Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing Out the...

Raccoon!

I just had a close encounter with Rocky Ring-tail in the trash enclosure of our complex. He was fearless, clambering along the closed cans to get to the one that was too full to shut tightly. When I tossed a cardboard box his way, he simply dodged it and kept on coming. "Really?" I said, looking him right in the mask. "Really?" I repeated when he ignored me and tore into the top bag.

He wished me no harm; I could tell. We parted with no ill will between us-- he, gorging on garbage, and I, relieved I hadn't run into a rat.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Concussion Suits May Be Test for Football

I saw this headline on the NYTimes website this morning and wondered just what these suits might look like and how they could possibly protect players from those prevalent football injuries. I studied the accompanying photo for clues, but they looked like the same old uniforms to me. It wasn't until I read the thumbnail that I realized they were referring to law suits.

Duh!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Slow News Week

We listened to a lot of news radio on the road trip home from Buffalo today. (Attention! New record: 7 hours flat!). It was mostly NPR, but there were some extremely right wing call-ins scattered here and there. Even though they call it "news", there really wasn't a whole lot new, so I tried to amuse myself by processing the information in novel ways.

Along the way, I decided that Romney should choose Santorum as a running mate, (Okay, we were driving through Pennsylvania, but you have to admit it's a shrewd pairing), and also that people with British accents shouldn't question President Obama's citizenship, especially in first person plural as in, "He's not qualified to be our president... We should arrest him for treason." It just doesn't sound convincing.

As the trip wore on, though, I started noticing more and more misspoken idioms. For example, some people feel that the voters in Iowa often skewer the national primary results, and that the diplomats trying to repair the U.S.'s relationship with Pakistan have a tough road to hoe.

Agreed, especially if it's paid with good intentions.

I'm so glad to be home!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The "Duh" Was Implied

Since Tangled was released in 2010, there's been a lot of publicity about how Rapunzel rounds out the Disney princesses to an even ten. In fact you can watch a little countdown of them in order of popularity on YouTube, should you be so inclined. This particular clip also includes some interesting facts and history about the ten. For example, who knew that Sleeping Beauty nearly killed the franchise at three? In fact it was 30 years before Ariel, the Little Mermaid, revived the princess business and put it on the road to the phenomenal success it enjoys today. Jasmine was the first non-caucasian princess, Pocohantas the sole princess based on a real person, and so also the only one without a happy ending, and Tiana the lone princess to hold down a job. Of course Cinderella is the most popular.

This morning, my four-year-old niece and I watched the countdown together, and to be honest, I was enjoying the whole girl power groove of the thing. "That was pretty good," I said to her when it was over. "Do you think you would want to be the eleventh princess someday?"

She looked at me a little dismissively, as if I was missing something, and then shook her head. "I already am a princess," she said.

Oh right. Silly me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Over the Weight Limit

It's already been a week that I've been off from school, and I must say that I've been more than able to let it all go this time-- there's nothing happening that can't wait until the first Tuesday of 2012. Oh, January 3 will be a rocking day-- I predict that we will hit the ground running and continue non-stop, until, March? Unless there is a blizzard, Spring Break will be the next break; until then we will rocket along with planning and grading, on to the end of the quarter, then science fair, early release, professional development, spring conferences, standardized tests, field trips, meetings, conferences, referrals, tolerance clubs, writing clubs, homework clubs, literary magazine, and on and on.

It seems counter-intuitive that the busier we are, the easier it seems to leave our professional baggage behind at school on breaks like this, but the truth is that some things are just too heavy to bring along.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Maybe Tomorrow?

I think it's important as a teacher of writing to engage as a writer every day myself... At least that's what I said tonight at dinner when someone I'd just met asked me how and why I started blogging.

Yeah... and some days I'm more engaged than others.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Confounded No More

I am a casual blogger, but like any writer, when I send my message out into the universe, it's with hope that someone will read what I have to say. Fortunately, in this day and age, along with this new electronic medium comes some nifty e-gadgets, too, that let a blogger track how many hits and where they are coming from to get an interesting overall picture of readership.

Most days, my readers are my mom, my brother, my sister, and my friend Mary (thanks guys!). I have a few other more sporadic, but still regular readers (thanks guys!), too, but 20 hits is a busy day for me. You can imagine then, what an early Christmas gift it was for me to see over a hundred visitors to my blog, yesterday. Curiously, although they were from all over the world, they seemed to be clustered by time zone.

I clicked around my stats page a little more and discovered that most of my readers had come in search of a single term, and it was all clear to me what was happening. Last year at this time I posted about Christmas Crackers and a particularly unfathomable joke we got, What do ghosts wear in the rain? The punchline was "Khagouls", which it turned out was a pun on the equally unfamiliar word "kagools", which is a sort of English anorak.(Thanks again, Mary!)

Yesterday, all over the world, from one Christmas Eve dinner to another and another, as crackers were snapped, and crowns were donned, along with the merriment, confusion spread from table to table. What does this joke mean? they asked. And their solution? Google of course! And what did they find? Walking the Dog!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Coats of Christmas Past

We've had a fairly mild winter so far, and it was even unseasonably temperate in Buffalo, NY, when we packed the car for our trip up here. You can't count on a warm snap like that to last in December, though, so I found my winter coat in the closet and tossed it on top of the suitcases and presents in the back of our station wagon.

Yesterday, when the temps were only in the low 20s at noon, I was glad I had. I slipped it on like an old friend as I bundled up to run a few errands. The blue of it was still as bright and cheery as ever, the black fleece inside just as warm and cozy. I reached into the pockets and found my mittens and lip balm just where I'd left them the last time I wore my coat, last winter. I also found a grocery list and movie ticket stubs dated January 30.

It was like a mini time capsule. When you're a child, coats need to be replaced every year, so fast do you grow and grow up, but as I looked at my grocery list and thought of the me who made it, it seemed amazing not how much has changed in nearly a year, but rather how little.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Comforts of Home

We are away from home for over a week this holiday season, and as fun and exciting as it is to spend time with those we love most, it's always a challenge for me to pack. If we are driving, it's a little easier, because more of the things I think I might need or want can fit, but I've found that no matter how much you bring, there's always something you wish you had.

When they were little, my older nephews used to spend a lot of time at our house. Even though they lived close by, there were many fun weekends and overnights. I like to think it was almost a second home to them, and I know they were very comfortable there. Even so, there were times when they missed little things, too. Oh, not their toothbrushes, which rarely made it, or even clean underwear, which was never a big priority, either. I clearly remember a time, though, when Treat was only about four and still pretty recently potty-trained. He was very good about making it to the bathroom, but once there, our toilet seat was just too big and too hard. "Ohhhh," he lamented, "I wish Mommy packed my cushy tushy."

I know just how he felt. "Ohhhh," I lamented this morning, "I wish I packed my other sneakers."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Short Day's Journey into the Night

We were driving north through the rain yesterday, the shortest day of the year. By 4:30 we were gathered in a thick gloom, and 5:30 was like midnight as we drove along a secondary road on our route. The darkness, fog, and spray from every oncoming car made the trip feel treacherous, but the Christmas lights on almost every house and in every little town we passed shined through the misty blackness, casting a merry glow and guiding us on our way.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Rush

I admit it: sometimes I get caught up in the hectic pace of things. Just the other day, as I was race-walking from one end of the building to the other with less than ten minutes to pee, eat lunch, and get back to the computer lab, a friend and colleague saw me from way up the hall. She waved and gestured that she needed to talk to me. I kept on coming at full speed. She turned and disappeared in the direction of her office. I made the decision to keep on walking and touch base with her later (I really needed to pee), but as I passed, I saw her coming out of her office.

"Wait!" she called.

I slowed briefly and wave impatiently. "C'mon!" I said. "Let's walk and talk, walk and talk. I've got a lot to do in a little time."

She quickened her pace and met me at the doorway holding up a bright little gift bag. I came to a full stop, sheepish and speechless.

Another of our co-workers had witnessed the whole thing. She pointed her finger at me. "What do you have to say now?" she asked, eyebrows quite high.

"Thank you," I said, "and I'm really sorry. Really"

My friend looked at the other woman and laughed. "Oh! She talks to me like this all the time!" Then she turned to me. You're welcome! Now go to the bathroom!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hall Patrol

The design of our school has two wide hallways that run the entire length of the building. Such a span of interrupted space can be very tempting to the energetic middle schooler, and many a student must be reminded to slow down and walk on those stretches.

I sympathize-- a long time ago when I was one of only two summer school teachers working in the building, on the days when I rode my bike to school, there were times when I just kept on riding once I was inside. It was exhilarating to pedal past the library, the soft illicit whir of my tires on the carpet the only sound in the empty building.

These days I'm often on the enforcement side of hall traffic, with decidedly mixed results. For example, just the other day a student ran past me at full speed. "Whoa!" I hollered as I raised my hands to flag him down. He skidded to a halt, spun around, and pointed his finger at himself questioningly. I nodded. He sprinted back to see what I wanted.

