Current/Recent Reading List

30 December 2006

My Merry Metrosexual Christmas

First, some housecleaning and apologies. I'm finally converted to "new" Blogger, and just realized, as a result, that I had somehow been blocking my comments. So, all unmoderated comments should now show up again. Sorry!

Now back to original programming:

There is a crude tradition among male golfers that when one of them fails to get his tee shot past the lady's tee box, he is always asked by his partners to pull down his pants in order to verify that he still qualifies as a man. I hardly ever golf these days, but having played a decent amount over the years, I can gladly say I never saw anyone actually oblige this request. Unrelated factoid: though I was not an eyewitness, I am aware of an acquaintance once pulling down his shorts and wiggling his wang at his (no doubt alarmed) television, all due to the poor play of his favorite football team in a big game. How's that for a digression?

In any case, I have felt like the guy with the short tee-shot during this festive season, with my own imaginative golf partners hectoring me for a lack of manliness. Why? Well, here are the highlights:

1. Last Thursday morning, I went to the mall in search of a certain diamond anniversary band (ahem - major brownie points) for my wife's surprise Christmas gift. While surreptitiously eye-balling jewelry store brochures without actually entering the stores, I walked by a middle-of-the-mall kiosk, and was accosted, in a friendly way, by a man of Middle Eastern descent. "Sir, do you have one minute?" he asked, and because I have an aversion to rudeness, even when it is not rude, I consented. The next thing I know, this guy is holding my hand in his, and is buffing one of my fingernails with some kind of nail-kit rubbing stuff. It was all I could do to not pull my hand away immediately, put a bag over my head, and leave the mall while gnashing my teeth. But I persevered, told the man I would consider the stuff for my wife, and walked on in shame.

2. Later, inside an actual free-standing jewelry store that got my business, I consented to being served a vanilla espresso while my credit report was being run. Fortunately, credit ratings don't rely on manliness points.

3. That afternoon, at another mall, I entered Victoria's Secret only to buy my wife some new undergarments. No g-strings, no lingerie, nothing to turn my face red, I swear (or else I wouldn't be telling you about it, now would I?). But, the girl at the counter did talk me into applying for a Victoria's Secret card, which I figured might be handy in the future (for the wife, of course). Unfortunately, while they were running my credit, the machine at my register went down, and I had to stand in line for at least 10 minutes while all around me women and teenage girls brought bras, panties, and who knows what else to the counter. Discomfort ensued. I could have just bided my time by staring at the softcore pinup advertisements on the walls (actually I did for at least, oh, three of those minutes), but too much of that would have made me seem a perv or a lecher, I decided. For those other seven minutes, there was simply no place to hide! Help!!

4. Moments later, while walking down the center of this mall, a young woman of Middle Eastern descent stops me and asks for "five seconds." So lost was I in the haze of paying for a diamond ring and being held captive (darn the luck) in Victoria's Secret, I don't think I even regained my mental faculties until I already found that my thumb was in this woman's hand and was getting the same damn polishing treatment that my other finger got earlier that morning at a separate location. "I CAN"T BELIEVE THIS!" I seem to recall thinking, and yet, as if paralyzed by kryptonite, I couldn't stop it. To make matters worse, I bought the kit this time after the lady haggled down the price.

5. Christmas morning I made an apple compote to accompany our breakfast casserole. Darn good, too. Got the recipe from watching Emeril on the... er... Food Network.

6. Later on Christmas morning I opened a package containing two Italian cookbooks which I... er... asked for for Christmas. (Hey, Clemenza in The Godfather cooked sauce for fifty men, remember).

So there you have it. I'm not even going to pretend to defend myself. You'll know I've really gone over the edge, metrosexually speaking, if I ever report going to a stylist instead of a barber.

22 December 2006

Mathematically (and Pedagogically) Challenged?

(This perhaps should have been two separate posts, since I have a lengthy riff on an ancillary issue in my note at the end. Oh, well.)

There were a few fireworks at the schoolhouse just before break, and sad to say they fit a familiar pattern.

My bratty but bright second period reports almost en masse to our math department chair, two doors down, for third period Algebra II. Now, I need to point out that this lady was my school-selected mentor for my first three years in the biz, and is as sweet and kind a person as I could have asked for to help me along. Perhaps because I am her son's age, she even bought me birthday presents while I was her mentee.

