Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Measurable Objectives?

Part of being a school which implements the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme is identifying a student each month who exemplifies one of the learner profile traits that the IB MYP has prescribed.

Full Disclosure: I am not a fan of the IB MYP, and I believe that character education is best conducted at home or in context, and I also agree with Alfie Kohn that awards are more effective in reinforcing the authority of those who grant them than for praising those we intend to commend or encouraging their peers to be more successful. BUT, A few years ago, in an attempt to make these monthly recognitions more meaningful for the students, our team implemented a peer nomination form. The teachers still made the final designation, but it was based on what the kids wrote.

Has the process improved since then? It's hard to say. Many 11-year-olds are still inclined to nominate their friends, if not the person sitting next to them at the moment they are offered the opportunity. They are kids, after all, and they don't fully understand their role in the process, but teaching them that is part of what we do.

Often, we adults are tempted to dismiss their nominations for those very reasons, and in the interest of time and efficiency, we want to designate a student ourselves. Then, too, we feel compelled to take into consideration the demographics of just who is winning these awards. Are there too many girls? Too few minority kids?

In the end, it seems like the objective, if there ever was one, is lost. A name is read on the announcements, a certificate is granted, a photo is posted on the school web site, and then we all move on to the hundreds of other things that occupy our days.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Girl Rising

We went to a special screening of the documentary Girl Rising this evening. Organized by a parent at our school, the theater was packed, mostly with women and girls. The movie itself, the stories of nine girls from developing countries and the impact that education has and might have on their lives, was interesting, a compelling mix of sobering and uplifting. The production was creative, too, partnering each girl with a renowned female writer from her region and a celebrity narrator, but it was the girls who stole the show.

For the last twenty years I have worked in one of the most diverse schools in our nation; in any given year we have students from well over 25 countries, and the faces of the girls in the movie, from Peru, Haiti, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, India, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan echoed the faces of so many of the students I have taught. Even their names were the same in some cases: Mariama, Amina, Azmera, Suma, and Yasmine.

This movie reminded me that as many problems as we think we have in American education today, what we offer our students, while perhaps never good enough, is still quite extraordinary.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tomayto, Tomahto

The last time I was at the eye doctor, she told me I had a huge floater in one eye, right in my line vision. "Does it bother you?" she asked.

I shrugged and told her that I don't see it at all. I know that such an occurrence is common-- the brain often just automatically tunes out interference-- the better to get on with the business of survival.

After the visit, I was feeling quite proud of my brain. I even wondered what other "blockages" in my life it might be trained to simply ignore. Before I could come up with a working list, though, it occurred to me that another word for what my brain was up to is denial.

That doesn't seem quite so peachy.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mind Over Matter

There was actually a point in the day yesterday when I became convinced that I could solve Rubik's Cube. Perhaps I was delusional at the end of a long day, but with all my email answered and my lessons planned for Monday, the bright colors of the cube caught my eye.

I lifted the cube from where I keep it behind my desk, mostly to amuse fidgety students. Focus on the corners and remember the centers are stationary. That's what the guy on the 80's documentary had said. He must know, as a teenager, he had a best selling book on the subject.

Was I making headway when the phone rang? Maybe, it seemed like it, so much so that when my friend asked what I was doing, I openly confessed to "solving Rubik's Cube!" We laughed about it, but as we talked, I mentioned the ukulele, and I realized that the baby steps I have taken over the last few months with that cute little instrument have instilled a new confidence in me.

For the first 50 years of my life, I hadn't been able to wrap my brain around playing any musical instrument; much like Rubik's Cube, all the permutations of fingers, strings, keys, and notes seemed like too much. But that isn't exactly true anymore.

Oh, I didn't solve the cube yesterday, and I can't really play the ukulele, yet... but I haven't ruled either one out.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What's Out There

Even though it was nearly 5:30 when I left school today, the sun was still high in the breezy sky. It wasn't as warm as it had looked from my classroom window, and I shivered a bit and picked up my pace as I headed for my station wagon across the lot.