Then today, a student of mine stayed after class and into our lunch period to finish up on an assignment in the computer lab. With barely 10 minutes left in the period, I encouraged him to go eat. He packed his things and hurried out of the lab. He had a minute or so head start on me when I turned the corner on that long corridor. He's kind of a big guy, more than a little heavy set, and as I watched him up ahead of me I could tell he thought was running, but there was just no need to stop him, because he was well within the speed limit.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pen Envy

We had our annual book fair at school last week, and as usual, the excitement among the students was very high. I remember myself from elementary days when the book mobile would come; I wanted every book and cool little trinket they had to offer. Kids today are no different, although it's always a little disappointing that so many seem to be much more interested in the junky stuff and posters than in the actual books.

Our PTA sponsors the book fair and although they profit from it, they are also very generous. Teachers are given 5.00 discount coupons to give to students we think may not be able to afford a book otherwise. I did say "book", because the kids are not supposed to use their discount on any of the tschotskes, but rather toward the price of an actual book with words and stuff. Even so, there are always students who can get around such rules (how, I'll be darned if I know), and I happen to have one such clever lad right now. He took the coupon I gave him and returned with a huge pen, a pen with several colors of ink that is so large that it seems very laborious to write with. It's gotta be the diameter of a broomstick and at least ten inches long.

It is also a pen that with very little stretch of the imagination is rather distinctly anatomical in shape, and let me tell you folks, the eleven-year-old boys love this pen.  Several purchased them, and they seem to like waving them and showing them to others. They also like clicking them to change the ink color, although rarely do they actually do much writing with them. No, they just seem to like having them; in fact those who are stuck with their regular little writing utensils are forever grabbing their friend's pen and pretending it's theirs.

Is it a coincidence that not a single girl bought one of these pens? I think not.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who Buys That?

I heard this week that an Alabama law designed to fight corruption by limiting all public employees from accepting anything of "significant value" from the public has put the holiday tradition of giving your teacher a present on hold. In fact, teachers could conceivably be arrested for taking gifts from their students' families.

In Alabama, they say that this was an unintended consequence of the law and plans are already underway to change it so that apples and gift cards will once again be on the big desk in every classroom. In Germany, gifts to teacher are strictly verboten-- they are considered bribes and therefore unethical.

Coincidentally, just this week, several friends have consulted me about how much is appropriate to give to teacher at this time of year. A couple of questions were connected to the Alabama situation, but others were not, and everyone wanted to know how to express their sincere gratitude without going overboard. Is a hundred dollars too much? someone actually asked.

It's ironic that they should be asking me. I work in a school where, compared to some of the more affluent schools just a few miles away in the very same district, teachers are somewhat "under gifted." I have friends who do get hundreds of dollars in cash and gift cards, and one who even received Springsteen tickets once. I sometimes get a card and a candy cane, or a mug and some cookies, and although the occasional coffee card finds its way to my desk, most families don't give me anything.

I'm fine with how things are. I know my students and their families appreciate me and I don't feel at all deprived, but I have to be honest and say that such a disparity along clearly socio-economic lines makes me wonder if perhaps the Germans have the right idea.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hometown

I saw one of my students when I was out shopping this afternoon. That doesn't happen quite as often as it could, considering I live and work in the same small county. Even so, over the years I've had some memorable encounters. There was the girl who screamed and ran away to hide in Target, the mother who did not recognize me and chased me down in the grocery store after she saw me talking with her son in the produce section, and the family who quite insistently invited me out for lunch right then and there (I declined, several times).

Today, though, it was hard to tall if my student actually saw me, although at one point he nearly collided with me. I pulled up short and he jetted on his way without a word. Such behavior is not out of character for him, and if I had approached his mother, it definitely would have been to express my concerns about him. As it turned out, I didn't speak to them, even though we were in parallel lanes checking out at the same time. I was watching him as I waited, and had he acknowledged me, I would have gone over. His attention was intensely directed at several things for very short spans of time, and I wondered if he was avoiding me.

When we were done at the register, they were, too, and since they were closer to the door, we walked out behind them. Well, we walked, and so did his mom, but he literally danced his way out the door and across the parking lot.

"Yeah," Heidi said, "I think his mom has probably heard what you were going to say before. Maybe more than once."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Made Fresh Daily

I had two homeroom birthdays this week and when I asked the second student what kind of cake he wanted, he hesitated and asked, "Are we allowed to have ice cream cake?"

At the time, it seemed like a fine idea. "Sure," I told him, and made a note to myself to buy a Carvel cake from the grocery store.

Once, when I was a little girl, my Brownie troop took a field trip to our local Carvel store. At the time, all the gleaming stainless steel equipment seemed so so modern. We oohed in amazement when they showed us how the ice cream mix came freeze-dried in gallon cartons and aahed in astonishment when they poured it in the hopper of the soft serve machine and just added water. How incredible that in a matter of moments, it turned into the creamy and delicious concoction we all loved.

It was then they shared what I am sure was a trade secret-- the crunch between the layers of their delicious ice cream cakes was simply a sprinkling of that very same dry mix (!) At the end of the tour, they gave each of us a flying saucer and sent us on our way.

Last night, I dashed through the grocery-- after school, after writing club, after the gym, and before coming home to cook dinner-- in search of a Carvel cake. I admit I was looking forward to it; even after forty years and a significantly expanded palate, there's something indefinably tasty about that freeze dried ice cream, and I hadn't had one for a long time. I opened the freezer to gauge what size would be best for the 15 kids in my homeroom and was shocked to see the price tag.  Just the wee eight incher was twenty bucks and the next size up was thirty. I considered the precedent I was setting and quickly decided that I was definitely not prepared to spend a possible $450.00 on birthdays should this trend catch on. It was a quandary though-- I'd already promised an ice cream cake.

Back in the 70's, after that visit to Carvels, my mom started making her own ice cream cakes. She'd seen the technique, and she used a spring form pan and a hand mixer to beat slightly softened ice cream to the proper consistency before spreading it in layers. As for the crunch? She used cookies and candy crushed up in the blender. Everyone raved about those cakes.

Putting the cardboard box back into its freezer case, I stepped across the aisle. There, an entire half-gallon of ice cream was on sale for $2.50. I knew just what to do.

EPILOGUE:

My students were thrilled with the cake and quite impressed that I had made it myself. Win Win Win.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Case Closed

I have heard vague rumors about the evils of Chinese pine nuts-- something about a bitter after taste. It is enough on my radar screen that in the rare event that I purchase them (when it comes to cooking with nuts, we prefer almonds, pecans, and walnuts, in that order), I check to make sure their origin is not Chinese. An aside: I don't really think it's biased or reactionary to mistrust food from China;the export economy there has grown so quickly that it's unreasonable to expect that adequate health and safety checks are in place.

At any rate, my awareness of the problems with some pine nuts was not acute enough to prevent me from eating a salad full of them at the wedding we attended last Saturday. They tasted fine, and I cleaned my plate.

A couple days later, I had an odd experience. A big box of steaming hot fried chicken, some biscuits, and a plate of homemade lumpia was unceremoniously brought to my classroom around 3 PM with a post-it note. "From the D. family." As hard as I tried to get to the bottom of this unexpected delivery, I could not, and so I stored the food in the refrigerator until the next day.

It turned out that, since I've taught three of their sons over the last few years, they just decided to treat me to something special, and on a whim they sent me some chicken and egg rolls, which just happen to be two of my favorite things. Gratefully, I heated up a portion for my lunch, but I was still thinking about the atypicality of the gesture when I started to eat, and then, for some reason, it seemed like everything had a strange and metallic taste.

I finished my meal with a bit of an uneasy feeling, but after I survived the afternoon, I put aside any suspicions I may have had about the chicken, and promptly forgot the entire thing. At dinner, though, my food tasted off, and briefly I wondered: Is there something wrong with me? Was there something wrong with the chicken? My attention span is only so long, however, and it wasn't too long before all my concerns were lost in whatever was on TV.

When it happened again the next day, though, my focus was completely restored. To be honest,  you get to a certain age and it becomes challenging sometimes to tell if a particular sensation is just a normal ache or pain or rather a symptom of some fatal condition. The trick is to find a balance between ignoring it and googling it and freaking out.

I usually start with the Google route and work from there. This time, I started with the search terms bitter taste mouth, and at first I actually ignored all the hits that mentioned Chinese pine nuts. But they were so prominent that I couldn't skip them completely, and imagine my surprise when I read that this sensation actually starts a few days after eating the nuts and could last up to two weeks! It was only then that I remembered the salad from Saturday night.

Bummer!

But... at least my chicken wasn't poisoned, and, as far as I know, I'm not suffering any deadly disease.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Now It's Gone Too Far

The star of my last post walked in this morning with another one liner.

Me: Good morning!

Him: Pull my finger...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thanks, I'll Be Here All Week

I have an autistic student in my homeroom this year. He goes to the life skills program for the rest of the day, but the 30 minutes we spend together in the morning is one of his few "main stream" opportunities. In homeroom, the teacher's role is to support and advocate for the students in whatever area they need it, and so for this guy, we work on social skills.

"Thanks! I'll be here all week!" was a phrase that he repeated over and over again one day recently. The other students are often unsure of how to interact with him, and they look to me in situations like that.

"That's what a comedian says," I told him. "Do you know any jokes?"

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" he said.

"To get to the other side?"

"Yeah. What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?" he continued.

I was stumped. "I give up," I answered.

"Anybody can roast beef, but no one can pee soup," he dead panned.

All the other kids' eyes were on me, and when I laughed, they laughed, too. "Hey, that was pretty good," one girl said to our comedian, but he himself did not crack a smile.

