Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday Song: "Redemption Song," Wyclef Jean

Redemption Song
, Wyclef Jean, from America: A Tribute To Heroes (2001).

One of Bob Marley's finest songs, covered here masterfully by Wyckef Jean. Immediately after the 9/11 bombings, the "Tribute To Heroes" charity show aired, and this song was Wyclef's contribution. He reworks it brilliantly, letting the song serve as both poignant lament and then, nearing to the end, a song of hope and triumph of the spirit over evil. Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer both tackled this song as well around 2002, and I love all three versions. But this one really does pack an emotional punch. It was definitely one of the wisest song picks for the 9/11 tribute.

Friday, September 09, 2011

My heart's in the basement, my weekend's at an all time low

For lunch I had pizza, carrots, and passive-aggressive false solicitousness. One of my team was absent, so Ms. DeWolf filled in. Now I have been bending over backward to be nice to her since school started, or at the very least to be trying to thaw the coldness that has sprung up. I texted her saying that I was willing to forget her serious overstepping of the first day, when she took L3 out of my room; and I gave her a CD that I thought she'd like that I had bought a year or so ago and didn't think much of.

But, sitting with Ms. Blah and me at lunch, she heavily laid on pinched, critical commentary directed at me, and not in the half-jokey way you might give a co-worker a backhanded compliment. No, it was clear nastiness, to the point where I, typically very reserved and easygoing at work when it comes to personality clashes, said to her, "Wow, you're just kind of a horrible person, aren't you?" and then tuned her out the rest of the lunch period. Probably slightly shocked Ms. Blah, but you know, what the hell.

It didn't make my day suck, but it was definitely an unpleasant moment in an otherwise fine day.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

I could always use a little bit more to hold on to

S3, when the class timer went off: "My goodness, Mr. Chance, that beeping scared the tapioca pudding out of me!" (Cute, but possibly picked up from a TV show?)


J2, on being asked to name something that starts with A: "Ares. He's the Greek God of war." (Impressive!)


J1, being shown the photos in my digital camera: "How can a camera take pictures when it doesn't have eyes?" (Uh... good question. Magic?)


G2, walking down the hall with me, at the head of the line, apropos of nothing, cheerily: "My daddy is much fatter than you!" (What the hell? I'm not fat!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Political links

People who rail against universal health care are monsters. This did not have to happen.

What the Republicans are for, and how they have been winning the language game for years: anyone who has been paying any attention knows this already, but this guy says it so well.

Rick Perry is a hypocritical bastard who takes all the credit for things the federal government and its "evil" dollars helped bring about. He also likes to pretend he hates government, except when he wants Big Brother to tell doctors what to say or rent him a mansion. Hey, and you know those wildfires Texas has been having? He cut fire fighting budgets this year, and now wants the big bad evil Fed to come help us!

(I'm thinking Perry's going to be the guy I'll have to keep an eye on for the 2012 version of my Fact Sheet.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

They're all shouting something at us, waving and pointing

Man, it's so loud in here. The highest stress part of my workday has got to be carpool. When the parents don't display their numbers or for some other reason they slip by the system, Ms. Helen calls the kids out via the intercom. And Ms. Helen, while easy on the eyes, has the loudest, screechiest, most nasal, diamond-bit-drill of a voice you have ever heard. Her impatient, hectoring shrieking when the kids miss their cues to go to the cars makes everyone cringe, and it makes me very anxious. And that stress gets transferred from me to the kids, as I try in the chaos to get them out the door with all they should be carrying and which most of them would forget every day if not reminded.

I think every carpool, like each cigarette, takes eleven minutes off my life. Actually I feel like smoking to calm down afterwards. I don't, though. I go for alcohol.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Got to lose this skin I'm imprisoned in

Today was not only a day off from work, but the first day in many, many weeks that the temperature has been below 100 degrees all day long. After scorching triple digits and oppressive 90 degree nights, a cold front pushed the mercury down to a positively balmy 85. So naturally I spent a lot of time outside, walking and laying on my beach chair in my yard reading.

Of course, I'm half-Briton, half red-headed Scot, and my porcelain-white skin turned a cheery but slightly painful bright red. Whoops! Too much of a good thing.

