Friday, November 30, 2007

The clock runs down and stops

I went back to Brown Elementary this afternoon, possibly for the final time. Ms. L had warned me ahead of time that the kids had planned a "surprise" party for me. I went in the room, and all the kids spelled out "Thank you Mr. Chance" on paper. They presented me with writing they did on what they appreciated about me, with pictures, all bound together in a nice book with pictures. I was really touched. There were cookies and juice boxes. Lots of the kids hastened to outdo each other in quickly cutting out crowns and gifts wrapped in red ribbon and giving it to me. One girl asked me what my favorite color was and then presented me with a blue crayon carefully wrapped and labeled. So adorable. I did a Mad Libs with them, which they found very amusing.

After the kids all went home, Ms. L gave me a card that the first grade team gave me. Inside was twenty dollars! They'd taken up a collection to present me with a little gift to reward me for all my hard paid work, Ms. L said. Isn't that thoughtful? I gave them thank you cards I'd prepared. (I'd brought a huge batch cookies the day before.)

Then I went to the doctor, only to remember at the very last minute that my appointment had actually been for the day before and I'd totally missed it. Oh well.

My father checked into a really nice rehab center while I was gone. Then he walked out a few hours later and took a taxi to a bookstore, where I had to pick him up and take him home and stick around. He spent the rest of the day utterly incoherent on morphine or whatever depressant he's on. He kept talking about the Polish infantry being in the bathroom. My life would be very pleasant right now without this stress.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is it safe?

This morning I went to Brown to watch a spelling bee. Given my interest in the topic, I was eager to see what it was like. All the fourth, fifth and sixth graders were in the gym, watching the spellers seated in a semicircle on stage. I believe all the participants were in either fifth or sixth grade. There were twenty children, only four of them boys. It was charming to see some of their little tics and tricks, like tracing the spelling with a finger on their sleeves while reciting. The spellers didn't seem especially nervous or anxious, although afterwards I saw one girl crying and being consoled by her mother.

Some of the correctly spelled words by these brave eleven- and twelve-year-olds were: argument, cinema, newfangled, pleasant, patient, tattle, unsociable, vinegar, leisure, walrus, and tardiness. Those words have got nothing on the national list in terms of difficulty, but, you'll agree, a challenge to most kids.

Some of the incorrect spellings were: solami, hikory, infurno, sarcasim, noseyest, bungalo, looner, drousy, apetite, abbsents, orthandocs, flanel, chedder, and soilders.

The winning word was associate, which the losing finalist spelled, bizarrely, as "aseoiate."

Afterwards, I caught just a little bit of a fourth-grade class. I saw some six-minute fluency at work first. I'm not a big fan of this strategy, as it seems to me to strongly impress upon the kids the need for speed when reading, which is not helpful. I'm an extremely fast reader, but even I wish I'd slow down a bit and remember things once in a while. I walked around the room and heard a lot of fast-talking reading: "batsareflyingmammalsthatuseecholocation," all rapid-fire and without any attention whatever to prosody. Indeed, supposedly after they'd read this piece on bats, not for the first time, the teacher asked whether bats have ears, and most of the class said no. They also, on an unrelated note, had a lot of trouble figuring out how many years ago 1984 was. Anyway, the kids started working on making lists of facts from their reading when I left.

I went to a meeting with Mr. Gung Ho, the principal, at his request. He heaped some more praise on me and asked me what kind of school I wanted to teach at, and what grade I thought I'd be best at. He told me to give him a call when the district job fair started, and he would personally help me with the first qualifying test and then introduce me to other principals at schools that he thought I'd fit in at. I was pleased and honored; he certainly didn't have to extend such a courtesy. I told him I enjoyed his managerial style as well.

After that I went to the dentist. Apparently, a piece of my tooth didn't fall off, as I reported yesterday. I will spare you the gruesome details, but suffice it to say that I really ought to get my teeth cleaned more often. My teeth look and feel much more different now (I can actually feel the contours and see the gaps!). I got bad gums; hours later, my spit's still pink with blood. There; not quite as disgusting as Samurai Frog's recent health updates, but it'll do.

My father's in search of a rehab center. His AA buddies are trying to help him out. He is way too old for the kind of wringer he's going to go through. We shall see what develops.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The tooth is out there

I was scheduled to observe at Ms. Negativity's second grade class this morning, but I called to cancel because a piece of my tooth fell off. (More on that tomorrow.)

So I went in to Brown around noon. The principal was in the office when I came in, and we had a brief chat. He said I had qualities that can't be taught, like a good rapport with kids, and that it seemed that I'd be good teaching any grade level. He knows about the five-month contract with Prestigious, but said he wanted to keep me in his district and introduce me to other principals. The praise was embarrassing but, obviously, quite appreciated. (More on that tomorrow, too, I guess.)

