Tuesday, August 31, 2010
There was some surprise among my peers when I told them that I had chosen the session on approaches to teaching grammar. I guess they assumed that as a process-based workshop-approach teacher, I would be anti-grammar instruction. (Hyphen check! Where should they be in that sentence? I think there are too many.) That's not true at all, though. Although I am against teaching grammar out of context, particularly in a skill and drill format, I understand that correct grammar is an essential and valuable tool for communicating clearly and effectively, which is why I signed up for the group.
It so happens that out of over a hundred English teachers in the county, only five others picked the grammar group, and it became clear to me early on that there were some philosophical differences between me and most of the others. I don't mind, though. It will give me something to write about.
Monday, August 30, 2010
"What makes you think you'll be a good middle school teacher?" he was asked.
"I'm a tree; I can bend," he replied.
According to legend, he was hired on the spot.
Today was the most chill first day of school ever. There was none of the hectic pace that has welcomed me back in years past. It is counter intuitive, too. Our building was updated over the summer and was only released to us this morning. Let's just say there is a rather lengthy punch list of finishing touches that must be completed before the students arrive next Tuesday (like furniture in the art room). It seemed like the staff kind of rolled with it, though, and what good would it have done to do otherwise?
(Oh, there was another interview story, too, that first year of mine. In reply to the question Why do you want to be a teacher? the candidate had rehearsed his answer carefully and meant to say I really want to help kids and touch lives, but he mixed the phrases up. As a result he looked the principal dead in the eye and said, I really want to touch kids, and...
That guy was not hired on the spot.)
Sunday, August 29, 2010
It's tempting to cast it in the metaphorical role of end of summer messenger, that little reminder all through the day that indeed school starts tomorrow, but seriously? If a fly can bother me this much? I need to go back to work.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
As we filed through George Washington's home, it was the paint that struck me. It was hard to believe that I could have forgotten that garish green in the family dining room. I asked one of the docents about it, and she assured me that some microscopic paint analysis was used to find the exact formula and recreate it. She also said that Washington himself had chosen the color. Yikes! What was the father of country thinking?!? (Evidently Martha's room design was restricted to their bedroom, which was very tasteful, by the way.)
Many of our fellow visitors to the plantation sported bright new Restore Honor t-shirts, presumably purchased at Glenn Beck's Lincoln Memorial Rally which was also held today, the 47th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the same location. Given the time of day, they must have left the rally and headed directly for Mount Vernon. Making my way through the education center, I could understand the appeal that this place might have for Beck's supporters: the original tea party was featured prominently. Continuing through the exhibits, I wondered what the rallyers thought when they read the letter that Washington wrote to his fellow citizens upon leaving office. In it he strongly urged us to find our common ground and to maintain our "unity at home".
Maybe they just considered that particular idea a lapse in judgment... kind of like the paint in the dining room?
Friday, August 27, 2010
What do you want to do?
I don't know. What do you want to do?
I don't know either. Whatever you want to do is fine.
But what about you?
I'm fine with whatever.
I don't know.
So... we didn't go out to breakfast. We didn't go to the garden. Some went shopping; some went home; some went to the library and read. We didn't go to the baseball game. We didn't go to the movies.
We did have an ugly little conversation about institutional racism over a nice dinner of corn chowder with lobster, though, and in retrospect, I wish we had avoided that, too.
Gary's last words before bed were these: "If anyone asks, tell 'em we had a wonderful time."
Maybe it's a good thing that school is starting.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
My relationship with authority has evolved quite a bit in the last thirty years. For example, when I first started teaching I was very secure in the power structure. The superintendent was like your grandfather, the principal was like your dad, and you, the teacher were the benevolent dictator in your classroom. I ruled confidently, just as my teachers had when I was in school, and a lot like the way that I had overseen my younger brother and sister, the children I babysat, my nephews. My show could have been called Tracey Knows Best.
