Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I am very proud of myself!

It's 11am and I not only finished grading the papers from vacation homework, I also input all the numbers into the computer grading program.

Go me!

We'll see if I make any effort to do work for class tonight...

Real Subtle, Universe

Remember how (or did I mention this here?) I could have changed my return flight from Prague and get home today (Tuesday) instead of Friday? For only $200, the same amount I received for being bumped off the first Delta flight? And that I figured it would be too much hassle, missing work and grad school and then going to school the next day with jet lag?

Well, dammit, I really should have staying in Prague. And the Universe agrees with me.

This morning, there was snow on the ground. What the hell? Where did that come from? I mean, I know I'm clueless and don't pay attention to the news and stuff, but usually there's lots of talk about snow long before it arrives. Hell, we get bulletins on tv just for some fucking wind!

I went out to my car in my trusty boots, only to find the telltale orange envelope under a windshield wiper. God, a parking ticket. And an expensive one! I tried not to let that ruin my day.

I easily cleaned off the snow from the car; it was like fairy dust snow! You could literally blow on it and it immediately was cleaned.

I drove not even a mile before some guy was honking and pointing...at my tire. Uh oh.

I pulled over as soon as I could, and saw that my right rear tire was completely flat.

Oh, great.

After some dithering and calling my friend/colleague who lives very close to where I live and had pulled over, I called in to school. No way was my day going to get any worse by going in to work. I figured I would use my time to get rested some more (I was propping my eyelids at TEN last night!), and work on grading papers and reading research articles.

I drove slowly and carefully around the block and came to a gas station with a repair shop. Within fifteen minutes, they had patched and filled my tire. It cost a mere ten bucks. While I waited, I started grading papers. See? No more procrastination!

Although I'm procrastinating right now, writing this.

But seriously, if I was still in Prague, NONE of this nonsense would have happened. Next time, let's all follow our instincts and travel for as long as possible, okay?

I hope everyone else had a wonderful start to their day!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Denial is sweet, but dull

School? Work? What's that?

On Friday, I watched three movies on the plane. On Saturday, I watched at least a movie and a half. I also left my apartment briefly, for the bank and grocery store. Today, I have watched FOUR movies. Oh, and take a two-hour nap. Awesome.

I am actually bored. But way not bored enough to do lesson planning or class research or even work out. Nope, my lazy ass just wants to relax and finish my vacation and pretend I don't have to turn into teacher-me again in less than twenty-four hours.

Here's an anecdote.

On the plane from Amsterdam to New York, I was seated in the midst of what I'm pretty sure was a group of high-schoolers traveling to study in New York. Or vacation, or shop, or whatever. They were young and silly.

About halfway through the flight, the attendants came around with customs forms. You've seen them before; they are blue and small and you write your name and address and passport number and how much crap you have with you. Then you sign your name.

These Dutch teens took--no joke!--half an hour to complete this form (plus another green immigration(?) form). THIRTY MINUTES! Seriously!?

I couldn't help thinking that if you aren't intelligent or AWARE enough to fill out a simple form, then maybe your silly teen asses should not be entering this country. Honestly, that is a problem.

There were at least two "leaders" of this group. Both were men who wore loud yellow t-shirts and fanny packs (shudder!). These men were helping the girls fill in the forms. The instructions are given in English and possibly French. As we may know, English is very common and well-known in Holland. (Nearly all the signs in the Amsterdam airport were in English; many without Dutch translations.) So, even with the slight language barrier, but with a person translating for you, half an hour? To write your name and some numbers? Ridiculous! In-credible!

Random Pictures

The shops in the Amsterdam airport seemed to focus on the traditional Holland things like clogs and tulips, rather than Amsterdam attractions. There are two mannequins dressed in what I presume is historically-traditional clothing? From the Prague airport, I took Bus 100 to the end of the line, where it met with the yellow Metro Line B. Eight stops later (at a station that I could recognize but not pronounce), I left the train and got Bus 253. At first I couldn't find it; the stop was down the block from the station. But I did find it soon enough and four stops later, I disembarked. You have to walk under an overpass and then down the dirt road to the river.

I stayed in Room 7, which had five beds. I was the only one there until Thursday. Look how pleasant and cozy!
This is my mantra, conveniently displayed in a shop window in the Old Town.

This is most definitely NOT my mantra!

Lots of cafes and shops advertised hot beverages. In English, even.

This one actually made me stop in my tracks.

It really looks like "Hot urine." I stood and peered at the window for a good minute until I realized it actually just said "Hot wine." Thank god!

Living in New York with the obsession with the hipster lifestyle, I found this sign amusing. Hey, people who like "alternative things", this is an area just for you!

A good Czech beer.

I have no idea what this is. Possibly a fountain? A mythological touchstone? No clue. But it looks cool and a little creepy.

Even Prague's sewer covers are artistic!

Saturday, February 25, 2006


First of all, this entire trip cost $730. Flight, hostel, food, leisure, all of it. Pretty impressive, huh?

When I travel, I get guide books and look through them, reading histories and facts. When I get to maps and neighborhood descriptions, my brain just glosses over and I turn the pages. Orientations of places I've never been just don't quite make sense in my head. So now I just don't really bother with that. I always make sure to have a map, though, although before I go it's meaningless.

When I get to my destination, I go somewhere and then orient myself. Suddenly it all makes sense. It's like it's only relevant when I'm actually in that place. One spot will usually become my zero-point, that becomes my place of relevance and the area I return to again and again, and am able to navigate from there.

In Paris this spot is Notre Dame and the intersection of Blvds St-Michel and St-Germain.

In London, it's been too long and I can't remember. :)

In New York, before I moved here, it was Union Square.