She fits a certain Southern "type" that is probably familiar to some of you. Prim and proper, a former pageant girl whose daughter followed in her footsteps (pageant-wise and teacher-wise), married to a well-known gent of the community, and a pillar of the community herself, she is outwardly the very essence of the Southern lady. But not far beneath the surface, there are obviously conflicted feelings, disappointments, and even bitterness that can be detected. I do not know the source of these in full, but I can tell you that (in my opinion) her three children, all above the age of thirty, are spoiled and take great advantage of her, but she mostly reacts to them with the occasional passive/aggressive comment, rather than just telling them to grow up, grow a pair, and stop PISSING HER OFF!

In my amateur-psychologist opinion, the place she transfers these frustrations to is the classroom. Every year, about half way through each semester, I start to hear bright kids tell me that she can't teach and that she's mean as hell to them. For a couple of years, I passed this off as kids being frustrated with upper level math and finding a scapegoat in place of pinpointing their own laziness. But after a while, I had to admit something wasn't right in her classes, or I wouldn't have kept hearing this repeatedly from even my favority non-whiners. I've refused up until now to even get in a protracted conversation with my students about it, for fear of allowing them to trash another teacher (much less my former-mentor) in my room.

Fast-forward to Monday, when she was out sick, and five of our common spoiled-but-talented girls took the opportunity to converge on Principal Goldberg with their complaints about their bad grades and their teacher's "hateful" comments to them. When they later told me what they had done, I was a little upset with them, because I thought a) going over her head without their parents being present wasn't going to help matters, but worsen them and b) they probably had some malice mixed-in with their motivations. However, after really listening to them, and to an independent (and reliable) outside source, I have come to these conclusions (not solely on my own):

1) My teacher friend simply doesn't have the ability to grasp upper-level mathematical concepts, at least not enough to get them across to anyone.* The kids all say she can only tell them one way to do a problem, and if they seek alternatives they are chastised. She originally was certified for middle-school, and though she got secondary-school licensure later, anything beyond Algebra I is beyond her expertise. My independent source, now a senior, said in order to maintain an "A" she had to take her book home every night and work through the examples from the chapter introductions, then go back and do the work based on what she had taught herself.

2) Because she has department seniority, she does not want to teach any lower level classes.

3) As a result of #1, my teacher friend gets very defensive with her honors classes, because they are challenging her and it obviously threatens her. When kids realize this, even if their original intentions are not ugly, they latch on like evil-little pit bulls; thus, there is an upsetting atmosphere in that classroom most every day.

4) My teacher friend has simply run out of patience, as well. She is near retirement, and unfortunately seems to be leaning to the "The hell with it, I'm almost out of here" mind-set.

I have no idea how this will end up - the class has a state End of Course test, and everyone is worrying about their grades and transcripts. The principal came and sat in on the class Tuesday, but I don't know anything beyond that. What I do know is that it is a shame, a darn shame, all around.

*Note: You will often hear certain teachers, administrators, and (prepare your boos and hisses) Doctors of Education say, in a mildly indignant tone, that "You can know your subject backwards and forwards, but if you can't teach it, you won't be any good as a teacher." At first glance, this may seem like a "no duh" point to make. But make no mistake, this is coded language for the following: only those who have been given the special knowledge that Education Department Gnostic Ministers can impart are really teachers.

In other words, following the academic trends of the last thirty or forty years, content doesn't matter, only form and presentation. As long as you present it in at least thirteen different (excuse me, I mean diverse) ways, it doesn't really matter what you are presenting. This way of thinking, of course, allows certain groups to protect turf and keep a stranglehold on who can enter the profession.

Whenever I hear the old "you might know it but can't teach it without the right methods" canard, I simply want to cry, "CRAP! CRAP! CRAP!" I guarantee you that for every one hundred people who have a complete grasp of any subject, you can only find one or two who are so devoid of social and communication skills that they can't get it across to others who have the prerequisite intelligence in place.

Don't buy it, don't believe it, don't even entertain the idea. The high majority of the time, if someone cannot successfully teach a subject, it is because they don't understand it themselves.

End of seminar.

20 December 2006

I'm Here and I'm Free!