Later in the evening I went out with Friar, Courtney, C, and Auric's drummer to go see three great local bands. The Friar's music label, always weak from lack of exposure, has pretty much died of file sharing, so he and Drummer are starting up a management business. That, and he's a lawyer and family man. What a dynamo. Me, I'm too tired to untie my shoes when I get home from work.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Newbery XII - 1933

The twelfth winner of the Newbery was, surprise surprise, set in a country that is not America! It was Young Fu Of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis.

It tells of the coming of age of the titular Fu, a fourteen-year-old boy from the countryside who in the 1920s arrives in the vast city of Chungking (modern Chongqing) with his widowed mother. Apprenticed to Tang, a consummate coppersmith, Fu learns to temper his naïve curiosity, swallow his fears, face the bizarre novelty of foreign devils and gasoline-powered cars, and master his pride. Episode by episode, Fu grows wiser from his mistakes, and is a very likeable, sympathetic hero who risks his life for others on two occasions.

This is an exciting and engaging young adult novel. Like many books of this era, it reflects an era of more exacting learning in schools. Some of the vocabulary is rather abstruse – badinage, enmity, stinting, auspicious, for just a few random examples – and the writing is sometimes tortuous ("Not one man in all China but would make the journey"). But it’s rewarding, and a book-loving kid could easily get plunged into this almost alien world that was once very real. The most interesting thing about the book, indeed, is seeing the differences and similarities between Fu’s world and thought and those of us today. There are eternal truths about humans, and Fu shows bravery and kindness and pride and stupidity, all of which readers can relate to. But then there's the traditional Chinese way of life, with its reverence for age and unquestioning obedience of mothers, fear of evil and mischievous spirits, fatalistic resignation to oppression, foot-binding, coolies, poverty, opium, sedan chairs, draconian punishments, and so on. At a few decades past the turn of the century, many Chinese still lived the way their ancestors did thousands of years previously, and knew just as little about the outside world. Fu, for example, cannot imagine the ocean across which the foreigners live, assuming it must be smaller than the mighty Yangtze. (Actually, judging from some of the travel literature about China I’ve read, such as the superb Iron & Silk, some Chinese in the countryside even ten years ago knew very little about geography, space, and other fields irrelevant to their lives.) Lewis’ wonderfully written book (her first!) is a terrific window for young adults into history and the study of other cultures.

Recommended for children: Yes, for older children, who have a love of reading and fearlessness about new vocabulary and concepts.

Recommended for adults: Yes! Everyone should delve into other cultures, and this is a well-written story.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Saturday Song: "Lover's Rock," The Clash

Lover's Rock, The Clash, from London Calling (1979).

One of the lesser-known gems from the landmark album. Although a casual listen leaves many thinking that this is about a blow job, the song actually castigates men who have unprotected sex and father babies "when she forgot that thing she had to swallow" (the Pill). It reminds men that there are other things you can do in bed besides being "free with your seed" and thus losing the energy to continue pleasing a woman. For example, "there is a place you can kiss." Such a man, who has self-control and consideration, "can make a lover in a thousand gos." That's right! He's talkin' cunnilingus, baby!

...Wait a minute! This song isn't about the oppressive class system! Sell-outs!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Make no mistakes, I'm what you make me

So, things are going about as usual with me, which is to say Happiness Eludes, though I'm always cognizant of my good fortune in being an educated American with a nice job.

The problem with having so much of my identity tied up with my job, of course, is that when things don't go well, I have no other pillar to rely on. I, Chance, am not father, nor husband, nor long-term lover.

Hell, I'm not even a zealous hobbyist. Those aspects of life don't exist for me; after a setback, all I have is time to reflect on the success or failure of my professional day.

It doesn't even have to be anything specific, just a general sense of malaise that the day could have gone better. That can blacken the whole rest of my evening. Well, that's what happens when you're a depressive sad sack.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Wake me when September ends

At work, the new kids are coalescing into a class pretty nicely. L3 has stopped being so fearful and depressed; G2 is doing fine and her mother seems happy. We're coming out of the introductory stage where the kids are learning to interact and socialize in their new environment, and beginning to do actual literacy and math lessons. Some of the kids are not used to having to do a certain task, such as writing a sentence, and one or two get a touch weepy at the end of the day.

But that's par for the course; they're learning that putting a bit of effort into a task they're not necessarily enthralled by won't kill them, and they'll be proud of how much they're learning in no time. In all, they're a great group, quick to clean up after themselves and generally helpful to one another. They seem more responsible as well. They're not quite as quick with the addition facts and letter sounds as last year's class, but that can come later. Being good listeners and developing good work skills are the roots on which those other branches of knowledge will come later.

