Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hey hey babe, I got blood in my eyes for you

Day Four of Teacher Week.

We worked in our rooms some more.  Ms. Yule and I wrote out some lesson plans and thought up some challenge spelling words for kids who do well with the list in the book.

In K, we always led parent orientation during Teacher Week, but we don't do that in third (the parents should really know the school by now, and also, it's a scientific fact that parents get progressively less concerned about their children as they get older).  So we just worked in our rooms and went out to lunch.

The only thing that was interesting about today was that we had our safety lecture, and then watched, as I put it here, "the same unintentionally hilarious '80s video on first aid and blood-borne diseases that Prestigius has shown every year."  This was my sixth viewing of the camp classic.  Yo, HIV --- you talkin' to me?!

Sadly, I was not scheduled for CPR this year, so there were none of the shenanigans like the ones from this post.   Also, I missed the titillating cleavage talk on the dress code for new teachers.

Speaking of new teachers, my replacement in K graduated from high school in 2008.  Two thousand eight.  I feel like she ought to attend Prestigius, not teach here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Here's to the future for the dreams of youth

Third day of Teacher Week.

Today we continued to work in our rooms.  As with K, there is a lot of labeling of cubbies and folders and so forth.  But there's less of it, because in third, the kids have to buy a lot of their own school supplies.

Another difference is that in K, I was entirely self-contained and, while we all studied the same units, the teachers didn't necessarily run their classrooms the same way.  So, for example, most rooms had one or two jobs for the kids; I had six daily.  In this new team, apparently we're all intent on running things the same way (even though we don't always agree), so there are two jobs for the kids per week.  I'm the new guy and I need to understand the system better before I make waves, but I'm a big believer in having jobs for the kids (they teach responsibility, and the kids love doing them).  Maybe at some point in the future I'll be able to just go ahead and do it the way I think it ought to be done, and let the others do what they like.  Not this year, though.

At lunch, the faculty watched a presentation by a marketing and branding expert who had been brought in by Prestigius to measure what parents and alumni like about the school and what they want to see more of.  Apparently, a lot of them think of Prestigius as nurturing and flexible, and would like to see more academic rigidity and high standards.  But you know, people don't always know what they want or even what they have.  The school is academically strong; it may have a philosophy of nurturing and an explicit eschewing of standardized testing, but it's really got high standards.  A good percentage of the respondents characterized the school as "Montessori," which is wildly inaccurate, and shows you how deep the typical parents' understanding of pedagogical principles is.  (How can we be both Montessori-oriented and lax, anyway?  Montessori is nothing but repetition and rule-following.)

The marketing guru had some interesting things to say about how people take surveys.  For example, just because someone ranks a quality as lowest in importance, it doesn't mean that they objectively feel that way in general; they may be comparing the quality to other things they rank higher, but still value that quality for itself.  One of the traits that got lowest marks for importance was "tradition."  But if parents are sending their kids to Prestigius, they must value tradition to some extent.  So it's important to read opinion surveys correctly, and also to realize that some people aren't very good at knowing what it is they want.

That's got to be true; if you relied on surveys, you'd think parents wanted their kids to do homework all night long.  But if you ask them, they hate the idea of more homework.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Could we please be objective?

Second day of Teacher Week at my sixth full year at Prestigius.  Ha ha, remember when I was whining like a little bitch about not being liked here and maybe wunning away all mad?

And now is the time on Sapient Sutler when we introduce the new characters.

Ms. Yule - the other Language Arts teacher.  She is youngish and has big wide eyes.  (And I have mentioned before that "big wide eyes kill me."  But this is purely business.)  So far we have really hit it off well, laughing a lot and being pretty considerate of each others' ideas.  Which is good, because we have to work closely together.

Ms. Sanguine - a math teacher.  An older lady, dignified and rather a Sensitive Plant.  I appear to have offended her already with my irreverent remarks.  It was minor and we patched it up, but I hate having to walk on eggshells and watch my words around adults.  Hopefully she can try to shrug off my nonsense and we can meet somewhere in the middle.

