Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuck in the Car

So we're in the car. Still. I'm sick of Virginia and there's like an hour and a half left to go. And since we're in the car, I can't surf the net - though there hasn't been a whole lot of activity lately. (BTW - I wrote this on Saturday, 12/27, but I haven't had a way to upload it until we got back home.)

Talked with the Hunk about moving to Denver, though that isn't really all that likely. It just sounds like up in that neck of the woods they're doing some really interesting things - optional merit pay and true standards-based teaching. And the pay is better.

Not that I don't like where I am; Coach has been encouraging us to start considering standards-based grading, and our grade team was assigned Understanding by Design as a professional development book, so I definitely approve of the administration's choices as far as curriculum and instruction go. I'd just like to make sure that if we do make a go of it, it's with enough planning and support to have a chance at success, otherwise, why bother putting forth any effort at all?

At our last department meeting, Coach brought up SBG and mentioned (one) that in some schools, teachers don't give any grades lower than a 50, which brought up a heated discussion about how much - or whether! - effort should count in a student's grade, as well as WHY a zero is mathematically unsound (Coach mentioned this, but I got a chance to sound real smart by explaining what I've learned from all of you lovely people about the difference between the 0-4 scale and the 0-100 scale). This then brought up the question, "what do we do when a student doesn't produce enough work to demonstrate mastery of some of the standards?" Sure, as professionals, we can document conversations and other less formal in-class activity as a way to assess student progress, but I'm incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of using that as a way to justify mastery (or lack thereof). I can just see that leading to "well, I think she can do it, so..."

I hope it wasn't too direct of me to say that I was all for SBG as long as the administration would back us up when we didn't promote students who had, say, a 75 average but had several assessments they hadn't bothered to complete.

Coach also fished out the overworked "parachute packing class" metaphor (can't we come up with something better? it's so darn flimsy, too!) and suggested we think about how important it is for a student to demonstrate mastery of a standard at the same time as his classmates. If when it's first assessed, the student shows limited mastery, but later on, through additional practice or further instruction or whatever, demonstrates a more complete understanding, should the earlier grades still count against him? I said again, great theory, but let's look at the practical considerations. We're told that once a marking period ends and we turn those grades in, they are FINAL. What happens if a student makes great strides during the next marking period? Do we go back and change the grades from the earlier marking period and then ask the administrators to make the changes to the permanent grade?

I just really hope that I'm not coming across as a wet blanket. These are strategies that I like! I want us to start using them. I just want us to be able to use them effectively.

And I'm relying on italics again. Siiiiigh.

Images thanks to and


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Hunger Games

I've started reading The Hunger Games. I'd started Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, but I'm ... 20? 30? pages in and I really don't care. Hunger Games is a lot more fun. I'm... I dunno, maybe 70 pages in and I had to put it down because it got dark out and I couldn't read anymore. (Agatha has some electrical issues and so we pulled one of the fuses so she wouldn't drain her battery every night, but that means the clock, stereo, and interior light have no power either.)

I was really uncertain about it, because it's gotten a LOT of buzz, and the premise is quite similar to Battle Royale, which I have on DVD and LOVE.

Lemme be very clear on this: once you get past that initial premise, Hunger Games is NOTHING like Battle Royale. At least, nothing like the movie; I haven't been able to find a copy of the book. And I think that's a good thing - there's a lot about the movie that ... I don't know how well it could be accomplished in a book. (I didn't think the manga did justice to the movie either.)

Spoilers follow!

A few thoughts before the comparison: First off, I'm already wondering what happens if the kids just don't cooperate. In Battle Royale, they have a certain amount of time to finish the game. If there isn't a lone winner at the end of that time, everyone who's still alive is killed. There doesn't seem to be anything like this in Hunger Games; OTOH, it's an annual event and this is the seventy-fourth one, so perhaps we should just accept that the practice has become so... not accepted, exactly, but... ingrained, perhaps? that there's simply no way that the entire group would be able to work together against the Gamemakers.

I'm also enjoying the classical references - the Latin-style names, and calling the victims "tributes" - kind of neat. I've heard people describe this as a dystopian novel, but IMO, that's taking the word too broadly. I see a dystopian novel as one that starts off with an illustration of a perfect society, and then slowly, subtly, begins to tear at that facade. In both Battle Royale and Hunger Games, it's clear from the start that we are NOT dealing with any sort of ideal society!

Okay, so! Battle Royale was what I'd consider a horror movie - not a slash flick, like most so-called horror movies, but one that explored the depths of evil possible within humanity. When I first heard about it, it was presented as social commentary, as a literalization of the intense "cutthroat" competition in Japanese schools.

The setup for Hunger Games is a lot stronger. In fact, there's just more introductory exposition in general - you really get more of a sense of who Katniss is before she even goes to take part in the games. Battle Royale focuses almost entirely on the event itself.

Hunger Games also follows Katniss pretty exclusively; with Battle Royale, although you do have central characters, you get to see the other students interacting more. As a result, you're more connected to them, and their deaths are much more horrifying.

And then there's the difference between film and text. What made Battle Royale particularly horrifiying was the acting (no, not that the acting was horrifying, you sillies). They had honest-to-goodness CHILDREN playing the parts, and they fought like - well - children. It wasn't all that gory, but seeing these gangly, sweet-faced kids scuffle around in awkward attempts to kill each other made it even more terrible. And the desperation and panic and terror on the actors' faces was amazing. It was truly a horror: awful and sick and tragic.

It was beautiful.

Hunger Games, OTOH, reads much more like an adventure story. It gives just enough description to keep the action flowing, so it doesn't really describe the Awful Moments in detail. There's also more of an understanding of HOW this situation has come about

Another important difference is that most of the competitors in the Games are strangers to each other, while in Battle Royale, an entire class is chosen, so they all know each other fairly well, and there are several groups of companions as well as some very close friends. This creates a different dynamic within the system of competition.

Image thanks to


Sunday, December 28, 2008


Hurray! Belatedly, the Christmas Carnival is being hosted by The Education Wonks. I don't think I submitted anything, but I'm gonna get off my duff and send something in for this coming Wednesday's carnival. In the meantime, pop by and enjoy some educationy goodness!


Friday, December 26, 2008

End-of-Term Reflections

Well, the semester is finally over. Grades aren't due until January, so as a way to take YET ANOTHER break from going over those insufferable finals - which really aren't that bad, I'm just sick of looking at them - I'm blogging! whee!

This semester was quite frustrating, but I think perspective will help. I had some wonderful plans that I didn't get to use AT ALL, but what I've realized from that is that I also need to have good back-up plans.

I've also gotten a lot better (believe it or not) about keeping my hands off the Darn Book. The result is that we still have no results for the senior superlatives, they're not going in the senior 'section' and who knows if they'll be in the book at all. But that's okay - the administration requested that we hand the vote-tallying over to them, so it's no longer my concern!

I still have a ways to go; it seems there is no way to have a book that is produced completely by students that does not itself act as a shining example of Things That Will Get You Fired. Most recently, I had to request an alternate quotation for the science page: apparently we ought not to use "I liked the dissection lab because everyone got to have an organism."

Ah, well.

What worked:

SSR, with responses - 2x week is my ideal, but it's a lot to respond to. And if I don't respond it's less of a conversation & the quality of THEIR responses goes down.

The character letter with follow-up interview

The one-line Julius Caesar performances

The tyrants/revolutionaries presentations (maybe have them create resumes next time?)

What didn't work:

Three mini-projects for Arthur - more half-assed work for me to grade. Forget that!

Small-group readings; the books I requested were never approved, and the books we have novel sets of were being used by other classes (I couldn't use 6 or 7 from each set at the same time).

Ideas for next term:

One starter sentence per week, focusing on different elements each day.

One-sheet short-shorts with questions for discussion in groups the next day. Easy, fun, meaning-filled stories. Put in envelopes & shuffle to randomize groups.

IIRC, I had another "ideas" post from back at the beginning of the term. I think one of my next steps will be to review that one.

Image thanks to


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Puppy Thoughts

Merry Christmas to all of my celebrating online friends! If Christmas isn't your holiday of choice, best wishes to you and yours this season and every day. (That goes for the rest of you too, by the way!)

As much as I sometimes get disappointed and even frustrated with the secularization and commercialization of what is theoretically a religious holiday, I must say, it is sadly helpful to have a culturally-sanctioned smack upside the head as a reminder of just how good I've got things!