Or something, you know. I just wing it every day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Some babies grow in a peculiar way

I left work early to get my booster Hepatitis B shot for an upcoming trip to Haiti. If indeed this goes through (and I have already committed financially), I shall be traveling with a church group, led by a cardiac surgeon who was the father of a girl in the class I had my first year at Prestigius. We're going to distribute medicine and such. As I have absolutely no useful skills other than a so-so French (which isn't really what they parlez in Haiti anyway), I'm not sure why I was asked along, but I'm interested/trepidatious about the adventure.

If I do go, it will be my first trip outside the U.S. in many years (I had to get a new passport), and it will break my workout streak. Currently, I am on my 178th consecutive day of exercise with free weights.

Well, as long as I don't, you know, die screaming in a falling aircraft, surrounded by damn praying.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wish I could go back and change these years

Just a few of the changes since I dropped out of this blog thing.

My father died. He was in and out of rehab, suffered a stroke, was a shell of his former physical self, had a dramatic drop in mental acuity, and had a couple of car wrecks before it became clear he couldn't drive any more. Still, though, he'd settled into a sort of doddering quasi-invalid but feisty existence, so it was nevertheless a bit of a shock when he passed away peacefully in his armchair right after getting up one morning. I don't want to be flippant about this. He was a huge part of my life and a deceased parent always leaves a huge hole. But I'll list some more, much more minor, changes anyway.

I got a cable connection, mainly so my father could watch TV at my house when I had him over for the night, but he died very soon after it was installed. So now I have TV, and I watch a couple of things. "Top Gear." "No Reservations." "King Of the Hill" reruns. Some dumb but compelling reality shows like "Sons Of Guns."

I got a new dog, another rescue dog, who had a bad childhood and is Fearful. He weighs nearly seventy pounds and has a head like a bull. Since I can't walk two dogs at once, I walk them a lot less. Usually I walk them on alternate days, but not anywhere near every day as I did when I only had the one. Plus the Boy Dog is socially inept, so I have to watch him closely. He's not very friendly with visitors, either. Sadly, he may be a Poor Life Choice, but I can't give him up now. I'm the only one he's got left: he adored me and my father and fears/hates everyone else.

Epalg moved away to a small eastern state to go to grad school. We have almost no contact, though there is the sporadic, desultory text.

Ms. N quit Prestigius to become a governess. These things exist here in Deviltown with its many wealthy families who spend lavishly on private schools and tutors. There is some contact; we have lunch and catch up a few times a year.

MA recently moved to New York but is moving back again soon. She is still a rather flighty person in her professional and personal life.

I still talk to K, but rarely.

This summer I reconnected with Joy, a minor character in these pages, who is slightly more eager to socialize than I am. She seems to be flirting shamelessly with me. I am not interested, and so balance is restored to the Universe for all the women I'm interested in who don't care for me.

Last year T-Bone and Courtney's youngest daughter was in my class. I love that cute little toothless braniac. This year, 74 and Zaftig's daughter is in Ms. Bluestocking's class, and their youngest, a hefty and excitable cheery fellow, is in Pre-K. Oh, and so is Muffin's son. Yes, all my friend's children go to the school where I work.

I am definitely going bald.

Monday, August 29, 2011

When it all comes down you'll find you've lost another day

Had my required face-to-face meeting with Head #3 today. When I got to her door at the arranged time, she was in a meeting, and I had to wait thirty minutes until she was free.

The meeting was surprisingly brief. This was the sum total of what was said:

Head #3: "How long have you been here at Prestigious, Chance?"

Me: "This will be my fourth full year."

H3: "And you love it, don't you? I can tell."

Me: "Yes, I do."

H3: "Well, here's what I know about you: You were on Quiz Show!."


Me: "That's it? That's what you know about me?"

H3, all beatific smiles: "Yes."

(What, no "You're widely respected"? No "Everyone is amazed at what a good job you do"? How about "You have a good resume"?)

Me: "Well, I did lose."

H3: "But just being on it is terrific." [pause] "Well, I just want you to know my door is always open if you need anything." [Stands up.]

And that was it. I was on Quiz Show!, I seem to be enjoying myself at work, and the Head's door is always open unless she's in a meeting during the time you're scheduled to see her.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Newbery XI - 1932

In 1932, one of my favorite books of all time, Brave New World, was published. And in an almost entirely unrelated development, the award for best children's book went to Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Armer.