I sat in on a fifth grade pullout reading group and a sixth grade pullout reading group led by Mr. Big Fellow. I wasn't with the sixth graders long. Then I stopped by a regular sixth grade class just long enough to tell a girl that the USSR is the same as the Soviet Union.

The fifth graders were reading a book on birds. Mr. BF led them through a cognitive content list (unfamiliar words, predictions as to meaning, and then actual meaning), a graphic organizer, cause and effect scenarios (just like the first graders!), and text description vocabulary (non-fiction, expository, factual).

Most of them were reasonably amenable to instruction, but a couple were truly surly, nearly to the point of rudeness, which only cemented my conviction that I will never, ever teach fifth or sixth grade.

Sample dialogue, verbatim as far as I can attest:
Mr. BF asks, "How does the main character's teacher help her with her photography?"
Surly kid, looking away, frowning: "I don't know, photos."
Mr. BF rephrases the question and gives a few redirecting prompts: "So how does he help her?"
Surly kid: "I guess he helps."
Mr. BF: "That's what I said. But how does he do it?"
Surly kid: "I don't know, photography, or pictures, whatever."

Don't worry, kid, soon the most challenging question people will be asking you is whether you want to man the fryer or the register.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lots of screaming today

Had an even more leisurely start this morning; I didn't get to Brown until 11:30 a.m.

The first class I observed was a kindergarten ESL class. There were two Asians, two Hispanics, and, in a striking aberration, one blonde girl from Denmark. I enjoyed being there; they traced letters with their fingers, wrote on dry-erase boards, and read phonics readers. They were so cheerful and ready to learn. Indeed, you could have fooled me --- most of them were reading just as well as a lot of the first graders.

Then I went to a special ed room, euphemistically and sort of confusingly called the "Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities, Kindergarten." There were three teachers there and six kids. The head teacher read a long and rather complex rhyming book, went over the letter of the week (L), played a song about lollipops on the CD player, and read "Jack Be Nimble" six times (once for every child's name in place of "Jack"). Then there was another song about spelling, and then the kids jumped around a bit to a sorta rockin' song about jumping, and then took turns "reading" from a very short phonics reader. A couple of the kids left to go to mainstream kindergarten. After that, it was math time. The kids did patterns with manipulatives and continued their peers' patterns. The highest level kids were fairly adept at making ABAB patterns. One kid refused to work and sat screaming and crying in time out for about fifteen minutes. (He quickly did some work when he saw that everyone else got to play with a little Thomas train set.)

Another child there is so severely disabled that she's pretty much an infant, throwing things placed in front of her, tearing any available paper, and unable to speak. Instead, she screams. She's physically disabled as well: stunted, constantly twitching, and needing a walker. Her presence in what would otherwise be an only moderately low-level special-needs program is a good example of window dressing. I suppose good intentions are meant, but that room doesn't have the resources to meet that kid's needs (she perforce spends a lot of time just sitting in a chair, everything around her out of reach), and the other kids' learning goes slower because of her presence. And that's in what I consider a terrific room, with cheerful and energetic teachers. Inclusion: pretending everyone is equal, whether it helps or not.

The Lady kindergarten teacher from yesterday confirmed every bad feeling I had about her condescension. I saw her outside at the end of the day, thanked her for her time the day before, and said, referring to specific bit of correction, that I hoped I hadn't overstepped any bounds when I helped the kids out with their writing. "Oh, don't worry," she said. "That's just something you have to be told. You'll get it!" Gee, thanks. I smiled and waved, and then got in my turnip truck and went back to Hicksville Farm.

***

Went to my parents' house, did a very little cleaning, and heated up some soup for my dad, who's now going through withdrawal. He's apparently going back to AA/NA meetings now. Unless he's actually secretly meeting his pusher.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 12: Of our elaborate plans, the end

Observation week!

I slept until nearly 9:00, like a self-satisfied somnolent sybarite. I ate a leisurely breakfast and then tooled up to Brown Elementary to sit in on a couple of classes.

The first one was Some Guy's kindergarten class. He read a poem, then asked the kids to identify certain words' onset and rime. he then read a longer story, and stopped occasionally to ask questions on and ask for predictions about vocabulary, motives, and plot. It seemed the same as the first few weeks of first grade, but with a little less emphasis on print. For example, he played a song about the week's letter, n, instead of showing a big book with a printed poem. I liked the way he would ask a question and scan the room with his eyes, letting the whole class think about it, and then he'd call on a kid at random to answer. He also promised that if they identified all the words that started with n in a given picture, he'd do a silly dance, and he delivered. I liked the whimsy --- it reminded me of me in preschool. I did think he let the kids make too many noises, and get into each others' faces, while he was teaching. That didn't remind me of me.