Thank you all so much for your support, advice, conversations and camaraderie over the past... well, however long it's been.

I'll be heading north... maybe tomorrow, but it's looking more like Saturday. I dunno, maybe we'll pull a marathon and drive through the night like we sometimes do, but then again, the prospect of icy roads gives me chills. I remember what it's like to be driving just fine one moment and then hit a patch of black ice and suddenly for no apparent reason your car is just gliiiiding along peacefully, right into the other lane of traffic!

Right now I'm taking a break from working on MORE DARN YEARBOOK PAGES which I will be taking with me when we go. Bleaugh. But I've got the materials I need (well, mostly) and a box of Wheat Thins (well, the crumbled remains) and what's left of a glass of sweet tea.

And I've got the world's sweetest Jack Russell sitting on my lap for company. What's not to love?

Image thanks to


Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Web 2.0 Is Not the Answer

Because a gal can spend 45 minutes editing an image to use for a blogheader when, really, she ought to be grading, correcting yearbook pages, folding laundry, planning for next term, or simply cleaning up around the house!

Maleficent is my favoritest villain EVER. And Prince Philip is pretty awesome too - even though he gets himself caught and everything! hahaha! And after all that he went BACK, hacked his way through the forest of thorns, and fought the dragon to rescue the girl! He deserved someone so much better than that pansy Aurora. :P

He looks great in this pic, too - got a boo-boo over his eye an' everything! GRR! You GET 'er, Phil! I love how you can juuuust see the castle in the background.

And this is how I often feel when it comes to teaching, as though I'm facing off against the dark, powerful Maleficent - bet you didn't know she was the demon of Ignorapathy - and she draws up to her full, terrifying height and says, "Now shall you deal with ME, O Prince - and all the powers of HELL!"

And I'm all HOLY MOSES, but I draw my sword and charge, cuz even though she is Bad A, I am even MORE BAD A! And I smack her down BIG time! BOOYAH!

Ahem. Anyway.

Back to grading... ;p

Image edited from a whale of a tale, which is a colorized version of the pen drawing at deviantart.

Mad props to the artists!


Uhoh! Now I Gotta CHOOSE?

Okay, so over at the GCTE website there's an overview of the conference coming up in February. I'm super-psyched about going, which is why I'm writing a blogpost instead of finishing the grading for this term or doing my planning for next term. Also because I just don't feel like it right now and this is as good an excuse as any ;)

The conference runs Thursday evening through Saturday noonish, with the bulk of the sessions on Friday (two in the morning, three in the afternoon). There's a list of sessions up at the site, except that it doesn't list anything at all for the F sessions on Saturday. Plus it's likely to change between now and then anyway.

The school is going to pay for our registration fees and our subs. We're responsible for food, lodging, and gas. Friday's lunch is provided (though we have to sit through a speech; we may choose to go out to eat instead), and Friday evening there's a "Low Country Boil." We're also looking at renting a house, so we might be able to fix meals there.

Last year's wine and cheese reception was ... interesting. The cheese was YUMMY, but ... the wine was more than a little weird. I mean, if I was there with a bunch of strangers, that'd be one thing. I'd drink as much or as little as I felt like, and NBD, yanno?

See, I don't enjoy wine all that much (beer is even worse), but hell, I'll admit it: I like being drunk! When I'm in a nonthreatening situation and I'm not worried about needing my cognitive or fine-motor faculties, it's great.

But when I'm around colleagues, all of a sudden it's like: what do my actions say about me and how is this going to affect my working environment? Maybe I'll mix up some Crown & Coke and do a bit of pre-partying! ;)

At any rate, I've already started thinking about which sessions I want to be sure to attend - follow the 'continue' link to see my color-coded list!

Concurrent Sessions A

- GALILEO: A Perfect Fit for English and Language Arts
- Secrets of the Black Box what IS this?? must find out!
- Content Literacy: Getting Your Students to Understand, Apply, and Love Your Subject as You Do
- Figure It Out!: The Questions a Writer Must Answer Before Writing
- Reading, Writing, Studying and Experiencing Joy
- Summary Writing: An Array of Strategies
- Engaging the Disengaged
- Pushing Beyond One Draft: Revision Strategies for Writers
- Storytelling for Dummies
- Books that Heal: Thematic Units that Use Critical Thinking and Literary Analysis Skills
- YA Lit 2.0: How Web 2.0 Is Reaching Teen Readers

Concurrent Sessions B

- TEST*IT: Teachers Experiencing Technology Integration for Technical Communication
- Reaching Teachers Where They Live: Building Community Inside and Outside the Classroom
- Advanced Microsoft PowerPoint in Your English Classroom
- Get Out of Grammar Jail: An Interactive Reader’s Theatre for Middle and High School Students
- New Ways to Engage and Develop Writers with a Focus on the GPS
- Students at Work: Increasing Literacy in Content Classrooms
- Who Has Time to Read Anymore? Georgia Teachers Discuss Their Personal Reading
- Only My Mom Likes My Digital Project: Helping Students Focus on Audience Impact over Authorship
- Poverty, Peace, Power, and Action: Critical Literacy Invitations in a First Grade Classroom
- We’re All in this Together!
- From Pre-Service Teacher to Trusted Adult: Using YAL Book Clubs to Negotiate Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
- Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development - ok, I know Dana's presentation is going to rock, but I already do this, PLUS it's a sure thing she'll put the information on her blog! ;D OTOH… it might be safer for me to go to this so that other teachers in my department DON'T – otherwise I might get outed! Yikes!

Concurrent Sessions C

- Facebook, Twitter, Wiki, Blog: Web 2.0 and the Writing Process
- Engaging Learners by Creating a Writing Community Based on the KMWP Model
- Did Someone Say “Give Kids a Choice”?: Nurturing Student-Centeredness Despite Standards and High Stakes Testing
- We Will Never Forget: Multimodal Approaches in Urban Classrooms to Holocaust Literature
- Preparing Students for College Composition
- Picturing America: Exploring Our Nation’s Stories Through Art
- Viva Le Resistance: Masculinities and Reading Resistance - oo, I should have Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys by that point! yey!
- Successful Students in ELA: Advice from Middle and High School ESOL Students
Grammar Calendar
- Integration of Middle School Literature Concepts to Students with Special Needs
- Digging Deep into Differentiated Instruction
- Metaphors of Composition: Singing Tenor in the Vehicular Classroom - okay, total HUH? here

Concurrent Sessions D

- Meeting the Needs of the 21st Century Learner through Multi-Media Literacy
- Riding the Waves of Titanic: A Multimedia Approach to Expanding Literacies again with the HUH?
- Free Money in Hard Times: How to Write a Grant and Get Stuff You Need - books please!!
- Troubling the Portfolio: Holding Students Accountable Using Standards-Based Portfolios
- When I Grow Up...Helping Students Explore Future Career Options and Develop Research Skills
- Writing as Art: Visually Representing the Writing Process
- Shakespeare Set Free: A Short Course from Folger Shakespeare Library - also depends what plays they're using; they did one last year that we went to… we'll see.
- Using Dialogue Journals as a Tool to Increase Student Writing Motivation and Achievement
- The Role of Multicultural Literature in Literacy Development
- Tools for Effective Writing in a Co-taught Middle Grades Classroom
- Culture Convergance: Pop Culture, YA Novels and Adolescent Girls
- Ride the Waves of New Literacies By Using Technology in Performance Assessments and Lessons
- Writing Scary Stories Collaboratively Using Plot Summary
- Podcasting: A Tool for Revision
- Preparing Students for the Future: Critical Thinking + Media Literacy = 21st Century Skills
- Reading, Teaching, and Writing Memoir in the Studio Classroom
- Hearing, Seeing, Reading Strategies for Promoting Reading Skills for the Educational - Development of Learners in Anambra State, Nigeria
- Preservice Teachers Examine Technology as a Strategy for Teaching the Language Arts
- Interacting with a Variety of Mentor Texts - I'm hoping they will provide a variety of mentor texts – I could use more! esp short ones!
- Semester-Long Theme Based Writing Making Research Relevant: Multigenre Research Papers

Concurrent Sessions E

- Teaching Students to Write Using Inspiration
- Research Pathfinders 2.0: Information Streams for Student Research
- Creating a Model for Standards-Based Classrooms
- Examining Technology as Text in the English Classroom
- The Demands of On Demand Writing: Teaching Students Effective Writing Skills for Testing
- Preparing for the Gifted Program Audit: Developing Curriculum for Gifted English Classes—One System’s Approach
- If You Teach Them, They Will Learn - WTF? what about the converse: "if they didn't learn, you didn't teach them"?? Grh.
- Making It Real: Variations on Literacies in College World Literature Classes
- Scaling the Essay Mountain with WritetoLearn
- I Can Teach You...Something: Josh, Digital Storytelling, & Proficiency
- Seeing Your Name in Print: How to Get Published in GCTE’s Connections

Hold the phone - is there NOTHING on here about graphic novels?! Woah. Uncool.

