Thursday, April 27, 2006


WHY is it only the end of April? HOW in the world is it already the end of April? Why can't the year end now, when I still love my kids? Why can't the weather get just a teensy bit warmer and then stay like that for the next four months instead of getting sticky and humid?

Why, why, why?

Things have been fairly busy and stressful around here lately; I have too many important things on my plate. (Just for the record, teaching is not one of those things.)

I told myself that I am moving this weekend. I want to get out of this place as soon as possible, my keys arrived late last week, I got the electric bill in my name and got an appointment for tv and internet. Oh, and I even officially put in my change-of-address online (you can do that now! cool!).

I was hoping to find boxes, just laying around or something. My stupid roommate wouldn't let me keep/store the boxes I used to move here, so I am starting completely from scratch. But after a day of even pretending to hope for boxes at school, I caved and bought a box kit online. It was $45 with one-day shipping, and with what should be plenty of boxes for all my shit. The December move was further lengthened by the fact that I used any box I could find, and a lot of them were little ones. So I'm hoping that by using bigger and uniform boxes, it will be easier and faster and smoother. Let's hope so.

I hate moving. Duh. We all do, I know. It just sucks. I don't want to pay for some guys to haul the things, though I wish I could. I don't really have enough stuff for that. I also don't want to load and unload my not-big car four times, struggling with stairs and uneven boxes. So far I have two people who have offered to help, which is fantastic and I love them.

So now I'm trying to figure out the logistics of all this, because I'll need to hire some kind of vehicle. I just now made a reservation for U-Haul, and I found a bed on craigslist but it's in Brooklyn fifteen miles away. I will have the van from 1pm to 7pm. I think that should be enough to get to Brooklyn, put in the bed, get back to my place, load it up, and unload at the new place. But damn, what a crazy day.

I will still need all the other furniture: tables, rugs, bookshelves, more kitchen stuff. My concern isn't getting or finding all those things, whether I get them new or used, it's the transportation. Argh! So stressful!

The other very stressful thing going on is my thesis. I did not do the literature review when we were supposed to. It took me the whole time just to do the 20-page annotated bibliography. So now I'm having to go back and work on the lit review just to catch up, plus keep up work on the methods/results section. I've got all my data, and at least twenty charts, and the first shortish draft of the write up. The slow-but-sure thing is working fairly well; I just need to push myself to work on it more often.

Did I mention packing? Yikes. I've done three boxes--two of books and one of clothes. The rest I need to do tonight.

In terms of teaching, for which I haven't been planning or grading at all, this has been a fun and pretty easy week of poetry. Today I took them outside to the tiny front yard of the school to observe and be inspired to write poems. I wrote some myself too. But before we did that, I 'primed' their other senses by playing classical music. They listened closely and reported what they saw in their minds as the music played. Shockingly enough, they enjoyed it.

I suppose more poetry next week, but like I said, that is nowhere near the top of my agenda. If it's on there at all. Too much other shit happening.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

NOLA Work: What I Did (A Long But Worthwhile Post)

My first day of work was last Friday. I went out with a gut crew to a 'new' house; it had not been visited yet. In fact, it had not been touched since the flood.

The furniture was strewn all over. Personal effects--letters, medicine, toys, photos--were tossed around on the floor. It reminded me that though it must have been extremely tough to leave all your worldly possessions behind, it's more important to make sure everyone survives.

Clothes and bedding littered and clogged the bedroom floors. Everything was piled haphazardly on everything else by the ruthless waters.

The water lines were clear. Mold and mildew stained not only the walls and items below the water lines, but continued creeping up, all the way to the ceiling. It was especially noticable when we got down to the sheetrock.

It took all morning to empty the house. It was hot and humid, and we had to wear long pants, gloves and respirator masks. It was hot and sweaty in the mask, and it also felt like you weren't getting a full breath, since the air was only coming in the pink filters.

I was already exhausted by lunchtime. After lunch we had to clear out the work shed, which was crammed with ruined tools and books, dishes and other stored items. Many of them still held the fetid water from last summer.

