Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day 2

It's midday here in the gorgeous Seattle suburbs...the sun is out, and the air is crisp and clean and warm.

There are brilliant green trees everywhere, and serene hills and mountains surround all edges of the horizon.

The grocery stores are the size of airplane hangars, the gas costs less than a gallon of ice cream, and the town restaurants quaintly close at 9pm on weekdays.

Not a soul has air conditioning, but with temperatures in the 80s, plus fans and windowshades, indoors is invitingly pleasant.

The quiet sidewalks and peaceful parks are begging for pedestrians, and the beaches attract sunbathers.

Ah yes, life is good here!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Last night here before the trip

It's late on Monday night, and tomorrow at this time I'll be arriving at my West Coast home.

I'm nervous, I think! I've got, like, butterflies. I'm not sure why.

I'm definitely looking forward to the trip, to see family and friends that I haven't seen in a year or more. Even better, I get to show the Special Someone around my favorite spots, and to rediscover my hometowns with new eyes. And I'll probably get to hang out with Nancy, since she's staying a few miles from both of my parents' houses. Small world! It'll be fun but really strange to have people from different worlds together, you know? Mixing references or whatever.

I tried to get to sleep than normal last night, but it didn't work. I had set the alarm for the ungodly hour of nine am. Naturally, I didn't fall asleep until past two, and so getting up was NOT fun. But I did, eventually. I'd hoped that, in addition to helping me be productive and busy on this last full day, I'd also be tired enough to go to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. Ha ha, not so much, apparently. I've an insatiable appetite for staying up late. Night owl to the core, even when I feel tired and sleepy.

Tomorrow, I've got to close the windows, throw away perishables, do a last quick cleaning, review my packing, find some books to bring, check the mail, go to the bank, go to the library, and go to my friend's to drop off the car/leave for the airport by 3pm. Phew! That should keep me busy, right?

An Apartment Surprise

Something I've been meaning to do for the last three months is measure and map out my apartment. I was bored this afternoon, so I finally got out the tape measure and went to town.

I was really shocked when I calculated the area of all the sections--the total square footage is under 500! Approximately 489 square feet, to be more specific. The outside wall slants, as you see. I took measurements approximately near the middle of each room and just used that.

But anyway, it sounds terribly small! But the space is used so well, with the hallway and the FOUR closets and the kitchen/dining area. I penciled in furniture as well, though I didn't label it. Still, it looks neat.

It's my own place and I do love it. One of my school friends who helped me move in finally came to see the updated version. She exclaimed how homey and cozy it is. (Maybe that's a euphemism for small....) And it is! With the rugs separating and linking parts, and my awesome office nook, and small folding table in the kitchen, there's plenty of room and character. The walls, sadly, are still bare. I'll have to work on that eventually.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Recommendations and Teaching

I've been considering doing the teaching fellows program for several years now but always chicken out. I wonder what is your experience with the program and would you recommend it. I have an acquaintance that did the program and she said it was doable, but honestly doesn't seem to enjoy teaching very much. She didn't say that, but it was her lack of enthusiasm when we discussed the program that threw me off. She told me a lot of people do the program just to get their degree and then leave.

I know someone else who did the program and quit after a month because they felt it was too much work. After reading some of your old blog entries I realize that the first year is the most challenging.

Anyway, I would you recommend the program? What do you wish you had known before you started teaching?

What an interesting query! It's really got me thinking, which is excellent fodder for this here blog. Let me break it down into answerable chunks.

Experience with NYCTF:

First of all, from what I've seen and heard, experience varies greatly by university placement and teaching level (elementary vs secondary/subject).

My own experience, I would say, was meh.

Know that in programs like this, you are set up to fail. You must work your ass off to rise above it.

The beginning of the program was profoundly confusing and stressful. We were constantly being told things, from the university, from the Fellows, and I was rarely sure who was who. The first summer is six weeks of endless stuff: summer school placement, afternoon classes, evening advisories. My days averaged 13 hours, with the three one-hour commutes.

We were all full of questions, as you can imagine. Everyone was always asking questions about what things would be like, whether vague or specific. Sometimes professors or advisors would give advice, but mostly the answer was, "It depends on your school."

Lots of things are important aspects of your teaching experience: the administration, the students, the type of class you have, the time of day you have those classes, your colleagues, the resources available to you, the parents, the community your school is in. All these things vary greatly between schools. GREATLY.

Anyway, so a lot of the Fellows time was spent asking and answering questions, and rolling of eyes because there's only so much information anyone can give you.

The classes themselves were definitely meh. I was placed in the common branch program, which is k-6. So our classes were mapped out for us, to cover different subject areas, plus 'basic' type courses. The first summer we had to take a literacy class (the first of at least three) and a child development class (very close to Psych 101 and utterly useless).

Despite everyone telling us how EXTREMELY IMPORTANT behavior management is, there were/are no classes about that. Nothing practical.

However, I understand that is commonplace in teacher education, no matter the program (regular and alternative). So I suppose I can't hold that against the Fellows.

The one thing they did emphasize, as I'd hope ALL teacher-education programs would, is that teaching is DIFFICULT. It's not easy, it's not romantic. If you want any kind of personal or professional success in education, you really have to work your ass off.

Enjoy teaching:

This is a really personal, individual matter. I'm still not sure exactly how I feel...I've posted about that before (see the links; I think one of those is up there).

I do know that my second year was light-years better than my first year. The first year was hard, but I kept working at it, trying new things, determined not to let the kids get the better of me.

