal! Shocked, shocked, shocked, how much those teens like that stuff.

Now that I am at a middle school, I still use stickers, but mostly for reading logs.

Today, I had every intention of going around to the students to check to see that they are staying up on this long-term writing project we are doing with The Diary of Anne Frank, which is also set up like a diary. Unfortunately, I ran out of time in a few of my classes. I had no intention of giving them grades yet--I just wanted to see that they had the 5 entries that we've completed so far.

In 5th hour, several of the students were put out that I was not going to be able to look at their journals, although I had already shared with them that I wasn't going to put it into the grade book anyway. According to the clock, I only had 5 minutes, so I said, "Okay, if anybody wants to show me that you've completed your entries, I'll give you a frog sticker." This appeased the few who wanted me to follow through on my plan, but it also compelled more students than I thought to take their laptops back out to show me their work.

Several wanted a sticker although they had not completed all the work: "See, Miss--I've done almost 5. Okay, only really 3, but can I have a sticker?"

They wanted a sticker.

A sticker.

A STICKER!

It's not even a very big sticker!

More than decade later after I first encountered it, this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.

November 23, 2009

Morning Sights

My commute to work is now a little bit longer, and it's all surface streets instead of freeway. It's not a particularly exciting drive, but in the last week I've see some unusual things.

(Maybe not as unusual as the dead body in the street I saw one morning just a few months after moving to Las Vegas several years ago, though.)

I spotted a coyote standing on a little hill at a golf course a week ago. I wasn't sure what I was seeing at first, so I did a double take to make sure it wasn't a dog. I wasn't even sure what the hill was from until I took notice on the way back home later in the day and realized the hill was part of the banking for a golf course.

(I need to look at a map, but I think there are quite a few golf courses in the area.)

As you can imagine, every morning I now look to see if I can spot the coyote.

Today, just further up the road, I almost ran over some birds in the road. At first I thought they were pigeons, which are disgustingly common around the city, but they weren't. Nope. They were chickens. Chickens in the street. Chickens!

I've seen chickens in some neighborhoods before, but that doesn't mean I expect it. I expect chickens on a farm. I expect chickens on country roads, where the grass is tall, walkin' along the road where the only thing green is probably trash blowing around.

When I came in tonight I told my sweetie about seeing chickens this morning.

He patted me on the head, chuckled, and told me I was seeing things. Perhaps I should drive with my glasses on in the morning?

So much for the enthusiasm for seeing the out-of-the-ordinary. I'm going to keep looking.

November 21, 2009

Who Doesn't Love Some Discarded Books?

Magical Mystical Teacher's Six Word Saturday is

Books open doors. Open a book!

I concur!

I opened up a book last night, and finished it this morning. It was brain candy romance that I read when I need a fix but do not have a lot of time. Not sure it opened a lot of doors, but it relieved some stress by allowing me to escape reality for a little while.

One of my colleagues passed on a box of brain candy to me the other day. She is no so unlike me in that she does not have a lot of time but needs to zone out, so she brought a whole box to my classroom marked "Desk Supplies." I'm not sure if it's a reused box, or it was disguised to hide our dirty little secret.

About that same time, Ari, a senior girl in my proficiency class, brought Tana French's In the Woods and asked if I'd read it. She also asked if I had anything good to read. I enjoyed In the Woods (although the end was not as good as it could have been compared to the rest), and we talked books for a while, but sadly, I did not have anything to pass on. I haven't been reading much for leisure (education research journals anyone?), and I donated a my box of unwanted books before I moved. It's not that I'm book poor, but the stack I have is of unread books only.

The box of brain candy changed things because my colleague passed it on to me saying, "Just pass them on when you are finished!" I went through and picked out what I didn't want to read or had already read, and what I thought would be okay to pass on to students and came up with a little pile of John Grisham (been over him since '99), Mary Higgins Clark (haven't I read just about everything she's written?), and Nicholas Sparks (I can take him or leave him).

I was so ecstatic to see them attack the pile like hungry teens on pizza! Some of them admitted to enjoying reading, but others who took books were indifferent. A couple thought they had to take a book, but when they realized they didn't, they reconsidered and put it back. Whatever. What was interesting is that those who don't read a lot but were excited to have a book to read. It's interesting how sometimes if you just give a kid a book, and these "kids" are two inches from being full-blown adults, they will take it happily and read it. Some of them won't read it, I know from experience, but the fact that they just blasted excited to get a book is so wonderful!

Once or twice the past, I've brought extra books in for my alt ed kids to take home, and I get the same reaction. How hard it would it be for me to bring in some books to give away from time to time? Their tastes are probably closer to mine than my middle schoolers, as they also read both young adult and adult books. I typically like to trade my books in for new ones to read, but if I'm money smart, I can do this pretty inexpensively. It's a little impact, but maybe for a couple of teens, owning a book, or being "given" a book, even if it's from a pile of discarded books, is a treasure. I know it is to me!



November 19, 2009

Stupid Chocolate Pushers

For the last two years, the band has peddled chocolates at our school. Last year it was to raise money for instruments, and this year it's for a trip to New York.

You know the chocolate, right? The World's Finest Chocolate. It is totally NOT the world's finest chocolate, but when I've hit the 2nd period yearbook slump, and Gabby is carrying a full box, the temptation is sometimes too great.

Oh, the glorious waxiness of crappy fundraiser food!


But halfway through the bar, self-loathing (chocolate for breakfast!)
and flavor disgust kick in
and then I
give the rest to Thing One (editor who eats anything)
or
eat the rest really fast.

Damn band and their pushers.

November 18, 2009

A Two-Eraser Day for My Seniors

Last night was I so blasted irritated with my seniors because they were just off-the-hook crazy and loud. Some of them needed to revise some essays they had started and never finished, and before they left, I wanted to give them a pep talk for the Writing Proficiency Exam there were to take today.

High stakes writing exam. Most of them had already taken it once (and failed), and most of them really wanted to pass so they can graduate in January. Super high stakes for them! So, you'd think they'd calm down and let me get a few words of wisdom in, wouldn't ya?

Today, was a different story, though. Half the class was still taking the test (3 hours later!) and those who finished were confident and joyful that they had passed, yet utterly brain dead from the experience.

Because they expressed pride in themselves, and gratitude to me, I gave them the night off from thinking.

And they were so exhausted from testing, they were super quiet. A couple played hangman on the board. A few talked quietly between themselves, and several just zoned out with headphones.

I love it when they think so much they wear themselves out!

In any case, I'm very proud of them, and I will be broken-hearted if they don't pass.

P.S. Apparently one of the topics was about the importance of staying in high school instead of dropping out and going to work. Or something. Hellllloooo! This topic was meant for my students! These are the kids who have dropped out or been kicked out of regular high school. At one time or another, they have reflected on how important getting that education is and have some to our school. They should have profound thoughts on the topic!

November 17, 2009

White

"Hey, Miss!" one of my night school students calls over to me across the room. "Cuba [self-professed nickname of Alex] over here says that his sister has the same mother and father but that she's half Cuban and half white! Explain that!"

What an interesting riddle! Is it possible that one of Cuba's parents is not a faithful spouse?

Oh, noooo!

Cuba explained that he was born in Cuba, but his sister was born in the United States, hence, she is half white.

However, as Cuba puts it, "Man! She's she's totally white!"


