Sunday, September 30, 2007

Where are the eagles and the trumpets?

Went out to dinner with Cousin and Aunt. I paid Cousin $2000 of the three K he lent me in January. I tried to get Cousin to come with me to the Hangout, but he hates smoke and the Friar, so didn't. I did, it being Friar's third birthday celebration of the month. A bunch of us walked over to another bar later that night, which due to someone's presence involved a little bit of finesse, for reasons I'd better not disclose. In all events, here are some of the people I talked to this weekend and a factlet or two about each of them.

Epalg. Her stepfather had a minor role in a Robert Altman movie.

Gunner. She appears in the video for a song by an indie chart-topping band.

Sonar. He just got back from touring Germany. His gorgeous wife is pregnant. This will be their third child.

Mr. Hangout. He doesn't much like his wife (which explains his distance from her and his philandering). They got married only only because she was pregnant.

Anacreon. He is acting director of his museum. His wife has gotten a very good position at the premier K-12 private school in the city.

K. Fresh out of law school, she's accepted her first job at a law firm.

Me. I am freaking out.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: Bigg Time
























by Ty Templeton who did it His Way

Friday, September 28, 2007

I'm feeling delicate and this must show

Getting impatient and more than a little anxious, I fired off an email to the head of Prestigious on Wednesday, asking about my status. He wrote back two days later, saying they were nearly ready to talk about a job offer (!), but I'd need to call and make an appointment to come in and discuss some "questions and concerns" they have that need "clearing up."

Me being me, I am totally freaking out here. Why did it take me emailing them to respond? Why didn't he have his secretary call me to make the appointment, as it's always been done before?

And for the love of all that's holy, what the hell are they concerned about?

Do they fear I'm a pedophile (or gay), because I'm 36 and single (divorced)? Did they do a deep background check and find out I got suspended from college my sophomore year due to a violent altercation? Did I say something during my two and half hours of interviews that came out sounding creepy, or self-contradictory, or off-putting? Do they suspect mendaciousness in my self-representation?

Although I'm clean of nearly all charges (the college thing really happened), I'm not the most polished interviewer. I may not have sold myself well.

It's clear that Prestigious was eager when they saw my resume; and was eager after my meeting with the Head and vice-head; but then sometime during my lengthy interview with the teachers, that eagerness fizzled. What did I do to dampen their enthusiasm?? And how can I make it right?

I'm seriously freaking out here. FREAKING OUT!!

I'm going out with Epalg tonight, though. That's always fun.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A nation of the unemployed

Today's thought-provoking question at circle time was "If you could be any kind of building, what would it be?" The kids gave great answers like hospital, art museum, library and (bizarrely) casino. Man, kids really do surprise you. As for me, I thought I might want to be a hotel, but I'd hate to witness all the loneliness and pain found in hotels. I'd rather want to be, say, a bridal suite --- where only people who delight in each other's company go.

***

Two girls approached Ms. L today while we were lining up for something or other. Kid A said, "When will the work get harder?"

Kid K said, "Yes, it's too easy. I can spell cat and hat," she added with a slight touch of derision.

This is, remarkably but perhaps all too predictably, perhaps the fifth child in four weeks who has requested of me or the teacher more and harder work in school. As I watch the teacher give endless iterations of examples of the work, or lead the class over the entire worksheet before the students are to do it at their desks, I don't blame them. I'm just surprised, and a little sad, that they haven't yet caught on that public education will kill their innate curiosity and desire to learn.

Anapotheosis

You know what's a bad idea?

Staying out at a bar until 1:00 a.m. when you have to get up the next (actually same) day at 6:00 a.m., be at work before 7:30, and on your feet until 4:15 p.m. or later.

It was a small celebration of the birthdays of the Friar and T-Bone. I convinced 74 to come out as well. Drinks, friends and video games: good times. Except for all the cigarette smoke.

Ugh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I realize I have left it too late

Man, it's hard keeping up this post-a-day pace, even as a pretend real teacher. I hardly ever felt this worn out as a pre-K teacher at the (old) Job. I guess I left it behind most days once the last kid left; in real teaching the next day is always looming large in your mind. Have I planned and practiced enough? Will there be enough time in the day to cram in everything I'm obliged to cram? Will there be enough for the clever and quick kids to do while the slower students are still furrowing their little brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation? How the hell can I make those little hellions pay attention for thirty seconds, anyhow?

I'm doing morning Language Arts stuff nowadays as well as the math lessons. Mostly phonics review, morning message and such. It's okay, but as usual, it bores most of the kids.

For math today I handed out double-digit numbers on cards and had the kids assemble that number of colored cubes on their work mats. This they could do, but they showed little understanding of value when we asked whether their numbers were lower or higher than a given number. we had kids with 32 saying their number was more than 54, and so on.

For science, I led a little mini-discovery field trip outside, where the kids noted down and illustrated all the things they saw that had to do with motion. I was thinking primarily of devices such as cars and swings and see-saws, but the kids also wrote surprising things like clouds, spiders, hair and feet. Kids'll surprise you.

