Current/Recent Reading List

30 August 2006

Leaking Steam

Getting up and running the first couple of weeks of school is always such a special chore, especially when you didn't know over the summer what you would be teaching. So, I finished up Les Mis last week, and wrote up a 50 question study guide, and this week I've been spending evenings writing the actual 50 question (plus essay) test, to be given on Friday. Oh, and I double-dare someone to tell me they've read the entire unabridged version of Les Mis without skimming/skipping the interminable mini-history lesson chapters.

I haven't given a close look to any of my homeroom forms, and I have to pull folders and check "home language surveys" by tomorrow. I have to get a week's worth of lesson plans ready for perusal on Friday (fortunately, this will only happen every few weeks). I'm photocopying from a sample student edition until our grammar books arrive (textbook company blames the county, county office blames the departed department head, departed department head is in blissful ignorance at her new school in another system). I'm catching kids up who are still being added to my classes, or just now showing up for school, fashionably late. Plus, it was my son's b'day today, and I have a dreaded fantasy football draft tomorrow night to prep for. Oh, and I've actually had to prepare for and teach classes, since that is kind of in the job description.

I'm a little tired. Look for me back here on Friday evening/Saturday morning.

29 August 2006

Lover's Lane

There are matters we become expert in through our own experiences, and there are those we become expert in through observation and study. On the subject of high school dating, I’ll have to go with “Observation and Study” for 200, Alex.

The first few days after a long school break are truly “walk-on-eggshells” time when it comes to inquiring about a student’s social life. Sure, if you build a good relationship with them, they tend to overlook a faux paus from a well meaning, if dorky, adult. Still, no one likes to be the one asking a question that embarrasses an already overly emotional teenlet. So, I’ve learned that following summer break, stealth is the key until I find just the right opportunity to deftly scout out some gossipy goodness, hit the target, and withdraw. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry had nothing on me.

Today I made a couple of forays. I am pleased to report that one of the sweetest, smartest, and best girls I’ve taught actually laughed out loud when I asked if she was still dating so and so (uh… whatshisname, is how I think I put it). “Hah! That loser!?” she said. Check – she deserves better. I also inquired through secondary sources about another very good girl and Mr. Romeo, who are apparently Splitsville. These two were dating while in my freshmen honors class last year, and I felt like telling them to get a shower each day after witnessing the dewy goo-goo eyes they were exchanging across the room. Of course, this was after Mr. Romeo dumped another student in the class (prompting her to cry in the middle of a grammar lesson, and - because she needed to talk but wouldn’t leave the room - prompting a counseling session with me in front of an audience of 25). Check. Although, poor Mr. Romeo – who’s going to do his English homework for him now?

There is one tough nut that I don’t want to crack yet, however. It doesn’t involve a break-up, but instead, perhaps, a ramping-up. An absolute favorite, someone who nominated me to the Natl. Honor Society as her most influential teacher, started dating a guy last spring who, while he’s not a criminal, is a bit of an arrogant loud mouth. Well, she has yet to say hello to me this year, even though she has walked by my room a couple of times. I noticed today that she’s never more than a foot away from him when they are in the same vicinity, and that instead of hanging with her friends during lunch break, she was hanging with him and his dubious crowd. So what’s up? Is he the controlling type? Has she abandoned her wonderful feisty, independent streak? Are her friends peeved with her? Is she too in love and distracted by her dip-wad boyfriend to even say hello to a favorite teacher as she walks right by? Not sure, but I’ll get a couple of my best people on it.

This does remind me that my considerable observational skills are sometimes not so considerable. Regarding this same student, let me recall a conversation while on morning duty last spring. All names are fictitious:

Male Bonding Teacher Buddy: So, is Laura going out with Jess now?

Me (confidently): Nah. She’s been dating that guy from North Duplod for about a year now. I just met him at the Brain Game competition a few weeks ago. Nice kid.

Male Bonding Teacher Buddy (looking in opposite direction from me): Are you sure about that?

Me (monumentally confident): Yeah, she loves that guy. She’s just friends with Jess.

Male Bonding Teacher Buddy: Well, if my girlfriend acted like that with her friends, I might be a little concerned.

(Camera pans to group of students directly behind me and moves to close-up of Laura and Jess holding hands, noses pressed together, sickeningly happy)

Me: Ooookaaaay. You know, maybe I need to double-check my facts on that one.