So with the first bad year under my belt, and time to plan and implement new ideas, I got to enjoy things more. I feel like I had better kids, and they could meet me in the middle instead of me giving them everything.

That's what seems to separate the good from the mediocre: you see kids who just aren't getting the education they deserve. In this city, sometimes it seems like all of them are missing out, at least the ones who aren't in the posh private schools. You see kids that are absolutely brilliant, who are lazy. You see kids that have potential, but no support at home. You see kids who are sweet one-on-one, but who are friends with dangerous or negative kids. You see kids who should be in the top schools, who are struggling to stay motivated in the midst of kids who don't give a shit. The children in this city WANT to learn, WANT to excel and succeed. Too many can't or won't, because of reasons beyond their control.

So it's up to you, the neophyte, struggling teacher, to give them what they need. They're going to get to you, get in your head and your heart, and you may get frustrated and angry, but you can't give up. You can't let them down--you have to give them your all so that they can give their all.

You won't reach all of them. Duh. And don't go around with that, "If I reach one student, then I've done my job" bullshit. Don't be defeatist; reach as many as you can! Be a good role model, show them how to be an educated adult, talk to them as people and not just out of control children, give them tools to discover their own intelligence and power. Help them see that you want them to work hard, because you have faith in them to achieve. That doesn't always mean words, either. It's how you talk to them, how you treat them, the kinds of assignments you do, the kinds of resources you bring in.

First year:

Really, really hard. The most difficult thing I've ever done, hands down. I'm sure any teacher would agree.

The beginning of my teaching experience was a bit unusual. My region wasn't hiring in the summer, and I wasn't from here, so I had no reference for where or what to teach. So I was placed in the Reserve Pool. For the first week and a half, I was in a primary school with a kindergarten teacher. Then I was in a junior high for a week, 'teaching' Spanish. Finally, the third week of school, I was permanently placed at a middle school in Queens, teaching EL @.

Those students, who were rowdy for other teachers, were monsters for me. They'd had two weeks of subs, so they were used to being crazy and doing nothing in that classroom. I took myself and my job very seriously; I wanted to be able to control them and actually teach them straight away. I started with absolutely nothing. I walked in third period on a Monday. The room was empty except for desks. I didn't have chalk. I didn't have a grade book. I didn't have a ROSTER for at least three days! I had no lesson plans, no concept of middle school standards or expectations. I tried to fight it, but I flailed all over the place. I tried, I struggled, I failed, I got frustrated, I couldn't sleep, I got sick, parents tried to fight my ideas, my AP and dean were totally useless...It was like climbing an ice field wearing ballet slippers and no coat. Or something. It felt impossible! I felt like I should have been doing so much better!

I know better, much better, now. Even at the time, I tried to reason with myself that I had the deck--several decks, more like--stacked against me: first year, late start, young, white, not a New Yorker... Let's just say people were proud of me for surviving as well as I did.

But it was such a struggle, with myself and with the kids.

The thing that my principal saw in me, and that's why he supported me so well and trusted me so much this year, was that I did NOT give up. I gritted my teeth to get through the hard times, trying and trying and trying to get somewhere with the students. I had ideas, I bought books, I talked to other teachers, I got advice from my teacher parents, I was always trying new things. Sometimes they worked and I kept them. Sometimes they worked and I didn't work hard enough to keep them. I was inconsistent a lot. Most of the time I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing. I had to figure out who I was in the classroom; what my style is and how I could naturally and yet firmly conduct my classroom. Building it during the year means that those kids didn't really take it too seriously; they saw me at my weakest and my slow progression didn't impress them much.

My dean told me one day that the first year of teaching is an experiment and you can't take it too seriously. You see what happens, you find out what NOT to do, you may find some things TO do, and then you move forward from there.

I was terrified that my second year wouldn't be better than my first. Everyone told me it got so much better after the first year. I couldn't take that chance. That's why, starting last July, I worked my ass off, planning, thinking, talking, buying. I got to set up my room ahead of time, and plan out all my classroom stuff, and be there from the start. I had my teacher personality already. I had my wardrobe personality ready. I worked at school and at home all the way through about mid-October.

All that made the second year night and day compared to the first. Things still were never easy; I still had to keep on my toes.

Now that it's over, I think back and truly miss my students, and I reluctantly realize that I did enjoy myself this year. It's not something I'd say I hated OR loved; it's just something I do. I feel like now that I've established myself, I can really do some great work in education. It's been a part of me long before I had the title "Teacher," and I'm sure it will be with me long after I relinquish that title.

Recommend the program:

That's really hard to say. It's a tough, really tough, thing to do. Not everyone is cut out for it. I didn't know if I was. I joined it to see what I could do. Turns out I can--but again, I had to put in a lot of work to get there. And my principal is supportive.

If you've thought about it, I think I'd say do it. Work hard, persevere, know it will get better. Talk to as many people as you can; having a support system is the absolute most important thing.

Classes for me were pretty useless, to be honest. As a single-subject teacher, doing science and math and stuff were a waste of time for me. Most of my professors were not good and were not in touch with the urban teaching experience. Thankfully, a couple professors were good. That first literacy course ended up being a great resource to fall back on; she had us keep a writer's notebook and do genre projects that eventually we got to use as touchstone texts, so to speak, for our own students in our own classrooms. It's a balancing act: class, plus teaching, plus commuting, plus eating (please eat during the day!), plus life. You're in charge--you have to figure it out.