The other State Schooler who's student-teaching at Brown (in the kindergarten class) appears to be blending in much better than I am. I won't be surprised if they offer her a job. As for me, while I'm praised by Ms. L and appreciated by the other teachers on the grade team as well, I feel otherwise unnoticed by the school at large. I'm not very bothered by this, but I can't say I'm utterly above it, either. I can't say I'm not a twinge jealous that my fellow classmate, whom I know to be very poorly educated, is probably a better fit at Brown. In some ways I am too smart to fit in at public schools, and that bothers me.

And in case that sounds elitist and egotistical, be assured that I remain convinced that I am a fool, a joke and a loser.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bullet points

* Student teaching is one quarter of the way over. This is week four.

* For language arts, I read an extremely simple Big Book (meant for read-alongs: with few words, repeating phrases, etc). I also reviewed some phonemes and some blending exercises.

* For math, I did the calendar (month, date, day, weather, days of school tally), and then taught a lesson on comparison. the kids tossed a set of bi-colored discs out of a cup, then tallied how many of each color and which total was greater.

* While Ms. L was talking about counting by twos, a boy raised his hand and said, "Um, I already learned how to count by twos in kindergarten. I thought I would learn new things in first grade, like how to count by fives."

Poor naive kid. He's too young to realize that public education in Texas doesn't exist to teach kids new things. Its purpose is to move them along.

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, I always say

Went to a Greek restaurant with the Friar, Palfrey, 74, Zaftig and some woman I've met before but don't know. It wasn't a birthday celebration (that's later), but I gave him a gift anyway: the Ed Brubaker-penned Captain America omnibus [and damn, apparently I could have got it for $30 less on Amazon]. An expensive book, but gripping reading, and he's my best friend. Also, later that evening at the Hangout he gave me a $300 digital camera he had, just because I happened to mention I'd like one. So there's that.

Speaking of money, it's slightly alarming to see my savings dwindle away as I student teach, working nine- or ten-hour days for not the slightest condign pecuniary guerdon. Hopefully I'll land a job quickly in December, if I'm deemed unworthy of the position at Prestigious.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: Bizarro World
























By Eric Drysdale and Tim Lane

Friday, September 21, 2007

Grizzled faces under brimmed hats

I went to see the new Western 3:10 To Yuma with EPALG. After the movie we had a couple of drinks at the theater lounge and talked for quite a while. I didn't get home until nearly 2:00 a.m. It was a terrific, fun evening, despite the movie's mediocrity.

Although I absolutely love Christian "Psycho Batman" Bale (easily one of the best actors of his generation) and Russell "Don't Call Me Cameron Or I'll Hit You With a Telephone" Crowe is gifted as well, their presence is not enough to save Yuma. It starts off gritty and seems as if it's going --- for better or for worse --- to follow Unforgiven into the realm of the unlikely hero forced into action by the depravity of man. But it quickly degenerates into action-movie fare, getting nearly cartoonish at its climax, an almost absurd parody of High Noon. Actually more like Shanghai Noon. I was thinking at the final chase scene, "This would make a good video game."

Then, abruptly, the film remembers it's supposed to be gritty and dark, and there's a few quick moments that show that this is Real Life, and There Are No Happy Endings. All very forced and artificial.

I went in wanting to like Yuma, and knowing nothing about it. Too bad. Movies that try too hard to be cool or serious, especially when so little thought has gone into their making, don't interest me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Watched and watching

As noted yesterday, I had my observation at Brown Elementary. My State School Sponsor came in and watched me do my lesson on patterns. I used felt circles to make caterpillars and correlated length with the announced age of each one. So the "one-year-old" caterpillar had three circles, the "two-year-old" had four circles, and so on. I made a T-chart on the board of the figures, and then the kids drew their own T-charts and filled in the value of the length for a five-year-old caterpillar. To conclude, we had a discussion about what a ten-year-old caterpillar would look like.

At that point, I said, "Now, how could we find out the length of a ten-year-old caterpillar?" One child suggested I follow the growth pattern of circles and just fill in the values, each being one higher than the value previous, until I got to ten. That showed he understood how a T-chart worked and that this was a growth pattern, but I wanted to coax them into understanding the correlation between the value of age and the value of length (the latter always being two more than the former). So I praised his contribution and then said, "How else could we do it, without filling in all the other values?"

And the brightest girl in the class --- clearly gifted --- called out, smiling, "You could copy me!" She had already filled in the whole chart on her own. Ms. L and my sponsor laughed at that.

My sponsor praised the lesson, saying it was clear I had experience working with kids, and she appreciated my humor: "You have a fun and pleasant way of working with children." (Contrast that, by the way, with my far more naive and foolish peers' remarks on the same subject of my teaching approach here.) She had a few constructive comments, which I appreciated. For one thing, I apparently say "okay" constantly. Not only is that annoying, it sounds as if I'm asking the kids' permission with every sentence. If what I actually mean is, "Do you understand what I just said?" then that's what I ought to train myself to say.