Mr. Todd - the other math teacher.  An older guy, who is not terribly personable and has apparently bothered everyone with his refusal to socialize and his conservative views.

That's the team.  There are a lot of new faces at Prestigius but these are the main characters right now.  It's a team that's had a few bumps in the road; they're all relatively new to the school, and before I got there apparently had some issues with my predecessor, Ms. Short, who has been here longer than I and was rather controlling.

So we're trying to introduce some new themes and units as well as get a nice group cohesion going, which is healthier.  Sadly, though, there is no love lost between Ms. Sanguine and Mr. Todd; that will probably always be a relationship of frosty courtesy.

Say!  Maybe I'll be the one member who can talk freely with all the others!

Monday, August 12, 2013

I've never been here before, didn't know where to go

First back to work day.  A light breakfast was provided.

It's a new routine and a lot of uncertainty for me.  As I have mentioned, I am no longer teaching K, and am about to start teaching third grade.

And as I mentioned here, the journey leading up to the move was fraught with unnecessary convolution and inconsistent treatment of faculty.  I might as well give the broad outlines of that debacle now.

Two years ago, a position opened up in third.  I went to the Head and asked to be considered for it.  (Even at this earliest of stages, the grim specter of unequal treatment has raised its head, as some teachers are simply quietly moved to other positions they want, while others must go through an application and interview process as if they were new to the school.)  So I go through a mock lesson and interview with the third team.

I'm offered the job, but it is indirectly revealed to me that the pregnant Ms. Atrium, whom I would be replacing, is not necessarily leaving for good.  Instead, she and Ms. Short, her teaching partner, have announced that it would be good if she were allowed to return after taking a year off, and slip right back into her old position.

(And here the grim s. of u.e. again raises its head, as this goes against all previous school policy.  Indeed, my former K team member Ms. Kent was told in no uncertain terms that she would not be allowed to return to her old post after her own maternity leave; she would be given a substitute position.  Yet in this case, the Head was allowing Ms. Atrium to "hold" her place for an entire year.)

I ask to think about it given this new information, and after I sleep on it, I decline.  I don't think it would be good for me or students to have me shuttled around any more than necessary.  Also, a new position requires a learning curve; a teacher who does a year here and year there doesn't ever attain that casual familiarity with the material that lets him really shine.

My refusal to take the offer discombobulates the Head.  I return to K for another year.  I find out later that another employee had been assured that she would be taking over my room the following year.  Whoops.  She quits.

Ms. Atrium's position is filled from outside, with a nice young woman named Ms. Yule.

Last year, Ms. Atrium decides she's not returning after all, and is quitting for good to be a mommy.  Ms. Short moves to another grade, leaving yet another opening in third.

I approach the Head and indicate my interest in the spot.

I am made to "apply" a second time, with an interview with the team.  (Or admissions officer Max tells me he considers this highly insulting, and that if they respected me they would have come to me to offer me the spot.)  Still, I do the interview.  The interview is rather awkward due to the fact that I have been at Prestigius considerably longer than all of the rest of the team, and that I was given and turned down the spot that Ms. Yule currently holds.

I am offered the new position and accept.  I finish out my year in my role as beloved popular hero of K, and now await a new year as clueless new guy who doesn't know anything in third.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A House Is Not a Home

Quick rundown of the house situation that has caused me so much stress over the last four months.