I have to leave it at that for now, as I have a paper I need to write. So, for now...
Talk amongst yourselves...

November 16, 2009

Transfer This, Please!

Today I went joyfully into reteaching annotated bibliography, and where I meant to only spend half a class period doing so, it worked out better just giving the rest of the period to redo the assignment. In some classes, I ran around giving one-on-one help, but--cross your fingers--it was looking like they just needed a little spackle to cover the holes and most seemed to be doing fine with that further instruction.

I know some of them are perplexed by the annotated part of the bibliography, and since they are, by nature, lazy creatures, I tried to explain to them we aren't doing this to torture them to more hold them accountable for the sources they use. After all, I reminded them, they are living in an age where they are bombarded by information, and it is important for them to closer scrutinize the information they receive. I believe that, especially for their information-overloaded generation, being able to sort useful, reliable information from the rest is a an essential life skill.

Ah, but why do I bother talking about essential life skills with 8th graders? They usually zone me out. "Life" is too far into their futures, or so they think.

"Okay," I reminded them, "On Wednesday, you need to turn in an annotated bibliography for your science project or report to your science teachers and one to me, too."

I've only said that a gazillion times, and it's on the board, and it's in their science project packet. But they keep giving me these damn blank stares.

Oh, but a new comment from a student, "But, Miss! Mr. Science Teacher hasn't gone over this with us!"

Somebody please shoot me now!

I could not even hide my exasperation as I went into full-on HappyChyck theatrics: "I'm going over this with you!"

The student sat there looking stumped, and half the class stared at him like he's the village idiot.

"You see, Mr. Science Teacher said, 'Ms. HappyChyck, do you think you could go over this with the students?' I said, 'Sure! No problem! I know just what to do!' And then, I gave him the same materials I'm giving you, so he knows what you should know."

I think there might have been more about how I would expect them to be able to read and write outside of my classroom, too. I don't know. I was in that full-on exasperated drama mode.

I wonder what Wednesday will bring...

November 15, 2009

S.O.S

I got nuthin' new to say. Same Old Stuff.
  • Tomorrow I'm reteaching how to do an annotated bibliography. I've struggled with getting my students to cite sources before. Last year we started doing the annotated bit in the spring, and when I suggested to the team that we try really hard to get the students to write bibliographies--and annotate them, they thought it was a good idea. Why annotate? To hold students accountable for the sources they use. We were using EBSCO, and most sources give the correct citation to use, but my students didn't bother with the annotated part on their practice assignment. We need to go back and connect the dots. They have a bibliography due for their science projects this week.
  • I'm struggling with my master's program, but unlike my struggles this summer, this time I am just so tapped out. Seriously just too much on my plate. The class I am currently taking is about how children learn, and it includes stuff about how the brain learns, which is a pretty new terrain since I received my undergrad degree. I find this stuff über interessant, but I am also too numb to care.
  • I start to get homesick this time of year, which is kind of crazy considering how long ago I moved from my hometown. On Friday morning, I felt compelled to talk to my parents, and it needled me so much that I thought maybe there was something wrong, so I called during my prep. Everyone was fine, and I talked to my dad for 15 minutes, which for him, is a reeaaalllly long time to talk on the phone. It was so nice! He's not a phone talker, but when he is a great storyteller when we're porch sittin'. This time of year, there's no porch-sittin' when we visit, but there's still lots of jawin'. On Saturday, I talked to my brother, and I told him I was getting homesick, and he said, "I don't know why! It's cold here! I'm trying to think of ways to get out of here!" I think that colder weather makes me nostalgic for home. Listen to me, I might start getting all Garrison Keillor-ish if I don't stop now. Warning to my family: I might be calling more in the next few months!
  • Above all...it's Sunday night, and I've got the Sunday Blues. I get them most Sundays, and only Desperate Housewives makes me forget for a little while that I have to work on Monday. I'm am living for those two Sundays in December when I won't have to have the blues. I'm a living for those 16 days when I can just relax by the fireplace and read until my heart's content. Isn't that what I'm always living for? Yes, it is.

November 13, 2009

Time-Wasting Equipment

The last three days I was using a VCR from 1984 (or so it looked) that was hooked up to my LCD projector so students could watch Anne Frank Remembered. Of course, it was one of those new-fangled kinds of VCRs that had a DVD player with it (so, it obviously wasn't really from 1984) but it didn't have a blasted counter with it, so every period I'd have to spend 5 minutes with the kids doing the High Low Game (think The Price is Right) trying to find the right place.

Picturing 15 kids yelling "No, past that! We've seen that! No, wait! We haven't seen that!"

Also picture 3 particularly loud kids yelling the opposite because they couldn't be helpful if their lives depended on it.

Picture the rest of them chatting with their friends because they can.

Picture pandemonium.

Picture my envy of my colleague who scored the only DVD copy of the video at Barnes and Noble last Sunday after we were brainstorming ways we could both use the one old VHS video.

Picture me saying expletives in my head but aloud: "Okay, well, this is close enough. Let's start here."

Our school has gone so modern, that it's not even that easy to use a VHS tapes, which I know is old technology, but many of us still have those valid, expensive-to-replace resources. I scored the VHS player from the Spanish teacher. I'm thinking I should visit the local thrift store for my own...with a blasted counter!

Even before our new school, I have never used videos very much in my classroom. Just a few times a year, and I never use them at home. I don't have a player, and I think I have maybe two home videos. So, standing there at the at the player each period made me feel so nostalgic. But I know it was just another one of those foolish-looking teacher moments.



**I know some of you are wondering why I wasted class time and didn't just rewind at the end of one class and before the other.
  • I did do it for classes that preceded prep or lunch
  • The video is so long that I had to be careful to get it all in over 3 days. It was close. Half the classes saw all of it. The other half missed the last few minutes.
  • I did not dare skip hall duty after we receive a nasty gram from the principal this week about being in the hallways during passing period.

November 11, 2009

The Handyman

Since we've moved in, we've had several service workers through our new home.

For peace of mind, as our home had been unoccupied for over a year, the gas man came in and checked all of the pilots.

The next day the cable guy came and was here for a very long time setting up our cable, so we could get television, phone, and Internet.

Three days later, when we had time to turn on the television, we discovered that the cable for television didn't work, although we had Internet and phone, so another repairman came out to fix it.

In between that, the Sears guys delivered and hooked up our washer and dryer. I was concerned about his qualifications for hooking up the gas dryer, but he assured me that despite of what I had heard, I didn't need to call the gas company out again because he knew what to do, and he had even tested the connection. (So far nothing has blown up.)

When we had looked at the house, we did not see much evidence of pests, except for 3 cockroaches that had died, dried up, and disintegrated. What a relief! Once we moved in, I guess having the doors open or turning on the lights, invited a bunch of little pests. An army! Spiders don't bother me much, unless they are black widow or brown recluse, but cockroaches and those little jumpy things (crickets?) that invaded had to GO! So, then we had to call an exterminator, who for this time, sprayed inside and outside.

We have a home warranty that required the company to come inspect the thoroughly inspect the house, and that happened tonight.

That inspector informed us that it looks like the furnaces and air conditioners have never been serviced (not a real crisis since the house is only 4 years old, and it has been empty for part of those years), and for our own safety we should have a heating and air person come out before we use the furnace to clean things up and check out the weird noise its making.

How many service people are we up to now? Six. Seven when the heating guy comes.

