Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Found Poetry

We have a neighbor who goes by the name of Peach. I've never been formally introduced to her, but I know her well from the rather loud conversations she has at the pool with anyone who will engage with her. I know, for example, that she was devastated when Tim Russert died, she is feuding with her sister, and she doesn't care too much for cats.

Who knew she was a post-modernist stream-of-consciousness poet, though? Take a look:

their are rules in condo living one is Noise and another is Trash when to bring it out when not to tonight a bag of trash was left outside all broken up i kicked it over found a letter with address on it walked it back to its owner . the owner of the trash came out and looked at me like a deer in headlights and said Oh i was going to walk it down later when i get the baby to sleep i handed her Her Trash

I like it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Goldilocks and the Three Balloons

We had our school-wide science fair last week. The way we run it, all students create a project and all staff members are judges. Even though the event is ultimately a very positive and successful one for the majority of our school community, this policy can create some conflicts, too.

For example, one of the projects I judged was a blank board. I honestly did not even notice until I picked up the evaluation sheet and fastened it to my clipboard. When I looked up, I laughed. The student smiled and shrugged. "So, tell me about your science fair project," I said. She didn't even bother to explain the absence of the Introduction, Materials and Procedures, Results, Graph, Pictures, and Conclusion. She simply plunged in with a description of her experiment which involved balloons filled with different amounts of helium, static electricity, and hang time on the wall.

And she almost had me. I could imagine a situation where she had not been able to produce the required elements for her display, and the experiment itself seemed fun and interesting-- the benefit of the doubt was all hers. "But why?" I asked when she told me her results, "why do you think the middle one stayed up there the longest?"

She shrugged. "Who knows?"

"Could it have been the helium in the bigger one pulling up?" I tried.

She looked at me blankly.

"Or the weight of the smaller one pulling it down?"

"Maybe," She looked bored. "Or the other one was probably just right."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Take It Easy

It's always fun to browse through iTunes and look for the holes in your music collection. For a couple of bucks here and there, you can wile away the hours lost in nostalgia. Sometimes it's shocking to realize what you don't own, especially given its prominence in your past. Such was the case today when I downloaded the Eagles Greatest Hits.

When we were teenagers my mom used to blast that album on the 8-Track player and let it loop endlessly while she cleaned the house on weekend mornings. That and the vacuum were kind of hard to sleep through, but we did our best.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

To Market

We are down to the last 6 quarts of tomatoes that we canned last summer, so today seemed like a perfect time to shop for seeds. Each packet that I added electronically to my virtual cart came along with a thumbnail photo of what it would eventually yield, so that I could practically envision my garden as I checked out. I've got to hand it to the company-- that colorful column of herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, peppers, squash, pumpkins, and daisies certainly made parting with my money a lot more palatable.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Enough Rope

We have a student this year who is totally invested in being "bad". He's a smart kid, smart enough to have figured out that grades lower than a C get you the kind of trouble he doesn't want to deal with, and smart enough to know that an unending series of annoyances may get you isolated temporarily from the class but rarely will result in a referral to the administration. Still, he is eleven, and so a miscalculation here and there is inevitable.

Today was team t-shirt day. This is an annual tradition: the front is always designed by a student and voted on by all the kids, and the back has their names written in their own handwriting, so it's pretty cool. This year they were extra awesome given the fact that students had the choice of two tie-dye shades, and it was with a lot of excitement that they received their shirts this morning.

I was prepared for a bit of distraction in each class, but when I walked over to see what this guy was doing instead of the assignment, I was surprised to see him blacking out names with a permanent marker. "Are those the kids you don't like?" I asked in a bit of disbelief.

"Yeah!" he answered me enthusiastically (remorse is really not his thing), "and I've highlighted the names of the kids I like!"

"Yeah, I''m going to have to take that from you," I told him.

"OK, but don't look at the names of the people I like," he said cheerfully. "That would be embarrassing."

I assured him I wasn't really interested in that information, and then continued on with the lesson. After class he asked for his shirt back, but I told him I was going to have to hang on to it for a while.

It was much later in the day when I looked at his handiwork. I was on my way to speak to the principal about him, and grabbed the shirt as one more example of his inappropriate behavior as I headed to the office. My jaw dropped as I walked. Not only had he marked other kids, but he had also applied his system to the faculty names. Oh, I was highlighted (lord knows why), but the principal was crossed out.

