Friday, June 30, 2006

Gotta find a janitor to sweep me off my feet

The Job was pure unadulterated heck today. We had a sink installed in one of the rooms so we had to crowd everyone into the smaller room. Then a toilet overflowed as we were setting out the mats for nap. The Negative Teacher called out to Boss (who has been coming in very late and leaving very early these days as part of a deliberate plan to phase herself out and put more repsonsibility on the new administrator [though she's still drawing the biggest full-time salary in the school]) that the toilet was overflowing. According to report --- I didn't hear --- Boss looked back at her and said in a sarcastic tone, "Plunger? Mop? Do you think you can think of something to do with these items?" And continued to sit in front, doing not much of importance as far as I know.

I'm a patient guy, but that was truly rude. I don't know what I would do if she'd said that to me --- though Boss tends to treat me with kid gloves compared to the rest of the staff. Lady, we know what to do in the crisis --- we want help! We were dealing with 15 kids, snack clean up and transition to nap, and she didn't lift a solitary buttcheek to help. So of course, it fell to me to mop up the overflowed toilet and then plunge it later. And put down mats and try to get the kids calmed down. In our small eating room that gets irritatingly hot in the afternoons. Teacher M took the older kids to the half of the other room that wasn't being worked on to rest, but Boss stuck her nose in our doings as per usual and told M that they didn't need to rest anymore. Lady, you deal with grumpy kids who, yes, really do need a nap!

So anyway, crappy day.


Reading II, boring, pop quiz, did fine, Ms. L didn't grade our papers because she's incompetent, yadda yadda.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

You oughtta know...

Arthur Alexander. He wrote a hell of a lot of classic southern soul songs, but he is criminally unknown, even to many fans of the modern classics. Some of his songs were covered by better-known artists; probably the most famous of these covers is the Beatles' version of "Anna," off Please Please Me. Bob Dylan covered his "Sally Sue Brown" on his album Down In the Groove. The song is credited (as on Dylan's site) to "J. Alexander," because it was first released under the name "June Alexander." I wonder why.

Discriminating fans of the roots of modern rock owe it to themselves to listen to Alexander's distinctive voice on this fine collection or this tribute album, boasting tracks by such distinguished luminaries as Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, John Prine, Frank Black, Roger McGuinn and others.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

We did it our way

In Reading II today, our group did our presentation on Voice (one of the "six plus one" traits of writing). Instead of basing our lesson on a book, we played two versions of the song "My Way" --- Sinatra and the Sex Pistols --- and explained that authorial voice is like a singer covering a song and putting his own stamp on it. We based our lesson on that, handing out a sheet with three springboard questions for reflective writing (ie, "How does this song make you feel? How do you think the singer felt singing it? What is 'your way?'"). Our followup activity was quite clever --- one of our group brought a variety of birthday cards, some funny, some romantic, some spiritual. These were another example of authorial voice and how it ties into the text's intended audience. In all, I think we did a pretty good job, especially given our dearth of planning. (I stumbled a lot during my turn to speak, not out of nervousness, but just because I actually had very little idea what to say. I dislike not doing well at speaking, because I'm usually quite glib and articulate, but it's a minor annoyance, soon forgotten, I'm sure.)

The other groups did presentations on Word Choice and Sentence Fluency. The first group read a book about runaway slaves and a quilt; one girl dressed in period costume, and they handed out colored paper to make a big "word quilt." Cutesy, but probably effective for elementary kids. The other presentation was a bit dull --- so much so that I remember nothing about it except one girl (whom I'm a passing acquaintance with, so I'm sorry to say it) read the book their lesson was based on in the most monotone, uninspired way imaginable. It pains me to think of all these inchoate teachers whose reading skills are so lacking.

But sweet Shiva, speaking of poor reading skills, our Reading teacher Ms. L herself is a terrible reader! She glides over periods as if they weren't there, inflects her voice inappropriately at the ends of sentences, fails to inflect at questions and exclamations, and often misreads words. And it's not just the lack of fluency and iffy decoding skills; she seems to have no sense of pacing at all. In class today, after reading a children's picture book, of perhaps twenty pages, aloud to us for some goddam reason, she wanted to go back and show us a particular illustration. She had to thumb through the whole book to find it. She had just finished reading it not more than thirty seconds ago, but apparently had no idea where the page she wanted was. Why didn't she know that the picture was in the back, and flip right to it? The same reason that she has no sense of time and keeps talking way past schedule, I guess.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A man of great common sense and good taste

As George Bernard Shaw said.

Here for some reason is a mix CD I made several years ago. What I did was this: I borrowed a bunch of CDs from the library in order to try them out --- I didn't know whether I'd like them enough to buy them or what. Six of those CDs didn't strike me as good enough to buy, but had two or three standout tracks on them. So I made a mix of those tracks:

1. Tubthumbing
2. The Big Issue
3. One By One
by Chumbawumba, off Tubthumper

Yeah, I know, I know, Chumbawumba? Those deservedly one-hit-wonders? But I enjoy the first, utterly-ubiquitous-circa-1997 track for its drunken-singalong ethic, and the other two are pretty good trancey sortof message songs.

