Current/Recent Reading List

27 September 2007

Conversation With An Indignant 10th Grader

"So, you say you are taking Web Design? That doesn't happen to be the same class Kirk is in, is it? He's in my 4th Period."

"Oh. My. God. Yes! He is soooooo annoying. And, get this (eyes narrow). He lives near me and rides my bus. I can't wait to get my license - I sit in the back of the bus, and I'm the only girl, with like six guys around me.

"Wow. I hope you have a mean streak."

"God, they are so annoying. I'm nice to them, but you wouldn't believe it. Do you know what they sit back there and talk about?"


"Star Wars!"

"Really. Well, that's popular in my household right now, too."

"Yeah, but your son is four!"

"Well, actually six."

"And they talk about Yu-Gi-Oh!

"Um... yeah, I can't defend them there."

"I mean, please grow up!"

"This reminds me a little of an old t.v. show called "Freaks and Geeks". But you probably weren't even born when it was on the air. Anyway, when do you get your license, again?"

"November 6th at 2:45. 2:55 at the latest."

24 September 2007

Please Don't Hate Me

I'm sorry, folks. The heart is willing, but the body is too tired or busy for meaningful, or heck, even non-meaningful posts right now. Let me get beyond tomorrow night's round of t-ball and Senior Night yearbook presentations, and maybe Wednesday will be fruitful. I have many good things to tell, I promise.

Two quick reports from today: I entered the building at 6:50 this morning and found out the stifling atmosphere inside was due to a broken air-conditioner which had been out since Saturday. And it's been in the 90's here the last two days. You can figure out how the day went from there.

I also got to listen to a junior quite innocently tell other members of the yearbook staff about her father's three cars, which don't include her mom's vehicle, or her own BMW. And there is the Paris trip awaiting her after graduation.

Well, I'm no hater of the rich, but I'm not a big fan of the gauche (innocent though it seems).

19 September 2007

Same Ole', Same Ole'

Open House was last night. Mostly it's the parents of the good kids who come, though I did have one parent of a struggling student show up, and she was very upset with her son for the report I gave her. Still, one reliable indicator of a good student is whether or not the parents come to open house - I'm guessing 90% of these kids will be A-B students.

The old yearbook advisor, who is now working half-days, shares my room with me in the mornings. He has been teaching for 30 years or so, and he told me he one of his good buddies was on the school board for years. His buddy's opinion is that you can pull a student's first grade cumulative folder and his socioeconomic/family records, and pretty much determine his future as a student from there on out. That is pretty stark - and deterministic - and yet it is probably true.

But some of the exceptions to that rule sure make for wonderful stories.

16 September 2007


Well, with two birthday parties, t-ball, in-laws in town, the Wyfe's birthday (not one of the parties) - and, oh yeah - school, I'm not over last week yet, and here a new one is upon us. Alas, little blogging time.

But I will mention that, since the in-laws were in town, we got to have one of our 2-3 movie nights of the year (I think this is #2 for '07). What did we see?


Get the picture (wink, wink)?

12 September 2007

Freakin' Bizarre

That would definitely describe my former high school of employment - which is part of its charm, by the way, and also part of its curse.

I have discovered, this evening, that the school has been all over the blogosphere - and certain news sites - because of the principal's decision regarding what kind of shirts with what kind of flags represented on them could be worn on a certain important date that just passed. The answer: none, including American flags. The reasoning: they are having big problems with Mexican flag shirts, and the like, which include gang insignias on them.

Now, it feel like the twilight zone to me, because I know the principal well, have worked under him, have played sports with him a couple of times, have had meals with him, and really like him. And this flesh and blood person from my life is getting ripped on by bloggers right and left (ACLU-types). Do I think his decision was sound? No, not in principle (no pun intended). But look - this guy is a country boy from rural NC, and as red-blooded American as you can get. He went out and got American flags for all our school rooms last year so that we could properly say the Pledge of Allegiance each day. I don't believe he made a decision based on namby-pamby respecting-others-feelings-pc baloney. He did it because of the real gang problems they are having there, and probably wanted to avoid conflicts that would distract school business.

Yes, all this is another way of saying that a few gangbanger hispanic kids are holding the school hostage, in a way. Yes, that is something that should be stood up to, conflict be damned. But I'm just pointing out that this is a really good guy getting bludgeoned here.

What's also interesting to me - and this is a topic for a longer post down the line - is how at my current school so many things like this just wouldn't be issues. The kids as a whole simply don't push the envelope in the same way regarding dress code, gang wear, etc., and when they do they get cracked down on quickly. Is it simply a matter of who your population is, or is it the culture the school has passed down from administration to administration?