This book is an episodic novel of the Navajo people (standing then as yet another example of the ALSC's propensity for "ethnic" tales). A boy called Younger Brother, party inspired by his Uncle, a shaman, leaves his family and goes west, following the Turquoise Woman who went west to marry the sun. Along the way, he rescues a white boy, routs some horse thieves, and flies in a plane with “Grandfather,” the white trader who knows and loves the Navajo.

It’s all told in a very muted style, almost entirely from the Navajo point of view, so that ceremonies and scenes of nature do seem mystical and full of moment. It's rife with the type of poetic phrases for human experience, such as “my heart is making a new song,” that various American media have always found so compelling. It’s an interesting book, but I didn’t find it particularly engaging, probably because of its episodic plot: there’s no great struggle or resolution. And as we all learned in our freshman literature class, there is no Drama without Conflict. Or is that just the demanding way of the white man?

Recommended for children: Yes, especially for young boys who would appreciate the adventures of Younger Brother; but also for its message of the importance of a connection to nature.

Recommended for adults: Not really.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Song: "Danny Says," Tom Waits

Danny Says, Tom Waits, from Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (disc two), 2006

A cover of the Ramones' love song, transformed into a tipsy weeper by the master of the genre. Waits eschews the sorta-Shirelles sound of the original and keeps the pace slow and soft. It's amazing how Waits turns the song into a cousin of "Ol' 55" and makes it seem easy; it's also a kick to hear him talking about listening to the Ramones' "Sheena" on the radio. (This isn't the only Ramones cover Waits has done; he also covered "The Return of Jackie and Judy" on the tribute album We're a Happy Family.) Short, sweet, sad, genius.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I knew you before the west was won and I heard you say the past was much more fun

Yeah, had to post a silly nonsense humor piece yesterday after being all Drama Queen on Wednesday. Work was pretty good today. We got pizza for lunch. The kids are understanding the routines and easing into the full day much easier than last year's class. So far there are no big trouble makers, although S3 needs constant redirecting.

Went out after work to the same old bar with the same old crew and played video golf and oh my Ganesh I have been doing that for six years.

Maybe time to branch into new things? The future is a lot briefer than it was.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ninja facts

Did you know...

  • Death by ninja attack is the number two killer in America, more common than random stabbings and church-related pranks-gone-wrong combined. However, experts believe that many ninja deaths go unreported as such because many of them look just like accidents.
  • Many people erroneously believe that pirates are ninjas' arch-enemy. This is untrue. Their actual most hated nemesis? Clowns.
  • Ninjas are so attuned with their qi that they can levitate, turn invisible for brief periods, and pass through walls. They are capable of subsisting at full physical capacity on one handful of rice and two teaspoons of water per month.
  • While they do not require additional food, however, they enjoy eating the brains of their enemies. Seriously, those things are like ice cream to ninjas.
  • Out of reverence for ancient tradition, ninjas will never, ever attack someone on the toilet. They know you'll have to come out of there some time, anyway.
  • 97% of true ninjas are Japanese. Two percent are Chinese, 0.5 percent Vietnamese, and 0.5 percent are African American for some reason.
  • When a ninja mates with a human, the offspring is typically a sturdy specimen, but never has any of the shadow-based superhuman abilities of the ninja. Therefore ninjas primarily mate with their own kind.
  • If you ever stumble upon two ninjas mating, take a picture quick, because that shit is gold.
  • Some mountebanks and quacks sell what they refer to as ninja repellent spray. Do not waste your money. There is no such thing. Ninjas do dislike the taste and odor of high fructose corn syrup-based carbonated beverages, but spraying a ninja with Pepsi isn't going to do anything except make him madder.
  • Right before the moment of death, a ninja's victim always hears the ninja whisper in his ear, "You just been ninja'd, muthafuckaaaaaah!" in a sing-song falsetto.
  • Sure, it sounds unlikely, but how can you prove it isn't true?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You think I'm a baby; nobody likes to hear "Why don't you grow up" at dawn

First day back with the kids! Had two crying, a girl who was just being dramatic and poor L3, he of the health problems and medically induced depression. More on him below.

The kids are:

A, nice girl, somewhat mopey, seems to be a bit uncertain how to join others in play

E1, super-cute tiny girl whose mother is rumored to be a Hard Case.

