Current/Recent Reading List

29 October 2007

About Those Breasts

Got your attention, huh?

At the end of last week I was helping first period explicate some sonnets, and for homework I gave them Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, which begins (in case you've forgotten) thusly:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

Now, our principal, who I'm judging is about 65, likes to make the rounds in the mornings, and pop his head into random classrooms, standing at the door for a while. He happened to pop in just as the kids asked me to read the poem to them, since it helps their comprehension when I do this. I did so, and then we began talking about the physical comparisons in the first two lines. Things were going well, and they were enjoying being outraged by the narrator's apparent rudeness, and I guess the principal was enjoying it too (he was smiling), so he continued hanging around. No longer holding the poem in my hand, I innocently asked the following:

"What is the next comparison? It's the hair, right?"

(Class) "No! It's the breasts!!!"

"Oh (checking peripherally). Are you sure?"


"Oh. Well, o.k. - the breasts. The first thing you need to understand is Shakespeare is not trying to be pornographic..."

And from there I tried to explain the ideal of alabaster skin, etc., as quickly as I could without stopping giving the kiddies a chance to butt in. We moved right ahead, and soon the principal, like Batman, had disappeared without notice.

After he was gone I got this: "Mr. P., you totally tried to skip over the breasts on purpose, didn't you?"

I denied it and denied it, but they weren't buying this. I suppose I'm busted, though if they busted me, I think it was the part of me called my subconscious.

I don't suppose it would have helped to have replied, "No kids, trust me. I never skip over the breasts."

24 October 2007

The Schizophrenic Day

That's the reality for me, each and every school day. My first period is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Not perfect, mind you, but as good a class as I've ever had, taking behavior and aptitude into account. Then I have a planning period, which is usually harried and far from relaxing, but at least offers some alone time. My third period is yearbook, which provides for publishing-related headaches, but is peopled by a small class of exceptional kids. Can't complain there.

And then, there is fourth period, a class as frustrating as any I've ever had. Both first and fourth have about five kids too many, but when around 12-15 of those kids are difficult and/or seriously unmotivated, then the game is up - at least according to the standards I try to set, which are not too unrealistic, I think. It is unbelievable how much time I spend policing, or waking people up. Some of this can be chalked up to it being fourth period, but, when I vented to a couple of the decent students in there about my frustrations, one of them simply said, "What do you expect? Take a look around at who's in here."

So, my mood swings wildly, usually from up to down, each day.

I'll take suggestions.

21 October 2007

Memo To Ms. O'Connor

Dear Ms. O'Connor,

Since I'm certain you are still writing perfect short stories at your home on the Big Farm (where I'm sure you are keeping a much less troublesome pea fowl coop), I thought I would pass this along for your use. I overheard it at the North Carolina State Fair today:

"Step up here and play, folks; there is a guaranteed winner every time. Hey, what would Jesus do? I'll tell you what He'd do - that Guy would step up here and turn one ticket into a thousand tickets. You know He would."


A lowly, not-humble-enough fan.

18 October 2007

The DRK's

One peer group I had forgotten about since my own high school days in suburbia is the Disaffected Rich Kids (DRK's, heretofore) crowd. Sure, at my previous teaching location there were disaffected rich kids, but while there were some similarities (heavy partying, academic ambivalence, and the penchant their parents have for buying them off), those rural kids were mostly big louts who rode around town in their new trucks, raised hell, and hardly made a secret of it. Many of them will have burned themselves out by age 22, and will have burned themselves into the stuff of George Jones tunes. And they don't try to hide much at all from their eye-averting parents.

