Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome 2014!

How do you like my pajamas?

Monday, December 30, 2013


In case you were wondering...

Essential Switch
The generator saga continues. Evidently, the manufacturer is aware of the problem and has redesigned the part. Unfortunately, they are not shipping until Dec 31 at the earliest and then there may be a wait to have them installed. Sadly, this may delay Heidi's parents' trip to Florida.

Clean Finish
I got more soap for Christmas!

What Does the Fox Call a Sun Shower?
We made it home from Buffalo safely. On the way, I saw a sun snow shower! Wouldn't the fox have a field day with that?

Dire Consequences
I still don't want to go back to school on Thursday. (Now that my mom mentions it, I think I did dream I would break my arm.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dire Consequences

This has been a great winter break, and I can honestly say I've enjoyed every day, but we have definitely reached the part where it all starts ending. Yesterday we said good-bye to first my brother's family (who we will fortunately see on New Year's Day), then my mom, and then my sister and her family. Tomorrow it will be good-bye to Heidi's folks and her nephew.

This year the school calendar has us going back to school for Thursday and Friday, January 1 and 2. I haven't talked to a single other person who knows of a similar schedule; it seems unanimous that opening for two days after the holidays is kind of dumb.

It is not unprecedented, however. When I was in seventh grade, we had the very same calendar. Never one to embrace transitions, I remember complaining bitterly about it to my mother, even though I actually liked school. I was convinced that nothing good could come of such foolery. "Something bad is going to happen," I predicted melodramatically. "Just you wait and see!"

Was it coincidence that I broke my arm that Friday in PE? 

I think not.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

And Dance by the Light of the Moon

The skyline of Buffalo glowed green, white, and red with holiday lights tonight as we made our way into the city. In all the years I have been visiting this town, I have had wings from several places, but somehow I have missed out on their original birthplace. The Anchor Bar is located in downtown Buffalo, a bit of a distance from Heidi's folks, and maybe that is why.

Last summer while he was here from Mississippi visiting his grandparents, our 13-year-old nephew, Kyle, texted me from the Anchor Bar. Next time ur here will u try suicide wings with me? 

Sure, I replied and promptly forgot.

Tonight he haled me from the back seat the minute the car pulled up outside the airport. "Ready for those wings?"

My answer was the same. "Sure," I told him.

The place had atmosphere in spades. Warm tangy air rushed to meet us as we pushed open the door, and vanity license plates from all over the world adorned the walls. Rather than one large dining room, there were several connected rooms leading away from the old barroom and each other like cozy chambers in a rabbit warren with colored holiday lights and neon bar signs combining to festively light each one. 

At 7 PM on Saturday night, there was a bit of a wait for a table, and I occupied my time deciphering some of the trickier license plates. BFLOGAL took me a minute, and then I wondered who would ever give that one up once they had it?

The wings? They were pretty darn hot, but Kyle and I held our own, with the help of blue cheese, celery, and beer for me, and bread and water for him. The fries weren't bad, either.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What Does the Fox Call a Sun Shower?

I want to know.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Surface Mining

As we took off from Buffalo International Airport yesterday, my nose was, as usual, pressed against the hard plastic of the tiny double-pane window. I love the bird's eye perspective that flying allows. Unfortunately, it was only a couple of minutes before we ascended into the clouds and then broke into the blue skies and sunshine above, which was welcome in its own way to be sure, but there was not much to see below us.

A little while later I checked again and there was a clear view of the ground. The first thing I noticed  was that there was very little snow. I was on the port side of the plane and so I knew I was looking east. I also had a pretty good idea about the straightest route from BFO to ATL, and so I guessed we were somewhere over Pennsylvania. The long north-south ridges rising like so many pleats in a giant green cloth sort of confirmed it for me, and I looked eagerly ahead for western Maryland and possibly even a peek at the Blue Ridge Mountains in my home state.

As we flew steadily south, there was still no snow, even on the highest of mountains, which wasn't really that surprising given the record-setting warm snap we had just been through. I scanned the landscape ahead for any sort of familiar landmarks, and some patches of white caught my eye in the distance. 

Snow? It didn't look like it, and there were no trees. I gasped when I realized what I was seeing. All around there were whole mountains with their tops completely cut off. I sat, stunned, for a moment, and then I knew where we were. We were flying over Appalachia, West Virginia to be exact.