You never know what you might see on the ground outside a school: the random exotic item is often crushed by bus tires right alongside the quotidian pens and yellow pencils so casually left behind by students in their rush to get home. Over the years I've found money, books, keys, eye glasses, prescription medication, and more than one phone on my way out the door.

Because it's a huge parking lot in a mixed-use facility, there is often a lot of activity. Parents pick up their children from the after-school program; motorcyclists practice in the far corner; Bolivian dance troupes clap and spin and march in the big empty space where late the teachers parked.

Depending on the season, leaves bud, rustle, or fall. Some nights, flocks of starlings pick over the sparse grass on the narrow medians; other times murders of crows mob all the surrounding trees.

Tonight, though, I saw something new. An 6-inch blot rippled dark brown on the sidewalk. As I grew closer, I saw that it was made of ants, more ants than I have ever seen together. They were swarming over each other in a pile 5 or 6 ants deep, and for what? I have no idea; I couldn't see anything.

I left them there, stepped over them carefully and continued on to my car, but I'll tell you what: I scratched a million invisible itches all the way home.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pep Talk?

My students have been doing a mini-unit on suffixes, and today was the quiz. It was a little more challenging than many of them were expecting, so I wasn't too surprised when one boy approached my desk with quite a few blanks on his paper and more than a little frustration. "I thought I knew these," he said, "but I can't get any more."

I looked over his test with him and tried to help triage the questions. There were two that I was pretty sure he could get, if he just gave them some more thought. He was still clearly discouraged, though.

And that's when I heard myself say, "C'mon! Just focus on eternity and disappointment."

He knew what I meant.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Six Minutes 'til Post Time

We're continental diners around here... dinner at 8 is pretty much the norm, and forgive us Josh, but in the summer it can be much, much later. Part of the problem, or perhaps more accurately, the "situation," is that our days are full, and a fine meal together at the end of the day seems like the least we can do for ourselves and each other, so we take the time to make that happen.

Having said so, and being more or less at peace with this lifestyle (which has worked for centuries in other, less puritanical, societies-- siesta, anyone?), I will say that rising at 5:30 to make it to school for our [ungodly] start-time is an impediment to such a timeline. A logical person will note that one of these deadlines is non-negotiable, and the other is not, so we have been trying to have all our commitments (ahem, you, blog) met, and dinner on the table by eight every evening.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April is the Cruelest Month or, Happy Birthday Shakespeare

The Poetry Challenge today is not a popular one with my sixth graders, but I like to think of it as character building. In honor of Shakespeare's 449th birthday, I asked them to write a Shakespearean Sonnet.

For those of you who are a little rusty, that's a 14 line poem in iambic pentameter (10 syllables, with an unstressed-stressed pattern) with an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. Now you can see why the sixth graders are a little cranky, right?

As always, I don't require them to succeed on the first try; I just ask that they try. Someone did a pretty good job:

Sonnet 1
By Evan

A bird once sang on a midsummer's night,
an owl joined in, hooting rhythmically,
next a wolf howled, singing sharp notes, and bites,
and the forest became a symphony.
The evergreens withdrew their mighty thorns,
made way for ticks and mice to chant the bridge,
and hawks and crows subdued their woeful mourns
to find a place in choir along the ridge.
Beetles buzzed and foxes pawed oaken drums,
and frogs played tunes with slime and lily-pads.
Bears scratched trees with strong muscular thumbs,
and long-legs played the limbo with their dads.
The woods trembled until the very morn,
and now, all of the land is back to norm.

Oaken drums and muscular thumbs? Awesome!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why I Love David Sedaris

He has a hilarious and uncanny ability to observe and express the ludicrous. Take this, posted today on his Facebook page:

If you ever want unwarranted sympathy, go on a lecture tour. “Oh, my God,” people will say, “I just feel so awful for you.”

No one offered me any pity when I was moving bricks in a wheel barrow, or washing dishes in 100 degree heat. All I ever heard back then was “hurry up,” but stand at a podium for an hour and a half, or sit on your ass at a book signing table and you’ll never hear the end of it. “You poor thing, you must be exhausted.”