  • Early spring: My landlord Irish Pete calls me up and asks if I have any interest in buying the house.  I reply in the affirmative.
  • Months pass in which no action of any kind is taken.
  • Late spring: I start seeing a lot of circulars from lawyers in the mail, addressed to Irish Pete.  After a few days, when one comes labelled as "or current occupant," I open it.  It is, like all the others, an advertisement for legal services because the house is scheduled to be foreclosed at the end of the month.  According to one flyer, he owes 157 large.
  • I call Irish Pete.  He admits he is in arrears and about to foreclose.  He was keeping this under wraps for some unknown reason.
  • I hire a real estate agent.
  • Irish Pete employs an agent who specializes in short sales and comes off as the sleaziest of used car salesmen.  This car salesman gets the foreclosure date postponed.
  • I start filling in paperwork to get pre-approved for a loan.
  • The bank Irish Pete owes to sends some appraisers around.  Irish Pete and the car salesman tell me to try to persuade the appraisers that the house is in far worse shape than it is (to claim the roof leaks, to pull the fuse to the AC and claim it's broken, etc), as well as a few other lies about Irish Pete's residency and so forth.  It's not clear what their motive is, unless their paramount goal is to avoid foreclosure and a sale to me at any cost.  In any case, the appraisers refuse to listen to anything I have to say about the house.
  • The foreclosure is postponed another month.
  • I start looking for other houses and have my agent put in a bid for 138.
  • More time passes with nothing happening.
  • Pete's bank finally replies that the offer is unacceptable and their offer is 190.  This seems to be outrageous to me.  I counter with 160.
  • This is rejected. The bank claims its final offer is 180.  I reluctantly agree; it's not more than the property is worth, perhaps, but it's more than I expected to pay at a short sale.  However, I also reason that me staying in one spot and not going through the stress of moving is worth a couple of thousand dollars to me.
  • The foreclosure is postponed another month.
  • A house inspector comes at my expense.  His report is filled with grim news, as mentioned earlier (carpenter ants, faulty heater, bad wiring, water damage).  I have five days after the inspector's report to decide whether I want to opt out.  I have my agent submit the most egregious faults to the bank and ask for them to cover it.
  • The weekend goes by.  Irish Pete replies through his agent that he is "waiting on a signature."
  • The car salesman replies finally that the bank insists the house is sold "as is" and no repairs will be covered at all.
  • I am not legally obligated to buy the house at 180.  There are ways to weasel out but they're not easy or exactly ethical.
  • I stop paying rent to Irish Pete on the grounds that he is not acting as a landlord any more but a seller (he is no longer fulfilling his agreement to provide upkeep for the house).
And there you have it.  My Summer of Dithering and Stressing Out and Not Being Able to Go On Vacation.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

As the chromium moon it sets

Work is approaching ever closer.  Can't waste these precious hours moping.  So I went out to meet Friar and his boss/co-worker C at C's fancy country club.  I had some sliders, even though I've been generally avoiding meat and specifically beef for a while now, because the food at C's club is free (for me) and quite good.  The servers are all very nice to use hangers-on and they pour a good Cuba Libre too.

Afterwards we went out to a newish club, the Reel.  It was started by Diamond, our country musician friend, and Owens, our slightly better known rock musician friend.  Owens played with his band, but C, Friar and I stayed outside the whole time, drinking and discussing the weighty question of whether, should one of us be thrust back in time, we could survive in a pre-Greco-Roman civilization long enough to impress anyone with our modern knowledge despite our dearth of practical skills.  Surely this is just the sort of elegant discourse that swelled the salons of ancien Paris.

So tired.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

What looks large from a distance close up ain't never that big

For mandatory summer reading, Prestigius assigned us a book about how to succeed through networking.  Not social networking or climbing the ladder, just forging relationships whenever possible, trying to stay in touch, joining community groups or hobby-based organizations, mentoring, etc.  It's good advice for everyone, not just salespeople, and especially for reclusive shut-ins like me.  So recently I've been trying to stay on that track.

Through Facebook, I got in back touch with one of my English cousins (and learned some rather depressing news about the state of ill health all my uncles across the pond seem to be in, but that's better than not knowing, right?).

I exchanged a few emails with Max, the ex-Admissions officer at Prestigius, who is now a headmaster at a smaller private school in one of those Midwestern states with a lot of vowels.  He seems to wear a lot of hats at that job.

I've talked to Hot Waitress T a few times on the phone; we made some tentative lunch plans, but due to us both being rather pressed as summer ended, we haven't made it yet.

I connected to Ms. N through the Career Social Network No One Uses For Anything, and she responded by calling me from Angeltown and we chatted for a while.

I got in touch with an old friend of the family who used to work in movies, and told her about my dad's death.

I texted a bit with Epalg, who is still in the Northeast working on, I believe, her doctoral dissertation.  I gave her my advice on doctoral dissertations: even a hint of encouraging eugenics programs is too much.