I had heard about mountain top mining, the practice of extracting coal by blowing the land over the seams away, and it certainly seemed like a bad idea, but until that moment it was all an abstraction for me. 

Now I know: 



Why is that allowed?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Musical Chairs

The flight from Buffalo to Atlanta this Christmas Day was packed, and the stream of passengers filing past our seats seemed endless. When we first boarded the man right in front of us was talking to his wife in Punjabi, but now as the last passenger slung several duffels into the overhead compartment above that seat, she was nowhere to be seen.

Before sitting down, the guy took a few things from some kids sitting a couple of rows back and stowed them with his stuff. "I'll be right up here guys," he said as he took the seat next to the Sikh gentleman in front of us.

The young man sitting next to the boys jumped up immediately. "Sir, I would be happy to change seats with you if you'd like."

The exchange was made in quick order, and the grateful dad leaned across the aisle and explained the kindness to his wife, who happened to be sitting next to the Sikh lady. She suggested one more switch, and the young man gladly got up and moved again so that everyone was sitting together.

That's the spirit.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Count on Buffalo


cue the snow:

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Essential Switch

Perhaps I posted too soon yesterday. Not ten minutes after I hit Publish, the generator whined to a stop, abandoning us in the midwinter murk of 3 PM. I was the first to notice that the other half of the house was powered on, the "non-essentials," but the limited power we had been enjoying, boasting about even, had vanished.

Of course we adapted. Bright lights flooded the rooms that had been abandoned all day, and baking became a possibility, although we had to move lamps into the kitchen to cook. It didn't take long for us to miss the heat, though, and we were relieved when the electrician agreed to come out on a Sunday.

The problem was a tiny spring. Meant to flip the switch from generator to utility, there wasn't enough bounce in the coil to do so, and so while the generator shut down because there was power, those so-called essential circuits stayed stayed closed, waiting for their very own generator juice.

The electrician was able to reset the power so that the whole house was humming, and should there be another outage, the generator will kick on. Once the power's back, though, the essentials will be shut down again, all for the want of a wee bit of spring in the winter...

(which, is under warranty and should be repaired by Friday.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Some Say in Ice

I confess that I only listened with half an ear at Thanksgiving to Heidi's dad telling me all about the new generator they bought. I caught something about expensive rewiring and an upgrade to the main panel, and I thought it was interesting that it runs on the natural gas already piped into their home.

This morning the details became much more relevant to me. We knew something was wrong when the overhead lights in our room wouldn't work. The wall outlets were fine, though. Once upstairs, we saw a world encased in ice and heard a steady droning out in the yard.

It didn't take long to figure out that the circuits had been prioritized for the generator-- not everything was on, but the refrigerators, the heat, the hot water, the sump pump, and the internet (yes!) were all operational. It took a bit of trial and error and an extension cord or two, but soon I made coffee and sat at the table admiring the treacherous beauty glistening just outside the windows.

Six hours later, the ice is mostly melted, but the power is still out with not even an estimated time frame for restoration. The generator is humming away, though, we're all safe and warm, and it's nowhere near the end of the world.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Clean Finish

It is a lovely tradition to bring a host or hostess gift to a household when visiting. Likewise, it is exceptionally thoughtful to bring back a small token of appreciation to the folks who have fed your cat, watered your plants, picked up your mail, etc., while you were away.

Over the years we have both given and received many such niceties-- wine, cocktail napkins, candles, flowers, and so forth, but a few years ago, I realized that we had accumulated quite a stockpile of soap as a result of this practice. At that point, we must have had well over a dozen bars of very high quality, artisanal soaps of so many shapes and fragrances that we were running out of places to keep them. It was on that day that I vowed never to buy another bar of soap until we had used up every single one we already owned.

I have been fastidious in my determination to use that soap, but it hasn't been easy. In addition to sheer quantity, the fact is that far from being some fast-dissolving down-the-drain detergent, that kind of soap is made to last. Some bars have literally lingered for months in the shower, even with daily use. 

Today as we prepared for our trip to Buffalo, I asked Heidi to grab a new bar rather than pack the wet one that is currently in use, but much to our astonishment there was none to grab; we had finally exhausted our soap supply.

What will we ever do without it?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Swag

Our school system is considering imposing a limit on teacher gifts. The current proposal will set a cap at one hundred dollars per family, per teacher, per year.