It's not quite that way anymore. Over the years, I've tried to restructure my class to be as student-centered as possible. One of my primary objectives is for the kids to feel like they're in charge of themselves. I've learned that Because I said so isn't a very convincing argument to an oppositional student.
And as for myself? When I look around at the president, the secretary of education, the superintendent of our schools, I see the guys I went to college with: smart, but not necessarily the people I want in charge of me. Yeah... you could say that I have some questions.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I attended my first leadership "retreat" twelve years ago. Back then it involved an overnight stay at a motel in Leesburg, a community just far enough outside the city limits to justify calling it a retreat, well, that and the two day schedule. The next year we got a new principal and she put her own personal stamp on the event by reorganizing it into a 9-3 meeting, with lunch, held in our library. (I approved of the change, mostly because I didn't have to share a room with anybody, although I did kind of miss drinking beer on the porch until midnight with Larry and Mark.)
This year we went to someone's house because our building renovation won't be complete until next Monday. We met in the family room, and I got the leather easy chair, so I can't really complain, especially when the principal perched on the stone ledge of the fireplace all day. The meeting had a different kind of feeling than those in the past, and in odd moments, I found myself trying to figure out why. Was it the setting? The ever changing cast of attendees? Or could it have been me? After 17 years, I'm on the downswing of my tenure.
At the end of the session, which ran long as usual because of so many non-agenda issues that seemed worth spending time on, our attention was directed to a single sheet in our folders. Its title was Focusing Work to Improve Instruction and it consisted of six questions:
What does success look like?
How do I impact instruction?
What is my role in our success?
How do I help all kids excel?
How do I monitor progress on a regular basis?
What do I need to do differently?
I folded the paper in half and tucked it into my writing notebook. As the new school year begins, I couldn't ask for better prompts.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Back at home, though, there are subtle signs that suggest summer is flagging, ever-so-slightly: The heat is less intense; the days are noticeably shorter; the humidity slumps; Orion's shoulders, Bellatrix and then Betelgeuse rise in the southeast just ahead of the sun. The psychological effect of getting ready to go back to school may contribute a little bit to the tiny chill (the first big meeting of the year is tomorrow), but I don't think so.
Fall is coming.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
One of our roadtrip audiobooks this summer has been The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. For those who are unfamiliar, this is the first in a four part series (followed by The Pretties, The Specials, and The Extras) that takes place a couple of hundred years in the future. Some sort of bacteria that feeds on oil, both raw and refined, and then causes it to explode has brought about the demise of our civilization. We have been replaced by a group who is, on the surface, much more eco-friendly and politically correct then we ever were. One way that they ensure equality is by conducting extensive plastic surgery on every citizen once they reach the age of sixteen so that they will become one of the "Pretties." Before then people are known as "Littlies" until the age of twelve and then "Uglies" until their operations.
Obviously, two of Westerfeld's major considerations are nature and perfection. My mind wandered to the book this evening as I visited my garden after a week away. So often, we have an image of visual perfection in our mind that has nothing to do with what's best. Homegrown produce can be beautiful, but a lot of it is not quite fit for the grocery store. Despite its superior flavor, it doesn't always look flawless. No matter-- I took my splitties and went home to prepare a very pretty salad, and better still? It was delicious.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Is it a boon or a bane? Why don't you be the judge? I'm too tired to decide.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Today we had it all. Hot in the morning, breezy midday, one peal of thunder and a few drops in the afternoon, and then one hell of a downpour around 5. Tonight hundreds of huge dragon flies are diving through the still sunset-- there's no wind at all so they can fly-- and dozens of bats are close behind.
To be honest, none of this weather is to my preference. Those who know me know I am a daughter of the constellation Orion; I love cool days and cold, clear nights, but if the Eskimos have forty words for snow, then the Edistonians should have at least that many for hot and humid, and as a writing teacher, I appreciate that.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The beach is an ideal setting for such a concept, and I loved every single picture I took today. In them children and dogs play, people relax, and brightly colored suits, towels, and buckets pop against the sand washed in the sun. The sky and ocean are impossible shades of blue and green, and every cloud is perfect: just like it was when I was a kid.