The DRK's I refer to are a different breed - wealthy, generally not natives to the area, lingering at the intersection of skate-rat, emo, hip-hop, and Goth Streets. They are generally academically smart - though not motivated - and much more under the radar when it comes to the drinking, drugs, and sex they are involved in. They talk about it all, but you have to really have your ear tuned right to hear it. Their parents tend to be divorced, possibly re-married, and again, they've bought the kids off, except with PlayStation 3's instead of cars and trucks. Many of them are well-behaved in the classroom, but they always strike me as being on the verge of some sort of breakdown - they write on themselves with pens, and laugh too hard and loud, and try too diligently to be conforming non-conformists. They are more likely to be achievers, but also likely to spend time in rehab or psychotherapy (not that the rural Bubba's wouldn't be prime candidates as well - they are just less likely to go). Again, this is a type I can remember from way back in the late '80's at my school.

Well, in the back of my room, near my computer, sits a special little DRK who likes to write about how he doesn't have any real free speech, and how he hates cops, and other charming stuff. I wonder when he's ever seen a cop in the neighborhood I'm told he lives in. He makes fun of the way others smell, and of one girl's local accent (I set him straight about that in a hurry, you mite 'a guessed). His mom used to check up on him periodically, but has stopped, I notice, since his behavior has worsened. Last Thursday he started going on and on about how his grade had improved to a 78, and though I thought that sounded too high, I didn't stop to ponder it too long. The next morning, someone who rides the bus with him told me he was bragging about changing his grade on my computer; I looked, and sure enough there was a 100 where a not-yet-made-up test should have been. The grade went back to 73 quickly.

So, he sits in suspension for a couple of days, having denied everything, of course. Bet you can't wait until he hits the working world, huh?

16 October 2007

What She Said

Well, Wyfe beat me to the punch on this one, but I probably couldn't do the subject the same kind of justice anyway. My post was going to be titled, "T-Ball Assistant Coach Agonistes".

I can report that tonight I was liberated - I got to pitch because the usual dad wasn't there (and I was more accurate than he usually is, natch). As for poor Wyfe, she can't remember anything about the actual game, since she was too busy peeling children off fences again.

14 October 2007

Song of the Line

Back in August I sang the praises of both artist and writer after I read a great Oxford American profile of Henryk Fantazos written by Jack Gilbert (both fellow North Carolinians for many years now, btw!).

Well, it turns out the two of them have been friends for many years now, and have just collaborated on a new publication, a collection of Gilbert's poetry and ten new copper engravings of Fantazos's, entitled Song of the Line. I am now in proud possession of the book, and have just gotten started with it, but I'm having a blast with it so far. Gilbert's work fits my idea of poetry: accessible, but open to new discoveries on each re-reading. And the Fantazos engravings are mesmerizing, full of abnormal yet recognizable characters who are mysteriously dignified. Both men, it seems, have the good grace to be humorous in their seriousness.

I'll have more to say after I finish the book, but in the meantime check it out for yourself.

08 October 2007

My Day As A Celeb

The final Mr. P-led yearbook came out at my old school on Friday (remember, a rare fall delivery book), and acting upon previous discussions, I was asked to come down and read the dedication at the afternoon assembly held in honor of the dedicatee. I worked it out so that I could get a half day off, and rode down to hog-farm country one more time. Yes, I was nervous and cheerfully anxious about seeing former students and colleagues, and I had only practiced in my head what I was going to say. But, frankly, my nerves vanished after I looked at the assembled and realized - already - just how tiny the group seemed. It almost seemed like I was in the classroom instead of on the stage.

So, when I was introduced I got a nice, hearty round of applause and many screams, and I sort of felt like a mini-Beatle, which I'll admit was flattering. I told everyone I missed them and I loved them, and heard a few "We love you toooooo, Mr. P!"'s in response. Then I told a couple of folksy stories about the dedicatee, a friend of mine (while I'm bragging, I was on my game, because I got lots of laughs), and read the words written in honor of him. After the ceremony I signed yearbooks for an hour, gave and got lots of hugs, and shuffled off back home.

