Sunday, December 31, 2006

Farewell, Amsterdam and 2006

Well folks, it's the end of my trip. It's been six days, I think, and now it's about time to go home. Somehow I have taken over five hundred pictures on this trip! I'm excited to download them all and look at them on a bigger screen. Also, I'm looking forward to a full, uninterrupted night's sleep, and getting back to my own kitchen (once I grocery shop).

My last day was a nice one. I walked around and saw three more small museums. First the Musuem Van Loon, then the Huis Marseille for some photography, and finally the Dutch Resistance (ie. WWII) Museum.

The Hague was a great side trip; I'm so glad I went. Several great museums there, and plus I always like seeing new things.

Tonight is New Year's Eve. In nearby Dam Square, they set up a stage and lights for a giant public celebration tonight. By the sounds outside, the fireworks have long since started. I've been hearing loud cracks all day, and they startled me every time.

Partly because I need to leave by 7am, and partly because I'm an old fuddy-duddy who doesn't care much about partying on New Year's Eve, I will probably try to sleep soon.

Much more to come next year! Ha ha. Or in a day or two, when I get pictures ready.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Un-Happy Feet

Man, I always forget how uncomfortable it is to be on your feet all day, walking around with a backpack. I'm really thinking about a local foot massage...mmm. Shoulders too; they're sore as well.

I think this is Day Three. I've seen the big sights, and I have not gotten lost. However, that's because I have not strayed from the so-called beaten path. The way I work is that I go to one place and sort of move from there. Like scaffolding: I get familiar with one location or trail, and then expand that area, little by little.

This afternoon I saw a couple patches of blue sky! I was amazed and happy. I could even manage without a hat! But now it's back to gray and cold.

This morning: diamond shop, then Rijksmuseum, then Oude Kerk. It's 4.30 and I want to put my feet up. Not sure what I'm going to do when it gets dark. Sitting around the hostel--full of smoke of both kinds--is not my cup of tea. Because I am an old prude.

I am definitely looking forward to getting out of town tomorrow! I'll be taking the train to the Hague in the morning sometime and hang out there all day, then I'm so far planning to go to Delft on Saturday (I think; I'm still confused about the days. It's either jet lag, smoke inhalation (not mine!), or just travel-brain. Whatever.), which I'm very excited about. Again, because I'm old and a prude, a calmer, quiet place seems perfect right about now.

I will be updating all the sight stuff after I get home, because a-it will take too long, and b-other people, like Kelly, have described things much better!

For now it is Albert Heijn dinner time! A lovely salad, some cheese and crackers, Fanta, and chocolate/white chocolate/caramel mousse. Yum! Yes, exactly what I had yesterday, but still. Tasty, cheap food for me!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Welkom in Nederland

Hallo, all. It is 3pm here in Amsterdam, my second day here.

Yesterday was the longest day I've had in a really long time. Happily, I think I'm mostly recovered already.

The trip to the airport was very smooth and easy; in fact, it went so quickly that I got to the airport three hours before takeoff. Early nerd. The plane ride, however, was not so easy. Those seats! I felt like an arthritic old woman; I could not get comfortable at all. My back was slouched--even with their limp pillow as a backrest--and my neck was jutted forward. It all was rather painful, all due to those confounded airline seats. Boo! Also, I tried to rest, but again, could not get comfortable. Thus I developed not only a severe neck crick and back pain, but a nasty dull headache of fatigue.

I watched the movie Scoop, and started but did not finish two other movies. It's neat how you can pick a movie and watch it whenever you want, with at least twenty to choose from. I did not read at all, which is unusual for me. I'll attribute it to fatigue and seat pain.

Eventually we landed, at 6am in the pitch black Netherlands morning. All the signs in the airport are in English, and many are in only English. Most things were closed because of the early hour, but I saw an airport mini Rijksmuseum, and a massage station (my neck groaned a big complaint when I saw that). I got cash and went to wait for bags.

Once my shiny new suitcase (silver, so it stands out from all the black rolling bags) arrived, I bought a train ticket into town, rode silently in the dark, and arrived at Centraal Station.

I exited the station and was confronted by my first glimpse of Amsterdam, still in the predawn dark. Big buildings with holiday lights and neon names. A mass of bikes parked. My first Dutch canal. It was extremely surreal to suddenly be here, and not just because I'd not slept.

As it turns out, the hostel I booked is only a few blocks from Centraal. What a blessing! You have to walk in a couple of winding alleys, but it was easy to find the place.

Sadly, I could not check in til nine, so I took a desperate nap in the common room, which is chock full of large pillows. Man, that felt so wonderful.

Soon I got checked in, and later I brought my things up the very shallow stairs (banging my shoes into the staircase at every step) to my bunk room.