I should know-- I've seen the pictures.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The women were actually members of a local turtle patrol. Later we found a postcard-sized message wedged into the outlet by the outdoor light switch that explained everything. (Those turtle ladies are efficient!) It seems that when the young turtles hatch, it is the light of the moon that draws them into the sea. Household illuminations can distract these newborns with disastrous consequence; once turned around hatchlings rarely find their way to the ocean.
I want to do all I can to preserve this (and any) species-- really I do-- but I confess that I'm a wee bit conflicted. On the one hand there is the pathos of those infant loggerheads heading with all of their innate instinct and determination in a direction exactly opposite of the one they ought to go. Then there is the notion of natural selection. Hey! Dumbass! The ocean is over there!
Don't worry. The lights are out.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
What to do? As annoying as it might be, if you just take your quirkle blocks and go home, you'll miss all the fun. Eventually you've got to work it out. Does it really matter if you like reading on the beach or reading in the recliner, hot dogs or seafood, getting up early or staying up late? It's only a problem if you think it is, and who wants to do so much thinking on vacation?
Monday, August 16, 2010
A veteran vacation renter, I never truly appreciated the wear and tear a place such as this suffers. After twelve solid weeks of family fun, this lovely beach house we're staying in could use some serious TLC. For example, the upper screen on the door to the oceanfront porch succumbed to the coastal breeze this afternoon and bid its spline good bye forever; now it flops forward like the dog-eared page of a paperback, marking our place here. This house has broken blinds, crooked grates, bifold doors that never meet, and all sorts of things corroded from salt, sand, and humidity. At dinner time we play an informal game of musical chairs to avoid the one with the saggy seat, although my brother graciously traded with me tonight, "Perfect for my boney butt," he said.
To begin with, these imperfections annoyed me considerably: every vacationer visualizes the ideal space for that long-awaited retreat, but gradually I've come to recognize them as what they are: badges of the pleasure and enjoyment that this place has provided to all the other people who have stayed here this summer. I'm sure we'll do a little damage of our own.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Visiting such a climate is an exotic experience. The palm trees and lush vegetation provide an emerald contrast to the white-washed sand and shells on the dunes. Our eyes are riveted to any road-side ditch or backwater-- we're looking for gators. Brightly painted cinder block buildings with tin roofs and plantation shutters are dotted in between the beach houses. Spanish moss drapes the trees and in the grayer, mistier moments, lends an air of eeriness that contributed to our purchase of Ghosts of the Carolina Coast at the local bookstore.
In fact it was just that moss hanging dramatically from the canopy of live oaks arching across the one and only road leading onto this barrier island that caught my eye on the trip in yesterday. Looking up to admire the natural arcade, I noticed something big and cat-like perched above us; in the fleeting look I got, I was sure I saw a wildcat. A little internet research confirmed the existence of bobcats down here.
Still, there are skeptics... my brother-in-law made my sister ask the clerk at the surf shop around the corner if there were any bobcats on the island. My sister says the girl looked a little taken aback by the question, but then she dug deep into her service industry core, smiled brightly, and said, "I never heard of any, but never say never, right?"
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
We hope to be on the road before 7 AM; we can get into the house at 4, and who wants to waste a single minute of ocean front living?
More from Edisto Island tomorrow.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
As a teacher, I know the answer. Personalized accountability becomes nearly impossible when the group is too large to support it. When we must standardize in order to guarantee "equal" treatment, we often lose sight of the individual. As the debate on the pros and cons of nationalizing and even globalizing not only our economy, but also our food supply, our educational standards, and more, continues, it seems wise to find a way to allow each self, each someone, to regulate his or her needs in good faith.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Confession: I've heard of county extensions-- mostly in books-- and in my mind they were not much more than quaint holdovers of a more agrarian time, so I definitely never stopped to consider that a) they might exist in this urban county where I reside or b) they might be of use to me. In my strong desire to avoid any sort of high temperature explosion, though, I took some time this afternoon to do a little research.