I have to laugh at that. I have written before about the disparity in socioeconomic status in our tiny county, and I have also explained that our school lies on the boundary of million dollar homes and affordable housing, drawing from both types of neighborhoods. I have certainly received my fair share of gifts over the years, and I treasure the appreciation they have expressed, but nothing has ever come close to a hundred bucks. (It's fair to point out that the same can not be said for some teachers at other schools in our district.)

Just today, the assortment of wrapped packages and cards on my desk drew many envious comments from students, and I laughed and shrugged them off for what they were-- the wishes of children at Christmas. At the end of the day, when everything was unwrapped, logged for thank-you notes, and packed neatly into a bag to take home, I had received a candy cane, a loaf of pumpkin bread, hand lotion, shower gel, hot cocoa mix, scented soap, four chocolates, a jolly rancher, and a Starbucks card.

Actual value? Thirty dollars?

(You know what's coming next...)

Making meaningful connections with kids and families every day? Priceless.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oh No he Didn't!

I ran out this afternoon to have my car serviced before our big road trip to Buffalo on Saturday morning. I took some papers to grade and hoped that it was enough of an off time so I could make it back to school for writing club at 2:30.

I was in luck. There were only a couple of cars ahead of me, and I took my place in the waiting room ready to get a little work done. The flat screen television on the wall was tuned to some channel showing a TV movie that, judging from Christine Lahti's hair and clothes (not to mention Alison Pill's age) looked to be about ten years old, and although I tried to ignore it and read the student letters I'd brought along, the melodrama unfolding drew my attention.

The woman across from me was watching it, too, in between emails and texts. Just when I was thinking I should find the movie to rent or stream,  a draft of cool air announced another customer. The man entering looked briefly around and then chose the seat next to her. He glanced at the TV as he sat down. "You seen this movie before?" he asked.

She shook her head no.

"Oh, it's a terrible story," he told her. "Her husband is a pilot who's living two lives. He has a whole other family in England, and the other wife is a terrorist who put a bomb in his suitcase, but you don't know that until the end."

AND... back to grading those papers.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

If I Had a Hammer

The word "tool," used pejoratively, has never been in my vocabulary. Sure, I've heard it, and of course I know what it means, but it was just never an epithet I felt I needed.

Something I read today, however, totally changed my mind. It was an article about, what else? the current state of teaching and education in the United States, and although it was a couple years old, it did a good job expressing some of the discontent that I, too, feel:

We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey.

Yeah. They're tools.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Haul of Fame

I'm afraid that for me, the annual announcement of who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is becoming just another reminder of how time itself rocks and rolls on. The rule is that no act is eligible until 25 years after their first hit, so being able to personally recall that first hit makes me feel more than a little classic myself.

Take this year for example. Kiss will be inducted, years after their first eligibility I might add, Nirvana, too, but the first year they can. Then there's Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, and Hall and Oates.

Back when I was in middle school, Carefree gum sponsored a contest. The school who could collect the most gum wrappers would win a visit and concert by the new band Hall and Oates. Never a big fan of gum myself, I was more than willing to chew some for the team, and I also encouraged everyone I knew to buy and save those pink wrappers. My campaign extended to a visit to my cousins' house where I enthusiastically explained all the logistics and benefits of winning this competition. "Who's going to come if you win?" my aunt asked, "Hauling what?"

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Calendar is not the Day

This morning we gave out interim progress reports to our homeroom students. "Okay," I directed them, "open your assignment book and write down that you need to get these signed for tomorrow."

"Wait!" one student said in shock. "WHY does this page look sooooo weird?"

I went over to take a look. This week, as well as next was compressed. "I guess they're thinking lots of schools are on vacation all ready," I said. I flipped the page. It was printed as a normal week. "But don't worry, they also think we should come back on the 30th."

"No thanks," said my student, and squeezed the reminder into the tiny space he had.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reformed Early Risers

It wasn't too long ago that our pets made it tough to sleep in on the weekends. Any activity outside was their signal that it was time for us to rise and feed them.

On the weekends, that's my job. I never sleep much past 7:30, and so I get up and let Heidi snooze. The me getting up part hasn't changed, but our pets have found a different groove lately. They are quite content to find the warm spot I have so recently vacated, snuffle once or twice, and go right back to sleep.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

This Little Kitten

Last year about this time, I bought a pair of mittens that I fell in love with. The softest of faux sherpa on the inside, a nubby black exterior that made driving in them no problem at all, and they were soooo warm. I wore them all winter long and eagerly pulled them out last month when the first cold snap of this season hit.