That was actually my favorite part of being a Fellow: talking, comparing, complaining, being around other Fellows in my cohort. There were two classes' worth of us in common branch, so we got to know each other fairly well. It was a lot of fun to catch up with a new mix of them each time a new semester started. Everyone had a slightly different experience. For the vast majority, things are continuing to improve.

There were a couple new Fellows in my school this year. One did really well, and one did not. That girl was small and quiet and weak, and the students of course saw that. She quickly got overwhelmed and seemed to just give up. I tried to give her hints and ideas, specific ones, and she sort of showed interest. But she just didn't have the heart to really work at it. She's going to a new school this fall, and it's going to be a sorry wake up call; she's gonna have another difficult year unless she finds the will to work and change.

The city and the university might give you mentors, but be prepared for them to be no use at all. You'll rarely see them, they won't give you any concrete advice, they'll keep telling you what to fix and change rather than what you're doing well. If your mentors turn out better, excellent. But don't plan on it.

You'll have to find your own mentors: might be a neighboring teacher, might be a Teacher Center rep like mine, might be a friendly older teacher, might be a relative who's a teacher. Find someone, though.

Be tough in the classroom! DON'T be friendly--the kids will interpret that as soft. You must be firm and strict. I can't say enough how much a difference that makes. The kids WANT and NEED structure and adult role models. They want you to be a teacher! They will gripe and groan about the work and your relentless toughness, but believe me, they will appreciate it, because they'll know you're doing your job, and they'll then be more invested in doing their job.

What to know before you start:

Teaching is REALLY HARD. You can't do it without actually doing it. Preparing won't do much; you've got to get in the trenches and get dirty.

I firmly believe that it's much harder in a big city, and even more difficult specifically in New York. There are so many kinds of kids in the system. Colleagues range from old and cranky to young and idealistic. Some will inspire you, and some will piss you off, and some will be friendly, and some will be irritating. All colleagues are like that, but then you realize that in this instance, those cranky, complacent, inhospitable ones are in charge of teaching youth. You start to ache for those kids that are missing out on good teaching.

Please, do not take movies and television seriously! They totally romanticize all aspects of teaching and gloss over the difficult stuff, like parent contact and grading papers. Not to mention trying to have a personal life outside school.

Good teaching takes time and unbelievable effort, for very little reward.

I knew these things before I started. I'm not sure if I needed to know anything specifically before I started. Since all experiences are so different, there's no easy, one-fits-all advice to give.

There's a wonderful community online of teacher bloggers, and a huge resource of lesson plan sites. Take advantage of all of that!

I hope this has helped; I'm not sure if I really answered anything. Teacher bloggers and Fellows: please share your reactions to this inquiry, and to my response. Please add your experiences and comments and links. What do you think?


Forgive me for not writing of this sooner! I meant to, really!

The UFT is doing a new thing: the New Teachers Series. It's starting with this summer's events and I believe will continue in other ways. So far there've been a couple socials, where neophyte teachers (who haven't started yet) come hang out and meet one another and trade stories and/or advice. There was a workshop on money stuff, one on what the union does, and Friday was the 'social' at the Bodies exhibit.

I'm part of this because in the spring, I went to an event called "A Dinner with Randi". She came to the Queens UFT office and there were about a hundred teachers who've been teaching four or fewer years. She asked us what we wanted from the union. Some people gave ideas and advice. Most of the time was spent on venting and complaints about schools, and Randi gave advice and promised to get involved.

One of the staff-type people mentioned something about new teachers specifically, and everyone strongly agreed that newbies are wildly unprepared. So there was an email list started, and that has apparently become the New Teachers Activity Committee. So that's why I'm at these events, helping out and putting in my two cents.

Anyway, today was pretty cool. Everyone got in to the exhibit (it normally costs $24.50!!) and got some snacks, as well as a packet with lesson plans and field trip information from the museum.

The exhibits were really interesting. It was a bit squicky but fascinating. It didn't help that they added fake eyeballs and lips and noses and ears and eyebrows, not to mention toenails and fingernails. And there were a lot of penises; for some reason, more male bodies are donated to science, apparently.

There were spotlit cases of bones and organs. The diseased lungs were really black and deformed! So was the cirrhosissed (?!) liver. Although, with the lungs, they noted some discolorations, from 'normal' pollutants in the air. Interesting.

The circulatory section was quite interesting: they dyed the arteries and then dissolved the rest of the tissue. Thus, there were body-part-shaped masses made of tiny red blood vessels. There was one of the entire trunk, and the kidneys looked like fuzzy balloons, they were so densely packed.

What really got me were the whole bodies: each one was de-constructed to show something off. The muscles and nerves are so intricate! It was really fascinating. On many of them, the big muscles were de-attached so you could see how they're all related. The Achilles tendon just hanging out kinda freaked me out. It made me wince. And the leg and ab muscles! I'm sore today from a workout with Gilad (I rather like FitTV, what about it?), and it was cool to feel where my soreness was and then see a muscle on a body in the same place. Hm, that doesn't make sense. But I could see where I was sore, and how that muscle is connected to the rest of the body. You know?

I've always been in awe of the body: as you learn about each system, you see all the organs and stuff, isolated in pictures. But they all fit together! Whenever I see a really thin and tiny woman, I always wonder how everything fits inside! And do larger people have larger organs? If they lose weight, do the organs shrink?

Anyway, it was a very interesting exhibit. I'm going to talk to my school, and whoever the AP will be, about getting some of the advanced classes there for field trips, especially since the Intrepid will close in October for awhile.