No, make that eight because a repairman is coming on Sunday to fix the hot water in the master bath. The house inspector from a few months back when we were still in the process of buying the house informed us about this Moen filter thing, but after a few trips to Home Depot (Gawd! I miss trips to Barnes and Noble instead!) and none of the right tools to even break into the thing, my sweetie called in a well-recommended handyman who knows exactly what we're talking about.

Okay...but here's the kicker--my sweetie is so excited to be his own handyman. We've always just had the luxury of calling the property manager. I know it's hilarious considering all the other men we've had traipsing through here. (Most of them were kind of specialists.) He goes around the house making little pantomimed phone calls to himself requesting things to be fixed. I think maybe I need to set up a little clip board for the "Honey-do" stuff because he'll enjoy it so much. For a while...

I might poke fun at him a little--I mean 8 different men doing stuff around here!--but my sweetie has been quite the handyman in the last few weeks.

He:
  • Hung 17 blinds. It was quite a chore, as they were in one big, messy pile in the garage, and there were no hangers. He's been to every Home Depot in the valley buying up the 3-4 they had in stock at each store. We should have ordered online, but we were kind of desperate for privacy.
  • Figured out the garage door opener. He had to buy the remotes, which meant two trips to Home Depot and then finally to the garage door place on the other side of town.
  • Changed all the locks.
  • Changed the 9volts in the smoke detectors so they would stop beeping. True, not a big deal, but he had to buy a ladder to do it. He tried standing on phone book placed on a step stool, but he dropped the battery on his head. It made a ugly, bloody gash. The things still beeped, thus the immediate need for the ladder.
  • Spent a few days figuring out how to get the front door to stay closed without the deadbolt on. A chisel was finally involved.
  • Trimmed the tree in the front that looked like a bush and was covering half the driveway.
  • Replaced toilet seats. Although, I told him that wasn't such a big job...he's done that before.
Okay, maybe that list doesn't sound very impressive. He does have some pretty big ideas of extending the patio and building an island for the kitchen. (My BFF, the weekend builder, was in town yesterday, and now she has a wild hair for her and Chris construct it themselves.)

In any case, so far he takes great joy wandering around the house looking for stuff to do. I'm sure it will wear off, but for how, it's kind of cool!

November 10, 2009

A Day Late and a Post Short

I'm behind a day on my posts. When did that happen? I'm lost and confused...but I think I started a post and didn't post it.

Being a day behind is kind of the story of my life these days.

These days would be at least the last year. Before I started working full time at night school and whittling away at my grad program, I was never more than a couple of hours behind in life. Maybe a half of a day max if it were yearbook deadline season the same week I had a drama performance or some similar insanity.

I'm so behind in life right now that I can't even add up how behind I am in all aspects. I have it sectioned of:

3 days behind on managing the finances
7 days behind on unpacking
2 days behind on my weekly assignment
1 day behind on grading the annotated bibliographies I collected
3 days behind on planning the next unit we're doing in class
3 days behind on getting my quarter 2 gradebook updated at night school
14 days behind on yearbook
--maybe the same on newspaper

Get the drift?
I'm so far in over my head, there's no way I could catch up!

November 8, 2009

Overdone Things

We 8th grade teachers are getting ready to teach The Diary of Anne Frank, which is the play version of The Diary of a Young Girl. It's a great unit, and the kids always enjoy it, but...eh. I know I might be unpopular when I say this, but I went kind of sour on it a few years ago when I learned that my students have had some sort of Holocaust literature every year. I do not mind the Holocaust, and I definitely think that it is an important topic for students to explore, but is it necessary to do it every single year?

The Holocaust falls into this category of Overdone Things I have in my head. In fact, the Holocaust genre is probably one of the first things I put in the category, years ago when I was a book seller and I noticed that Holocaust-themed novels were suddenly a hot topic in the young adult world. I don't know what triggered it--maybe taking down the Berlin Wall?

The most recent thing to be added to the Overdone Things list is, of course, Michael Jackson. I know people have said he had a great impact on music for years, but in the last decade he was a joke. Am I wrong? Now that he's gone, it's Michael everything. The other night I saw the teen dance troupe at the local community center do a rendition of "Thriller" that I am betting I would not have seen a year ago. I'm perplexed about this whole Michael mania right now anyway. I know the phenomenon about how people become more famous after death, but the obsession is more than I expected.

Right after September 9, 2001, patriotism was also added to the Overdone Things list. In July of 2001, I spent two weeks in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, and I could not help but notice the pride of our country there. I grew up in the West, and the patriotism is not as old and defined. But then after 9/11, extreme patriotism was everywhere, from clothing to car magnets. It was kind of tacky patriotism, too. I did not doubt the sincerity, but if people were so passionate about our country, why did it take a tragedy to bring it out?

I almost hate to post this because it sounds like I'm being hateful about some sacred cows, but I'm not. I just find it distasteful how sometimes we take important things to extreme levels. Can keeping the past close to our hearts with teaching the Holocaust, having pride in our country, or memorializing a great American (and international) performer truly be extreme?

To me, it feels like it can when it has a bandwagon sense about it. In these cases, not being on the bandwagon will likely cause ostracization. "You don't want to put a flag ribbon on your car? How unAmerican! How can you say that the Holocaust is overdone? You Nazi! You're tired of hearing about Michael Jackson? As if!" So, I don't fit in. I just think that there's something about tying important things to a bandwagon that cheapens them.

November 7, 2009

Bliss

What's worse than committing to writing everyday and then nodding off at my computer 45 minutes before the stroke of midnight?

Sunday nights in anticipation of Monday trumps all issue.

I'm not going to think about that, though. I'm taking the Sunday morning off to do something for myself. It starts off with sleeping in, which is something I have been unable to do on the weekends for weeks.

Can't wait! I'm going to get started on that right away!

November 6, 2009

Up to the Plate

Tomorrow is the day!

Yes, it is the day that I FULLY unpack my kitchen (Where did I pack the silverware?) and then go grocery shopping for something other than frozen entrees.

I should probably also buy my sweetie a new coffee pot. He's terribly messy with it, and in the middle of the move, I decided I was not cleaning the nasty thing again. I threw it out, out, out. Bummer, bummer, bummer for the guy who has to have coffee in the morning. I don't know what he's been doing, but between Starbucks and 7-Elevens, he has about 50 opportunities to find the magical brew before he arrives at work. Not that I'll allow him to waste money on commercial coffee for much longer...

But while I'm buying a coffee pot...

Did I mention how some of our old stuff looks particularly ratty in our new house? I'm debating whether my dish set needs replaced, too. It's the original set I bought myself when I set up my first home 20 years ago. At that time, I was (thankfully) practical and did not buy anything mauve, cornflower blue, or with little pictures of ducks and geese. At that time I had an obsession with chili peppers, but I did not buy dishes with pictures of jalapenos, either. I purchased a simple, white set of dishes. In 20 years, I have not grown tired of them, either! Good call, young HappyChyck!

Do I still need to be practical? Wouldn't a lovely set of Pfaltzgraff be nifty? How would I ever choose? I could go with the "go-with-anything" zebra print. I always say I live in the "East Side, yo!" so maybe this dishes might be a good idea? A nice freshly thrown taupe pottery would hide whatever my kids don't get cleaned off. But it's brown... The previous owners left behind some of their Lemone dishes, which are kind of like this, but it has me wondering how they ever saw what they were eating? Their forgotten pieces hardly inspire.