4. Daughter
5. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town
by Pearl Jam, off Vs.

I find Pearl Jam mostly boring, but "Daughter" has a passion to it that --- for all of Eddie Vedder's heartfelt emoting --- to me is lacking in most of their other songs. And the other song I included just so everyone on the mix would bring at least two songs to the project. I wouldn't want Pearl Jam to feel left out.

6. The Fire Inside
7. She Can't Do Anything Wrong
by Bob Seger, off The Fire Inside

I couldn't, and still can't, believe that a song as well-paced, literate and mature as "The Fire Inside" was written by the same guy who wrote all that other crap. "She Can't Do Anything Wrong" is a pretty good leering "sweet little sixteen" song cleverly wrapped around one line of social critique.

8. Bittersweet Symphony
9. The Drugs Don't Work
10. Lucky Man
by the Verve, off Urban Hymns

Some of my musical tastes have remained unchanged. I loved Bob Dylan as soon as I heard him at fifteen years old and love him just as much now twenty years later. But in other ways my tastes flow. I've grown bored with most "classic" arena rock and noodling rock like Pink Floyd, and have come to appreciate some music that requires a patient ear, such as Tom Waits and Warren Zevon. I'm pretty sure that if I were making this CD today I'd leave Urban Hymns off it on the grounds that it's not a bad album with three standout tracks, but rather a fairly solid album all around. In fact, I'd buy it today. On sale.

11. Hope
12. Daysleeper
by R.E.M., off Up

I usually hate it when people say that a certain artists "started sucking" or "got bad" at such-and-such a date or after a certain album, because it's pretty silly to create these artificial milestones. And anyway, artists evolve; it's usually the audience that can't handle changes in artistic direction, not the fault of the band for losing its vision. That said... After New Adventures In Hi-Fi, R.E.M. took a straight vertical dive down into the deepest suck pit in Sucksville. Up has perhaps two listenable songs, and Reveal... ouch. These guys really have spanned the gamut from sheer sparkling brilliance to utter turgid wallowing.

13. God Shuffled His Feet
14. In the Days Of the Caveman
15. When I Go Out With Artists
by Crash Test Dummies, off God Shuffled His Feet

"God Shuffled His Feet" intrigues and pleases me, because to me it aptly reflects the mystery of God as we can(not) know Him. Or do I just like the idea of an omnipotent being speaking in koans? Or are they parables or riddles? Actually, I enjoy their big hit "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" for much the same reasons. I like how the song shows, but doesn't comment upon, the fact that everyone's got their skeletons.

The other two tracks are okay, as long as you're not instantly turned off by Brad Roberts' irritatingly deep voice. Even so, the Crash Test Dummies are a dish best served in very small portions.

Calvin's dad is a monster

Despite many years of reading and admiring Bill Watterson's brilliant "Calvin & Hobbes," I never before noticed that the people in his universe have three fat Mickey Mouse fingers on each hand!

I'll never be able to look at this strip in the same way again.

Seriously, as odd as it sounds, this was kind of startling to me. Watterson's such a brilliant cartoonist, with a sparse, sketchy kind of style, but yet filling an elaborate, detailed world, that this perfectly normal cartoon convention looks, to me, askew when viewed within his panels. There's something not quite right about it, like when Homer became 3-D.

Or perhaps I've just been studying too hard.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Keanu ain't in it

Errand day. I took the dog to the vet, where poor Dog had her anal glands expressed manually by the beast-leech. Come to think of it, poor vet. I realize that's more than anyone cares to know about my dog, but apparently, that scooting around on the haunches dogs do can be a sign of something wrong, including an infection.

I also went to the comic store. In addition to scads of quarter-bin single issues (ranging from pretty good to pretty terrible, but hey, they're a crummy two bits each, and I give them away after I read them) I bought a couple of graphic novels (it's been a month since last time) for a total of $34. A bit much for me, but I've been doing okay financially lately. I got Hellblazer: Hard Time and Hellblazer: Highwater, both written by Brian Azzarello. Both are great books, and both ratchet up the title's "adult" content considerably from its previous levels --- or at least there's an unusually steamy sexual scene in Highwater. A fan of the title for some time now, I enjoy how each writer adds his own personal touch to the John Constantine saga: Mike Carey revels in the occult, Warren Ellis goes all apocalyptic, Garth Ennis emphasizes Constantine's very English viewpoint, etc. Azzarello (who I believe is American?) plays to his own strengths as a noir writer and crafts a very subtle, tantalizing mystery, especially in the longer second book.

Anyway, while I do try to get books on the cheap (as, for example, with the swapping service I'm in on), these two GNs are easily worth the cover price.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Vocabulaire: un chenapan

un chenapan - a scoundrel
Le chenapan a attaché le chien au chêne par une chaîne.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can't we all just get along? No

No class tonight; it's another "online class," which means we don't meet, and there's twice as much work to hand in next Tuesday. Naturally, I blew all that shit off and went to the Hangout. I met The Friar there. He's helping me with my upcoming court appointment, but it's coming down to the wire and I hope nothing goes wrong. Anyway, we played video games. Pubcrawlers Fat and Tall were there and horned in on our game. We had a round robin type session, with the sitting champion choosing the game and the challenger paying. After somehow beating Friar at one of the card games (just luck), I changed it to trivia and proceeded to kick each one of their metaphorical asses twice. Then my actual ass was tired of sitting at that stool, so I abdicated. Ah, brief shining glory.