It was a satisfying day, but I also realized pretty quickly something else that made me feel good. It was clear, upon leaving, that I had made the right decision, and that indeed it was time to move on to something bigger and more challenging. I felt more like I was visiting a friend's place, rather than a second home I'd been pining away for. Given the anxieties I outlined yesterday, this was comforting. Now I find myself really looking forward to getting to work tomorrow. Probably this is a sure sign that something crappy will happen, but hey, there a certain amount of those days I'm destined to have anyway.

Thanks old school. New school, I'll see you tomorrow.

07 October 2007

Up and Down, Up and Down

There's a reason I hate change. Oh, I know the only constant is change, and we can't grow except through change, and blah blah blah-dy blah blah. But change - unless it is the change from something catastrophic to something heavenly - chafes me something awful.

The reason for this, probably, is that I am not patient. All summer I told myself that the new job would involve many adjustments which might take me a year to make, and this was just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long stay, and that it would take a while to find my niche. So what's the problem? Well, the problem turns out to be that all that stuff is TRUE! WHO KNEW?

So my mental state is very day-to-day right now. One day I love my first period, and the next I'm changing their seats, and then they are angels again. Then the next day my fourth period - which will never be great - resembles a jungle, and it appears I've never set foot in a classroom before. So, I call parents, make referrals, etc., and then they seem fine. One day I feel like the yearbook staff has accepted me as their leader, and the next I feel like they want me to leave them alone. One day I feel I've settled in to the particular faculty culture, and the next I feel quite lonely. And on, and on... On Friday I left on a high note, especially because I heard some complimentary things from my department head. But who knows about Monday?

The good news? My first observation went well, and my colleagues (unless I'm totally misreading the signs) have already accepted me and determined I am an asset and an enjoyable colleague. The bad news? Regardless, it will take more time for me to truly feel at home, and there is just no remedy for that but, well, time. I guess I just need to admit defeat on that front and live with those fun feelings of uncertainty.

I may be slightly paraphrasing, but I believe C.S. Lewis wrote, to himself, that "there is nothing to be done about suffering except to suffer." He was speaking of something much worse than job change, but the point is well-taken.

01 October 2007

Feeling More Like Home, In More Ways Than One

Well, last week was the first full one where things at the new school just seemed like home - right down to the petty things (lost planning period time) that all high schools seem to engender, and that seem designed merely to piss off teachers.

But really, it was a good week, and I can feel my confidence level rising with the kids, and can tell that - like my old kids - they like me and like the class. That is, if they have to have an English class, mine seems fine to be in.

I was all prepared to gush about this toward the end of last week, but lack of time and 28 essays intervened. And then, on Friday afternoon right at the 4th period bell, I heard the dulcet strains of, "MR. P., THERE'S A FIGHT IN THE HALL!"

My first reaction to such news is always a) a barely suppressed "damn!", and b) heading toward the fight in a kind of "I'm trying to look concerned and in a hurry and in control while not really wanting to be in too much of a hurry, and not liking any of the alternatives actually open to me." So I tried to make my way through the throbbing crowd of shameless teenage onlookers, and saw, through the perfect circle they had formed aroung the festivities, two black girls beating the living snot out of each other. I have never seen a fight of such ferocity, and before I could get near them, one had flung the other through another teacher's doorway and into her room.

What I will always remember is the rush of students who immediately converged on the doorway, horrid little vultures ready to follow the fight into the classroom, and the fortunate circumstance that the teacher was standing close by to stop them. If she had not been there, I swear there would have been 100 kids in that room in no time. My view of human nature at that moment bordered on Mark Twain-esque pessimism (boy could he have written out that scene). Eventually I helped grab one girl and hold her away from the other, trying to hang on tight without actually breaking her lower ribs.

Some people leave a scene like that and shake for a while after. I didn't, but I marvel at how quickly such a situation focuses your entire being on one thing so sharply. I remember every detail of what I saw perfectly, but can't remember much about my own movement, or exactly how I made my way to the fight and helped break it up. Once you are sucked in to something like that, you are sucked in for good until it is long over.