Okay. Red are the ones I really really want to go to myself; purple are ones I'd like to go to, particularly if there's several others going to a red session & I'd feel redundant; blue are the ones I want to make sure SOMEBODY goes to & I'll go to if nobody else feels like it.

There's seven of us going to the conference, so it should be pretty easy to make sure we get everything covered, even though the other teachers will likely have different lists from me. Hopefully there'll be some overlap.

Image thanks to


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Too. Funny!

So as I read through the blogs of other teachers and/or readers, I'm always making note of books I'd like to read. It's really convenient, too, because I can simply open up a new tab to the public library's webpage, see if they have the book, and if they do, put a hold on it.

Well, I'd gone over to check my Amazon wishlist yesterday (that's where I got my list of books to order from Barnes & Noble - yay!) and ... not for any particular reason at all, I guess ... I started surfing through their recommendations for me. I only had 6 or 7 holds marked, so I added a few from Amazon. I'm now up to 12 holds, and I figure I better stop there, at least until I get all the books I currently have out into one pile so I know I can return them!

So anyway, this morning I was looking over my holds list to see which ones have come in - there are a few of them that aren't actually available to be checked out yet, and others for which it looks like I'll be waiting awhile.

Case in point: The Shack, by William Young. 1 holdable copy available, and I'm 17th in line! yikes! What's surprising is that I was able to get Beedle the Bard almost right away. Tangent aside, as I glanced at that entry, I couldn't help laughing. See, the library lists a "call number" even though the book is fiction and therefore doesn't have a Dewey number. Instead, the library uses an F for fiction and the first three letters of the author's last name.

So the call number for this book is...

F You!

I laughed until I coughed (though I've got a bit of a cold, so that didn't take much).

Image thanks to


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yay! Books! Yay!

So last night I went by Barnes & Noble and dropped off the purchase order for the professional development books that I requested with what was left of my instructional money. Click "Continue" to get the full list!

Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing, by Penny Kittle
History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History, by Dana Lindaman, Kyle Ward
Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents, by Deborah Appleman
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition, by Christopher Vogler
"Reading Don't Fix No Chevys": Literacy in the Lives of Young Men, by Michael W. Smith, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
"You Gotta Be the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading With Adolescents, by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, by David Callahan
What Great Teachers Do Differently: Fourteen Things That Matter Most, by Todd Whitaker
Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, by Susan Moore Johnson
Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, by Leonard Sax
Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, by Michael Gurian

I've REALLY lucked out this year - a new laptop, the books, and partial funding for our trip to the GCTE conference again in February! I'm really hoping that the books come in soon, so that I can look through them over break. A couple of them are ones I read from the library and really liked, but most of them are new to me and have been recommended multiple times.


Image thanks to


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Hurray! The latest edition of the Carnival of Education is up at Steve Spangler's blog.

As always, I am honored to have one of my posts included.

Anyone know who's doing next week's Carnival?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


What a delightful surprise! So I hear that there's a meeting that I have to go to today, during my planning time. Augh! As if!

But then I begin to hear whispers...

See, my plan is during the last period of the day, so I get the scoop!

The AP running the meeting said the first couple were much more fun, because they got to spring the news on the teachers...

I'm typing this from my BRAND NEW SCHOOL LAPTOP!!! SQUEEEEE!

Seriously. I'm so stoked. I've already installed Evernote and started setting up my bookmarks in Firefox.

I will never have to write on my hand again!!!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Objectionable Themes: Twilight

I don't know if the Twilight books really are a bad influence. Teens today are pretty aware of implied meanings, even if they don't know what the heck you mean by "author's intent" or "inference" or even "theme." However, in her wildly-popular series, Meyer does present ideas that I object to as normal and even acceptable.

First off, let's brush past the minor quibbles:

You know it's True Love because you can FEEL it. *eyeroll* Wot evar. Of course it's not like every love is the same, but it's certainly easy for all sorts of other stuff to masquerade as Tee Ell Eff. Meyer isn't alone in this one, either, and I don't know if that makes it less annoying or even worse.

Look, I am about as cynical as they come as far as Le Romance, and I fell for this one. The little sister of my first serious boyfriend (a month? six weeks?) asked me how you know if it's really love and I actually told her - no joke, this is word for word (I remember because it's haunted me ever since) - "You just... know."

Gag me with a fork. Gag me with a fork with sharpened tines. PLEASE.

Wealth & materialism. I think a lot of books aimed at women do this these days; it's like if the authors drop in a few brand names, they don't have to DESCRIBE things. *eyeroll*

Now for the more serious matters...

Near the top: Idiocy as some sort of virtue. Doing stupid stuff because you supposedly can't think straight because your mind is focused on how OMG IN WUV U R!!1! is not a good thing. This doesn't mean that being in love is bad, or that passionate love is bad, just that being a moron should not be presented as a good thing.

Near the top, and related to the above: Paternalistic condescension. Apparently, girls who are in love should not be trusted to make their own decisions; they need someone to make decisions for them "for their own good." Learned helplessness has been spoon-fed to females for generations as some sort of laudable lifestyle choice, so Meyer isn't solely to blame, but it's not a good thing, either. What's even worse is that Bella apparently can't be trusted to make her own decisions, thus reinforcing the 'correctness' of the idea that every girl needs to be taken care of by a Real Man.

Related, and probably the one that's most important overall: Doubletalk, AKA "Passive-Aggressive BS". Bella is able to act as sexually aggressively as she likes, because Edward won't let things go too far. More than one girl I've talked to has said "he loves her too much to take advantage of her!" News flash, ladies: if you are making out with a guy, telling him how much you want him, and you think he's supposed to want you, yet say no to sex, YOU are taking advantage of HIM! Especially if you don't TELL HIM THIS.

Real life DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY. Ladies, remember: Edward is NOT HUMAN, and this (not the sparkly skin or unusual diet) is the clearest evidence of that!

Like it or not, because of the different biological and social consequences of sex for women and men, it is women who are the gatekeepers to sex. And until/unless there are drastic changes in our culture, it's likely to stay that way. I find this ironic, because physiology would suggest the exact opposite.


Topping the list: Bella's treatment of Jacob. Maybe she can't help how she FEELS, but she has complete control over how she ACTS. Srsly! We DO NOT need another story with vapid female characters who are ruled entirely by their emotions and are incapable of acting with any sense because of HOW THEY FEEL.

Image thanks to


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Is Our Duty?

Okay, before you get into this, consider yourself warned - this is not a short post!

Over at The Core Knowledge Blog, Robert Pondiscio touches on a topic all teachers ponder from time to time, especially in the current climate of "high stakes" and "accountability" fostered by NCLB and the conversations and expectations it has (to some degree) created.

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews tells the story of a young teacher who was rejected by the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program, apparently for questioning the orthodoxy that good teachers should be able to raise the achievement of even the poorest kids.
I think this is an overstatement of Mathews' point; at no point does the article state or imply that Erika Owens, the candidate in question, said that good teachers cannot raise the achievement of even the poorest kids at all, or that they should not be expected to do so.

(It's also important to note that there doesn't seem to be any response from the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows; it's unclear if this was what kept her out of the program.)

In an email to Mathews, Owens wrote:

During the group interview there was a hypothetical situation -- pretend you are a teacher at a cash-strapped urban school who just found out, a week before school starts, that you're going to use a curriculum the rich suburban district has been using. I said I would probably be really frustrated because I would not have the resources that the suburban district has to implement the curriculum and not only that, but that my students probably wouldn't be starting at the same place so they would need even more resources and time just to catch up.
Now, my English-slash-journalism-teacher-spinfinder immediately focuses on the word 'frustrated' as the source of the problem. I would guess that the issue isn't whether or not Owens has a low opinion of, or expectations for, urban schools or students. Clearly, the interviewers see the hypothetical situation as a challenging one - that's why it was an interview question!