After lunch, I went to Some Lady's kindergarten class. First, she introduced them to writing journals, showing them where to write the date, and then giving them a mock sentence to copy with a fill-in-the-blank ending of their choosing. Her kids seemed even more adept than Ms. L's first graders at writing, being familiar with the use of the period and being able to identify verbs as action words, for example. Her kids also demonstrated better listening skills and more subdued behavior in general. The second half of the afternoon was taken up with math. She had the kids think of and perform body-language patterns (stomp, clap, clap, snap, etc.), showed them patterns with classroom items (pencil, pencil, scissors), played a catchy song about patterns, and then gave the kids a pattern worksheet. The kids were also asked to, and could, label the patterns (as ABAB, ABBABB, etc.). I liked the results she got, but I got a vague sort of sense of superiority vibe from her. I may be overly touchy, just because I know I'm a good teacher and have more experience than others might expect, and it rankles me to be given advice when it's obviously delivered as if from a wiser mentor and not a colleague. (I need to learn to swallow that kind of thing, quick, 'cause I bet I get it at Prestigious.) Also, Lady did pretty much come right out and ask me to praise her teaching effectiveness compared to Guy's --- "Do you see a difference between the two classes?" she inquired coyly. I mean, I did, and Lady ought to be applauded for her skills, but I guess there was just something about her that struck me as smug.

Lest it seem that I'm over-reacting, let me relate something that happened back on the in- service day. I didn't mention it, but it stuck with me. A teacher from another school came up to the table where Ms. L, Ms. W, Ms. S, and I were sitting and started chatting with Ms. W, whom she knew from somewhere else. Ms. W did the introductions, noting that I was a student teacher and making a little crack about it. Which was totally fine with me, as, like I've noted, our team is irreverent and jokes around a lot. A few minutes later I made a little crack back at her, whereupon the teacher from the other school said sharply to me, "Uh, you're just a student teacher, so shut up. Know your place."

I kid you not. My team did stick up for me, in a kind of muted, non-boat-rocking of way. Anyhow, I said nothing, because I need to learn to let some stuff go. I have no intention of being spineless as a rule, but as practice for being the new (and slightly unwanted by some) guy, I ignored this particular power-tripper.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What I'm watching

People who have read this blog for a while know I don't have television reception at my house, and I'm not a big fan of TV in general. But --- aside from the occasional "Jeopardy!" at my parents' house --- I have been known to enjoy a show now and then in DVD form.

Getting through the last few episodes of "Entourage," season three. The quality has declined some, as a lot of bloggers noted, but I'm still enjoying it. Maybe the real nadir comes in season four; I'm not there yet. Am I alone in my love for Jeremy Piven? I think I'm the only one in America who remembers his TV series "Cupid." Man, I loved that show.

There are very few things in the world that I care about less than football and the ups and downs of teenage relationships, but I am utterly hooked on "Friday Night Lights." I am mainlining the series thanks to Netflix's "Instant Watching" ability. I haven't been this interested in a network series since I first discovered "NYPD Blue" back in oh my lord in heaven nearly fifteen years ago now. I'm not saying it's as good as "NYPD Blue" was in its prime, but it's a very well-crafted show. The acting on "FNL" is astounding, and the combination of terrific direction and cinematography (a sort of quasi-documentary style, and the characters talking over each other in breaks and unfinished thoughts that match natural speech rhythms) makes the drama terribly raw and human.

I also watched a short-lived animated series called "Mission Hill." It's about a cartoonist attempting to live a bohemian lifestyle in a neighborhood akin to Greenwich Village with his roommates, but who also has to act as surrogate parent to his younger brother, who's still in high school. I thought it had just the right blend of quirkiness and poignancy.

And a couple of months back, I polished off the first season of HBO's "Rome," which I watched the second and final season of at my parents' house last year or whenever the hell it was. A fantastic show, meticulously detailed in both the big historical picture and the personal details of the characters. And the ending was supremely satisfying, unlike that very disappointing finale of "Deadwood," which was from its mother channel's schedule untimely ripp'd.

Speaking of HBO, in a couple of weeks the fourth season of the Greatest Drama Ever Made, "The Wire," will be released! It'll be like Christmas in December! Oh wait.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Balancing a diamond on a blade of grass

I woke up early, unfortunately, to pick up Aunt at the airport. She's a high school counselor and had the whole week off; she vacationed in New Orleans. At the airport, I saw a Dangerous Young Black Man (tm) coming off her flight wearing jeans around his mid-thighs. He had to waddle around like a baby in a full diaper. Another Dangerous Young Black Man (tm) wore a hat with the price tag falling down in front of his face. I don't understand these newfangled fashions the young are wearing today, consarn it.