Ah, too many big decisions. Maybe I can polish up my old dependable plates and work on cooking up something so good nobody will notice--or care-how old and dingy out plates are looking.

November 5, 2009

The End of the Paper Trail

Tomorrow is the day!

Yes, it's the day I plan to clear off my desk.

Piles of papers. Stray sticky notes. Flapping file folders. Those blasted clip boards that prevent things from stacking flat...

It's all going to be swiped off.

...or at least restacked more neatly.

Reality check in room 833. Like I could just swipe it all off. Sheesh! Those papers are important!

Why can I never had a pristine desk like those damn math teachers all around me?

So not fair.

November 4, 2009

Women Like It Simple, Too!

The first night we stayed in our new house, it was rather hectic gathering things together to be able to get cleaned up and make up a bed so we could sleep. We had just run out of shampoo, which is not normally a big deal since I started couponing and stockpiling because I usually have 3-4 extra on hand. Unfortunately, they were in a box somewhere. Ugh. It would have been the perfect night to use some of those little shampoos that I bring home from hotels, but I had gathered up all of those and taken them to school for a service/donation project we'll be doing soon. Thank goodness my son had some shampoo in his shower--some manly-smelling stuff, but shampoo nonetheless.

Oh, but this was not just any shampoo that I took from his bathroom. No, it was body wash that could be used for "body, hair, and shave." I remember buying it for him (must have been a great deal because Nivea is very expensive!) thinking that shampoo and body wash all in one is perfect for the boy who is a soap and water repelling dirt magnet.

While I was showing, I wondered why do men get the cool stuff like this? I would love a 3-in-1 product for my shower, too! Just because I'm prissy doesn't mean I wouldn't like to stream-line my shower. Sure, I can get shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in all the same scent--like from Bath and Body Works--but I want ONE BOTTLE. ONE PRODUCT.

Nivea's product (and I think Axe and Gillette also have similar products) serves body, hair, and shave needs. I tried it in the shower, and it worked pretty well for all things on my body. It's not just a guy thing! It worked on a girl! I felt a little dirty doing using it because it was obviously not meant for a girl to use. (I did smell a little manly, but my husband often smells girly, because of the body wash I buy for us to use, so whatever!)

I already use conditioner, shampoo, or body wash for shaving gel in a pinch, so it's not a stretch to get at least a 2-in-1 product. I'd really like a good facial scrub or cream that's streamlined with another product. I need moisturizing conditioner and facial scrub, so why not combine those two things? See? This wouldn't take a marketing genius!

And you know, if you really want to do it up right, get the toothpaste in there, too. I had an OCD boyfriend years ago who brushed in the shower, and it made a lot of sense. While you're cleaning yourself anyway...saves splatter on the mirror and dropplings in the sink that need to be cleaned...

So, girls, what do you think? Could we use some all-in-one products, too? Preferrably, just ONE for all?

November 3, 2009

Stark Silence

The first night I slept at our new house, I almost could not sleep for the lack of noise.

We have, since moving to Las Vegas, lived on main streets, such as Tropicana Avenue and Flamingo Road. If you've ever been to Vegas, you might recognize that those street names from The Strip, and although in both places where I had lived, I was 10-15 minutes from The Strip, at the points where I lived on those roads, they are still 4-6 lane streets. Both near freeways.

My new house is on the edge of Las Vegas, bordering desert. (My sweetie should not have been to surprised to find a scorpion in the garage last night.) It's actually only 5-7 minutes from where I lived before, but it's not on a main road. Although this area is packed with subdivisions, with houses so close I think I can reach out the window and touch my neighbor's house, it's still quiet.

What's lacking? Sirens. Freeway noise. Road noise. The creaking of the 40-year old house we'd lived in the last few years. It's the kind of quiet I have not known since living here in the city.

We haven't had television since we moved in either, so the lack of noise in the neighborhood and in the house is seriously weird. It even seems a little uncomfortable. Since when is peace and quiet uncomfortable? Sheesh! Can't wait until I acclimate!

November 2, 2009

My Clock

I have what I call a "good body clock." That means that I can usually tell you what time of day it is without looking at a clock. I think it generally works best if I double check myself throughout the day, as I have a good feel for increments in time. "The last time I checked the time, it was noon, and it feels like about two hours have past. It's probably around 2:00p.m."

Mostly, I round to the nearest half hour, but sometimes I can do quarter hours, too. That one even surprises me. Yesterday my sweetie and I were talking about errands we had to run, and I said, "What time is it? It's probably 11:00 a.m. No," I corrected myself, "It's 11:15 a.m." Indeed, the latter time was correct.

Pretty cool trick, huh? It doesn't even require the use of the sun.

As you can imagine, the time changes really mess up my body clock. I can still tell time pretty well, but I have to do a little adding and subtracting. "Hmmm. It feels like 3:00 p.m., but we just had Daylight Saving Time, so I have to 'fall back' an hour. It's really only 2:00 p.m."

I probably should just buy a watch.

But then, on the other hand, it's probably because I don't wear a watch that I have developed this skill.

Can anybody else do this? None of my friends and family can. Nor do they try. It's my own cool weirdness.

November 1, 2009

I'm Such a Follower! Doin' NaBloPoMo!

Sooooo...

I'm sitting on the bed using the vanity lights in the bathroom, trying to catch up on what's going on in the world, as I've just spent the last three days completely out of touch with the world as we were moving, moving, moving stuff from the old house to the new one.

(Okay, I'll admit, I was acting like a Facebook addict, checking status updates during rides between houses and to the hardware store. It was really because moving sucks and I wanted to see that other people were having fun. It was Halloween weekend. EVERYONE had fun.)

Anyway, catching up on life by the glare of the bathroom and laptop lights, hubby snoring beside me... I should be reading some educational psychology text for my new class that started on Thursday, for which I really have no time for this week, yet an assignment will still be due Wednesday night.

It's Sunday! Of course, I have to stop by Melissa B.'s for her Silly Sunday Sweepstakes, but instead I stumble across her announcement that she is doing NaBloPoMo! I wanna do it, too! I did it back in 2007, and found it to be a fun challenge. Is that an oxymoron? Maybe only half.

So, I'm taking the plunge! I know it might be a little ridiculous considering my insane schedule. Moving. Grad school. Work, work, work. Half-assed motherhood. But my poor blog is dying, and I'm grumpy because I have no fun anymore. I have nothing to lose. Not even my dignity. Especially not that. I have plenty to talk about--that's for sure. You know--insanity, moving, grad school, work, motherhood. Duh! On top of that I can add everything I've been wondering about lately. There are a lot of things!

Like what?

Well, I DO need something to write about. Stayed tuned. Posts will be short, but they will be here!

Oh yeah...back to reading for school now. Bleah.

October 28, 2009

We're All Just Misunderstood

In a moment of
"What the hell are we going to do tonight, with the first day of the 2nd quarter on a Tuesday?"
combined with
"It's a shortened week with no school this Friday."
and "It's almost Halloween!"
I pulled this concept out of my patooty--Misunderstood Monsters.

I had students brainstorm ways that they are misunderstood when they came to class. For some reason, they struggled with it. Aren't they teenagers? Whatever, though.