To my surprise, Waitress T showed up (dolled up like Paris Hilton, and tantalizing Hangout's oafish and lecherous doorman something fierce). She was effusive and affectionate and insisted we need to hang out in the future, but I've come to realize that's just her way and she doesn't mean it. That's OK. It was Waitress W's birthday, and I would have bought her a drink, but her party headed out to some other place.

As I sat and talked to Friar and some of his band buddies, two fights nearly broke out by the pool table. A scrappy little fellow was being cantankerous and shoved one of his acquaintances and later tried to antagonize another. Both times it was because he felt he was being jerked around in the pool game. Oafish Doorman actually had to stand between them, the first time I've ever seen him do anything resembling bouncing (according to Feline, the Hangout waitress from this post, Oafish Doorman is a wimp; I can't speak to that, having seen him only lolling his eyes at the ladies and bumping his head on the overhead lights). For just a brief moment I felt an infinitesimal spark of what the Clublife guy feels every day. Sweet Shiva, if you get so riled up over a pool game with your peers that you feel you have to physically come to blows over it, hang it the fuck up and go home. Or better yet, join the army and take that aggression out in Iraq. (Waitress T was acquainted with the scrappy guy and said he was always a jerk after I told her about the pushing. Some people are just pricks, I guess.)

Good ol' papa

Here are some fun facts I learned about Ernest Hemingway while reading his memoir A Moveable Feast.

* He liked to gamble on horses, and worked hard at it, finding all the doped-up horses and then betting on them.
* His first wife went skiing while she was pregnant, but their doctor assured them that was all right, "as long as she did not fall down." And hey! she didn't!
* Hemingway and his first wife would go out all day and leave their infant son in their apartment alone in his "tall cage bed" with only the cat in there with him as a baby-sitter. Hemingway thought this was a great idea. Apparently the cat was some kind of guard cat.
* Zelda Fitzgerald impugned F. Scott Fitzgerald's manhood by mocking his physiognomy ("it's a question of measurement"). So Hemingway checked out Fitzgerald's tackle in a café W.C. and pronounced it fine. He suggested they go to the Louvre together and take a look at the nude statues there for comparison. Another macho, heterosexual Hemingway moment.
* Hemingway seems to deride Ford Madox Ford's appearance and mannerisms, which is rather boorish, since Ford had been shell-shocked, and his lungs ruined by gas, in World War I. You'd think bluff, manly Hem would be more considerate of a fellow invalided vet.
* Hemingway may have been a pioneer of prose style, and he had more than a few keen observations, but his writing is kind of boring after a while.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Honeymoon over

For the last couple of weeks, I've been feeling good about The Job, despite the lack of benefits and the fact that it's far beneath my talents. Maybe it's because the Negative Coworker was gone for a week, replaced by a more dynamic and pleasant coworker, but she's back now; maybe it was just the particular combination of kids we had recently; anyway, my stress levels had been low and my satisfaction high. Today, though, we had nineteen kids. That may not seem like much compared to the 20- or 30-plus students in a public school classroom, but in our center, with our dearth of space and resources (we didn't even have enough chairs at lunch!), not to mention one extremely LD, speech-impaired, incontinent kid --- believe me, it was more than enough. I went from feeling that I wouldn't mind working in this field for the rest of my life, if only it had retirement and benefit options, to thinking you couldn't pay me enough to be there one more week. Oh well, attitudes flow in cycles.


In Reading II, Ms. L read to us from a handout about reading groups, and we heard two groups' lesson plans from the "6+1 traits" assignment. One group did a lesson on ideas and based it on the book A Bad Case of Stripes, by David Shannon, which is a great children's book. The other group did organization and based it on a book I never heard of before called When Sophie Gets Angry, which was the most inappropriate book I've ever heard on how to handle feelings. Run away until you can't stop?! Yeah, that's great advice for a kid; don't bother addressing the situation or teaching social skills. (I see from the Amazon link that some readers agree with me, which is something of a comfort.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cult of hippie-ality

So at work, we had a Staff Day, and after meeting at school briefly, we all trundled out to three cars and drove the forty minutes or so to Ruralville, where The Boss's daughter goes to a non-traditional, constructivist school. They were having a week of staff development, so The Boss wanted us to see how things were done there. Now, I'm all for constructivism, but this place was a bit beyond the pale. The training day was begun with a big hand-holding circle and chant ("we are one with all things" was a quite typical line), which I did not join in. Then a bunch of spacey New Age nonsense (sample: "the four tetrahedrons of the World Core Curriculum, including the Four Atmospheres, the Four Harmonies, the four Basic Premises, and the Consitution of the Human Being"). There was a lot of self-congratulatory mental masturbation about how public schools are evil --- evil! --- for making kids sit in rows, and isn't it great that we can learn from kids, and yadda yadda. One parent and teacher spoke in awed tones about how her child, without any instruction from her, had grown up with same values as her! Amazing! It's almost as if children take all their social cues from the adults in their lives or something!