I'm pretty sure there are going to be some consequences for that.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Duty Done

The courtroom was silent when I entered this morning, despite the ten people scattered about on the polished wooden benches. I checked in with the juror coordinator and then took a seat near the back, near the wall. I was impressed by the room. Ten stories up, it had 30 foot ceilings and a blockbuster view from the full-length windows behind the jury box. It was way nicer than anything I've ever seen on TV or in the movies.

It turned out that I did know someone there, the clerk of the court. I met him at a couple of parties almost 20 years ago, and our paths have crossed here and there, at restaurants, meetings, and dog parks since then. He was on the county board for several years, and I had forgotten about his more recent appointment.

Anyway, after our orientation, we moved to the jury assembly room, more high ceilings and awesome views, but the squeakiest door I ever heard-- after a while, anytime someone went for water or coffee, it was excruciating. They gave each of us three crisp ten dollar bills and then at 11 announced that the only case for the day had been settled and we were free to go, ineligible to return for three years.

So that was it. My big experience with our justice system kind of slowed to a halt like a roller coaster on a steep hill, and for a moment, my day hung there motionless until I realized what I could do with such unexpected free time. And then I was racing down the track-- lunch at my favorite sandwich place, grocery shopping, picking up the CSA share, a hair cut, and back to school for writing club and a wrestling match, then on to the gym, and home to cook dinner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Am Number Eight

I was talking to a colleague in the hall this afternoon about the possibility that I may have jury duty tomorrow, when a passing parent overheard our conversation.

"Jury duty!" she interjected and I liked her enthusiasm. It had just the right mix of awe and surprise to capture my own feelings about this unprecedented experience, and when I explained to her how it works, that you never know until 5 PM, whether you have to report, her sympathetic grasp of this colossal inconvenience was also quite gratifying.

"My husband's a litigator," she confided to me. "He always says 'no teachers on the jury!'."

"Why?!" I gasped.

"Oh, it's not just him, either," she continued. "It's like a lawyer's rule of thumb."

"But why?" I asked again.

"Oh you teachers," she said. "It's your job to get up in front of people and convince them of things. He's afraid you won't be on his side, and then you'll sway the whole jury. It's too risky."

A couple of hours later I checked in with my official juror ID. Yep. This teacher is scheduled to report tomorrow at 9 AM. Look out litigators! Here I come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Is He the One?

We live in a very small community that borders a national capital, in many ways the ideal combination of small town and world class city. So, when I told my sister-in-law I had jury duty she said, "You are definitely going to know someone else in the pool. There's no way around it."

I knew she was right; not only because she's smart about those things and had recently reported for her own duty and run into someone we both know, but also because it makes sense: as I said it's a small town, and we're both teachers who have lived here a long time. Shoot, I can't even go to Costco without seeing at least one friend or acquaintance.

Still, I wondered and even fretted a little about who it might be. What if it was someone I would rather avoid? Then, in all the will-I, won't-I uncertainty of the week, I totally forgot my concern. This afternoon after the bell rang one of my former students stopped by to visit. "You should definitely judge my science fair project tomorrow," she said.

"Oh I'd love to," I told her, "IF I'm here... I might have jury duty."

"My dad has jury duty!" she said. "He didn't have to go yesterday, but he went today. Maybe you'll see him tomorrow!"

Epilogue: I won't see him tomorrow (unless it's at the science fair). Nobody has to report; we got an email that all the pending trials were resolved today. But there's always Thursday...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Box Seat?

I was mildly alarmed when I received my jury questionnaire some months ago. I have lived and been registered to vote in this county for over 20 years with never a summons. Of course, I did my civic duty, which at that point only involved answering a few questions and dropping the envelope back in the mail.

Then, early in December I got the news. I had been selected to serve the week of January 23. Oh it sent me into a bit of a tizzy. Monday was a teacher work day. (Was that good or bad?) Wednesday was the science fair. (Was that good or... never mind.) But the more I read, the more uncertain I felt.

The way it works is that you never know until after five the night before if you will have to show up. That makes it kind of hard to plan ahead in terms of lessons. There's a big difference between what happens when I'm in the classroom and what kind of activities I leave for a sub. So far, I got my work day (yay!) and I'm not scheduled to go tomorrow.

Wednesday and Thursday are still a mystery.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Why is it that 70 degrees on the thermostat is too warm in the summer and a splurge in the winter, but still not quite warm enough?

Forget it! I'm building a fire.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

She's Gotta Have It

Not long ago I passed a restaurant in the city. The day was cold and I was hurrying to my car and home, but not so fast that I couldn't hear the music when someone pushed open the door. It was as warm and light as the rush of air it came out on, and as I continued on my way I realized that I definitely need more sax in my life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Six-Word Memoirs!