There's a fine line between "pathetic stalking" and "checking in once in a while to keep the relationship going," but I'm learning that, as in most things, it's better to err on the side of action than inaction.


Oh!  And remember I was on Quiz Show that one time?  This summer I drove my mother out to where they were holding Who's Smart Enough To Be On a Game Show tryouts.  We both passed the written test easily; I was rejected after the first round of interviews by a perky girl in a tiny micro-skirt, but my mother got a call back and is going to be on the show.  That's cool.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Never, ever, ever give up

Here and there on these pages I've shared my admiration for Ricky Gervais' two brilliant series, The Office and Extras.  Like a lot of fans, I sort of resented any dilution of my beloved shows.  So I never gave the U.S. version of the former even a try, thinking it wouldn't work and would just be awkward.  I never saw more than  a half episode or so here and there at other people's houses.

And in any case I'm always late to pop culture hits.  I watched the entire run of The Sopranos for the first time this summer, six years after its much-discussed finale.  So it was with my dive into the American Office.  I have begun to watch it, just eight years after it began.  Was it awkward and dull?

Well, the first season was.  It started as an interesting experiment, but ultimately, I think, a failure.  That deadpan, dry-as-dust, bipolar (self-deprecating-then-self-inflating) British humor doesn't flow as well with an American accent.  I think, for example, there couldn't be an American version of Fawlty Towers that made any sense.  The first seasons of Steve Carrell's Office was an imitation, a baby brother trying hard to imitate his successful big brother but not realizing those teenager's moves don't fit his frame.  And so the cringe-inducing woodenness of Michael Scott was just that --- cringe-inducing.  It was just too awful the way he put his foot in his mouth constantly and then give a frozen smile, like an autistic man who doesn't know how to take part in a conversation.  Awkward but not funny.

But, since I am a finisher (as I've also remarked several times on this blog), I plowed through it, and into the second season.  And I'm glad I did, because about the fifth show into the second season, it became much better.  The writers let their characters be people, not types.  They learned to like the characters and let them have triumphs as well as flaws.  It became a warm, witty show that I'm currently enjoying very much.  I do hear that the quality slips near the end of the show's run, but even if this level lasts for just four seasons, then that's a lot of high-quality material.

I do hope, however, the Pam-Jim thing is resolved earlier than the end of the show.  Romantic tension is sweet and heart-warming for maybe two or three seasons.  After that, I can't see there'd be any charm in it.  The British Office only lasted about twelve episodes and a sublime, unexpectedly tender Christmas finale; with its much longer run, the U.S. edition can (I hope) truncate some of its story-lines and move on to others before they get tired tropes.

Monday, August 05, 2013

I paced in agitation. I drew the curtains closed

No time to post today.

Must schedule the second appraisal guy, whom I must also pay for.  This in addition to the $1000 earnest money I've put down.

Must call the pest control people about possible return of rats in the attic.  Disgusting.  Why don't other people have these problems?

I'm resenting the bank for putting the price on this rather worn-out house higher than it would be on the market because I'm living here and they know it's convenient to me.  Am also resenting myself for not calling their bluff and moving out.

Must write some book reactions for work and write greeting postcards to my new students.  You know, "Can't wait to see you in school, you're my favorite student ever, the day school satrts will be unquestionable the happiest day of my life, hope your summer was good, say hi to your mom for me, she's hot."  The typical stuff.

This is the last week of freedom.  Sweet, sweet, wasted freedom.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

With a card up his sleeve, what would he achieve?

Well, it's my mother's birthday week, as noted earlier, and I took her out to dinner twice.  Today we would have gone to her beloved bar trivia outing, but without Potato, my father's old drunk friend, being present (he's off on a drunk), she feared we didn't have a chance of winning.  Neither one of us knows anything about sports.  The Friar was willing to come along, but by that time, she'd decided she was happy not going.

I certainly was.  I only ever go to that trivia event for my mother's sake.  It's long and crowded and uncomfortable, and the endless waiting between rounds is utterly boring.  Also, all the teams cheat on their smart phones these days.  Back in the days before everyone had the world's aggregate of information at their fingertips (literally), my mother used to win trivia contests with monotonous regularity.  Now, not so much, and it's less fun.