It goes on from there, a free little must-read essay for all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Praise Poems

The poetry challenge today was a form of praise poem. Praise Poems come from Western Africa and celebrate an individual's identity. They are often call and response, with the audience chanting a chorus between lines.

The formula I gave my students was to write six lines and a chorus. The first line is your name, the second about your place of birth or ethnicity, the third about your family, the fourth and fifth compare you to natural elements or entities, and the last chooses a positive, defining quality about you and repeats it three times. The chorus is an expression of what they hope might be said of them by their community, and so it is written in third person.

Once again, I am really wowed by the kids' writing. I got goosebumps reading a couple of them. One boy ended his poem with the line, I am ready, ready, ready. Another student wrote as her chorus, Everyone counts.

Here's my praise poem:

I am Tracey,
Teaching is in her heart.
born within the watch of Freedom,
Teaching is in her heart.
oldest child of flight and persuasion, sister of law and empowerment.
Teaching is in her heart.
I am warm granite ledges
Teaching is in her heart.
and quiet snowfall,
Teaching is in her heart.
and I am patient, patient, patient.
Teaching is in her heart.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This Is Just To Say

In honor of National Poetry Month I have presented my students with daily poetry challenges. The specifics are revealed each day on our online course where they also post their efforts. So far, this has been the best of the writing challenges this year-- the writing has been fresh and funny and really good, especially considering that it's basically first draft.

Today the task was to write a parody of William Carlos William's poem, This Is Just To Say. Here are a couple of the offerings so far:

This is just to say
that I have taken your favorite t-shirt
that was in your room
and which you were probably going to wear
on the first day of school.
Forgive me
even though it is a really cool shirt,
it would now not be colored on
and torn to shreds
if you hadn't left it on your bed!

(It's not my fault!)


This is just to say...

I broke the shower curtain rod
in your fancy
Master bathroom
jacuzzi tub

which I knew
you were going to use
after your soccer game
against the best team in the league

Forgive me
it was fun to swing on
back and forth through the air.....
until it shattered.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Life and Literature

I knew what it was about the minute I received the e-mail:

On Tuesday, my son shared a poem with me that he found in a collection he said you shared with him.  I have some concerns about the content of the poem and feel it might be easier if we talked.

To help my students prepare for Poem in your Pocket Day, I always break out my personal poetry library. Consisting of sixty or so volumes, many are edited and written for kids, but some are for more general audiences. Don't get me wrong-- I have culled my collection of any books that might have more mature material than not-- there is no Reuben Jackson, Richard Brautigan, or even Sylvia Plath, although I do own some of their work.

However, I do share a couple of anthologies by Wislawa Szymborska. I first read her writing when she won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1996. Born in 1923, she spent her entire life in her native Poland, living through Nazi occupation, Stalinism, Solidarity, and eventually Democracy. She has said that her poetry explores the large truths that exist in every day life. "Of course life crosses politics, but my poems are not strictly political. They are more about people and life."

When I offer my poetry books to my students it is always with the caveat that they must turn the page on anything that they feel may be inappropriate, or bring it to me. Since the purpose of the assignment is to find a poem to share, I caution them to consider their audience and avoid choosing anything that might offend. As an example, I offer Szymborska's poem, The Terrorist, He Watches.

Published in 1979 during a rash of European bombings, it starts like this:  

The bomb will go off in the bar at one twenty p.m.
Now it's only 1:16 p.m.
Some will have time to go in,
some to get out. 

And it follows the people who go in and out of the bar unaware of the mortal choices they are making, until the bomb explodes in the last line.

I warned my students about this poem on Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. On Tuesday morning, I pulled the anthology off the table, and on Tuesday afternoon, this particular student mentioned the poem to his parents. Despite my discouragement, he had copied some lines from the poem the day before, and was struck by how timely they were.

When I explained the time frame and objectives of the assignment, his mother was very understanding, and she could even set her concern aside for a moment to appreciate that her 11-year-old was making literary connections to current events.