Then the real work began: the gutting. First we had to tear down the wood paneling, which of course had to be preceded by removing the molding at the tops and bottoms of the walls. Then we took crowbars and hammers to the paneling and tore it down in big sheets. Very satisfying. Finally, when all the fake wall was gone, it was time to get rid of the moldy sheetrock.

By this time, I'd already had to take at least one break. Working in the heat like that had really done a number on me. Perhaps it was a migraine, or a touch of heat stroke, or pure wimpiness. But my head throbbed, my stomach was queasy, my eyeballs ached, I felt lightheaded. Oh, it was awful.

For nearly an hour, I quietly and methodically hammered down sheetrock. It was immensely satisfying. It was disgusting, seeing the damage the floodwaters had done to materials all the way to the ceiling. The ceiling itself had fallen in many places, actually. As you can see, the air was thick with dust and particles. We were grateful for the nasty masks.

All the furniture, personal items, walls, sheetrock, insulation, and everything else went out the doors and windows, piled up on the curb outside the house. The pile grew in length and height throughout the day.

The family who owned the house was there the whole day, helping out and chatting with us. They had owned the house for thirty-seven years and raised five kids. They were in their seventies and just the sweetest southern old folks you could ever meet.

I took several more breaks throughout the afternoon, doing my best to head back to work once I felt marginally human again each time. I didn't have the energy to talk, or bend or move much, but I did what I could. I helped clean up and soon enough our day was over. We were all exhausted, dirty, sweaty, and smelly. I'd begun the day with all new work clothes, but by the end, oh man was it all broken in, but good. My lovely new gloves dyed my hands yellow/orange. And that is a very dirty arm (I am very pale under there).

As soon as we got back to base camp, out of the heat and out of the work clothes, I immediately began to feel better. The headache didn't really go away, but it did lessen after I took some pain relievers.

This was all just my first day working.

Day Two, Saturday, was finishing up gutting a house, and it was just a morning with a small group of us. I spent most of the time perched on a ladder, removing nails from the ceiling with a hammer. It was a pretty easy half day after the ass-kicking day before.

Sunday was Easter, and it was also the lull between volunteer people, so camp was pretty deserted.

Monday I joined four others in traveling to a Boys and Girls Club, where our task seemed to be fairly easy: getting tile up off of two floors.

However. The tile was some kind of wood laminate that was very well glued down to the floor. We tried using crowbars, sledgehammers, axes, a metal broom thing, but the best way was just to hack at it with hammer prongs. So we sat on the floor for a whole day, banging away at the floor. We all developed blisters and sore hands and wrists. It was slow-going, tedious work, and we were also very, very sweaty and smelly by the end. We didn't even get half of one floor done, but we did pretty well for being such a shitty job.

Day Whatever-is-next was Tuesday, when a group went back to the first house I was at. We had to finish it up: take out the ceilings, take out the bathroom tiles, rip up the flooring. It was a tiring day. I was one of the people who went up to the attic/crawlspace. The ceiling there consisted of wooden planks nailed to the support beams, so I couldn't just stomp them down. I used a hammer to loosen the nails and then hit or kicked them down. I had to be careful, shifting between the support beams a foot and a half apart. But it was fun. I made a big mess, and it was extremely satisfying when a long plank crashed down to the floor. It was not so fun to push down all the crumbly insulation, however.

I made sure to take breaks every hour, but by early afternoon the migraine/heat stroke hit me again. We were all worn out but got the floor in this whole room up. Loud work that was not made easier by my sore hands and blisters from the day before.

I have so much respect and love for the long-term volunteers in the Gulf Coast. People have been there for weeks or months, working their asses off in awful conditions. They are really making a difference. AmeriCorps NCCC teams are all over the place. The team at Hands On New Orleans right now will be switching out with another team in a few weeks. They're the ones that got the operation up and running smoothly. Talk about heroes!

Next post will be about the fun and the sight-seeing. It was not all sadness and hard work. There was plenty of exploration, laughter, comaraderie, and good times.