28 August 2006

Ambiguity, thy name is testing data

Our test scores had been on the rise the last few years, after an apparently devastating set of scores a couple of years before I started. Two years ago, we were celebrated as a School of Progress (official title given courtesy of state bureau-nerds), and had the highest test scores in the county.

Well, it is most interesting how this testing game works. Turns out that last year we still had the highest scores in the county, but we dropped in overall point calculations, according to a formula as hard to grasp as the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse. The folks who write tax codes are small potatoes compared to the state testing gurus.

So, where does this leave us, other than without the pittance of an incentive check we had gotten the last few years? I’m not sure, but I wonder if we have reached that point on the sliding scale where we’ve maxed out, and have to fall back in order to show growth once more.

We did, however, meet Annual Yearly Progress, which means no feds with earpieces will be monitoring our classrooms for at least two more years (I think).

25 August 2006

It's the little things.

Hard to put my finger on it, but there is something oh-so-fun in informing kids that you don't pronounce Jean Valjean as Gene Val-Gene. And that Javert is not pronounced Javurt. Sure, they still made their futile attempts to thwart me by purposely mispronouncing the names. But they can't touch me, or my prodigious powers. I've got your back, Vic Hugo (in spite of your overblown rhetorical excesses).

Can an extra two minutes shaved off of time between classes make a huge difference? Judging from day one, I can say, "Yes, Lordy!" Last year a needed step was taken when the S.I.T. made the decision to jettison a fifteen-minute morning break from the schedule. That time was not only unnecessary, but also the perfect opportunity for the school grounds to transform into Friday Night Fights, without the boxing gloves. But, getting rid of break meant allocating minutes somewhere else, and last year that meant exceptionally long class changeover time. The result was less fighting, but more wandering the halls, being loud, and cutting up. This year we are back to only four minutes between classes, and additional lunch time instead, and this seems to have hit the mark. It was an orderly, smooth day.
However, the day didn't quite end with a cherry on top. For the first time since I've been there, we had a pep rally to end the first day. For once the cheerleaders had it together, and weren't staring daggers at each other, and the football players tried to play things up. But the student body just sucks at the whole "being proud and loud" thing, unless it is to boast about, oh, scraping one's face because one tried to jump a basketball goal with his bike, using a homemade ramp (true story from today).

24 August 2006

I could pretend...

...that I'm totally pumped about the first day of school tomorrow, but I'd be lying. I could also pretend I'm totally down in the dumps, but would be lying about that too. It always helps to hear teachers with 25-30 years of experience tell me they never fail to get nervous right before the first day. It also pisses me off, because I now know that (God willing), I'll be writing the same whiny posts about being nervous in 25-30 years.

We had our big, big faculty meeting today, as opposed to the little big meeting from last Friday. I'm liking the under-30 principal more and more, though again, there is reason for fear: he told us today he was addicted to weightlifting. I hope word gets around to the students quickly. This actually plays right in to an observation I made earlier in the week, because he is obviously stout, and he has an almost completely shaved head: he reminds me of no less a personage than this guy . So go ahead little Johnny Gangsta, make your move. I think just a piece of Principal Goldberg is all you'll want.

Speaking of faculty meetings, I can assure you that from this list of annoying people, numbers 10, 8, 3, and 2b were definitely present today. This includes the overwhelmingly irritating Ms. X (caution, creative blog aliases under construction here). Much more about Ms. X in future posts - I simply can't do her justice in the time I have available tonight. But, judging from Principal Goldberg's body language as she continued to ramble today, I'd say she better watch out. A spear may soon be in the offing.

23 August 2006

Mid-Week Inspiration

A highlight of my four years in teaching came last year when the kid I nominated for Most Inspirational Senior won that honor, and I was asked (without his knowledge) to write a brief message for the principal to read on senior awards night. This is all very true, believe it or not, though without mention of the fact that he never had a relationship with his father, who is in prison:

We all know this young man as a good student, who has a lovable and outgoing personality, and a courteous demeanor. What many do not know is that he lost his mother to cancer at a young age, and had to move from New York to new surroundings in North Carolina. Such a circumstance has derailed many kids before their lives had a chance to get going, but he has instead remained a focused and determined person who sees hope for himself. Versatile in the classroom and in athletics, we’ve seen him everywhere this year from the football field to the Shakespearean stage. On top of this, he can often be seen frequenting the nursing home to visit the elderly, including his great-grandmother. He will be attending college next year on a scholarship, and his achievements are a testament both to him and to the wonderful job his grandmother has done in raising him. Now, on the cusp of manhood, he has not only maintained his fine record in high school, but also has returned her love by being his grandmother’s caretaker.

