Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Introspection: Epictetus was right

Get over it and get a new lamp, I mean to say.

Despite my happy-go-lucky facade, I'm generally a pretty pessimistic person. I have a pretty poor life compared to the people I know. Still, it's nice to know that I'm at least a bit more sanguine about the future than I was this time last year.

And, really, it's an insult to millions of stoic souls across the globe to say that I have a poor life. Sure, I've been unlucky in a lot of things. I'll almost certainly never be a father, to my regret. I've taken a lot of denigration and contempt from my peers all my life for reasons beyond my control. But I have enough to eat, I can afford to go to a movie or buy a used CD once in a while, and I have parents and a friend or two who love me. And I've never suffered the horror and agony of a loved one being taken from me, praise God.

I get so revolted and sick and scared for the future when I read the news. I always have, even as a kid. Violent crime against human beings and animals fills me with horror. People being beaten and stabbed and shot for nothing. Like the recent story about the Minneapolis nanny who answered an ad for a job and was shot in the back 'for fun" by some 19-year-old piece of human shit. Or the Australian woman with the toddler's body in a suitcase. We don't need to share our limited resources with people like that. They don't deserve "rehabilitation." Kill them all, these vicious monsters. Just feed them to the dogs or something. Fill dishonored and cursed and fallow land with the stinking offal of their putrid corpses.

Lord, how I hate humanity sometimes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the land of the blind...

...The guy who can make a PowerPoint presentation is king.

So I had my third (and penultimate, it turns out) observation by my State School Sponsor this morning. (Previous sessions are here and here.) For the third time, she was mightily impressed and effusive in her praise. That PowerPoint presentation I made on reading strategies (mentioned briefly here), which to me was not much work and turned out only fairly okay, garnered rave reviews. She told me I ought to market it, that the industry is crying out for people who are creative and can make tools for other teachers to use. She even said she'd call a few people and see if anyone was interested.

Now, I know that I won't actually market it, and that probably nobody really cares about some silly electronic slideshow that a student teacher made. But it does underscore the dearth of creativity and industry in the teaching profession. Mandatory state testing and the constant influx of New! Big Idea! fads from administration and district higher-ups are partly to blame, as I've written here before; they choke the creative impulse out of teachers. But as I've also said before, many elementary teachers --- while creative in their way --- aren't broadly educated nor accustomed to noetic pursuits, and are only too happy to travel the most comfortable and well-worn of methodological paths. So a guy with a lifetime of writing and creating under his belt, plus a lot more free time than the average teacher, can really shine in such an environment.

In any case, what with all the glowing observation sessions, my Sponsor is getting to be a big booster of ol' Chance, and I'm sure she'd try hard to help me land a job. I almost feel bad that I'm starting at Prestigious in January. Then I remember how Prestigious has more to offer, both for the pocketbook and for the soul, than any ISD in the state, and I feel better.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Week Nine: the return of the revenge of the son of Student Teaching

Meet a few of the first graders:

Perezoso, the incalculably lazy Hispanic boy who will not do a single goddamn thing unless you hover over him every second. He must be threatened with the loss of recess before he'll finish one single task, usually by the time nearly every other kid has done four or five tasks. When reminded of work he needs to do, he'll say, "I forgot," or "Ohhhhhh" in a wondering tone, as if it had never occurred to him before. We cannot find a carrot or a stick big enough to get this kid to move on his own. It's like pulling teeth.

Drooly, the Asian girl who's fairly smart, but clumsy, sloppy, and messy. She has some kind of hip problem, some kind of eye problem, and some kind of attention problem. Her desk is always littered with paper and folders. Every time she bends over to pick up something off the floor (which she does only when instructed, and even then rarely), she invariably knocks something else to the floor.

Sassy, a not-so-bright little blonde girl whose mother is a pull-out teacher. She's annoyingly rude at times, and seems to believe that acting like that is cute. It isn't. her mother has come in to the room three times to talk with Ms. L about her daughter's interactions with another girl, who's much better behaved. Sassy's mother is convinced, of course, that it's this other girl's fault. "Sassy says this girl is always bothering her, and that's why her behavior sticker is on yellow every day." Uh-huh. That's why your kid is always sitting next to the other girl and talking to her, right? Nice job being played by your own seven-year-old, lady.

Lecti, a gifted Asian girl. Like another impressively intelligent girl I worked with (the old Job's Boss' daughter), she is usually pretty neat to have around. But she has a low emotional maturity and can be clingy. Also --- and I'm sure this is a common problem with kids so smart and so unused to mental challenge --- when faced with something she can't do easily, such as the time the kids made a paper shape balance on a pencil point by adding weights, she whines and gives up.