Friar picked me up and we drove around for a couple of hours looking at apartments. I'm thinking of celebrating the new job by getting a new nice apartment in January. I found a pretty good one, but I'm just in the considering stage for now.

Talked with my dad about his self-medicating. He told me a lot of things he's been doing, but I honestly can't tell what's true. I do think he's run out of opiates, as he's on that vindictive, bitter phase informed by junkie thinking. Oh, I know all the phases of the jonesing addict all too well.

Maddening Angel called me, but I didn't go out because I wanted to hang out with my parents and keep an eye out on the situation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky

I went out to dinner at Green Margarita with the Friar, Palfrey, Flax (who teaches law school in California and was last seen in these pages around May of 2006), and his wife. It was fun, although I always feel like a fifth wheel at these couple things. I'm a single chump.

After the Margarita, we went to the theater bar (where Epalg and I go). I was recognized by the waitress and she asked if I wanted my usual drink. Palfrey was surprised; I don't exactly have a reputation as a barfly.

Kilometres Deboutish lives

Let's hear it for the original inhabitants.

Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself? With four part harmony and feeling.

Have you heard about Le Jour de Merci Donnant?

I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night, and other bits of wisdom.

Give thanks the Bill Burroughs way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Loaded IV

From the original idea.

Hypotheticals: If Satan lived on Earth, what would his friends and enemies know him by?
"Mister Vice-President."

Anything Goes: What should every man and woman be able to try once in their life?
True love.

No-Brainers: What was your favorite year of school? Why?
I've been to a lot more schools than most people, so I'm going to forget higher education and just refer to high school. Senior year. I was reasonably well-liked by the people that mattered, had bizarrely made the high honors list, got into a good college, and I didn't give a crap what anyone thought.

Personals: What protest march might somebody spot you at?
I've never actually gone to a protest march, mostly out of apathy but also due to the conviction that marching and shouting isn't going to do any good for anybody. I've gone on an AIDS LifeWalk, though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All over bar the shouting

Well, that's it for Student Teaching, except for next week's series of observations (a less rigorous schedule, to say the least). It was an unusual day to begin with: the entire school participated in a "race" around the field for twelve minutes. They collected feathers each time they completed a circuit, and later the entire school, class by class, attached the feathers to a giant wooden turkey. Of course, it wasn't really a race; apparently years back they used to give ribbons to kids who ran the farthest, but they don't do that anymore. Nowadays, the entire world is the Special Olympics, and no one ever wins or loses. Some schools never even give failing grades.

***

A boy who is in the first grade for the second time this year told me, apropos of nothing, "I hate my life." When I asked him why, he said it was because his sister made him dress as a girl when he was one or two. He may be making the whole thing up (he's definitely a casual teller of tall tales), but any seven-year-old who says he hates his life definitely needs to see the counselor. So I'd better tell the counselor about it on Monday, I just realize.

***

I gave the kids treat bags with decorated pencils, stickers, candy, and a personalized note for each one. Mostly, it was easy to say something nice about them, either one of my trademark humorous bits of hyperbole ("You're the smartest kid in Smart City! Your name ought to be Genius Q. Brainiac!") or a genuine note of appreciation for one of their virtues. Some were harder. For Perezoso, I praised his artistic ability (he really is good at drawing, and loves comics). For Drooly, I noted her interest in all things zoological. Sassy was a tough one: neither sweet-natured, nor smart (or even passably clever), nor helpful in class. I finally put, rather lamely, "You're a good sister!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Intolerable

More drug nonsense at my mother's house. Father trying to work his computer when it's off, then not being able to find the power button. Falling asleep at a chair. Cooked spaghetti in the coffee maker and coffee grounds dumped down the sink. More spaghetti in the $75 electric water heater I bought him (so he wouldn't burn out any more pans trying to boil water for tea). Coffee urn lid in the sugar bowl. It's funny, in a sick sort of way. At these time I despise him for how selfish he's being.

Dinner with Epalg took my mind off horrible situation for an all-too-brief hour. Epalg looks like Veronica Lake and is a terrific, witty conversationalist.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wasn't the best of paths, you could attest to that, but I'm keeping on

Since Aunt will be out of town on Real Thanksgiving (she'll be in New Orleans, which I'm not sure is a great idea), she asked me and my parents to come have traditional Thanksgiving dinner at her house today. We had the works: smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, punkin pie, beans with almonds, stuffing and so on. It was a cibarious celebration.