But then... inexplicably they disappeared. I don't want to point any fingers (in mittens that's impossible anyway), but let's just say, it wasn't my fault. Oh, how we agonized over those lost mittens, well, okay, it was mostly me, because I can perseverate at times, but I really wanted them back. We looked everywhere, but without success, I'm afraid.

When the snow and ice hit earlier this week, I gave up on ever locating those stray mittens and went online to find another pair. It turned out that I couldn't order them, but I could have them delivered to our local Target. So that is what I did, and yesterday, on my home I made a detour to pick up my second pair of the best mittens in the world.

Even though it wasn't that cold, I gleefully slipped them on and enjoyed their perfect warmth and softness all the way home. As I likewise did this afternoon when we went out to run a few errands.

We had to go back to Target, where we got stuck in a kind of holiday undertow: every time I thought we were going to get out, we remembered something else and were sucked back into the deep part of the store. At last, when I could really see the shore and I felt confident we would make it to dry land before long, I reached into my vest pockets and felt my heart sink to my socks. I only had one mitten in there.

Oh, we retraced our steps, several times, and I left my name and number with customer service, but I think it's safe to say that tonight? I shall have no pie.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Satisfied Customer

The Christmas gifts are coming fast and furious these days. My inbox is full of tracking numbers and packages are piled up on the dining room table almost quicker than we can open them. Just yesterday I eagerly sliced open a mailing envelope to find something I hadn't ordered. It was close, but it was... wrong.

I examined the packing slip and saw that this order had been placed by someone in Dallas. The number on the receipt indicated that she had ordered a few people after me, and the items were close enough to explain the mistake.

When I called the company they were super apologetic and promised to investigate immediately and get back to me ASAP. It was less than half an hour later when I received word that they were sending the correct shipment right away to both me and my Texas counterpart, and there was no need to return the others.

Such prompt and generous service seems rare these days, and so I want to acknowledge my appreciation. Thank you, Pure Home.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Everytime a Bell Rings

As I've mentioned before, the Tolerance Club at our school sponsors a movie each month. This December we're showing It's a Wonderful Life. It fits with our spotlighted IB learner profile trait, Caring, and it also reinforces our core concept that one person can make a huge positive impact on many lives.

On Monday, we had planned to show a clip to our student members and have them do the advertising for our show tomorrow, but that plan went awry with the inclement weather. (Not complaining!) So, it's been left up to us adult fogies to promote an old black and white movie and encourage a school full of tweens to show and hopefully grow.

It's usually my job to find the trailer that will play on the morning announcements, and so it was with more than a few sighs that I looked at what was available on the internet this afternoon. As a die-hard fan of the film, some of them were certainly sighs of appreciation and even anticipation to share this great movie with a new generation, but there were sighs of consternation as well. Most of the clips were much too anachronistic to draw our students in.

I was about to despair before I found this one:

(If you can't see the image click here. It's really worth it!)

The Wolf of Bedford Falls?

Oh. Yeah.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Private Word Parts

I handed out the weekly word parts to my class today. As is our routine, they received a chart with five Greek and/or Latin word parts, a definition, and an example word. Their job is to look up the exemplar, figure out how the word part definition works with it, and then find another example of their own.

The five word parts for this week were aqua, port, circum, geo, and narr. Soon after receiving it a student approached my desk, his face cloaked in concerned confidentiality.

"Can I use the word "circumcise" for my example?" he asked, sotto voce.

"I wouldn't," I answered him, honestly.

"I know what it means," he told me.

I nodded, but before I could reply, he continued.

"AND, I know how it fits the word part. Circum? Means "around," and cise means "cut"!"

"Very good," I said, and I meant it-- his response was a paragon of word study precepts-- "but imagine the conversations we'll have to have if you put that word on the board."

"I'm mature," he assured me. "I can handle it."

Not me! I inwardly cringed, and in the end we agreed that it could be his private example.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Off Season

Evidently, most people don't care to go to the doctor in a snow storm. That must be why both Heidi's and my doctors' offices called this morning to bump up our pre-existing appointments to today, if possible. School was cancelled, but to be honest, the roads were fine when I headed out for my 10 AM, and they continued to improve by the time we left to go to Heidi's noon time slot.