After school, I stayed for curriculum night, which is basically an open house: meet the parents. I didn't say anything during the session, just allowed myself to be introduced by Ms. L and listened to her describe the various policies and routines. I chatted informally with a couple of the parents, including the mother of the "copy me" girl, who knows she's a handful. I've noticed a lot of gifted kids chafe at rules and tend to want to march to their own beat. That's not necessarily wrong; some rules exist just to make authority figures' lives easier. But then, it's nice to learn early that the world is not always so forgiving of those who shine intellectually.

I was gone twelve hours altogether. What a day.

Oh, and a girl asked me, "Mr. Chance, what's angst?"

After I processed that, I stammered, "Well, it's just kind of a general feeling of uneasiness, I guess."

She said, "Oh. Well, I have angst."

Seven year olds have angst? Charles Schulz was right!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No News Is...

...Reason to be cautiously optimistic? I don't know.

So I had my working interview at Prestigious Private School. I thought that at the end they'd tell me whether I had been accepted as one of the few, the proud, the (extremely) happy with their job, who make up the faculty there. But I was wished good luck and got a handshake goodbye.

That reads like a kiss-off, but it really seemed to go well. They praised my mini-lesson (I based it on the stuff we're doing at Brown on patterns and finalized it at about ten last night). I met with no less than four groups of teachers over two and a half hours; it's certainly no easy feat to be hired there. They asked me round after round of open-ended questions: what do you like to do when you're not teaching, what brought you to this city, why do you like this school, what are your future plans, etc. Coincidentally enough, one of the teachers there went to junior high with me, but I didn't remember her at all.

My life won't be over if I don't get the job, but to be honest, I would be bitterly disappointed. Not only is it more money and better benefits, it's a kind, nurturing and challenging environment, all the things public school isn't. And I was bowled over by the unending litany of praise from the teachers for their place of employment. Two of them said they'd like to be buried on campus. One teacher has been there eighteen years and was still bright-faced and eager. I've yet to see a twenty-year veteran of public schools who has as much enthusiasm and love for their school.

After the interview I went up to Brown and finished up the day. It was nice to be greeted so pleasantly by the kids, who'd been asking for me all morning, Ms. L said. My State School Sponsor is coming to observe me do a math lesson tomorrow, so I've got to prepare.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Like Harrison Ford I'm Frantic

No time to blog my day. Only time to record this pair of 'Kids Say...' gems.

(1) I affectionately patted a six-year-old girl on the head. She said, "Hey! Don't mess up my hair." Now, she's cute and all, but one of those little girls who's slightly scraggly from play. So I said, "Your hair's always sort of messed up." She gave me a Look --- lips pursed, arms akimbo, the whole works --- and said, "Oh no you di'n't!" (None of the kids in the class are black.)

(2) A girl of Vietnamese descent came up to me upset. I asked her what was wrong and she said, "Sayeed is making fun of my name because it's from another language!" I blinked at her. "Sayeed is making fun of your name because what now?"

Oh, the delicious irony.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is it week three already??

So very tired. I'm staying up way too late, not intentionally. Just bumming around at home until past an advisable time for someone who must rise at 6:00 a.m., then can't get to sleep. And then there's the anxiety. And the tachycardia.

A six-year-old girl told me her father has a ring in each nipple. Too much information! For both her and me.

Ms. L's habit of giving phonemes with an extraneous "uh" sound at the end (as in "mat: muh, aah, tuh") is driving muh-ee nuh-ts.

Public schools do way too much modeling of academic tasks. There's very little opportunity for kids to explore and test things out and get the chance to be wrong. Given that the expectations are already ridiculously low, it's no wonder that so many of them are bored. I remember chafing in silent frustration back in elementary school as the teacher went over the same obvious instructions again and again --- and I see the same boredom and frustration in the kids in Ms. L's class.

On the other hand, there's a couple of kids in there who seem lost. One of them almost certainly has some kind of disorder that prevents her from concentrating. Well, that's another problem in public schools, the insistence upon inclusion without regard to academic level.

Math was more pattern review, using geometric shape blocks. I encouraged the kids to avoid simple A-B-A-B patterns, and to decorate their patterns with more patterns. Some of them got really into it, using the blocks to build long bridges and hallways of patterns. It was fun for them and I was pleased to see so much inventiveness, but I'm pretty sure it's safe to move on now. They've mastered patterns.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

That's what friends are for

Maddening Angel and I had made tentative plans to go hiking, but I was feeling slightly anxious about preparing for my interview at Prestigious Private (I've been trying to pretend to myself that my future happiness and confidence doesn't rest upon this opportunity) . Sensing my panic, she very kindly called a couple of library branches on my behalf, got the librarians to find and pull some books on my theme, and then drove me to the two places to pick them up.

We had lunch together at a trendy new Mexican place in her parents' neighborhood. I had delicious fish tacos in blue tortilla shells. MA never eats fish tacos because she says they evoke images of eating smelly pussy. Sorry. Just reporting.

She's recently broken up with her latest boyfriend (he did something crazy, but she was getting tired of him anyway). She said she planned on being celibate for a while. I said, "Sure, until you meet a tall guy who plays bass and treats women like shit. Then you'll think, 'That's the guy for me!'"