In Prague, my zero-point, predictably, became the Old Town Square. It's big, it's full of history, it's very colorful, it's always busy. It's easy. (All of my spots have those things, actually.)

It was especially a good place because the Prague Walking Tours began there, under the Astronomical Clock.

Walking tours have become easily the best way to see the city and learn a lot of new things you won't find in the guidebooks or signposts.
Paris Walking Tours
Rome Walking Tours

In Prague, I decided to take advantage of the buy 2 get one free deal. $25 for three tours and nearly six hours of "small-group instruction" in (sometimes heavily-accented English). So on Wednesday, I think, I took the Castle Tour in the morning and then the Jewish Quarter Tour in the afternoon. On Thursday, I took the Myths and Legends of Prague Tour. All of them were good to learn history and facts about the city. The last one definitely had the best stories, as you might imagine. I'll save those for a separate post.

On this trip, I deviated somewhat from my normal daily routine. On other trips, I get up around 8 or maybe 9, have a continental breakfast at the hostel or hotel if I was feeling rich, and then set out to traipse the city. See a museum, walk around somewhere, be touristy but pretending to not be American (accomplished by dressing as inconspicuously as possibly and speaking English only when absolutely required, and then softly and politely with some of the local language if possible).

I'd probably get a snackything around lunchtime, since I don't really do restaurants in foreign places. (One of my loveable quirks is my strange eating habits.) Crepes or gelato are my preferred foreign snack. Once I was passing a market and the green beans were calling me. So I bought a small paper bag's worth and spent the rest of the afternoon crunching on raw green beans. Oh man, were they delicious.

After lunch, I'd continue the sight-seeing. Continuing to see museums, gardens, or other places, but then I'd crash around 2 or 3. I'd be in a museum and then just sit for as long as I could. Occasionally I used to sketch during this time, to pass the time and make it look like I wasn't a lazy tired tourist bum.

I'd drag myself to another sight or two, or perhaps a souvenir shop (which I hate entering), and then desperately search for something to eat. Sometimes I'd cave and go to a place that was at least semi-familiar, like McDonald's (apple pies are fried and even more tasty!) or Quick (another fast-food joint). It was never fun or pleasant, but at least I could get something to eat. Two years ago in Paris, since I speak French and was fucking hungry all the time, the whole week, I got up the balls to go to a pizza shop and get a pizza with no cheese. The guy was shocked and kept saying, "No cheese? Just sauce? Are you sure?" I kept nodding and affirming. It was satisfying to have so much to eat...but I was still hungry afterwards.

Then I'd put in a last burst of energy to get my tired ass back to the place of lodging. Never a big napper, I'd read or try to socialize with other people. If staying at a hotel with tv, I'd try to watch something. EuroMTV is always a fun choice, since--shock! gasp!--they still actually play music videos. In Venice, after about a week already in Italy, I was generally exhausted and spent a whole day laying in bed watching videos and sitcoms dubbed in Italian. That was the summer that India.Arie's Video and the Gorillaz' first song both came out, and I was surprised that they were out in the US, too.

Anyway, so that was my normal routine. I never bothered going out at night, since on my own it was just weird and awkward. Plus, I was always really tired and couldn't even fathom staying out more. Also, I'm not much into the nightlife or clubbing scenes; I travel to see stuff in daylight, not drink beer in dark foreign bars.

On several occasions, however, I have made hostel friends and gone out with them. Always have a fantastic time, too. In Rome, some Aussie guys and I went to an Australian bar somewhere behind the Trevi fountain. In Florence, two hilarious British guys, two young American girls, and a wet Canadian guy (see if you can spot him below!) (the picture is actually at the hostel, where we returned after the bar) and I went to an Irish bar. In Paris, with a bunch of underage Aussie just-graduated high-schoolers, I went to a pizza restaurant in the Latin Quarter.

So this trip, I was even more lazy than on previous excursions. Two mornings I didn't leave the hostel until noon or later. I spent hours in the evening just sitting on my bed in my empty room (five beds, but it was all mine until Thursday; talk about off-season!), and reading books.

I went to supermarkets and bought goodies to keep me going throughout the day. Yes, that's an apple! I know, I was shocked too. Here's the more shocking thing: I actually ate it for lunch on Thursday! Who knew? Here is one of my new favorite treats from Prague:

Yes, that is a chocolate bar whose squares are filled with banana. Yum! The other thing I tried that I adored were the wafer cookies in the box. They seem dry at first, but they have little nuggets of sweet in them that makes them irresistable. I bought two of each of these and brought them home untouched (which was NOT easy). (Yes, I actually put the candy bar in my scanner for this picture.)

Other than chocolate and bread, I am also a Fanta lover. In Paris, back in 2000, I came to really love the stuff. When I got home to Seattle, I was disappointed but not surprised that it wasn't in stores. When I came to New York, however, they did have it. I was happy.

Last week, when I had my first Fanta of the trip in the Amsterdam airport, I was totally refreshed by the light and sweet drink. I thought, hm, it always tastes better in Europe.

This morning, I had a flash of realization that was proven at the grocery store: the stuff in American stores called Fanta is NOT Fanta! It is plain orange soda!

I hope this doesn't lessen me in your opinion, but this was a big shock to me and it kind of stole some of my precious remaining innocence.

Real Fanta is not bright orange; it's yellow with just a hint of orange. Closer to the color of pineapple soda. Real Fanta is fizzy and light and extremely refreshing. Fake Fanta is too sweet and not even closely as satisfying.

My British friend Jean says the same thing about Cadbury chocolate. In America, it's actually Hershey's chocolate under the Cadbury label, and it's trash compared to the real thing.

Anyway. So when I travel, I am much quieter and more studious, but also quicker to tire. I love learning new things, and finding new sights to see.