Ordinarily, such a visit requires either making sub plans or a mad dash out at the end of the school day only to tap your toes for a while in the waiting room, but today we were in and out in record time in both offices with no wait at the labs either.

Afterwards, we stopped by a similarly deserted Barnes and Noble and then went out to lunch.

Oh, we'll be back to school tomorrow, for sure, but this pre-holiday holiday has been a measurable blessing-- both of our blood pressures were way below their usual marks.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Like a Little Miracle

No school today, and maybe, just maybe, no school tomorrow, either? Wouldn't that be something?

P.S. Enjoy the snow!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sixteen Shopping Days

I couldn't have ordered up a better day: snow falling, fire crackling, phone ringing, and internet blazing. Christmas here we come!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Kindness of Strangers

Pride of lions, school of fish, murder of crows-- what can we call a group of people?

We were rushing this evening to get our weekend errands done; snow and ice are predicted for tomorrow, and we had spent the day at a workshop at school. It was nearly dark when I slipped the car into a space on the far aisle of the parking lot at Target.

Our tree was at home falling in the stand, and I reckoned I could consolidate grocery and sundry into a single stop. The air was cold, but the good kind of December cold that kind of smells like smoke and wakes you up like a friendly little clap on the cheeks, and a pretty yellow crescent moon lounged in the eastern sky, and so our spirits were high, a spring in our steps even at the end of this long day.

A young woman pushing a cart with a little girl in the toddler seat approached us. She, too, seemed happy that her shopping was through and we exchanged smiles with her. A few paces later, she called to us. "You should have these," she said, thrusting a couple of slips of high gloss paper into my hand. We thanked her and continued on our way, and when we got inside we saw that they were coupons for 20% off everything we bought today.

At the end of our visit, it rang up to a 25 dollar savings, and we still had one coupon left. "Give me that," Heidi said, and went off to find someone to share it with.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hunting and Gathering

A long time ago, when I was younger and had much less stuff, I used to like shopping a lot more than I do now. In those days, it was almost like a sport, and I could spend hours prowling the mall, and a visit to the big warehouse store near us to scope out the possibilities was at least a biweekly event. Nobody there ever asks you if you found everything you needed, because it's understood that that's your job.

But times have changed for me and I couldn't tell you the last time I was at the mall, much less Costco (which I still insist on calling Price Club). Well, I couldn't tell you before today, because through a series of events, I left school early this afternoon. I was in my car by 1 PM, and on my way home I did stop at Costco.

Maybe our school canned food drive was on my mind (for the first time ever, no students in my homeroom have contributed a single food item), or maybe I was thinking that we needed snacks for both Tolerance Club and Writing Club, or maybe it was some sort of phantom holiday habit, but whatever it was, I suddenly believed it would be a great idea to go there.

There had been some changes since my last visit. If possible, I think the carts are even larger, and there were some tall refrigerated units near the back that were kind of new. Otherwise, the place seemed the same, but that is not why I went there. Like in the old days, I went to see what new quarry awaited this consumer. What huge things could I track down and fill my huge cart with to wait in that huge line and pay a relatively huge amount of money for, given the bounty of bargains I usually bag?

And, in the hour I was there, I walked every aisle and looked at hundreds of items. I almost bought many of them, too, but in the end I left behind the fleece pajamas, the fold-flat hand truck, all the boxed sets of books my students would borrow and probably never return, the 30 pack of neon post-its, the new phones, the 60 white cleaning cloths, and the ten pound bag of grapefruit, and in addition to the 29 food items I purchased for the drive, and the 108 snacks I bought, I only got 2 big jars of Dijon mustard, a pound and a half of assorted Lindnor truffles, A big thing of toasted coconut cashews for Heidi's brother, two pounds of grape tomatoes, 600 generic benadryl, and 350 extra strength Tylenol.

Hopefully, that Tylenol will last a while.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Fine Distinction

The counselor and her intern made their annual presentation on bullying yesterday. This activity changes from year to year because the intern designs it as part of the graduate program she or he is in. As such, it can be hit or miss, but from my observation, this year was a good one; all the students seemed to be engaged in the powerpoint and the activities. Several kids even asked me today if we were going to continue that conversation, which was a very good sign in that 1) they remembered what we were doing yesterday and 2) they actually wanted to keep going with it.