I put on my garish but so warm magenta scarf and purple hat, and set off to take a look around and get oriented. I walked down Damrak to what I later found is called Dam Square. I walked back to the station to get some snacks and some headache drugs. Not only was I exhausted, the various kinds of smoke in the hostel were nasty and only worsened the headache. Yuck. But, get used to it; it's Amsterdam.

The weather is chilly, gray and sometimes drizzly. It makes a dull pallor hang over everything, so I think my pictures won't be as pretty as if I were here in the sunny season.

Real quick, because a window is open nearby and I can hardly feel my fingers, yesterday I visited the Anne Frank Huis and today I already went to the Van Gogh museum. I've made friends with Albert Heijn, which is the ubiquitous supermarket. I've bought things like (real) Fanta, chocolate mousse, apple beignets, Gouda slices, and crackers. So I'm not going hungry.

More updates later. Happy December 27!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, Etc

I hope that everyone is having a pleasant and restful vacation, regardless of religious celebration.

I think my packing is finished. Now I need to get dressed, because I am leaving in half an hour for Newark Airport. Wish me luck and patience; it's going to take nearly two hours. It's almost noon and my plane is at 4.40pm. Definitely better safe than sorry, though, so I'm not complaining.

There are plenty of internet options in Amsterdam, so I'll probably update soon. Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve in New York City

New Decorations!

I moved into my adorable studio in late April. It's now late December, which makes it...eight months. Awesome!

I put up multicolored Christmas, er, holiday lights a few months ago, but last week I
put the white ones up. And the other day I put some of the multi back up, below the white ones. Neat! I've been a fan of 'the glow' since college.
Today, while rooting around boxes of travel stuff, I found my souvenir fans. They're cheap plastic and fabric, but I've gotten one on every major trip (except for Prague and New Orleans) for the last five or six years. And I realized they would fit perfectly in the molding-traced frames on the empty walls above my bed and office nook. Then I was like, meh, I'll do it later.
But alas, it's a holiday weekend and I'm cooped up inside snacking endlessly and decided to just put them up.
Hurrah! My apartment is getting prettied up and I'm feeling like a grown up, with my own pretty apartment with real decorations!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"What's Wrong With Education?" Sorry, Wrong Answer

First read this editorial by Roger Schank.

Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution
Friday, December 15, 2006 2:23 AM

Math and Science, oh my. What will we do? We don’t produce enough students interested in math and science. Something must be done. I hear this refrain so often my head hurts.

First my credentials: I was a math major in college. I got 98 on every math Regent’s test offered. (I lived in New York where testing ruled in the world in the 50’s too.) My mother always asked where the other two points went. I grew up to be a computer science professor. I am not a math phobe. But neither am I a math proponent. I never used math in my professional life. Never ever.

I always start any discussion on education by asking if the person I am talking with knows the quadratic formula. One out of hundred knows it. (The last few people I asked included the head of a major testing service, the secretary of education of a state in the US, various state legislators, and 200 high school principals. Then why do we teach this obviously useless piece of information to every student in the world? Because math is important, of course.

Really? Show me the evidence.

As a person who did graduate admissions for 30 years at three of the top ten universities in the country, I know what this hysteria is actually about. Nearly all applicants to graduate computer science programs (which is what I know – but it is true in most fields of engineering and science) are foreign nationals. We wonder why American kids aren’t interested in these fields – which is a reasonable enough question. But then we have come up with an extraordinary answer.

What we say is that we must teach math and science better in high school. There are now so many programs meant to do this it makes my head spin. Here are reasons why this is simply the wrong answer.

Do we really believe that the reason that there so many foreign applicants to US graduate programs is that they teach math and science better in other countries? China and India provide most of the applicants. They also have most of the people. And many of those people will do anything to live in the U.S. So they cram math down their own throats knowing that it is a ticket to America. Very few of these applicants are coming from Germany, Sweden, France or Italy. Is this because they teach math badly there or is it because those people aren’t desperate to move to the U.S.?

In the U.S., students are not desperate to move to the US, so when you suggest to them that they numb themselves with formulas and equations they refuse to do so. The right answer would be to make math and science actually interesting, but with those awful tests as the ultimate arbiter of success this is very difficult to do.

No change in education will ever happen in the US until the testing mentality is done away with. No average high functioning adult could pass them so why make kids do it? This makes no sense. What also makes no sense is the idea that math and science are important subjects. You can live a happy life without ever having taken a physics course or knowing what a logarithm is.

On the other hand, being able to reason on the basis of evidence actually is important. Thinking rationally and logically is important. Knowing how to function in a world that includes new technology and all kinds of health issues is important. Knowing how things work and being able to fix them and perhaps design them is important.

Lets get serious. We don’t need more math and science. We need more people who can think.