To New York City teachers: I was told that there will be another event at Bodies, this time for all UFT members. Keep an eye out!

If you are an incoming NYC teacher, go check out information on this great series from the New Teachers committee.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Seven: Not the magic number

Cross-posted from Nachos, Please!

Benjamin Restaurant and Bar: 2nd Ave and E. 33rd

Have you ever been really hungry? And you go walking down a nearby street, and you see a nice-looking place on a corner. Lights dimmed, pleasant ambiance, slightly posh, but not overly so. Check out the menu, looks good.

Once you're seated, the pleasant waitron asks for your drink order. Flavored margaritas! NOPE. They don't have them. Mojitos? Nein. Okay, a beer and a midori sour.

Back to the menu: I spy nachos! Yummy. Just the thing to hit the spot: melted cheese covering a warm pile of tortilla chips. Mm.

Cheese only, please. Um...are you sure? Yes. Just cheese, nothing else? Yes, correct, just cheese. Okay...

A few minutes later (fairly quick service, that's good), a plate is set down in front of you.

You nearly splutter aloud, is this a joke? are you serious?

There are seven chips on the plate. Arranged prettily like a tortilla-chip-pizza...but still. SEVEN. CHIPS. Seven!

You politely ask the waitron for an extra serving of chips, because clearly, this ain't right. But he says, no, that's the order size. Okay...

Every inch of the tortilla-pizza is covered in cheese. No gaps. Again, while pretty, not exactly ideal. You must have the balance between cheesy and crispy, right? No one wants soggy nachos, for pete's sake.

And for cheese-drenched tortilla-pizza, it's not bad. But.


Okay. "Dinner" is over. You decide to give them ONE more chance to prove themselves, so you order the yummy-looking pear crumble. Mm, pears and crumbly...stuff.

It arrives...and it's cold.


Ease of order: 2.
Portion size: 1. SEVEN?!
Cheese distribution: 2. Tortilla-pizza!
Taste: 3
Restaurant Atmosphere: 3
Service: 3
Quality: 2 1/2

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Old and New

I was looking around the television yesterday and saw that Made was on. I like that show, the transformations and the work and all that uplifting yet embarassing stuff they show. This episode was about a kid who wanted to be a break dancer.

"Eh," I thought, and went to change the channel.

Then I heard the voiceover begin: "There's nothing special about living in Redmond, Washington....east of Seattle....home of Microsoft...I go to Redmond High School..."

"Guh?!" I said, in shock.

*I* used to live in Redmond! I went to RHS! Holy cow!

A couple years after I graduated, so all the shots of the school meant nothing; it's all pretty and shiny and soulless, like all modern school buildings. However, they showed the kid in his newspaper class, and there was Mr. Kimball! He was the yearbook advisor too, which I did!

Then the coach was eventually introduced: an original breakdancer from the 70s. Where is he from? New York, probably the Bronx (by the accent).

I'll be arriving back in the Seattle area next Tuesday night.

Later in the day, the Special Someone and I went to a nearby bar for drinks. Who do I see on a couple of the big-screen tvs over the bar? The back of Joel Piniero! The Mariners are playing at Yankee Stadium this week.

Okay, is this weird, or what? A New Yorker in my high school, and my baseball team in my new city.

Last weekend, we watched an adorable movie called Little Manhattan. It's about a kid on the Upper West Side who falls in love with a girl in his school and karate class. It's as much about young love as it is about the love of New York. It's full of street scenes and park scenery. The movie was cute and funny and very enjoyable. I loved the New York references. I loved seeing familiar places, like the 72nd Street subway station, or Central Park.

I always get a thrill when I see something familiar on tv or in a movie. I think to myself, hey, I've been there! I know where that is! I can tell you how to get there! etc. Most of the time, those places are in New York, because it's so popular and so familiar to so many people.

I've always heard you have to live in New York for five/seven/ten years before you can call yourself a New Yorker. I am pretty sure I won't be here much longer than three years. Do I even want to call myself a New Yorker? I don't love New York, but I don't hate it either. It's just here. I'd probably feel differently if I lived and/or worked in the city, like the Someone does. Then I could appreciate the energy and magic and blah blah blah. It's neat to walk around among the tourists and smugly think that I actually know where I'm going, and that I can (usually) confidently answer their questions and queries. I feel comfortable here now. It's funny to think that technically, I belong here now. But do I, really?

I must say, I love the money situation of living outside Manhattan. Produce in the Union Square market is twice as expensive as the produce on my block. My rent buys me three times the space for living. Can't argue with that.

When I go back to Seattle, it's going to feel like home...sort of. Things will have changed in the last year. People will have changed. My little sister will have grown taller. My little brother has already started going to class at UW. New housing developments will have popped up as stands of trees will have disappeared. The smog will be worse. So will the traffic. It will be surreal to be somewhere that is at once familiar and different. But since it's familiar and where I came from, do I really belong there, underneath wherever I am now?

*I* will be different. My frame of reference is now New York. My vocabulary and sometimes my accent has adjusted to New York. My educational experience in New York is most certainly different than my educational experience in Seattle.

When I'm here, I talk about there. When I'm there, I'll talk about here.


Where do I really belong?

Summer Swelter

Ugh! I'm just relieved that it's over.

I live on the fifth floor, and I have three windows that receive light all day. Normally that is okay, or even fantastic. When the temperatures and humidity make it about 100 degrees, though, it is not what we call a good time.