Hefty, a very large, football-playing boy. He's got a sweet nature, but he tries to rush through his work and gets frustrated when I send it back. Today he blew through his nostrils, like a bull, while I was giving him strategies for improving his writing. I can only imagine what a lost cause he may turn out to be when he hits puberty, is enormously strong, and people are telling him he may have a future in football. Unless he respects his teachers, they'll be in for a world of eye-rolling and ignoring.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not feeling up to it now

Talk about a low-key weekend.

Here are the first lines to fourteen songs taken at random from my vast collection and spaced as if to form an illiterate's idea of a surreal sonnet.

Here we are in New South Wales, shearing sheep as big as whales.
I'm an American, boys, I come a long way; I was born and bred in the U.S.A.
There's a world outside, and I know 'cause I've heard talk.
When the rain is blowing in your face and the whole world is on your case, I could offer you a warm embrace.

Old John Robertson, he wore a Stetson hat.
Workin' late, about half-past eight.
When I come into Portland town, there was little Miss Grady to show me around.
There has been a spacecraft sighted, flying high above the sky.

You, you never looked so good, sipping life down like I wish I could.
They used to call it Sin City, now it's gone way past that.
The news is out all over town that you've been seen out running 'round.
Now this could only happen to a guy like me.

And it comes in waves; I just keep telling myself things are bound to change.
Everyone's trying to decide where to go when there's no place to hide.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

It's as good as 'Watchmen'

Friday, October 26, 2007

An old-timer grouses

Everything's too politically correct these days. We can't have ghosts or jack-o-lanterns or anything fun for Halloween at Brown Elementary. We can't even man the fuck up and admit what we're doing; we just pretend mainstream culture doesn't exist. The kids were painting paper pumpkins, and one girl asked if next week they could draw faces on the pumpkins for Halloween. The teacher didn't say, "No, because we're terrified that recognizing that American culture includes such festivities as Halloween might offend a Muslim or a Jehovah's Witness who nevertheless lives in America and is steeped in our culture." Instead she dodged the question with a non-committal question: "Would you like to do that someday?" And then she smiled and carried on, neither admitting or denying the possibility of such a thing ever happening.


Friday was a day where all the kids seemed to find it necessary to tell Ms. L and I every single thing they did. They were constantly out of their seats showing us completed work, telling us anecdotes, and so on. I mean, it's nice they were doing the work, but they ought to know at this point that they should just turn it in and begin the next assignment.

One girl asked me if she could get a drink of water. I said sure, and she left. A few minutes later, I was crouched down helping another kid, so when she came in, she didn't see me. She asked Ms. L where I was, and then approached me. "I ended up going to the bathroom," she said.

"Okaaaay," I said, and kept helping the other kid.

A few minutes later she was back again. "Remember when I said I went to the bathroom?" she said. "Really, I only tried. I didn't actually go."

Gee, thanks for the updates. I'll be sure to stay tuned for further fascinating bathroom-related developments.

Speaking of which, another girl told me that the girls stand on top of the toilets and talk over the tops of the stalls while they're in there. Why on earth would they do that? Reminded me of this funny anecdote over at Learn Me Good, though.


Oh, almost forgot: a sub tried to set me up with her daughter today. Even showed me her picture. Pretty cute, too. But the sub was shocked when she found out how incredibly old I am (I look like I'm barely into my 20s). She might have still pimped out her daughter on me if I'd pushed it, but I'm not much of a dater, and on her part she did say that a 36-year-old guy like me was maybe a bit too worldly for a 25-year-old girl.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's nothing but laffs at Brown Elementary

I taught a lot of stuff. A boy asked me when numbers were invented. Another boy asked me when plants were invented.

After school, there was a faculty meeting, which I went to despite not being a member of the faculty. It was about Reader's Theater, which is one of those rare things --- an idea the higher-ups push to promote fluency that is actually enjoyable and effective. I've written a couple of scripts for classes at State School. To introduce the idea of reading with expression, a teacher read a story narrated by one of Cinderella's step-sisters in a terrifically funny, grating, Estelle Costanza/Edith Bunker voice. Later, we read a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in different voices (an old improv theater trick). I did a few of Juliet's lines in a pirate voice that went over well.

After that, I helped Ms. L and Ms. W set up for Math Night, which is when parents and their kids come after PTA and explore all the different games and strategies the teachers are supposed to be using to teach math. I didn't go to either the PTA meeting or Math Night (which started at 7:00 p.m). Perhaps I should have, if only for meet-and-greet practice. But after nine hours of unpaid work, I'm tired and have no interest in sticking around. Maybe I would have gone if I didn't start working at Prestigious in January.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Among other things

I read the morning message and used it to touch on a few grammar points, reviewed some words on the Word Wall (the kids pointed them out using an amusing pointer with a hand at the end), and practiced doing phonemic awareness (I asked riddles like "this is something you drink hot beverages from" and the kids had to answer with segmented phonemes, as in /k/u/p).