We need to teach job skills, people skills, and reasoning skills. And we need to make education exciting and interesting. We need performance tests not competence tests. If we did all that we would get more Americans interested in math and science because we would get more Americans actually interested in being in school.

This teacher blog wrote a post in response:
When discussing education reform, every writer, every politician, every “expert”, eventually arrives at one point: students need more math and science.

Why? Because math is important.

Roger Schank
thinks that conclusion is all wrong and asks for someone to offer the evidence.
I’m not ready to buy all of Schank’s arguments but he does make some excellent points about education reform with these thoughts.

Although I taught math for many years, I can see a lot of logic in that.

We should be trading the rote memorization of arcane mathematical processes for a curriculum that instead helps kids understand how to think for themselves.

Those few students who need the quadratic formula will eventually learn it when presented with a good reason to do so.

I say:
Complete B.S.

First of all, Roger-man, take it down a notch with self-aggrandization. Do you really begin all your education conversations proving yourself more intelligent than other bigwigs, by asking them about the quadratic equation? Seriously? When you forgot to use an apostrophe for "let's"? Get off your high mathematical horse, dude.

And you never used math as a computer science professor? Last I checked, all science required a lot of math. Perhaps I am wrong, though.

Second of all, have you ever BEEN in a public school below college level? Do you know anything about the wave of balanced literacy and emphasis on strategy instead of skills? Do you know anything about elementary and secondary curriculum at this time? Have you ever tried to TEACH any children in any country?

If not, then sorry, you can stop giving advice now.

You have a good starting point--things are definitely wrong with the American educational system. I completely agree that the testing has gone way out of control.

Unfortunately, some of those other wrong things involve people like you, people who have never been in a real school setting and want to impose your hoity-toity, smartypants ideas on everyone else.

As for curriculum and knowledge in foreign countries, yes, they are superior, in my opinion. I know that any random non-US high school graduate knows more about American history and politics than any random American college student. They also begin learning English before age 13, as well as a THIRD language after that. Whereas we don't actually teach the English language to our native speakers, and we have ridiculously low requirements for two years of foreign language.

Students in China and Japan (and maybe other Asian countries as well?) are in school or studying many more hours than American students. That alone will produce more intelligent citizens for jobs, no matter what country they decide to live in or go to.

We have watered down EVERYTHING in our schools.

The students in my school have never been required to do 'minor things' like memorize their times tables or check their spelling. Middle school math teachers who have to teach algebra and geometry simply cannot do so if the students barely have a grasp of simple operations.

They don't have those basic skills because of people just like you, who think school and math in particular should be 'fun' and 'exciting' and 'interesting.'

That is the biggest fallacy plaguing this country's education.

Math now involves learning eight different strategies for multiplication or division or whatever else, and their extremely-rigid scripted curriculum requires them to use fun hands-on activities and real-world examples.

One of those ideas is great, but one is not so great.

Young children do NOT need exposure to higher level math. They NEED to get down basic skills to build their foundation for further education and development of your precious critical thinking skills.

Right now they're encouraged to think about all the different ways to do long division. What that means in the real classroom, for the real children, is that they don't actually learn how to do anything for sure. One student in my class does weird, convoluted work when he does math, which makes no sense to the teacher, but he somehow gets the right answer. In ELA, he does some more weird thinking, and almost always it leads him to a wrong answer. He needs to learn one way to do something, and then later, if he wants to, figure out a faster way or a way that's a better fit for his learning style. As it stands, when this child moves on to high school, he's going to be lost when there's only one traditional way to figure out a problem in geometry or trigonometry. There's certainly only one accepted way to spell words; why should he get to be creative in that either? Let him learn to spell and multiply, and then use that knowledge to do something with his well-written words and his grasp of mathematical principles.

Students learning how to think for themselves? No, they can't do that at this point. Yes, that is a very real and scary problem. They most certainly need to develop critical thought.

However, NONE of that will work without a solid foundation of rotely-memorizing things like multiplying 5 times 8 or the difference between 'lose' and 'loose.' You don't build a house made of loose bricks on sand. You build a concrete foundation and mortar the bricks together so the structure will stand firm. And deciphering how deep and how wide that foundation should be...requires, yes, math!

What do other countries do that we don't? They push the students to learn, I mean really learn. They do take exams to prove their knowledge, but they most certainly are not multiple choice exams; monkeys randomly bubbling things could get decent scores by luck. Those countries would not keep lowering the passing score of those difficult tests to make sure that more children have good self-esteem, or to make sure that the schools' asses are covered when the government comes a-knocking.

Their college students also relax their freshman year, but only because it's so easy compared to the rigors of high school. Whereas in our country, people are finally noticing that very few students are able to perform at the college level, in math and writing, and all the other fields that involve math and writing...which is all of them.