I didn't go in to this meaning to be negative, but it really was ridiculous.

After we left Ruralville, we all met at the Capo's house to discuss some of the reforms brought about by the meeting organized by C's father, which had raised so many issues. Now this, I thought, was a productive meeting, and despite a couple of coworkers who are nattering ninnies of negativism, I was very pleased with some of the efforts The Boss et al seem to have made or will make.


Then I went home and did all the homework for Reading II that I had put off until the last minute (today). Now I've always been a procrastinator, but I think I have a mental block when it comes to this class; my brain is revolting against the mind-sapping boredom of the assigments.


Say, Veruca Salt is kind of a boring band, eh?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Apparently, this stuff is good for you

I went shopping a the Hippie Food Store, as is my weekly habit. I finally broke down and bought a bottle of Pom Wonderful --- sixteen ounces of ruby-red, sweet-sour pomegranate juice.

It's been established by a few studies to be heart healthy, removing the "bad" cholesterols from the blood. It's crammed with antioxidants, and according to the BBC, is also "brimming with vitamins A, C, E and iron." Oh yeah? Then how come the nutrition information on my bottle says "Vitamin A: 0%. Vitamin C: 0%. Calcium: 0%. Iron: 0%?" In fact, according to the label, this stuff is pretty much all sugars and potassium. Oh well, I won't argue with the scienticians. They know their business, I suppose.

It tastes OK, but I'm sure as hell not going to rush out and buy a case of it. But I wouldn't mind following in the footsteps of these health-conscious lushes. Prosit!

A little drug of the nation never hurt anyone

The season opener of HBO's "Deadwood" kicked ass! More Albert Swearengen makes everything groovy. Also, it's always nice to see Bullock unleash the hurricane of rage that always lies straining just beneath his gritted teeth and bulging eyes and beat the crap out of some louse. And the language is just as rich, colorful, shocking and complex as ever. Best show on TV, easily.

Speaking of beatings on HBO, tonight my father and I watched a repeat of last week's pay-per-view destruction of Antonio Tarver by the aged veteran Bernard Hopkins. (Well, aged for boxing --- he's 41.) Hopkins, who has only ever been down one time, and never knocked out, in his entire career of 50-plus fights, made Tarver look slow and laborious. After that we watched the middleweight fight between Jermain Taylor and Winky Wright. Both fighters looked great in the ring, and both are extremely tough. It went the distance and was a split draw, which pissed Wright off, but I thought it was a fair decision.

Speaking of my father and I watching stuff on teevee, we've now seen two full seasons of HBO's cops and career criminals saga "The Wire," and I'm jonesing for the third season (which, thankfully, comes out on DVD in August). "The Wire," with its gritty realism, its complex, interwoven plots and its lack of tiresome exposition, is to me the second-best show on TV. It's been a while since I watched FX's corrupt cop series "The Shield," but I think 'The Wire" beats it in quality and drama.

These days, Netflix is delivering unto me BBC's "MI-5" (which, it turns out, is called "Spooks" in its home country). It's a well-made and not unintelligent spy story, and it's refreshing to enjoy a show that tells a single self-contained story in an episode after the vast, season-long arcs of the above-mentioned shows. I like it, and of course Hugh Laurie is great in his minor role, but it's mildly formulaic and not up to the level of quality as "The Wire" at all.

With "The West Wing" cancelled, I thought I'd give another American network show a chance. So a few weeks back I watched Fox's medical mystery "House," which I'd heard good things about. I saw one episode, and while it's not bad, I doubt I'll see any more. It's more than mildly formulaic, the direction is only adequate --- there's no drama in it --- and the acting (except for Laurie's) in no way impresses. So that's out.

Last month, I watched the first season of Fox's "Arrested Development," which was of course brilliant. I'll get around to re-watching the second season (the episodes that drew me in while it was still on the air) sometime, I guess. I'm not frenziedly mainlining this one, like my father and I did with "The Wire." I can take or leave comedy series; no suspense, so no rush to see what happens next.

So that's all the TV I've been watching the past six months or so, barring the occasional "Jeopardy" at my parents' house.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Vocabulaire: on a eu chaud

on a eu chaud - that was a close call
Le gendarme lâche a évité le scélérat de justesse. « Ouf ! » se dit-il en se cachant, « on a eu chaud ! »
'Cause, see, just like in Serpico.

Bloomin' ideas

Reading II, boring as usual. A girl I know from a couple other classes asked, jokingly, if I'd do her math homework for her. I said, in all seriousness, that I would --- anything to alleviate the mind-numbing tedium of this class.

Here's the stupid teacher term of the day: Grand Conversations. This is EC-4 jargon for "sitting around talking about a book."