We agreed that it's what we want, but not in this way.
"Of course, life crosses politics," Szymborska once said "but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life." - See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/340#sthash.2y4N7fvB.dpuf
"Of course, life crosses politics," Szymborska once said "but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life." - See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/340#sthash.2y4N7fvB.dpuf
"Of course, life crosses politics," Szymborska once said "but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life." - See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/340#sthash.2y4N7fvB.dpuf
"Of course, life crosses politics," Szymborska once said "but my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life." - See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/340#sthash.2y4N7fvB.dpuf

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grass Roots

Time flies!

For six years my students have participated in National Poem in your Pocket Day, sponsored by the American Academy of Poets on one day each April, which also happens to be National Poetry Month. The idea is simple: find a poem that speaks to you, and carry a copy in your pocket to share on this day.

If Twitter is any indication, the event might be gaining traction. New York City has been sponsoring their own version for 11 years, and other locales have joined in, but today there were lots of pictures and tweets of poems from participants all over the country.

Even though all my students were well prepared to share some verse today, and I have used morning announcements and other more personal persuasion to raise the awareness of our school over the last five years, I realized a little while ago that I have not been the evangelist I could be. I mentioned it to my mom, who lives in Minnesota, and she did not know what I was talking about.

Next year? I'm going to fix that. Look out Twin Cities, Atlanta, Buffalo, Miami, Charlottesville, Amherst(?), Hershey, and where ever you might be, Bill. Poem in your Pocket Day is coming your way!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bird on Bird

Out with my dog this evening, a sudden movement in the still mostly-bare branches over my head drew my attention. A solitary crow perched in a low cleft of a locust, solid black against spring green and gray sky. A small nest spiraled compactly in the tree fork at the bird's feet, and before I could look away, its head darted forward. I gasped when it emerged with a sky blue egg in its obsidian beak. Unremorseful, or merely unaware, the crow took wing and was quickly out of sight.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


In the middle of a standardized reading test, a student began to wave her test booklet around wildly. I called her over to my desk. "What are you doing?" I whispered. It seemed like a natural question.

"Nothing?" she answered.

"What was all the--" here I gestured, imitating her unusual actions.

"Nothing?" she repeated evasively, but I gave her that stern teacher-look I've been perfecting for the last twenty years and she spilled it.

"Someone was trying to take my picture," she nodded her head slightly in the direction of the table next to hers, where a student already finished with the test was "reading" on her iPod. Electronic devices are not allowed in the classroom or during school hours except when used for school-related activities, like reading.

I had been circulating throughout the room as the test progressed, and I had checked the screen on this particular iPod several times. Now, I called its owner over and traded her the device for a hard copy of the book she was reading.

"Why?" she wanted to know.

"We'll discuss it at the end of class," I told her, and we did, when the bell rang not too much later.

"I was reading! I swear!" she told me as the rest of the class filed out the door. "Please let me have my iPod back."

Just then the gadget in my hand buzzed with an Instagram alert-- someone had "liked" a picture that had been posted a few minutes before. A swipe of the finger revealed the incriminating snap shot of the test-waving student from the next table.

And the friend who liked it?

The test waver herself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Life Lessons

Today my reading class was well-entertained by reading Jack Gantos's short memoir "The Follower," (Click on the link and scroll down for the full text-- it's totally worth it.)

The writing in this tale of Gantos's youthful mishaps at the hands of the delinquent Pagoda brothers who lived next store is vivid- full of figurative language- and hilarious.

Maybe it's predictable that as I am a middle-aged lady his mom is my favorite character in the story. It's not for the reasons you might think, though.  I love her anti-nurturing. Here are her words as she warns her son away from the dangerous antics of the Pagodas:

"You are a follower, not a leader," she said bluntly. "You are putty in the wrong hands. Don't get me wrong. You're a nice kid, but you are most definitely a follower." 

That kind of sums up her character, but it's later, after Jack dislocates his shoulder and tries to hide it when she really wins my heart.

She grabbed my arm and pulled on it like it was the starter rope on a lawnmower engine. Something deep inside my shoulder went Pop!
"Arghhh," I sighed. The relief from the pain was heavenly.

"You are as dumb as a post," my mother said. "I'm warning you—don't play with that kid! He'll lead you to your death."

After reading today, my students debated the themes of the story and kicked around possible life lessons. "How about YOLO?" suggested one. "You only live once?"