It's a good thing she has a pal like me to tell her these important truths about herself.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: Astro City: Life In the Big City
























By Kurt Busiek and Brent E. Anderson

Friday, September 14, 2007

A touch of the bi-polar perhaps

My reports on the student teaching at Brown Elementary seem to alternate between giddy satisfaction and dour pessimism. Nevertheless, today was a good day. I got six hours of sleep, and worked nine hours, but I feel pumped up and inspired about what got accomplished here.

For our pattern lesson, the kids acted out action patterns (stomping feet, clapping, clapping again, then slapping their sides, etc), then glued paper shapes in a pattern of their own devising. In science, they did some more investigations into balance, using clothespins as counterweights for paper shapes that could then perch on outstretched fingers or sticks.

In both cases, the kids weren't desk-bound or dulled by busywork. They were engaged, enthused and active in their own learning process. It was a good way to end the day and the week.

***

At recess, a kid who speaks with a lisp and a case of rhotacism approached us teachers and shyly confessed he had a song to sing. I encouraged him, and he began:

"I walk a wonewy woad
The only one that I have evah known
Don't know whewe it goes
But it's home to me and I walk awone"

It was like Elmer Fudd singing, but I must say, he carried the tune well. I congratulated him and asked him where he got that song. "I wote it," he said.

I evinced surprise at this precocious display of the songwriterly craft. "That's interesting," I said, "because I've heard it on the radio."

"Oh," he said, quickly and unabashedly changing gears, "I was just kidding. I mean, I go a fwiend's house and we wisten to Gween Day."

Awesome.

***

One of our literacy centers is the listening station, where the students read along to books they listen to on tape. It makes me feel old to realize that although kids today know how to operate DVD players, they're utterly unfamiliar with tape players. They grasped the concept of rewinding quickly enough once I explained it, but it was obviously new to them; they thought the tape was broken once it came to an end. Yikes.

***

It's an odd thing, to watch a first grader diligently, systematically and shamelessly picking his nose right in front of everyone. Eyes wide, looking up at the teacher and making eye contact, taking in every word, and really screwing that finger in up to the second knuckle, first one nostril and then the other. Earthy little fellows, aren't they?

***

On on of my thrice-daily treks to the nurse's office with the bathroom malefactor, I saw another child, Z, in the hall getting a drink. Z is one of the first graders not in my class, and he's in the hallways suspiciously often. I gave him an "I'm watching you" look and walked to the nurse's office. In opening the door, I saw to my surprise that Z had followed us down the hall. "Go to your room!" I said, and he walked off. My charge finished in the bathroom, and I walked him back. Who should I see on the way but Z, still in the hall by the water fountain. "I'm taking you to your room right now," I said to him.

"That's okay, I know where it is," he said.

Smart alec.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Success is counted sweetest

I think it's important for the first-grade teacher to write down new vocabulary words on the board. Also to write the words that kids think up when focusing on a new letter or sound. And it's important to repeat the word that a child says, loudly and clearly, and maybe define it quickly if it's unusual. Sitting among students gives me a good idea of how little they hear when other kids are talking.

I also think I don't care at all about how the students write their letters as long as the letters are facing the right way and legible. Slanted, with a curlicue, jagged --- not important.

I think that some teachers work very long hours and spend a lot of home time planning not because their jobs are truly that demanding, but because they lack imagination and academic rigor. Not being any more broadly educated as a class than, say, nurses, most teachers are about as capable of scanning and absorbing a sheet of text as anyone else. Which is to say, not very.

I saw a teacher reading a story to the first graders. She stopped at the place where the book instructed her to stop. This is done to model various reading strategies: for example, stopping to ask a question or to predict what will happen next. In this instance, she stopped and said, "Now I'm going to tell part of the story in my own words, and you can help tell the rest in your own words."

And at this point, she began reading the "rephrasing in her own words" that the book gave her. She didn't, you know, actually tell the story in her own words. Why the hell not? It just sounded so artificial and hollow that I wouldn't have blamed any kid for drifting off at that moment. What kids need are not false models of artificial behavior but real models: intelligent adults who know how to think for themselves, tell a story, ask their own questions and make their own predictions. If the teacher's getting everything, including the supposedly original paraphrasing, out of a book, how are the kids expected to ever learn how to think for themselves? No wonder so many students (and adults) refuse to guess or try when posed with a mental problem. They've been been trained only to search for answers other people have already found out.

I know this all sounds very cynical and aggressive, but it's just sad that there's so little initiative in education, just a slavish devotion to instructions. I'm not talking about mandated standards; that's fine. I'm talking about a lack of adaptation in instruction and a dearth of real-life mental role models.

***

I went to a faculty meeting after school today. It was refreshing, at least, to see so much good-humored eye rolling at the administration's proactive solutioneering.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A drowsy numbness pains my sense

Whew! Long days, tiring work. Feet hurt. Getting a bit anxious about working interview at Prestigious next week. And duties at Brown are starting to be a bit more rigorous.