And surely you are being facetious when you say that math and science should not be taught, but that students should instead be encouraged to just invent and design things. Without math and science? Engineers, carpenters, electricians, urban planners, and any regular schmoe with a checking account and bills to budget for--all of them need math.

Further, lumping science in with math--for its irrelevance in school--is dangerously ignorant. The fields are very closely related--most of physics and a lot of chemistry is math--but you can't seriously propose that students shouldn't learn science? They shouldn't learn how the world around them works? They shouldn't learn how to think critically about the effects of partially-hydrogenation have on the masses? They shouldn't learn how the human presence destroys natural habitats of too many animal species, and what to do to decrease that impact? Those real-world applications mean nothing until they have learned and completely understood the principles of atoms and molecules, the cycle of life, the food chain, the delicate balance of ecology...Oh wait, some of that involves numbers, which is math, so that must be out as well, Mr. Schank?

When I was in college, taking diverse courses like chemistry, linguistics, a foreign language, psychology, international gender policy, I was constantly amazed and delighted at how often the content would overlap, or that knowledge of one field improved the understand of another, seemingly unrelated field. It made me enjoy learning, it made me look forward to taking more classes, it made me look more in depth at the natural world and the human world. It made me a more well-rounded person.

Sure, some of the higher level math seems pointless to real life. So does the practice of diagramming sentences. I used to groan, "When am I ever going to have to diagram a sentence in life?" Of course the answer is never.

Faced now with students that wouldn't know a direct object if it hit them in the face, I finally understand the purpose of diagramming sentences: I understand how words and language work together. I can construct complex sentences using a variety of words and punctuation. I can get my point across in different forms. I can change my writing to suit my audience, and I can use high level vocabulary if I want. I even get the joke from Mary Poppins: "I met a man with a wooden leg named Smith." "What's the name of his other leg?"

It's a funny joke, and everyone should be able to understand it. I would literally have to explain this to my students, trying to find language basic enough to get them to understand modification and antecedents, when they can barely recognize a verb.

It's the same with math and science. We may never need to use the quadratic formula or sentence diagrams in 'real life,' but that knowledge expands our minds, it gets us ready for higher level work and thought, and most importantly, it makes people well-rounded.

Our country needs to stop alternatively babying and vigorously testing our children. They need to be formally and informally assessed in all their classes. We should teach more subject areas, not fewer. All classes need strict standards to show students that we are serious, that we expect excellence out of them, and that education for education's sake is important. If they can't do the basic work, don't let them proceed until they can. If they don't pass a class, in no way should they ever move to another grade, regardless of their test score.

We need citizens who understand that work will be required of them, as children in school and as adults in the real world. It's no fun preparing marketing data or grading papers, but it needs to be done. That work requires high-level thought, which, again, is only possible when founded on basics. Our schools need to teach basics first, and then work the children up to formal and analytical thought.

Edited to add this, which I'll call 'Exhibit A':

With His Superpowers?

Teacher: When did slavery end?
Student: Didn't it end in like, 1970, when Martin Luther King freed all the blacks?

--Berkeley Carroll School, Park Slope
via Overheard in New York, Dec 21, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Woohoo! It's (just about) over!

Today was our last real day before break; tomorrow is a testing day (fun!)(not)(except yes, for teachers).

I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am.

Apparently other teachers were having parties and the like...? Not any of us in our department, because hello? Nine teaching days left. Besides, many of my students don't deserve a party at this point in the year. (On that point, another teacher mentioned today about having an invite-only party--I do like the sound of that, very much. We'll see after the dreaded test.)

I'm happy to report that my students learned today, and it wasn't too painful for them. I'm actually really proud of how the lesson turned out; it flowed well and everything came together.

The warm up involved reading three phrases and noticing something. (Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout; Sally sells seashells; The tired toad tried to escape.) Most students noticed the letter/sound repetition, which we then defined as alliteration. (As of yet, I have done zero figlang, so this was an important lesson.)

The students then wrote their own alliterative sentence, and we shared. They did very well! Good job, kiddos. From there, we moved into a workbook section with poetry. There were some questions--ridiculously easy questions at that--about comparisons in the poem, which were getting at figlang types. There was also a question about rhyme scheme, so we learned how to do that as well. I put several examples on the board and explained what to do, and we all practiced together. They got it very quickly, and I was proud yet again.

Let's see. Then another practice poem test thing, and they had to find all the alliteration in the poem. For the most part, they did well with that. We answered the questions with that and we learned about similes, because there were a few in there as well. Writing their own similes went only okay, so they'll need more practice and guidance later on.

Then, we put it all together! For the last 20 minutes of the double period, they had to write a poem about winter, using three examples of alliteration and one simile, and the poem had to rhyme. Isn't that a perfect activity relating exactly to the lessons? Love it!