For the next ten days at least (free being a relative term, of course).

Break began today, and I apologize for my absence on the blog. As previously noted, December is a tough period to slog through for a teacher up until that last day, which this year was helpfully an early release. In any case, I have a few tales to tell, and will now have a little more leisure for the purpose. Just give me 'til tomorrow evening, after I take care of some Christmas chores.

By the way, nothing says, "I teach in Central/Eastern North Carolina" quite like the traditional gift the faculty gets from some anonymous do-gooder each semester: A bag containing some sparkling cider, and freshly ground sausage from one of the local hog farms. The sausage tastes great in my wife's Christmas morning breakfast casserole.

Hope ya'll enjoy some good eatin', too, over the next few days.

15 December 2006

Felix Natalis Dies to Me

It is my birthday, but it started off rocky: I woke up in the middle of the night, had a hard time getting back to sleep, and then just when I was nodding off my son climbed in the bed (nightmare, I assume?) to contort and jab his way back into his own slumber. Meaning, no more sleep for birthday boy. Then, this morning, no one (ahem - that would be the two people who live in my house other than me) got up in time to watch me open my gifts, so the gifts remain wrapped and sitting on the kitchen table, looking sad and unopened. Sniff.

Plus, I left my book bag at home with a couple of student papers in it. Oh well.

Things have looked up, though, since my awful, bratty little second perioders gave me a homemade birthday card, containing the following:

"From your fantastic, loving, charming, and EXTREMELY intelligent second period class."

Very sweet. But more importantly, they did not use the word "good", knowing I would have circled it and written "overused, lazy word" beside it. Yes, probably even on my own birthday card.

13 December 2006

The Grind

You know, I always convince myself that the period from Thanksgiving break until Christmas break will somehow be a holiday season idyll, filled with nothing but cheerful students and a fast-moving 3 1/2 weeks of school which somehow won't require much effort to get through. The papers, I always suppose, will be more fun to read, the assignments more fun to design, and the non-teaching duties more fun to endure.

Well, you can guess where it goes from here. As a punishment for me flights of fancy, I receive a figurative (perhaps metaphysically motivated) thump on the head reminding me that life is still life, and no one promised me, or anyone else, a Christmassy rose garden, least not in this life. Last year this fateful event occured just before break (still unresolved, btw), and this December a student of mine lost her grandfather, and another girl at school lost her mother.

In the category of more minor problems, I've got 1,068 papers to grade this week, plus tests to grade, plus Christmas planning/erranding, plus going out of town this weekend and rushing back for the preschool pageant, and on, and on...

Oh, and I've stupidly taken it upon myself to organize a mini-Shakespeare production to be put on in the late spring. Good news? I've got like 30 kids interested in doing it. Bad news? I have no idea what the hell I'm doing.

There - thanks for the shoulder. Some time between now and next week, I'm going to listen to our old book-on-tape of Patrick Stewart reading "A Christmas Carol", and should be feeling much better.

10 December 2006

Weekend Diversions

Coolest thing this weekend - heck, one of the coolest things ever - was walking out into the road Saturday at 8:50 pm on a cold, clear eastern North Carolina night and seeing the space shuttle steadily making its way through the sky. I didn't even know there was a launch scheduled until earlier that evening, and had no expectation we would actually be able to spot it. Wow, wow, wow!! We could even see tiny flickers from the jet flames.

Not so cool from the weekend? Reading papers with clunkers like these:

"Cell phones today are a positive form of technology, towards the world today."

"Well during and emergency they are very safe, even though the teachers at school may think of it as a distraction, they can take away from the learning."

"This affects you education this would not be a problem if students would be more responsiable."

Yes, precisely.

06 December 2006

Hell for the Holidays

So we’ve been studying The Divine Comedy this week, but our textbook (natch) only has excerpts from Inferno. Without any Purgatorio or Paradiso, this makes for grim Christmas-time fodder – and I added to the festive mood by copying an additional section of Canto’s 32 and 33 for them, where Count Ugolino forever gnaws on the back of his enemy’s head and recounts the story of cannibalizing his children. Peace on Earth, people, but not in the Inferno.