I had both fans going, and the AC. You can't feel the AC more than four feet away from the unit, so who knows if it was contributing to anything.

Duh, it wasn't, because I was sweating all day. There was no cooling to be done or had, except in the shower. Then leaving the wonderful refreshing shower, the muggy heat once again took over. Ugh!

The night was the worst, though. I'd hoped, as it had been working well the rest of the time, that having the fans going would suffice. After all, I kept one blowing right toward me. But this time, it was just pushing air at me, not cooled at all, and I couldn't get comfortable.

I've been staying up late reading anyway--cause I can!!--so, and this was around 2am, I turned the lights back on to read some more.

Then I had an idea borne out of sheer annoyance. I inflated my air mattress and put it on the floor in front of the AC unit. From there, I actually felt cool air, a lot of it! Whew, what a relief. I stayed up reading until after 3am, and even with the refreshing artificial breeze, I tossed and turned until well after 3.30. Eventually though, I did drift off. I even grabbed a blanket, to stay comfortable in the thankfully-cooler air.

I struggled to wake up at 11.15. After some television, I had to leave the house to find some cool air. I went once again to Target. Here's a fun twist! I parked in the garage, on the next-to-top level, so the car wouldn't be in the direct sun. Even so, when I returned with my bags, the key turned...and nothing happened.

Nada! It didn't even turn over!

I was perplexed and concerned and at the edge of panicky. What does one do when in a parking garage? Would I have to get a tow? What's wrong with the car? Will they still charge me for all the time if I have to wait for a service person? Does anyone still carry jumper cables? When was the last time I had an oil change?

I kept trying a few more times, and it started to catch and finally, THANKFULLY, the engine turned over and the car started. Oh, PHEW.

I stopped at a gas station on the way home, because one of my tires was really low. I filled it up, and then, the car wouldn't start again. Hoo boy. Once again, though, because the gods don't hate me, the car did start after a few tries. I vowed to park in the shade and remember to pour some water and coolant in the radiator before my next drive.

I went into the city last night and was so relieved upon coming home, as the storm had ended and so had the humidity. Relief!

I slept in front of the AC again, but I probably would have been fine without it. The fans were once again circulating mostly-cooled air. And I went to bed at 2 for real. Good for me!

Must remember to keep drinking cool water to stay hydrated. And I want to work out again today. If I'm gonna sweat, I might as well do something productive for my out-of-shape self.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Spelling Strategy, for all ages

What's the last show of a television season?

season FINale

What's the last, comprehensive test you take at the end of the year?

FINal exam

What do you say when you've completed a task?

I'm FINished!

What do you see at the end of old-fashioned movies?


What are French and Spanish words for "the end"?


What's a term for limiting something?


What is the word for limiting an idea, say, the number of people you can fit in a phone booth?


What is the word when you set a limit or explanation to something?


What is the noun version of a limit or explanation for something?


How about the adverb version?


What does the root "FIN" mean?
An end or limit!
There are NO 'A's in the words define, definite, or definitely! No A! None, whatsoever! ZERO A!
Look! Now you know how to spell! Latin is your friend! So is etymology in general!

(PS, for word nerds like me: "finite" and "definite" are from different but still-related Latin root words [definire and finire], so the "de" is NOT a negative prefix in this case. )

Here is a long but very useful page, listing common Greek and Latin roots, their meanings, and words they are found in.

Here is an excellent site with specific explanations, examples, vocabulary, and exercises for roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Here's a really great site using Harry Potter spell charms--the kids will know this stuff!--to teach roots. I've done this only with the root "lev" (eLEVate, LEVer, alLEViate, LEVity, etc) and it worked pretty well with 6th graders and dictionaries.
If you are a teacher or parent, please figure out a way to incorporate root learning into your child's/class's education. If you can link words together like this, I bet you five bucks you'll see the light go on about their heads! Fantastic! With a couple repetitions and reinforcements, students would 'get it', and would forevermore know how to spell words that seem tricky but really aren't. What a win-win situation!

A Momentous Day!

Hurrah for this day, on which two very different and important things have taken place.

I have officially ended my student days--I am done with graduate school! I just returned from the last meeting of my very last class. Woohoo! In a few weeks I will have my master's diploma and degree conferred upon me. Most importantly, my work is done! Wow! I am terribly excited and also a lot relieved. Just yet it hasn't sunk in; I imagine it will once it's September and I have all my evenings to myself again.

Of course, this also means glad tidings for my bank account: in two more paychecks, the tuition withdrawals will end. And as soon as I get all the paperwork, I will apply for my salary differential! Most excellent.

The other wonderful thing that happened today was the birth of my very first first cousin! His name is Graydon, I believe, and he was born with utmost haste at noon. Very exciting! It's even more meaningful because today is also the birthday of one of my maternal grandfathers, who died on Mother's Day. Life comes full circle, yes?

A commencement day like no other, that's today!

And I plan on celebrating all week, and all summer, if possible.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Random: Links Fixed!

A certain somebody told me just now that all my "Popular and Pertinent Posts" links did not work. He told me how to fix them, and I did, and now they work! Hurrah!

The letter posts are really awesome. They're from December 2004; it's scary how little the political scene has changed.

Civics Test

What do you know about this country? Take a pretend sample immigration test. I got 18/20.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


This morning, after unsatisfactory diner waffles, I went to the central library branch and picked out thirteen new books! And that was only in part of one section, too. I forbade myself to explore other sections.