But rather than acknowledging the challenge and responding with "hopeful" or "excited," which have a positive connotation, Owens acknowledged the challenge, but then responded with "frustrated," which has a negative connotation.

However, the article, "Should Teachers Ignore Poverty's Impact," ends up as mostly a collection of responses from different individuals about how teachers should deal with "the poorest kids."

What I'd like to focus on is one of Mathews' concluding statements (emphasis mine):
The prevailing view that impoverished children cannot be expected to learn as much as affluent children is poison in any classroom.
Okay, first of all, is this the prevailing view? Really? Because our culture is replete with stories like A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy and Ragged Dick that say that personal wealth is not a primary determining factor of an individual's educability. However, I think there are other factors that do affect education and achievement, ones that are often lumped in with economic status - the main ones being certain ethnic identities or cultures, and social/class status. I'll touch on this a little later.

But before I get to that point, I'd like to ask what Mathews means by as much as. I think by examining this overly simplistic statement, we reach the heart of the debate - limited resources.

In a classroom that has a mixture of students whose parents are willing and able to spend time going over homework together, stay in touch with the teacher and follow up with discipline and encouragement at home, etc. and students whose parents have less one-on-one time with them and are difficult to contact, which students are more likely to complete work? to participate effectively in class? to visit the public library?

Given that EVERY school system has limited resources, how should those resources be focused? How much should a school dedicate to making sure that students who are falling behind have the additional materials and training they need so that they can stay on grade-level? Keep in mind that those funds are by definition being taken away from other groups - all students are, to some degree, educated at the expense of others!

Is it more important to have lower-achieving students be at least marginally successful, or to enable more talented students to excel? to encourage girls in math and science, or to encourage boys in reading? or vice versa on both counts??

When we spend time and money training instructors to be more effective in teaching "gifted/talented" students (three teachers in my department alone are taking a course this semester; there are also teachers from other departments in the same course) that is time and money that is not being spent training instructors to be more effective in teaching "at risk" students.

Possibly more controversial is my final question: What is our duty to students whose families do not fully support our model of education? What, if anything, is our duty to those families?

To what degree are public schools (or schools in general) responsible for indoctrinating their students? For turning out "productive members of society," to quote the Hunk (to whom I read this section as I was working on it)? And just whose definition of "productive member of society" should we use?

And to what degree do we leave people the freedom to choose the "wrong" option? What about when we're dealing with parents, whose choices affect not only their own lives, but the lives of their children?

I think most people - though perhaps not all - would agree that all children can learn. I'll go farther: all children will learn.

In fact, farther yet: all children do learn.

It's just that sometimes - usually more often than we'd like! - they learn things besides or beyond what we're attempting to teach.

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see and learn.
Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn how to be.
Careful before you say,
"Listen to me."
Children will listen.

- Stephen Sondheim, from Into the Woods

PS: The internet is a wonderful thing: Pondiscio links to an article in the Washington Post; I got to the Core Knowledge Blog from Mamacita's fantastic Carnival of Education!

Images thanks to and and


Sarah Haskins Is My Hero


Losing an Hour of Sleep

Okay, so it's ten after four and I've been up for over an hour. We had a WICKED windstorm come through and wake all of us up - even Puppie came back and hopped into bed with us, poor guy! He's still little, but not all that young anymore, and we just brought him back from an overnight at the vet. So we loved on him for awhile, rather than shooing him right back to bed.

I decided maaaybe it wasn't a good idea to leave the computer on and connected to the internetz, so I came out to check on my upload to the yearbook plant.

Fail. AGAIN.

So I closed that out and started sending a smaller file. And then I thought, eh, shouldn't take too long, I'll watch it upload & then shut things down.

And my throat was a little rough, so I boiled some water and made some tea. My sick hadn't gotten better, so yesterday I went to the doctor TOO (after we picked Puppie up) and got a shot and THREE PRESCRIPTIONS. Sheesh.

However, I must say, I feel a lot better! ;D

I got home late and was ready for supper (which was cold) and a treat - but the Hunk had eaten the last of the Rice Krispy treats AND the last of the Haagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream. Which is, like, really good. I'm not big on ice cream - IF I get in the mood for ice cream, one or two spoonfuls (not scoopfuls - like, teaspoons full) is generally enough for me. But I can eat that stuff by the... cup, I guess. *laugh* It still takes me a few days to go through a pint.

And it was GONE. And there were NO OTHER TREATS!! Pout.

But he made brownies! Yay! I love my Hunk! He's so good to me.

So as my image file finishes its upload, I've finished off my brownie (YES, I had only ONE... more...) I'm sipping the last of my tea and reading through my bloglist and my goodreads groups. The wind has mostly died down (though there's still some crazy thunder, so I'm definitely going to shut the computer off) and Puppie has gone back to his bed.

Life is good.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yearbook Blues

What do you do when they simply do NOT do the work?

I mean, seriously. Our rep from the publisher had the idiocy to say that it's not my responsibility to make sure the pages get done. Really? If the buck honest-to-goodness stops with the students, not with me, then why is she wasting her time talking to me about deadlines?

I'm SO disheartened. I'm getting newsletter-fliers that say "here's some tips for selling yearbooks to that last 10% of the students at your school, because we're so sure you've already sold to 90% of the student body. We're at about 30% right now.


Our ad sales aren't much better.

At what point do I just say "F*** it!" and ask for an extra planning period and just do the whole damn thing myself?



Lately I've been collecting poems that really resonate with me in a "Poems I Love" binder. It's slow going, because I'm not really a poetry kind of person. I dunno. I don't know if I'm just not imaginative enough or what, but there's just something about clear, simple prose that tends to click with me a lot more often than the inscrutable artistry of many poems.

So I'm looking for suggestions - ideally, something I can find online, because our local libraries are really hit-or-miss on volumes of poetry. To look at what I've got so far, click through.

- The Highwayman
- Paul Revere's Ride
- The Rival Poet
- Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House
- I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of "Three Blind Mice"
- Aristotle
- The Star-Spangled Banner
- Pioneer Woman
- Days
- Let America Be America Again
- The Journey
- Love Is Not All
- Falling in Love Is Like Owning a Dog
- High Flight
- Song for Naomi
- Blueberries
- Daffodils
- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
- Dulce Et Decorum Est
- Pro Patria
- Invictus
- Fiction and the Reading Public
- Ginsberg
- i carry your heart with me
- I Could Be a Poet
- Like Lily Like Wilson
- Little Boy Blue
- Lot's Wife
- Muse
- Miracle Workers
- Musee des Beaux Arts
- The Naming of Cats
- Opal
- Fueled
- Imperfection
- Hotel Nights With My Mother
- Fire
- Saint Francis and the Sow
- For My People
- Don't Quit
- Television
- A Prayer for my Daughter
- Sonnet 130 (Shakespeare)
- Sonnet 138 (Shakespeare)
- The Duel
- What Teachers Make
- To Failure
- The the impotence of proofreading
- Totally like whatever
- Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man
- Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Viking Warrior
- Villanelle After a Burial

Which poems speak to you, and why?


Thursday, December 04, 2008


So I'm thinking about what I want to keep & what I want to change for the classes I have next semester. I'm working on an assessment in which the students choose the character from the stories and poems we read that they feel is most like themselves.

And I started thinking about which characters I tend to identify with. Now, granted, I'm not exactly at the peak of human physical ability, and my parents weren't murdered in front of me when I was six. Nor am I ridiculously independently wealthy.

And maaaybe my classroom isn't exactly "a wretched hive of scum and villainy" (to confuse the allusion a bit), but there is definitely the sense that I am fighting a losing battle against the creeping threat of idiocy, ignorance, and slackitude.

Yet, like my hero, I somehow can't let go and give up the fight. (Okay, maybe it's a bit over the top to say that when I've been teaching all of THREE YEARS so far.)

Sometimes it feels like I'm out there on the mean streets all alone. ESPECIALLY during Journalism, when everything needs my attention at the same time! Even the greatest martial artist in the world would have difficulty juggling the simultaneous demands of yearbook, newspaper, and teen angst, pitched at him from all sides.

Fortunately, we both have people who fix us up when we've been through a grueling day. I think I've got one up on Batman here: I get hugs and kisses and backrubs and cuddles and stuff. And as dedicated as Alfred is, that's not something I can picture!