"That joke was funny," I told him, "but do you think you should tell it in school, to your teacher?"

"No!" he grinned.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because it has 'pee'. Sorry! I won't say it again."

"Okay," I replied.

"Thanks! I'll be here all week!" he answered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

It has long been my practice to bring a cake for my homeroom students on their birthdays. It often seems like such a celebration goes a long way toward building both community and a personal relationship with each student.

This year, a student who was having a hard time transitioning to middle school academically was moved into my group about a month ago. Since then, I've been working with him at lunch and after school, but he's been anything but receptive to the support I'm offering. This morning, that all changed. We had our first birthday since he joined our homeroom, and that boy was loving himself some chocolate cake. All of a sudden, though, his face fell. "Oh no!" he cried. "My birthday has already passed!"

"Don't worry," I told him, "we'll give you a halfy birthday."

He smiled with genuine relief, but then frowned again. "I guess I should come up for lunch and work on my math today," he said. "I don't even know when that is."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cultural Exchange

We went to a wedding yesterday and the groom was Iranian. In the ladies room during the reception, several of his relatives were chattering excitedly in Farsi, and the sound of their conversation made me smile. As it turns out, I have a bit of a history with the language of Iran.

A friend of mine was born in Tehran to a Persian dad and an American mom. Her family fled the country when the Shah fell, and then they settled here in the States. At seven, my friend hardly spoke a word of English, in fact the only phrases she knew she had learned from pulling the string on her Chatty Cathy doll: I want a drink of water. I'm not tired. I love you... and so on.

I had the opposite experience. At my Swiss boarding school in the late 70's there was a large group of wealthy Iranian students. Most of their families were also allied with the Shah, but we graduated before the revolution. They were a dynamic presence on campus, to say the least, and so we all learned a little Farsi: Up yours. Screw you. Your mother is... and so on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tea Time

It's a cold December day here and so to take the chill off the afternoon, I made us some tea. When I was about six, my best friend, Nicci, had a tea party for her birthday. We were served tiny cups of tea with plenty of milk and sugar with our cake, and with one sip of that warm, sweet, creamy goodness I was hooked.

The only problem was that my mom would only allow me to have tea when I was sick. Despite my persistent requests, anything with caffeine and three teaspoons of sugar was definitely in the special occasion category. And so it remained, until one evening when we had a babysitter, and it occurred to me to ask her for a cup of tea.

I remember that she was surprised that such a little kid would drink tea, and I was flattered by my presumed sophistication. We didn't even have a tea kettle (my parents were coffee drinkers) so she boiled the water in a sauce pan and poured it carefully over one of the Tetley tea bags that my mom kept for iced tea. At my direction, she heaped three spoons of sugar into the steaming mug, but I was unprepared for her next question. "Do you like milk or lemon?"

My mind raced. I had only had hot tea with milk, and that's how I liked it, but I loved lemon, and that sounded really good, too. "Both," I said.

She looked confused. "Really?" she asked.

"Oh yeah," I told her, "I have it like that all the time."

She shrugged and a minute later set the curdled brew in front of me with some skepticism. It looked awful and tasted worse, but I knew I had to drink it, and I did.

It was a long time before I drank hot tea again, and over the years I've tried lots of different teas in several different ways, but these days it's milk and sugar again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Literature About Letters

Every teacher knows how it is to have a student who either misunderstands, misses the point of, or in some other way just does not connect with an assignment. I have a particular student right now who has only turned in a draft of his Letter About Literature because his mother has been in daily contact with me for the last week.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I do the LAL unit with my sixth grade classes every year. (And I write about it, too. Click here for my thoughts in 2009 and here for those in 2010) Sponsored by the Library of Congress, it is a writing contest that has the lofty goal of inspiring kids to compose letters to authors explaining what personal difference their books have made. After re-reading my own observations from years past, I am reminded that it is a challenging task for sixth graders, but I won't be discouraged, either, because despite the challenge, I still think it is a valuable exercise which brings together all the important components of a language arts curriculum-- reading, writing, and higher order thinking.

Well, that's the idea anyway. Back to my recalcitrant student. Here's what he turned in:

Dear John,

Listen and listen closely. I never wanted to read your book but it looks cool and it also was a long book. So be happy that I’m reading it. Now I got to write about you and your book, so be happy cause I’m doing what I didn’t want to so PAY ATTENTION!!

I’m happy you listened closely and understood me. Are you happy I read your book? At the beginning I thought your book was like dew on the grass, now I like it. When I say dew I mean like the yucky stuff on the morning grass. 


Okaaaayyyy... Teacher Quiz!

Test yourself: what is the best response to this piece of writing?

A) I like your honesty.
B) Your voice really comes through.
C) Interesting use of figurative language.
D) See me
E) All of the above

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You Might be a Writer If...

The other day when I was rooting around in the attic to find the early December box (note to self: clean out attic while it's cool enough to be up there), I came across the old magnetic marble run. We used to keep the colorful chutes, lever cups, and funnel on our refrigerator for whenever the nephews were over. Designing and redesigning runs to send marble after marble on its merry way was always good for lots of fun, but once the boys got old enough to lose interest, the set was tossed in a Target bag and lost in that black hole of storage space above our heads.

Looking at the sack of green and purple plastic, it occurred to me that I knew plenty of kids who had not had the chance to outgrow such a fun toy, and glad that they might be appreciated once more, I brought them to school.

So it was that they were scattered across the white board when the writing club met in my room this afternoon. I had not been mistaken: every kid who's had the chance to use it has loved the marble run, and the writing club members were no exception. They all wanted to arrange and rearrange the pieces to see if they could guide the marble safely to its bin. Finally, we told them that they could play with it at the end, but one clever young writer took up the dry erase marker to show us how the game was relevant to our cause,


and for the rest of the meeting, they took turns to see how many books they could publish.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Multitasking

As they worked on the latest drafts of their writing assignments, I put a list of resources for the students on the board. I inventoried the four exemplary pieces of writing they had, the how-to mini-lessons, and the section of the text which showed the proper format for friendly letters. The last item was me, their teacher, and I took a moment as I went over the list to remind them that I hoped they would view me in that way, as a resource, an expert in writing and literature, there to help them become better writers and readers. "When I have to spend my time telling you not to poke the kid next to you, you're wasting a valuable resource," I said. "You're treating me more like a babysitter than a teacher."

There were some nods, a couple of shrugs, and a few blank stares, but one student looked very confused. "But wait..." he started, "can't you do both?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Look Inside

Once again, the novelty of GoogleDocs amuses me. I got an email this evening that a student had shared an assignment that's been missing for a while, and so I clicked over to see what he had done. To my surprise, when I opened the document, he was still composing it, and I watched as the third paragraph appeared at an excruciating slow pace.

It revealed quite a bit about his writing process, though. He is a distracted kid-- it's hard for him to get started on an assignment and hard to sustain his attention. He also embraces any sidetrack he can while attempting to complete a task; sharpening a pencil, getting a tissue, throwing away a piece of paper, all become top priorities.

I know that's why he shared the document with me before he was done; it was a way to avoid actually doing any writing. As I monitored his composition, I also noticed that he was a stickler about spelling. If something was misspelled, he would sometimes go back to it within a word or two, which indicated that he had to be re-reading a lot, but most often, he would try to fix it right away.

I watched in fascination as he typed stratigys, and then stratageys, and then stratigeys, until finally, unable to stand it any longer, I placed my cursor on the word and fixed it myself. An instant message popped up a second later thanking me. I replied with encouragement, "You're doing great! Keep going!" but told him I was signing off and would check in later. It had taken him two minutes to type a single word, and I just couldn't watch anymore.

Later I imagined what it would be like for someone observing me as I write. I'm sure it would be maddening in its own way. Writing is hard, and the only thing that makes it easier is to stick with it. How do you teach that?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Planning Ahead

I have a particular student who keeps borrowing books from me and leaving them elsewhere in the school. He's lucky that other teachers and students return them to my room, but he's always surprised when I have them and a little hurt when I hesitate to place them in his care again. Today he wanted to borrow six books at once. To be honest, I sympathize with his ambition and his desire for dibs on certain titles: I always have a stack of books by my bedside, on my desk, or in the "good" bookcase, which I'm informally reserving for the near future. Whether I actually read them or not, for now, I want them near at hand. They are, however, my books.

Still, this student was undaunted by my unwillingness to simply hand over all the books he wanted. "Can I have that one when I finish this one?" and here, he looked around in confusion for the one he had left by the pencil sharpener.

"Yes," I said, handing him the lost volume.

"And can I have the other one when I'm done with that?" he inquired anxiously.

"Yes," I answered.

He looked longingly at the stack he had assembled. "What about next year? When I'm in seventh grade can I still borrow your books?"

"Yes," I told him.

"And what about you?" he asked. "Will you come to seventh grade, too?"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sometimes, Nothing Else Will Do

We did some holiday baking this weekend, and once again the notion of "veganizing" traditional favorites was a prime topic of consideration. My favorite cookie is the Russian Teacake, AKA the Mexican Wedding Cake. It is basically a shortbread with pecans stirred in, rolled into balls before baking, and covered with confectioners sugar after. Although it was easy to create a vegan version of this particular cookie, I did not love the result. The texture was lighter and crisper, which admittedly some might prefer, but I missed the buttery flavor, and the mouth feel was a little slickery to my palate.