Anyhow, I’ve tailored a cool poster project for the class (stolen from the internet, of course), through which the kids get to create their own geography of Hell, and include their own nine circles, along with appropriate punishments and potential inhabitants. This, needless to say, requires a good deal of policing, but also contains much amusement. To wit:

“Mr. P., we’re going to put a circle for fags.” (idea rejected by Mr. P.)

“We’ve got a circle for preps. Hey, M_ _ _ _ th, can we use you as an example?” (idea only acceptable to Mr. P. if M _ _ _ _ _th had no problem with it. Since she did, idea rejected by Mr. P.)

“We’re putting Bill Clinton in our Perverts circle. Who was that Monica Lewinsky lady, again? A figure skater?” (other student: “No, dummy. You’re talking about Tara Lipinski.”)

“If we can’t put in homosexuals, can we put in metrosexuals?” (idea approved by Mr. P.)

“Can our ninth circle be for Carolina fans (note: as in Tar Heels, for you non-resident readers) ?” (idea warmly received and approved by Mr. P.)

“Well, we’re going to put in a circle for State fans, and put Mr. P. in as an example.” (idea coldly received, but approved, by Mr. P.)

(While student searches for appropriate poster images on internet) “Hey Mr. P! Come look at this big fat guy!” (you don’t want to know what Mr. P. saw when he foolishly complied)

And all this, just after Day One. Can’t wait to see the results on Friday, when the projects are due. I also can’t wait to see how many times I show up in Hell, aside from my usual appearance there during second period each day.

04 December 2006


I do get the occasional itch to look at teaching positions at other schools. This is a group-therapy moment for me, by the way, to admit that. See, I've always had this annoying predilection for over-loyalty, and I'm not saying that to indirectly earn acclaim from my millions of readers. I get comfortable, I know what to expect, and I try hard to ignore even the possibility of other... er... possibilities. This is a marvelous trait for a good marriage, by the way, but not always for other areas of life. Before I got into teaching, I stayed at a boring desk job for about three years too long, and was often miserable as a result.

Five years ago, when I decided to start teaching, I had six weeks worth of vacation to get by on, and then nothin'. I didn't think finding a position in the heavily populated Wake and Johnston county areas would be hard, but I didn't understand that 1) English teachers are not in huge demand compared to those in other disciplines, and 2) the nicer, richer schools won't go for lateral-entry teachers when already-licensed ones are available. Plus, there is the usual insider-hiring that goes with every profession. So, when my little school offered a job, I determined the driving distance was okay, and jumped at it, needing a salary and all.

It's been a blast, and I've gotten real comfortable there. In fact, short of me violating an ethics code, there's probably little I could do to wear-out my welcome. But there is a slight sacrifice in pay, as well as in convenience, compared to teaching at a couple of high schools that are closer to home. Those schools are three times as large as mine, and one of the true charms of my current situation is that I get to know the kids really well - I see them, almost literally, every day. The biggest drawback, however, is that the majority of the kids I teach simply have no ambition beyond getting a job in their home area and staying there. This is quaint and touching, but it doesn't do much to spark imagination or a healthy competitive streak. Out of 28 kids in my current honors class, I can only think of three or four who, right now, are open to the possibility of attending a major university, or of expanding their horizons (horrible cliche, btw, but I'm short on time) in any substantive way.

Just one county over, the county I live in and that my son goes to school in, things are much different. And so, sometimes, I get that itch.

02 December 2006

Losing It

No, not a reference to the "B" movie starring a then-budding scientologist freakazoid.

My temper is what I'm referring to. Walk around the average high school, and sooner or later you'll find a teacher with eyes bugging out, index finger leveled, and lung capacity tested to its full extent as he just lays into a student or two. Perhaps you've even been on the receiving end of such a tirade (even I was a couple of times, back in the day). In any case, this teacher, on Friday, was me .

Normally I hate to lose it, because I don't like myself very much when I feel out of control, and I have a hard time getting my wits back - not a good thing in the middle of class. But these boys have had it coming for a while, and actually it felt quite cathartic. Plus, it worked. I especially liked dressing down our future varsity quarterback (a good kid, btw) when he tried to backtalk me in the middle of my rant. He never got a complete sentence out. The rest of class was deathly silent after that, and we actually accomplished a few goals for the day. What a concept.

Anyhow, I came home and thumped my chest a few times. The wife was really impressed, as you can imagine.