I drove my parents up to Triviabar after that, where I stayed for a couple of rounds and we met Potato. Didn't stay long, though; it lasts nearly four hours due to the emcee's aggravatingly adagio reading and scoring style. I went home, back to my beloved Internet.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My virtue has proven itself unimpeachable

My day started on a sour note when my father felt the need to call me in the morning and berate me about my alleged poor behavior toward Potato's severely (physically and mentally) disabled son several days ago. My father said he was "appalled" at my lack of empathy and that it was "the kind of thing you'd get fired from a job for." This last was playing, of course, on the lengthy uncertain period I had when I didn't know if Prestigious would hire me or not --- hit the weak spots! I don't think I did anything inappropriate toward the poor kid, but I did marvel over how my father seems to have some need to lash out lately. He probably doesn't even consciously know how clever he was in his attack, using the old passive-aggressive "It's not a big deal" routine when I started to react to his allegations. It's win-win all the way when you say someone did something horrible, and then don't allow them to respond, saying it was really nothing, and what are they getting all upset about, anyway?

I come from a very psychologically dysfunctional family. This trifling irritation actually didn't ruin my day or anything, but clearly I needed to vent about it, seeing how much verbiage I just wasted on it.

Anyway so I did go to the cute artist's show in the afternoon, and had a devil of a time finding the damn place. I'm an unused to driving solo to this city's downtown area, and I'm terrible with directions, but I eventually got there. She showed me around her work. She does these sculptures in clay and glass, and they really are fantastic. I praised her work to the skies, saw a little bit of glassblowing (she was assisting), then left. I probably should have said goodbye or something, but she seemed busy and I was getting antsy.

I went to the dollar store to get kiddie treasures (colored pencils, stickers, etc) for going-away packages for the Ms. L's kids which I'll distribute on Tuesday.

In the evening, I went to Auric's solo acoustic show with Friar and Mr. Hangout (who was bored, and left, saying he'd had enough of Auric's music yesterday). We ran into Gunner there as well, of course --- she's a superfan. I also was accosted by two teachers from Brown, both of whom were quite drunk. One of them, the sixth-grade teacher, is as utterly in love with Auric as Gunner is. So after the show I introduced them to the great one himself. He's always ready for a picture and a handshake with fans, so I didn't actually do anything for them other than perhaps give them a bit more facetime and a more sincere smile from Auric, but they were gushingly grateful to me anyway.

I went home early; the Hangout was noisy and crowded.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Un bateau ivre

The posts lately have been rather desultory. Sorry about that, two or three readers! I just seem to be rather preoccupied with life itself lately, so blogging is getting the bare-bones summary treatment. Which is not to say anything interesting is going on my life; oh no, quite the contrary. Just that the days sort of blur together, and I haven't been in a recording and blogging mood lately.

A little bit inebriated now. All I can say is, thank goodness for automatic spell check, otherwise this would look like a chicken pecked it out. A drunk chicken. So anyhow after work went to Friar's house, then we walked to Sonar's house, where about a hundred people hung out, by invitation only, to sit in the studio for a live recording by Auric's band. That Tom Waits Nighthawks At the Diner ambiance. I believe the Beach Boys also did such a record, live in studio with a hand-picked studio crowd. Anyway, like that. I yelled out the obligatory request ("Freeeeeebiiiiird!!") but I'm sure they'll edit it out. Strait-laced bastards!

A bunch of old familiar friends were there: Palfrey, Friar's boss, 74 and his pregnant wife Zaftig, Gunner, and Skullfuck, to name a few. We listened to the rock, drank the free booze, and peed in the alley behind the studio several times. Okay, only I did that last one (I hate lines). An extremely cute girl gave me her phone number and asked me to come see her art show tomorrow. I was wearing a T-shirt she had designed, and she said, "It looks good on you." (Which seems, at best, a debatable point, but I let it slide.) She wrote her number on my hand. I'm so thick and naive, I have no idea if this is the normal type invitation from an artist or a hint at an attraction by a lady type. Also, I have low self-esteem. Have I mentioned that? Yes.

Been up twenty hours now. Rose tint my world, keep me save from trouble and pain.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Any Turkey Can Tango

I was at Brown over twelve hours today. The first grade did their song-and-dance Thanksgiving production at 7:00 p.m in the gym in front of hundreds of parents and well-wishers. (Drooly mentioned in an offhand way just before she went on, "My imaginary eighteen-year-old brother might come tonight." My, but that girl marches to a different trumpeter.) The show went off without a hitch, except for one poor girl who was terrified and completely froze, staring off into space with her little mouth stuck open in a shocked O while everyone else genstured and sung and spun. On the whole, I was proud of the little hooligans.