It's that time of the year again where my students have to post six six-word memoirs to the discussion board of the online part of our class. This group started out a bit slower than students have in the past, but they came up with a lot of compelling stuff: funny, poignant, and raw.

Going, Going, Gone! Or is it?
Some pretty caterpillars are very poisonous.
That hole in my foot hurt.
I hate the smell of camels.
Illness took my brother not me.
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary
Guinea pigs aren't food, they're pets.
Dad never comes home from work.
She could have just told me.
Don't give the lost puppy cookies.
There's a girl at wrestling practice.
Doing something wrong will have consequences.
Squirrels are not always cute fellows.
What! I will have a baby brother?
STANLEY you blew the fuse box!
Uh oh...the door was left open.
I break bones, mostly my fingers.
America is the most awesome country.
Don't accept sandwiches from old ladies.
Who knew Little Red could rap?
My brother danced with a monkey.
Pomegranate stains do not come out.  
My ancestors are all horse thieves.
I shouldn't have painted her blue.
Surgery is very painful and expensive.

And my sentimental favorite, because it is so not true for this group of sixies:

Always listen to your English teacher.

I, too, have a few new ones of my own:

Do you know what "termagant" means?
Clap on! Clap off! Clap! Clap!
Hey! Someone hacked my google docs!

How about you? Come on-- get in on the fun! Reply to this post with your own six word memoir.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ah So

This morning we did a little activity in homeroom about the upcoming celebrations surrounding the Lunar New Year which starts on January 23. It's always fun to talk about the traditions of this holiday with sixth graders, because for most of them, the new year will be their year, given that it is a twelve year cycle and they are turning twelve. Today my students crowded around my desk with interest as I read the characteristics typical of dragons:

Dragons are the free spirits of the Zodiac. Conformation is a Dragon's curse. Rules and regulations are made for other people... An extroverted bundle of energy, gifted and utterly irrepressible, everything Dragons do is on a grand scale... Even though they are willing to aid when necessary, their pride can often impede them from accepting the same kind of help from others.

I laughed a bit ruefully as I finished, because it seemed sooooo accurate for so many of the kids, and while one dragon, or even two, in your life is dynamic and fun, a whole room full of them is definitely a teacher's challenge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hunting for Treasure

As part of our memoir unit, we take the advice of such great writers as Ralph Fletcher and Jack Gantos and spend some time drawing maps of places and times that are important to us. Turns out, there's a lot of writing material to be found in those maps.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tell a Story About Your Name

That's the assignment I'm going to have my students do tomorrow. Here's mine:

When I was growing up, I never really liked my name. Nobody else had it and everyone always either spelled it wrong, leaving out the ‘e’, or just called me Stacy, which I hated. Whenever we went to gift shops, I could never find anything with my name on it. Everybody else could get a personalized pen or key chain or mug or something, but not me.

Once when I was in high school, I complained about that to one of my best friends. That summer, when she went to Disneyland, she found an embroidered patch. It was sky blue, and it had Mickey Mouse wearing bright red shorts and those giant yellow shoes. Underneath Mickey it said “Tracy”. My friend pulled out the threads of the letter ‘y’ and stitched it again so that it had my name spelled correctly. When she gave it to me, I couldn’t believe it! It was awesome to finally have something with my name on it, but the fact that my friend went to so much trouble for me was even better.

(Note to fans: six-word memoirs are on the way!)

Monday, January 16, 2012


I could not wait to see this movie based on the cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, and Cristophe Waltz. All four have won my heart in one movie or another.

Although it is by no means a perfect film (unless you enjoy squirming at awkward situations), their performances do not disappoint, and?

It has the funniest. barfing. scene. ever.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Last to Know

We were watching the Golden Globes when Christopher Plummer won the first one for his role in Beginners. "What was that movie about?" Louise asked.

"A guy whose dad came out as gay after his mother died," I replied.

"Ewwwww!" Kyle interjected.

I frowned at him as he lounged in front of the fireplace, belly full of all the favorite foods I had prepared for his dinner. "Why would you say something like that here in my house?" I asked him.

"I thought this was Aunt Heidi's house," he said.

"It's my house, too," I said.

"Who pays the bills?" he asked.

"We both do," I told him. "We're partners. Do you know what that means?"

"Yeah," he said, "I get it."

"So you know why I might be offended when you say something like that?"