Friday, April 21, 2006

"The Big Easy"? Thoughts, in no particular order

I have been home for a day and a half now. The situation in New Orleans seems to have a more powerful impact now that I've left. Perhaps that while there, it was so commonplace, and so many people had seen much worse, that I was almost taking it for granted.

Public schools reopened on Tuesday. This week. EIGHT months after the hurricane. Two months ago--six months after the hurricane--most stoplights weren't working and trashed/flooded cars and other debris still littered the streets. Now, most stoplights work and the streets are fairly clear. Plenty of roads were themselves damaged by the waters, and you still saw lots of stranded cars along the sides of streets, but overall things were fairly normalized.

Buildings are still intact in New Orleans; it's not the utter destruction that the Mississippi Coast saw. However, the water lines go forever in some neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods have no water lines at all. The city was built on different heights depending on class. The plantation and slave-owners' houses are built on higher land, and the slave quarters were built on the lower land. Those class distinctions from 150 years have carried over to now, so that the poor were overproportionally affected by the floods. Of course, there were plenty of middle-class homes affected too; they just didn't show that on tv.

At first I thought that things were livening up. You saw cars driving, lights on, people walking--IF you went to Canal Street or the French Quarter. Even so, many shops and other businesses are still closed. I saw more people in one block of Queens yesterday than I did on Wednesday afternoon on the whole of Canal Street, which is a long main thoroughfare running north-south. Cafe du Monde (above) is back serving their famous beignets (squares of fried dough covered in powdered sugar), and Bourbon Street is 'open.' However, I know that they are relatively empty compared to the pre-hurricane economy. Most, not all, bars are open, but most of them also stood empty.

The heat is already oppressive, especially to my sensitive temperate-climate-raised notions. I kept forgetting that it's only mid-April. Also, the hurricane season starts in June. Again.

Hands On has been a huge presence in the Biloxi/Gulfport area since October or November. In general, there are tons of volunteers and groups helping out over there, and not nearly as many in New Orleans. The Hands On chapter only got to New Orleans in February. They're already two months' behind in fulfilling work orders and cannot take anymore. They lead volunteers out to the community and gut damaged houses, at no fee to the homeowner. They also remove and treat for mold.

I worked in one house for several days. The house was raised at least three feet off the ground, and the water line was at least four feet. That means there was at least seven or eight feet of water there. And the damage did not only extend to the things the water touched. Most of the ceiling had fallen down and become part of the floor. The mold grew up the walls to the ceilings.
More on that in another post.

But all that seems almost irrelevant when you consider the Ninth Ward (see next post with pictures). Wards are like neighborhoods or suburbs or something, and the Ninth sits immediately to the east of one of the leveed canals. The gap in the levee was astonishing. I tried to, but could not, imagine what it must have been like when the water breached or broke that levee. A wall of water must have submerged the entire neighborhood within a few minutes. Most of the houses there were not built on real foundations; they were propped up on concrete blocks. When all that water poured in, it just lifted up the houses. Some dropped back down almost on their blocks, sinking in the middle. Other houses were left stranded in streets, or crashed into trees, or crashed into other houses, or just completely demolished into nothing but planks and splinters.

It was unbelievable, surreal, and horrible. Looking at it felt like seeing some kind of natural holocaust, except we know that it's the fault of humans. There were no people there at all. Why would there be? Everything was destroyed, even if the shell of the house was still there. Whole fields and yards lay bare where less than a year ago were residences.

It struck me that some may think taking so many pictures of the destruction is morbid and exploitative. Actually, I believe that it's actually doing something to honor and remember the reality of the situation. A way to remind us of the awful things to help prevent more in the future.

Pictures tell thousands of words: The Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Eight Months Post Katrina

Monday, April 17, 2006

No melancholy here!

I am having a fantastic time here. These people, who work and volunteer here, wow....they do amazing and incredible things, and are so awesomely nice to boot! The group I made friends with (they welcomed me and invited me out with them within an hour of my arrival!) have already sent out emails and pics.

Sunday we had a day off, so two guys and I went out exploring in town in the daylight. The French quarter seems fairly busy with touristy types, and it looks normal. I hear that economy-wise it's still very depressed.