Anyway, in class we went over a few things, most notably Bloom's Taxonomy of learning. As recently as last year (in Ms. P's Classroom Management course), we learned these, from lowest to highest, as:

* knowledge level --- simple memorization and regurgitation of facts
* comprehension level --- explaining, summarizing, etc.
* application level --- sorting, classifying of facts
* analysis level --- breaking knowledge into parts: comparing, analyzing reasons why
* synthesis level --- predicting, hypothesizing, planning
* evaluation level --- judging, evaluating, ranking

But according to current teacher Ms. L, Bloom's Taxonomy (which was created in the 1950s) was revised back in the 1990s, ands it's this new Bloom's that we're expected to learn. (Why, then, did the Classroom Management text list the old-style Bloom's?) The revised terms are, again in order of lowest to highest:

* remembering (describing, listing)
* understanding (explaining ideas, classifying)
* applying (using new knowledge, executing new ideas)
* analyzing (deconstructing relationships in new ideas)
* evaluating (hypothesizing, judging, experimenting)
* creating (generating new ideas, planning, designing)

I think the new Bloom's is a more efficient and compact way to describe knowledge, at least in terms of the language used. Developmentally, I find that au fond classifying "levels" of thinking is a rather ridiculous exercise. Why label ideas at all? Why say that one idea is "only" application, while some other idea is somehow a higher order of thought simply because it involves analyzing? Yes, in general, debating a moral issue, for example, is a more advanced exercise than, say naming the dates of the Civil War, but who cares? On the other hand, some memorized knowledge is hideously complex and requires great mental acuity, like medical terminology. Some judging and creating involves ridiculously simple thought and can be done by preschoolers; for example, "was the third little pig smart to use bricks for his house?" So again, why label?

That the labels are nearly meaningless is evidenced by my textbook itself, which lists sample activities for each level --- but the same activities appear again and again through the levels. It's a very fine line between "retelling" and "dramatizing." To me, the very act of retelling a story creates something new, even if the teller adds and subtracts no new ideas in doing so. Isn't "comparing and contrasting" (supposedly an analysis level skill) a form of judging?

Look, just use your Remembering level skills and memorize the damn Bloom's already.

Oh, all right.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Vocabulaire: le gazouillis

le gazouillis - twittering, chirping (of birds)
Ah, comme le gazouillis des oiseaux chaque matin me gonfle !

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Just to clarify yesterday's post, though I personally thought it was already clear: I wouldn't mock anyone, even a math teacher, for turning to an expert for information. That's how we learn, and everyone can learn more. What I do mock, loud and long, in the page I cited, is the guy's follow-up, in which he reveals himself utterly incapable of understanding the response (though he claims off the bat that he did) and simultaneously asks for the answer again, only dumbed down a few dozen notches.


Reading II was easily the most boring three hours I have yet spent at State School, and that's saying something. Really, my neighbors on all sides and my project group all agreed. Okay, we spent the class rolling our eyes and being sarcastic. Ms. L's teaching strategy is to give us reams of handouts --- everything from Flag Day facts (why? why??) to an outline of the chapter we'd read and done homework on --- and then to read them laboriously, line by line, until class is over. Oh, and every now and then we do stupid busywork.

One of our handouts was on Guided Reading (that's another one of those useless bits of jargon designed to make teachers feel important) or, in everyday parlance, "small group silent reading." Here are the two lines that confused our group initially. "Students do the actual reading themselves... silently at their own pace." "Teachers assess students' use of word-identification and comprehension strategies."

"So the teachers are psychic?" one of our group asked. "If the students are reading silently, how do teachers know whether the kids are understanding?"

But upon reflection, I suppose it's quite possible for teachers to see whether students are using strategies for reading. They may not be able to tell if their students are comprehending the text, but they can observe whether their students are, say, underlining any words at all, or taking notes, and so on.


At The Job, we had a meeting with the parent of our one and only LD child, a three-year-old who just arrived in the first preschool. He's got problems with hearing, speech, balance, and fine motor skills. The mother is one of those jet-setting, Blackberry-carrying Type A on-the-go successful professionals; she's out of the country a lot and the kid is basically raised by the full-time nanny. The meeting was nonproductive in that no consensus was reached about what do to with the kid (I'd love to see him in some other school that has the resources to handle his problems), but at least we have a bit more understanding of his background. I guess.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Doing homework way too late

Yes, I've mentioned that I'm a procrastinator.

Three days of Reading II homework crammed into one; ugh. Boring.

Off-topic completely, this caught my eye. It's an interesting story because of the skills and level-headedness involved by a Marine; I'm always intrigued by citizens fighting back in self-defense.

But, apparently, not nearly as intrigued as these guys. Wow.

I was perusing the Ask Dr. Math archives in preparation for the TExES (which I figured I wouldn't need and, as it turned out, didn't, but, you know, better safe than sorry). It's a good resource. Anyway, this letter writer, and especially his follow-up query, made me wonder. Can the writer really be a teacher, and if so, should we be letting complete retards teach statistics to advanced math students in our nation's proud schools?

These are the coolest boots in the world.

Must slog now.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Before I started the teacher's certificate program at State School, I was more or less against No Child Left Behind. I've been a pre-K and kindergarten teacher for nearly five years, God help me, and a public school and after-school aide before that, but I had very little experience with how a curriculum is made and followed in public education. Now that I have spent a little (a very little, let's be honest) time "in the field," watching public school teachers try to get by as best they can, my ideas have changed. (It's OK, though --- I still hate Republicans.)

First of all, the public school population is incredibly diverse academically. There are ESL students, gifted students and challenged students all in the same already crowded classroom. I know that it takes a little faith in the system, but to me it’s comforting to think that an official curriculum has been pre-set that the state will consider adequate for every child. That is, it's hard to imagine teachers dealing with all the stresses of today's public school and trying to carve out their own curriculum and assessments by themselves.