"How about DODO?" answered one of her classmates. "Dummies only die once!"

That seems about right.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Job Well Done

I believe there is room for expertise and even artistry in any occupation. Today at the grocery store, the young man who bagged my groceries did the finest job on that particular task that I've ever seen.

I sighed when I emptied my cart and placed the two reusable bags on the belt. I just knew there was no way everything would fit. As the cashier scanned, and I swiped my card and punched in the PIN, the bagger organized and stacked the items as they came his way. Keeping watch on the things at the back of the line, he didn't actually place anything in the bags until the order was about two-thirds rung, but when he did? It all came together like the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Everything fit perfectly in the two bags, and they were also balanced and square. They were waiting in my cart before I received my receipt and that Ballanchine of bagging, that Picasso of packing, was off to another line to ply his artistry there.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Unless You Know Something I Don't

The phone rang this morning, and our talking caller ID announced that it was "mary-land" calling.

"I wonder what the state of Maryland wants with us," I joked as I picked it up and answered with a cheery "Hello?"

"Hi Grandma!" the voice on the other end was equally upbeat.

"I'm sorry, you have the wrong number," I told him.

There was a brief pause. "Are you sure?"

Friday, April 12, 2013

THINK Before You Speak

Middle school, middle school, oh the joys of middle school...

Today in one of my classes, one student taunted another by stating that a particular body part of his was only one centimeter long. Props to him for using the metric system, especially since his remark came along with a little thumb and forefinger gesture indicating the estimated length, but it was still inappropriate. The other student did not react well, and so both boys found themselves in a conversation with me, the counselor, and the assistant principal.

Once the discipline/consequence part of the meeting was over, the therapeutic pep talk part began. We have a great counselor who also happens to be a good friend of mine. Recently, she introduced the acronym "THINK" to the students to guide them in evaluating their comments both online and face to face. To the student who had made the disparaging remark she asked, rhetorically, if what he said was

Necessary, or

Still a bit upset and angry, he nodded slightly but shrugged noncommittally, and so she turned to the other student.

"You don't have to take those kind of comments from anyone," she told him. "You can ask an adult for help if someone says something like that to you." She paused and looked at him; he nodded.

"Was what he said kind?" she asked, working backwards on the list.

He shook his head.

"No," she said, in agreement.

"Was it necessary? No," she continued. "Was it inspiring? No." She was on a roll. "Was it helpful? No. Was it true? No."

"How do you know?" interrupted the other kid.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It Had to Happen Sometime

I confess that I have been tired lately, even after catching up on my sleep over spring break a couple of weeks ago, but nothing could have prepared me for the exchange I had this evening with the cashier at the grocery.

I had worked until a little after five and given my nephew a lift home after he had tutored, and I would have avoided the extra stop if I could have. As it was, I shopped pretty quickly, but when I made way to the check-out line, the go-go nature of the day and the fact that I was absolutely starving must have taken a toll.

I handed over my shopper's card without being asked, consented to plastic bags with a nod, and was busy punching in my pin number when the checker interrupted me, politely. "Senior citizen discount, ma'am?"

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Heat Wave

After near record lows a couple weeks ago, today we posted a bona fide record high temperature.  91o in April? Oh my!

People who know me know I do not really care for hot weather, but I have to say that this was the most pleasant ninety-plus degrees I have ever encountered. There was very little humidity and a light breeze that just made you want to throw out your arms and spin. With the windows and sun roof wide open I didn't even break a sweat.

At school, more than the extraordinary heat, the students seemed to sense an irrevocable turn in the season. "These are the longest shorts I have," I heard a young woman complain when she was sent to the office for a dress code violation. And this morning, when asked to come up with a theme for a basket to be raffled off at a PTA fundraiser in a couple of weeks the most popular idea was School's OUT!

...and that's what we're going with.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mail Call

Believe it or not, the entire experience of writing a letter, addressing the envelope, placing a stamp on it, and personally putting it in the mail is a novel one for most of the sixth graders I teach. As the culmination of the Gratitude Challenge, and because the weather was a gorgeous 80 degrees here, today my students and I walked to the mailbox on the far corner of campus to physically post their thank-you notes.