Today is Monday and I went with a team to a Boys and Girls Club they've been working on. Our task was to remove tile from one (possibly two) rooms. The tile was glued down and the only way we could get it up was by bashing it with the prong end of a hammer. It was tedious and difficult labor, but we stuck it out. After lunch we finally got some tunes going and that helped. Someone had a mix cd of mid-90s radio hits, and that was awesome. Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, Verve Pipe, Blind Melon, that kind of thing. We left around 3, exhausted and worn out. I have two blisters, one on my palm and one inexplicably on the outside of my right pinky. My hands and arms still have the shakes and are sore from gripping a hammer and also an axe. Axing the floor is fun!

Tomorrow is my last full day. I am sad to go. I want to see more and help more. I really want to go to Mississippi, but they have a ton of people in Biloxi, and not as many in New Orleans. Which I think is kind of strange, but anyway.

I have already taken well over 200 photos, and I can't wait to view and post them all!

Though I don't want to come home very much, I am definitely looking forward to Thursday's teacher-blogger event.

Last week I was telling someone about that, but we were in a club (it was 80s night at One-Eyed Jack's), and the girl didn't hear me. She was like, "Teacher logger? Teacher Flogger? What?" Heh.

Friday, April 14, 2006


I've been here just over 24 hours. Already I'm amazed: at the amount of damage, at the amount of emptiness, at the friendliness of the locals, at the incredible relief effort happening here, and at the friendliness of the volunteers.

Today I worked on a team with seven other people, and we gutted an entire house. It was very sobering, but joyous too, because we met the family; they were helping out and chatting. It was really hard work, and that plus the heat did a number on me. I had to rest a lot of the afternoon; I've gotten pretty weak in the last few years.

But it's a wonderful experience already. I hope that some of you might find some time to get down here and help out yourselves! They will be rebuilding for a long time and need all the friendly volunteers they can get.

More later!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Freedom! Hurrah!

We made it to spring break. It's a miracle!

I haven't updated in what seems like forever, and I'm sure there's a lot to update.

Mostly, I've been tired. Class sucks and teaching was getting tedious.

In a few minutes, I am leaving for the airport. I am headed to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding effort, with Hands On New Orleans. I am very excited to get down there and do whatever I can. Right now I'm terribly tired and a bit stressed, with the shopping and packing and all that. But once I get to the airport, all will be good.

I expect there will be computer access there, so I will update as soon as possible. Hopefully with pictures!

Have an excellent Passover, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Spring Break, everyone!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Your Reign of Terror is Over, O Passive-Aggressive One

...because I just signed a lease for my very own studio apartment!
This is the main room. It's got fresh paint, new blinds and a new air conditioner.
There's a separate kitchen (fresh floors) with a dining area and another window.

I can't believe it yet, but I am very excited!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Media study is fun!

"Imagine you're standing on a country road, alone and bored in the middle of nowhere. You hear something getting louder. Around the corner comes a big truck. In the back is a big, loud party! How do you feel?"

"Sad and mad."


"Cause I'm not up there."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Stop the truck and see if I can get on it."

"Aha! THAT is a bandwagon, our fourth method of advertising."

That was yesterday, along with endorsement (the scientific/expert ads).

Today we reviewed all five types, and then briefly discussed 'smaller' techniques that are used within ads. Things like exaggeration, triggering an emotion, using 'eye candy', making it human.

For that one, I asked something and a student brought up a PopTart ad where one of the PopTarts is Irish or something.

So I introduced the word "anthropomorphise" (because apparently I'm British). I broke it down: "'Anthro' is a root meaning 'man' or 'human', like anthropology. And have you ever heard of something 'morphing'?" "Something changing into something else." "Yes, 'morph' like 'metamorphosis' means change. So anthropomorphise means to take an object and make it seem like a person."

Miraculously, I think they got it, because they had all seen ads that do it. Sweet! Look at me, building the lexicons for tomorrow's critical viewing citizens!

I also briefly wrote and mentioned the word 'objectification', but I'm going to save the demo for tomorrow.