I don't eat a lot of sweets, and we are fortunate enough that there's no need for eating anything that we don't like, especially something like a cookie which is not the most healthful of foods. If it's not good, and it's not good for you, then really? What's the point?

I plan to make another batch, with butter, tomorrow.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

That's Why

In the midst of every regular and holiday errand we hoped to do this weekend, today brought one other item on our lengthy to-do list: we were scheduled to put in our last work day for the community garden at 9 AM.

It wasn't until I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30 this morning with my mental tiller still turning up all the anxiety gardening dreams from the night before that I realized I'd been dreading the work day. I really like having the garden, and I'm totally on board with the community aspect of the proposition, but in reality, my interaction with many of the other gardeners in the place has been less than pleasant.

In addition to the over-bearing, passive-aggressive woman in the next plot, during the growing season every week or so brings a scolding email directed to all of us. Someone is leaving the water on, not cleaning the common tools properly, failing to secure the gate, trampling other gardens, or pinching produce. I suspected that today's work session, like the others I've attended, would be loosely organized with everyone expected to "pitch in" but with no clear objective about what should be accomplished before we could leave with a clear conscience.

And so it was that I headed off for the garden with a sigh and a bit of a knot in my stomach, but the day was so bright, the air so crisp, the sun just warm enough, that none of that mattered, and in the end, I was simply happy to work outside for an hour.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Bad Case of the Elevens

A student who is usually quite pleasant and polite has seemed a little out of sorts this week. All the sighing, eye-rolling, and teeth sucking came to a boiling point today when in response to my gentle redirection she shrugged and walked away with an exasperated, "Whatever!"

I called her to the doorway to address the issue privately, and as I spoke, she literally craned her neck to turn her head as far from me as possible, refusing to respond to any of my questions. At last I was able to break through her silence, but only after I asked her what I had done to make her behave this way.

Nothing!" she said dismissively. "This is not about you!"

Once that figurative two by four made contact, I asked her what was bothering her. She turned away again. "Is it at school?" I asked.

She shook her head, but then changed her mind. "Kind of," she said.

"Do you want to talk to the counselor?" I suggested, but when she paused, I asked if she wanted to tell me what it was.

It turns out that she is having trouble with her former best friend. Their relationship is changing in middle school, and they have been arguing a lot. There was an incident on the bus recently that she found very upsetting, so much so, that she was having a hard time focusing on her class work.

I listened, and then I told her I was sorry she was going through all that, and I promised I would set up an appointment for her with the counselor. She smiled sadly and went back into the room to finish her assignment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Here Under the Sun

You know how it is. You get to the age where you've been around a while and nothing seems new. That's right. You're jaded. It happens in areas of your life where you used to be so engaged; topics that once seemed endlessly fascinating are now mostly satisfying in a different, kind of familiar way. So familiar in fact, that there may even be a touch of contempt in your unquestionable competency. Even so, you once loved what you do with all your heart, and you still love it now, even if the passion has faded.

All of this true for me just the other night when I heard another foodie being interviewed on the radio about some "new" even "unheard of" cooking technique. I listened with mild interest as the reporter touted "an amazing time-saving trick" to peel garlic, all the while dismissing the piece in my head as just another layman's astonishment at the handiwork of a professional.

Bang the head of garlic to separate the cloves.
Yep. Got that.  

Take the cloves and place them in a stainless steel bowl.
Still thinking I have a pretty good idea where this is going.

Turn another bowl over the first and shake it like hell.
What?!? This is where I really start paying attention.

Open it up and all the cloves will be perfectly peeled.
Huh? You've gotta be kidding!

Of course I put it the test immediately, and I must confess that I was verrrrrry impressed. This method works like a charm. But hey, who really needs to peel garlic a head at a time?

No need to worry. I figured out how to modify it for a clove or two.

Yawn.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No Favorites

I teach five sections of the same course every day. The grouping is heterogeneous, so I go with the same lesson five times a day. My main strategy for differentiating is the choice that students have in terms of reading material and product, and the flexible grouping I use within each class. Still, as the day unfolds, each section develops their own personality-- generally first period is quiet and a little sleepy, second period has the benefits of both being awake and me having taught the lesson once already, third period is settled at first, but then anxious to go to lunch, fifth period has just been to lunch and takes a while to settle down, and sixth period is the end of a long day for all of us.

Maybe it's just coincidence, but over the years, third period has often been my favorite and sixth period has been my most challenging, but of course the trick is to let every group believe they are the best.

Which they are... sometimes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are We Human or Are We Dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue.
Send my condolences to good.
Give my regards to soul and romance;
they always did the best they could.
And so long to devotion--
you taught me everything I know.
Wave goodbye,
wish me well,
you've gotta let me go.

Are we human
or are we dancer?

~The Killers

Some days, I just want to be dancer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Easy Button

Last week we had a conference with a student and his parents and discovered that this particular eleven-year-old does not have an easy time accepting responsibility for his missteps either at home or at school. We talked at length about how it is okay to make mistakes and that most people actually learn from their errors if they can admit them. He nodded along with us, and hope springs eternal.

Today, he did not follow the directions I gave at the beginning of class and was unprepared when I came around to check. "How did that happen?" I asked.

What he was prepared with was a litany of excuses. "I was late," he started. "I missed that part."

"No you didn't," said the helpful student next to him.

"Oh," he said, "Well, I was sharpening my pencil."

"No you weren't," said the other kid. "You don't even have a pencil."

"I was writing down my homework?"

"Nope."

At last I intervened. "We do the same thing every Monday," I started.

He looked directly at me; the eye contact was stunning. He sighed.

"My bad," he said.

"That's okay," I told him. "You'll do better next week."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No Place Like Home for the Holidays

I'm FaceBook friends with a former student of mine who is now in college. In general I can't keep up with the number of links and photos she shares, but I did get a laugh from one of her status posts today and the subsequent comments from her other collegiate friends:

two hours before my flight back to school, my younger brother and I get into an argument over community building. we aren't talking currently. I don't know if we will be by 2:30pm. I guess there's always the next holiday break.
* * * * * *
My brother and I got into an argument about Penn State and the male complex. Then we argued about rape and how he thinks women more often than not put themselves in a position to be raped. We're also not talking; see my status "it amazes me how unintelligent people are"
* * * * * *
i got in a heated argument with my sister and mom when i tried to explain how miss piggy and amy adams in the new muppets movie were weak female characters because their stories revolved entirely around the leading male characters, they totally didn't get it
* * * * * *
I got into an argument with some friends online about whether using a negative cultural stereotype about a minority group for a joke on a billboard is acceptable; didn't make any headway either.
* * * * * *
I'm not allowed to talk politics in my family. To them "liberal arts" = talking about feelings instead of talking about things that matter in society.
* * * * * *
my brother and I got into an argument about the Occupy protests. he currently thinks I'm a communist hippie and won't do anything good with my life.
* * * * * *
My grandpa made a joking comment about transsexual housing as I sat there awkwardly. I still don't think that whole side of my family knows I'm liberal. :P
* * * * * *
my brother made the statement "i think child abuse is over talked about" while we were at a mexican restaurant. yelling ensued over mole.
* * * * * *
This weekend my grandpa started talking about what is really wrong with society. i got up from the table and went to play with the cat.

I hope those kids learn to agree to disagree, because I know from experience that such lively debates don't just go away, even in the most like-minded of families. My brother and I also kicked off the holiday with a friendly disagreement, and ours was actually about the value of a college education-- is it an over-priced credential or accurate indicator of employable worth?

If you know that I am an educator, you might be surprised about which side I took in our discussion, but for the record, after reading these comments, I may just have to change my position.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just a Minute

Punctuality and I have a long and complex relationship. Kind of like Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, temperamentally I'd like to shrug at fussy promptness, but it's impossible to ignore that pervasive social cuckoo clock of timeliness.

I don't have the type of job where flex time is an option-- the teacher pretty much has to be there when school starts-- but it's always a little embarrassing to slip into a meeting after they've started, and I try to avoid being late, even by a minute or two, because that means that all I needed was a minute or two somewhere else in my day, and somehow that seems even lamer. Thirty seconds less on the snooze button, a minute off in the shower, and a slightly quicker pace on the dog walk and I would have been right on time.

The same rule unfortunately applies to many other things-- five minutes earlier to the theater tonight and we would have enjoyed Descendants from somewhere other than the front row.

Friday, November 25, 2011

M

A picture is worth a thousand words. A thousand pennies is ten bucks. A thousand seconds is a little less than fifteen minutes, and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Today marks a thousand days of Walking the Dog. When I mentioned the milestone to my sixteen year old nephew, he couldn't decide if that was a long time or not, but I'm pretty sure that it's time to stop counting and just keep writing already.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Around the Block

We all have indelible memories, moments from our life that are completely unforgettable although many times you would be hard pressed to say why. Among mine are eating McDonald's french fries in the dark back seat of our car when I was four, the fist-shaped holes in the walls of the dilapidated Victorian house my parents visited when they were in the market for a fixer-upper, and a walk I took with my Uncle Tom one evening after Thanksgiving dinner. There must have been fifteen or more of us at the table, but when he asked who wanted to take a walk, it was only he and I who headed out into the frosty November night.