I usually get lost at least once a trip. Mostly, figure where I actually am on the map, I'll find the correct street, and then walk down it in the wrong direction. In Prague, I did not get lost once. Nor did I get mugged or pickpocketed or threatened in any way. I try to always pay attention and keep myself in the moment, as Ms Frizzle mentioned. I like to notice words in foreign languages and sound them out to myself quietly. On this trip, I learned "Pristi Zastavka" (sounds like PRISHtee zahSTAVka) means "Next stop." "Kolej" is a train platform.

I love to travel. I love learning about the city I'm seeing, and I love to find out who I am when I'm alone in a foreign place. I feel so free and happy when I travel, a feeling I never ever get any other time. Then I come home, and I tell stories and anecdotes and share pictures, but it's never really enough. I smile and say, "Yes! It was a great trip!" But of course, those platitudes are the understatements of the year. I've never been able to make anyone else understand just what goes on during a solo trip, or even a group trip. On group trips, at least there are other people to understand the inexplicable joy of your experience. On your own, you have to write about it in a journal or nowadays a blog, and try to find and name those unique sensations like true happiness or real irritation at fellow Americans.

Traveling leaves scars. Coming home is like ripping off a not-fully-healed scab. You really just don't want to, and it hurts way down deep. It feels like losing a part of yourself that you found, albeit fairly briefly. Other people see the scar and take it for face value: Oh, you went on a trip. By yourself? Wow. Was it good? I can now hide the eye-rolling that goes along with this silly question, and can even fake a quick and pleasant response (because that's all the person expects and will tolerate and frankly, can understand). But the scar stays with you, a part of you forever, it changes who you are and how you see the world and act within it.

Traveling outside of your own comfort zone (and true travelers will laugh when I say this, since I've only traveled around North America and Europe) makes you a better, bigger person, but most of the time, people can't see that or understand it. Those people are small-minded, who never travel, who insist on having stereotypes and negative ideas about certain types of people. It's sad, truly sad that some people just aren't travelers.

I suppose that leaves more space for the rest of us, though.


Total photos taken in less than four days: 434

Black and whites (most have color counterparts): 94

Pictures on and around Charles Bridge: 31

Pictures of Prague Castle from anywhere else (mostly from Charles Bridge): 33

Pictures taken at Prague Castle: 65

Pictures taken in and around Old Town Square: 59

Pictures of Prague taken from higher viewpoints (like the castle and Petrin Hill): 25

Pictures of random streets and houses, just because they're so pretty: 33

Friday, February 24, 2006

I'm Back!

Sad to leave Prague, especially since it was actually clear and sunny for the first time all week.

I wonder where my next trip will be? Any suggestions?

As I write this, pictures are uploading to the computer. Get ready!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I hate this part

It is my last night in Prague. I am disappointed and sad.

Today was my busiest day. I got up and out of the hostel by 9.30 and got back around 8.30. I did some sightseeing and souvenir shopping, another walking tour, and of course lots of picture taking. Even more so than I might have otherwise, because until mid-afternoon, it was snowing!

I was excited. It was so pretty.

I really wish I'd had that fourth day! I could have gotten to a museum, and/or gone on a daytrip. There are lots of castle towns nearby, as well as a concentration camp.

I plan on being back in Prague someday to see all those things. I'm thinking I'll pair it with a trip to Vienna.

PS--for anyone who is traveling to the Czech Republic, and I do recommend it, go in the peak season! The higher prices and bigger crowds will be worth it when you have everything open, and some blue skies. I can't wait to see a late-spring Prague.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Full recovery!

Guess what!

After sleeping for nearly 13 hours, I awoke and the hostel ladies presented me with my suitcase! It had arrived during the night. I was completely shocked and utterly relieved.

Thanks for your good thoughts! :)

Today was a mild touristy day, but tomorrow will be more eventful I think. Good times, though chilly ones.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Praha, baby!

Yes, I am actually here in Prague. I made it!

It was no easy task, let me tell you. In fact, I'm not sure the nightmare is over. Here's a super quick rundown.

On Sunday, I stood at the check-in desk for more than an hour. Even though I had a "seat" on the direct Prague flight, it was issued by Delta and my original ticket was by Northwest.

Eventually the surly agent handed me a ticket for a Delta flight going through Amsterdam to Prague. Then told me to go across the street to check in.

Across the street, there was a line to get in the check in line. The inside check-in line was quite long. Midway through the line, I looked at the itinerary the agent had just given me.

Are you ready?

It said MONDAY THE 20TH leaving and arriving TUESDAY.

I about lost it. I broke down in tears once again, in line, in public. No shame at all.

I finally got the front of the line and said there's a huge mistake. That guy took me to another guy, who with yet a third guy's input, actually put me on a flight, with a boarding pass and everything. Going to Amsterdam and then Prague.

(Remember, that was my ORIGINALLY-BOOKED flightpath except on Northwest/KLM flights. Whatever.)

Arrived in Amsterdam no problem. Made the connection to Prague, no problem.

Ready for this?

My suitcase, which wasn't taken off the first Saturday Delta/Air France flight to Paris, never made it to Prague. It's probably in Paris.

See what I'm dealing with here?

Actually, I'm pretty calm about this huge problem. The only thing I don't have are clothes and toiletries. I'm cool with wearing the same outfit every day, but man, I am not about to go for days without brushing my teeth or washing my face or putting on deodorant.

The lady at the baggage office said it might get here tomorrow. But honestly, I doubt it. There's airline differences and I don't think anyone gets just how complicated this stupid thing has been. My only hope is that they ship it back to New York so I don't actually lose it all forever.

This afternoon, I went to the Old Town of Prague. It is completely lovely and delightful! I have taken over 100 pictures just today. Sweet!