Guess what? County extension are great resources! With programs dedicated to family and consumer science, youth, agriculture, and community viability, their mission is to help the people of our county improve their lives through educational programs based on research and developed with input from local stakeholders. Clearly, as a teacher and a citizen, I need to check them out a little more closely (both with and without my pressure gauge in hand).
See? My pressure cooker is already doing me a world of service and I haven't even taken it out of the box, yet.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
So imagine my dismay this morning when I heard a newscast on NPR stating that President Obama would be meeting with teachers in the rose garden today "to express his support of a jobs bill that would prevent the layoffs of tens of thousands of their ilk."
Monday, August 9, 2010
That strategy has been relatively successful for most of the summer so far. She was on vacation for several weeks, and then we were, too, and I usually try to go up there on weekday mornings when I know it will be quiet. Not so tonight, though. After time away and a house full of company, our garden was looking a little neglected. We've been getting a fair amount of produce, but the weeds have been thriving as well. This evening I was pulling up some of those uninvited plants and pruning the tomatoes, when a deceptively cheerful voice called to me from the next plot. "Oh there you are! We were speculating that you had either given up or were out of town."
Let's parse that:
We: she and other people in the garden were talking about us.
were speculating that you had either given up: implying that our garden was so uncared for that people were talking about it AND they figured we might be quitters.
or were out of town: a misleadingly friendly little end to the comment that keeps it from being blatantly offensive.
I shrugged and told her we'd been away, but oooh! I was mad, and truth be told a little humiliated. A little later the words of Eleanor Roosevelt came to me as I brooded, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," and that made me feel a little better. I know that I am somewhat insecure about the garden, because I am inexperienced. I accept that and try to be mindful enough to learn from the successes and the failures, too; I'm going to make mistakes; it's only the first year. So far, I've been pretty happy with how things are going.
How easily my fragile confidence was undermined! As September approaches and with it another school year, I want to remember today and prevent such a thing from happening to my students as they too struggle with the new and the unfamiliar.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The kids in the commercial never looked back at the ghostly bowl floating along in their wake. If they had, would they have been alarmed or comforted? I wonder. Forty years ago, I remember wishing for such a glutinous guardian, but now the specter of my meals haunting my days is a little too corporeal. If anything, there's probably a wee phantom antacid tablet shadowing me, and may its effects be as lingering as the spirit of Cream of Wheat.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
We had spent the day out and about. First coffee and breakfast, then a trip to Target, and finally lunch and a movie. How strange it had been to go out where there was plenty of electricity and things proceeded as normal. Somehow it made me feel even more deprived, but after each excursion we returned to our home optimistically, the power will be on, it will, it will, only to be disappointed. Finally we gave up and settled in for the full pioneer package-- Sunday was only a couple of days away.
But then with as little fan fare as you could imagine, one light came on in the kitchen and there was a low collective hum from all the HVAC units in the complex as they were switching on to cool us off, and the great blackout of 2010 had ended.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Rumors are flying around the neighborhood about when our collective
misfortune might be resolved. After being without electricity for over
24 hours, everybody just wants to know what to expect. Someone got a
report from the power company that we would be back online by 5 PM,
but that optimistic time has come and gone. An email also circulated
that power would be out in our area until Sunday. I hope not, but it's
already too late for all the food in our refrigerator. The freezer has
another 24 hours.