Secondly, I've noticed the quality of the teaching. It's not that there are hundreds of poor teachers out there, but I have already encountered quite a few teachers that I would describe as merely competent. They’re bright and willing, but they don’t inspire and spend a lot of time telling rather than showing, instructing rather than exploring ideas. (I say this with all the understanding and sympathy an outsider can have for the overburdened public teacher’s hours, pressures and expectations.) I now believe that without NCLB, most teachers left to their own devices would be sending kids out into the world with almost nothing approaching the academic basis.

With NCLB, even "only" adequate teachers are at least presenting the right information at the right time, rather than whatever their own ideas of what would be a good idea to teach would be. Again, I realize that it's granting a lot to say that NCLB's standards are, in fact, "the right information at the right time." But as flawed as it is, I think that this country needs standards and assessments, and I'm glad that our school system is finally becoming something closer to standardized. I do think that children in Alaska should be learning the same information as children in New York, California and Wyoming, and that they should be tested in the same way on the same academic basics across the country.

I also think that it's about time our schools were held accountable, again noting that there are problems with the system (certainly, with the high-stakes situation we have now, the possibility of corruption is present). So yeah, I've changed my mind, sort of, about NCLB. Perhaps, when/if I enter public schools as a professional teacher and find myself shackled by standards, I'll change my mind once again.

But for now, I'd say that my eyes have been opened a bit to the reality of the classroom.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

TExES tech

Well, the exams (TExES Generalist EC-4 and TExES PPR EC-4) are taken and the results will be available in July! Got up at 6:00 a.m., the first test started at 8:00, I was finished before 11:00, I went home for lunch, came back for the second exam which started at 2:00 p.m., and I was finished with that one by 4:00.

I think I did well enough. The TExES is scored, I believe, on a scale of 100–300, with a score of 240 considered passing. Unless they're doing something iffy with the scoring system (as so many standardized tests do), I'm figuring that getting 70% of the questions right is passing.

I can't imagine that I did worse than that, although more questions than I expected --- perhaps up to twenty percent of the two hundred total --- gave me pause. I'd narrow it down to two choices, but be unsure as to which was best in the minds of the Competencies and Standards pencil-pushers. (On a couple of the questions that related to pre-K classroom management, one choice would be very close to what I would actually do at The Job, and the other choice would be what I suspected the test wanted me to do.)

I was expecting a bit more testing of actual knowledge and content on the Generalist exam, but there wasn't much. As far as I can recall, there was no knowledge of authors or science needed. One question required that you know that cheap land, not oil (discovered only at the turn of the century) was the primary draw for settlers in 19th-century Texas. One question required that you know the definition of obtuse and acute angles.

In the past, I've almost never gone back to "check my work" on standardized tests --- no patience for that sort of thing, too low an attention span, great and possibly misplaced faith in my own first instincts. This time, however, I did re-read both tests and changed quite a few answers. For some questions, I thought I chosen the wrong thing, and for at least two questions, I found to me amazement that I had circled one answer on the test booklet but filled in the wrong oval on the answer sheet. So I suppose it's good that I went back to check, but I'm still suspicious of second-guessing myself.

On the whole, I feel reasonably good about the whole experience. I'm a very educated guy, and the test is geared toward people with far less education, so nothing on the test troubled me too much. But I'm not a good judge of how well I do on these standardized things (I'm usually pleasantly surprised, but you never can tell). I now have simply to put the whole thing out of my mind until the scores are available.

Friday, June 09, 2006

So much nonsense

In lieu of an actual post, here are a few terms I came across while reviewing for the TExES.

* advanced organizers (or hooks, or anticipatory sets) are pre-lesson activities like Venn diagrams, KWL charts, concept maps, etc., used by teachers to find out what children already know so they can adapt instruction and link it to the pre-existing knowledge base.

* an informal reading inventory is a series of passages of increasing difficulty read aloud by a child, used to assess independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels.

speaking of which, a loose definition of those reading levels is:

* independent level - 98% or greater words correctly identified
* instructional level - 90% - 97% words correctly identified
* frustration level - below 90% words correctly identified

* and finally, an SQ3R is a type of study strategy standing for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. These are steps students are encouraged to follow as they try to get meaning and purpose out of instructional reading.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Like school in the summertime

No class... As mentioned earlier, today Reading II is an online class, meaning we have to read a chapter and comment on it in the school message boards in addition to the work that would normally be due today (which is due Thursday).

I'm putting it all aside to focus on TExES strategies, a move that will surely bite me in the ass later on this week.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Reviewing for the TExES

We had a meeting at work today, a follow-up to the gripefest of last week. The Boss was in attendance at this one, and naturally everyone who was bitching their ass off last time suddenly acted like they had no problems at all. For their sake, I confronted The Boss on her "I did my part, it's everyone else's fault" attitude, as politely as I could. She looked like she was about to cry, and no one followed suit.


With all experience with reading to kids, I did not know that the Caldecott is given for illustration, not writing.