I also found a Tesco (thank you!) to stock up on toiletries. So now I am feeling fresh once again, just in time to crash with jetlag.

Thanks for your ideas and suggestions and well-wishes!

More later!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Guarantee? I think not." A customer service story

Dear Travelocity,

I booked this flight four months ago, in November 2005. I was taking Northwest from New York to Prague, via Amsterdam. All was fine.

Last week, three days before my departure, I received an email saying I was now traveling to Bucharest, Romania, but returning as originally scheduled, Prague to New York via Amsterdam.

That day I called Travelocity and spent more than half an hour on hold making sure that I would actually get to Prague. I was given a new flight number--with two different airlines, Delta and Czech Airlines--and I requested an email confirmation. I was irritated at the time and energy it took just to make sure I would actually arrive at the destination that I booked FOUR months previously.

By Friday (the day before my departure), I still had not received any confirmation of the change. So I checked Travelocity's online reservation, and it still said Bucharest. Now panicked as well as irritated, I called Travelocity again, and had to spend another half an hour trying to make sure I would still arrive in Prague and not Bucharest. Only when I asked did I receive a confirmation number through Northwest, even though my departing flights were with different airlines. I was able to access that information and print my corrected itinerary on nwa.com.

On Saturday, I arrived at JFK and first went to the Northwest counter. After conferencing with a supervisor, the ticket agent confirmed that I was indeed going to Prague, on Delta. He told me to go check in at Delta.

Once I got to the ticket desk at Delta, it took about fifteen minutes and five agents to make sure I was headed to the correct destination, Prague, and not Bucharest, since part of the reservation still said Bucharest.

At the Delta gate, due to a very overbooked flight, I was bumped off the flight and rebooked for the next DAY, on a direct flight with Czech Airlines. Delta gave me a new ticket and a voucher and arranged for a car to get me home.

Now I will not arrive in Prague until Monday morning, instead of the Sunday morning, as I booked it four months ago.

To attempt to get back some of that time I will be cheated out of, I called Northwest to see if they could change my returning flight to a later time or day. Their flights were full, and the representative told me to call Travelocity to see if they could do anything to rectify this upsetting situation. I asked the Northwest rep to check on my originally-scheduled flights (New York-Amsterdam-Prague) and she said they left just fine and on time.

Thus, there is NO reason for all of this hassle. I should never have been removed from my original booked flight, not to mention rerouted to a completely different country.

This morning, Sunday, once again I called Travelocity. This time I spent forty-five minutes on the phone, explaining the domino effect that Travelocity has had in drastically changing my trip experience before I have even left the country.

I patiently and calmly explained the whole story, and asked for some help in getting some kind of assistance regaining my lost time and effort. The rep, Jason, said he could not do anything to help me. When I asked to speak with a supervisor, after a lengthy wait on hold, he said they were all busy and could not speak with me.

Then he said that it was not Travelocity's fault. I restated that I never should have been taken off of my original booking, and I certainly should never have been told I was going to a different country altogether! He insisted it was the airline's fault, and I reminded him that Northwest said their flights left as scheduled.

Once again, he claimed it was not Travelocity's fault and he could not and should not do anything to help me get a later flight back from Prague.

The Travelocity Guarantee states that you will work with your customers to make sure that everything about the booking is right. Well, my booking has been very wrong indeed. I am very upset about this entire experience, and that no one in the customer call center has been able to help me. Your claim of "expert customer support" is just plain not true.

After this horrible experience, I will certainly never patronize Travelocity again. I will also let my friends and family know that the Travelocity Guarantee is merely an advertising gimmick to make the customers think positively about the service. I am disappointed and upset about all the time and effort and money that I have lost, and I haven't even left the country yet.

If you have any questions about my experience, or if there is anything you can do to make my experience better, please feel free to contact me by email. Thank you for your time.


When I clicked "Send Message", I got a pop-up saying that all messages must be under 1000 characters. Of course.

Friends, you probably already knew this. But I must say it again. PLEASE, for your own sanity and trip enjoyment, do NOT ever use Travelocity to book any flights.

Dealing with the stuff at the airport, waiting in long lines, getting searched in Security, even being bumped off the flight, I took it all in stride, very calmly. It didn't bother me, except for the lost day in Prague.

But the longer I spent here at my own apartment, when I should have been flying to and then arriving in Prague, the more I am upset at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. It just plain should never have happened.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Happy Vacation!

To Ms Frizzle, Mr E, and anyone else who might be traveling, be safe and have a wonderful time! Can't wait to see the pics.

For all my other blogfriends and/or fellow teachers, I hope this week proves restful and relaxing.

I plan on finding internet cafes, so I hope to update during the next week. Be on the lookout for Posts From Prague! :)

Holy crap! It's today already!

This week, which I was afraid would drag, since vacation sparkled like a magical oasis at the end, actually rushed by so quickly that I feel totally baffled.

Yesterday was Friday. It was the first day of a week's vacation!

I had to call Travelocity again last night, as my new flights were still not reflected on the site. I got real confirmation this time, and printed out my correct itinerary from Northwest.

Also, about 8.00, I finally began packing. Less than 24 hours is a standard amount of time to pack, right? I got a lot of stuff done, though. I will take a final look this afternoon before I leave.

In four hours, I will be at the airport, checking in for my wintertime European adventure!

My head hurts from staying up far too late watching a movie. I took some ibuprofen and hope it goes away in time to chill on the plane.

I am now headed to the bookstore. I received a gift card as a Christmas gift and haven't had a chance to use it. Now is the perfect time to get a few books! Hurrah!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dude! Not cool!

An email in my inbox proclaimed:
"Important! Your Otopeni Bucharest, Romania trip booked on Travelocity has been changed"


My first thought: Holy shit!!