Afterward I read a poem from the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, I asked students to brainstorm a "bad guy" or monster that they could write a different perspective for--and from that monster's point of view. (I can't remember the poem, and now I can't find it, but it wasn't as sweet and cute as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which I have used before for point of view.)

Originally, I was pushing for them to come up with a monster, but there are times I can get a lot more by being flexible, so some students are taking on the misunderstood personas of comic villains and horror movie "bad guys." My returning freaky kid who only writes dark stuff wanted to write about how the Devil is misunderstood. My student with the thickest accent is taking on La Chupracabra, and a sweet girl is taking on Grim Reaper.

The coolest one, though, that I can't wait to hear more about is Seven. Marcus asked if we could just call him 7 for short, and I thought that was okay.

Of course, I think Mister Teacher will totally understand why Seven is a bad guy who has been misunderstood. For some reason I instantly thought of him when Marcus suggested his topic.

Remember?

Six is afraid of Seven because Seven ate Nine.

Scandalous, I know!

Marcus is emphatic that Seven is completely misunderstood. "Miss! It's all a misunderstanding! Nine is fiiiiinnnnne! There's nothing wrong with Nine!" I can't wait to hear what's up with that whole situation. I want to say there's some homophobia going on, but we'll just have to wait to see what's the story is, won't we?

October 24, 2009

Stolen Dialogue

I was trying to think of a fun way to do a dialogue lesson with my alt ed creative writing class. I came across Janis Cramer's Collaborating to Write Dialogue.


I steal lesson ideas from various places online all the time, but usually I have to tweak them quite a bit. Not this time!

This lesson, as the author admits, is the result of years of tweaking. Been there, done that! (I sometimes feel sorry the students I had in my early years of teaching!) Her tweaking worked perfectly with my students, and the only thing I did differently was breaking the whole process up into numbered steps so students go work somewhat independently--not to mention smaller task means the students freak out less. (Of course, some students worked much faster than others...)

This activity took most students several days. For us, it went something like this:
Day 1--introduced assignment and students brainstorm to create characters
Day 2--created dialogue between their characters
Day 3--added details and tags
Day 4--finished composing and rewrite final dialogue on paper in correct format

I can't believe how engaged the students were as they created their characters and wrote the dialogue. The part where they had to incorporate details to make tags confused a few students, but in the end, not only did students have a dialogue, they had a short story--or a slice-of-life story.

And, they were quite impressed with their wonderful writing skills! I highly recommend this to any secondary teachers out there who are looking for a good way to get students to write dialogue.

October 12, 2009

Home-less or Home-ful?

My sweetie and I are currently going through a rite of passage called "Buying Our First Home."

Actually, it feels like some kind of hazing ritual with everything we've gone through in the last few months. When we first started this process, the realtor made it sound so easy. Well, kind of. We learned very quickly that if we were interested in a house, we had to put a bid in quickly--like within hours of seeing it. At one point, we were putting bids in on houses without physically seeing them first. In fact, that's exactly what happened with the house we are buying. Just in the month or so that we were looking, we definitely had the sense that the market was getting more and more aggressive.

Of course, after our we had a bid finally accepted and we started working with the mortgage broker, things became a little more complicated as we had to supply every important document imaginable. Understandable, though.

Once we sent our massive package of papers to the underwriters, we thought it was going to be easy-breezy. Oh no! The underwriters kept questioning this and that, requiring more and more documentation. Once we would produce the documentation they required, that would just open up another can of worms. Or five cans.

It's been an emotional roller coaster. We think things are going smoothly, and then there's just one more thing we have to produce. And about every other time, it has required money to fix it up.

Just a week ago, I was in tears. We'd already told that our paperwork made it through the underwriters with stipulations, which we thought we can cleared up. We had already put in our notice to the property manager that we were moving by the end of the month.

And then...the documents we provided were not good enough, and there were no such documents that they were demanding. Nope, did not exist!

It was an insane bit, too. The underwriters wanted documentations stating that my sweetie does not pay child support. Pay child support to whom? He has had full physical and legal custody of his children for three years. Their mother has no rights whatsoever. He had two documents stating so, and he also had a statement showing the last time he did pay child support, the balance due and the amount paid. (He overpaid and did not get a refund.) Not good enough. So, he had the California family services fax a document stating that his account was paid and closed. Not good enough.

And this is what I was in tears over. We'd paid a lot of money, and put in a lot of time to get some of our hurdles cleared, and now we were at a stand-off that made no sense.

We found out that it was Veteran's Administrator underwriter who was hassling us so much, so my sweetie started making phone calls. He reached a supervisor who understood how California courts worked and agreed that we had provided more than enough documentation. Furthermore, he was willing to review our files and talk to the other underwriters, too. Phew! Wonderful.

But while on the phone with the nice supervisor, a new question, "Did you have a termite inspection?"

What? Nobody has ever said anything about that! Much like the insurance hassle, where, two days after paper work was submitted to my insurance agent, the underwriters decided we needed flood insurance, too. I could have told them we were in a flood zone since the back of the house neighbors a wash. Yea, we don't get a lot of rain, but we do have have monsoon season for real some years.

And two days after I went to the insurance agent to sign the paperwork, I found out I had to pay for the flood insurance up front for the year. Nobody could have said anything so while I was waiting 45 minutes at my agent's desk while he tried to get the paperwork figured out that perhaps I could go ahead and pay? That would have been considerate of everyone's time, right?

And so it goes...termite inspection. Just another thing.


As far as I know, things are pretty well ready to go, but tomorrow I'm expecting that we'll need to have a seance to check the house for restless spirits. And then perhaps a shaman will need to cleanse our almost-home.

Or perhaps we'll need to pay for UFO insurance, as I'm betting we're in the flight path between Area 51 and Nellis Airforce Base.

So, anyway...

Rite of passage.

I've had a few friends tell me that the struggles and hoops we've gone through are pretty typical. Funny, nobody ever bothered to prepare me for the mental anguish I was about experience when I embarked on this journey.

Thanks a lot.

October 4, 2009

Barely Breathing

I'm really bummed that this blog is dying.

I imagine it barely breathing in a hospital bed, resting peacefully, experiencing no pain. It's a little lonely because friends (you) and family (me) don't come by anymore, but it's not ready to die. As it is unconscious, it cannot say anything to friends and family about how it doesn't want to die just yet. Life has been good, yes, but does it have to be over?

If I had more compassion, I'd pull the plug, and let it sink into the Internet abyss where abandoned blogs go to die, but I'm not ready.

Instead, I visit when I can, waiting for some new special treatment that can breath new life into my poor blog. Maybe it just needs continued care, but maybe it needs a life transformation--a rebirth.

For now, all I can do it watch helplessly, waiting for something--anything to help, but deep down, I carry the guilt knowing I am the reason it is dying.


There is so much keeping from here at this point in my life. To sum it up, I am overwhelmed and always days behind in life. The factors:
  • grad school (3 1/2 more classes--wahoo!)
  • working every night at alt ed high school (used to be just 2 days a week)
  • I'm not on autopilot in my classroom like I was last year. New lessons. More planning.
  • IB authorization is starting to hurt.
  • I'm an English teacher. Too much to read.
  • buying and moving into a new home (closing next week!)
  • I'M TOO OLD TO KEEP THIS PACE!
I think of things I want to say on this blog all the time. Maybe I should just tweet. That's about the amount of time I have! I do have a Twitter, but I haven't posted to it in a month. I'm not even posting to Facebook much anymore!