The moon was full as I jogged down the sidewalk trying to keep pace with his impossibly long legs, and I could see my breath as I huffed along. We did not talk; I doubt that the two of us ever had a complete conversation as long as he lived, and at the age of only seven, I felt a little awkward running through Pine Springs in pursuit of this legendary man-- WW II pilot, Kennedy administration justice department lawyer, and husband to our beloved Aunt Sis, and even if the light from the windows had been less golden, or the sound of the voices upstairs in the living room less warm, I still would have been happy to get back to the house.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Model Shopper

I like to think I'm a pretty good shopper, so was it just my imagination today as I was bombing my way through the grocery on a last minute holiday run that as I stepped decisively up to a display to choose my item, some of my fellow shoppers selected the same thing for their own carts? At first, I wondered if I was being a little too pushy elbowing past their indecision, but then I overheard this conversation:

Boy: Do we need bacon Dad?
Man: Yeah.
Boy: What kind?
Man: Hmmm. We'll just get whatever that lady gets.

Always happy to help!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

'Tis the Season

The first report cards of the year went home last Thursday, and traditionally that means several parent-teacher-student conferences will be scheduled for the next couple of weeks-- not a very jolly time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let's Do Lunch

I have been working with a certain student every day at lunch for the past couple of weeks. We get some homework and organization done, but every day, he also feels the need to comment on whatever I happen to have to eat. The first day it was soup.

Him: What is that?
Me: Soup.
Him: Ew. It looks weird.
Me: And that puddle of tomato sauce soaking into your cardboard tray looks so delicious that I can't believe you have any of those dry bread sticks you're supposed to dip in there left. Do your math.

And so it has gone, until today.

Him: What do you have for lunch?
Me: Spaghetti.
Him: Lucky! That is so not fair!
Me: Do your math.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Primal

There's only one place in the world that I have been going back to my whole life, and that is my Aunt Harriett's house. Today, as we drove the winding back roads that are the last legs of the forty-mile journey there from our home, I was taken by how much has changed and how much has not, both since I've been there and since I can remember.

As in most places of our ever-sprawling urban region, there has been a lot of development, and yet her area is still rural enough to maintain some farms with horses and even a few cows, along with recently mown cornfields, their golden stubble being gleaned by hundreds of crows. And there are still one-lane bridges on several of the narrow roads that lead to that ranch house on two acres just up from the lake.

It used to be that you would drive out of town and down the highway until you turned off and proceeded through the anonymous countryside until you got to her house, and so it was like its own place, separate from everywhere else. Because I know the way, I have never even thought to find that spot on a map. In fact, there's part of me that doesn't believe it would even be there if I looked.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is That All It Takes? Part 2

80's Robot: May I suggest we save time and pick up the rest of the Muppets using a montage?

And, despite my prior reservations, I'm totally sold on the new Muppet Movie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is That All It Takes?

This morning I was circulating through the computer lab checking answering questions, resolving technical issues, and monitoring the general progress of my class. "Are you going to see Breaking Dawn?" I asked a student who has been carting around fat paperback copies of the Twilight series since September.

"Yeah! At 7:20 tonight!" she answered. "I can't wait!"

I smiled, and then she continued. "Are you going to see it?"

"Oh yeah," I told her, "this weekend for sure."

"You're cool," she said and turned back to her assignment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Practice What You Preach

We had a short presentation on differentiation at our staff meeting yesterday where the main idea was that everyone learns differently and as responsible educators, we should make adjustments in presentation, product, or content, to enable all students to learn.

And yet... the presentation? Was a twenty minute lecture. The activity? Was a mandated group interaction with a single product required at the end.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Where's that Grain of Salt?

My students recently completed a first quarter review of both themselves and our English class. I confess that it's been a bit of a bumpy start-- my classes are larger, the kids seem to be struggling with the routine part of the course, and it's hard not to compare them with the kids from last year.

I work to identify my part in this less than satisfactory transition, and I know that I've become accustomed to smaller groups and the subsequent increase in personal attention that each student gets as a result. I also know that I'm measuring this group against the halcyon glow of kids I had a whole year with-- Realistically, when I think back to this time last year, there were lots of similar challenges then, too.

Still, as I read through the reviews, I was struck by one particular comment: You should watch the movie "School of Life" and do what that teacher does.

Yeah. That teacher dies at the end.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dueling Aphorisms

As part of the lesson today, I mentioned the following Martin Luther King, Jr quotation:

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 

One of my students raised his hand. "But you can fight fire with fire," he said. "So where does that leave you?"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Harbinger?

I get my news from the liberal press, and I like it that way, although I do seek balance. Anyway, today I heard something that ought to give the Obama campaign pause. It was a piece on the ineffectiveness of the so-called "Super Committee" to find a compromise deficit reduction package to send to congress. With only nine days left, the hypothesis was that perhaps they would just go ahead and allow the automatic cuts, especially given that any reductions won't go into effect until January 2013, and, we'll have a new congress by then, and (here's where my eye brows popped up) possibly a new president, too.

True, it was Marketplace, which I do find a little too, hmm, what shall I call it? liberal pragmatic? pragmatic liberal? conservative? whatever, for my taste, but it's pretty mainstream NPR fare, and if they're putting that out there, then somebody better be worried.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Sundry

coffee!
feed the pets
read the paper
do a puzzle
make a list
talk to Mom
pack a pack
take a detour
finally try that sous vide turkey burger
(yeah, not really worth the wait)
take a hike
post some pictures
blanch those greens
make applesauce
roast cauliflower
open wine
cook dinner
write!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Crit

We saw J. Edgar this evening and I have to say that no matter how good the acting and directing may be, if I don't like the main character, it's hard for me to like the movie. Call me unsophisticated, but I am not the type of consumer of art who can be engaged by my own negative reaction either to people or circumstances.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tiny Bubbles

Twenty years ago I made my New Years resolution to drink more champagne. It seemed like a great idea, especially given the amount of the stuff I was enjoying that night as I rang out the old and welcomed the new, and all the people with me thought so, too. After that, someone showed up at almost every gathering with a bottle of bubbly, and we spent the next year popping corks at every opportunity.

In the time since then, Champagne has receded to its place as a special occasion drink, but tonight we had a dinner party and a sparkling wine seemed like not only a good pairing for the menu, but also like a good way to kick off the coming season.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Sharpest Pencil in the Pouch

Kids and their and pencils always present a complicated relationship. They are either without them, leaving them behind, breaking them, over-sharpening them, lending them, and/or accusing others of stealing them. And what child isn't happy to have a set of cool, new pencils? In fact, one of my students was just that lucky today. He was logging some considerable time at the pencil sharpener when I asked him what was going on. "Oh! I'm sharpening my new pencils!" he said, brandishing a handful.

"How many do you need?" I asked. "Why not sharpen the rest of them later on, after the test?"

"Look," he said as he walked past. "This pencil smells like chocolate. He held it to his nose and inhaled. "Aaaaah," he sighed. "Delicious!" Then he offered it to me.

I took a delicate sniff. "I don't smell it," I said.

"That's because you're old!" he told me. The smell is the first thing to go.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Invigilating

We are giving standardized achievement tests to the sixth graders this week, which may seem like an easy gig to outsiders, but I'm here to tell you it really isn't. I remember the first time I got to read those directions in that voice-- I could feel the authority coursing through my veins. Over the years, the headiness has worn off, and now I struggle not to yawn or read them too quickly.

Of course, as a testing coordinator pointed out to me long ago, proctor is a verb, and it involves more than sitting at your desk reading the paper. She was right; just today alone I caught three kids bubbling in the wrong area of their answer document-- fortunately it was early in the tests, because otherwise such a mishap is always a mess to remedy after the fact.

The tests we give these days are untimed, although the directions would have you believe otherwise; they always have some language about stopping and dropping your pencil. Usually though the problem is how the kids rush through the tests, and then are bored with the inevitable silent reading or drawing that must fill the time until they can go.

This year, I have a student who is very conscientious about exams of all sorts. At conferences, his mom mentioned to me that he is a slow and methodical test taker, and, having very few tests in my class, I dutifully passed the info along to his other teachers. It all came back to me this morning when every other child was finished with the first subtest, and he was still plugging away. I have to admire such dedication to a task, and I worked very hard to make sure that he did not feel pressured to rush simply because his peers were sighing and rolling their eyes.

He seemed to manage it beautifully, though, finishing in his own time just a few minutes before lunch. And yet, as I collected the test documents, he told me he was agonizing over one question, and then he slapped his forehead in the realization that he had chosen the wrong answer. "Can I change it?" he asked. The directions clearly state that students cannot go back in the test booklet, but they say nothing about erasing your work on the answer sheet, plus they have as much time as they need-- the only reason the test was over was because he said he was through, so I shrugged and removed my hand from his paper. Still, he felt guilty about it, and left it as it was.

Later in the day, at the end of the session, he waited until everyone else left. "I changed that answer,"
he told me. "I didn't look it up, or ask anyone else, but I knew it was wrong, so I changed it."

I believed him, and if he hadn't have told me, I wouldn't have known.

"Okay," I said, and put his sheet on top of the rest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oh Deer

We live in a nice little condo complex. Tucked into the woods and built into a grassy hillside in a very populated area, we chose the location 12 years ago partially for its illusion of privacy and partially for its illusion of nature. Directly across the parking lot from us there is a wooded area of no more than half an acre. It buffers our association's property from a county utility lot and an elementary school. The hill itself seems to be reclaimed-- every now and then tires and bottles poke up through the grass on the steep slope that leads up to the historic neighborhood above us.