My second thought: is this fraud or did I have a blackout? Why the hell do they think I'm going to Romania?

When I opened the email and looked, it said the airline changed its flight schedule. Well, I should say so. They had me booked on a completely *different* airline, going from New York to Paris to Bucharest. BUT I was still booked on the same return flight, from Prague to Amsterdam to New York. Who knows how they thought I'd get between the two, or even if they noticed or cared.

Obviously, I got on the phone pronto and told the guy, "I think something's wrong because you're trying to send me to a completely different country." He was surprised too!

After a lengthy wait on hold while he called the airline, he said he got me booked now on Delta, going to Paris, then on Czech Airlines to Prague. My new arrival is only an hour later than my original booking.

I asked for a new email confirmation of this, he said he would have it sent. Let's hope to god it works. I'm showing up at JFK on Saturday afternoon, no matter what. My ass is GOING to Prague.


Oh, and I'm still sick. Did not sleep at all last night. Today the decongestant worked very well, but I had a couple dry coughs during the conferences. As I began to suspect last night, I think it will move to my chest soon.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because last year I got sick at least every month. This year, I think this is my second time sick. And it's been at least three months. So I'm healthier! Also good, because it appears to be moving on through at a faster rate than before (always the same thing happens: head cold, then a chest cold, with nasty-ass coughing and hacking). So we can cross our fingers that by Saturday, it will be nearing the tail end of things.

Obviously, it's bad because hello, sick. Also, teacher. Not to mention, more conferences and a late night.

It's Wednesday, I think. That means I leave in three days!

I visited my recovering friend this afternoon. I brought her DVDs to watch that she's (criminally) never seen: Chicago, Amelie, and Pirates of the Caribbean. As I was leaving, she agreed to take me to the airport (yay! thank you!) and asked if I was packed. After a moment of shock--because SHIT, I haven't even THOUGHT ABOUT IT YET--I shrugged dismissively. "Nah, I got time." Saturday is approaching very quickly and I better work on that!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Boo. Sick.


I noticed it on Sunday: the sore throat and the increase in congestion.

Monday confirmed it. Very sore throat.

Monday night involved nearly as much nose-blowing as it did sleeping.

Today, Tuesday, was absolutely no fun at all. I took some Sudafed in the morning, thus avoiding too many noseblows. My head felt funny all day, and by halfway through 8th period, I lost all my energy. I felt woozy and weak and had to sit down and talk in quiet tones. (Not easy for Teacher Me.)

Of course, there was still tutoring after that! Boy, that made me feel better. Like I could feel anything other than blurgh, blah, wah. Math was even less easy to deal with in that state. The kids didn't understand brackets. Brackets! I looked at them dumbly, offered an explanation that did not clear things at all. I shrugged helplessly and another student offered their own interpretation, and they had to deal with that.

Naturally, I also had class tonight. I can't really miss the tech class, because the teacher goes over programs and assignments and you can't really make that up. Plus then I had an appointment for the thesis, an hour and a half after the end of the first class. Ugh!

I quickly got through the computer stuff. I also took advantage of the printer to run off some articles that I found last week about my proposed topic (vocabulary development). Then I went to the library and fully intended on taking a nap at one of the hard-chaired tables. I surprised myself by reading and note-taking on those articles. Who knew?

The prof was running late with the appointments; I got in there at about 8.50. Excellent end--or not end--of this sick day!

The sinus headache has now asserted itself. My appetite is nil. My nose is chapped and tender to the touch. My throat is still very sore. In short, I am neither a happy nor a healthy camper at the moment.

Conferences are tomorrow and Thursday. I leave for Prague on Saturday. Not much time for rest and recuperation.

Boo. Sick.

Oh, and it's Valentine's Day. Shut up, Saint Valentine.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Great Ideas and Preparation!

I so love this idea that I have created my own reflection sheet. I'm not sure about a script; I think I'll just have the kids show the sheet to their parent. The kids and their parents can look at that and figure out any questions or problems, and we'll go from there.

I'm really excited about this as a learning tool for the students and for me. Cool!
Here's what I've got so far.

--Grade yourself according to the following statements
--1 (way below standard) to a 4 (above standard)
--write about why you gave yourself that grade.

Academics: Homework
--I do my homework every day.

--When doing homework, I make sure to follow the instructions and fully complete the assignment.

--I do my best on homework, all the time.

--I pay attention to and do my best on spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other mechanics.

Academics: Tests and Projects
--I study notes for tests.

--My test scores reflect my knowledge and work in ELA.

--I do my best on tests, all the time.

--I complete projects (pieces and final drafts) on time and completely.

--I make sure to follow all instructions on projects, and do my best, all the time.

Classwork and Participation:
--I come prepared for class every day (both notebooks, pens and pencils, and a ready-to-learn attitude).

--I focus on staying on task during class, all the time.

--I treat my peers and my teachers with respect, to make the class a healthy learning community.

--I often participate in class discussions or questionings. I make sure my voice is heard in small-group discussions or work.

In General:
--I feel like I do my best in ELA.

--I feel like I have learned a lot in ELA so far this year.

--Based on this reflection, what kind of grade do you think you earned for last quarter?

--What changes can you make to help yourself earn a better grade for this quarter?

--What things would you like to do during the rest of this year?

Blizzards are cool!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Whooo are Yooooo?

In the class the other week, after we made that stupid collage, we were to pick up a worksheet and fill it out. It was entitled "Thoughts and Feelings About Teaching."

"Number 1: Describe who you are as a person and as a professional."

I physically recoiled at the magnitude of the question being in that kind of context situation. Who am I? On a silly worksheet in a class about writing a teaching thesis? In less than two inches of handwriting? When entire volumes of printed word have been produced as an answer to this existential question?