Today I led a math lesson, more on patterns. I gave the kids lengths of connecting blocks and called them "pattern trains." I also gave them toilet paper tubes with small arcs cut out so they'd stay up like tunnels. Then I divided the class up into teams of two. They took turns pushing the train through the tunnel, while their partner predicted what color would come next and then re-created the train with their own set of connecting blocks.

It was a success, so much so that Ms. L decided to extend the lesson at the expense of science. The kids kept wanting to do more and more pattern trains. One boy, who is normally spectacularly lazy and acts far more ignorant than he is, literally ran up to Ms. L, crying "This is so fun! I want to keep doing it!"

I didn't think up the lesson --- I only chose it, prepared it, and directed it --- but that really is the kind of reward people go into teaching for.

***

After work, went to the new trivia place with my parents. Friar and 74 joined us. We didn't win, again. Then I stopped briefly at the Hangout and played a pretty fun shooting game. 74's wife is pregnant again. God, I'm lame.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Up in the morning and out to school

The routine is starting to jell. Language arts in the morning. Today's letters were S and T. After lunch and specials, math. I did the calendar again, with a bit more confidence this time. The kids worked on pattern worksheets and were introduced to subtraction. Tomorrow I'm teaching the main math lesson on patterns.

Most of the children are ahead of the teacher's schedule. Two girls have asked me to write addition and subtraction (and multiplication!) problems especially for them after they'd finished the official busywork. They're smart kids. I hope the system doesn't leech all their natural inquisitiveness and joy in learning out of them, but it probably will. The kids are mostly bored during the lengthy examples Ms. L goes over. I'd be bored too. I was when I was their age. Hell, I'm bored now.

We had a fire drill and a Cub Scout rally to break up the monotony, though. The former went off with the quiet efficiency of a Swiss accountants' parade; the latter was utter chaos. I was the only teacher there. And I'm not a teacher. Still, I like to think that my presence there saved the entire first grade from wandering off aimlessly after it was over.

One of my new duties (appointed by Mr. Young Go-Getter Guy, the principal, who doesn't seem to have been informed of what I'm there to do) is to escort a polite little boy to the nurse's office three times a day so he can go to the bathroom. Apparently, he does something unspeakable if allowed to go to the hallway bathrooms like everyone else. Also, I have to check to make sure he's not carrying crayons on the sly, because he likes to write on the walls in there.

The kindergarten teacher told me of this conversation among two of his students:
Boy: "Do you know what sex is?"
Girl: "No, what?"
Boy: 'That's when you love someone very much so you take your pants off."

The school had to meet with the parents involved. But hey, it seems like the kid's pretty much got the idea down.

Oh, and I took an hour-long nap when I got home. It's a tiring day, without the break in the middle I'm used to. Not only did I need the rest, i'm glad I napped, because it shows that maybe I'm not turning into some amped-up freak eternally coasting on his own tachycardia-induced endorphins.

***

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Week two begins!

I think it's harder for me than for the typical student teacher to endure being the low man on the totem pole --- indeed, not to be on the pole itself at all, but perhaps a small totemic rock placed next to the pole. I'm about ten years older than the typical student teacher, much more educated, and have been a very well-received preschool teacher for nearly six years. So I kind of chafe at the low expectations of public school and the tiresome bureaucratic rigmarole that needs to be done before any actual learning can get done.

What on earth is this making the students write "SSM" on their papers after doing rudimentary addition? It stands for Some and Some More, meant to be a thinking strategy for later use when facing word problems. Really, it's this kind of time-wasting nonsense that churns out kids who believe they don't understand math after 12 years of public education. I'm sure none of those kids had any idea why they wrote "SSM" next to their pictures of three apples and four apples.

I'm still doing mostly busywork, but I took the floor today and did the calendar session solo. It has hella components: we count the days of school (ten so far!) with straws, tally marks, sets of five dots, printed number cards, numbers on the board, and tacks in the wall. Also, there's weather and days of the week. I handled the myriad little tasks with a reasonable amount of aplomb, although the kids had to keep reminding me of what I'd forgotten.

I also sat in on another grade meeting, this one with Mr. Go-Getter Young Guy, the principal. He came off as more friendly today than before. And one of the other two first-grade teachers, a nice old lady, made me feel helpful and appreciated. So the day ended on a nice note.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

It started ice cream social nice

I started this blog a couple of years ago ostensibly to chronicle the long, arduous road to getting public school certification. However, the real reason I started it was to sort out the emotions I was going through then, vulnerable after my break-up and getting mixed messages from the Maddening Angel. The blog's been as schizophrenic, and as flighty, as me; basically, I talk about anything on my mind. When I detail my personal life, it can get pretty pathetic. I mean, honesty is embarrassing. But hell, I'm masked, anonymous, and not proud.

Anyway. Last night I went to see Casablanca (for the sixth time) at a midnight theater with EPALG. (That movie's so overrated --- it's just a bunch of famous quotes strung together. So hackneyed.)