After overcoming the exacting task of properly placing name, street, city, state and zip code on a tiny envelope, they joyfully ran down the sidewalks and across the fields to the intersection where a vintage mailbox stands bolted to the pavement. With wonder they pulled the worn metal handle to reveal the yawning maw of that blue beast and gleefully sacrificed their offerings to the postal gods. Then they skipped back to their school, eager to continue their lessons.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Neighborhood School

Imagine my delight this afternoon when I entered the main office to check my mail (and so forth) and I ran into my nephew, who is a senior in high school. Oh, how I love that guy!

"Are you here to see your mom?" I asked, because she works in the building, too.

"No, actually, " he replied, "I'm here to tutor some kids."

How cool is that?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Live from...

As our dog ages, Heidi seeks ways to keep her sharp both physically and mentally. Not only do we have a daily dog walker who takes her to the park for exercise, but one or the other of us takes her for a walk each evening, too. When she was younger, Heidi did agility classes with her, and lately she has been thinking that such an activity would be fun for both of them to revisit.

I support my girls all the way, and today while I was researching class opportunities in our area, I came across a place a little ways south of here that sounded great, were it not just that much too far. Clicking on the "About us" link, I gasped when I recognized the proprietor as a former contestant on the reality show, Greatest American Dog. To be honest, it's hard to say if it was her or her perfectly groomed Maltese, Andrew, who caught my eye first, but there they were, minor celebrities, just an hour away.

We are no strangers to reality TV, particularly the pet sub-genre. Cesar Milan is a demigod in our home, and the person we trust to clean-up and clip our dog was on the second season of Animal Planet's Groomer Has It; she didn't win the show, but she won the doodle segment. 'Nuf said.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Written in Stone

I dipped my toe back into the genealogy pool at the end of the week last week. That type of research can be so consuming that it's hard to do a little at a time. It's also tough to keep track of all the little threads and questions once you get back a few generations, but it was spring break, and after visiting the Chapman family home and cemetery, I decided to devote a couple of hours to the folks on my own family tree.

There must be many mysteries in every family; there are definitely several in mine. One is the story of my great-grandmother. Born to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, her mother died when she was a young child. Her father remarried shortly afterwards, but we have no idea what she did for the next twenty years when she somehow met and married my great-grandfather, a man from Massachusetts, and moved to Indiana. Her father ended up working in the laundry of the New Jersey State Asylum, where he died and was buried. Her older sister never married, and at some point moved to Indiana, too.

Most of the information we have is pieced together from census records, so there was some discrepancy as to the year she was born-- it varied from 1860 to 1866. In order to refine my searches I wanted to know which it was. I knew there was a record of her burial on the Find a Grave website, but there was nothing other than her name and the cemetery. That site is free and run mostly by volunteers; they have a photo request form, and if anyone living nearby is willing, you can get a picture of the grave.

I was surprised to hear back in less than an hour from a nice lady in Indiana who promised she would go out this week and take the photos I requested. Yesterday, she posted them. In them, the spring sunshine seems a little harsh and the shadows the stones cast are dark. The markers themselves are plain blocks of rough granite standing in grass that has not yet greened up, but I was moved to see them.

And one small mystery was solved: no matter what they told the census takers in the later years of her life, my great-grandmother was born in 1861.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Unwritten Rules

Three of us meet regularly on Fridays, but this afternoon two of us were waiting in the other person's room. She was nowhere to be found. We weren't worried-- 20 year veterans of teaching, we know how, especially in the name of responsive education, a meeting with a student or parent or counselor or team or administrator can come together in no time, and you're lucky if you have the opportunity to alert your colleagues to the conflict.

The two of us sat and chatted. It was the end of our teaching day, a time when I am often drained, especially if there's not another high-adrenaline event on my agenda to keep me going. We speculated as to where our third might be and made a swipe at our planned topic of conversation. "How long do they say you have to wait in college if your professor doesn't show?" my colleague asked. "Ten minutes?"

