Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dodging Bullets

On the day after Back-to-School Night, we teachers often sit yawning and around trading war stories. In addition to the majority of perfectly nice people, there's always that parent who wouldn't leave, the one who was rather aggressive in their questions, or someone who was simply bizarre. At the close of my 23rd BtSN, I had seen them all, but not last night.

All my parents were very well-behaved, particularly the couple who had both previously been my students. They listened politely and even seemed to appreciate my humor. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the other teachers on my team. To my surprise, my colleagues all reported questions, push-back, and follow-up emails from the very same parents who were so tame in my class.

I guess seniority does have its privileges!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nuts, Ten Ways

I sat next to the French teacher at a meeting this afternoon. "Thanks again for yesterday," she said, and explained to our coworker to her left about the duck, duck, goose-nosebleed incident.

"That's a cool way to teach vocabulary," our colleague said. She used to teach French herself, and so she probed a little deeper. "Do they use numbers, too?"

"Oh sure," the French teacher said. "And, by the way, I finally saw Deez Nuts on the internet. Do you know who he is? The sixth graders can't get past that meme whenever we count to ten," she sighed.

I was checking my email and listening idly to their conversation. "Deez Nuts?" I asked. "Isn't that the kid running for president?"

The silence was deafening. I looked up to see both of them frowning, jaws dropped. My heart skipped a beat, and I wondered for a moment if I had said something terribly wrong. My fingers flew to the keyboard, and fortunately Google did not disappoint.

We were both correct-- and, by the way? Deez Nuts is also a 1992 song by Dr. Dre.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bien Sur

It has become my habit to escape the artificial environment of my school building at least once a day for about 10 minutes. I usually walk around the trail that encircles our campus. A stroll that at just under 3/4 of a mile will thaw the chill from my air-conditioned flesh in the warm months and clear the fog from brain in cooler times is an investment in efficiency.

Today as I headed out, I passed the French teacher and a student with his head tilted way back and his hands covering his face, heading in. "Nosebleed!" I stated the obvious, and they were past me before I could say much more.

Up ahead I saw a small group of sixth graders sitting in a ring on the grass. As I approached I noticed that one of them slow-skipped along the outside of their circle. "Canard!" he sang as he rapped each on the head. The other kids grew impatient with his selectivity as I stood to watch. At last he cried, "Oie!" and the girl he tapped rose and chased him. He had a good lead on her, but unfortunately he slid into the wrong spot.

"Faitout!" the group shouted, and into the stew pot he slunk.

"Merci!" my colleague said as she returned.

"De rien," I nodded and set off on my way.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Long Suffering

How helpful it is to keep a daily record of one's activities, even if it is anecdotal. Not 10 minutes ago I took the last two Tylenol from a ginormous container. My, I thought, that certainly lasted a long time, and I wondered how long indeed. Then I recalled that I had actually written about buying the bottle on this blog. I knew, because my friend Roula had commented on the post, advising me to throw them away. But I didn't listen, and a quick search took me right back to December 6, 2013, and now I know that 350 extra strength Tylenol have a shelf life of almost 2 years around here.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


It was sobering news this morning when I heard that more people died by selfie than by shark this year.

For while I might think twice about swimming at a beach where sharks had been spotted, the Selfie Project must go on.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Full TIme

It was touch and go there yesterday, but now that my first five day week of the new school year is behind me...

I think everything is going to be just fine.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lucky Number

I had a busy day yesterday-- in addition to teaching, I attended a meeting on a new web application our school is considering purchasing and submitted a revised self-assessment for students to use in conferences. I also decided that the 23rd is my new favorite day of the month.

While waiting to use the restroom in the main office, I noticed that the last day of school is June 23rd, which was exactly nine months away. Still waiting, I noted that 10/23 is Friday, an early release for students. November 23? The Monday before Thanksgiving, a two-day school week. December 23 is during Winter Break, and January 23 is a Saturday. February 23 follows a three-day holiday weekend; March 23 is Spring Break; April 23? A Saturday. May 23 is one week before Memorial Day and one month before... yes! The last day of school.

I explained my new-found felicity for day 23 to a colleague until at last a restroom opened up. A few minutes later, with clean hands and empty bladder, I headed back to my classroom. "Tracey!" the principal's secretary called. "Ms. B. likes the way you think!"

I frowned, flattered, but also a little confused. The principal had been in the meeting with me and had also seen the new self-assessment I designed. Could it have been my contributions in one or both of those things that she appreciated?

The secretary noticed my uncertainty. "The 23rd?" she said. "9 months from today? She loved that!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Box to the Left

I like to think of myself as a liberal, unconventional, student-centric kind of a teacher, and yet when this morning after a meeting I walked into my classroom which was under the supervision of a colleague and found all 21 of my students sprawled about-- lying on the floor, sitting under the tables, perched on yet-to-be-unpacked cardboard boxes of books and windowsills, I literally gasped.