Even so, we enjoy the wild raspberries that border the woods and seeing the occasional fox is always a thrill, not to mention the more common raccoons and possums. None of that prepared me for what I saw this morning when I took the dog out. Two young deer were standing on the hill near the edge of the trees. They seemed undecided about where to go, but seeing us at the foot of the hill, they headed up. Mentally, I pictured the parking lot and soccer field they would encounter at the top, as well as the busy streets I knew were up there, too, and I worried for them. In a moment, though, they were back, and with a nervous glance at me and Isabel, they re-entered the tiny patch of woods and disappeared.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Long Distance

Hershey, PA, is just far enough away to make it inconvenient to see as much of Josh as we would like to, and so having his company over the last weekend was really great. For me, the end of any such a visit with people I love is always a reminder of how much more time I wish we could spend together, and this was no exception.

We left Josh with his mom and little brother and sister in a shoe store yesterday. Our meeting place is a shopping center just north of Baltimore, about halfway between Hershey and here. Josh has a sports banquet this Thursday, and a new pair of dress shoes was in order. It seemed strange to see him slipping all the man-sized shoes on and off; it wasn't that long ago that he was wearing light up sneakers like the ones his four-year-old brother was running all over the store chasing his sister in. Their mom was a little distracted talking to us, helping Josh, keeping the other two in line, and we felt like we were just contributing to the chaos, so since it was getting dark and we still had an hour or more to go, we said our good-byes.

Later that evening, my FaceTime buzzed and I was surprised to see that it was Josh trying out the new iPod touch we gave him for his birthday. "Did you forget something?" I asked him when we connected.

"No. I just wanted to show you my new shoes," he answered, and for a few minutes, the distance didn't seem so far.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Unfortunate Tides

My brother and I went out for a little beach combing this morning before it was time to pack up and head home. We were searching for some of the fossilized shark teeth that the area is famous for. If you can find four, you can find a hundred! I had read on a local how-to website the day before, and so we were trying to train our eyes to pick out the real thing from the millions of shards of shells on the shore.

Down the beach, I saw a local lady chatting up my brother, and it wasn't long before her little dog ran off in my direction, with her in hot pursuit. She paused at the fallen tree I had recently scrambled over. "I'm just looking for poison ivy," she said. "It's all over around here. My daughter had to go on steroids this summer because of it!" Shark teeth are one thing, but I know my poison ivy, and I waited without alarm as she inspected the tree.

When her dog wouldn't come, she shrugged and climbed over it herself. "Is that your husband?" she asked, gesturing toward the bent figure of my brother sifting through a mound of fragments at the water line. No sooner had I corrected her than she continued, "He's picking up mostly shells down there. I told him the tides weren't very good this weekend." I nodded and started back to where he was.

"Hey!" she called from behind me a moment later. "You missed a tooth!" I turned back and she deposited a tiny, but perfect shark tooth in my palm. "Give it to your brother so he knows what to look for," she told me. "I've got buckets of 'em. Buckets!" And with that, she followed her dog down the beach.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Waxing

The waxing gibbous moon casting its long lane of light across the choppy bay tonight fits right in with one of our family's favorite pass times. Despite the overwhelming number of introverts among us, whenever we get together, we can't help but hold forth on any matter of topics. Just today, for example, we soapboxed and debated the death of a TV curmudgeon, the Greek Debt crisis, who is and isn't worthy on an art reality series, and whether or not a bizarro universe allows for free will, among other things.

Sure, We're quiet when we eat, and that bald eagle that flew right over the house, circled around, and came back so that we all could see, kind of shut us up, too, but not for long.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beginner's Luck

We have our sixteen-year-old godson, Josh, this weekend, and Heidi has already taken him out on the road to do a little practice driving. I don't know why, but I felt a little bit nervous as they headed out to the store.

My own driving education was somewhat atypical. When I was a teenager, we lived in Saudi Arabia, a kingdom where women are not permitted to drive. The time we spent in the states in the summers was never enough for me to get a permit, much less actually log any road hours. I went to college not knowing how to drive, and it was one of my roommates sophomore year who took it upon himself to get me the manual, take me for my test, and teach me to drive.

I clearly remember one weekend when he and I and our other roommate, Brian, went camping in the Adirondacks. On the way back to school, Rob let me drive. By this time, I was getting more confident, even to the point of passing slower cars on two lane roads. With a string of five or six cars ahead of me, I intrepidly crossed the broken yellow line and hit the accelerator. We passed the first car, then the second and third. The fourth was a going a little faster than I expected, but there wasn't quite enough room for me to slip in behind him, so ignoring any looks of concern from my passengers, I bit my lower lip and floored it. Unfortunately, another car was coming directly toward us in the right lane. With no place to go left and a strong feeling that I should at least stay on the road, I slowed down a little, but held my course. The oncoming car's horn was screaming as it swerved to the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision, just as I was able to maneuver back into my own lane.

Rob was pale faced and silent as I drove on calmly, but Brian was laughing in the back seat. "I always wondered what would happen if someone did that!" he said.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seeing is Believing

Our school system recently purchased a GoogleDocs license, quite honestly, it has a lot of pros and cons. To be fair, we purchased it as one of many options to give students and staff as we try to create, save, and share documents and other electronic products, so nobody is forced to use it. My students and I have been experimenting with it as we work on finishing drafts of their free-verse poems, and although I don't love it, I did have a fun experience with it today.

One guy has had a very difficult time transitioning from prose to poetry and understanding the difference, even. Not surprisingly, then, line breaks are very challenging for him, and today I noticed him sitting in front of a screen with a huge block of prose on it. He had done some wonderful writing about a night-time road trip in El Salvador. Reading his piece with him, I explained again about the concept of breaking the lines, but he really wasn't getting it, so I went over to my work station and pulled up the document, which he had already shared with me, and began to add the breaks. Like magic, he saw his prose start to transform into something resembling a poem.

"How did you do that?!" he asked.

"GoogleDocs," I explained.

"But how did you know where to put the breaks?" he continued.

"I'm so glad you asked," I told him, and it wasn't too long before he was working on his own.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What a Waste

My English classes are in the computer lab today and tomorrow. The students are typing their final drafts of the free verse poems they have composed over the last several weeks. Any teacher will tell you, at length if you let us, how much easier the revision and editing process is when the students have computers. Just today I had to reassure quite a few kids that they didn't have to completely re-type their work to make the changes I was suggesting, and their transition from anxiety to relief was visible. As a consequence, this was one of the most productive days of the year so far. I wish we could use computers all the time.

Ours is one of the most affluent school systems in the state, and our school has three computer labs and two lap top carts for a total of a little over 100 units for 650 kids. Reserving screen time for our students can be competitive and frustrating to a teacher, because we all understand how technology can assist our students in achieving their educational objectives. It's tight, but with cooperation, kids get a fair amount of lab time.

Recently we were informed that our school system has decided that starting next year, all students K-8 will complete an online quarterly benchmark assessment in language arts, math, and science. In my mind, that is four class periods that students will not be learning, not to mention all the lab time that will be taken by adding even more testing to the year. I can't imagine what kind of data we will collect that could possibly justify this use of time and resources.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sleight of Hand

Years ago, our school system took the progressive step of having teachers design their own professional development plans as the major component of our evaluation. The object was to encourage and empower teachers as researchers and collaborators who, in consultation with an administrator, used their observation, data, and reflection to improve their practice. In my opinion, the concept was never fully realized, mostly due to time constraints on teachers and administrators alike, but the PDP, like so many things in education, was something that the more you put into it, the more you got out of it.

Flash forward to these times of connecting teacher evaluation (and in many places, teacher pay) to "performance." Much has been written about the difficulty of finding an objective, much less fair, measure of teacher performance. Everyone agrees that student achievement should be the primary consideration, however the variables impacting a given student's achievement as well as the absence of an effective tool to measure it, can make any discussion of such rather contentious.

In addition to a rather cherished reputation for progressive best practices, our school system also has a less celebrated habit of going through the back door to implement key policies and procedures. Call me cynical, but I have sat through a lot of meetings of several committees where, by the end of the process, it seems as if the conclusion was foregone from the beginning and the group merely convened to put that stamp of collaboration on a top-down decision.

Re-enter the PDP. This year we are all being strongly encouraged, if not required, by our administrators to tie the results of our classroom-based research to "student achievement" in the form of high stakes, standardized test scores.

Yes. Our system is so progressive, they are forcing us to use the flawed measures available to evaluate ourselves.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Scaring Up Donations

I remember when I was a kid being a little bit jealous of those children who came around, even before dark, to collect for UNICEF-- it seemed like they got double trick-or-treating time, and where did they get those cool paper banks that jingled so solidly with all that change? I still can't answer that question, and even today I myself have never stood on any threshold chanting trickortreatforunicef!

The same cannot be said for my homeroom students. Each year our school sponsors the ToTfU campaign, and so they can be the lucky ones who go to door to door for this good cause, if they choose. Of course, given my own history with the program, I'm always a little surprised by the lack of enthusiasm, and the first time I heard one kid telling another that they could just keep the money, I was genuinely appalled.