I did the calendar and the Target the Question math strategy exercise on the overhead (which is turning into my favorite time of day).

I led a lesson on place value. First the kids "caught" flies with numbers printed on them, according to numbers and columns I dictated (such as "forty-two, tens place," which would indicate that the kid should catch the fly with the 4 on it). Then we worked with some manipulatives --- paper one-squares and ten-rods --- and made numbers with them, then investigated rudimentary adding by place value.

I came home, took a nap, and walked Dog.

I finished the PowerPoint presentation I made on reading strategies. My third (and final?) observation by State school Sponsor is in a week, and we're supposed to use "available technology." Since at Brown that means dry-erase markers on whiteboard, a PowerPoint will be new to the kids. Hopefully I can get the damn thing to work. Otherwise, it's back to handouts and boring old me talking to the kids as they fiddle with their shoelaces or pick up tiny bits of lint off the floor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Let's get loaded

Because I have a short attention span and it gets tiresome talking about my generally unvarying daily schedule, here's a very short list of questions.

Originally here, and what a great idea it is.

Hypotheticals: If you could bathe in a vat of any drink or food item, what would you choose?
This is not my thing at all. I've never been turned on by foodstuffs as an intimacy in the bedroom, and I certainly don't want to bathe in any comestible. Whatever it was would probably become revolting to me afterward. That said, it might be kind of fun to see what a bathtub of Jello felt like. And now I'm imagining a tub full of chocolate shake. Brr, too cold.

Anything Goes: What world-changing event would you like to take credit for?
I'd like to be able to say I brought peace to the world's religions (which will never happen), or ended cancer (which might). Or ridding the world of rats --- there's got to be some kind of medal for doing that. If the event is limited to something that has actually happened, I'd be proud to take credit for inventing the Internet, as flawed as it is.

No-Brainers: What song do you keep hearing over and over again?
I'd say that the song that occurs to me spontaneously the most is Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." But their name is legion, really. Lehrer's "Elements," Costello's "Oliver's Army," Cave's "Red Right Hand," Waits' "Singapore," Traveling Wilburys' "Handle Me With Care," Echo and the Bunnymen's "Killing Moon," the Smiths' "There is a Light,"etc etc etc.

Personals: What are you most proud of?
My predilection for educating myself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Week Eight

Poor Ms. S in the next first grade room. Her husband had a heart attack so she's out all week. I hope he's okay. That class had a substitute who was just terrible: came in late, left early, didn't study the lesson plan, shouted a lot, complained the kids were rowdy, talked on the phone during class hours. She's been a "professional" teacher for a lot of years, and I probably could have done a better job than her ten years ago. I'm all for paying teachers twice as much, but only if all the incompetent ones are fired first.

We also had an anti-drug rally for K-3 in the afternoon. It was seriously the most retarded thing I've ever seen in my life. Six high schoolers with puppets that lip-synched to a CD with songs and dialogue. Hard to hear, and mostly drowned out in any case by the kids screaming and laughing at the puppets' wacky antics. Way to drive that message home, Drug Free Party Kids!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?

Yesterday was the benefit/tribute concert for my musician acquaintance who was killed a month or so back. Sonar played, and so did Auric's band. Gunner was there, selling shirts along with her brother; and AL was there; and the Friar helped produce the show; and Anacreon and his wife were there; and a whole lot of regulars from the Hangout. The concert had the atmosphere of a wake: some celebrating, and some grieving. Between sets, there were photo slide shows accompanied by voice-over remembrances by friends and family of the deceased. I think I can say without hyperbole that he was the most beloved musician in the city. I didn't know him that well, and I doubt he considered me more than a friend of a friend, but it's nevertheless troubling to think that I will never again see him at the Hangout, strike a pose, and sing in a comically sonorous voice a favorite line from one of his songs.

Anyway. That kind of thing gets me down, not only because he's dead and people are sad, but because it reminds me, stark and clear, that life is short, and I really have nothing to show for it. Above all a significant romantic relationship. And despite myself, that troubles me. Yes, I was wallowing in self-pity at a popular man's funeral.

We all ended up at the Hangout, of course, and stayed until 3:00 a.m. I'm trying not to be antisocial and off-putting, but I'm guarded by nature, and honestly aggrieved by crowds and people leaning into me and asking me questions. Yes, even when it's an attractive woman. Lady, stop touching me and give me some space. I realize that makes me a bit of a freak. I ought to be more of an accommodating, easy-going feller. Old habits are hard to break.