I had wanted to have some students read their work aloud to the class at the end, to share and feel good about their poems, but alas, as always, we ran out of time. Boo. Still, all the students at least began a poem and almost all were easily able to use those two types of figlang in their work. The rhyming thing didn't go so well, but who cares. Not me, that's for sure, since I'm a terrible rhymer as well.

So it was quite an enjoyable teaching day today. The kids were very involved, very vocal, and they really seemed to grasp everything we did. And I think they enjoyed it too, which is important at this time of year, for all of us.

Tomorrow is sort of a pretend day, and then we have the blessed vacation. Hallelujah! Rest, rejuvenation, and all the other good things.

...Except that I need to really start packing soon for my trip. Yay, a trip!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An "Easier" Day

Yesterday I gave a written spelling bee, as compiled and requested by a couple staff members. For some reason, the same list was given to all three grades. Stupid! Anyway, most of the words were ones that the kids had never heard or seen before. I kind of get a kick from their incredulous WTF? looks when they hear something like "rheumatism." Heh.

So today, to give us all a bit of a break before hitting more workbooks, I had them write down all the words with correct spelling, and some of them--more common ones--I had them write five times. Then we talked about definitions--and I had them identify some parts of speech as well--and roots and dictionary stuff and the like.

All that ended up taking an entire period! But who cares.

The next task was going over the parts of tests they throw at the end, questions not attached to a reading passage, questions that ask about syllables or vowel sounds or words in context.

So I reviewed with them how to break words into syllables and how to mark them, and what it means when they ask about 'stress' and how to find it.

Then we did long and short vowel sounds. It wasn't clear how much it was new or review for the students; I didn't care. If they already knew it, then it was easy review. If they didn't explicitly learn this in elementary (which I think is more likely to be the case), then they learned it now. It was pretty easy for students of all levels to contribute words with a long a or short i or whatever.

So there you have it--two periods of necessary work, work that seemed breezy and fun in comparison to the last week and a half of writing madness.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Made it through another day

I am utterly exhausted right now.

In class, for over a week I have been making them practice writing, talk about writing, grade their writing, grade their neighbor's writing, take notes for writing, listen and write, read and write, watch me write, listen to me grade writing, and practice writing some more.

Today we finished up the last section of practice tests (well, for now. sorry, kiddies). We reviewed the rubric guidelines, they graded each other's work with a sort of rubric checklist (ie, since the top level requires organization, details, answering the question, etc, they check for each of these individual pieces, and then give a grade based on the rubric).

When the grading was done, they got their own work back. I told them to flip back to the first set (which was an official test awhile back) and compare grades with this set.

I asked to see hands for whose grades improved. Almost all the hands went up!

I asked who thinks they've learned a lot with all this practice. Hands up!

I asked who thinks they have improved at writing with all this practice. Hands up!

I asked who thinks they can even do better next time. Hands up!

I asked what they didn't do this time, what they learned that they can do next time. The students gave some thoughtful and honest responses: "I need to read the directions," "I need to use paragraphs," "I need to add details," "I need to stay in sequence," etc.

Man, was I proud! And I let them know.

So, I'm tired and extra irritable with their extra noise, and we're all anxiously counting down to the holiday, but I will definitely take today as a victory, because dammit, they appear to be learning!

....Of course, we'll see how it goes after they've been off school for more than a week. I hope we don't backslide completely!

Chocolate, In Pictures

Anyone up for dessert?

Monday, December 18, 2006


Most of you probably heard before I did, but last week, the Northwest was battered by a huge storm, at nearly hurricane strength. Over a million people were out of power and heat! Five days later, many of them, including a lot of my family, are still in the dark.

I can commiserate all too well with this, except the communality. Last December, I myself was a victim of a blackout. Unfortunately, it was a purposeful, vengeful, and insane act inflicted on my roommates and me by landlords. It lasted nearly two weeks of early December.

The light is gone by the time I got home, and it was quite cold. We couldn't eat anything nonperishable, and there are only so many snacks one can consume. Showering in the dark was quite an adventure; that led to a sprained toe. At first, the shock kept the boredom and worry away. But then, I had a meltdown. I couldn't handle the dark and the wonder. When would it end? What the hell was wrong with those people? Why weren't the police or 311 doing anything about it? How am I supposed to move out if there's no lights or internet at home?

All this insanity (there was one day that we had to call the police THREE TIMES) meant that school was completely out of my mind. I'm not sure how I got through the days, and I spent most of the evenings at my grad school's library. How grateful I was for the heat and light and free internet!

After days of obsessively trolling craigslist and calling, emailing and visiting potential apartments, eventually I found a place and moved out as soon as I could. I took one day off school to pack, and soon had to remember that in addition to unpacking all my stuff, I had to pack for a holiday vacation. Totally forgot about it for most of December. I was too stressed and exhausted, and mostly I just wanted everything to be over, and calm again.