Rolling my eyes, I did my best to focus and actually do the assignment, since bitching and moaning (aha! something to put on this sheet!) wouldn't help me complete it.

Here's what I ended up writing:
--out of classroom:
easy-going; laugh a lot; music on always; books close by; sometimes lazy

--in the classroom:
stern, high expectations; dry and sarcastic jokes; piles of papers and books; music on or nearby; loud

Like any good narcissist, I found this very interesting. It was not a revelation that my personality is different depending on my surroundings, but to lay it out in simple terms was fascinating.

I finally remembered to bring this up because this morning, instead of tutoring, due to the lack of students who showed up, several teachers and I helped hand out report cards.

In doing so, I adopted what I suppose I can call my "retail personality," in which I am very smily, very sweet, and very accommodating in helping people find their way. If a parent were to see me in my classroom after that, I imagine they would not take me seriously.

It wasn't too big a deal; I saw a couple of my students, and I smiled at them. That almost never happens during class, and only rarely during other times of the day (like passing or lunch or whatever).

It's just so weird. I totally have multiple personalities. I have successfully, as advised last year, "found my inner bitch."

What this means to me is that I can be very stern and loud and strict. It's totally NOT who I am. It still makes me laugh sometimes, that I can be that way. No one that I know in my "real life" or pre-teaching life would recognize me in the classroom. I think it's kind of cool. Certainly it reminds me that a huge part of teaching is indeed acting. Once I figured out how to act the part, then the students accept me in that role, and we can all proceed.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I laugh in class. It feels strange and inappropriate, since it happens so rarely. Sometimes a thought flits through my head: "What is this? Laughing? Smiling around students? Huh?"


My consolation is that the important things do continue, wherever I am. I love books, and that comes through in both teaching and civilian life. I am a music junkie, and my students will attest to that. [Even if they do think that Norah Jones is "country." (Gah! These kids have no taste!)] I play Enya, or Norah, or classical, even David Gray, while they are entering the room, and/or while they are reading. I haven't gotten complaints, and it makes me feel like the room is that much cozier. Who knows, though.

This all brings me to a related thought: Am I a good teacher? What have I actually taught my students? Do I keep too much control of the room, so that they don't have the freedom to learn and explore? Am I doing anything useful at all?

I breathed easy knowing I'm not a bad teacher, but am I just mediocre? One of my friends at school is an outstanding educator, and I've never even seen her teach. She's always doing interesting projects, and she has been able to control her classes since day one, and she does extra stuff with them too, like book clubs and one-on-one tutoring. She's really down to earth and just a fantastic teacher.

I hate to say it, but I get jealous of the people that I admire. How juvenile is that? I hear them talk about what they do, and it feels like I can't even compare myself to them, and I feel bad, and then turn it into jealousy, even if I don't show it or act it. I just feel inadequate.

There are lots of ways that I try to justify what I do or don't do. We had to teach out of a test book. We don't have that much time.

I do try, especially now that the test is over. I showed them how to write resumes, and I tried to help them take notes from research into graphic organizers, both to promote comprehension and sequence, but also to prevent that gosh-durned plagiarism. I allowed them to choose their own favorite author to complete this project. This week I decided to focus on words, so I gave them time to study vocabulary in class, and after reviewing parts of speech, they got to create their own MadLibs from their l!t c!rcle books. They seemed very excited about that.

But I feel like we don't do anything, you know? There are so many requirements and distractions and so little time and my brain isn't always fully in it. And I talk an awful lot, because again I'm a self-important narcissist and I always like to be in control. But I'm working on it. Back to the point: it feels to me like there's not much for the kids to really make connections with, take ownership of and develop a love of the subject. Though it's not much of a subject when we teach it this way (which can't be helped due to the city's administrative demands). It's like all of us, teacher and students alike, are just walking through the paces.


I want to, and do, take pride in doing my job well. And I know that I am not a bad teacher. But would I ever be considered for an outstanding teaching award? Don't think so. That makes me sad. And selfish.


Clarification: We *do* have the minutes after school. What I meant is that the homeroom class comes back at the end of the day. The mandated students stay there and I teach (sorry, tutor) there, along with another teacher and her ten students. And hoo boy, am I indeed fried by the end of it. My brain just does not work or process anything.

I like the idea of keeping the skill books in my room....I'm just afraid of making more piles. The piles--of books, papers, folders, resources, homework, blah blah--are aggressive little buggers, taking over my desk, the radiator, the shelves, and my own storage locker. Piles, piles everywhere! Can't make them stop!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Blah, blah, minutes

At my school, the situation is ridiculous.

We "voted" to have the time after school instead of before.

What this means logistically: our homeroom classes (which, by the way, everyone refuses to actually call a homeroom for some idiotic political reason) are now dismissed en masse by a handful of teachers. One teacher takes down five or six classes. The mandated students stay in the homeroom classroom for a few minutes. Then, they report to their tutoring classroom (since they aren't necessarily the same).

For teachers with both a homeroom class and a tutoring group, this means that we cannot leave our room. Not even to the bathroom.

On Wednesdays, I teach the last three periods in a row. This tutoring nonsense so far means that chronologically, I teach four periods in a row. I am doing instruction for the near-equivalent of four periods. I cannot leave my room between 12.38 and 2.57.

This should be illegal. Know why it's not?

The union, god bless their ignorance, still insists that this "small-group tutoring" is not instruction.

This was a big issue around the NYC teacher blogs, but around my school, no one seemed to notice all the bad things that were on the table with this contract. They only saw the money, not the givebacks (we should call them whiplashes instead of givebacks, don't you think?). I know the city wants to pretend it's not actually teaching, but teachers should know better.