"Yeah. I shouldn't say something, even if I believe it, when you think something else if I'm in your house," he replied, more than a little grudgingly.

"Really?" I said. 'That's what you think we're talking about?"

He shrugged.

I took a deep breath. "Well, we're not. I'm saying that I'm offended when you say 'Ew" about someone being gay, because I'm gay."

"Oooh," he said. "Well, no one told me!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some More

All my life I have loved a fire; in fact, thirteen years ago, when I was in the market for a house, my only non-negotiable was that the property had a wood-burning fireplace. Since then, it has been a comfort and a delight on many a cold day, as well as entertainment on many a weekend with the nieces and nephews. For in addition to gathering pine cones and other things to burn, and then building and tending the blaze, we like to use the flames for a more practical purpose as well. Tonight, after a busy day, it was Kyle's turn to cook-- there were hot dogs and s'mores on the menu, and they were delicious.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Not?

I pulled up to a crowded restaurant this evening; with no parking in sight and a line at the door, I stopped to discharge my passengers do that they could get on the list while I parked. As luck would have it, a car right ahead of me on the street was pulling out, and so I paused a bit longer to wait for the space. At that moment, another car came around me on the left and stopped. Looking over, I saw it was a police cruiser and the driver was gesturing at me. Did he want me to move along? I pointed to the about-to-be-vacant space and nodded in explanation. He turned on his lights and gave me the whoop whoop. I rolled down my window. "I understand you want to park," he chided me, "but you can't just let your passengers out in the middle of the street."

"OK," I said, the darkness covering my knitted brows. He left and I parked, sill a bit confused about why he felt the need to confront me. What was the problem with what had happened? What law had been broken and who was it hurting?

The more I thought about it, the more annoying it was, until it occurred to me that this is how a lot of kids in school must feel. They are constantly be corrected for things they think are fine. No wonder they get so cranky.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hey Girl!

That is how one of my students greeted me today when I ran into him in the cafeteria between classes. I laughed and even returned the fist bump, but then explained to him that it wasn't really an appropriate way to talk to your teacher. He looked abashed then shrugged. "I was just trying to make you feel young," he said with only a trace of malice.

"Thanks," I replied with more than a trace of irony.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If Prince William Jumped off a Bridge, Would You Do it, Too?

Over the last two or three years, our school system has been edging its way toward a change in the way we schedule our classes in middle school. We have reached the point in the process where there is a pretty firm implementation date, (SY 2013-14) and a proposed schedule is being presented to stakeholders, but whether we do it has never been the question; it's always just been how to make this major change. Strangely enough, why hasn't been very thoroughly addressed either: every presentation I've attended has alluded to "the research" which is the basis of the proposed upheaval, but nothing definitive has been offered, beyond the fact that most of the surrounding jurisdictions do it.

Is that a good enough reason, Mom?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Dog Catcher

We're starting on memoir and to begin with we collect material by writing to open-ended prompts. Today my students wrote about an encounter they had with an animal. There were many memorable anecdotes, but the one that stays with me is about a boy chasing his errant pit bull down the street. Oh there was blood and mayhem to be sure, which was bad enough, but the most disturbing part was when a stranger pulled up in his car and offered to help. My student actually got in and went with him.

Ordinarily, I don't interrupt when kids are reading their work, but this was an exception. "What!" I said in shock. "You actually got in the car!?"

"What could I do?" he shrugged apologetically. "I couldn't lose my dog."

"But that guy was a stranger!" I said. "I understand about your dog, I do," and here I took a deep breath, "and obviously it worked out because here you are safe and sound," I paused again, "but--"

He interrupted me. "I had to," he said firmly. "Plus, I knew it would be okay. He had like six cages in the back of his car."

"Yeah! And they could have been for little boys chasing their dogs," the girl next to him said.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Chew on This

So apparently these days it costs more than a penny to make a penny.

Hmmm... No wonder gum balls are so expensive.

Or is it just inflation?

(Get it? Gum? Bubbles? Inflation?)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Half Century

What was it today that had me listening to Vince Guaraldi? Hard to say, but the truth is that I like me a good 1960's anything. There is just something about those skinny ties and narrow suits, the bouffant hair and that mod, mod furniture with those jazz combos playing softly in the background that resonates with me. I actually told someone a couple of weeks ago that any Christmas special produced after the Grinch was a "new"one in my mind.