I'm still around. I read my feeds when I can. I have 636 unread edublogger posts in my Bloglines account this morning, but I need to get to work on grad homework, grading papers, and doing some yearbook stuff so my staff isn't sitting around doing nothing because I'm unorganized.

How I long for my semi-busy life rather than this frantic, unrealistic one I'm living now.

September 27, 2009

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

On Friday, we had a fun dress day: Nerd Day!

Since our students have to wear collared shirts (most wear polos) in a choice of only a few colors, I think they already look pretty nerdy, but that's a different story. Also, some teachers viewed this day as a little insensitive to real nerds, but that's a different story, too. The kids were also off-the-hook all day, which I guess isn't technically scientific data on how uniforms make a difference in education, but that is , again, a different story.

Here's the real story for today:

Students were encouraged to dress nerdy, but they also had the opportunity to be out of our school's strict dress code. So, many students dressed in their best normal clothes, which I guess is what would be fashionable nowadays.

The whole day was a mind trip to me. Most students dressed like Steve Urkel if they were nerdy, and the rest of them looked like they were straight out of the 80's, but apparently, they weren't participating in a dress-up day.

I had a hard time telling who was intentionally looking goofy and who was being fashionable.

Large plaid? Really?

Leggings? Seriously? Well, I guess they look best on middle school girls anyway.

Neon colors? Could I get some Ray Bans, please?

All we're missing are some bangs to heaven.

I'm so old and out-of-touch...

September 16, 2009

Living in a Dream

Vegas Art Guy made a good point about me being where I should be considering my student were all on task after my last post. Things are going well!

I'm afraid to admit it...Something bad might happen...

Last year, I had such a horrible time at night school, and in the five years that I've worked there, each year is a crap shoot. Because the students earn credits by the quarter, each quarter can often be a crap shoot, too. For the most part, once the students start the year with me, they pretty well stay with me the whole year, but adding or subtracting students each quarter can severely change the dynamic of a class.

I have a small section (10 students) of seniors trying to pass their proficiency exams, and they are a pretty good group of students. Most of them have been at the school a few years, which means they are more likely to be leaders and know the rules. The classroom has tables, so everyday the boys come in and move the tables together so we sit all together around a long table. Of course in that setting, we're becoming like some dysfunctional family. Oh yes. Dysfunctional. We started off learning to write paragraphs, and we are just moving into forming full essays. Considering how remedial some of this stuff is, they have been cool. Most nights I can feel the gaps filling in. It's times like this I feel like I can be effective in teaching lower-level students. I'm happy with them, and they are happy with me. Tonight when they started getting wiggly, I told them that they were not going to be my favorite class anymore, and a couple of the boys furrowed their brows in concern: "Miss, are you serious? We're not your favorite anymore?" Man, that's rapport!

My other class is a little wilder, and at times so much more hopeless. Creative Writing. This year it's really creative writing, and not a facade for remedial writing, either. Most of the students have passed their exams, but that doesn't mean they really like writing that much. My only saving grace with them is that I've built a good rapport with them, too, and they like some of the assignments we've done. Somehow we are having a good time in there, too.

There are a couple of boys who are stubborn, but they don't act out, and I seriously doubt they'll be in the class next quarter because they aren't earning credits by constantly saying, "I'm not good at writing." How do I explain to them that there are only a couple of students in the class who are good at writing? Of course, I can't because then my rapport with the rest of them will fly out the window! I just keep saying, "It's okay. I'm just asking that you try..."

I'm just asking that they try. You know, that's all I'm asking of any of my alt students this year, and they are totally buying it. Some years, I wonder if I come off as a pushover, so students have not been inclined to just try. I'm not sure what's different this year, but I am thankful to have such a nice bunch of young people to teach in the evenings this year!

September 14, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

Sometimes I have this thought pop into my head, "How the hell did I get here?" During most of the instances I am waiting at an eternal stop light in the middle of traffic, wondering how I ended up living in Las Vegas. I never really imagined myself living in a big city, but here I am. After living here for several years, I've come to see that it's not really that big of a city, but compared to the other places where I have lived...wow! (Remember, before moving here, I lived in a town with only 3,ooo people.)

Tonight, I was walking to my desk in the back of the room from the trash can near the door, and the room kind of tilted. For the most part, the students were on task, helping each other with the assignment and having a little side conversation. It was a kind of casual, collaborative evening because I was first able to get my gradebook up and going on Friday, and I was behind on my grades. Anyway, the room tilted, and I found myself looking right at Ernesto and hearing what was going on in the classroom. I was disoriented for a few seconds as I thought, "How did I end up here?

Seriously. What causes these little time/perception warps? Why is it that my brain questions my location from time to time? Am I suppose to be somewhere else?

September 6, 2009

What's New?

Throughout the day, I think of things that could be "bloggable," but by the time I sit down at a computer all of those things are gone. Daily! I'm averaging about 6 posts a month now, and I claim I have something to wonder on a daily basis! Hard to believe, huh?

If only I could blog straight from my brain!

Here are some highlights of things you've missed out on.
  • When will I have time to pull that boy aside and start talking to him about his thumb sucking? I heard about him before he came to my class. A few years ago another teacher just about had him broke of it, but then his dad died, and nobody wants to say much. He's a nice kid, but he's going to get his ass kicked in high school next year.
  • I wish I could get the concept of theme across to my yearbook staff. Thankfully, one of the smart girls thought of one, but now getting them to think of ways to develop it is about kill me. I have no more creative ideas. It is becoming more and more evident that I'm a sham of a yearbook adviser, and this year, our school's 50th anniversary, is not best year for it to be revealed. I have called in reinforcements from my rep, though. I need it.
  • Speaking of ass-kicking...there are some odd boys on my yearbook staff. Which teacher recommended them? I have three boys this year, and one of them is one of two returning students from last year. His nickname is "Thing One" (aka Cosa Una). The new boys are more immature than he is--and just plain weird. Maybe they'll be more blog fodder, though.
  • We have some new teachers on our team this year, and we all ROCK! A few years ago, it was easier for our IB team to work together as a team because there was just one teacher per core subject, but in the last few years, the program has grown and we have a lot of teachers teaching half 8th grade IB and half something else, like regular courses or a different grade level. Communication has been difficult. This year, we have some new personalities, and some new strategies. I'm not in anyway disparaging any of my previous co-workers because they were awesome and I miss them a lot, but I'm just saying we're off to a HOT start this year, and we might be able to figure out how function more cohesively.
  • This is a good year to get our ducks in a row. We have our IBMYP re authorization visit in the spring. Yikes!
  • I've been closely collaborating with the other IB English teacher, which is something I have not really done much of in my career. Collaborating--yes. Lots. Establishing matching procedures and units that we hope to teach exactly the same--nope! It's find of fun, but exhausting.
  • My night school students are cool so far. No riots. I haven't been driven to drink yet. One class is a small group of seniors who are desperate to pass their state exams. For the first few weeks, we have been sitting around a table, going step-by-step learning how to write paragraphs. Oy vey!

August 31, 2009

Bucket List

Raise your hand if you've ever written to, assigned, or read a mind-numbing stack of essays with this topic:

"What I did on my summer on my summer vacation..."

In recent years, I've assigned this topic, but students can only write lies. Interesting lies.

"Miss! So we make it up?"

Every bit of it. It's called fiction. Be creative.