However, Batman is the only one nuts enough to do what he does. I - am not. At least to some degree, I am expendable. If I just up and quit my job, there would be someone else (probably many someones) who would be able to take my place.

Some of them might even be better at it than I am!

Even so, to some degree I still feel that what I do is important and necessary. And so night after night, day after day, Batman and I go 'once more unto the breach,' to fight for the world we hate to love.

Images thanks to and


Ugh. Something hit me HARD at the end of the day yesterday, and I was up a good bit of the night because I was so congested I couldn't breathe.

It ticks me off, because my first session of a new dance class starts today, and I'm just exhausted. I don't know if I can make it to class tonight - I can barely type. ;p And I was really looking forward to that. :(

Anyway, it's time to go to school. I'm not quite sick enough to stay home, considering that there's yearbookyfoo that HAS to be done today, or ... well, I can't think of what OR, but I know it's bad, even if I can't remember it at the moment.

Blih. Go 'way, bugs.

Image thanks to


Wednesday, December 03, 2008


IRT the WtWW Challenge from Melissa:

In the middle of the perpetual minor disaster known as The Joy of Yearbook, I've granted myself a scheduled break to thank the terribly nice folks who have given donations for my proposal!

I can't write more at the moment - I need to go join the work party. Usually, this classroom is an organized mess, but if I don't start putting things in order, it's a sure bet that I won't be able to find the original copy of the newspaper assignments list.

I've just sent the hunk out to pick up some gourmet pizza for the students - when he gets back, we're all going to have some serious fun!


Tuesday, December 02, 2008



I had not realized this, but my newest donorschoose proposal apparently qualified for a matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation! However, I only have a little bit of time left before the proposal expires, and I don't yet have any donors.

Readers, if you'd like to help out, any amount is welcome. Or, better yet, if you'd be willing to put a short post on your blog letting YOUR readers know about this opportunity, that'd be awesome too! Epic Adventures still has a small (yet loyal! I so heart you!) audience, so if you can help me get the word out there, I'd be unbelievably grateful!


This drives me NUTS!

TWICE during my journalism class today I gave a student DIRECT INSTRUCTION - something that NEEDED to be done - and the student sat around and talked. Two separate students. Two students that HAD BEEN among the more responsible ones.

I was so mad I kept my mouth shut because I knew that if I said something, it would very likely be among the Things That Will Get You Fired.

What's going on?! WTF? I mean, are they burnt out or something? Is it something in the air? The water?



Monday, December 01, 2008

Oh, yearbook!

So I'm finalchecking pages and then zipping the files to be uploaded to the plant... and all of a sudden I think, "hm, this is rather a lot of black and white pages all in a row." (In that section of the book, we have a flat of color pages, which means they alternate spreads between color and B&W.)

I check the ladder.

Nope. That spread was supposed to be in color.


Oh, and what's worse? I'm fairly sure that I did tell the student who created the spread that it was supposed to be black and white rather than in color. UGH.

Not that this is an insurmountable problem; all we've really got to do is re-Photoshop the pix and place them in the photo boxes again. I'm setting aside class time for her to do that tomorrow, so she won't get behind with her other work during club period.

Still, it IS incredibly frustrating.

And don't get me started on sales - yikes!

Image thanks to


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why Hippopotamuses Have No Magic Powers

Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.


On Classroom Discipline

So the Hunk is a one-on-one teacher at another school in our district. Today, the student he works with was out, and the Hunk was waiting to be told where he'd be needed. While he was waiting, he overheard another teacher fussing at her students to work silently and individually, as they had been misbehaving when she'd allowed them some freedom to talk.

She had been asked to go speak to one of the assistant principals, and since there wasn't anybody to cover the class at the moment, the Hunk stepped in, gallant hero that he is!

So of course, when the students look up and see someone they don't know, and the "real" teacher leaves, there's a few moments of considering, and then they went back to goofing around.

But my clever Hunk put a stop to THAT! "I just told them that I'd overheard their teacher say that they weren't to be talking," he said. "But I think it was the way I said it that really got their attention. You see, I kind of did a bit of an impersonation..."

"It was fun, too!" he said.

Image thanks to


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Hate Foreshadowing

Okay, so that's a bit misleading. I don't hate foreshadowing as a literary technique; what I hate is our forced dependence (as English teachers) on certain terms to the exclusion of others that, IMO, are more descriptive of what we actually SEE in stories.

Part of this is that it's hard to define some of the traditional literary terms. For instance, a character saying "I've got a bad feeling about this" is foreshadowing, but a character saying "I'm going to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work" isn't, nor is it when a character says "That's interesting." There is this nebulous gray area of Three Bears-ish 'too clear/too unclear/just right' when it comes to defining just what constitutes a "hint."

What got me thinking about this was Portia's suicide in Julius Caesar. Looking back, we can see that there is some kind of similarity between that action and when she stabs herself in an attempt to get Brutus to open up to her. The same cause leads to both actions, but I don't think you can say that it's foreshadowing.

A better option might be setup and payoff. It's a broader set of terms, encompassing the creation of both clear, conscious expectations from the audience, as well as subconscious expectations that aren't realized until the payoff is delivered, neglected, or compromised.

Another example is simile; its definition feels awkward and arbitrary. Take a look at the following figures of speech:

It was dark, like a cave at midnight.
It was as dark as a cave at midnight.
It was darker than a cave at midnight.

Now if we were to play the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game, MY pick would be the first one! But, no, the first two are similes, and the third one is not. Why? Because it doesn't use "like" or "as."

Wot. Evar.

Image thanks to


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SYWTT Reader Appreciation 2008

Joel, over at So You Want to Teach, is hosting his second annual Reader Appreciation Month. This year, he's looking for advice for new teachers.

Things I wish I knew when I was a first-year teacher:

1. Backward Design - Reviewing the standards and keeping them in mind as I plan my units and my lessons helps me to clarify for the students what they need to learn.
2. Each year will continue to get better (at least, as of the first four years!) as long as you continually review what's working and what's not working and examine WHY. Sometimes, though, you still have times of incredible frustration.
3. Minimize grading in every way possible; returning graded work FAST is incredibly difficult, but also essential. (It may not be as difficult if you're not an English teacher; I don't know.)
4. I knew that having a support system would be important; I didn't realize that it would most likely save both my sanity and my career!
5. Whenever a class leaves the room for the day, pick up any supplies that have been abandoned - paper, pens, pencils, erasers, whatever. This has provided me with enough supplies that I always have some to loan out.
6. Being responsible for other people's money is terrifying! Fill out receipts RIGHT AWAY and hand the money in to the secretaries as soon as possible!
7. Have back-up supplies on hand for anything you're not willing to purchase out of pocket. Purchase orders can take longer than expected to be approved, and then there's shipping. Don't expect to get reimbursed for anything you buy without prior approval in writing from an appropriate supervisor. (I knew that one already, but it bears repeating!)
8. You will spend less time at the copying machine and use fewer copies if you require that students answer on notebook paper and give the photocopies back to you.
9. Very few students will be the type of student you were when you were in school, no matter what type of student you were.
10. There are lots of excellent books on teaching out there. If your library does not have a book you'd like to use, see if you can check it out through interlibrary loan. You can also take a notebook to Borders or Barnes & Noble and study from their nice, new books without paying a cent (you're just not allowed to take them with you when you leave).


Monday, November 10, 2008


So, yeah. The Julius Caesar test? Not so good. But here's the thing: how many of the students, do you think, feel this way?

I bet most of them think that they really did do their best. The problem, of course, wasn't that their best wasn't good enough - it's that the test wasn't fair. Or I'm a bad teacher. Or (this one killed me) they don't need to know how to understand what they read if they're going to be an engineer or a veterinarian. Or just because "this is stupid." Or a combination of any/all of that.

Something along those lines, anyway.

Anyway, this particular Demotivator illustrates MY current feelings.

I do feel like a bad teacher. I mean, when the average test score between two classes is 58%, something is wrong.

These aren't horrible children. They come in and at least don't shout at each other all period. There's no physical violence. They at least pretend to pay attention.

They were provided with two copies of the play - original Shakespeare and a modern version. We watched a film version of the play. We read the Shakespeare aloud. They worked on study guide questions in groups (though I heard a lot more about what they did last weekend or what they were going to do this weekend). They did role-playing exercises to demonstrate the importance of context, tone, and gestures. There was more, but the more I think about it, the worse my mood gets.

Because little to none of it seems to have mattered.