This morning I cleaned the house and did a lot of yard work. I cleared out the alley behind the house where I'd heard scrabbling and gnawing noises the night before. I lugged brush and bricks and swept off the porch. I tried to dig up a stump with a shovel and even an ax, but it was like trying to cut a thick iron pole in two feet of concrete. So I just put a little fence around it so no one would trip over it.

Caterpillars are very numerous this year. Their nasty web-like nests have infiltrated nearly every tree. I saw a lot of large lizards scurrying around the walls of the house, perhaps in a response to the number of bugs. I also saw a lot of hawks soaring around, which is strange --- why were they circling in a group like that? A dead game animal in the suburbs?

The Dog treed a couple of squirrels in the yard, so I shot one. I feel slightly bad about killing mammals, but they really are pests.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday cartoons: Ethel & Ernest

by Raymond Briggs

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pas de lauriers pour les tueurs

A black first grader was coloring a worksheet with people on it and I noticed he was coloring them all with the pale color. I said, "Where are the brown people?" He replied, "I like peachy tan."

A substitute told us today that she had taught a kid who later killed a man over a drug deal. We've got a kid whose future almost certainly includes jail time --- the one who did unspeakable things in the bathroom and had to be escorted by me to the nurse's office to go to the bathroom for a while. He's invited other children to allow him to "stick my pee-pee in your butt," and has announced that he had a bomb in his backpack. Charming first grader, eh?

After work I went out to dinner with Epalg at a cheap but very good Middle Eastern place. She was willing to do more stuff, but (a) I was exhausted from my long days and little sleep all week and (b) I felt guilty about leaving Dog all day and then all evening. So I went home and went to sleep.

I think there may be rats or squirrels crawling inside my wall.

Still digging the new religion.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where are you now my fingerprints?

We had another substitute today. I again did nearly everything: morning community circle ("tell us a story about plants"), intervention reading groups, spelling test, deskwork, calendar, "target the question" math strategies, a math lesson on estimating and tens based on how many pockets are in the class, etc.

I left early to get fingerprinted for my certification. This is around the twelfth time I've undergone a fingerprint and background check in my life, no joke. I had never done electronic fingerprinting before, though. It was interesting and efficient and less messy. The lady who did it said that experts can tell what race you are by your fingerprints.

She also said I look like Christopher "Superman" Reeve. I have also been told, in the past, that I resemble Toby Maguire (another superhero!) and Tony Curtis. All of these alleged resemblances are false, however, as I actually look like a silly little dork.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ants! Ants!

The first-grade classrooms at Brown were invaded by ants overnight. The entire perimeter of Ms. L's room, across the adjoining doorway and down along the wall out the door of the next classroom, fire ants marched in an unbroken line. It caused a bit of a stir, but after a while the kids got used to it. Some district employees came by to put ant bait out.

When I got home, I moved Dog's doghouse for the first time in months and months, only to find that underneath it was a nest of ants more populous than I have ever seen. They swarmed over the doghouse when I tipped it (and it's a big doghouse), swarmed around the dead patch where it had been, and swarmed across the lawn in the millions. It was an immense pile of ants. Gee, no wonder she never went in the doghouse.

I for one welcome our new, etc.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I am not a very good student teacher

Schools all over the district are doing benchmark testing, which means grades K-2 are currently The Kids The Principal Doesn't Want To Hear Or See. The first and second grades went to the local high school to see a student play about an exiled fairy. It was not, as one might fear, horribly excruciating; the actors were all pretty good. And the little kids loved the glittering costumes and the light show. (But I'm not sure what else they got out of it. After the first act, the boy next to me leaned toward me and whispered, "Will there be another play?" Another teacher told me that one of her kids asked when the food was coming. Did he think he was in a restaurant?)

I left Brown early to go to State School for a mandatory group meeting with our sponsor. I was very impressed with some of my fellow teachers. One was working in a Title I school; she and a couple of others had terrible stories of child abuse and poverty. they have to deal with angry and inebriated parents, CPS referrals, parents selling their own kids' medicines for drug money, and so on. And apparently some schools send kids home over the weekend with food in a backpack because they can't afford to eat. I think this is a necessary charity, of course --- a society should be judged on how its treats its poorest citizens --- but it's interesting, and a bit disturbing, to realize that it's public school that has become this machine that does such things. It seems as if everything would run a little more smoothly if schooling and welfare were separate entities --- but I suppose they're inexorably intertwined.

My colleagues also all toted vast, thick binders full of lesson plans, schedules, and handouts that they'd saved. I hadn't saved anything. Some of them were on several school committees. I never dreamed of joining even one school committee.