So instead Friar and I went to the Hangout for a while, and met up with Sonar (who is now, in addition to being a musician, a part-time real estate agent).  Hard to believe Sonar's kid is in the double-digit age range now.  I remember when he was born, and when he started at Prestigius.   It seems pretty recent to me, heaven help me.  Every year you get older, time flies by faster.

And here's me with nothing to show for all that accumulated time.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Rules For Reading

Crap, I'm already running out of material.  Time for a meme.

Here's a meme that Electronic Cerebrectomy just did.

The Rules For Reading

1. Always stop at the end of a chapter. Always.

That's absurd.  I'll stop wherever I feel like.  If I need to, when I pick the book back up again I'll reread the last few pages to catch up.  Sometimes chapter breaks aren't even natural stopping points; I've seen chapter breaks in the middle of conversations.  Why would you stop there and not later on the chapter when the scene is actually over?

2. Use specific bookmarks.

Here's some wisdom from an old reader: bookmarks are a scam.  They're expensive, tiny posters that serve no special purpose that a blank piece of paper, a paper towel, or an envelope doesn't serve.  I for one am taking a stand against Big Bookmark and its vise-like hold on our reading habits.

Seriously, though, a while ago I learned to use a blank piece of paper, folded.  Why?  To make notes while reading.  Obviously, entertainment reading like crime capers and the like doesn't typically need notes, but I also read a lot of non-fiction and classic works, and it helps me a lot to write down (for example) any strong reactions I might have to an author's argument in the case of non-fiction, or the page number where a character was introduced or did something that may come into play later on, in the case of an epic novel with lots of characters and subplots.

2a. No dog-earing, bending, or folding of pages.

I'll dog-ear what I feel like.  Who made you Tsar of Book Handling?

2b. Weirdly enough, spine-breaking is fine, just don’t get too crazy with it.

I hate to see a poor book with its spine broken.  Not only does it look bad on a shelf to see those worn, white creases in a book's spine, but it detracts from the reading experience when a book keeps flopping open to its broken section.

3. Always read two books at once.

Always?  Why?  I mean, I read three or four books at once, typically, but what's wrong with just reading and concentrating on one?  Seriously, these are really weird, arbitrary commandments.

4. No (or minimal) writing in books. 

I don't mind a little writing in the margins (though it is better, as stated above, to use a piece of paper which also serves as a place marker), but excessive writing is bothersome.  You know what will make me decide not to buy a used copy of a book?  Highlighting.  I can't stand that shit.  Distracting.

5. Rereads must be earned because there are too many great books out there to read an okay one twice.

That's pretty arrogant.  Maybe someone just enjoys a book.  It doesn't have to be one of the all-time greats.  Maybe that book's particular message just resonates strongly with that reader.  There are more books being printed this year alone than you could read in a lifetime, so it's absurd to argue that you should reread sparingly in some misguided attempt to raise your number of books finished.

This meme is beginning to feel more and more like some arrogant martinet is just throwing out random crap as "rules" with no particular weight.

6. Not finishing a book is OK.

I know it is, but I finish what I start.  Movies too.  You go ahead and stop reading if you don't like it.  Me, if I invested more than a few pages to it, I'm going to see it through.  But at this point I'm pretty good at starting only books I'm going to like.  When a book is forced upon me, as in work reading, well, that's where it gets a little masochistic, I suppose.  But I'mma finish that sucker.  Just so I can say I did.  Yep.  Me and Edmund Hillary: finishers.

7. It is always better to take more books on a trip than you think you'll possibly have time to read.

That depends on whether you'll be lugging them around.  That's where a tablet comes in; you can carry a thousand books in one slim electronic package.

8. Having a favorite genre is fine. Getting stuck in that genre is bad.


9. Reading on a tablet is still reading.

Of course it is.  Anyone who has strong opinions about this one way or another is way too highly strung.  Reading words is reading.  Why would you even bother to defend that truism?