Big heads with soft bodies make for lousy lovers

Something probably happened at work today, but this evening I saw The Greatest Band On The Planet for the second time, so I can't remember anything except I'm pretty sure we partied and we departed from our bodies. Man, the Hold Steady almost killed me.

Anyway, it came on hot and soft and then it tightened up its tentacles. Words won't save my life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Les croquants, ça les attriste, ça

Tutoring after school today. A time to catch up on old work and to get some remedial review. Perezoso would rather say "I don't know" and "I forgot" four or five times in a row than just give the answer that he already full well knows. (I was intractable, and he finally gave in, answering with an alacrity that showed he knew all the time.) Why? What causes that kind of contrary attitude? I mean, I know school's boring, but surely it's more boring to sit there and say "I forgot" over and over? Huh, maybe not.

***

After work I took my father out to a trivia bar, at Friar's suggestion. Friar and 74 joined us there. It was "almost fun," as Friar put it. We didn't win, and none of us cares about that anyway. But that announcer is supremely annoying, with all his little phrases and stale routines (deliberate mispronunciations and so forth). It's kind of amusing, but quickly turns annoying again. Anyway, Friar was terrific to suggest giving my dad a night out --- "I'd over-medicate too if I had to live with your mother," Friar said, in reference to this.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Week Eleven, Last Observation

Week eleven! Five days this week, two days next week, and then five easy days the week after during which I'll observe other classes. And then this sumbitch is finally well and truly over.

Glad to be moving on (to my job! at Prestigious! thank God!), but I will miss the kids and the first-grade teachers. I should thank the deities of the aleatory for my great fortune, working with a team full of such camaraderie and good humor.

State School Sponsor came for the fourth and final observation today. I led the kids through another of my highly enjoyable PowerPoint presentations, this one on the verb endings -s, -ed, and -ing, as well as the possessive apostrophe-s ending. Then I distributed a worksheet of my own devising based on material covered in the PowerPoint to most of the class before taking the low-achieving readers to guided group reading of short phonics stories that featured the endings.

Sponsor gave me a generic letter of recommendation and told me I'd be getting an A for the class. I'd told her about the five-month contract at Prestigious, and she said I ought to apply for jobs in the fall just in case. She also repeated the old saw that public schools pay more than private; I didn't have the heart to tell her that in this case the pay's better on the other side. Still, though I hope Prestigious will just extend my contract, I'd better hedge bets and apply at public schools for the fall of '08.

Not much learning went on today for two reasons. (1) The Thanksgiving play is coming up, so every first-grader has been spending a lot of time lined up at the cafeteria stage's proscenium and taking turns mumbling or shouting lines and then breaking into song every so often. Busby Berkeley it's not, but it's cute. (2) A local university is doing some kind of experiment on the children while they play with computers. Brown Elementary is, without a doubt, being paid for providing the guinea pigs, given how the principal perseverated at the faculty to get the kids' permission slips in so everyone could participate. Anyway, it's an inconvenience, because the kids miss some learning, but Ms. L did appreciate the forty-five minutes they were out of her hands, in the computer lab, and being subjected to Narada knows what unspeakable Ludovico technique. Just kidding, it's just some dopey psychology test, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!--- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,---
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.

--- Wilfred Owen, 1917

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It seems that my problems are very deep

My father's more coherent today, but still acting slightly jittery.

My sleep was plagued with nightmares, due to last night's intense anxiety.

I dreamed I acquired some kind of wildcat or bobcat as a pet, which then killed a neighbor's kitten. I was worried what they'd do when they found out.

Also had a very disquieting dream in which I was being interviewed, again, by Prestigious, this time accompanying the staff on some kind of camping trip. We all drove somewhere in a van. Most of them were giving me the cold shoulder. Friar was there, too, for some reason, and I overheard someone telling him that my position wasn't, after all, a sure thing, which upset me further.

***

Norman Mailer died. I've never read any of his works, and his public persona was a bit coarse, but anyone who head-butted Gore Vidal can't be all bad.

***

I was supposed to have lunch with Maddening Angel today (it's been ages since I last saw her), but spent my afternoon instead driving my father around, as his accident yesterday has left him chary of driving at all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ulcers, misery

Pissed off and slightly scared. My alcoholic and drug-addict father took some painkiller or some other fucking drug and behaved by turns expansive, incoherent, narcoleptic and aggressive today. My mother was understandably aggrieved. I called a few people, including Potato, who is often his supplier. Potato swears he had nothing to do with this and agrees it's unacceptable; I believe him. Earlier today my father sideswiped a parked car. Or so he says; anyway, my parents' car has some bad damage on the passenger side. I've little doubt he was under the influence of whatever this is.