E2, another tiny little cute girl with a no-nonsense mother, though I haven't had any problems with her.

G1, girl whose twin brother is in Mrs. Hatfield's class.

G2, the daughter of the High Maintenance mom (ex-attorney, now stay at home mom, probably transferred that argumentative energy into current position); very sweet and cheerful

H, small little tow-headed boy; Mrs. Tall told me that he was a problem in her class, but he was very helpful to all the other kids, offering them the color marker they were looking for and so forth

J1, brother of a girl from last year's class; a bit hyperactive; very nice parents

J2, very pale boy, type that loves explaining things earnestly with words too complex for his mouth

L1, blonde girl, sister of a girl from my first class at Prestigius; much quieter than her

L2, blonde boy, was quiet and kept to himself, seemed sweet

L3, with the health issues noted yesterday, came in crying and saying he wanted to call his mom and go home at lunch

M, sweet blonde girl, part of a very large and noted area family

R1, small and scrappy brother of a boy from last year, a bit hyperactive and given to attempting a cold stare when redirected

R2, cute black girl, seemed cheerful

S1, blondish girl, one of only two in the class with divorced parents

S2, blonde girl, only child, with two arty parents who spoil the hell out of her, very entitled and demanding, although decidedly creative; given to pouting if she has to wait for something

S3, black-haired girl, kept to herself

T1, very large (tall and weighty) boy, cheery, good listener, popular with peers

T2, precocious boy of Chinese descent

And that's the lot. Oh! 74 and Zaftig's daughter, who made her first appearance in this blog, and the world, here and has appeared sporadically since, is in K now --- lord, they grow up fast, even if they're not your own. She is in Ms. Bluestocking's class. Don't think I've mentioned her before --- Ms. Bluestocking is a very young teacher on my team. Previously an assistant, this is her second year as a full teacher. She is extremely good looking, even by Prestigius standards, and pretty cheerful, but kind of ditzy.

Another bit of High Drama in the Workplace (on the first day!) when an in-house substitute, Ms. DeWolf, took it upon herself to take L3 out of my classroom because he was sad. She had a camera, so I sort of assumed that she was just taking his picture, but no --- she took him to the other end of the building to sit and read a book. I was livid. The lack of professional courtesy --- you just don't take out a kid without explaining to the teacher why and what you intend to do --- the insulting assumption that she knew better than me how to make the boy feel welcome and wanted, the overweening arrogance mixed with pure wrongheaded ignorance (I disagree strongly that a child should be allowed to dictate terms in the classroom, especially on the first damn day, and feel strongly that a child's self-worth and happiness improves when he is shown that he has the strength to make it through initial uncertainty). And I have over ten years' worth of kids and parents that loved the hell out of me for my affectionate/strict classroom demeanor, so I'm not just some insensitive creep trying to bring the hammer down on a poor unhealthy kid. I truly believe that my way would help him best, and I know that taking a kid away from a teacher without asking first is not cool.

Of course, it doesn't help that Ms. DeWolf is the one I had the very brief, ill-fated relationship with last year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I had a hard time waking this morning, I got a lot of things on my mind

The second half of the room's parents came in for their conferences today. They went well on the whole. The woman I spoke of here (with the "bitter pinched face"), G2's mother, did need some extra reassuring about how the class is arranged and who would be sitting with whom when, etc etc, but then surprised me by saying that she's requested me and was very happy her daughter was in my class. So that might be a non-issue.

The only other conference that raises some issues was the one for a boy, L3, who cannot ingest milk, wheat, soy, or eggs due to a host of medical problems. He needs to bring in his own snack, and the parents are pretty neurotic about him not being differentiated from the other kids. His last teacher, Mrs. Helen, took pains to mix up the snacks so that her kids never really noticed that L3 was getting something different; I don't know if that's something that needs to continue. As he progresses through school, it'll be clear that his diet is different, so why not embrace it now and have pride in the responsibility of managing his own food? I've seen two celiac kids go through kindergarten and they were fine having their food kept separate. Anyway, poor L3. He also has some other health issues; he takes medicine, one side effect of which is depression; so he's going to need a lot of reassurance.

Oh yeah, I had the Talk with Assistant T. It wasn't too awkward. She got a bit embarrassed but seemed to take it all in. However, she then talked a bit out of turn during conferences, again (like mentioning to parents programs that previous kids have done, which is a big taboo), so I think the Vice Head will have to lead a Talk with all the assistants.