I'll tell you, though, I listen to a lot of audio books.  I count those as having been "read" by me, as well, but actually, I have my doubts.  Suppose the book is a Shakespeare play.  Suppose you listen to it on audio.  Have you "read" the play?  What if you see it on stage?  Should you count every viewing of a play as having "read" the work?

You see the kind of world-shaking metaphysical musings I engage in.  Once a philosophy student, always a droning bore.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Beast in its tracks

Hung out with 74; Zaftig is out of town with the kids, so we saw the new Wolverine movie and then got some apps and drinks.

I enjoy those laid-back evenings.  I'm old now, and I have a little money and enjoy trying out new cocktails in a quiet bar where you can sit and eat.  I still hang out with Friar pretty often, but it's drag that now, twenty years later, his idea of fun is still going to the same old dive to drink well liquor at a rapid pace for five hours, with occasional smoke breaks, at a bar known for its frat-boy clientele.  I have no interest in that, and it's sort of a sore point between us if he texts me to see if I'll meet him at the Hangout, and I demur.  It's hard for him not to take my reluctance as a condemnation of his choices --- which, in a sense, they are.  We're past forty.  Tossing back endless double-tall whiskeys amidst douchebag college kids trying to pick each other up... well, at this pint the novelty of it has gotten a bit worn, hasn't it?

Anyway, "The Wolverine" was a pretty good action film.  Probably pretty chaotic and confusing for normals --- they need a sign such as the ones outside carnival rides, but saying "You must have read or watched this much X-Men to enjoy this movie."  For the nerdscenti, however, it was a solid self-contained adventure.  I was surprised by a few of the director's choices, though.
  • Using Hugh Jackman to play Wolverine for the scenes set in the present and Peter Dinklage playing him in flashbacks was visually arresting at first, but ultimately baffling.
  • The scene where Wolverine romances Mariko on the beach by playing a ukelele and singing Syd Barrett's "Wolf Pack" in a tremulous falsetto sort of cost him badass points.
  • Constantly saying, "Ignorance of the claw is no excuse!" just before he pops his claws out and then stabs someone is corny.
  • I realize they need to reel the ladies in as well as the geek guys, but Wolverine doesn't wear a banana hammock!  I don't care how warm it is.
  • The scenes set in WWII were action-packed and showed that Wolverine ages very slowly, but I don't they ever explained how the Reverse Anti-Hitler lived through Wolverine''s assassination attempt.
  • Wolverine doesn't need a side-kick at all, let alone the character "Li'l Wolfie" who is far too cutesey.  His spring-loaded claws looked like barbecue forks.
  • Why on earth did they let Patrick Stewart sing his lines in his cameo appearance?  That was just jarring. 
  • Was the scene where Mariko shaves Wolverine's back supposed to be erotic? It was just creepy.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Stay in one place, someday everything will come our way

So as noted yesterday, I'm in the process of maybe kinda sorta buying the house I've been renting.

A house inspector came today, at my expense.  He was extremely thorough; he stayed about five and a half hours.  I knew there was some wear and tear on this place, since I've been here five years and there haven't been any repairs to speak of.  I knew there was some foundation settling and cracks.  I knew that the bathroom had some grout that needed replacing and some slow leaks that needed attending to.  I knew there were problems with the insulation and some old wiring.

I did not know that there was a colony of carpenter ants in the walls of one corner of the house.

I had no idea that the gas furnace leaked carbon monoxide.  That's pretty important to know.

So we're hoping to get the seller to lower the price in the face of these new facts.  My landlord is technically the seller, but it's a short sale because it's up for foreclosure and his bank is handling the sale, so I'm not entirely sure whose decision this would be.  Apparently the seller, whoever it might be, is within rights to refuse to acknowledge any financial responsibility to fix anything.  But it can't hurt to ask.

And I have to pay for another appraiser, who will be sent by the mortgage company I'm borrowing from.  Apparently if they find the house isn't worth the settled price, they won't leand me the asking price, but only the new lower value.

I hate finances and selling and buying.  Why doesn't someone do something about how ignorant of practical matters and apathetic I am?