It's usually a big hit with students because the sky's the limit.

This year, I took the students on a side street first by asking them to begin a bucket list in their writer's notebooks. It was a lot of fun having everyone share some things from their bucket lists, and since I don't really have a good bucket list myself, I stole some great ideas from my students.

After we spent time on the bucket lists, I asked students to set the list aside while I assigned the writing topic for the week, which was of course all the dreadful summer vacation topic. I deserved the groans I received when I introduced the topic, but when I told students that they were going to tell a fabricated story of their summer vacation--something they wish they would have done--they perked right up. When I told them they might want to use their bucket lists to choose an idea, the majority of my students dug right in and started planning their most excellent adventures.

The rough drafts aren't due until Friday, but I'm already anticipating some interesting, passionate pieces. I'm anticipating a strong start to our year for writing.

August 22, 2009

First Contact

Mister Teacher's school tried a pre-school open house this year. I was thinking it was a cool idea, and that we should do it at our school, too. My children's elementary school always does it--this year for only an hour! We never go, though, because I send them to grandma's the week before school. So, we're one of THOSE families who doesn't not participate.

Meeting students and parents before school starts would be cool!

Wait!

I did meet about 40 students and their parents this week.

At my school, we had two morning sessions where students come in to pick up their schedules, arrange transportations, sign up for free/reduced lunch, and purchase things they need and want: IBMYP Workbook, student planner, PE clothes, school shirts. They also had the opportunity to order THE YEARBOOK for lowest price it will ever be!

So, while most of my colleagues were working in their classrooms and attending "mandatory" department and team meetings, I was camped out in the cafeteria for 8 hours in two days peddling yearbooks.

Knowing that I will be meeting parents, I always try to look especially professional (in casual clothing) and act nice as pie. First impressions, you know.

This year, I had some time to conference with parents, too.

I brought out the tough love on two different boys because each of their parents said they did not do well in English last year. In both cases, it was not because English was their weakest subject either. I invited them to sit down right then, and I said, "Let's have our first conference right now." That's when we established that we weren't dealing with an ability issue but an attitude issue. It's a new year. A fresh start. We don't have time for shenanigans. AND, it's a waste of brain.

Honestly, I can't remember all the students and parents I met, as I chatted up many more than just students and parents, but one particular man stood out to me. The poor guy looked a little worn down by his 3 middle school sons--one in each grade. Apparently he has one more son, and I'm betting he's older, or surely he would have been tagging along. The boys were not at all unruly or disrespectful, but they all had this look. They are rough and tumble, mischievous boys. It's not often one sees a dad worn down his boys. Girls...yes. Moms get worn down by all of them. But dads? Maybe they are hard on their sons, as they are easily disappointed, but rarely are they worn down.

I had a nice conversation with the dad, plus we had an impromptu conference with the 8th grade son. I know already have a strong ally this year. The boy won't be a behavior problem; he's not that kind of kid. I know his kind. He's just a goofball who is bright enough but will try to slide by with as little as possible. But now that his dad and teacher know each other...well, I wish him luck with that.

It took all of five minutes to make that ally, and learn about a parent who probably needs a "kudos" calls from time to time.

How hard would it be to make five-minute allies with all of my parents?


(Well, allies with them all except that one who was smiling sweetly when she said she'd be in constant contact with me. "I'm just a super-involved parent!" Something tells me if we have to talk that often, it won't be to tell me what a great job I'm doing.)

August 18, 2009

A "Why Me?' Situation

For some reason, my professional development session on writing was schedule for 7:30 am. The other sessions hadn't started until 8:00 am, so most of my English peeps were none too happy with me. As if I were the one who made the schedule. Talk to the boss!

I arrived at 7:00 am, knowing that I needed to make sure I had my materials pulled together and the projector set up in the library. The librarian said she would be there, but just in case she forgot that the session was earlier than the others, I needed time to find get someone to let me into the library.

It was not until 7:20 am, when someone from the office staff arrived to open a door. (I guess I was wrong when I thought some staff members started at 7:00 am? Hmmm...) Apparently, there was already someone there, but she had not bothered to unlock the doors. I asked the staff person who let us in--by that time two of my colleagues had arrived--to please call for janitor to unlock the library. The janitors were also on campus, but they were nowhere to be found.

I left some things outside the library so when a janitor showed up, he/she would see that someone was trying to get in, and then I went to my classroom to gather my materials.

Ten minutes later, my English peeps were trickling in, and we were still locked out of the library. So much for helpful office staff. I ran down the stairs to find some help. I ran into the principal, who gave me her keys, but she also had important information for me that she had to share just then. You know, at the exact time where the session she had scheduled me for was suppose to be starting. After I made it upstairs, more English peeps had gathered, and we filed into the library, where I discovered that the LCD projector the librarian said I could use was nowhere to be found. Seriously!

Because we are good at back-up plans, we decided to move the training to one of our classrooms. I was already pretty frazzled, so while I ran the keys back to the principal, someone else hooked up my computer and projector, neither of which I had even turned on yet this year. I ran into the librarian, who wondered why I looked so frazzled. She was apologetic and offered to get the projector out, but I told her we'd already activated Plan B.

When I came back, everyone was seated, ready to start, and I was sweaty and winded, but glad to finally be ready to go--at 7:50 am. I cannot even tell you how irritating it is to not start on time, but they all knew that it was just one of those bad mornings.

My colleagues said it was one of the best professional development sessions they'd been to all week--even after the electricity went out in the middle of a riveting PowerPoint that was raising some interesting conversation. We just kept going.

Even after the disastrous morning, it was a blast sharing ideas and discussing writing with my English peeps. It reminded me of a typical day in the classroom. Things go wrong. I look foolish, but life goes on, and it's all good.

August 12, 2009

Pep Talking to Myself

School starts August 24.
I officially go back August 19.

Is it too early for me to have an anxiety attack?

Too much to do.

Always too much to do.

Gotta get organized.

Gotta decide what I'm doing the same and what I'm doing differently.

Gotta decide with whom I need to collaborate about potential changes.

Gotta get my ducks in a row before those potential collaborate colleagues come searching for me first.

...Gotta just calm down. I AM a trained professional. I CAN do this.

And I WILL NOT regret the any parts of my blissed-out summer.

August 11, 2009

Insomnia: Wrangling with Work & Writing

I don't officially go back for another week, but yesterday began a week's worth of voluntary paid professional development, and today we are allowed to pick up or keys so we can get into our classrooms.

This morning I'm up, two hours before the alarm, thinking about the PD session I'm conducting on writing traits this Thursday.

(I initially woke up because I had a weird dream about hissing cockroaches, which also included a staff meeting where my principal gave us a 20-line to-do list, but that's not scary enough to not fall asleep again.)

Thursday. That's two days away, and I'm just thinking about what I should include. Of course, I've known about this gig for a month, but I was off. The possibilities are endless, with three hours. What does everyone want? What does everyone need? In the back of my mind, I have some colleagues voices wishing they had more on how to score. Specifically, score like the state writing exam scorers do so we are on the same page in our classroom. I tend to score more harshly than the state scorers do, and I think I have colleagues who are better in tune than I am. And no, it doesn't bother me that I am a more critical scorer.