Also: in teaching there are commonly said to be six language arts, not four. Reading, writing, listening, and talking are all obvious. But there's also, apparently, viewing and visually representing. Uh... That's a pretty broad definition of language, I'd say. Isn't drawing more a visual art, not a language art? We're harkening back to pictographs or hieroglyphs, I guess.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

This is almost as much hard work as being the worst president in history

We had a truncated Reading II class tonight, because Ms. L's 30-year-old son had a heart attack. He seems to be OK. As a guy over 30 with a heart defect, I sympathize. If I were Ms. L, I wouldn't have come in at all, but I guess you have to admire the old lady's dedication to her craft.

Sort of. "Reading II" is aptly named, since Ms. L spent the class time "reading to" us from a lengthy handout. Excruciatingly boring. Thursday's class will be an "online" class, so we don't have to show up on campus, but there's twice as much work due by next Tuesday. Still, I believe I will use this opportunity to blow off Reading II for a couple of days, review TExES stuff (I take both the exams Saturday), and just slog my ass off on Sunday and Monday. That's always a good idea!


Know It All TA (who is in Reading II this semester as a student) macked a bit on our group's Hot Readhead, which for some reason depressed me. I was just struck by the silly futility of the Quest to Hook Up, I guess. Anyway, too busy to mope now.

My social life's almost entirely gone these days.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A letter to Samurai Frog's Sister

Dear Audrie,

Sometimes brothers don't know best. See, your brother is a language prescriptivist, which means he thinks that rules of language exist in some Platonic ideal, and that people must follow them for always, and that mutation, corruption and borrowing is wrong. Since language is actually, in fact, descriptivist --- the way people use language defines the "rules" --- he gets angry when English-speaking people say things like "novas," even though we don't speak Latin. The point of all this is that your brother is, similarly, also a musical prescriptivist. He thinks that dicta (I didn't write "dictums" to please Samurai Frog!) about music, like "punk is dead," can be asserted and that people need to fall in line with these "rules." But this is not the case. In fact, I find the very notion of making such pronouncements absurd.

Punk music is not dead. Neither is baroque, disco, grunge, or polka. These forms have passed their prime --- they're no longer as popular as they once were --- but someone, somewhere, is playing these kinds of music. And that makes them very much alive. "But," your brother or some other musical prescriptivist might say, "punk and grunge, and to a lesser extent polka, are ideas and cultures, not just music." True. And someone, somewhere, is living that life, embracing that culture. Music doesn't "die." It especially doesn't die at some set year just because some cranky old fart thinks that was the year the last "really good" record came out. Hell, I have a CD of Peruvian flute music. It's a living, breathing scene, man!

Now, my favorite band of all time is the Clash. Your brother is right about them. I own every single thing they recorded, and some of Joe Strummer's solo stuff, and even, God help me, that horrible spin-off band Big Audio Dynamite. I also dig the Sex Pistols, the Heartbreakers, and the Ramones. (I always found X kind of boring, though.) Am I a punk "purist"? Hell no! Punk isn't about saying what is or isn't cool, or what you can or can't listen to. Two of my other favorite bands are Rancid and Green Day (and I'm mystified as to why ol' Frog says the latter started out as ska), bands that have been accused of "stealing" punk, "selling out," or any other bit of nonsense you can name. I say these bands are punk, and they're great. Yes, Green Day has a lot of pop songs as well, but seriously, so fucking what? The Clash recorded songs of every musical genre under the sun. The Ramones recorded "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," a schmaltzy ballad explicitly intended to cull in the female demographic if ever there was one (and a great tune, to boot). The only difference between Green Day's "Time Of Your Life" (a terrific kiss-off song) and the Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" --- also a poppy song --- is airplay. Believe me, the Buzzcocks would have loved to have a major hit. Too bad they sucked ass!

These modern bands that your brother says are bad --- maybe they are bad. But maybe you enjoy them, and why the hell not? Jesus, don't let people dictate to you what you "should" be listening to. For God's sake, that's the polar opposite of everything that is punk! Personally, I think Franz Ferdinad is the epitome of overblown, shitty cock rock ("I'm gonna make somebody love me, and you're so lucky?" --- shut the fuck up!), but I wouldn't for an instant try to tell someone who enjoyed them that they weren't punk or cool or some shit.

Some negative people just like to sneer when something isn't up to their own particular standards, and they justify it by dictating what's cool or, in this case, what's punk. I urge you to read this very intelligent diatribe by an author named David Eggers against the dangers of falling into this negativity trap. The gist is, and I quote, "What kind of small-hearted person wants an artist to adhere to a set of rules, to stay forever within a narrow envelope which we've created for them?" But really, read it all. Several times.

Bottom line. Your tastes are your own. No record company, chart position, or fad should sway them. Be your own person. Decide what you like and what you don't like. Don't let people tell you what's cool and what's not. In short... be like your brother. I'm telling you, he's pretty cool.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How I hate the Republicans

So now Bush is bringing up gay marriage again and urging a ban. Because that's exactly what all Americans are clamoring for. Not feeling safe in their own borders, not seaport and airport security, not eliminating terrorists abroad, not better jobs or health insurance or alternative energy or social security, or clean air and water, or even a safe food supply.