So I got to thinking that, while I am a fairly enthusiastic and well-liked student teacher, my colleagues are making me look like a cynical slug. They're all fired up and happy and adored by their kids. And some of them have clearly found their One True Calling (like the Title I teacher and an ESL teacher, who talked of their jobs with the same rapt, born-again fervor of evangelicals). I like teaching and I know it's what I want to do, but just hearing these people who have embraced the world of teaching far more than I are making me second-guess myself.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Week Seven: It's a hard knock life

Teachers routinely work ten-hour days. A kindergartener teacher told me he was sometimes at school from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Ms. L is nearly always at school past 5:00. Now, I don't know if they're going about their jobs in an inefficient manner, or what, but I'm impressed anyway. Who else regularly works such long hours with little recompense? Bartenders?

The teachers also spend a lot of money on supplies out of their own pockets: photographs, extra lamination (at Brown, the laminating machine is only available once a week, and only the Gorgons in the supply room can use it on pain of being screeched at), print cartridges, and so on. There is a supply stipend, but it's never enough.

An elementary teacher shouldn't have to be in charge of twenty to thirty children without so much as a teacher's aide in the room. Considering the wide gap in achievement levels, this can be a logistical nightmare. (Happily for us, a student in Ms. L's class withdrew today, leaving her with a mere and very unusual sixteen first graders.)

The teachers at Brown are all required to do tutoring one or two days a week, on top of everything else they need to plan, coordinate, and set up. The tutoring sessions are vital, however; most kids could use a lot more one-on-one instruction time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

There was a band playing somewhere off-screen

A boy and a girl met for a late movie. They were both fairly damaged goods. The girl talked about her sister, who was in a mental ward and constantly on medication. The boy told about his cousin who had tried to kill her own mother. Madness ran in both their families, and they were both rather socially inept.

The movie --- a quirky indie flick about familiar relations, leavened with slapstick --- was pretty good. The Texas air in October, nearing midnight, had a slight chill. They walked together around the modern, hipster shopping district near the theater for a bit. Then they went for a drink at a nearby bar where three members of the staff stopped by to greet (or hug hello, depending on gender) the boy. The boy was well-liked at the bar. The boy and girl talked with each other easily on a variety of topics, and found each other funny. The boy tried, and failed in his socially stunted, shy way to ask the girl if she wanted to go on an actual date instead of this ambiguous hanging out. The girl gave a mysterious, non-committal response that indicated neither the presence nor the lack of interest.

The boy went home feeling as if a connection had been missed, but decided that a lack of response was equivalent to a negative one. But then as he lay in bed, he received the first in a string of text messages from the girl. She wrote that she was sorry for not being more enthusiastic, and that she did have fun with him.

The boy was confused, but he supposed the girl was, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saturday cartoons: 1602

by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert

Friday, October 12, 2007

Me Teach Good One Day

Today, Ms. L was absent --- she had a personal day planned long in advance, so it wasn't a surprise or anything. We had a substitute (who, is turned out, was no more certified than I am; she must be doing one of those alternate certification programs where you teach while taking classes). She got paid for the day while I did pretty much everything: the community circle, where I chose the topic of discussion; bathroom breaks; seatwork and projects; the math lesson (calendar, thinking strategies practice, and a benchmark review overhead); and so on. Not that I'm complaining (except the part about not getting paid); I wanted to do all the lessons.

We also had an assembly where the principal handed out Good Behavior awards to the students. Ms. L and I had picked the two from our class who won certificates.

I asked the sub to do the social studies lesson. She read a book about Columbus, after which the kids finished sentences about him, and then cut out and glued three ships on blue construction paper. I would have done that, too, but I figured she would have been bored if she did nothing all day.

During the tail end of that last lesson, I went over to the other first grade teacher's room because she left early. I read a story and did a number guessing game with her kids before it was time to herd them outside to be picked up.

I stopped by The Old Job to write a thank-you note to any and all parents who had given Prestigious recommendations. The woman in my former room had rearranged things a lot, probably for the better. (During my time there, I lacked the psychic strength to clear away the mountain of debris that the pack-ratting Boss kept around.) I said hi to Epalg and the few other teachers I remembered who were still around. Then I came home and had a two-hour nap; I must have been exhausted. After I woke up, I talked to Epalg on the phone for half an hour and made plans for tomorrow.

Then I watched some "Jewel In the Crown" with my father.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time keeps slipping

I went to 74's birthday dinner tonight. Of course, his wife Zaftig was there, as was the Friar and Palfrey, and Zaftig's friend the Kraut and his wife. I got roundly congratulated on my job appointment. Everyone has heard of Prestigious and wants their kids to get in.

Palfrey is always a source of amusing public school anecdotes (she teaches in a largely Hispanic public school in a poor area). Today she told how some of her kids who get the free lunch were laughing at a child who brings money to buy lunch. In their eyes, they were the standard, and it was the kid buying the lunch who was abnormal, and therefore fair game for mockery. Something wrong there...