At this point, we have to move on. I'm going to present the dramatic techniques in starters. We'll mini-review them several times a week. We can review figurative language and literary elements as we study our novels.

And the worst part is, I can't identify the source of the problem. Was I being too hard on them? I've shown the test to several other teachers, who didn't think so. Was it my teaching? I presented the material as thoroughly and interestingly as I could. Or I thought I did.

What could I have done differently to help them learn the skills and concepts they need to?

Image thanks to


Test Anxiety

I am SO incredibly nervous.

Since the students did SO poorly on the fact-recall quiz for Julius Caesar, we reviewed pretty extensively before taking the final test.

It focuses much more on identifying techniques (different types of figurative language, monologue vs. soliloquy, etc.) and identifying cause-and-effect and motivation. It isn't longer - but it's harder. But it covers skills and concepts that align with our standards.

I don't want them to flunk, but based on their lackadaisical participation during the review, I can't imagine they'll do well. And I don't know that there's anything more that I can - or should - do.

I can't just pass them on if they haven't earned it by demonstrating that they've learned the required material. But it's not going to look good if I've got a 30% pass rate, either.



Sunday, November 09, 2008


I have just been presented with the Uber Amazing Blog Award by Melissa!

I'm both flattered and surprised. Because being called amazing is quite the treat, but uber amazing? What can I say - I'm speechless!

(I'm sure all of you are breathing a sigh of relief right now.)

And, 'tis true: I do love ABBA and that, at least, is pretty uber.

With that in mind, I hereby must fulfill my newly-earned Uber Duties:

  • Put the logo on your blog (check)
  • Nominate at least 5 blogs (or more) that are Uber Amazing! (follow the "continue" link)
  • Let Said Bloggers know that they have received The Uber Amazing Award by commenting on their blog. (will do)
  • Share the Love and link to the original post (see below) and to the Person from Whom You Received Your Award (see above).

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for! Go read these UBER AMAZING BLOGS!
  1. A Teacher's Education - Mrs. Chili digs into the tough, the funny, and the heartwarming, and always makes me think about things in a new way.
  2. Successful Teaching - Pat doesn't teach with me, so she's not officially my mentor, but she shares her experiences and her reflections candidly and clearly. I hope that when I have a voice of experience, it sounds as honest, hopeful, and humble as hers does!

  3. Bellringers - Richie both intimidates and inspires me. Imagine teaching journalism all day! Her stories (the good, the bad, and the ugly) are ones I can identify with.
  4. What It's Like on the Inside - The Science Goddess provides a fascinating perspective on another discipline, as well as what we have in common as instructors, and now that she has expanded her divinity to be the Patron of Curricular Excellence, she shows a bit of what goes on behind the scenes.
  5. So You Want to Teach? - I do, and Joel is a great help on days when I start questioning that. He's also very brave - right now he's hosting Reader Appreciation Month!

Image with MUCH thanks from


Friday, November 07, 2008


Okay, I've gotta admit, I'm getting a little freaked out. Maybe more than a little.

About - a month ago? - I'm not sure, but it hasn't been THAT long - gas was like $3.80 around here. I don't know that it ever went definitively above four bucks a gallon, like at EVERY station having it at least that much.

Right before October, we were OUT. It became fairly common to see gas stations with plastic grocery-store bags over the nozzles. We ran an article about it in the school paper. People would start looking for stations that HAD GAS, anything available, when their gas gauge dropped to half a tank.

And now the price of gas is dropping like a rock into Charlie Brown's trick-or-treat bag. We passed a station this afternoon that was advertising $2.03 a gallon.

Things like this don't happen without cause. However, I haven't seen or heard anything about it. WHY is this happening? Am I just that out of the loop? Do we need to get TV again? WTF?

Image thanks to


Thursday, November 06, 2008

I don't know how much longer I can keep on keepin' on.

In English II, we've been going over the study guide for Julius Caesar. They've got two copies of the play to look through: an original and a modern-language version.

First of all, nobody wants to volunteer answers. Easy fix - just call on people, right? Only apparently the cool thing to do is to stare vacantly at the instructor. Sometimes I think I can hear the question echoing in their cranial cavities. I think perhaps they're waiting for the echoes to re-form the sounds into an answer.

The more adventurous ones will simply guess. "Brutus!" Then they watch my facial expression reeeeal careful-like.

Of course, that fell apart the moment I responded with, "What makes you say that?"


The first time this happened, I was confused. "I thought you said Brutus."

"Well, you didn't say that was right."

"No. I'm asking you to explain your answer."

Gasp! Shock! O, di immortales!

See, I didn't realize that the stares I was getting at this point were different from the stares I was getting before. These were stares of disbelief. How DARE the teacher not immediately acknowledge whether or not a guess answer is correct!

I did, however, notice when the stares became openly hostile. It was hard not to, considering that ADHD Gremlin piped up, "Don't you get PAID to TEACH?"

Now I was the one staring back at them.

"So. What I'm hearing is that you want me to tell you what answers to write down, and you'll look at those answers, and that's what should be on the test. Is that what you mean?"

They were so incensed that they didn't notice that my voice was just RINGING with The Tone. You know. The TONE - the one that says "There is a very obvious right answer to this question, and there are severe penalties for choosing the wrong answer."

Oh no. They all indignantly acknowledged that yes, they wanted me to acknowledge which guesses were correct and which needed to be re-guessed. And they were honestly furious with me for not playing by their rules.

I'm calling parents. Calling, calling, calling. And emailing. Beyond that? I'm not sure what else to do.

Image thanks to


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Woke Up This Mornin'

So. It's finally over. Online, I'm seeing a lot of "YES, WE DID!" posted.

But you see, every ending is also a beginning, including - especially including - this one. "Yes, we did" makes it sound like everything's finished, and it's so not.

And yet I don't think continuing to say "Yes, we can" shows the current state of things, either. The Hunk was on the phone with a friend who said that at work, some slope-headed peabrain snarked that the US would 'go to hell in a handcart if a n--r got put in the White House.' But now it's not if but a when. Changes are happening and will continue to happen. And let's face it - our country still needs a lot of changin'.

Now it's not "Yes, we can," but "YES, WE WILL!"

Image thanks to


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Too. Cute.

It is said that children and fools speak the truth. With that in mind...


Monday, November 03, 2008

All RIGHT already!

So this morning I noticed that Melissa had posted about NaBloPoMo (which is, I think, a spinoff of NaNoWriMo, which is probably overloaded).

And then this evening, I noticed that in addition to her usual brilliant weekdaily post, loonyhiker had referenced a challenge from over at Teach42 - "30 Days to Being a Better Blogger" it says. Not that I'll get paid more or anything; still, one ought always to aspire to something, it seems.

Well. Let it never be said that I'm so much of a brilliant, free-thinking individual that I can't spot a good idea when it's staring me in the face.

But I've found that I'm not a creature of habit. (Unless you count procrastinating, which doesn't count, because it's based on not doing things. It'd be like saying that I habitually don't turn in a circle three times when I enter a building. Which is silly.) And so perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to see if I can do this one-post-a-day thingy, despite the fact that I've already bombed out cuz I didn't post on Saturday.

Pbthhht, I say.

At any rate, today's challenge is to reach out and thank someone.

So I think I'm going to have to ping back at Melissa.

Thank you for blogging regularly. I struggle with that.
Thank you for including such a broad topic base. I still struggle with that.
Thank you for continuing to come over here and tag me to participate in your Sweepstakes and other fun stuff, even when sometimes I don't participate.
Thank you for your honesty.
And of course -
Thank you for your sense of humor. We Journalism cat-herders teachers need it!

This is for you!

Images thanks to:


Sunday, November 02, 2008

So. Stinkin. Funny.

There is nothing funnier than watching a dog running across a well-polished hardwood floor.

Unless it's when the dog tries to pull a 180 and run the other way.

I don't think I've laughed that hard in weeks.

Image thanks to


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It NEVER seems to END!


I didn't mean to stay until nearly-six today. It just kind of happened. And I know I'm going to have to stay late tomorrow.

And staying today wasn't so bad, actually. Our department had a lovely meeting - with cake and soda! yay birthdays! And we talked about the benefits and drawbacks of 4x4 block vs 6-period (maybe 7-period) full-year schedules. And we explored the idea of standards-based grading - FIRST TIME! yay! And we talked about next February's GTE conference and I so want to go!