Kids tomorrow!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking for context and perspective, looking for some kind of distraction

Today I met half of the parents in my class. All the meetings went well except for one, with J2's parents, which was the source of a little bit of drama in my room.

I sat across from the parents and Assistant T sat to my right. During this orientation conference, J2's parents looked only at T. It was not a natural thing to do; the mother was facing and directly across from me, and had to almost turn 90 degrees in her chair to speak to T. I would ask a question, and she would turn and direct her answer to T. I'd ask another, and she'd do it again.

Now it ought to be pretty fucking clear that I am the teacher in the room. Assistant T is an assistant. Her name is not on the class list, her name is not on the name tags; I send out all emails to parents, I ask the orientation interview questions, I write down the answers, etc. So this mother's bizarre turning to address T, who was not asking questions (but was responding with affirmation interjections and a few comments), was baffling to me. I think the bewilderment and frustration showed on my face --- I was doing everything but point to myself, trying to non-verbally get the parents to look at me, sending psychic waves: You should be talking to me, lady! They did not work for some reason.

Okay, so that's not really so bad, although it was bothersome to me. The parents do need to be aware that I'm the one to refer to about everything, good and bad, in that room, and should use that time to get to know me, but whatever. One conference where they don't bond with me isn't going to hurt, and they'll get the idea soon enough. The real drama came afterwards.

The instant they left, I just looked at Assistant T, and she knew immediately what was in my mind, and noted that it was a strange and awkward situation, but, she was quick to say, not her fault that she was being spoken to.

"That is true," I said, "but what would have helped was if once you saw that was happening, you had stopped responding to her at all and just looked at me."

Well, that rubbed T the wrong way, and she said I loved power and would not be a good co-teacher.

This was, unfortunately, the wrong response. I am, after all, her supervisor, a fact she doesn't seem to want to admit. (Literally --- this has come up before, but only in conversation, not in this problem context.) Here, we may have a problem.

I'm not the supervisor type, and her unwillingness to hear criticism is partly my fault in that I talk irreverently and jokingly most of the time, so that when I do try to correct or suggest something seriously to T, she dismisses me as if I were talking in my usual manner. I'm also extremely lenient in most ways; some teachers don't have assistants sit in on conferences at all. I also give T a very long leash in interacting with the kids, because she's good at it. So I have not really delineated the authority lines.

And this doesn't have anything to do with a desire for power. It's just a fact that assessment, curriculum, behavior issues, and everything that can possibly happen to these children is my responsibility.

So I spoke to the Vice Head, who was appalled at T's reaction to me and said that in fact she should have known enough to actually leave the room if she was the source of some distraction from what that meeting ought to be about. And that perhaps she should not sit in on conferences tomorrow. And she told me to have a sit down with T and make some things clear.

So now I have to put on a supervisor hat and talk to T seriously, which I can do, but she's clearly highly sensitive about being given redirection in the workplace, and I don't want to push her into the other extreme of dropping all initiative. But of course I have to do it, because we have to make sure we're all on the same page. Otherwise, the Vice Head says, "the problem gets worse and then she'll have to go, and we don't want that."

Authority makes my stomach hurt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newbery X - 1931

Yes, I'm still doing this for some reason!

The tenth Newbery winner was The Cat Who Went To Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. This slim tale is set "far away in Japan" (exotic locales, as we have seen in this series, being to the Newbery as playing the wise moron is to the Oscar).

A poor artist's housekeeper brings in a small spotted cat, who is named Good Fortune. Shortly afterwards, the artist is commissioned by a temple to paint Buddha’s death scene. The artist meditates on the various sacrifices that various animals --- the snail, the horse, the deer, the ox, the monkey, the dog --- all made for the dying Buddha, or made when they were the Buddha in a different lifetime, and then he paints them coming to pay respects. Then, even though the cat, an independent, ill-favored animal, did not receive the Buddha’s blessing on his death, the artist puts the cat in the picture as well. This is not looked upon favorably by the local priest.

It’s a sweet tale, full of gently subtle teachings on restraint, sacrifice, and love for all beings. Many of the animals sacrifice themselves for the benefit of Buddha or their masters; the deer, for example, convinces a king to become vegetarian by offering himself for sacrifice at a feast.