On Tuesday the first grade at Brown is going to a play. We have one kid who's a Jehovah's Witness and so can't see a play about fairies (they don't approve of fairies, of the supernatural or lifestyle varieties). One of the teachers was moaning about what we'd have to end up doing with this kid, and I half jokingly said, "Oh, all right, I'll miss the play to stay at school with him." The teachers all turned on me and said quite seriously, "Oh no you won't!" Misery loves company, and we're all getting on that goddamn bus together, whether we like it or not.

Man, kids these days are enormous. Not just fat (though they seem to be that), but tall. Kindergarteners shouldn't be four and a half feet tall, should they? Less wealthy children live on a cheap, calorie rich diet fortified with vitamins, antibiotics and an unnatural cocktail of hormones. This diet, from formula to McDonald's, seems to generate huge kids. I have no hard evidence, but observation at private schools seems to indicate the kids are shorter and slighter in comparison: that is, they have normal, healthy diets, and are kept more active.

Indeed, a faint hypnopædic prejudice in favour of size was universal. Hence the laughter of the women to whom he made proposals, the practical joking of his equals among the men. The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one, which increased the prejudice against him and intensified the contempt and hostility aroused by his physical defects. Which in turn increased his sense of being alien and alone. A chronic fear of being slighted made him avoid his equals, made him stand, where his inferiors were concerned, self-consciously on his dignity.
--- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I got nothing

...Except three desultory links.

Life's for living.

Have your own virtual nation! In mine, gambling and pot are legal, organ donation is compulsory, education is the number one government expense, and elections have been outlawed. It's a paradise!

Ever wonder what I would be like if I were female and had kids? Probably this.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Week VI: So Very, Very Tired

Today was a student holiday but a staff in-service day at Brown Elementary.

The fun part of the day was a Singing Bee type game, where the staff picked genres and then had to finish the choruses of songs. Our team got Men At Work's "The Land Down Under." Even though I'm not a teacher, I was forced into joining one of our members up in front of everyone and "singing." And as I've noted before, I have zero sense of rhythm, tune, pitch or key. Also, I didn't know the words. So I chanted, "I come from a land down under! Something something thunder!" That went down well.

Also, our team went out to lunch at the Old Folk's Cafeteria, a staple around this town. It was okay. Though I have almost nothing in common with the 50-60+ year old ladies in the team, I tried to join in. Trying to be a team player ya know.

The rest of the day was taken up with a tutorial on GLAD Strategies. These are ideas on how to carry literacy into other fields and to make books into active learning tools. For example, they use story charts, idea maps, geographical maps (that get labeled), vocabulary charts, and so on.

It's good stuff, but the people at the top throw down so much of this kind of thing that I can see how actual teaching gets lost in the scramble to accommodate it all. Word walls, focus walls, themes, six-hour fluency, DIBELS, GLAD Strategies, literacy centers, reading intervention, daily phonemic awareness, morning messages --- these are all mandated procedures just for reading. With teachers trying under the watchful eye of administrators and with the state exams looming over them, when is there time to, say, read a good book together and talk about it? All the books the kids seem to read are these inane phonetic booklets: "Sam sat on the mat. The pig in the rig picks a fig. Did Sal and Pat grab the cat?" How utterly boring for them.

One of the experienced teachers said at lunch that there up until recently, a teacher who was good and dedicated and got results could afford to ignore a lot of the learning fads that got tossed down the pipeline. But these days the second-guessing and direction are so much that teachers are getting their hands tied.

It's easy to see just by looking at private schools that learning in the public sector is suffering in large part because of these strategies and fixes of the month. I hope that in a few years this wil reach a critical point and public education will undergo a backlash in which small community groups take control, get back to basics, and demand creativity as well as professionalism in teachers.


In other news, I was going to see a movie with Maddening Angel tonight (I got a free pass to an advance screening), but she got sick. I would have asked Epalg instead, but I have a blemish on my face. So I didn't. That's my life, I'm afraid.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fair Day!

It's Fair Day, the day when Brown Elementary is closed and the teachers and students go to the state fair. It's also Columbus Day, widely regarded as Unfair Day by those with revisionist or pro-indigenous tendencies.

I, however, spent my morning getting a stress echo and a chest X-ray. They put a contrast dye in my blood. The dye is made from a lipid base and chlorofluorocarbons. That doesn't sound safe. I'd never done a stress test before. They make that treadmill go fast, and elevate it quite high. I was running at the end of eight minutes, when I stopped, pretty damn fatigued. I think the test was over in any case, though.