If it weren't for the loss of the food, this ordeal wouldn't be too
bad at all. The weather is warm, but not even close to unbearable; a
pleasant breeze is blowing gently through the house. We'll use the
grill for supper-- some steaks, corn on the cob, and tomatoes and
cucumbers from the garden. All that's missing is the jingle of the ice
Thursday, August 5, 2010
We were at the movies this afternoon when the thunder started crashing
and the gush of pouring rain was clearly audible above the sound
track. With about 5 minutes left in the movie, the electricity flickered on
and off and then the film stopped completely, which was a first for
me-- I've never been in a theater that lost power. We followed the
emergency lighting out into the lobby where the neon lights and faux
deco sconces were blinking like a carnival ride before they too went
dark. The 30 foot plate glass windows in the front looked like they
were being sprayed with a fire hose, such was the force of the wind
and weather out there. (Later we heard that there were 70 mph gales
and two inches of rain in 30 minutes.) A theater employee announced
refunds for everyone-- another first. We waited around for fifteen
minutes or so, and when the storm let up to merely torrential, I made
a run for the car, blessing the good parking karma that put us just
three spaces in on the first row. Of course in retrospect, I wonder what
our hurry was. Downed trees and wires littered our path home. Every
restaurant and store we passed was dark, and when we got here, our
place was too, as it still is five hours later. I think it's safe to
say that the novelty has worn off.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Proposition 8 in CA is another good example of this. The post-election analysis showing that it was Obama supporters who pushed this gay marriage ban over the top in 2008 still makes me a little weepy. (It also underscores my distrust of the current administration; well, that and Rick Warren's invocation, not to mention the race to the top, but that's a bunch of other blog posts.)
Given all that, I was surprised by the distinct twinge of optimism I felt today when I heard of the federal court ruling overturning Prop 8. I know it's a small victory, but more than that, it's a big step toward a Supreme Court hearing on the issue and maybe even some federal resolution, so that at least I'll know, one way or the other, what the law of this land is when it comes to my family.
And now four words I never thought I'd type: Thank you Ted Olson.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I taught summer school that year for eighth graders who had failed world geography. On the last day of the term, their grandfather brought the boys by to say hello. Looking around the classroom, Treat made a beeline for the puzzles and started his routine: We live in Virginia. Here's biiiiig Texas. There's Minnesota-- Grandma Fran lives there. That's California! and so it went until he fitted the last piece in place a few minutes later. I looked up and noticed a couple of the students staring at him incredulously. I knew that they had struggled with that puzzle all summer long.
One of the girls made eye contact with me. "No offense," she said, "but your nephew is a freak."
Monday, August 2, 2010
It's our habit to pack lunch and pick a place with a nice view to stop for a picnic, and today the girls chose a spot high above Mather Gorge to eat. The river was super low, and a light breeze kept most of the bugs away. There were a couple of industrious ants on the rocks where we sat, though, and as we packed up to continue on our way, we noticed that one of them had found an awfully big crumb and was struggling to carry it off. As she zigged and zagged staggering beneath the weight of her delicious morsel, I amused myself by narrating her progress in first person. No worries girls, I got this... whoa, oops, ta da! I meant to do that! and so on, I channeled her chatter, ant to aunt, until we walked on, leaving her story unfinished.
In the rest of the hiking, swimming, cooking, singing, dancing, and game playing that completed our day, that moment was lost to me until I heard Delaney giggling on the phone with her parents about it, and then I laughed a little, too, and hoped that the ant made it home with her treasure.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Soon after they arrived today, the girls had their first disagreement. It was about which of our DVDs they might watch first. six-year-old Delaney wanted James and the Giant Peach, but ten-year-old Allyn favored Mulan. In an attempt to mediate, I tried the winner-take-all approach of holding their selections behind my back and having them pick right or left, but they wanted more of a compromise or even a consensus, so we took a broader look at their choices. Somehow, they agreed upon The Flintstones. At first they thought it was the live action film of a few years ago, but even when they understood that misconception, they were okay with watching a few episodes of the original series although (or because?) neither had ever seen it.
Know what? They love it. We are totally going to have a yabba dabba doo week.