Yeah. That means you, Frosty.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Leisurely Loop

65+ degrees on January 7th is a tropical treat and should be embraced and even celebrated accordingly. Still, there were chores to do and errands to run, so we did not get going to formally enjoy the great outdoors until nearly 4 PM. Knowing it would be dark soon, we loaded the dog in the station wagon and headed to America's front yard, the National Mall. There we joined thousands of our fellow citizens and other tourists meandering past some of the world's most undeniably monumental sites.

I snapped a dozen or so photos as the sun set and then the full moon rose, and it was a fun night-at-the-museum moment looking at all those famous flying machines hanging like so many mobiles and models through the windows of Air and Space after dark. Strains of Linus and Lucy played as the carousel spun and the Capitol beamed importantly from up there on its hill, and there were still a lot of people around when I tossed my unworn jacket into the back seat and drove home.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Questions of the Day

Is "brat" a bad word?

It's our skin, why do you care if we make it bleed?

What do you mean by "due at the end of class"?

Did I do better today than tomorrow?

Who made up donuts?

Just another day in the sixth grade.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Word Up

We had the first writing club meeting of 2012 this afternoon, and it was delightful. Nine kids showed up; we had a lap top for each of them; they spent about 40 minutes writing, and then they shared their work with the group. The two of us teachers wrote along with them, although I have to admit that the kids put me to shame today. Not only were they positively prolific, but what they wrote was imaginative, funny, and engaging.

The most remarkable thing of all? They really seemed to be having fun.

I want to try that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Good Old Days

I had a meeting today with a number of my language arts colleagues. The focus of the group is how to best meet the needs of ADHD students in a general ed classroom, and the chapter for today was about classroom management. The text we are using is organized by chapter and strategy, and so our discussion usually goes from the theory expressed in the book to our own observations and experience.

Our group consists of ten teachers who range in tenure from 30 to 3 years. Inevitably our conversation turns to how things have changed over the years: parenting, the economy, technology all are popular scapegoats for the conditions in our classroom that challenge us. As professionals, we acknowledge the line between things we can change and things we cannot, but there is palpable frustration in every session.

Today, I asked others in the group how they thought students had changed over the course of their careers, but I didn't really hear any specifics that I could confirm. As weird as it seems to me sometimes, I've been teaching close to 20 years, and sure, some years are harder than others, but can I chalk it up to some sweeping social change that has transformed the children we teach?

Not so far.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Observed With Skepticism

There was a sluggish, almost syrupy quality to the day today. How quiet everyone was, even in the hallway between classes, and how subdued, once they remembered where they sat and what we do the first of every week.

Oh, sure, some key players were absent, and other students were definitely under the weather, their hoarseness and sniffles clearly affecting their behavior. And, some children were definitely exhausted-- however they spent the last 10 days still seemed to be taking a toll, but the rest?


Did I detect a wee, hopeful sign? Could it have been a modicum of maturity, that inevitable growth we see in all eleven-year-olds as they live and learn throughout the year? (Which, by the way,  is nearly 10 percent of their whole lives and practically 25 percent of their remembered lives.) Could it?


Monday, January 2, 2012

Never Mind

Perhaps it is my hearing, or perhaps all of my senses are going, but whatever the situation might be, I think I'm going to enjoy the decline. Right on the heels of the NFL's miraculous concussion suits, today I heard how concerned many Iowans are about foreign policy. No stereotyper of heartlanders am I, so that fact itself did not surprise me, but I did note the odd, single syllable pronunciation of the word "foreign": it sounded almost like "farn" the way they said it.

I listened even more carefully about the particularly high interest in rural Iowa on these policies and the impact they might have on local jobs and prosperity, and even though it was a bit of a stretch, I was right there with them even when they started talking crop subsidies, until it occurred to me that maybe...

Yup. It was farm policy.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Speed Celebrating

On December 23 I braved the crowds of folks doing their holiday food shopping to pick up a few last minute items of my own at the grocery. One corner of the store was much quieter than the rest-- not many people were shopping for household cleaners and paper towels that day. I did a double-take, though, at the display right next to that aisle-- it was full of Valentines Day candy, cards, and gifts.

Who can really be surprised at such early marketing? It wasn't that long ago that the Christmas stuff was peeking out from behind the Halloween decor, which was itself recently just beyond the back-to-school displays in... July.

Despite the rapid-transit commercialization of holidays, I don't object to looking ahead, and anticipation is one of my favorite pleasures. In fact, all those holiday catalogs that were filling up my mailbox are already giving way to seed catalogs. I can't wait to sit down and go through a few of them, because spring must be hiding around here somewhere.