And then I went back to the room, intending to kick out the kiddies, but they were just working so hard that I couldn't help it - I sat down and started adjusting layouts. And it was fun! I'm going to have to do some major emergency surgery on a couple of the newspaper articles... a couple of them have sentences that are sooo wrong that I can't even begin to explain what's wrong with them!

So then I finally wrote non-passes for the two students who were left and I said GO HOME. And I called in for pizza and we picked it up on the way back and I sat down and realized that I needed to go to the library tonight.

Oh well. At least now I have books to read (in my copious free time).

Image thanks to


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Ugh. This in-betweeny stuff is annoying. I'm not quite sleepy enough to get BACK to sleep, but I keep losing at Minesweeper!

How terribly annoying.

Fortunately, I got to the library before it closed yesterday, so I'm out to the kitchen to make some hot chocolate, and then I'll pop back in here with a book. Yey!

Hope I don't wake the Hunk.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Es ist WEDNESTAG unt er ist ein CARNIVAL fur das Pleasir uf Gereadink!

Clearly, I need to auf Home gehen. Or something. Anyway, pop on by The Infamous J's LJ and peek around!


Lucky One!

Ok, I've just gotta ... well, gloat, I guess!

Okay, so things haven't been great health-wise. I got a bite or cut or something on the back of my leg, and it swelled up and blistered like nothing I've ever seen before. This was... two and a half weeks ago, and today's the first day I've felt comfortable not wearing a bandage. It's getting better, but it was pretty nasty.

Well, over the weekend, the Hunk wasn't feeling great - he just couldn't stop coughing. So he took Monday off and tried to find a doctor. Nobody could see him before Thursday, but he was feeling better, so he went back to work yesterday. Mistake. He was hacking up his lungs on the way home, and went to the "urgent care center," which as far as I can figure, is like a pre-ER.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late), he's got pneumonia. Not terribly - they didn't admit him or anything - but he's on an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic, and a cough suppressant. Poor baby.

Well as it turns out, TWO of the medications have sleeplessness as side effects, so he was up almost all night. Poor baby.

So at 5:30 AM, he made pancakes for me.


I lectured him a little about being careful, but he said he was going slow and taking it easy, but he'd read all the way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and his eyes just didn't want to read anymore, so he wanted something else to do.

So he made pancakes for me.

I have the most wonderful husband in the world.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Prep time

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

Let me tell you - it is a struggle to get out of bed at 6:20. From there I honestly don't do much more than put on clothes and deodorant, then brush my hair and put it either into a ponytail holder or barrette(s).

I eat breakfast - a boiled egg or bowl of cereal if I have time, then brush my teeth. I shower at night cuz I don't like to go to bed grubby.

Fortunately, we have "dress-down" on Fridays - if you wear school colors, you can wear jeans. But I don't understand why pants made of sturdy cotton are still considered less professional than wool or acrylic. Ditto the much-maligned T-shirt: if it's in clean and in good repair, why does it matter whether my shirt has a collar that is flat or one that stands up?

Getting dressed should NOT have to be a major issue.

I just finished reading The $100,000 Teacher, and one of the points Crosby makes is that if teachers want to be recognized as professionals, they need to dress the part. I think Harry Wong said the same thing, though my copy of The First Days of School is actually at the school, so I'm not sure.

Now I'm not saying we should be able to wear just "whatever." Clothes should reflect self-care, because we want to demonstrate that to our students. Likewise, anything that creates a distraction or a safety hazard is a bad idea.

But what pisses me off is the stupid idea that clothing has to be expensive, uncomfortable, and/or difficult to maintain in order to qualify as "professional." Why does anything beyond cleanliness, modesty, and safety matter?

Image thanks to


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Survivor's Journey, Part 3

So I went back to school, not really thinking about what had happened. I remember joking with my mom that if they were gonna cut off the one, I might ask them to take both, so I'd never have to wear a bra again! (I've always been small - "modestly proportioned" - up top, and from the time I quit cross-country in high school until I experienced double-time high-step marching in the college band, I mostly didn't bother with bras.)

I figured the results would say that I had fibrocystic buildup and needed to cut down on the caffeine. I'd just have to find some other way to force my eyes to stay open during cram sessions. I finished out the semester and went home for winter break. I must've been the one to pick up the phone when the call came in, because I don't remember my mom hovering over my shoulder, and I know she would've been!

It was three days before Christmas. I was twenty years old at the time. And I had just been diagnosed with cancer.

Okay, so I just had to put the cut there. Because that's the DRAMATIC part, right?

Only, well, it wasn't. I think when the oncologist told me the results, my response was something along the lines of, "Okay. Well. Now what?"

As I mentioned in my last entry, cancer has made its mark on my family, particularly on my father's side. But rather than making me more concerned about cancer, it's had the opposite effect.

First of all, I'm familiar with how it works - with cancer, you get sick before you die. What kills you is when it messes with stuff you need: your lungs, your liver, your brain, etc. So when the oncologist told me that my cancer was at an early stage and couldn't spread, I knew I was gonna be okay. I can live just fine without my boobs, yanno?

Second, for a long time, I've just taken it for granted that I'm gonna get cancer someday. It's just that the diagnosis came sooner rather than later. But here's the thing: cancer takes time to develop. If I hadn't had that freaky symptom, my cancer would still have been there, and I wouldn't have noticed it until I noticed a lump (or a doctor noticed it at a checkup or something). The fact that I was 20 when I was diagnosed means that I had a less serious form of the disease - so it was actually a good thing!

Anyway, when I asked "what next," the oncologists suggested talking to other specialists, getting second opinions and beyond. So over break, we did a LOT of faxing and phonecalling. We also drove back to school early and visited with some specialists in that city. The response was near-unanimous: a recommendation for radical mastectomy alone - no radiation, no chemotherapy. One doctor disagreed, and said that technically, there was no research that suggested my type of cancer ever developed into anything further, and suggested waiting before doing anything as drastic as removing a breast. However, I really didn't think surgery would be that bad, and I knew I didn't want to risk having to go through radiation or chemo later on if I waited.

The surgery was scheduled for late January. I'd already registered for my spring semester classes at college, so I had to go to campus, un-register, and also pack up my dorm room. My roomie was a freshman, bless her heart, and looked incredibly nervous, but all in all it went pretty smoothly.

That is, up until I went to the housing office to ask them not to bill me, since I wouldn't be staying in the dorm for the spring semester. I figured I'd probably have to fill out some kind of form, but the student at the desk insisted that there were no exceptions, no matter how I tried to convince him that this wasn't because I was lazy or disorganized (for once), but because I had a medical emergency. I hadn't wanted to play the pity card, but when I tearfully confessed that I'd just been diagnosed with cancer and I was going to have to go to the hospital instead of attending classes, then I finally got the form for a waiver! SHEESH.

And so we packed up the minivan and drove home again.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

This really resonated with me

Read it!

I think what really strikes me was Allan's observation:

while all persons are ultimately responsible for what they make of their lives, I could not help but think how this young man's life would be different had his home-life been different.

It's chilling, because as teachers, we know it's true.

Sometimes I feel so powerless.


Friday, October 17, 2008

On Responsibility

I've heard it said... somewhere... that students who do poorly are likely to say it's due to a lack of talent, and students who do well are more likely to say it's due to hard work. I wish I could pinpoint where I've read this - can anyone help me out?

The conclusion typically drawn is that if we can get students to learn to appreciate hard work, then they will be more likely to succeed. For a long time I've been unsatisfied with that idea but unsure why.

I think it's unlikely that those results have anything to do with an individual's work ethic. I find it much easier to believe that people have a natural tendency to externalize failure and take credit for their success. I think it's human nature to want to own our successes and blame others for failure.

What do you think?


All right, all right!

I admit it. I'm procrastinating.

Ugh. I've been on top of things ALL WEEK, and now it's Friday, and I've got two assignments to hand back in first period, and I haven't responded to them. Plus I haven't written the pop quiz they're supposed to take.

It's times like this that I do wonder why I don't just march through the lit book and the supplemental materials. :P

It's the freewriting that's got me stuck. I've responded to three sets and I've got one more (the other assignment will go quickly). And... I just feel like I'm not responding intelligently anymore. Like there are these pat responses: "this is confusing," "this is interesting but it doesn't seem to fit with the rest of what you're saying," "neat idea - can you think of examples to use for support," and so on.

How do you give unique, individualized responses to 100+ journal-like-things? Can it be done?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Wednesday.... and?