I'll probably get through most of them in a week. In fact, I already finished one today. They're all rather fluffly. Among them are more of another mystery series I happened upon last week, Agatha Raisin by MC Beaton.

After the library, I made a trip to Target. Woo!

Oh yeah, the end of the summer literacy institute. The last day of the workshop, we didn't do terribly much. Hardly any effort to even pretend we were on track with the agenda. Happily though, we did get a third book at the end! We got Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portlupi's Nonfiction Craft Lessons. I am excited because I had already noted that one and its companion, Fiction Craft Lessons. They offer grade-level-specific lesson plans with specific resources named. I'd thought the pieces would actually be in the book, but a title and author is the next best thing. And there appear to be appendices with useful excerpts.

The weather has been just beautiful the last few days. After that spectacular sky display the other night, the humidity cleared off, thank goodness. It's been warm and gorgeous. I hear that will change soon, but all the same, I've appreciated it.

It's a boring Saturday. Now it's the nighttime. Bored. I just cleaned my bathroom. On a Saturday night. Wow, I am the epitome of cool.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Point for New York:

Sensational thunder and lightning storms.

Damn, it's intense this evening!

Workshop, Days Two and Three

To start, suffice to say, they've not been nearly as wonderful as Monday. I suppose I should have expected as much. There is much repetition and reviewing of super-basic things. If you don't know what a read-aloud is, for pete's sake, you must be...stupid? unaware? not a New York City teacher? I don't know. I just know that with the balanced literacy push of the last ten years, and this city's obsession with test scores and the workshop model and all that, I would find it utterly impossible to NOT know something like a freaking read-aloud.

Yesterday we began with an interesting activity. It was called Give One, Get One. Each person has paper with areas to fill in. This one has nine squares, but you could alter it to be four squares, or three sides, or whatever. Anyway, so for this, we were to fill in three of our nine squares with important things we took away from Ralph Fletcher the day before. Then we got up and moved around the room, trading. Soon you fill up your squares, then go back to your tables and sit and share.

Here is my completed sheet:

The facilitators led us in thinking about ways to use an activity like this: as a review of the previous day's lesson, as part of a pre-unit assessment, as a lesson summary, or as a unit summary/assessment.

You'd obviously have to be careful about the movement of the students. I don't know that I would do this at the beginning of the year (you know, for a Bingo icebreaker or some such nonsense [remember, I hate icebreakers for adults and as a teacher, I really don't have time]), because I'd want to set routines and expectations. If a class is rowdy, I might not ever do an activity like this. Or if I did, I would make them stay at their tables and give/get that way.

The rest of yesterday was rather pointless. They talked about the writing process. Oh, one guy read a piece and then we had to talk about persuasive writing, what it is and where you find it. I suppose that it was supposed to be a model lesson or something, but I thought it went too long. Since we ARE adults and have a high-level of education, and have all been in the classroom in some capacity, all the detaily stuff could have been skimmed faster.

PS, I get bored and judgy when I'm bored.

During the read-aloud, Oregon was mentioned a couple times. The male facilitator is a hard-core New Yorker with a very strong accent. He pronounced Oregon as "Are-a-gahn". Excuse me, but there is an O at the beginning of the word! Your mouth should make an O when you say a word that starts with one! 'Oregon' is a homophone of 'organ'! Sheesh! Holy crap! That really bugged.

Again, because I'm shallow and judgy, the rest of the accent just grated a lot. This kind of New Yorker talks WAY too loud, practically shouting most of the time. When he moves around the room, a couple times he's stood behind me. I physically wince when he talks near me; it's so damn loud and forceful! He aspirates ALL his consontants.

Put your hand an inch or two in front of your mouth, and say the word "pit." Did you feel the puff of air when you said the P sound? That's an aspirated consonant. Now try to aspirate ALL the consonants in any given word. It's ANNOYING! Shut up, strong-accented New Yorkers!

See? Judgmental. I'm a terrible person.

Ahem. Trying to recover.

Oh, wait. There's more of the judging. A woman at my table is an incessant talker. Not saying anything of worth necessarily, often repeating, just to hear herself talk. That bugs. the. crap. out of me. I want to shriek, Just stop talking, you harpy! Let us listen to the real speakers or at least let someone get a word in edgewise if you're having a 'discussion.' Sheesh.

Okay, really done now.

With the writing process stuff, we took a piece of paper with a T-chart on it; one side said, "I Say" and the other said, "They Say." Under "I Say," we were to write five statements about topics we felt strongly about.

Here are my statements (I'm not very creative; I tend to fall back on the same issues, in case you haven't noticed. Snerk.):

--Travel is a must.

--Reading is a must.

--Reality TV must die.

--The West Coast is better than the East Coast.

--Cats are better than dogs.

Some of my tablemates had things like, "iPods are destroying society"; "Everyone should get free health care"; "Cell phones are a danger to civilization."

We had to do a quick write about one of our topics. I chose the West Coast one, because I'm just that predictable. Yes, I realize that I'm always nattering on about Seattle and the West Coast, and yes, I'm aware that that is irritating and silly. I'm trying to be better. In fact, I've privately assigned myself to write an opposition to the piece. So there. Shut up.

How about this--I'll save my quick write and draft on pro-West until I can do a draft on pro-East, for a separate post. Happy? Then you can just ignore that one.

So today, day two of the workshop proper...

What did we do? Hm. We looked at some more editorials and read a sample lesson from the genre writing book we got yesterday. It talked about the structure of an editorial: position, support, counterargument as the basics. Then we did a jigsaw activity to practice identifying the elements of persuasive writing/editorials.