Recommended for children: I would guess that most American kids these days would find this a charming story, perhaps a bit over their heads but planting seeds of great ideas for the future. It’s not as lightweight as its brevity implies, and has a certain timeless, fairy tale quality to it.

Recommended for adults: Yes, for the same reasons.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vexillology II

Remember when one time a ways back I talked about flags? And then Michael5000 started making it a regular feature on his blog and did it so much better and everything because he's a blogging wunderkind. But here is another flag post anyway because I'm staying away from social updates for now. Maybe next Saturday it'll be a meme! Or some more thoughts on randomly selected songs! Or I'll have quit blogging again!

Anyway. Without further ado, three flags chosen at random.

The Philippines

White triangle, field of dark blue, field of scarlet. On the triangle is a sun with eight rays, representing the original eight provinces of Philippines, and three small stars that represent the three major island groups. Nice colors, very good visuals, almost aerodynamic (the eye is gently directed from hoist to fly), and richly symbolic. Grade: A


Ugh! Maybe it looks better in real life:

It's not as visually unappealing up there on the flagpole, but it's still pretty blah. I'll admit that the interlacing green pentangle is an interesting design, but all by itself on that field of red it loses something, and it seems as though most Moroccan flags just use a solid line for the star instead of the over-and-under motif seen above. When that's the case, this flag has very little going for it other than in-your-face starkness. But haven't they ever heard of opposing colors? Grade: C+


Zzzzzz. Actually this, though it is the official national flag, seems to be a template of sorts, upon which various defacements can be be placed. So it seems as though most government establishments fly this, the national ensign, marked with the Peruvian coat of arms:

The coat of arms depicts a vicuna, the quinine tree, and a cornucopia, all in a shield surrounded by a wreath, crested by a smaller wreath. All of which is mighty impressive --- first, the pride in the national resources, and second, having the chutzpah to stick wreaths pretty much wherever the fancy takes you. Grade: D for the national flag, B+ for the ensign.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Maybe we could just be friends; I'm being a bit presumptuous

Last day of Teacher Week.

After a morning meeting, pretty near the whole faculty piled into a big ol' charter bus and we visited the construction site of a brand new science center which is in the process of being built in our fair burg. The director gave us a talk about all the child-friendly science activities there will be, and we wandered around the room that will one day be the lobby, looking at scale models of the planned layout. I wanted to pull a Zoolander and act outraged that the new science center was going to be so uselessly tiny, but maturity prevailed.

Then the team ate lunch at one of my favorite Tex-Mex places. This week has had a lot of eating out. Next week I'm going to start bagging it. Back to school again, we worked on a few projects. In the afternoon, there was a social gathering at school, in the gym. It was a goodbye to an important admin assistant, and wine was served, making it the first time in my experience alcohol had been given to teachers on the Prestigius campus.

Muffin and her husband hosted a barbecue that 74, Friar and possibly Courtney attended, but I skipped it to have dinner with my aunt, here for the weekend --- she used to live in town but now lives in L.A. with a sugar daddy and leads a globe-trotting, adventurous lifestyle (whitewater rapids, Jay-Z concerts, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Singapore) in her 60s.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

There's no one road; we should not be the same, but I'm just a ghost

Today the teachers led orientations on their grade levels to new parents in their rooms. About eight kids' parents showed up, out of a class of nineteen. I walked them through a brief PowerPoint presentation, answering questions about lunch, snack, backpacks, curriculum, and so on. Nearly everyone was good-natured and pleasant. Most seemed on board with my rather eccentric style. Except one woman, whose face was a bitter pinched mask of disdain, and said only one thing to me, a criticism about the work group I'd randomly put her daughter in. I think she might be what we call a High Maintenance parent.

The class is pretty full, but I think I have a good group. I have two kids who are siblings of kids in last year's class and one girl who's the sister of one of my favorite kids, a girl in my very first class at Prestigius, back in 2008-9.

Had lunch with the team again. Then sat through the same unintentionally hilarious '80s video on first aid and blood-borne diseases that Prestigius has shown every year since I've been there. Then they asked us for money for various Funds, another annual tradition. Then we got root beer floats, so I guess it evens out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sorrow's native son, he will not smile for anyone

The major achievement of my day was making it through the day without napping after work. First time this week!

My assistant and I continued with the preparations. Damn, this blog is already like a damn Grisham novel, isn't it? Thrill as we clean out dried-up and stinky old paint pots left from last year! Tremble as I use the paper cutter to make journal covers! Gasp in awe as I wait around for the school's servers to come back online so I can print! Cheer as I write the kids' names on every conceivable surface in the room!