It's been a calendar year since that chaotic month. This December has been 'normal,' thank goodness.

So far this school year, I have not taken any days off. Four straight months of reporting on time to teach the children, and it's taking its toll. Except this year, I don't have any natural or landlord-made disasters to blame.

In November, I began toying with the idea of a mental health day. Now I don't remember why; it was probably just on principle. I think I was approaching and/or hitting that wall of winter blah and teacher winter burnout. There were already so many days off or not spent teaching that month, that I couldn't let myself take an extra one off.

But now it's December. After two months of almost no five-day weeks, we're on the fourth in a row. It's late in the month. When I was in sixth grade, we were already out of school by now. Other states are already done for a whole two weeks, or more. We're all aching for some free time.

Kids are starting to leave for vacation. Those still here are definitely getting antsy and rowdy, anticipating the coming freedom. Teachers are starting to get a bit cuckoo. Our faculty especially is having a hard time; we have a lot of classes that have no teachers (they left! before December! just left!), so everyone has been getting inundated with upper-grade (ie, devils) coverages.

All of us are wearing thin on patience, let alone "innovative teaching." Right now, it's innovative just to be there every day. The only energy we have is to gripe or count down days. We only hope to survive with a modicum of dignity, that maybe a handful of kids might have learned something today. Everything feels like a struggle, and there's no relief when a day is over, because there are more to come.

Depressed immune systems don't help. It seems like we're all at least a little sick, and it lasts for ever. This is my third week with just enough of a sore throat to make it an inconvenience, discomfort at the end of the day. Not enough to justify a day off, but enough to make teacher talk a pain, literally. And just in general, despite the unseasonable mildness, we're all tired and exhausted. I just want to rest!

I'm so out of it that I scoff at preparing for my trip. Pshaw, it's still over a week away! I've repeatedly ignored the need to book accommodations for the trip I'm taking next Monday. I have nowhere to stay on my last night in Amsterdam and an early flight on New Year's Day; I think I'm going to have to sleep in the airport. At school right now, I'm doing my best to push through every day, and try not to think too far in advance, lest I suddenly find this teaching business utterly ridiculous, and skip out of the building, never to return.

Really, isn't it a 'natural' disaster to be surrounded by adolescents for the majority of the day? Give us a break that's longer than a week!

Entertaining Spam

"Most carriers charge similar rates for a given number of minutes, then wallop you with overtime charges. I was a bit worried the first time I awoke to that. Tobacco, on the other hand, was completely misrepresented."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cue the heavenly chorus: One week of teaching left!

It's only Thursday, though my mind has been trying to convince me that it's Friday.

We've been working hard this week, with rubrics and practicing written responses. First we discussed and (tried to) practice organizers, yesterday we worked on notetaking a little, just an intro, as well as short answers. Today we continued with more practice, and for the last class I added a sort of template. I used the sandwich analogy: a sandwich has bread on the top and on the bottom, and the good stuff in between. If you leave off one of the pieces of bread, things fall out. If there's nothing between the bread, that's not a sandwich. If you only have one ingredient between the bread, it's a very dull sandwich.

So just like the sandwich, you need topic and concluding sentences to border your response, and you need at least three tasty details in between, to make it nice and juicy.

For the passages, the students first did the work on their own, and then we discussed the correct, top-level answers. Then, I told them to look at their work and give it a grade according to our rubric. Most of the students got about half credit, on the THIRD DAY of working on this stuff in a row. And we've talked about and practiced this before this week, also. And they're all bombing everything, still, more!

It makes me want to pound my head into the freaking wall. Gah! Pay attention, for pete's sake! The only good thing is that they are not hesitant to grade their own work honestly, and I can only pray that they start actually paying that kind of attention BEFORE they start writing. I will make them continue practicing tomorrow (the dreaded extended response--double yuck) and all of next week. Maybe with practice, with different passages each time, they'll get used to it and start doing better.

Ack. This is the time when I start saying, there's only so much *I* can do. They're the ones who have to pick up the pencil and take the actual test for a grade.

Tired, tired, bored, blah blah blah. One week, people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


--Tonight I finished the rest of my holiday cards! I feel very proud of my work, and I hope my family and friends appreciate the gesture from the new, grown-up me.

--My local post office is great. I have to go there all the time, and I never have a problem. It doesn't have an automated post machine, which is too bad, but they're open until 7 on weekdays and 4 on Saturdays! Plus, it's rarely crowded and the clerks are efficient and friendly enough. The post office in my old neighborhood was always a zoo, no matter what day or time. The only saving grace there was the automated machine. But that didn't make picking up parcels any easier. So good job, local Postal Service! Keep up the good work.

--This weekend while shopping, I got a small case of Washington Fuji apples at Costco. I have eaten one the last two days while at school, and they are tangy and juicy and tasty, and I love them a lot. Thank you to my snobby teammate who alerted me to their superiority four years ago, I haven't looked back since!