"What is going on here?" I demanded, scanning the room for some adult presence.

"I knew they had to take a standardized test, and so I let them get comfortable," my coworker whispered from over in the corner.

I looked around. With the exception of those kids who were staring at me because of my disruption, the rest were all quiet and focused on the laptops in front of them. I walked to my desk and checked the teacher dashboard for the test, and they all seemed to be making progress.

"Sorry if I overstepped," my colleague said as she headed for the door.

"No, no," I assured her. "You were in charge. Thank you for covering my class! Really!" And I meant it-- but as for me? I think I will continue to administer tests to students sitting in chairs at tables.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Choice Words

I was helping students organize their binders when I overheard a couple of guys having what I considered to be a questionable conversation.

"I'm not saying you're actually fat," said one to the other, trailing off meaningfully.

"What are you saying, then?" I asked.

"I wasn't talking to you," the student responded, and his disrespect took me a little aback. I was not, however, at a loss for words.

"Well, I was listening to you," I told him, "and I did not like what I was hearing."

He took a breath. I could see by his face he was thinking about his next words. I made eye contact. He turned to the other student. "Sorry," he said.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Joining 'Em

As I took attendance on the first day of school I came across a name on my roll that I had never had in my class before. "Marco?" I called.

"Polo!" several students answered.

Marco himself looked a little grim as he gave me a little salute along with his mumbled 'Here'.

"I think he's heard that one before," I said. "So let's not do that anymore."

Still, I knew it would be hard, mostly because I, myself, had the impulse to cry out that famous rejoinder whenever I said his name.

It's been a couple weeks, now, and the problem has faded considerably, at least from my perspective. Or at least that's what I thought until I looked through a stack of assignments that the kids had turned into my substitute last week.

There was a name scrawled across the line at the top of one sheet that I couldn't make out. I squinted trying to match the squiggles with letters and the letters with students' names. Is that a 'P'? I wondered, and indeed it was.

Looks like someone has re-named himself Polo.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


It was a bit chaotic at Orlando International Airport this morning as we waited in line to drop our checked baggage. People from all over the world are drawn to the many theme parks and resorts the region is known for, and Sunday must be the last day of many a vacation. Lines were long and accents were loud and various as our flood of travelers flowed toward so many homes.

I idly scanned the crowd as our queue trickled along. I was surprised to see a woman of about my age actually carrying her soft-sided Samsonite up to the scale. Looking around more carefully, I also saw a couple of guys hefting big, olive drab canvas duffle bags, and even someone with an aluminum-framed backpack. They were all bags that my family had packed around 30 years ago.

I glanced at my own luggage, upright and wheeled, rolling them smoothly along as we moved up in the line, and considered the many forms of progress.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Flock Together

After another extravaganza of a day of Disney rides and shows, someone asked me what I liked best about my park experience. "Honestly?" I replied, "it was the bird show."

He raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Was it that good?"

"Oh yes," I assured him.  "Two middle-aged ladies and a bunch of animals trained to do clever tricks?" It was my turn to raise my eye brows. "You betcha it was good!"

Friday, September 18, 2015

So 1982

As iconic as that giant geodesic sphere might be, I must admit that, although I have been to Orlando a few times since 1982, I had never actually been to Disney's EPCOT park until today. I did not know, for example, that the name is actually an acronym of  Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and that Walt Disney actually purchased his 27,000+ acres of swamp land in order to establish an innovative community model with which to shape the future urban life. After Disney died in 1966, his vision was revised by the corporation he created into something that can be best expressed as "more theme parks and resorts."

And so it has become, but EPCOT is a bit of a muddle, if you ask me. Sometimes described as a "permanent worlds fair," it is divided into two sections of a figure eight: Futureland and a ring of faux nations full of gift shops and restaurants. Futureland suffers a bit from the fact that it was designed in the 70s and built in the 80s, and that future has come and gone. The buildings and attractions seem quaint and dated, like the Jetsons might feel at home there.

Thematically, the connection between Futureland and the rest of the park seems tenuous: visitors cross a bridge and are swept off to either Mexico or Canada, depending on whether they turn left or right. After that, it's on to facsimiles of Norway, England, China, France, Italy, Morocco, America, and Japan. These attractions, too, seem a little aged, but it isn't as noticeable. Plus the folks at Disney have an education incentive program to attract young people from all of these nations to come and work in that section of the park. Their presence definitely lends some authenticity to the experience.