YES! The Carnival is in town! Thanks, Edwonkette!


Julius Caesar

So we've started Julius Caesar which is my LEAST favorite of the four Shakespearean tragedies students typically study at OLHS. Frickin' Folger has a fantastic 'Living Shakespeare' series. I had the old version for Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Macbeth, and then when we went to the GCTE conference back in February, I got an updated copy of the same book. I think they've also got one for Hamlet and Othello. Yesterday at our department meeting, my mentor teacher was all excited about using the Folger unit to teach Macbeth.

This is me, POUTING.

However, in fairness, I am looking forward to teaching it, because the ideas it touches on are particularly compelling. I just don't find it at all interesting as far as story. I came up with a unit plan pretty much on my own, just from looking at the standards and thinking about the themes woven throughout the story and the character development.

Unit plan for Julius Caesar

Essential Questions

1) What makes a performance interesting?
2) What would make a production of Julius Caesar exciting?
3) How can we make our writing more effective?
4) How does cause and effect link the events in Julius Caesar?
5) Why do characters choose to act as they do in Julius Caesar?
6) How are the characters in Julius Caesar similar to and/or different from tyrants and revolutionaries in the real world?


1) Quiz/Test (not sure) covering characters, events, & dramatic techniques.
2) Persuasive essay linked to a theme from the play (patriotism, sacrifice, ambition, vanity, revenge)
3) Presentation about a tyrant or revolutionary

Learning Plan

1) Read and understand the play – use modern version at home, then watch a movie using the original language in class. They will have a separate study guide for the modern and original versions (but the questions won’t overlap, so they won’t be “re-doing” the work)
2) Write – I will assign the essay as a freewrite on 10/14 and we will practice revising it looking for specific examples, logical order, strong sentence structure, etc. We will look at newspaper editorials for examples of persuasive essays. We will also continue to do a sentence analysis several days a week for the starter.
3) Research – They will choose their own tyrants or revolutionaries by 10/16; I will provide a list of questions for them to use in research. They will be able to sign up for library and/or computer time.
4) Performance – Projection: We will go outside to the parking lot. Students, in pairs, will start perhaps 50 yards apart. One student will begin walking toward the other. The second student should call the first one’s name. When the first student hears the second, he/she should stop walking. We will practice this twice: once with the students facing each other, then with the first student facing away.
5) Performance – Acting: Later, the students will go to the auditorium and “scatter” through the seats, with pencil and paper. They will be called up one by one and will choose an index card from a box. The index card will have a “dramatic line” with some direction. Each student will perform the line chosen. While not performing, the students will write down the lines as they hear them.

It still looks vague and general to me, but I'm kind of feeling things out as I go. One concern I have is that it seems (to me) to cover darn near all of the Georgia Performance Standards, so I need to figure out which ones I'm going to focus on and which I'll just mention in passing as we review. I've gone ahead and given it a page on the ubdeducators pbwiki, too. Take a look at the standards and let me know what you think.

Helpful feedback is welcome! Thoughts? suggestions?


Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Survivor's Journey, Part 2

Well, THAT all happened shortly before Thanksgiving break, so the staff at the university health center said they'd send the results up to my family doctor.

I don't really remember much about that - I do, however, recall that I wound up with a referral to a surgical oncologist. So anyway, one of my first days back, Mom drove me up to the hospital to meet with the oncologist.

He said that the results of the swab analysis were inconclusive, but given my family history (cancer is absolutely rampant on my dad's side) he felt it might be a good idea to do a biopsy on some of the affected tissue.

I just sort of sat there silently, feeling a little awkward. This was really the first time a decision like this had been directed at ME, not at my folks. I think the oncologist picked up on my uncertainty, and he said he'd give us a fewe minutes to talk about it.

So he went out of the room, and I looked at my mom. I knew she could see the concern on my face. But I don't think she was expecting to hear what I asked: "Will our insurance cover this?"

Boy, did she ever let me have it! Of COURSE insurance would cover this and even if it didn't, this was NOT something that was optional (young lady), and it WAS going to be taken care of and you better NOT try to avoid this like you did with your appointments at the dentist(young lady), not with your family history... etc. etc.! (There were more "young lady" interjections, but I stopped counting.)

So I went in for surgery a day or two later. It wasn't a big deal - just day surgery. I remember that they said the anesthetic would smell like root beer, and it totally did. It was more like sweet A&W than snappy Barq's. I was supposed to count back slowly from ten... I'm not sure if I even got to eight!

The next thing I know, I'm waking up in a recovery room. There were like three or four other beds in this one big room, but they were all empty. Oh, and my chest was taped up. I was groggy as anything, and OH, was I ever hungry. I hadn't had anything to eat all day because of the surgery!

The nurses told me that I likely wouldn't be able to eat anything, because one of the side effects of the general anesthetic was pretty severe nausea. I said I feel fine, thank you, just a little woozy, and I'm hungry. So I commanded my parents to go to Arby's and pick up what was at that time my standard Arby's meal: Giant roast beef value meal with a small jamocha shake instead of a soda, curly fries, topped off with a cherry turnover. YUM.

They kept the saline drip in me until my folks got back with the food, to help counteract any lingering effects of the anesthetic. They returned, the IV drip waas pulled out, and the nurse said "let's start with some lemon-lime soda and some saltines, just to make sure your tummy's okay."

Fine. Whatever. I want my damn food.

I didn't even get to the saltines. I took one sip of the soda and it came right back up. (I still didn't feel nauseous.)

They kept me a little while longer, but it was getting late, and I knew if I didn't get out of there soon I'd have to stay overnight, and I wanted to GO HOME. (Mostly because I doubted the nurses would let me nuke the Arby's for a midnight snack.) So I made it quite clear that unless they reeeeally needed to observe me, I wanted to scram. And when I was finally able to sip a bit of soda without sending it back up, they signed me out!

Anyway, a few days later, it was back to uni. I finished out the semester without further incident, but I learned an important lesson: don't mess with momma!


Friday, October 03, 2008

A Survivor's Journey, Part 1

So I always feel a little weird about self-identifying as a breast cancer survivor. I mean, technically speaking, I am: I had breast cancer, and I didn't die! Sure, there was more to it than that, but not a whole lot. I haven't blogged about it much - if at all - because for me, it was about as far from an Epic Adventure as you could get!

But I guess with it being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all, I want to describe my experience with breast cancer, mostly because it is very different from the HUGE ORDEAL that comes to mind when people imagine that disease.

It was about midway through the fall of my third year of college; I was 20. I went to FSU, and while I wasn't a total party hound, I generally put off doing homework until 1 or 2 AM, while sitting around in my T-shirt and sweats, until I couldn't keep my eyes open.

I've never been the neatest or most organized person in the world, so when I started noticing stains on the front of my shirts in the morning, I figured it was a bad combination of poor coordination, late nights, and caffeinated beverages. So I cut way back on the Cokes and going to bed earlier. The problem was, I didn't start noticing any changes. Maybe the stains hadn't come out? I began to suspect that there was more to this.

Then one afternoon I came back from... I don't know, the gym or something, and I didn't have a class so I lay down for a nap completely dressed. When I got up, I noticed that somehow I had spilled coffee on the INSIDE of my sports bra. ???! So, yeah, something definitely wrong with me, and I had no idea at all what it might be.

More than a little creeped out by this, I dragged myself to the campus health center to meet with The Girl Doctor. I suffered through the indignity that is the Annual Exam (which I really think was the low point of the whole experience) without saying a THING about my strange symptoms, and I might've run out of there without mentioning them, except I remembered that the symptoms were the reason for that whole rotten ordeal in the FIRST place. So when The Girl Doctor asked if there was anything else that I needed, I said, "Well..."

I told her what I had seen, she had me lean back on the table again (at least I didn't have to put my feet in the stirrups - ugh!!) and she started poking at my boob! AND IT LEAKED! "Does that hurt?" No, it didn't hurt, but OMGWTF?!!!

It SO didn't help that she noticed that one particular area seemed to be... ah... more affected, let's say. "Wow, it's really comin' out, isn't it?"




Oh GOD. That is my BOOB, not some overly large and fleshy pimple! I was mortified.

Anyway, it finally went from gush to tinkle to nothing at all, and she'd taken a sample to send away for testing. I was so glad to just get out of there. Seriously. I felt like I was escaping when I stepped out the door. Thank God that's over.

Only it wasn't.