--The last two nights, I have had vivid, movie-like dreams. The night before last, it was about me starting a new temp job, and at first it seemed like it was going to be all ghetto, and I was late and not dressed and lost (which is how many of my dreams work), but then I got there and it was a movie studio. It was really cool! I was all working and running around helping out, and soon there was even a montage! Swear to god. I was in the movie in the later part of the dream, which is freaking awesome. Last night in my dream a bunch of sorority girls kidnapped me while I was visiting an old college town (a mix of the two real cities I went to school in). The head sorority girl was upset because once I happened to meet her ex and she was jealous.

I know dreams are boring, but they've been so interesting for me!

--School is progressing well. We are practicing our skills and our writing now, and it will only get more intense. I have not covered any figlang like similes, and I'm worried about that. I have this growing list of things I! Must! Cover! before the test. Egads, will I get through it?

--Have I talked about my afternoon class? They are the rowdyish ones, and there are several students who do either nothing or next to nothing almost every day. But I try to ignore them when I think about the class, otherwise I will get all worked up. (Like you have seen, I give out progress reports, letting them know how they're doing; every day they have an opportunity to succeed by doing the [easy] homework, and they continually choose to do nothing. There's only so much I can do, so I let it go as best I can.) Anyway, that class is also the lowest in terms of overall ability level. But, I kind of like them, because though sometimes they are noisy when I don't want them to be, they are always entertaining, with enough personality for five classrooms.

At first I loved my first high level class, because they are so smart and hardworking. Also they are very quiet and respectful. But compared to my feisty afternoon class, the morning class is downright dull.

Not like I would want to give them up or anything! I feel like at least I can reach and teach just about all of that class, whereas with the other two classes kids are falling through the cracks and I don't have time or wherewithall to get them up.


--Oh man. I got the coolest thing in the mail at school yesterday. It was like my prayers answered about the future. It was a brochure for international teaching positions. Oh my god, it is the awesomest, most me-ist thing I've seen in a long time! It got me really excited and I could hardly contain myself while still at school. I couldn't exactly go skipping around the hallways singing about leaving to teach in a whole other country, now could I?

--I think there was more I was going to share. But I think it's been lame enough for long enough, so this shall be it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Good Teacher!

Y'all know that I loathe taking work home, so I never do. I'm a lazy person, but I also get nearly all or all of my grading done at school. Which means I don't have to take anything home. Neat!

The one thing I do have to do at home, which I actually don't mind, is inputting grades. I enjoy data typing for some reason, and it makes me feel better knowing that I am providing students and parents with feedback at times other than just report card day. Of course, whether or not the parents actually get the progress reports is another issue.

So tonight, Sunday night, I just spent over an hour updating 2nd quarter grades for my two lower classes. I printed out the class grades and individual progress reports for every student currently or in danger of failing. Tomorrow I will make them sign for it and tell them to return it the next day.

I will do my best to email or call parents to let them know the progress reports are coming. Again, I favor eliminating excuses by heading them off.

So I'm feeling like a good teacher for once. I believe that will be a fleeting feeling, considering that I have not made specific plans for the week (actually, that's not true; I mapped out some stuff last week, I just haven't typed it into my official template page), and also that it's test prep time, which means I always feel like I'm not doing enough and constantly running out of time and patience.

But for right now, things are okay, because I feel productive. For once.

And now I'm off to watch the Amazing Race finale, and I hope to not think anymore about school until tomorrow morning. (Teacher thoughts invading nighttime is a whole other post.)

Happy Holidays!

I am proud to say that for the first time, I have written holiday cards!

Tonight I wrote twenty-three of them! Don't worry, though, I'm not done yet. I only stopped because my wrist began to hurt, and I ran out of stamps. But I will continue tomorrow or as soon I get to the post office.

I so enjoy getting real mail, and over the years I've had relatives and a couple wonderful friends who regularly kept in touch with notes and cards. I've never been very good about responding in kind, but this year I've really made an effort, and it feels good. It makes me feel responsible, and affectionate, and grown up. Hurrah for real correspondence!

...Unfortunately, I don't always get things out on time. I mailed cards to my friends with birthdays on their actual birthday, which means they received them late. And my little sister's birthday is on Tuesday. I just got her a gift, but she probably won't get it until Friday or Saturday. Oops. I'm getting there, I promise!

You know, that's definitely a plus for traveling for the holidays: I get to do Christmas shopping in a unique place! It makes the trip a little more stressful, since I have to keep an eye out for the gifts, and I have to worry about suitcase room, but it's fun pairing people I know with things I find in shops in another country, and knowing they're getting something special. And it means it's okay that the presents are late. :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006


So this afternoon, I decided that I needed to go shopping. Which means driving about half an hour to a town that consists solely of stores.