I don't religiously use the state writing exam rubric, which is based on the 6 +1 Traits model, to score my students' writing. It is a great idea to use the state rubric in our own classrooms, and I do use it with my high school classes. I use an IBO Middle Years rubric more often. Sometimes teaching in the IB program is confusing because there is IB stuff, and then there's testing stuff. IB is suppose to support whatever else we do in our schools, and it does, but sometimes I have to make choices when things do not line up well. I like the one where THE TEST isn't at the center of the universe. That's not to say that assessment isn't involved. I take assessment seriously. I even take THE TEST very seriously, it's just that there's more to life and learning.

Don't I sound like a good candidate to talk about the traits? The training is suppose to be about IVOC--related to our points of evaluation: ideas, voice, organization, and conventions. And you can bet your booty that when IVOC is involved, thoughts of THE TEST dance in our heads. Sure, I'll do a training on WRITING. IVOC will be involved. IVOC is actually a good framework for evaluation, but I think it's purposes are narrowly addressed in the shadow of THE TEST. Being good writers will help them pass the test. True. Did you know that writing can do so much more?

I think starting the year off by NOT having a training on how to prepare the students for the writing test sounds a little rebellious. Yummy! Let's have a training on writing. Some hippy-dippy let's-get-passionate-about-writing kind of talk sounds like the perfect way to start the year. I'm serious. My students who take pride in their written ideas are more likely to do well on THE TEST, and time spent in my classroom is a lot more enjoyable.

Writing is a tool of expression. It's more than that thing they need to do to pass a test. It hurts my heart to frame such a wonderful thing around a test. I work hard to find the balance between testing frenzy and feeding hungry minds and souls. (I won't even pretend like I don't get off-balanced, either.) I plan to encourage my colleagues to do the same.

August 3, 2009

Bit by Bit

I met with the other two 8th grade English teachers today. Mostly it was time for us to get our brains in gear and toss out some ideas. We came up with a couple cool things, but mostly we were just cussing and discussing for about 5 hours.

It's going to be a great year collaborating with the two of them!

But how weak am I! I have a headache from thinking about all we have to do. And I need a nap.

That's why I have to ease into this working thing.

July 30, 2009

Making Five Points

Melissa over at The Scholastic Scribe had a fun meme the other day that she invited all her readers to participate in. I could use a kick in the rear for some topics, so I begged her to give me some inspiration.

The Process
  • She gave me 5 random well-thought out words for me to reflect upon.
  • It is my job to say something profound about these topics. Some of them are tricky, so profound is probably not going to happen on all the topics.
  • If any of my three readers would like to participate in this meme, please comment and I'll swing by your blog and leave you with 5 words.
The Product

Middle School
I've written about crazy middle school life several times over the years. I think I'm better suited to teaching high school, but I like the school, program, and level of students I teach at my middle school, so I've stayed there for far longer than I thought I would--or could!

I think the hardest thing about teaching 8th grade is that the students are at such varied developmental levels. Some of them are so mature that I forget how young they are, while some are so immature, I can't believe they've even made it to 8th grade! Immaturity isn't always a bad thing, though. I think it's hard growing up in today's world, so if some of them are able to maintain some innocence, I'd like to encourage that! What's tough about teaching this age is trying to keep it real with them without scaring or scarring them!

I think the best stories come from daily life, so I think a review of some crazy times would be most entertaining.
Middle school is the biggest mind trip for everyone involved, but I'm starting to catch onto their humor:

Reading
Read is my drug. If I don't get my frequent doses--in an written or electronic form, I start to get twitchy, itchy, and cranky.

Some low-grade read get me by from day to day, but at least twice a month, I have to have a fix of some entertaining fiction. A few times a year, when I have more time, I try to overdose on books, thinking it might get me through when reading time is scarce, but it really doesn't.

This summer I've have tried to overdose a few times, but I've only had hit after hit of low-grade read. It sucks. That low-grade leaves no residue of euphoria that the good stuff does.

At any time, if you'd like to see my latest brain candy, just check out my Shelfari bookcase to the left. And if you want to read something more inspiring about reading, avoid any posts about my quest to earn my masters in reading, and instead, check out this more entertaining post about books from 2006.

Traveling
Miss Teacha was very anxious to hear about my unconnected vacation in July. It was a bit unnerving knowing that I would be at least four days without Internet, and there was also a possibility I would not have cell phone service either.

Initially, I was a little stressed out because I started a class on the day I left for vacation, but I was able to contact the instructor where I basically said, "Sorry I'll be out of contact for several days. Going to visit Grandma. It is what it is." I didn't end up having any penalties to my grade because I was able to catch up when I came out of the woods. Whew!

I was also a bit nervous thinking that because I spend so much time connected that I might find myself going through withdrawls. How humiliating it would be if I were addicted to the Internet! How stupid would I be if I broke out in cold sweats if my Blackberry had no bars. I might be a dork, but I didn't want to be a Super Dork.

Guess what? No Internet! No cell phone service! We didn't even have a land line in our motel. Not that there aren't landlines in town...just none at the Pierce Motel.

It was peaceful.
(And not as bad as it looks.)
I liked it a lot.

Yearbook
As big as a pain in the arse yearbook is, it has also opened doors for me over the years.

Way back when I was still in college, hoping to graduate and get a job in my hometown, I discovered a way to get my foot in the door. I knew the yearbook adviser (who also taught English) at the junior high, and she agreed to let me come in a few times a week to observe and volunteer so I could learn a little about yearbook. This was a brilliant idea because my friend was going to be moving at the end of the year. A job opening!

Perfect idea, except that after the yearbook teacher left, the district didn't refill her position. I still don't know how that was justified, as class sizes were already upward of 40, but what could I do?

I was hired for my first teaching position in the middle of August, five days before school started. I always felt like I barely landed the position, which was hardly a cherry job to begin with, but I was desperate. I don't know for sure, but I think the principal hired me because I said I'd do anything. And since my resume showed me to be quite the jack-of-all-trades, I found myself teaching high school English and publications. Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing.

I did a pretty good job, but did I mention, it's a pain in the arse?

After I traded schools, I swore off yearbook. And that lasted one year. The yearbook adviser bugged me for half the year to take over yearbook the next year, but I refused. When she left at the end of June to teach at another school, I reconsidered my options. She had a better schedule than I did--even with yearbook. So, I went to the office and told the administrators that I'd like to be considered for her position. I was pretty lucky that they didn't laugh me out of the office because I'd had such a horrible year that I nearly quit teaching--in the middle of the year. I ate humble pie, acknowledged my utter failure, tried to convince them I had once been a good teacher and I thought I could be again, and then...I reminded them that I had 7 years of experience as yearbook adviser.

And here I am. Middle school yearbook is a cakewalk. Trying to publish middle school newspaper that isn't lame is another story...

Marge Simpson
I don't know much about Marge Simpson. Or any of the Simpsons.

Somehow I was off the planet when the Simpsons became popular, and then I just never watched the show. There's a time in my life, in my early 20's when I didn't have a television, and when I did, I could only pick up PBS, there was no rock station in my hometown (I missed the Nirvana era!), I was working, going to school, playing D & D and being a drama groupie in my free time, and in the middle of that, I became culturally inept in a lot of areas.

Melissa might have thought I was a Simpsons fan because of my banner, which I am super tired of now. Sometimes I collect avatars to use in ComicLife. Fun, huh?

Phew! So there are my five subjects, essentially five mini-posts for me. Let me know if you want to play along!

Thanks, Melissa, for getting my brain going!