We had a fun day, but after years of hearing about how great EPCOT was, it seemed like we were a little late to the party.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stockholm Syndrome

What does it say about the state of air travel that when we were lucky enough to get a couple of extra legroom seats on our flight this morning  it seemed like there was almost too much space? So much room that the tray table actually had to have an extension to reach me. How quaint!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Morgan Freeman is my Co-Pilot

My students were working on the first little project of the year this afternoon. Their task was to come up with 30 nouns and/or adjectives that described them in some way, and when the lists are completed, trace their hands on a piece of paper and then scribe the words they have chosen along the outline. The last step is to decorate the hand, cut it out, and mount it on construction paper for display.

This simple activity provides enormous insight into their classroom skills and their work habits, and the products end up being a wonderful snapshot of each student-- their hands, their designs, their words, but it was the work habits I was monitoring today when I told them that they were free to talk as they worked as long as the work got done. A little while into the period, one table was pretty chatty, but as I listened, their discussion seemed relevant to the task.

"I'm going to put 'Christian' on mine," said one boy, "because I am."

"I don't believe in God," responded the girl next to him.

"You're not going to go to heaven," warned another student.

She shrugged. "I don't believe in heaven."

The first boy was not alarmed by her statement at all. "You don't have to be Christian to go to heaven," he assured her sincerely. "You just have to be good."

The other boy nodded in agreement, but the first student wasn't done. "And then, when you get to heaven..." he paused for effect. "'ll find out God is real!"

The girl seemed unconvinced, and then the conversation took a silly turn. "No!" he continued, "You'll find out God is me!"

The girl gave him a long look and then raised her eyebrows. "Funny," she said, adding purple to her paper, "you don't look anything like Morgan Freeman."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Everyone's a Foodie

We are lucky to live in an area with lots of good restaurants within walking distance of our home, and tonight we availed ourselves of the bounty and strolled on down to dinner at a new Italian place with one of our neighbors.

The weather was nearly perfect, all pink clouds and cool, cerulean skies, as we made our way along the row of restaurants, and almost every outside table was occupied.

The sidewalks were bustling, too, and I noticed a mom and her 8 or 9 year old son walking toward us. His attention was captivated by an empty store front with a "Coming Soon!" sign. "Hula Girl," he read. "Hula Girl?" he repeated, looking at his mother quizzically. "Now what kind of cuisine is that?"

Monday, September 14, 2015

Change of Mind

My vegan has become a pescatarian, so what's on the menu?

Why lobster risotto of course.

Bon apetite!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

And One More Thing...

about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation:

Throughout the entire movie, no one ate a single bite of food.

What does it mean?

Saturday, September 12, 2015


On such a rainy Saturday it seemed like a great idea to go to the movies. There are still a couple of fun summer flicks on our list and today we chose Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

I confess to being a little distracted by Tom Cruise, at least in the beginning of the movie: he and I are only three days apart in age, and I wanted to see how he was holding up. After inspecting him carefully, it turns out he's aging quite well, unlike, say, Sebastian Koch. 

Don't know him? Well. I didn't either, by name, until this morning when I saw he joined the cast of Homeland for this season.

Who is that old guy? I thought when I looked at his picture, and then added, Oops! when I saw his birthday, just a month before mine.

Friday, September 11, 2015

First Friday

I had some variation of the following conversation at least 4 times today:

Colleague: "Thank goodness it's Friday! I can't believe it's only the first week! It feels like we've been at it for months!"

Heidi says it's just because everyone is out of practice, and in that in a few weeks we'll all be back in shape and hitting our stride. I hope she's right, because otherwise?

It's going to be a realllllly long year!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I was talking today with our Instructional Technology Coordinator about the details of rolling out the iPads for the new sixth graders. I really like her, but I'm feeling a little skeptical about the plan they have in place.

"Oh, they should know it from 5th grade," our ITC assured me. "Watch." She turned to a random student. "What elementary school did you go to?"

The student told her.

"Did you use there?" the ITC continued.

The student nodded; the ITC winked triumphantly at me.

"Do you know your password?"

The student hesitated. "Wait. Did you say 'google'?" she asked, frowning. "No. I don't think so."

The ITC sighed.

The student turned her head. "Oh. Wait. Yeah. We did use that."

The ITC brightened.

The student shook her head. "I forgot my password, though."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Something Old, Something New

On a day when so many of this year's sixth graders are still just one in a jumble of faces and names, a woman caught my eye as I dashed into the grocery store on the way home from work and held it. She was finished with her own shopping and an adorable little girl danced along behind her, swinging one of the grocery bags.

"Ashley!" I cried. "Is it you?" because she looked exactly like the grown-up version of one of the students in my first class, ever.

"Yeah!" she answered in amazement. "What's your name again?"

"Ms. S! Your sixth grade English teacher!" I reminded her.