Their task from there was to synthesize and apply all their knowledge. (Look at the higher-order thinking! I am a first-rate teacher!) They had to choose one of the methods, and one or more technique, to make a final-project-worthy ad for their l!t c!rcle books (which they've been using to practice each type in class). I gave them construction paper, markers and crayons, and some guidelines (make it clear which type you're using, make it colorful and creative, etc), and told them they're going up on the bulletin board tomorrow.

They excitedly set to work getting started. As they were packing up to go, I actually heard a kid in Class 2 say at the end of class, "This is fun!" I think it was one of those accidental outbursts. But I was happy to hear it. I said, "I'm glad! Has it been fun" to the surrounding students. They nodded. "Has it been interesting and useful?" More nodding.

Hurrah! We're all having fun! THIS is teaching, my friends.

We are supposed to be starting poetry this week. The rest of the teachers are, because their poor kids don't get to do this media analysis study. I think I'll actually finish up the week with media like I originally wanted to. Thus, tomorrow they will finish up their group ads, and then have time to write and quickly rehearse commercials for their books, then Friday they'll perform.

By the way, thanks to Nancy's suggestion awhile back, I signed up on for the teaching-poetry-in-April thing, and was happy to receive a packet of five poetry books to use in class! Go see if you can get in on the deal! If nothing else, they've got poems *and* lessons to teach them. Excellent. I think my poetry unit will begin on Monday.


Wednesdays are supposedly an 'easy' day for me; I teach the first two and the last three periods. However.

--Third period I had a coverage, for girls' gym. It was fun! They played volleyball (two courts, with FIFTEEN girls on each side of each court), and had decent, excited games.

--Lunchtime, I had to go to my room because those pesky children are always showing up, wanting to see me and help me and hang out. I let them get lunch and bring it up to the room, so that I can snag their tater tots. Yum. Again, however. I also cannot normally stay in the room the whole time, as there are many other things to be done. Today I had to run out and make copies, since the copier was actually working again, for the first time in a week. But the kids stayed in my room and did their thing like the good little children they are.

--Fifth period, I had a meeting with students to finish up the P#nny H#rvest. That took the whole 'hour.'

--I noticed the sky out the window; it was the color of a week-old bruise, and kind of creepy.
Later I went to the bathroom. The window was open and I could see that it was pouring down rain...but something wasn't right; I realized that I couldn't hear anything. First I thought, huh, what kind of material is over here that absorbs sound that well? Well, I looked outside and was completely dumbfounded to see that those sheets of rain were actually big fat snowflakes!

--My classes after that, despite the falling snow in April out the windows, were so great. We did theme with a shared reading piece, and actually had an extended class discussion about it, beginning with story detail questions, moving to inference and analysis questions, leading up to them writing the theme of the story. They faithfully paid attention and participated, and I was proud of their thinking and grateful for their good behavior.

--Last period, my Chatty Class Number One was hopped up. A few were out of the room for some silly thing, and so the class felt looser and less official, if that makes sense. But they shaped up and we got our stuff done.

--I got my brakes looked at after school. It took nearly an hour and a half, but I didn't mind. It wasn't the brakes that were bad; there was air in the system. So they flushed it out and replaced the brake fluid. And now all is better, and it was much cheaper than needing the brakes replaced. Again, hurrah!

--At home I had some fantastic email that made me smile and swoon.

--I really don't know why I had such a pleasant day in the middle of the week before Spring Break.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

One week left! Hurrah!

I'm at class right now. So, so sleepy and anxious to get home.
I wrote some poems for class. They are cheesy but still entertaining. Here they are.

Just an regular girl
Under a lot of stress lately!
Luckily, she takes the time to travel
In her mind and across foreign lands;
Everywhere there's something new to discover.

Caretaker, Motivator
Talking, Walking, Thinking
What a long day!


I think I am getting a new apartment! I stopped by an open house on a whim on Sunday. It's a top floor, very sunny studio with a separate kitchen/dining space. And it's near the trains.