Also our team, teachers and assistants, went out for lunch. I think I may have mentioned that Prestigius hires a disproportionately high percentage of preposterously good-looking young women, and my team exemplifies that (except me, Ms. Hatfield who is a grandmotherly type, and her assistant who is the great-grandmotherly type). So on that basis alone it's nice to hang out with the team; but I thought it was good to get some social bonding in. It was a good time. Everyone was cheerful and there was none of that awkwardness you sometimes get with co-workers out socially. All good, except one of our colleagues didn't go.

Last year's team was very tight-knit, cheerful and bantering. Unlike a lot of grade level teams, we genuinely got along. But then Ms. Kent had her second child, and she took her maternity leave, and should return this year as an in-house substitute. Her place has been taken by Ms. Blah, who was on our team my first year, then was transferred to first grade and now is back again. She was and remains excessively negative and complains about everything, constantly interpreting every request from admin as an example of their incompetence and generally giving off the air of being bitter and put-upon. I don't like being around people like that. Hopefully we can still make it as a team this year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I can't keep it in, I've gotta let it out

Teacher Days Week: Day 2: The Enteachering.

More getting ready for the kids. The usual busywork: making math folders, handwriting folders, journals, name tags, chair tags, orientation packets for parents, calendar pieces, etc.

There were only two high- (or perhaps low-) lights to the day, besides a tasty free lunch.

The first was sexual harassment prevention training, led perhaps inevitably by the world's most androgynous lawyer, who was, no exaggeration at all, a living breathing real-world Pat from "Saturday Night Live." Except for the grossest quid-pro-quo chauvinist scenarios, I am guilty of most of the things she listed as taboo. I have no thought-to-language filter. At one point, she mentioned in the process of making a point, "I'm not saying that anyone wakes up in the morning and asks themselves how they can most offend their co-workers that day, but..." When she said that, four or five teachers looked over at me pointedly. I'm the counter-example.

The second was a talk from the art teacher about how we can't post the kids' art in the hallways and we have to respect the physical space by not having non-school-sanctioned furniture, personal items, microwaves, or anything else anywhere visible. Nearly every member of the faculty quietly resents the art teacher for her aesthetic ascetic crusade, which began last year and resulted in a mass removal of literally roomfuls of perfectly good material (pencil cups, shelves, books, stamps, bins, file folders) across the entire school. I have more or less ignored everything she has tried to initiate, but then my room has always been fairly bare anyway.

A lot has changed in the year and a half since I abruptly dropped this blog. I'm on my third assistant, dozens of faculty members have come and gone, the Head is new, I had a very brief and ridiculous relationship with a co-worker (always a bad idea)... I'm trying this year to be more friendly and positive. It's hard, though. I mean, I've always been helpful and courteous when people actually need something, but I have typically derided the everyday empty courtesies. Not only is it hard to change habits, it's also hard for others to see small nudges toward improvement from someone who has until then shown three or four years of disinterest.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Someone keeps saying I'm insane to complain

This summer I read the entire archives of this blog. Yes, I was surprised by the unrelenting bleating, whining, resentful, martyred tone, and quickly got sick of my pathetic self-abnegation, but I remembered the reasons I began this blog in the first place.

First, as a way of taking personal stock. Gnōthi seauton and all that. In some ways getting it all out on the screen helped me deal with my issues. It's like self-administered therapy. Or cheaper Prozac. If you suffer from depression, ask your doctor if Blogaxia is right for you. Side effects of Blogazia include whining, midsection weight gain from constant sitting, and a general unhealthy pallor. Try to get outside once in a while too, Mopey.

Second, as a way of chronicling career progression. In that the blog succeeded, and might continue to serve.

So, hey.

Today was the first day back after summer at Prestigius. We have about a dozen new faces on staff, plus a new Head. It's a lady Head! That's crazy. Although soft spoken and friendly, she has already set some grumblers a-grumbling by saying all teachers need to stay a half hour after carpool every day. I almost always did that anyway, but most didn't; it was distinct trait of Prestigius that the teachers would fly out the door right after the students, which is hardly the case at most schools.

No kids at school yet, just the usual morale-building get-togethers, welcoming speeches, information and schedule arranging, and work in the classroom.

More tomorrow.