I have a sweet bunch of kids this year, (don't get me wrong-- they're not so nice that they skipped the petty larceny angle altogether, but they had the decency to blush a little when I reprimanded them for considering such fraud) and they were all pretty excited about the whole UNICEF gig as I handed out the bright orange boxes. Even so, a few were a little unsure of how to approach their public.

"What do we say?" someone asked.

"What do you say?" I repeated incredulously. "Why, just those five magic words... trickortreatforunicef!"

"But what if people say no?" somebody else asked. "What if they just say, Not today, honey?"

"I guess you should tell them thanks anyway," I suggested.

"And Happy Halloween!" said someone else. "Don't forget that."

They seemed satisfied with that advice.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seven Billion

Does anyone else think it's getting a little crowded here?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Evening Constitutional

The snow had stopped but there was still a little sleet spattering against the windows tonight when I set aside my book, banked the fire, and tied my boots on to take the dog out for a walk in the bluster. At six o'clock it was dark and the weather had almost everyone inside, and so we walked alone through the aroma of woodsmoke and apple muffins carried on the cold, our way lit by the reflection of jack o'lanterns and street lights in the shallow puddles on the sidewalks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo Cometh

Yesterday, we held the inaugural meeting of the new writing club at our school. My sister-in-law, the art teacher, sponsors an afterschool art club for kids who either can't take art or who wish they could have more, so I figured why not apply the same principle to writing? Kids frequently complain that they don't have a chance to do their own kind of writing in school, so we aim to give them the opportunity and the audience. Even so, when I explained the idea to a couple of my former students, they dismissed it as just another version of study hall or homework club.

Still, we persevered, and four kids actually showed up for the first meeting. Since National Novel Writing Month starts Tuesday, we hooked them up with the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, and boom, boom, boom, boom, four novels were born. The young authors were particularly taken with the "Dare Machine," a random generator of crazy curve balls you might try to work into your novel. Example: We dare you to add a waterfall, fireworks, a unicycle, a wrestling match, and a poetry slam to the next chapter.

Heck! You can create a couple of characters and write a novel based on the challenges alone.

By the end of the day today, we had a couple of more novelists signed on, simply by word of mouth. It looks like it's going to be a fun month.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Curveball

Today's common text was Litany by Billy Collins, a hilarious poem that lives up to its name in metaphors. After we read it, I asked the students to choose their favorite to share with the class. Then? They had to fit that particular metaphor into the next draft of one of their own free verse poems.

Sure, some of their attempts were the waft of the bat and the tiny cloud of dust from the catcher's mitt,

(and the rules of the game were that they could cut it from their next draft if it wasn't working for them),

but some were the towering fly that the outfielder lost in the sun,

and others were definitely the cork in the bat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Boom, Boom, Boom

We're working on figurative language in my class these days, and the notion that something can mean two (or more!) things at once is right on that imaginary line that divides the abstract from the concrete thinkers. I know it's tough, and so I am patient, providing as many different ways for them to explore this concept as I can. Ultimately, the objective is that they will be able to identify, explain, an use these writing tools. Maybe even use them as effectively as, say, Katy Perry does in her song, Firework, which we read, listened to, and annotated today.

Perhaps it was their familiarity with the text, or their enthusiasm for listening to pop music in school, or both, but almost every student was able to see how a plastic bag drifting in the wind might feel empty and useless, not to mention how a house of cards could feel weak and vulnerable.

A+ for you, Miss Perry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just Another Day at the Office

"Do I have something on my head?" a student asked the other morning.

"Besides your hair?" I joked. "I don't see anything."

"Look," he insisted, turning around and pointing to the back of his closely shorn head. I saw what he meant. There was a swoosh of green marker a little below and to the left of his ear.

"How did that get there?" I wondered out loud.

He spat the name of another student like a curse and added that she had done it on their way out of their homeroom.

I promised to speak to her about the incident and asked if he wanted to go to the bathroom and wash it off.

"Can't you just get it off?" he pleaded. "I can't even see it!"

I'm sure my brow furrowed, but I looked around the room and then grabbed some hand sanitizer. With a little squirt and a quick rub, the offending mark disappeared. Just then, the bell rang, and the student went off to his seat to record his homework as I started the class.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Beg Your Pardon?

This morning, as my homeroom students were organizing their binders to prepare for the day and the week ahead, I overheard one of them use what sounded like inappropriate language. "What did you say?" I asked him sternly from across the room where I was assisting someone else.

He repeated himself with no remorse what so ever. I was confused, and certain that I must have heard him wrong, so I stepped over there and asked him again. "What did you say?"

He said it again, and then I said it. "Did you say 'Oh shit'?" I asked.

"Yeah," he told me, still with no sign of distress.

Of course our conversation had drawn the attention of everyone in the room, and there were several stares and a few giggles. It took me a minute, but I finally considered that this student, a second language learner who has only been in the country a little over a year, might not understand what he was saying.

"Do you know what that means?" I asked him, watching closely for any indication that his response might be dishonest.

"No," he answered, finally with some alarm, and I believed him.

"Well," I told the class, "I guess this is a good example of why we should make sure we know what we're saying."

There were nods of agreement as they turned back to their binders.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Great Idea, Mar

The other day I was gathering the materials to make corn husk dolls with my students. The information that the husks were available in most area supermarkets was met with skepticism from several colleagues, until I explained that they were in the Latin food section, because you need them for tamales. "Are you going to make tamales, too?" my friend Mary asked.

"No," I answered in a tone of voice that clearly expressed the absurdity of the idea, but even as I was verbally dismissing the concept out of hand, the wheels of my cooking brain were turning. "Maybe," I amended my reply almost immediately, and before Mary could say a word, I said, "Yes! I am going to make tamales! Vegan tamales!"

So, even though I have never made tamales before, that is what we are having for dinner tonight, and it was a lot of fun to adapt the recipe, too.

Thanks, Mary!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

With the Benefit of Time

We saw the re-make of Footloose today. You might think a generation later, we would identify with the older generation.

Nope. That no dancing law is still totally bogus.

Friday, October 21, 2011

By the Seat of My Pants

Today our team was supposed to go on a field trip to a corn maze, but our plans were dashed at the eleventh hour when the farmers called and said the place was flooded. They had been up since 1 AM digging trenches to drain the labyrinth in time for 130 sixth graders to attempt to navigate, but at 8:45 Am, they knew it was, literally, a wash and called the school. The young teacher who had coordinated the trip appeared at my door white-faced. I excused myself from the group of kids industriously making corn husk dolls in my room and stepped into the hallway to receive the bad news. What could we do? It was back to a normal schedule for the disappointed students and some serious improvisation for their teachers.

I chose Jeopardy as my fall-back activity, and it went pretty well. Here are the categories and questions if you want to play along at home:

Parts of Speech
100 a person, place, or thing
200 an action
300 a word that describes a noun
400 a word that modifies a verb or and adjective
500 a word that tells the relationship between nouns-- like over, under, between, in, or on.

Series and Authors:
100 Harry Potter
200 Percy Jackson
300 Diary of a Wimpy Kid
400 The Hunger Games
500 Twilight

TJ Teams:
100 the other sixth grade team
200 the 7th grade team named for a sea mammal
300 this team is named for a flightless bird
400 the only team named for a reptile
500 this team shares a name with our national bird

Pixar Movies:
100 Woody and Buzz
200 Marlin and Dory
300 Dash and Violet
400 Sully and Mike
500 Remy and Linguine

Writers Toolbox:
100 details that tell how something looks, tastes, smells, sounds, and/or feels
200 a comparison between two unlike things using the words "like" or "as"
300 a comparison between two unlike things that does not use the words "like" or "as"
400 a figure of speech which gives human qualities to inanimate, or non-living things
500 Nouns that refer to specific objects, not abstract or general things

State Capitals:
100 Richmond
200 Annapolis
300 Austin
400 Sacramento
500 Juneau

It was lots of fun, and I was surprised when in each class, some students predicted the answer and wrote it down before I asked the question, based on their knowledge of the category, and, I can only assume, their knowledge of me. Often, they were correct.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sic Semper Tyrranis

Sickening footage today of the death of a horrible man-- Libya is at last free of its ruthless dictator of 43 years. There is evil in the world, yes there is, but I have to say that I believe that humans compound violence when they address it in turn. I will never be in the same league with Gandhi or Dr. King, but I am on the same page.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Con-cussed

I met with a parent today about a head injury her son sustained playing soccer a couple of weekends ago. Athletes with concussions have been prevalent in the news lately, but this is the first case I've had personal experience with. Coincidentally, we also saw a brief informational video on the same topic today at our monthly staff meeting.

Concussions can impact behavior, critical thinking, and learning in a variety of ways. Depending on their severity, and there is no way to definitively tell just how severe they are, their symptoms can last for months or even years. Like so many other invisible conditions, it's hard to know how best to treat someone with such a diagnosis-- the danger is in believing they could do better if only they would.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tattle Tale

Any teacher will tell you so: the adults in the building are usually more difficult than the students. Case in point? Each teacher on the team is supposed to sign up to supervise eleven after-school study halls. I have written before about our brilliantly fair method, and yet... the lynchpin to the entire scheme has proven to be unstable. One certain person who, it must be said, doesn't want to do her share, is holding up the list. It is halfway finished and she has had it for six weeks. Six weeks!