I have no interest whatsoever in fairs, anyhow.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

txt msgs

Me: "Did you know we share 50% of our genetic material with bananas?"
Epalg: "Lies!"
Me: "Why do you deny your innate banana nature?"
Epalg: "I refuse to carry on this conversation as it demeans us both."
Me: "But it elevates our humble cousin the banana."
Epalg: "If there's one thing I can't stand it's an uppity banana."


Epalg: "Is [some actor] alive or dead?"
Me: "I'm guessing he's still alive, but barely. And Canadian, too, I believe."
Epalg: "No, he's dead. I can't speak to the Canadian question."
Me: "Why, what did the Canadian question ever do to offend you?"
Epalg: "I don't want to talk about it. The Canadian question knows."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Saturday Cartoons: Preacher: All Hell's A-Coming

by Garth Ellis and Steve Dillon

Friday, October 05, 2007

Keep hope alive

Part of the reason I buried the good news (and it is good) so deep in recriminations in yesterday's post, other than the fact that I'm generally self-recriminatory, is that I hope the interview process has woken me up about a few things.

My time at the Old Job, the preschool, made me complacent and slightly obnoxious. I knew I was the best person there (not hard --- everyone else was very bad), and I knew for a fact that the Boss would never fire me. I'm not exaggerating. Very incompetent people there never got so much as a warning. The four years I spent there completely destroyed the professional approach to teaching that Volunteers of America instilled in me. I'm not blaming the shoddy atmosphere of the Job --- this is my fault. My personality took advantage of that situation, where I was a big fish that shone only because the little pond was so murky, and it corrupted me into thinking that I was something special.

I mean, I am something special, as we all are, but I took it too far and the wrong way. I need to revisit and embrace the idea of playing well with others again. I need to acclimatize myself to a certain level of conformity, a penchant for asking advice and taking certain things seriously, and for respecting the limits of others' tolerance for wise-asses like myself.

I may need to join some kind of club or group so that I can practice these skills. Luckily, I'm working at Brown, and I can try to see what makes the grade teams work there.


Saw the remake of The Fly with Epalg (so witty, so beautiful, so uninterested in me romantically). I didn't think the film was that great. I realize how absurd it is to attack this kind of movie for implausibility (DNA doesn't work that way), but the goofy-looking scientist guy couldn't have sold his inanimate matter transporter for a billion dollars? Come now. And so what if it turned organic matter inside out? Governments and military agencies are always looking for new ways to do nasty things to humans. Big bucks there!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Doctor doctor, give me the news

I had my final meeting with the Head and the Organizer of Prestigious. Well, it was just as I'd feared in general, but none of my specific little paranoias were valid. (As I waited in the lobby, the male drama teacher came up to have a quick conference with the Organizer. I could tell instantly that the drama teacher was a big ol' queen, so it was clear that my private life, at least, had never been a concern.)

My prepared lesson had won everyone over. I'd known that. It was granted, even among my detractors, that I had the best skills for the job. The thing that had fizzled their enthusiasm for me was how I'd presented myself in those four group interviews with the staff.

This is a place that prides itself on an integrated curriculum, a family atmosphere, and plenty of teamwork. As I knew in my heart, I'd sunk my own interview by coming across as an introverted lone wolf, and I turned off a lot of the teachers who questioned me. (The Head told me that he suspected a communication breakdown along gender lines and that in a largely female environment men need to be sensitive to how they're communicating messages. That may well be true. It's also true that I was horribly nervous, and I am slightly antisocial, and I do have low patience for fools, so I'm often not a team player. But I can follow directions and collaborate when it's expedient to do so, or when I respect my colleagues.)

The purpose of all the interviews with the staff, I see now, was to ascertain whether I got along with all those people. I thought at the time was that its purpose was for me to supply more information about myself. So there was a communication mismatch there as well. I gave answers that may have seemed wishy-washy, rather than enthusiastic, because I was trying to be literally honest.

It's too bad, because I really am enthusiastic about teaching in general and Prestigious in particular. Everyone there literally loves the place, and they're all brimming with eagerness to teach. They're academically rigorous, yet informal and laid-back. So it's a perfect fit for me, and I know I'd get along with nearly everyone there, despite my poor performance at the initial interviews.

However, the Head clearly likes me. He and I are alike in some ways: he's an over-educated academic who kind of just fell into teaching at the elementary level. I really do feel he was pulling for me, and I probably have him to thank that I got as far as I did.

And how far was that?

The upshot is that I was offered a job there, but it's only a five-month contract. Still, it's great news, even if it wasn't the news I would have liked to hear (had I been intelligent enough in the first place to tell those women what they'd wanted to hear). The worst-case scenario (other than the offer being rescinded between now and next year for whatever reason) is that I'll be looking for a job at the beginning of summer with a few months of Prestigious experience under my belt. The best case is that I win the rest of the staff over with my wit and charm, and get offered a long-term contract.