It's a lot more money than I'm paying now ($950 as opposed to $650), but my situation now is pretty lame and was meant to be temporary. I have been able to save a lot of money in the last four months. I hadn't planned on moving until summer. But if it's a good place, should I just take it? I like it. And I am anxious to move out of my current place. I won't be getting a raise until September, so my budget will get tighter. I suppose it's worth it to finally have my very own place for a whole year.

Exciting! I think!


Ugh. One more stupid class tonight. I want a nap! And to watch tv! Boo!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Meta-Analysis: Education Thoughts

I think this idea is fantastic! Students looking at teachers, not to sue them, but to improve them. I think it's helping students become critical thinkers, helping them take more responsibility for their own education, helping their authority figures become better at helping them, the students, and creating a positive environment for everyone. Congratulations.

Because I so often forget that I'm supposed to be a grown-up, I took a look at this little piece: jobs for new grads!

8. Teaching
This is a great job that almost guarantees you a position no matter where you live or move in the future. And the work can be very rewarding and can offer great retirement benefits. Continue your education to the masters or doctorate level and watch your pay grow!
Average Starting Salary: $29,016

The other eight exciting careers, according to this article, have average starting salaries of $38,000-$50,000.

Who in their right mind would go choose something that pays less? And more importantly, is anyone out there still innocent and naive to think that teaching is something all sparkly and mushy: You can save the world, one child at a time! Please.

Yes, your pay will grow as you earn degrees, but the gap between you and your 'real' professional peers will only widen as you get older.

At least you'll have a job, whether you deserve it or not.

Gee, I'm inspired! I'm gonna TEACH!

Does it say something about the NYC education world that I'm so embittered in my second year of teaching?

For a less sarcastic and more interesting take, here's one man's eloquent thoughts about the pitfalls of teaching. This result is extremely not surprising.

[Thanks, as always, to NYC Educator for the thought-provoking links!]

As I've said before, I still am not sure how I feel about teaching. I've never had any job that I could say, Yes, I love this and want to do it forever.

This year has been wonderful in many ways, mostly because I can contrast it with the nightmarish struggle that was last year. This year, I am better, my students are better, and I think (most of) my students and I are all pushing to improve ourselves as the year goes on. My administrators respect and appreciate what I do, and they support me in good times and bad. My colleagues and I get to (not very often) trade ideas and thoughts about making things better, easier, more fun, more intense, whatever.

But good lord, the politics. The gossip among the faculty, about the administration. The administration, with the mandates and directives. (For the record, I do know that they're getting most of that from the top-down and can't really help it. Also for the record, most of the directives in my school are fairly reasonable and I respect my administration for pushing and challenging the faculty.) The lack of sanctity in the building; there is nowhere to go for some peace and freaking quiet. The union posturing and threats to both sides: to the administration to follow or stop some rule, and to the faculty for complaining without filing grievances. The city officials who don't respect what we do. Hell, the PRESIDENT who thinks we're a bunch of automatons producing widgets instead of the next generation of thoughtful citizens. The parents who think their children don't do anything wrong. The children who think they can just sit there and goof off or stare into space and still think they should pass. The five MILLION things we are asked or required or want to do all at once, every day. The ONE copier we have that breaks down all the time and there's no support or money to fix.

It is exhausting. And quite honestly, I know people who have much worse situations.

After a professional development thing in the city the other day, I was worn out with all the rules and expectations and talking and posturing. I tiredly thought to myself: maybe it's not at all worth it to stay for a third year and deal with all this crap.

And really, what a shame that is. I'm no superstar teacher, but I am pretty good at what I do. I have the knowledge and excitement about my subject (more knowledge than some of my colleagues, and thus more I can impart to the students), and I have the drive to keep improving myself. Without any conceit, I can say with certainty that those are hallmarks of a good teacher.

I will be here for a third year. I have commitment and stubbornness to keep going. But I AM going to leave the city in the time shortly after that. In no way would I want a full career teaching in New York. Obviously, teaching in other places is no picnic, but at least there are resources, and more-with-it parents, and possibly better pay and lower cost-of-living.