The principal read that in the most moving manner I could imagine, and this student (I'll call him Bryson) was really thrilled. Many of his classmates did not even know his background until that night.

Sadly, his grandmother, who started raising him when he was 11, passed away last Thursday, a victim of cancer. This is the same disease that took Bryson's mom at such a young age. Having chosen to join the National Guard and attend basic training this summer, he wasn't home when his grandmother died, but made it for the funeral. I called him and spoke with his aunt, and yesterday he stopped by school before heading back to finish his training. He is apparently flourishing, and, in spite of his grief, clearly is excited about what he is accomplishing, and what kind of discipline he is acquiring. His college plans changed a little, but he will be attending a public university via an ROTC program in the spring.

Godspeed, Bryson - and God bless your grandma.

22 August 2006

I know I laid that down in here somewhere - hold on, let me look...

When I first decided to teach high school, I quite often got this comment from others in and around the profession: “Oh, good! We need more male teachers – there aren’t enough, and the kids will just love you.”

I’m sure there is research out there that can account for the female-male teaching differential in modern times, but you want to know the real reason we males are still lagging behind? Simple – it’s all about the room.

Being grown ups, teachers, believe it or not, are in charge of their own rooms. For men, especially, this is often a very bad idea indeed. It has been well established, more or less, that I’m not exactly the neatest or cleanest person in the world (although many such stories about me are apocryphal). Certainly at times, once the semester gets going, things will resemble a tornado zone in my room. This is not so much laziness as it is a combination of an annoying habit to just put things down on the nearest cleared-off space available, and an annoying habit to always jump to the next task before completely finishing the one I’m on, and forgetting about the stack I just put down on the formerly cleared-off space. So, things get left where they shouldn’t, and pile up in not very neat piles. My only saving grace is that the chemistry teacher/athletic director’s room is much worse than mine, and I can hide in the relative anonymity of being only the second messiest teacher.

Still, the last few semesters, there consistently have been a couple of students to decide that my desk, in particular, needed an extreme neatness makeover, and they very nicely straightened it out. These students have always, to this point, been girls, so let the social scientists do what they will with that info. At first I thought they were just being sweet, and I was their favorite teacher, etc., etc. But at some point I started to realize that, while wearing their “I’m being sweet” facades, they actually were helping me because they DESPERATELY COULDN”T TAKE THE MESS ANYMORE! I think this is why, when I said thank you to the last group who cleaned my desk, they squeezed the words “your welcome” through a kind of exasperated sigh and quickly left.

Am I proud of this? No. Do I believe in human nature? Yes. And human nature dictates that people generally don’t do what others will do for them. So you can see my quandary.

Oh, and men aren’t great at decorating rooms either. I can report that on the last day of the ’06 spring semester this past June, one of my favorite students (one of the intrepid desk/room cleaners mentioned above) decided to go ahead and decorate my room in advance for the start of fall ’07. It looks great, and has saved me a lot of work. You might call it charity, but I have a feeling she would call it pre-emption.

21 August 2006

Enough with the happy stuff

Remember that mellow vibe I had going on Friday? Gone.

It seems like there is always at least one day, during those first few teacher workdays, when, for whatever reason, I feel like the lamb being led to slaughter. The causes can vary - maybe it is the first look at the class rolls, maybe it is the principal messing with your schedule at the last minute, or maybe it is just calculating what needs to be done vs. how much time there is to do it. In any case, I’ve lost a little of that loving feeling today.

First, and most importantly, only our new literature books have made it to our school, and not our new grammar books, or our new teacher’s resource boxes. Aside from the obvious reason this is distressing, I was really looking forward to playing with the cool desktop planning calendars, test generators, etc. For now at least, looks I’ll be planning things out with the same old spreadsheets and lesson plan books. How 90’s.

Then, I see that even though I requested fewer students in my yearbook classes, because I simply don’t have enough for even the usual 16-17 kids to do, I’ve actually been given over twenty in that class for both semesters. Translated: more babysitting, less getting the book done on time.

Just to throw in one more bummer, a reliable source told me (and no, I didn’t ask for this info.) that one of my favorite students from last year, who is still very young, is apparently quite “physically active” with her older boyfriend. And I don’t mean they go rock climbing with each other on the weekends. This is not exactly a shock, but one of those things I would still rather not have had confirmed. I know the statistics, but forewarned doesn’t always mean forearmed against the sinking feeling reality can present to you.