I've been through this dance before, but it still makes me sick. He's getting too old for this shit and so am I.

The thing that really makes me angry is that I had such a good day today. My life is finally starting to turn around and get better, and I have to deal with this negative, useless bullshit because my father is too damn weak to take life's vagaries like a man. It just brings me down, and yet I can't, of course, turn my back on him or my mother, either. They're getting old.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's nice to be wanted

I was laughing with the first-grade teachers today --- we're a very irreverent and silly bunch sometimes --- and it hit me that I'm really going to miss Brown Elementary and my team. One of them said she wished there could be four first-grade classes with me as the fourth teacher.

Ms. W told me that she was talking to the principal about something and mentioned my name, and he said, "Oh, he's really good. I want to help him find a job." Wow! (But how does he know whether I'm good? Does he eavesdrop from the hall?)

Three of the kids made me cards today. One had written "I love you Mr. C" (they can't spell my last name) and then on the back "Please don't leave Brown!" The gifted girl helped with the spelling. I was really touched. I'll miss the kids, too.

***

Hefty was reading a book about fish and called me over. He said excitedly, "Look, this fish is called a summa fish!" I looked at the text, and it said "Some fish eat plants." (He'd sounded out the word using short vowels and pronouncing the e.) I corrected him, inwardly rolling my eyes --- some was one of the vocabulary words this week. He looked downcast, as he always does at the slightest of critiques. Later that day he called me over again, the same book in his hand. He pointed and said excitedly, "This fish is called a wat-daw fish!" I read the next line of the text: "What do fish drink?" What and do are also vocabulary words.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An elliptical education

The first graders have language arts most of the morning. Many of the New! Hot! reading strategies passed down from on high (such as GLAD strategies and daily literacy centers) have been discarded, but we spend a lot of time on vowel sounds, blending, sight words and so forth. The kids will soon start learning about inflections, endings, and other basic grammar. Language arts takes more than half of their classroom time.

There's an all-too-brief recess, then lunch. The kids walk around outside after lunch, to get a little more cardiac exercise, then they go to specials.

Twice a week they go to music, twice a week to P.E., and one single block of 45 minutes per week is spent in art.

We spend about an hour on math, including calendar time, in which we tally days of school and the kids think up equations for the number day it is. A lot of math --- maybe too much --- is done on the overhead while the kids follow along on worksheets. There's too little manipulative experimentation, and for first graders, that's too bad.

Once a week they go to the library after math to hear a story and check out books.

Science is less than forty minutes long, at the end of the day, and it's a good week when we actually get to it four days out of five. Otherwise the kids just catch up on unfinished work, write in their journals, or hear a book. The science lessons are usually fun for the kids. For example, they loved making paper shapes balance using counterweights, and they enjoy growing plants --- but they don't really understand why they record observations in their science journals. There's just not enough time in the day devoted to the teaching of good scientific practice.

***

I read the kids a book today about three turkeys on a farm who get excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration and hold a series of contests to decide who will be the Thanksgiving turkey that year. In the middle of their striving, they overhear the farmer talking and realize just what will happen to the "winner."

At that point, I asked the kids for predictions for what would they turkeys would do now. The kids gave me all sorts of answers: they'd hide in the grass, they'd disguise themselves as other animals, they'd keep running right on out of the farm, etc.

One kid predicted the end accurately, and I gave him some attention. But then I said that everyone else's answers were just as important as his. I noted that their answers were imaginative and could easily have ended the story on a satisfying note. I told them I would like to see them write their one endings based on their ideas.

I do think it's important for kids to hear "no" and "wrong" when they have a wrong answer, instead of the more common damning with faint praise ("good try!"). But I also think that kids become better students when they understand that observing, predicting, using strategies and making reasonable inferences and predictions are all just as important as getting questions right.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A bad egg

Today I handed out worksheets on the short vowel u. The kids had to write the appropriate words under such pictures as mug, bug, sun and so forth. One of the pictures, to my amazement, was a gun. I thought all schools had a zero-tolerance policy for even a mention of firearms. I was pleasantly surprised when many of the kids asked me in bafflement what the picture of the gun was. I reluctantly told them.

***

One of our first-graders who gets free lunch tried to take a hard-boiled egg today. Things like eggs and box juice and ice cream and pickles are extras; they're not included in the $2.75 or so basic lunch price. Eggs cost an additional quarter. Well, he tried to sneak the egg out surreptitiously, and of course the hawk-eyed lunch lady at the register caught him, and he was so surprised and upset he dropped his tray and grapes rolled around everywhere.