So look, I know this isn't a date, because I'm fair to middling at reading people's interest levels, or at least I think I am. But I can't help wishing it was, because bloody hell, she's a goddess (gorgeous; highly educated; witty as hell; has read more books, and seen more classic films, than anyone I know, including me). And I'm sort of this twisted ugly little gnome guy, so I really enjoy her company.

And while most of my friends are attractive, outgoing women and I've been married and I'm not exactly socially inept, I don't really understand how singles interact. Because, it seems to me, a single girl and a single guy having a late drink and then seeing a movie at midnight --- isn't that something that could be a date? So maybe I should have tried to turn it into a date, you know. But I don't want to do anything stupid and ruin what could be beginning of a beautiful friendship (ha! see what I did there?).

I mean, I'd like to tell her how great she is, but my problem is I build up unrealistic expectations and hopes, and then come off as, well, clingy and pathetic (as Ram would attest). Either that or I stay too grounded and appear indifferent (as has also happened).

To paraphrase Holden Caulfield, don't every do anything with anybody. You just end up missing everybody.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Friday, September 07, 2007

Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before

...And I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the Hangout Thursday night with MA and Friar, despite the fact that I have to be on the road before 7:00 a.m. these days. I figured, hell, if I'm gonna be jacked up, anxious and awake until all hours, I may as well be awake at a bar with friends, right?

I did the barfly thing again tonight. The place was a bit maudlin, with lots of people hugging and some crying because of the musician's death. His bandmates were there, a couple not looking too good. I ran into Mr. Hangout, Skullfuck, Paris, Gunner, AL, and a lot of the other usual suspects. Played video golf with Friar and his boss. Stood around vaguely uncomfortably while MA did her public affection thing on me. (She seems to enjoy acting as if she's my girlfriend when we're in public, with lots of proximity and touching. Since she's gorgeous, I'm not complaining, but when I was emotionally weaker last year, that kind of thing messed my mind up a bit. Now, it's just kind of strange.)

I texted EPALG and got a rather indifferent reception. I know we're not dating; I just wanted to issue a no-pressure invitation to another (new) friend to drink and be merry with a bunch of cool people, but somehow it came off (in retrospect) as kind of clingy and weird. No surprise there if you've read any of my misadventures. Esto tibi ipsi fidelis, I always say.
























Accurate rendition of me at the Hangout

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sorting it out

I've been rather garrulous (and loquacious, and prolix, and voluble, and...) in this blog lately, with a commensurate lessening of readability. Well, lots of things are happening, I'm pressed for free time, and I find it hard to decide which events to record as well as how best to express them. Herewith, some random thoughts from the old cerebral vortex.

Ms. L spent a few minutes, as she does every single day, doing the calendar. Part of that is going over what day it is, what day it was yesterday, and what day it'll be tomorrow. After she had reiterated a few times that it was Wednesday and tomorrow would be Thursday, one boy raised his hand and said, "Will tomorrow be Fwiday?" That would amuse me, but also drive me up the freakin' wall. Ms. L, paragon of patience that she is, just took it with utter equaminity ("Well, let's see. Today is Wednesday...")

I made an appointment with Very Prestigious Private School to go in two weeks from now and give a lesson to the preschool class. Sounds like something I could do: fingers crossed! So I arranged for a half-day absence at Brown.

Ms. L verbalized one of my pet peeves today while teaching phoneme-letter relationships. When vocalizing the consonant phones, she adds that non-existent and misleading "uh" to the end, so that /m/ becomes /muh/ and so on.

I had a mini-conference with Ms. L and my State School sponsor today. I'm going to present a math lesson for observation two weeks from now. That shouldn't be a problem.

I've been getting six hours of sleep a night, amped up as I am all the time these days. I get up at 6:00 a.m. promptly and start the day immediately, work at Brown for nine hours, and yet cannot fall asleep until midnight. At this pace, I'll explode before I finish the term. Yet another thing to stress over.

Oh, and I've got to make a doctor's appointment soon.

I know this is only my third day, but I'm slightly disappointed at my reception by the kids at Brown. I'm used to being adored by small children; this batch is comparatively indifferent. Or perhaps just more canny about things. As I remarked to EPALG, "The older kids get, the more they realize they don't have to take anyone's guff."

Today I took pictures of the first-graders in two classes for a literacy center based on names. It's remarkable how many girls said, "Oh, how cute!" after looking at their own picture. Boy, it starts early, don't it?

Ms. L works ten hours days regularly and eats her lunch at her desk, planning and going over email. I admire her energy and enthusiasm, and I understand that as chair of the grade she has a lot of responsibility, but the other teachers don't do this. I'm beginning to wonder if Ms. L goes to unnecessary extremes. I know I wouldn't want any job that required that kind of sacrifice to personal time.

Basically, while I am enjoying my time at Brown (really, despite what this reads like), at this point I don't feel inspired enough there to pretend to anyone that I want to work there the rest of my life. I certainly don't want to come off as sullen or aloof, but neither do I want to gush needlessly in the hope that I'll be noticed by the principal (a gung-ho, managerial type who looks like he's about twenty).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

You do their work, and they shall have good luck

Either due to stress or a simpler kind of anxiety or a horrible health problem, I feel jacked up as if on loads of caffeine all the time. I know I have tachycardia, which ain't good. In any case, I was up until midnight last night, despite my early hours and long day at work. So I leapt out of bed at 6:00 a.m. this morning, raring to go again. That'll show my body. Drove to Brown in darkness and rain.