Jigsaw is an activity where information is split up among groups, and then the groups teach each other. You can do it at least two ways. One way, like some of my colleagues, have each group in their class study, say, a genre of poetry. Then they come up with a full lesson plan and homework, and actually get up to teach the class. At the end, they've all learned at least six types of poetry. The other way is what we did today: count off around the room by fives. Then all the numbers met at different tables. In our number groups ("Expert Groups"), we read one editorial and discussed it and found the persuasive elements. After some time, we returned to our "Home Tables" and each of us took turns briefly explaining about our articles. So that at each table we learned about five different articles and their persuasive elements.

We were told to work on our drafts, and revise them for structure. Oh yeah, we'd had time to examine our drafts and label or identify the structural elements in them. Mine had each argument in a discrete paragraph, and each included both a counterargument and support of my own position. Interesting.

At the end, we received another book, Ralph Fletcher's memoir, Marshfield Dreams. Hurrah for books!

The persuasive stuff and the genre-writing book inspired me to make notes about a persuasive unit with a real debate first and then an editorial. We didn't get to do persuasive writing at all this year; we hardly did anything. I bet, with the right topics, the kids would love and do well on an actual debate. Ideas on topics?

One more day, and I think we may get another book tomorrow. I hope that I can try to make myself enjoy things a little more on the last day!


After: with the stylist's blowdryer and goop After: all its once-again fluffy glory
And a bonus picture of Philadelphia: the City Hall tower along with a statue and a giant Sorry game piece (both from the plaza across the street)

Monday, July 10, 2006

UFT Workshop with Ralph Fletcher

For all that people speak ill of the UFT, I will pledge myself an avid supporter of the Teacher Center and its programs.

During the year, they sponsor a workshop series (five dates, at the borough offices once a month or so) on various aspects of both literacy and math (separately, of course; do you think we're some kind of commies or something?). They give out at least one book during the year. I think this fall we got one called The No Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing. Last year we got several, but I can't remember. I know that we each got a couple of content reading books; that was fantastic. Usually the facilitators guide you through ideas and potential lessons. They also have you do reflection and brainstorming and mini-lesson creation, so you do get a lot of resources for your time (4-7, approximately).

Not to mention, you get the standard UFT catered dinner. And best of all, you get training rate--about $18/hour, which after taxes is fifty dollars per session. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

And actually, my other favorite thing, as always, is time to get to know your colleagues in education and your borough. This year, a bunch of teachers in my school signed up for the series. Four of us were in the same room, and it was great to see them in a different capacity than school, and chat (fairly leisurely) as adults, not harried and hurried classroom drones.

Anyway, this week kicks off its summer workshop institute. It goes for four days, also with food (breakfast this time) and resources. The literacy one began this week, and runs again next week. The math one goes in August, I believe.

This one is extra special: today there was a special guest speaker, Ralph Fletcher! In case you aren't familiar with him, he has written a number of books on writing (as in, teaching writing and helping kids improve their writing), especially the writer's notebook. He's written children's fiction and poetry as well.

He discussed many interesting things, illustrated by examples of kids' writing. Writing should be fun and something you chose. The writer's notebook is a place to react to the world. It's not used not only for introspective journaling, but also collecting: poems, drawings, cards, pictures, words or quotes you like, artifacts, memories. He showed us his own (very posh) notebook, in which he had taped many of his own memories and artifacts. He showed two kids' notebooks: one had a piece of balloon from the field day taped in, and the other had the insides of the writer's favorite pen taped in, along with a 'date died.'

He showed us how he discovered a topic he was interested in, like twilight or the moon, and how he wrote as much as could, little bits and pieces in his notebook, and then how those bits eventually grew into real books (Twilight Comes Twice, and Hello, Harvest Moon).

Here's a great activity he had us all do: First he showed us an illustrated map of his own childhood neighborhood, with important places marked. Then he had us draw our own maps of a place we knew well. Then we shared with neighbors.

Here's my terrible map of one of my childhood neighborhoods that I always loved.

It's Carnation, a tiny town in the rural outskirts of the suburbs. The four boxes are our old house and the surrounding three houses. There were kids in all four, and we all played together. Next door had a Slip and Slide, so most of the summer play was in their backyard. They also had a weiner dog that chased me around my own house. We sometimes played with a trampoline in our front yard. We all always rode our bikes in the street.

Nearby was a little playground. A little further on was the bakery where we usually got cinnamon rolls on Sunday mornings.

The best part of Carnation was the river. The Tolt is a quiet, meandering and rocky little river that joins the larger and sandier Snoqualmie River right up the road. We went there all the time, decked out with actual tennis shoes to walk (more) comfortably on the rocks of the 'beach' and in the river itself. Occasionally we brought inner tubes to float on the gentle current (though we'd have to 'portage' in the rocky shallows). It was always a pleasant and fun place to be. Even more so on those really hot days; the river comes right from mountain streams and is freezing cold.

Down the road and around the bend is Remlinger Farms, where you can pick berries, pumpkins, and probably other things too. They sell food and treats and crafty things in their barn store. It always smelled good in there, both earthy and slightly sugary.

Once we all had drawn and shared, he guided us in marking: a power spot, where people gathered; a danger spot where you weren't supposed to go; a favorite place; and a secret spot.

The idea is that you can take this one activity and easily pull from your many experiences at least one spark of an idea to create a writing piece.