So yeah, I’m whining today.

18 August 2006

One in the books.

Maybe I'm officially a veteran now, because for once the first day on the job didn't cause my stomach to turn, and it didn't leave me wanting to close my door and just keep out the madness. Oh, sure, there was a bit of cloak and daggering going on in the halls. There were rumors swirling and speculation a'plenty about why X got Y classes, or why Z left for that other school. But really, it all seemed so much milder than in years past. Maybe some of the chief pot-stirrers have mellowed out. Or maybe everyone is just really excited about "Snakes on a Plane" (one member of my household is, and I assure you it ain't me).

You would expect that having our third principal in as many years would be a bad sign, but actually, for the past two years we've been the highest performing high school in the county (o.k., there are only four). Seems it has more to do with needs that other schools had for certain administrator personalities. In any case, our new principal, coming over from the middle school, is younger than I am. He seems fine, but this scares me. He's been in administration for a number of years already, meaning he made the decision quite early in life to go admino. I liken this to someone making the decision early in life to go into politics. Not that there aren't fine politicians and school administrators to be found, but who starts out seeking such avenues in life? Let's just label him an at-risk adult at this point, and make sure the proper governmental agency is monitoring his progress.

There are a few things I could sweat, including the fact that only half of our new textbooks, and no teacher editions/supplemental materials were waiting for us today, and no one seems to know why.

I should also mention that the English department now consists of three women in their fifties (nothing wrong with that!), and me. Strangely, this is a focus group I poll well with at my school - they like to point out my good manners, dont'cha know.

And then, of course, there was the capstone feature of the day: this was the first time I got to enjoy my big perk as Teacher of the Year - parking in the Teacher of the Year spot right by the front doors.

Yep, school's in session.

17 August 2006

Summer Wrap-Up Part II

With apologies to Proust and all other effeminate Frenchmen sequestered in cork-lined rooms, here is my a la recherché du temps perdu for the summer of 06:

To start with, this summer has been mainly about my son, referred to as the Boy on certain other blogs. Well, the Boy finished daycare for good, and so we’ve had full-court press dad/son time since mid-June. And you know, it’s been a blast, with a minimum of raging Daddy moments or Whiny Boy moments. We’ve handled Kindercamp, scary swimming lessons, Kindergarten fears, a minimum of yardwork chores (I hate my yard), and eight million errands. We’ve worked on hitting wiffle balls (which are darned hard to pitch underhanded) and fielding ground balls, learned to throw an oversized Frisbee, and most importantly, worked on finding new creative ways to irritate Mommy.

It has been the summer of Cars: The Movie. We’ve seen the movie twice, listened to the CD about 33 times, and have played the PS2 video game far too often to admit to in polite company. Frank, the big combine tractor (I guess?) from the movie, now occupies a large space in the Boy’s subconscious, I think. We’ve also bonded quite a bit over Kim Possible, who I would be in love with if I were her classmate.

And of course, there have been the conversations. We’ve talked about the good (“Daddy, we want the Wolfpack to win, right?”), the bad (“Why do those bad men want to blow up the airplanes?”) and the truly, profoundly metaphysical (“What would pee-pee sound like if it had a radio show?”).

Somewhere in there we’ve packed in trips to the mountains for a train ride, and to a portion of the Redneck Riviera for a beach vacation.

I won’t mention the various projects I was supposed to finish, but didn’t, or the more extensive preparations I could have been making for the upcoming school year. In the end, I just feel deeply thankful for the last two months, and for my goofy little family. Thanks guys.

Report on Day 1 of ’06-’07 coming tomorrow evening. Dunt-Dunt-Dunt-Duuuuuuun!

16 August 2006

Summer Wrap-Up, Part I

I've always relished opportunities to milk feelings of melancholy - go figure. I got my first little twinge this morning as I dropped off my son at Kindercamp for the next to last time this summer. Often when one of us has such feelings I love to liven up the house party by informing my wife that our son is growing up and soon we will be old and then dead. Not profound, nor particularly poignant, and usually gets me a wifely death stare (to fit in with the theme). But I digress.

Anyway, much more melancholia over summer's end tomorrow.

What was the best thing I read this summer? It is not a new book, but how about A Soldier of The Great War by Mark Helprin.