I, too, felt like I learned something yesterday. Talking with kids in a meaningful way about bullying can be really hard, because by sixth grade, they know all the right answers and what we want them to say. "Tell an adult," rolls off their tongues faster than they can pack their books and run out the door at the bell. Even so, no one wants to be a snitch, and it is rare that kids report mistreatment, even of themselves.

That's why the distinction that yesterday's presentation made was so powerful.

Snitching? That's telling to get someone in trouble.

Reporting? That's telling to help someone out of trouble.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Small Pleasures

If I had my way we'd never move our furniture. Well, okay, we really don't move our furniture, except for that time we did-- around 10 years ago. Even then we just did it to accommodate the larger couch we got, the one with the foot rest on my side, which I do enjoy, but I am still nostalgic for the other arrangement.

Fortunately for me, when it comes time to put up a Christmas Tree the foot rest part of the couch must be carried upstairs and the room put back the way it used to be. For one month out of the year, it's as if we never moved our furniture at all, and... we get a Christmas Tree!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Members Only

In theory, "homework club" seems like a splendid idea. Teachers volunteer ten afternoons a year to supervise an after school study hall for any student on the team who wants to come. As a result, every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday we can offer all the supplies and know-how it takes to assist any willing scholar in getting a good head start on homework.

They key word, however, is "willing." After a full day of schooling, it's tough for most kids to sit for another hour. Even the snack we provide can't get rid of the ants in their pants. Because many parents insist that their kids attend, half of these jittery kids are not there by choice anyhow.

As such, homework club can become an epic struggle. Take today, for example, when the three boys I was sitting with completed a combined total of 5 questions in the hour we had. You can be sure I used all the tricks and tools I had to get that much from them, but the time of day and the number of kids in the room was too distracting for them, and in the end we were all frustrated.

It wasn't without its lighter side, though. "Look!" one of the boys told me. "I finished all this!" He brandished a work sheet under my nose.

"When did you do that?" I asked him.

"Now!" he answered triumphantly. "And you said I wasn't working."

"Well," I said taking a closer look, "it seems like you kind of rushed through this."

"Nah uh," he said with a pout. "I read every one of those."

"Really? Then how come you answered True or False to all these questions? Your choices were A, B, and C!"

He gave me a big shrug and an embarrassed grin. "Oops."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Room of Requirement

There has been a fair amount of shenanigans in Tolerance Club in the last few weeks. Don't misunderstand me; it's not that I don't appreciate the kids who voluntarily show up for an hour after school each Monday, and it's not that I don't know that kids have a lot of pent-up energy after seven solid hours of schooling. Even so, the behavior of the group has become, well, intolerable.

It was with this in mind that we adult sponsors planned to spend the first half of our meeting today having the students re-establish group "norms."

(Actually, I would have preferred to call them "rules" or even "agreements," because the term "norm" brings with it a lot of freight, especially in respect to the imposition of questionable business models on education-- I'm talking to you PLCs. Take for example this definition: Norms keep a group functioning as a system instead of a collection of individuals. Um. Does anyone else recognize that as a line from a dystopian novel? No? Well it should be.)

But I digress. So, we had the students brainstorm a list of rules that they could agree to follow when they attended Tolerance Club. The first one was to treat each other with respect, and when pressed, they defined that as sharing supplies and listening when others spoke. The list went on, and seemed pretty comprehensive until someone wanted to add "Have fun" for number eleven.

A hand shot up. "But what if we can't have fun and follow these rules?"

"I don't know. Is having fun more important than being respectful?" I countered.

"Maybe," he shrugged mischievously.

"Erase having fun then," I said, and we did.

"Wait," another student interjected. "You don't want us to have fun?" she asked with more than a hint of indignation.

"Oh, we want you to have fun," I told her, "It's just not required."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Surprise Me

It's been a kind of a movie-book weekend: in addition to a Harry Potter marathon on TV, I've seen both Catching Fire and The Book Thief, two movies I was looking forward to after having read the books.

But while Potter rarely disappoints, the other two were a bit of a let down. Describing them as predictable seems a little unfair, since I had read the books, but I think that's the key. If you know the plot, then the movie has to deliver something that adds to the book. It might be the performances, the sets, or the special effects (points to the Harry Potter series for all of those), but there has to be something, otherwise what's the point?