Later that day (since I'd taken the whole day off from Brown) I went to see a doctor. I'd been referred to her by my specialist, but she had no idea who I was or why I was there, so it was a bit aggravating. A further source of slightly amused irritation was that she was a very young-looking, wide-eyed intern who had never heard of the procedure I've undergone. While it was kind of cute to be attended to by a brunette version of season one-era Dr. Eliot Reid from"Scrubs," I have a specific medical history and it was silly to pretend that she could do anything for me other than just order the damn tests that my specialist had wanted in the first place, like I told her at the beginning of our incredibly boring two hours together.

Anyway, it got straightened out and on Monday I'm getting the test my specialist wanted me to get back in August. Then they'll tell me how close I am to the grave and what death-postponing potions they'll prescribe me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I have nothing at all to say about my day.

We're a bunch of DNA-replicating machines wandering around on a little rock ball spinning around a very insignificant little star. The fatal microbe and the extinction-event asteroid are indifferent to us. And everywhere around the globe children are dying of nasty diseases, and brave men and women are dying in terror and pain.

We haven't been here long.

We're pretty small.

And there's a pretty good case to be made that we don't deserve to be here at all.

I think it's safe to say that the problems of one little person don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

But we're fragile, egotistical creatures, and I'm worried about tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


* Ms. L's habit of adding the /uh/ sound to her phonemes becomes particularly egregious when she blends consonants, magically and surely incomprehensibly combining /tuh/ and /wuh/ into the single sound /tw/.

* I did a math transparency on the overhead. I'd never done that before, so I didn't have a good sense of whether the pacing was appropriate or not. Ms. L very helpfully went around the room while I stood up at the front, so probably not too many kids were lost. The big question with overhead work is whether the kids are thinking along with you as you explain strategies and steps, or if they're just unthinkingly copying what you write onto their own sheets.

* I was struck numb today by the dragging, infuriating bureaucracy that public school teachers have to deal with. Someone at the top doesn't have the slightest concept of what it's like to be in a classroom, but that's not stopping them from adding more and more helpful (read: required) tips for teachers.

* Some kids are like the elements in binary chemical weapons. They're inert, harmless, by themselves, but combine the two, and you get a lot of explosions. I note that the day after I mentioned that no one had ever gotten on the red section of the behavior chart, a boy did today. I don't know what impact a note home does. Probably none, except to the kind of child who wants to be a success and so isn't a behavioral problem anyway.

* Think good thoughts for me Thursday morning, internet friends.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Week five, observation two

Week five began with a 9:00 a.m. observation of my language arts lesson by my State School Sponsor. I taught a lesson on cause and effect, which began with reading a book about a tiger who lost his roar, and ended with the kids making their own folded single-sheet "books." They wrote "I lost my..." on the left side of the fold and an effect sentence beginning with "So..." on the right side. I also had stickers of the words "cause" and "effect" for them to label the sides.

The lesson went great; I had written it up and read over it a couple of times, so I was fairly ready. My Sponsor absolutely loved it; she was full of praise for my delivery, pacing, redirection, and poise. And frankly, I was impressed myself with how well I did. I handled all the little digressions and distractions admirably, in a quiet and friendly but firm tone. My Sponsor said I was very good about letting the students know what my expectations were. It was, dare I say it, fun.

In giving me the run-down of her evaluation, she said she hoped I would always work with the younger children, because I obviously had a gift for it, especially for a man.

So, definitely an ego-stroking morning.

I also taught a good chunk of math: calendar, sequencing, and greater and lesser than.

Here's a good idea I had about behavior. Ms. L has a chart on the wall with green, yellow, orange and red sections. The children start the day with clothespins on green, and for major infractions, they have to move down a color. If they end up on red (which has not happened so far), they get a note home. If they land on orange (which happens a lot for a few of them), they miss ten minutes of recess, unless it happens after recess, in which case nothing happens to them. (Yeah, not very effective.)

My idea is to combine this chart with color-coordinated stickers. My students would get a green, yellow, orange or red sticker in their calendar at the end of the day. They would take the calendars home every day along with their completed work. Every two weeks or so, there would be a class treat, and students who had, say, eight yellow or five orange stickers in ten days would not get the treat. This would provide long-term incentive, a concrete connection between behavior and recompense, and would allow parents to tell at a glance how their child was doing in terms of behavior. So that's my idea for when or if I ever have a classroom.

I made the appointment for my final meeting with the Head at Prestigious. By 9:00 a.m. Thursday, I will know what his "concerns" were and whether I have a job there.

Freaking out again!