No, the most important issue of today is making sure that the blessed, loving union of a man and a woman is mandated by the goddamn goverment, once again sticking its big fat Republican nose where it doesn't belong, right into law-abiding, tax-paying Americans' private lives.

Smaller government, my shiny white ass.

If there's a Republican out there who's not a lying, money-grubbing, evil hypocrite out to line the pockets of corporate fatcats, use the lower class as cannon fodder, and have Big Brother shit all over the rapidly dwindling middle class, hell, I'll vote for him just to say I did.

*sputtering with impotent rage*

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Test jitters

In exactly one week, I take the TExES PPR and the Generalist exams. Nearly eight hours of filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil. I think I'm prepared, but of course, it's hard to tell how closely those practice tests adhered to the real thing.


I had a quick drink with the Maddening Angel at the Hangout. A friend of hers who is in the Polyphonic Spree was playing there. He was OK.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Funny Shtuff

I watched a DVD collection of George Carlin's most well-known bits called Carlin's Best Stuff. It included "the seven words you can't say," "football and baseball," "stuff," "driving" and other famous riffs. My previous opinion of Carlin was that he was a fairly clever guy who found bits of humor in the absurdities of the English language, but that was about it. Now, although I wouldn't call Carlin one of the funniest guys of all time, I have a healthy respect for him. His "seven words" is brave and pioneering as well as truly hilarious, and if the lustre is off the baseball-football comparison, it's only due to age.

Some of the bits are just average comedy, like the difference between cats and dogs, or being a fussy eater. But on the whole, you gotta give Carlin credit for coming up with a lot of observations that really were new and fresh, at least at the time. "Why would you want a 'hot water heater'? Don't you want a cold water heater?"

Is it just me, or does George Carlin look a lot like Howard Hesseman?

Jargon is for idiots

The teaching profession, as one of my classmates noted tonight, is more full of jargon than any other field, save perhaps medicine. I'm including in the term "jargon" acronyms, of which the teaching profession has a bewildering array. For example, a "DRTA" is the short form for "directed reading thinking activity," an Orwellian designation, you may agree, for what is basically just reading with a purpose and discussion. Then, of course there's the "DLTA," or "directed listening thinking activity," which --- get this --- is the exact same thing, except the teacher reads a text aloud instead of students reading it silently. I mean, what the hell's the point of all this? What's the point of mandating "six plus one" traits of writing, or "the five-step writing process," or the "four linguistic concepts" a.k.a "four language systems"? It's just a bunch of nonsense that limits real-world, creative, adaptive thinking. Are beginning teachers really trying to memorize these stupid acronyms, or lists of Seven and a Half Things that Text Can Do? Instead of memorizing the labels that Bloom happened to append to his taxonomy of thought, why aren't teachers being taught how to evoke creative, analytical and evaluative thought? Remembering lists isn't going to help anyone do, or succeed at, anything.

Student teachers should be learning how to recognize learning difficulties and treat them; how to read a text with flow and expression; how to research and find information efficiently; how to write correctly and concisely; how to manage the classroom... Anything but this litany of useless lists and acronyms. No wonder so many teachers can't do their jobs. Their heads have been crammed with this meaningless drivel.

"Six plus one" traits of writing, indeed.


Tonight, the prof (Ms. L) toned her repetitive stream-of-consciousness lecturing down a notch so we got out only a few minutes, rather than a quarter of an hour, late. Despite the vast amount of paper and electronic handouts she's made available to us, the endless barrage of information gets lost in the tangle of verbal tangents and asides, so we're still not all that clear on what project is due when and what it entails.

On the other hand, the group I'm in (which is going to do a presentation, I guess, on authorial voice) has an extremely beautiful, vivacious girl in it. (She's married, I have zero interest outside of class; I'm just the kind of guy who enjoys talking to smart, pretty girls.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It takes a big man to complain a lot

At work, J, a three-year-old boy, went to the dress-up area and put a pink blanket around his shoulders and over his head like a cowl. I said, "You look like a pink monk." He said, "I'm not a pink monk. I'm a princess." I stared at him, and he laughed. This is the same kid who, on another occasion, struggled to put on another outfit, this one a ruffled mauve dress. It was far too long for him, so I said, "I'm not sure you need to wear that." he said, "Yes I do! I need to look so pretty!"

How'd I love to be able to see how he turns out at 17 or so...


Also at The Job, the father of kid C came and met with the whole staff (minus the three administrators) about the overall disgruntled feeling everyone seems to have. A lot of people are either leaving or threatening to leave. Well, this guy was surprisingly good at his job (which is, apparently, to mediate at companies where there's conflict). It was a huge gripefest, and a lot got aired out that had previously been merely bitter hallway mumblings.

I'm spared a lot of the bullshit, because I'm favored by The Boss (though she irks me in a lot of ways), but basically, everyone wants more autonomy in decision-making but more support when it comes to management. I don't think anyone's demands were outrageous or too much ask. There is almost no real management at the place.


I drove up to State School and paid a C-note for my stupid Reading II book. Highway robbery, but at least this text looks less boring than the Reading I book, which I did not open after the first assignment because its sheer soul-stultifying boringness made my brain bleed out my eye sockets.