Here's another one ripe with sparks:

I drew a map of Trailblazers. I could more easily mark stories on that one: the place where I spotted the first bear of our adventure; the bath house with no electricity; the corner where all the boys scared the crap out of all us girls returning up the dark road late at night; the rock wall that we dug up and got attacked by fire ants and nettles; the smallcamp where we built our most-excellent round-to; the cabin we lived in with a bat and a flying squirrel; the lake where we canoed to the far camp and once went swimming; the dock where we had to scrape paint; the corner room in the dining hall where we had a slumber party, covering the floor in a double-layer of camp mattresses, building a roaring fire and watching an 80s movie. Oh, and that's the constellation that I used to look at when I walked to the dock at night with no flashlight to challenge my bravery and nightvision.

The last section of his talk was about the Qualities of Writing: Ideas, Design, Language, Presentation, all of which should be infused with Voice. Additionally, writing should have good Organization, Focus, Beginnings, Endings, Time, and Shape.

He read us a splendid and hilarious book, called Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt. It's about a paranoid squirrel who eventually finds that he can safely explore more of the world outside his tree. It helps us think about conquering the fear of the unknown.

Mr Fletcher was a lively and engaging speaker with plenty of entertaining examples. I really feel reinvigorated about teaching writing to my kids this fall. I think I'll have to make them get three notebooks: one as a writer's notebook, one as a reading response book, and one as a workbook (for notes and things). I will ask them to do this mapping activity, list important moments in their lives so far, write about moving/friends/family/pets, find interesting words and snippets of their books, things they wonder about, describe their environments in new and vivid ways, and listen to the world around them, noise from nature and humans alike.

Yet another summer to-do will have to be writing about all these things myself! It's been awhile since I did any journal writing. It'll be really fun to share my work with the kids and have them share theirs.

I sure hope that some of this will also inspire you to think about writing in a new way. If you are a teacher in any grade, I highly recommend Ralph Fletcher's books, for you and for your students.

I'm excited for the next three days of this workshop!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hurrah for Feminism!

Time: about 1.30 today.

Place: Central Park.

Activity: Ultimate Frisbee.

Statement: "You take the girl."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement, I'd be a millionaire.

Boy! Am I glad that generations of women have fought for equality and respect!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Starting to Feel like Summer...

The last two nights I have stayed up until 1.30 or 2.00 reading, because I can. And it is awesome. Yesterday I didn't get out of bed until eleven! This morning it was more like 9.30 though. In any case, I am loving the lack of heavy workload.

Yesterday I forced myself out of the house in the afternoon. First I walked four blocks to my neighborhood library, then I drove to the grocery store. Tres exciting! I also got about half of my paper done.

Today I read a lot, and finished my paper, and found some research for the disabilities group project (I'm in the "Traumatic Brain Injury" group!), and then went to class. Again, with the high level of interest and excitement!

I'm grateful for the UFT Literacy workshop happening all next week; it will give me a reason to get up (early) and leave the house and have some positive social interaction. If it weren't for that, I'd be getting bored pretty soon.

I have this research project to work on...but y'all know how I am about procrastinating. Mainly that it's my modus operandi. Ho hum. Actually, I'm a trillion times better than I used to be. Yes folks, it really takes careful work to be the just-right amount of lazy that you read about here!

I still have all my student evaluations to read and type up. That will be a fun project! (I'm not being sarcastic, either; I'm just that nerdy and awesome.)

I'm going to post a lot of pictures this summer, too. More of my childhood pics (like my just-posted profile pic), some from recent trips, and also some of me with the special someone! Whee!

In addition, I will be reading through my archives and compiling lessons that I've written about. Perhaps it will finally be time for me to start a wiki. And I want to do some 'advice to new teacher' things as well--I'll need your input on that, friends!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

New Carnival of Education!

Shuffle on over to NYC Educator's excellent round-up of the edusphere. Who says teachers take the summers off?

Oh, hey, happy Independence Day

A couple hours ago, I got home from our Philadelphia Weekend Getaway! It was cool to explore a new place (I'd been to Philly before, but only to the Greyhound bus depot) and hang out with the special someone in a place he knew well.
We walked around most of the city yesterday, in the heat and sunshine. The town is quite green, with several lovely fountains and park squares.
Strangely, things were quiet and the town felt empty. Especially strange since it was a holiday weekend. There were finally some 'crowds' around Independence Mall. In fact, because of the lines we decided not to visit the Liberty Bell. I got some pretty pictures of Independence Hall, though.

We also visited the Franklin Institute, a science museum. It featured lots of really fun and interesting hands-on exhibits, my favorite kind. There's a giant heart that you walk through and around, a pin-ball machine that shows you different cultures medical treatments through time, a video snack machine, a telegraph machine with a readout thing so you could practice Morse code, a real airplane you could sit in, a standing-spinning thing, a small rock-climbing wall, and a bunch of other neat things.

Our hotel was in a great location, and the room was a suite: it had a kitchen and desk! We thought that was way cool. In the complimentary basket, there was microwave popcorn! One night we stopped at a nearby Whole Foods to get some snacks for the next day. I was excited to get a paper bag upon checkout. They don't exist in New York! What's up with that?

Anyway, I'm back in town now. It's still the Fourth--that's kinda funny. I so don't care about fireworks and all that. Hurrah for America, blah blah blah.

I have a paper due on Thursday, but I don't have to go to work! For two months! So I can work on the paper, or sleeping in, or catching up on blogs, or anything else I want!