Helprin himself has a resume that would make 99% of the rest of us seem lazy, and dumb, in comparison. And, if he had never done anything else, this famous essay would have earned him my undying devotion. But, wow, here is novel that is such a feat, especially when compared with most bestseller material. Instead of the usual self-absorbtion and fetish for meaninglessness that populates most modern stabs at serious fiction, this is a book that mangages to be totally without sentiment, and yet life-affirming and funny. How about a little gallows humor from two men on death row?

"Well," said Ludovico, "socialism is effable, which is what I like about it. It's solid. Very little of it is conjecture. It may be limited, but it's honest and down-to-earth and you can prove it. It gives me something I know I can hang on to."
"Why don't you hang on to a toilet?"
"I'd rather hang on to a toilet than believe in a collection of wishful thoughts."
"Then, in that case," Alessandro answered, "all you need do is secure yourself a toilet and you will have solved the mysteries of the universe."

15 August 2006

Crawl to walk, walk to run.

Ran across this piece (via Instructivist), in which the writer (once he gets around to it) deplores the use of "drilling" in the classroom.

All right, all right, before we proceed let's all get our minds out of the gutter. Things haven't gotten to that point yet.

In any case, I'm not going to slam this school director too hard- frankly, it's usually always healthy to think of new alternatives in most areas of democratic life. Let him dream his little dreams, even if I think them misguided. (I will say that as a school director one would think he could write a more focused essay in which all the paragraphs had at least something to do with each other).

But the constant drumbeat by certain educational brahmin against the awfulness of "skills being learned by drill", and how said practice crushes the joy of learning is simplistic and childish. (1)Very little in life is mastered without practice and drilling to start with, and (2) only very bad teachers would be so short-sighted as to leave off once the drilling is over and not apply the newly-learned skills to higher-level activities. On the other hand, only very bad teachers would not make sure fundamental skills were in place before giving students autonomy to teach themselves things. How would you like the writer of the following to be in charge of educating most kids in our country?

Students choose these activities and I'm convinced that if students had more choice in what they learned and classes were more project- and problem-based, more experiential and hands-on, students would develop the essential skills for the 21st century. In other words, the three Rs would be replaced by the three Cs - creative problem solving, collaboration and communication - integrating the basic skills in deeper, more relevant learning experiences.

Yeah. Want to know what most of my kids would like to "choose" to apply the three C's to? Didn't think so.

14 August 2006

S.I.T. your butt down

As if I needed further reminders that school time is nigh upon us, I turned my cell phone on this morning to discover a message left last night from the chairman of our School Improvement Team, of which I am once again a member. She was telling me that our new principal, and the county supervisor for secondary schools (one of my old principals) wanted to meet with us today from 8-1. Nothing like a little notice, huh?

Since my son had day camp this morning, there’s no way I could have made it anyway (darn the luck). But this may as well serve as a brief introduction to the Leviathan that can be a School Improvement Team. Commonly referred to as the S.I.T. team, previous experience allows me to vouch that no committee ever had a more apt acronym. Only if they could rename it to fit acronyms like B.L.O.V.I.A.T.E. or B.O.O.O.O.O.R.I.N.G. would there be more aptness.

The committee, I believe, is mandated by the state to exist in every public school in order to address school policies and concerns, and to create a huge document each year (named the School Improvement Plan, oddly enough)that outlines the school’s missions and strategies for meeting them. I’m sure there are people out there who comb through such documents page by page, but then I hear there are also scientologists out there, and fans of the Atlanta Hawks.

From time to time, the committee can make a real difference in recommending practical policies that help streamline the average school day, or take care of particular problem areas. The difficulty is that it is a committee, and a large committee, and there are lots of opinions, and… need I say more? Just sticking to the topic at hand can be a chore. I think there is some hope that this year’s team will not have the interminable meetings of the past, because there are a lot of members with young children (we all should hold on to some little bit of naivet√©, shouldn’t we?). In any case, trust me: there will be plenty of entertainment to come from this front.

11 August 2006

Choose your poison...

overzealous little league adults, or preening and moralizing media-types?

Sports radio has been all over this story today (admittedly, the story linked to here is not overly well-written, but you'll get the point), mainly blasting the coach for picking on a kid with cancer. Sounds like his dad thinks so to.