09 September 2007

Pied Beauty

As a general rule this is not a blog about my religious thoughts or experiences, but today is different. There are moments when a cluster of people or experiences, seemingly random, suddenly make sense in a way both instructive and, perhaps more importantly, sublime. The Christian among us describe this as Grace, something we are offered all the time, but rarely are smart enough to see, or receive. Today I had one of those moments, while at church, though I was hardly prepared for it. But suddenly the up and down nature of the past week, the potentially miraculous and the depressingly imperfect, came alive for me in a new way.

The optimism from Week #1 at school seemed to slowly dissipate all during Week #2 as the pressures of too-much-work-not-enough-time became reality (typical for this point in the year), poor behavior and absences already started to become manifest, and the oppressive heat/drought conditions continued here, with no relief in sight. On both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons my fourth period was difficult to get under control, and I was down on myself for poor classroom management. Gilgamesh hasn't exactly been revving my engines, or my students', up (this is the first, and maybe the last time for ole' Gil and me in the classroom). My planning periods are shortened due to homeroom, and my grading load was piling up. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and my son's t-ball team, for which I'm assistant coaching, was even lethargic and apathetic during Wednesday evening's practice (the chubby kid - there is always one -kept telling me how much he didn't want to be there).

Friday morning was the low point for the week. A homeroom student asked if I prayed, and told me his grandmother was dying of brain cancer. I told him I did, but didn't truthfully qualify it - I pray poorly, on-the-run, or sleepily with the lights out. Another homeroom kid who normally seems sweet completely threw me off kilter when she angrily snapped at me for calling the "band move" she was demonstrating a "dance move" ("It's not a dance move, its a band move!"). Later I was mad at myself for not upbraiding her, at least in private, or retorting sarcastically (I'm not above it), but I was actually too stunned to respond. Then first period was a mess - I made a joke that fell flat, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I was uninspiring and even sweating, and just didn't feel in command until late in the period.

Yet, the day, had its triumphs that I was happy to ignore at the time. Fourth period, which is full of so many distractions, was good, even sweet. They are never going to be great, but I expected much worse on a Friday afternoon. Both English classes got into a word brainstorming exercise, and yearbook continues to be fun - a diverse group of personalities so far working well together. I had a nice talk with an asst. principal at lunch duty - the guy will probably be the next principal, and seems the right kind of person for the job: steady-as-she-goes, friendly but stern.

And during the week I started hearing from some of my favorites from school #1 via e-mail. Aside from hearing about two fights in one morning before the bell even rang, I had this from a senior who is as close to my heart as any student has been: "I'm very glad to hear that your liking where you are now... 'cause you know it would be a shame to leave where people absolutely ADORE you, and not be appreciated now."

The miraculous, and the imperfect. Today we were late for church, as usual, and got in just in time for a flawless sermon on Paul's Epistle to Philemon, something I've never stopped to notice, I think: Paul and a runaway slave are incarcerated in a dirty jail cell, and discover that the slave's master is a convert who Paul himself evangelized. The short letter Paul writes to the slave's master, on behalf of his cell mate, is a "love letter", perhaps the greatest "love letter". But the sappy, 1967-ish hymn after the sermon is a huge letdown - redeemed only by the bell accompaniment (I wish we could have just heard the bells). While we were listening to the sermon, my son quietly pouted - bottom lip jutted out, angry eyebrows - for being told to keep quiet. Periodically I coax him closer until he finally sits on my lap for the morning prayer. During the offering, the choir, with winds accompaniments, sang a rousing rendition of an American classic, "Simple Gifts". The choir director's son, three or four years old, trotted out in his tiny Sunday suit and, during the chorus, tapped the glockenspiel on the off beat - losing his timing only once, and then picking it back up. The past few days seemed transformed right there, and all the week's emotions found their way to my eyes and throat.

It was our turn during Sunday school to serve the special adult class for those afflicted with Down's Syndrome and other illnesses and retardations. Some are loud and disruptive, some restless, some obsessive - most are barely intelligible in their speech. My son loves when we do this - he loves to come in and help us serve snacks to them, though he's not quite sure what to make of them. One day I'll tell him, these are the ones at the top of the heavenly-leading steps in Flannery O'Connor's story "Revelation". From imperfect to miraculous.

When we got home we heard, coming down the street, the unmistakable tones of an ice cream truck - the first we've seen here all summer. Oh, and the forecast (at least for now) is calling for blessed rain by Wednesday.

05 September 2007

Amen, Brother.

Joseph Epstein has a mostly depressing take on "The Literary Life", circa 2007, in the current The New Criterion. Depressing, but probably on the money, for the most part. I do love the end of this passage from the piece:

Some while ago I was asked to write about (Richard) Russo’s novel Empire Falls and a novel by Jonathan Franzen called The Corrections, which is steeped in hatred for the middle-class from which Franzen derived. The comparison between the two novels reminded me of an essay Matthew Arnold wrote about the difference between Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, which was that Tolstoy, the larger-hearted man, came to love his heroine and Flaubert never veered from his loathing for his. A good heart remains the first requisite for a great novelist.