Poor little welfare-fed guy. They can't treat him to a twenty-five cent egg? It's good healthy protein, for the love of Krishna. He's not in my class, but I may give him a dollar to get a side.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Week X: fewer than 20 days left

Today was a district-wide teacher in-service training day. I got to sleep an extra hour, and went to the Professional Development Center at 8:00. The first-grade teachers sat through a presentation on math instruction. Some of the information was pretty useful, like labeling the thinking strategies with the appropriate mathematical symbols and/or the numbers from the problem.

After that, our grade team went out to lunch with two of the second-grade teachers. Both of these women have a reputation for being unlikeable (they don't even like each other, which is why they tagged along with our group). They're nice enough in social settings, but I can see that I'm very lucky to be in first grade with Ms. L and the other two team teachers. I would really be chafing at the bit if I'd been stuck in second grade with some mopey, negative, prissy teacher who didn't give me the freedom to shine like Ms. L does.

Before going back to Brown, Ms. L and Ms. W and I went to a dollar store to get a few trinkets for classroom use. We got some megaphones which amused us for many hours, imagining all the possibilities ("Perezoso! Get to work!!").

Finally, we had a presentation back at Brown about integrating physical movement into classroom lessons over the course of the day, because of the obesity epidemic in America and this state, which boasts three of the top fattest cities in the country.

Children are so fat these days! Can't we make money off of that?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More mild meme madness

As usual, the Load Questions idea is from here.

Hypotheticals: If you could ask the president of the country one question, what would it be?
Just one? But I have so many. (For example: "Iran? Really?" Or "Why do so many of your pals and cronies need immunity if they haven't done anything wrong?" Or "Why the hell don't you resign, you coke-snorting, ignorant hypocrite?") But I guess I'd have to go with: "Why do you let corporations dictate public policy at the expense of the American people's welfare?"

Anything Goes: Fill in the blank: ______ stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
Your mom. Ha! Zing!

No-Brainers: What do you consider to be the most dangerous creature on Earth?
People, of course. They desecrate the sacred, ravage and despoil all that's good and healthy in their environment, and kill one another in large numbers for their own amusement. I'm much more worried about ignorant teenagers with guns than tigers or sharks or even toxic parasites.

Personals: What have you tried in life, and simply were not good at?
Getting along with certain people.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday, November 02, 2007

The road to nowhere

As I'd feared, there are indeed, without a doubt, rats or squirrels in my attic or walls. It's very disconcerting to hear scrabbling and gnawing coming from your bedroom wall about two inches from head level. I no longer feel the least bit bad about shooting those horrible little rodents. I wish I could shoot them through the walls.

***

This district's starting salary for a new teacher with a BA and no experience: $42,000 and change. Not bad at all for a beginner; the typical 24-year-old woman just out of school can live well on such a salary, whether single or married, kidless, and sharing two salaries.

The salary for the same teacher with a BA and 14 years of experience: $46,000 and change. So, basically, no recompense at all for experience. And if that teacher now has kids and is looking down the road to retirement, it doesn't seem so much at all. That lack of salary growth says a lot about how little the administration values professionals who are in it for the long haul. No future, no incentives. And yet the teachers are supposed to attend all kinds of professional development classes throughout their careers.

***

I saw David Lynch's Eraserhead with Epalg. It was, without a doubt, one of the least enjoyable movie experiences I've ever had. Nothing but visceral stimulus. I don't care at all about things that don't bother to have an emotional or intellectual resonance. Hell, I'll settle for a spiritual vision. But a drawn-out nightmare on film? It just doesn't have any impact on me, except boredom. I was rolling my eyes throughout the film, when I wasn't dozing off (hey, it was a midnight show, and I had been up since 6:00 a.m.). I mean, I like to look at Salvador Dali's paintings, but not for an hour and a half. Or maybe I just go into a film with different expectations and value judgments for what's acceptable than I do painting. And with good reason, I'd say.

So the film I enjoyed the least of all time? Probably. The worst film? That's a different and more subjective question, of course. I suppose you have to ask what Lynch was getting at. Did he want to depict an extended nightmare? That is, his aim seemed to be a series of visuals unconnected by logic or linear storytelling, and a discordant score, meant to shock or revolt the viewer. If so, mission accomplished. But I was bored.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good point

Me: What color were you on the behavior chart today, Manny?
Manny: Yellow.
Me: What are you going to do tomorrow?
Manny: Stay on green.
Me: Right, but how? What do you have to do?
Manny: Not choke people.

***

Me: Okay, you're writing about bees. What else can you say besides "I like bees"?
Perezoso: ....
Me: Well, how about writing what it looks like? "Bees are..."
Perezoso: Bees are... the shape... of insects.