I really would disagree with the coach for intentionally walking any kid at that age, no matter the situation. And if his players' parents would have been upset with him for not doing it, shame on them. But a lot of media guys (the one I heard the most today was Roger Lodge, filling in on The Jim Rome Show) are slamming the coach so hard that I guess it is already a given he is a demon. They just know, in their hearts, that he's a bad guy, another typically overzealous American moron out to win at all costs, and to make kids who survived cancer feel bad and cry at night (I'm conflating comments I heard all day).

Yes, media members, I'm sure he had it out for the kid with cancer, whom he no doubt forced to play little league just for such an occasion. He probably even made sure he was in the line-up in that exact spot of the batting order.

As for the kid, from what I heard he bounced back just fine, and was just upset with the strikeout, like any of the rest of us would have been.

Trying to stay in denial.

Only one week until D-Day (D-Teacher's Workday, that is), and, if I so chose, I could be very apprehensive about:

1) Having a brand new principal for the second year in a row, plus having a new assistant principal after two years of my all-time favorite administrator being in that position.

2) The English department head, a really good teacher and the only person in my department who was in the same age-range, taking off for another job over the summer.

3) The apparent failure, so far, to hire anyone for her spot.

4) Our best English teacher, by far, planning on retiring in January, unless she changes her mind.

5) The mystery over who will be the next department chairman will be (they couldn't possibly do that to me, could they? Could they?).

6) A yearbook account constantly about $6,000 in debt (not my fault, I swear).

7) At least two full workdays being completely eaten up by county office meetings/workshops.

Fortunately, I've chosen to shove aside all apprehensions in favor of the natural feel-goodism that accompanies being buried in a 1500 page Victor Hugo novel, and with trying to win the championship on PS2 NCAA Basketball 2006 before school starts.

10 August 2006

The Drawl Strikes Back

The latter part of this summer, my son has been flexing his Southern drawl muscles sump’n fierce, which is strange mainly in that it’s been prominent enough for my wife and I to really notice. You see, though we are both North Carolinians, with parents who all have distinctive accents, we each grew up in suburban areas that tended to neuter our rightful inheritances. The combination of coming into contact with lots of regional transplants, standard speaking patterns in mass culture t.v.-radio-motion pictures (Sesame Street doesn’t do Southern), and a craven youthful fear of being seen as a hick beat a lot of the accent out of us, at least when compared with most rural North Carolinians. Now, we agree that we both like New Yorkers (and most other Yankees) quite a lot, unlike the parental generation in our families, who tolerate yanks but hate on them in private. But my wife was once rightly horrified when, as a teaching assistant, she was asked by a student if she was from New York because she "sounded like it" (she doesn’t). That was just too tough to take.

Now that I’m officially not a hick, I wish I had a little more accent. In fact, I’m ashamed at how pitiful mine is. I suppose to people not from ‘round these hyere parts, our accents are still detectable, but they are hardly thick. So why is my son pulling things out like, “Are we go-win’ to day-CAY-ump today?” or “Daddy, what's that on the gray-ound?” I’m going to give the credit to the girls that have been his Johnston County YMCA counselors/swimming instructors all summer. They are all quite countrified, and seem just as apple-pie wholesome as you could want young ladies to be. If we can’t give him a proper accent, maybe these Johnstonians can.
Hey, it takes a village, right?

09 August 2006

In other news, schools without heat get really cold in winter.

Here's a helpful tip, and you don't even need to be a teacher who has first-hand experience with such things to grasp it:

Let's say your father is on drugs and not around, and your mother is on drugs and is around, and neither does much to show they really care how you do in school, or about much of anything else. Let's also say you are a middle or high schooler emulating them by doing drugs as well, and generally engaging in destructive behavior. Know what? You're going to fall behind in school. Not to be too shocking all at once, but you might not even graduate, and if you do it will have been charity (though not completely selfless - the school wanted to get rid of you, most likely).

I'm prompted by today's NYT piece ( via This Week in Education ) which glosses on research showing that home life affects school performance. It's easy to poke fun at researchers who uncover the obvious, but that shouldn't stop anyone from doing it. I love this excerpt:

"Yet a growing body of research suggests that while schools can make a difference for individual students, the fabric of children’s lives outside of school can either nurture, or choke, what progress poor children do make academically."

Really. Well, let me clue you in on this as well - it also makes a difference for those who are pretty wealthy, and all those in between. No math person here, but let's try this formula: parents who don't give a flip if their kids do well in school + kids who take their cues from said parents = crappy school performance (for starters). The rest of the article goes on to analyze this from the "government must eradicate poverty" perspective, blah, blah, blah.