Silly me: I figured that the union for teachers would know better as well.

If you don't think I'm actually "instructing," just keep reading.

Instead of getting to do individualized tutoring, or clubs, or anything remotely fun and/or useful, ALL the 1s and 2s in my school (remember, this is only according to last spring's city test, which is now obsolete) are mandated to stay for tutoring, and everyone gets math until the exam.

I have ten students. Well, one I've never met. Of the nine that have shown up this week, two of them are 3s in math (obviously not in ELA). Do they get excused from the math "tutoring"? Do they get help in what they need help in? Nope.

Our math department put together a schedule of things to cover. This is based on using pages in a skills book that the school ordered. The math teachers recently gave them out to the students who got 1s and 2s on last year's test.

Along with the student who lost his book already, I therefore have THREE of nine students who do not have a book.

Oh, the stupidity does not end there.

We do not have copies of the book. Not the student version, not the teacher version.

Let me repeat that.

I am supposed to tutor low-level math students in math. Without any kind of resource. Not having done this kind of thing since perhaps 1994. Each day, I borrow one of the student's books, open it to the specified page, and cross my fingers that I understand what's on it.

Does this entire thing sound ridiculous yet?

So far, I'm relieved that many things are not too unfamiliar. (Other than the idea of sixth-graders having to deal with geometry and algebra; they can hardly spell their names and were never made to even memorize the times tables!) I never had trouble doing math, I just never liked it or got super-great at it. In middle school I got A's, and in high school I got B's. Though again, we only had one topic at a time. And algebra came after all kinds of other math, and geometry the next year after that, and so on.

Yesterday, the pages had to deal with fractions. (Oh right: the schedule, as far as I know, does not necessarily follow regular math instructional curriculum. So it's random, and different every day [just like their regular math curriculum, in that sense].) I quickly remembered--on the spot--at least I'm not a total dummy--how to find the common denominator in order to add and subtract fractions. When it came to the problems featuring multiplication and division of fractions, however, I had to confirm my slightly-fuzzy skill-memory with the students.

Ahem. Ridiculous? I think so.

I know it's pointless to complain and whine, because nothing is going to change. But holy crap, I just wish that:
A) our school's administration of the time MADE SENSE
B) the students would benefit as individuals, according to their needs and not the state exam schedule
C) the non-math teachers would have some fucking resources and options
D) we got to do some fun and enriching activities instead of skill-drudgery (when am I going to fit in P#nny H*rvest meetings?!)
E) instead of piling it up after school, we could really use the extra minutes spread to each class period
F) we could still have professional development (I'm very much in favor of colleagues getting to work together...our department has not actually experienced that, but that doesn't mean I want to get rid of the entire thing)

and most of all,
G) that this whole thing was just a bad dream and no one had to deal with this nonsense.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Think Happy Thoughts

This weekend, my mom, who is in the best shape of any person I know of any age, messed up her left knee while ski-instructing.

She's had x-rays and an MRI, but they haven't been able to analyze everything yet. They gave her crutches, and she borrowed a cane from someone. And she's flying to Miami tonight, for a conference. Thinking about NOT taking the crutches or cane! I scolded her, and told her to baby herself so it doesn't come back to haunt her later.

It breaks my heart to think of her bruised and even a little broken. She's so active--tap dance, skiing, yoga, step, you name it. She's my mom and she's supposed to be invincible.

I went through the same thing when my dad finally had his knee surgery (college football injury), when I was in college. I visited him in the hospital (he was at the one at my school), and it was awful to see him looking all sad and hurt. A few months ago, he had surgery on his other knee, or his foot? (he had a broken toe for thirty years!), and my stepmom told me about his medicine-drugged wanderings of the house and telephone talks.

I don't like worrying about parents; I used to scare myself and cry, thinking about that when I was young. It's too, too sad and I can't take it. I'm tearing up right now. Stop that!

With that, my good friend N is having a surgery tomorrow morning. I'm visiting her after school with her bag and a DVD and flowers, and maybe Mr Cute Teacher.

Again, think happy thoughts for all of my loved ones. Thanks. :D

I Heart the Flash Drive!

How have I lived without one before this?
Late last week, I gave my email address and screenname to my students, so that they could keep in touch with me. Also, this was a crafty way to prevent the routine printer excuses. Somehow, whenever a big typed project is due, half of the students' printers don't work or are out of ink. Yeah, I don't think so. Thus I told them: no excuses, just email it to me and I will print it for you. Ta-da!

Three students actually did that. No students tried to tell me about broken printers. Hurrah!

A few of my students immediately began IMing me, just saying hi or asking what the homework was. It's really cute and kinda fun. Not sure yet if it will lead to a better rapport with them, but we'll see.

On Sunday afternoon, I drove to Brooklyn (see post below with CHOCOLATE!) for a game of ultimate frisbee with a new friend. It was great! I got to dress in my workout clothes (old yoga pants and two AmeriCorps-era t-shirts) and then go run around after a frisbee. It was a relief to find out that even though it had been at least a year if not two, my skills were not too rusty. I was never great at throwing or catching, but I've always been decent. For this game, I successfully caught two goals!

Sadly, even during the game I could feel my out-of-shapeness haunting me. My foot was tight, twinging with plantar fascittis. I was out of breath. My legs were a bit shaky.

I so enjoyed playing a game, meeting a few friendly people, AND feeling like a hip New Yorker.

On Monday, sad to say, my entire body was sore: legs, arms and even my entire midsection. Must have been a fantastic workout...and I must be fantastically out of shape at this point!