At first, I tried to reassure the restless members of our group that it didn't really matter; we were scheduled until November. "Why do we care?" I asked them.

"I'm registering for graduate classes," one answered.

"I need to set up doctor appointments," said another.

"I have to arrange child care," explained a third.

All of us have busy lives and full schedules, and there comes a point when

we. need. to. know.

I empathize with every one! This person in question has professional issues with the arrangement, personal issues with the timing, other school commitments, she is young, what have you, but I have emailed, spoken to her personally, sent emissaries, and emailed some more without result.

Yep. It's time to tell on her.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not So Sunny Day

I haven't mentioned Tolerance Club in a while-- October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and so that fits in with our mission quite well. Today we showed the kids a Sesame Street clip where Big Bird gets an invitation to join the "Good Bird Club" and is all excited until the mean pigeon, blue jay and robin reject him, at first because his feet are too big.

We had a little technical difficulty streaming the video on our WiFi network, and so to fill the time while it loaded, I asked the kids to guess what might happen. "He's going to try and change his feet," one confidently predicted.

"And that won't be enough for those birds," another added. "They're going to make him keep on changing."

I was super-impressed by their accuracy. "Have you guys seen this before?" I asked.

"No!" they answered (and they totally would have said "duh," if they didn't just know it was rude). "That's what always happens with bullies."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Window Seat

I practically grew up on a plane-- my dad worked for TWA and my parents took full advantage of the travel benefits. When we were kids, my brother, sister, and I used to fight for the window seat, but now I'm lucky that Heidi just lets me have it, partially because she likes me, and partially because she hates to fly, and the window freaks her out a little. On the rare occasions that I travel alone, I always select the window seat, too; I don't care about the delay in disembarking; I'm all about the view.

My favorite part of the flight is the takeoff-- I love how it feels as the plane gathers speed down the runway, the g-force pushing you back in your seat, then that gentle tip and a little rocking and all of a sudden you're airborne. After that, my nose is pretty much pressed against the window, as long as there's something to see. My brother and I recently had a disagreement about how easy it is or isn't to tell where you are on a cross-country flight. He flies a lot more than I do, but it's hard for me to let go of the illusion that I am a human atlas.

Today I flew home from Minnesota, where my mom lives. There were two legs to my journey; I changed planes in Chicago. From the air, the city of Chicago reminds me of the Emerald City: so often it rises majestically from the prairie mist with the sunlight gleaming off of Lake Michigan behind it. Then, as our plane climbed to its cruising altitude, I happened to be listening to a song with some orchestral arrangement and the strings swelled at the very same moment we broke through the clouds and into the clear blue sky. I gasped at the dizzying grandeur of the moment and wondered why on earth anyone would ever choose an aisle seat.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hopeless

A couple of summers ago we came out here to Minnesota to visit my mom and to take a trip "up north" to the source of the Mississippi River and the Boundary Waters. While we there, we visited a bear preserve in Ely, and I was captivated by the story of Lily, the wild bear that the center's researchers were tracking by radio collar. They had been able to place video cameras in her den, as well, and so they had a pretty thorough biography of this young black bear. They even had footage of her giving birth to two cubs, the subsequent death of one a couple of months later from illness, and the growth of her remaining cub, which they named Hope.

They actually have a fan page on Facebook, which I joined, but the supporters of Lily and Hope are so enthusiastic that I eventually turned notifications off for the group. Even so, I would check in every few months, and so I knew that the two had become separated when Hope was barely one, that they were reunited a while later, that in the spring Lily bore another cub, named Faith by researchers, and that the three were living together as a not uncommon bear family unit.

On the radio this morning I heard a piece about bear hunting. Today is the last day of the season up here and bear-bagging is down this year about 25% to 2,000. Hunters only killed one radio-collared bear, too, compared to eight last year. (It is not illegal, but highly discouraged to shoot collared bears in Minnesota.) But there was another research bear casualty. The yearling, Hope, slipped her radio collar and was killed by a hunter about a month ago.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Consider the Audience

I have been away from school this week, but technology has allowed me to be connected and even functional in my absence. In addition to being up-to-date on school correspondence, I have answered logistical questions from team mates, given my input on student concerns, and exchanged emails with a parent.

Something I could not do remotely was to help score the student writing samples. Today was the time we set aside for the whole staff to do that. Because my team was down a few members, I really felt supported when I read the email this morning saying that both the principal and the director of guidance were filling in to get the job done in my absence.

Later on, I thought about all the writing pieces the group was reading. In sixth grade the prompt for this assignment is Your principal wants to invite a celebrity speaker to your school. Think about the celebrity you would choose to speak; then write a letter to persuade your principal to invite this person. Be sure to include convincing reasons and details to support your choice.

Lots of kids always ask me when they see the assignment if the principal is really going to see their letters, and I always tell them that they are welcome to send them to her if they'd like. I giggled a little when I thought of her reading letter after letter addressed to her today, and I wondered if any of them had hit their mark.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Process Versus Product

Despite my indictment of daytime TV yesterday,(I'm sorry TV!) this morning I did see something that I had to try right away. A lovely young Asian woman with a charming British accent was demonstrating a couple of her dim sum recipes. It was not so much the ingredients as the technique that captured my attention-- she showed how to push the center of a won ton wrapper down into the circle you can make with your thumb and index finger to form a little well for the filling. Next you just gather the corners and press them together at the neck for a perfect little dumpling purse. 8-10 minutes in the steamer, and you will be dining on dim sum as good as any restaurant might serve.

There is something so exquisite about knowing the best way to do a job, that although my dumplings were delicious (if I do say so myself), and my mom really liked them, too, making them just might have been the most satisfying part.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Slick Packaging

I do not often have the occasion to watch daytime TV, but today was an exception. Wow! There is a lot of advice out there. Everybody wants to give you information on what is best for you, and it is all presented in very bright, attractive packages, so stimulating that the time just flies from segment to segment, commercial to commercial.

But look-- I don't have anything else to say about it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Not So Fast

I'm out visiting my mom, and a couple of her friends, whom I've never met, offered to pick me up from the airport. "They'll have a sign with your name on it," my mother told me, and I pictured any number of arrivals that I have witnessed over the years, both in person and in movies and on TV.

Modern convenience and technology foiled our plan, though; it turned out that they would be waiting for me in the mobile phone lot, and so all I needed to do was give them a call once I'd collected my bag. As I left the secured passenger area and followed the signs toward the baggage claim, I was actually thinking nostalgically about how the pragmatic tradition of greeting an unknown passenger with a sign would soon become anachronism. Just then, I spotted one lone gentleman scanning the crowd as we spilled off the escalator. He was holding something in his hands and as I drew nearer I could see what it was: an iPad with a name and itinerary displayed.

Outside on the curb, I waited for my own ride, and it wasn't long before my mom's friends pulled up, cardboard sign and all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Challenged and Engaged

One of the strategic goals of our school system is ensuring that all students are challenged and engaged. I like it. I believe that all humans deserve such conditions in whatever work they choose; nothing is drudgery when we value the task.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes

It's the end of the season for our garden, although the nightshades and okra did not receive the memo. We went to dig our sweet potatoes and do some cleaning up today, and in addition to the potatoes, we came home with several pounds of eggplant, a few ripe tomatoes, a quart of okra, and a whole bunch of green tomatoes. Who could fail to appreciate such unexpected bounty?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Threefer

I have never claimed to be perfect... well, at least not since I turned thirty. What I do claim is that I do my best in the majority (can I just say the vast majority? I'll feel better) of situations, but since I am an adult living in the world today, that can be challenging. Fortunately for me, I have back up.

Today I had breakfast with one of my favorite friends. She's going through a bit of a rough spell common to people of our age-- she's not very satisfied at her job, her father-in-law recently died, and they lost their dog not too long ago. In addition to all of that, one of her two sisters is suing the others for mismanaging their parents' finances. The three siblings are embroiled in a nasty court case at the same time they are trying to provide the best care for their 85-year-old mother.

Tonight I spoke to both my brother and sister. We lost our dad almost 25 years ago, but we are lucky that our mom has been a big part of our lives. Our family is spread from Washington, DC, Charlottesville, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. It's a long way (too long if you ask me), but we make it work because we work together and we wouldn't have it any other way.

By ourselves, we are definitely not perfect, but together? It's so much closer.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lost and Found

I keep a classroom library of roughly a thousand volumes and every year it operates at a loss of books and money out of my own pocket. Over the years, I've tried various borrowing procedures, but the truth is, I want books in the hands of my students, especially the more reluctant readers, and I don't really have a lot of class time to devote to administering a tight lending system, and so I don't. I implore students not to take my books without signing them out, but somehow many, many go missing, and nobody knows where they could possibly be.

Or do they? Every now and then, a book will mysteriously turn up in my school mailbox, and I am always grateful. On the second day of school this year, a student returned a book that her brother, now a senior in high school, borrowed six years ago. I thanked her, profusely.

And so it goes. As a result, in addition to buying the latest popular books, I also try to resupply my collection on the cheap, and that's what I was doing today at our school's annual book swap, when several of the titles started to look kind of familiar. "Some of these are probably mine!" I said, only half joking, to my friend Ellen. Less than a minute later she laughed out loud and handed me a book. Sure enough-- on the inside front cover was my name.