Hey, find me parents from whatever background who show their kids they think life is worth living, and that they think the kids' educations are important (lip-service ain't going to cut it), and my non-gambling self will bet that you'll have a successful student on your hands. Not necessarily a genius, but successful.

08 August 2006

The cardinals have convened...

...and the smoke has risen, which means all scheduling decisions have been officially made. At least, that is, until the first teacher workday next week, when the bitchin' begins.

I don't know about other departments, but our English department's schedule seems always in flux, always up for debate. We are responsible for giving a first-week exam on honors summer reading, but it is a little hard to prepare for this if we don't know what we are teaching. It seems we never find out for sure until just before the school year starts (actually, I'm not supposed to know even at this point, but a helpful congressional staffer has leaked the information to me). All this adds anxiety to an already anxious time of year, and I DO NOT LIKE anxiety. Have learned to schmooze with it, but do not like it.

Anyway, it turns out I've got all English II (10th grade) classes, plus yearbook class, both semesters. I'm excited on one hand, because I know a lot of these kids from teaching them last year as freshmen. That is also a drawback, with a few of them, of course. Other drawbacks include: 10th grade is a heavy writing grade in our state, meaning tedious grading is in the offing; this particular 10th grade honors class is full of honors-level interpersonal drama (I'll give you all some tasty tidbits as we go along), and the particular summer reading for 10th grade is Les Miserable, which I have assiduously avoided reading in my thirty-six years. Guess what I'll be cracking open tomorrow? I'll have to get in at least 50 pages of Hugo a day for a couple of weeks, and I'm a slooooow reader.
All in all, though, I'm pretty pleased. Though I'm sorely tempted to just base my Les Miserable exam off of the libretto from the broadway musical soundtrack, which I am manly enough to admit I own.

07 August 2006

Beach Belly Bingo

First, I hope this blog thing goes well. I know, I know - maybe I should be more careful and let things shake out before always trying to be a trendsetter. But I'm a risk-taker at heart, and I'm betting dozens of people will soon be blogging. At least.

While most of my content ostensibly will be about my day-to-day teaching experiences, right now I'm trying to ignore the fact that school starts for me in less than two weeks. Plenty of time for that.

Instead, let's discuss a beach trip observation, as we just returned from vacation. Now, I try to be a good boy when out on the beach. It's a given that women in bathing suits will be all around, and that many of these bathing suits will be of the skimpy bikini variety. So, yeah, I notice things, though I try to leer only at my own wife. What was a little different this year was who was wearing the skimpy stuff, in addition to the usual 18-22 year-olds.

There were several families from a certain Midwest state all staying in our same apartment high-rise (we stay in ours as sponges on my in-laws). Don't know if they were all one big family, or just several groups of friends. Or maybe it was just Midwest week at Myrtle Beach. What I do know is that in this group there were a lot of wives/mothers, in their thirties, and in almost insanely good physical condition. They wore small bikinis each day. They had flat abs, and little discernible cellulite. At least one of them clearly had boob augmentations (after childbirth, I assume). All of them (even those without the flat abs) had belly rings and back tattoos and ankle bracelets. And you know, by day three or four, I found myself really annoyed with these people (and I believe they could have been from anywhere and I would have noticed the same things - nothing intrinsic about Midwesterners).

Why? I don't know - maybe because I'm wondering why already attractive women need all that stuff? Maybe because these women rarely did anything but stand around and glisten in their bikinis, as if needing to be seen? Maybe because I'm wondering why I rarely saw their husbands actually interacting with them?

Look, I'm sure they are wonderful folks. Their kids seemed happy and not neglected. I didn't detect any particular "desperate housewife" syndrome going on. It just seemed they were, and had been, trying too hard to be something that seems incongruous with being a thirty-something mom. And I'm perfectly willing to believe their husbands contribute to this in one way or another.

It could be I'm just annoyed because they are, ultimately, not the kind of women I could ever have gone for, for long. My wife, who is plenty hot even if she doesn't have perfect abs, would never wear bikinis like that in any case, nor would she go for the tats or rings that are supposed to say "sexy". And instead of trying to be noticed, she spent her beach time either playing with my son, riding waves with me on boogie boards, or switching off between the two, as opposed to just dipping a toe in the water every now and then. I'll take the vigorous beach wife anyday, thank you.

I had not thought belly rings had undone so many. - Dante