Now, on to politics and current events:
--I got a forwarded email from my old teamleader (which looks to be from the CEO of NCNS), which has a message about how the new proposed budget will work for the Corporation for National and Community Service. The request is only enough to cover the CLOSING OF ALL NCCC CAMPUSES. I can't tell you how shocked and utterly heartbroken I was/am about this, and I know that others must be too. I can only hope that in Congress, someone lobbies to keep more AmeriCorps positions!

I don't even want to think about this country without NCCC. I just looked at the site, and a full thirty percent of this year's resources are focused on hurricane relief projects. See? It's an incredible program that gives back to the entire American community.

Gotta go to my next class. Much more later about this and the after school 37.5 fiasco mess.

The after school 37 minutes is a complete mess at my school.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fourteen dollars' worth of gourmet Park Slope Chocolate

From the Cocoa Bar.
God, they're gorgeous, aren't they? I haven't brought myself to eat any (obviously), despite the steep prices.
To make myself feel better, I donated the same amount to a great cause. You can too!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Guess it's been awhile

Hi there, again. :)

First, I wanted to share some music that has totally made my week: Susie Suh. Her voice sounds like a blend of my girl Haley Bonar, Joni Mitchell, and Fiona Apple. Go check her out!

Next, we had a teacher-blogger event on Friday, in Brooklyn. It was a lot of fun. Saw some old teacher friends, and met a few new ones. Sadly, a few did not show up. What happened to you guys? Hope to come to the next one! We hung out at the bar for a couple hours, and then went next door to the tiny but excellent Mexican restaurant. We did a good job of not only talking about teaching, I think. There was some good travel talk (yay for fellow solo travelers!), and some culture/television stuff, as well as the standard contract/city education politics hot topics. Very good times!

On Saturday, we didn't have school--hurrah!! I got to sleep in, watch tv, take naps, read, and do nothing. Do you watch Globe Trekker? I don't catch it very often, but I love it. Last weekend, the American girl (there's also a British guy and a British girl) was in Sydney. She went to a music show at the Opera House, and it was this weird interactive thing with strange instruments and stranger people playing them. She whispered, "It's not what you'd call...pleasant music. It's kind of annoying, actually. But maybe it's supposed to be!" That cracked me up. Yesterday, the British guy was going around Polynesia, including Tahiti and Bora Bora and a few other islands that I can't remember. Among other things, he got a traditional tattoo, helped harvest black pearls, and fed manta rays in clear turquoise water. God, it was gorgeous!

In the evening, my friend N and I went to her cousin's house for a girl's night hangout. We ate some, talked about careers and weddings, and played games. We hooked more folks on Taboo, and then we played some Cranium. After the excitement of Taboo, though, Cranium was all quiet and they didn't like it very much. Sad! But it was a lot of fun, and it's always nice to meet new people. One girl, the one who's getting married next month, is thinking about leaving her current job and going back to school for teaching. So my friend and I told her about it. I am bad about that; I tend to dramatize the negative aspects of the things I've done and I fear that I discourage interest in it.

Teaching, though...whew, there's a lot of things about the reality that most people don't know. So it's kind of a favor to prospective teachers to tell them, Don't have any romantic ideals about teaching. It's really busy and very stressful.

I still haven't decided if I "like" teaching. Is that strange? Even last year, I couldn't say that I hated it OR liked it. And last year was an awful year. This year is a billion times better, but I can't bring myself to proclaim, I love my job! I know that I don't hate it. I'm just kind of ambivalent about it. It's what I do. I pride myself on doing a good job, or trying my best, or pushing through the bad times. That seems a little more important, doesn't it?

It's already Sunday morning.

Less than two weeks until Prague!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What day is this again?

I'm all confused-like. My classes for this semester started yesterday. I've had Wednesday classes for like four semesters in a row, so I always think it's Thursday after class. Alas, I *think* it's only Wednesday now.

The first class is a tech course. It sounds not too bad in terms of difficulty, if a little pointless in my situation (no computers in the classroom!). However, who knows the future.

The second course is research/thesis. You know what we spent the first (more than an) hour doing? Making a collage. Yes, we are grown, educated master's degree students. Doing a fucking COLLAGE. And you know why? Why we spent an hour with scissors, magazines, glue and construction paper? For a stupid METAPHOR about research and objectivity.

Are you freaking kidding me with this?

Once that ridiculous activity was over, it was 8.30. Class technically goes until 9.30. Naturally, we all pray that those professors don't keep us that long. Some of my classmates have more than an hour commute! Anyway, from 8.30 to 9.30, this professor went over the syllabus. WENT OVER THE SYLLABUS. For an HOUR.


The only good thing of the night: I discovered a straight-shot shortcut to school. It took literally three minutes to drive home, including two red lights. Sweet! I can walk to class in the summer.


Today for Class 2 I got to repeat a great, effective, but easy lesson that I did with 1 and 3 yesterday.

It was the first model lesson for the l!t c!rcle r0les, the D!scussion D!rector.

First, I quickly explained: they write thoughtful questions, and then ask them of the group, and make sure that everyone participates and contributes.

Then, I modeled by reading the first page of L!ddie, and creating four good questions.

Next (although I didn't do this with 1 yesterday), I did a fishbowl, showing asking questions and making sure everyone responds.

Finally it was time for the students to read and practice the r0le. They all wrote questions. When the reading was done, it was their first group d!scussion. They were to rotate the asking and r0le-playing.

They did SO WELL. They all participated; some tables had very animated talk going on, fighting to talk over each other. I heard some great accountable talk: going back to the book to 'prove', asking clarifying questions, all that good stuff. I was totally thrilled!

I had to stop the talking, and we shared as a class how it went, what was good, or easy, or tough. Then, to wrap up and summarize, they wrote a definition of the role in their own words, and we shared a few.

It was way more than one class period, but it felt like a perfect lesson. Hurrah!