We laughed and then agreed that the moment for that particular meeting had passed, and presuming we would all be together again next Friday, we left the room to take care of the many, many items below it on our infinite to-do lists.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lost in Translation

Our writing club students are fond of posing ridiculous challenges for each other. Today's was a good example: Write about green bananas and how they are valuable to the scientific community.

To be honest, it seems like appeal of the challenge thing is fading, because the only kids who chose to write to this one were the two French exchange students who were shadowing one of our regulars.

But their contribution was fascinating and luminous in its own way:

Bananas (Romeo & Juliet’s prologue)
By Marie and Lola

Two green bananas both alike in dignity
In fair Banania where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
Where civil juice makes civil hands unclean
From forth the fatal loins of these two green fruits
A pair of star crossed bananas takes their lives...

Not bad for a second language!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reach Out

A few of my regular news outlets reported that today was the 40th anniversary of the first cell phone call


Of course the reporters marveled at how the world has changed, and some even took a few snarky pot shots at our current culture of constant connectivity. (To paraphrase Brian Williams: It's hard to imagine how we ever got along without them, although somehow we managed to win World War II and put a man on the moon.)

To me, the best observation was made by the man who made that first call, Martin Cooper. He noted that the mobile phone shifted our entire conception of the telephone: we used to call a place, but now we call a person.

Wow. It doesn't seem like it will be too long before the phrase, May I speak to... is obsolete.

Cooper also pointed out that every phone has an on/off switch, and that we should all remember who controls who. And he's right, because you may not always be home, but you are always you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

History 101

I have the New York Times website as my homepage-- I just like seeing the Grey Lady's perspective on the world every day. Tonight when I clicked over, I saw a banner advertisement that was hard to ignore: Experts say the first 150-year-old has already been born.

Imagine that!

The ad was interactive, and you could click on a time line to see some of the iconic headlines you might have known if you, yourself, had lived for the past 150 years. How could I resist?

But wait... mapping the human genome, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Maggie Thatcher's election? These were not exactly the first events that came to my mind for the last 35 years. I kept clicking back in time until at last I hit the one that I knew would be there, probably because it is always there: Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg.

Coincidentally, I just started reading a book about that tragedy today. People who know me may be surprised; not because I'm reading about Titanic, but rather because I've found a book that isn't a rehash of all those I've already poured over. You see, when I was a child, I was fascinated by the story of the doomed ship, which was then still lost on the floor of the ocean. The enormity of such a loss weighed heavily on my young mind, and it was nothing short of a miracle to me when the wreck was discovered in 1985.

Today, though, the book I picked up is a completely novel take on the ill-fated voyage that even after 101 years so many of us are so familiar with. It's called, Titanic: Deck Z.

And yes, Z is for Zombies.

I know, right?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Miss March and April

Over the twenty years I've spent in the classroom, I feel like I've become a bit of a school calendar connoisseur.

We start the day after Labor Day, and growing up in a region where school and September are synonymous, I'm fine with that. Columbus Day? Consider the holiday politically correct or not, a three day weekend at that point in the school year can revitalize students and staff alike.

Veterans Day on the other hand is nice, but not particularly necessary, especially with planning days and/or election day before and Thanksgiving soon after. Three days at Thanksgiving seems like a luxury, but it's a good idea given the number of families who travel.

In our system, we rarely get two full weeks for the winter holidays, but the one year that we did, it was awesome, and I keep my fingers crossed year after year for a repeat. Unfortunately, this coming year would be the best possibility according to how the holidays fall, and it's not going to happen.

King Day and Presidents Day are like stepping stones to spring break, but if that vacation week is early (as it is this year) then the rest of the term can really drag on, and Memorial Day is no relief; by then a holiday is a distraction-- everyone is ready to wind things up.

Summer is summer, and the merits of a longer or even year-round school calendar can be debated in another post.

Given all of the above, I must confess that as a career-long middle school teacher, this year's calendar has been one of the best ever. Why? Because as luck would have it, St. Patrick's Day was on a Sunday, and today, April Fool's Day, was a teacher work day.  That simple twist of fate has given us an entire year with no pinching and no pranking.

If only we could make that permanent.