"Wow! I can't believe you remember me! You really haven't changed a bit!" she said.

And two thousand or so kids later? I accepted the compliment gleefully, though I knew how wrong she was.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Intro to Sixth Grade

"What are you going to do on the first day of school?" a colleague asked me last week.

"Oh, I'm not quite sure," I answered, "but I know it will involve popsicle sticks and index cards."

And it did.

And it was great!

Monday, September 7, 2015

No Thumbs

A few years ago I sat next to a colleague in a meeting and she distracted me the entire time by showing me her "trigger finger," an odd malady that made her finger visibly stutter at the joint each time she bent it. "Isn't that weird?" she said.

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

"Not right now, but they say it will. Then I'll need a shot of cortisone and maybe surgery."

I nodded sympathetically and mentally filed the conversation under thank goodness that's not me.

Sadly, I've had to update that file. I was sitting on a hop-on, hop-off tour bus in Vancouver a few weeks ago when I noticed my right thumb joint clicking any time I bent it. The area below it on the palm of my hand was tender as well, and it didn't take much googling to turn up several articles on what it was. I had trigger thumb.

Since then the joint cracking has definitely been distracting, and sadly the pain has been gradually worsening, but although the time for medical intervention may be drawing near, for now it has been amazing and instructive to me just what I do and do not need my thumb for.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sergeant Pepper Reporting for Duty

It has been extremely satisfying using our new dehydrator to preserve food this summer. Well, I say "food", but the truth is the only thing I've dessicated so far has been peppers, but I have dried a lot of them. In fact, I have about half a pound of gorgeously-hued red and orange chili powder in the kitchen right now, neatly divided and clearly labeled as mild, medium, and hot Hot HOT. It practically glows in its plastic bags.

As a rule, spicy food does not bother me, and I love tasting the different flavors of the peppers that linger beneath the heat, but perhaps I got a little carried away today when at the grocery store I bought a six pack of habanero IPA. Yeah, that was a little too much for me, but I happily used it to steam the shrimp I bought as well. Five more beers? More shrimp can be arranged!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Laws of Productivity

I've always found the Saturday of a three day weekend to be a most productive day. Somehow, knowing there are still two more days off before you return to work makes so many things seem do-able. Today was no exception.

In the morning, I gardened and cooked and canned and dehydrated like nobody's business. I also paid the bills, read the paper, gathered the recycling, and caught up on several magazines that had been sitting around so that I could toss them in the recycling, too. But I wasn't through yet. No, then I hemmed a pair of cut-off shorts that I made from the pants I ruined back in that unfortunate spill I took in May. After that I read an article on writing and teaching, finished one book, and started the next. I'm sure I'll get a few more things done before bedtime, too.

It might seem ironic that a gal who is just coming off ten weeks of vacation is in such a rush, but the fact is that days like today are even better than summer, because there is a sense of urgency:


Friday, September 4, 2015

No Wonder

There was a book on my desk when I got to work this morning. I smiled when I saw it, because I had read it a long time ago and loved it. It was also about Alaska.

I first heard of the novel years ago at a meeting for sixth grade language arts teachers in our district. We were talking about books that we had taught, and one woman, perhaps in her late sixties, was complaining.

"It's such a wonderful story," she said, "based on an Athabascan Indian legend and so well-written." She sighed. "But none of the boys want anything to do with it."

"What is the title, again? " someone asked.

"The Two Old Women," she told us.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Time Capsule

Perhaps if anything struck me as I scanned the list of new sixth graders, it was that not a single name looked familiar. Over the years that little glimmer of recognition that shines when a sister or brother of a former student joins the team has always been one of the pleasures of this event. 

I was not to be disappointed, though. Not only were there a few siblings (of different surnames), there was even another child of a former student. This time, in a like mother-like daughter twist, they were both assigned to my homeroom. 

"I think I sat over there," the mom pointed for her daughter. Then she turned to me. "Wow! Things really have not changed much in here since 1996!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Everything's Coming Up Alaska

"Guess what?" one of my colleagues said today. "We have twins on the team this year who are..."

"Yes?" I said. 

"wait for it..." she told me.

I raised my eyebrows. 

"Alaskan native Americans!" she finished. 

I was surprised. "Cool! What tribe?" I wondered. 

"I don't know," she answered, "but it seems like you all will have a lot to talk about!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What They Hear

"How will your art projects be assessed?" I asked Josh as he worked to complete his summer assignments this evening.

"We'll pretty much put 'em up and all the other students will look at them," he told me.

"So, peer review, then?" I clarified.

"Well, the instructor lady will probably tear us all down individually, too," he added.

I frowned. "Or maybe offer some constructive criticism?" I offered.

"We'll see," he said doubtfully. "We'll see."