Today we worked more on writing color words and sentences; reviewed counting by tens; filled in a hundred-block worksheet; and spent fifteen minutes on science at the end of the day (reading aloud from a grade-level textbook four sentences that doubtlessly went entirely over their heads: they don't know what the hell observation is). My participation went beyond busywork and helping with deskwork today; I read an Eric Carle book, Ten Little Rubber Ducks. They seemed to enjoy it. I know I did. Oh, and Ms. L did several one-on-one DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessments) while I monitored the class. So that was helpful. They're beginning to learn about phonetic discrimination.

I stayed after school for another grade meeting, this one about centers. We decided on regular centers and intervention centers. I contributed a few ideas that were received well: for example, a name center involving student photos and letters to mix and match.

In other news, I got the callback from Prestigious Private Elementary! Holy schnitt! I need to schedule a time for a working interview (I'll give a lesson). Think good thoughts... Think positive... This would honestly be one of the best breaks of my life, and it's in my grasp. I just need to shine when I do the working interview, and then... No, can't count chickens.

In other other news, I made plans with E.P.A.L.G., got unexpected text messages from K and Jaded (haven't heard from her in ages), talked for a while with the long-lost MA. The senseless, tragic killing of my musician acquaintance a few days ago made her realize how disconnected she's been with her friends lately, so we pledged to hang out soon with K and the Friar and so on.

The pleasure of my company is constantly sought by a variety of beautiful females who have no romantic interest whatever in me. Well, that's how it goes when you're only a brain in a jar, like me.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

First day down, fifty-nine to go

I got up at 6:00 in the a.m. this morning and was out the door to Brown Elementary for my first day of student teaching by 6:35. I got there a bit too early (7:25), and the day ended at 4:25 p.m. I'm rather tired, but I'd be doing myself and this journal a disservice if I didn't write down a few hopefully not too analysis-ridden observations before making lunch for tomorrow, drawing or reading a bit and then bed.

So, first grade with Ms. L. The day started with the pledges, of course. Then a moment of silence --- despite what you might hear from lying right wingers like Ann Coulter, yes, public schools allow for a time of quiet reflection. And in this school, at least, a few children wore T-shirts with Christian messages, and no one was sent home in disgrace.

But I digress. I enjoyed Ms. L's teaching style a lot. I could learn much from her when it comes to handling the kids' tattling, verbal digressions and misbehaving --- she always focuses on the positive and seeks to stop unwanted behavior by praising appropriate behavior. She's clearly at home with the kids, and a true professional. She's also the chair of her grade and works like a goddamn banshee --- she was there before me and said when I left that she was staying until 6:00 p.m. Day-um.

I didn't much care for her insistence on the kids' writing slanted letters --- the sort of quasi-italic (little hooks at the bottoms of the lower-case i's and so on) that are meant to prepare, I suppose, for cursive. I find that approach useless and distracting, since no one actually writes like that. Not even the letter sheets they're copying from wrote like that. Still, that's a minor quibble.

I think I would also differ from Ms. L in her way of almost always calling only on those students who raise their hands. This means that about 2-5 kids are the only ones ever answering. I would prefer to see a sort of round-table or random calling for contributions to the discussion. I don't think this method would embarrass shy kids, if done correctly. To me, her way let too many kids feel confident about not paying the least attention.

Oh, listen to me, arrogant upstart, criticizing the teacher with decades of experience.

Anyhoo. Ms. L read a story and asked questions about predicting and inferring. She read poems that showcased the letters I and J. The kids practiced writing those letters. They did a worksheet about I and J and circled words that started with those letters. Another language lesson was matching color words with their colors, then writing (mostly copying) sentences like "A ______ is green."

I had a half-hour for lunch. I ate my sandwich in the teacher's lounge.

I sat in on a teacher's meeting, where a coordinator and a reading interventionist talked about DIBELS (it was new to me too) and forming intervention groups by skill level.

For math, the kids put buttons in cups (ten to a cup) plus remainder and then wrote the total number.

In all, the school seems to have a fairly high level of expectation for its first graders. There's a rather wide gap in skill levels, however. Some kids surprised me with their quite eloquent and reasoned explanations of the base-ten system and why we use it; others didn't grasp at all the correlation between groups of ten and total number.

I must say that my first day hasn't changed my opinion of public schools. This is one of the best, with terrific teachers like Ms. L, and I still found myself thinking how easy it would be for students to go years in that environment without learning much of anything.

Oh, and my old classmate who worked in the adjacent room was transferred to another school last week because of low enrollment.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Happy Labor Day

Last day of vacation. Time for some serious work: thinking.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?

(From the World Question Center.)