So true, so true. It's also a first requisite for great teachers, I've noticed. And for most other worthy endeavors.

03 September 2007

Week 1 Retro - The Specific

My room is at least 50% larger than my old haunts, which helps because of all the yearbook computers and affiliated gear. I love the extra space, but I think a room never feels as much like home as it does during the planning period, where one can unwind and exhale in safe environs. Unfortunately, I have to camp out in the work room and media center during planning so a roaming teacher can use my room for 2nd period. There is a plus side here - there is less chance I'll waste planning/grading time when I'm not all cozy in my room.

So, first period is (right now) 28 kids, and thus far only two of them give me worries - not about conduct, but about passing the class. One is already convinced he'll be playing ACC basketball in three years, and has been sleeping and uninvolved thus far. The other told me he flunked last year because of absences; he's been sleeping too. A majority of the rest of the kids, I swear, would be potential honors kids at my former school. I haven't had to raise my voice above the noise in this class yet. Thus far, I looooooove first period.

Third period is yearbook, and while I'm certain there will be many hours of sleep lost over the yearbook, the class is thus far out of sight. At my old school the biggest problem I probably had was in having complete say over the staff, which led to a lot of dead weight, and personality conflicts. Some of this was my fault - I wasn't as insistent as I ought to have been about such things - but the class was never given the privileged status it ought to have been. Now, I have 14 kids who, while displaying slightly varying work ethics, all seem to be at least acceptably motivated, and cooperative. As the new guy coming in, I would not have expected to be accepted as readily as I have been (again with the "knock, knock").

If I have tension at the end of the day, fourth period is most likely to be the culprit. There is an irritating little group of mall rat/skate rat types who are hyper, immature, and sassy. However, even after moving a couple of them and having some post-class discussions, I can tell they like me so far. That doesn't mean they will automatically straighten up, but it can't hurt. And, they have not disrespected me when I've disciplined them, which is refreshing compared to past experiences. There are also 28 in this class, and it definitely is not going to be as fun as first period. They bear watching, but I'm not dreading them (yet), and there is something to be said for that.

On to week two, in which our intrepid author will no doubt learn all his first impressions were completely wrong...

02 September 2007

Week 1 Retro - The General

Let's start with some general observations from my first week of school in my new environment. First, it was probably the best first week I've ever had as far as all three classes running smoothly and efficiently. Some of this is due to my own improvements; most is probably due to having fairly good kids (knock, knock). Tomorrow I'll do my retrospective on some more specific details, but for the moment I'll report satisfaction that my classes and I will at least be able to "do bidness", sometimes cheerfully.

Second, I had no idea how it would feel to be in the midst of 2,000 students when I used to be in the midst of 550. The answer is, not much different, because I don't see all of them all the time. In my little corner of my building, I'm basically just seeing segments of the school population each day, so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Granted, when I took my junior homeroom to its class assembly with the principal, I noted that the entire junior class, gathered on the bleachers, looked like the whole student body of my former school.

Speaking of the assembly, the principal (rumored to be retiring this year), said "Good Morning," and then stood in a pose of stoic defiance, as if he were staring at each individual eye to eye. The kids got quiet in a hurry, except for one smartie who let out a "Whooo!" Minutes later, two girls were led out by a history teacher. The rest of the time the kids were completely attentive (well, at least silent), though I know they didn't want to be. But by God, they were, and I never saw that happen at my old school.

The teachers at my old school were almost all wonderful to me, and willing to help with almost anything. But, partially because there were only four of us, members of my department there rarely collaborated or came up with skeletal gameplans for how certain subjects would be approached. None of us would have refused to help each other, but we were content to all do our own thing, for the most part. Some of this was also due to the knowledge that one of the four was, sad to say, an embarrasment who nonetheless posed as a know-it-all.

My current department is much more collaborative, and everyone is much more active in asking the new guys if we need help. Case in point: after cobbling together some writing and short fiction lessons to get through week one, on Friday I needed to sit down and really plan out my next couple of weeks, especially what I'm going to do with Gilgamesh. However, due to homeroom my planning period has been pinched all week, and I had to attend training on how to set up a web page. Ordinarily this would have added up to leaving later on Friday than I would have liked, but all I ended up having to do was check with one of the other 10th grade teachers, who keeps the "10th Grade Notebook", a massive compilation of lessons and activities in oh-so-neat page protectors. Within thiry minutes I've got next week's Latin roots activities and quizzes ready to go, as well as vocabulary lists, Tuesday's lessons on Ancient Mesopotamia and its literature, and enough Gilgamesh stuff to choke a goat.

What I can't wait to do later in the semester is add to that notebook with my own variety o' cool lessons for The Tempest, La Commedia Divina, and "The Metamorphosis". Of course, I'll probably have to borrow the page protectors off someone - neatness isn't really my thing.