That, despite all the evidence, humans are intrinsically good. At times I do despair at all the pointless, sickening evil in the world. But our society is based on very thin threads of mutual trust ("I won't bother him because he doesn't bother me") and distrust ("I won't bother him because he may have a gun"). These threads mostly stay intact because as a general rule, people have no interest in harming others, even if they don't care to help them either. Criminals as a class are a tiny minority that tend to take the limelight, while the ruck of humanity quietly goes about helping their peers in unremarkable quotidian ways, or at the very least refraining from injuring the downtrodden. Think about it: if people really were the low-end monsters they certainly seem from a steady diet of the news, no one would ask strangers for directions, or hold an elevator, or stop to help a lost child, or volunteer to teach an adult to read, or stand out on the corner begging for change, or go trick-or-treating on Halloween, or keep libraries open, or swap things online. I do, sadly, see a lot of daily selfishness and unconcern around me, but I believe --- though I cannot prove it --- that this stems from upbringing in a mostly anonymous, authoritarian society that emphasizes materialism and speed. When people overcome this upbringing and stop to consider others as fellow creatures, they generally rise to the occasion.

I also believe that Bob Dylan is the greatest musician of the twentieth century. And I could prove it, but you wouldn't listen.

Oh, and the heliocentric theory. I couldn't prove that to save my life, but I'll believe it to my dying day. E pur si muove!

***

Viciously ironic addendum: K texted me to say that a musician acquaintance of ours was shot and killed last night. Very sobering. I'm glad I got the chance to tell the guy how much I loved his music and how incredibly talented I thought he was. Let's all share the love, every day, okay?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Craigslist

The Larry Craig story interested me for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm always interested in sanctimonious public figures' hypocrisy. Also, who knew that running your hand under a bathroom stall was a signal for some hot gay toilet-seat sex? But actually, at first I wondered if he really may have been railroaded, since the whole story depends on a cop's opinion that a guy is acting like he is planning on doing something illegal. And having been on the receiving end of some cops' ideas of what looks suspicious, I'm not going to swallow blindly the word of the arresting officer. But then I read some of the interview transcript, and it does seem like poor Craig was cruising, if not for a bruising, for some severe public humiliation.

His resignation got to me reflecting on the scads of sanctimonious hypocrites that have been shadowed by scandal over the last couple of decades. So I made a list. It focuses only on sexual scandals, because detailing every venal US politician from the "party of values" accused of fiduciary corruption (Gingrich, DeLay, Calvert, K. Harris, C. Allen, J. Doolittle, Cheney...) would be a limitless endeavor.
  • Larry Craig - Republican senator from Idaho, accused of arranging a gay tryst, 2007
  • Ted Haggard - evangelical preacher linked to gay prostitutes and drugs, 2007 [but is now "completely heterosexual" - with religious-themes therapy he has now embraced "his heterosexual side," which is totally hilarious]
  • Bob Allen - Republican member of Florida congress, against gay rights, offered to blow a black undercover cop in a public bathroom, July 2007
  • David Vitter - Republican senator from Louisiana, identified as a client of DC Madam Deborah Palfrey, known for "abstinence education" and the "holy union" of marriage, the creep, 2007
  • Mark Foley - Republican representative from Florida, resigned when linked to solicitations of teenage boys, known for his public anti-pornography stance, 2006
  • Jim West - mayor of Spokane Washington, accused of sexual abuse of and trysts with young men, known for his public anti-gay stance, 2005
  • Ed Schrock - Republican representative from Virginia, quit his campaign amid rumors of homosexuality, known for his public anti-gay stance, 2004
  • Helen Chenoweth - Republican representative from Idaho, had an extra-marital affair in the '80s, of note because of Chenoweth's attacks on Clinton's immorality, 1998
  • Henry Hyde - Republican representative from Illinois, had an extra-marital affair in the '60s, of note because of Hyde's attacks on Clinton's immorality, 1998
  • Bob Barr - Republican (now Libertarian) representative from Georgia, accused of acquiescing to first wife's abortion and cheating on second wife with future third wife, really only of note because of his attacks on Clinton's morals, 1998
  • Bob Livingston - Republican representative from Louisiana, had an extra-marital affair, of note because of Livingston's attacks on Clinton's immorality, 1998 [interestingly, succeeded in the House by David Vitter, vide supra]
  • Bob Packwood - Republican senator from Oregon, linked to many years of sexual harassment, 1995
  • Ken Calvert - Republican representative from California, arresting for solicitation of a prostitute [a woman! whew! but a druggie! uh oh!], 1993.
My, what a motley crew of reprobates! Of course, if your church and your family forgive you, you've done nothing wrong --- unless your name is Clinton, in which case you're branded forever as the most loathsome bottom-feeder ever to stink up the White House with your abominable presence.

By the way, notice a pattern? Yes, they're all named Bob. No, they're all right-wing.

Now, there are obviously Democrats (like Clinton, whom I still think one of the best presidents we've ever had) who have strayed from middle America's ideas of core values, of course. But to my knowledge, those people didn't spend their public lives tirelessly trying to limit other people's sexual freedoms. Of course, I welcome corrections and additions.

Saturday, September 01, 2007