After fighting traffic for at least ten minutes, I made it the quarter-mile between Linens n Things and Staples. After over five minutes of waiting/driving for parking, I was ready to get in the store. As quickly as possible, I gathered the things I need for my teacher life--white out, dry erase markers, and paper. At the display of copy paper, I was shocked to see that regular, Staples brand copy paper is $3.99 a ream! I could swear that I used to buy it for like $2.50. Anyway, so I decided that since I was paying through the nose, I would pay a little extra for recycled paper (five bucks a pack! that's a penny per sheet!). Interestingly, they now sell 30% recycled paper, which 'uses fewer trees,' and 100% recycled paper, which 'uses no new trees.'

In my liberal, West Coast heart, I was like, hey wow, that's neat. I'm always telling my kids that trees are our friends; don't waste paper. And I do my best to avoid excess baggage. I'm talking about the multitude of double-bagged plastic bags that you get everywhere you go. Since I usually carry a teacher tote bag with me, and my purse is big, if I buy a small thing I can just put it in that. When I say, "Oh, I don't need a bag," the cashier usually freezes for a moment and looks stupidly uncomfortable. 'No bag? But I must give out a prescribed ten bajillion bags per day! Who is this weirdo that claims not to need my flimsy-and-therefore-doubled-plastic-bag? Some kind of commie or something?'

Once, at Barnes and Noble, I bought a book. One little book. And I tried to refuse a bag. The cashier stumbled for a moment, but then continued bagging my one book, telling me, "The security officer has to see the bag when you leave." I said, "Oh, I see." And laughingly self-deprecatingly added, "And here I was trying to save the earth!"

You know what she said? "There's a trash can right outside the door; you can just throw it away."

Take a moment and read that again.

Now I was the one stupidly frozen, but decided not to say anything, simply nodding and taking my leave along with the useless plastic.

Anyway, so I was happy and relieved to do my little part to help mother earth, buying ungodly expensive recycled copy paper.

A few hours later, I got home and realized that I left my purchase in the store.

That second roundtrip is probably going to negate the recycled paper, isn't it.

Friday, December 08, 2006


My last class, though they are rowdy at times, is chock full of personality.
One of the smarter kids (he's no genius, but he's on grade level, which is above the rest of them) was gone for a couple weeks, and returned the other day.
So today, this girl at his table, seeing him raise his hand, said in a whiny pleading voice, "Miss, make him stop that! He knows everything!"

And after school, we were talking about genre and stuff. Someone brought up Sherlock Holmes, thinking he was a legend. I said, "No, he's a fictional character. Does anyone know who wrote those stories?" Blank looks. So I prompted, "Sir..."
And a boy raised his hand and said, "Tony Hawk?"
I put my head down, because really, there are no words.


Anyway, it is Friday! I actually just now remembered. No woo-hooing here, just a relieved sigh. I woke up today feeling like I'd been run over.

Like I think I mentioned, my throat has had a little tickle lately, and I've been rather sneezy. So the last couple days I took an Airborne, just in case. Since they say you're supposed to take it before it starts, to head it off a bit.

So today, instead of the full-blown beginning cold--you know, very sore throat, congestion, etc--it felt like the end of the cold. Sore around the chest, feeling unable to fully breathe, and sore in the back (though that may be separate from working out; it feels achy rather than sore, though). My throat feels rough and sandpapery; I can talk and stuff, but it's uncomfortable. And I've got that congestion-related stomach ickiness, which is weird considering I'm not actually congested.

All this makes teaching--covering two classes and a real third coverage, plus after school--no fun at all. Therefore it was a great idea to use a recent set of Scholastic Storyworks magazines for the coverages: reading a nonfiction article about a kid who raised money to build a well in Africa, and constructing a response paragraph using their outline. Good activity, and related to test prep!

For my real classes, I used some scaffolded worksheets to practice cause and effect, and author's purpose. For the warm up, I wrote this question: What happens when there's an earthquake underwater? I made a chart about tsunamis using arrows and rows, facilitating them through the steps of what happens (earthquake-->large waves. large waves-->flooded land. flood on land-->people move to higher ground, or drown; things washed away). Then I asked, what's the relationship between all these events?

I handed out a worksheet and together we charted the events for the first passage. Then I set them loose to chart on their own and complete multiple-choice questions.

It actually was a productive test-prep day, for me feeling so crappy.

But it's Friday. PHEW.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lost Days?

At least in she knows about them in advance! At my school, however, no one tells us a damn thing.

One class period was 'stolen' from me yesterday with some press thing. And one class told me today that they will all be on a trip tomorrow. I quite think that I probably would have been standing at my door first period, wondering where the hell they were. Oh, and half of another class is apparently going to be on a trip sometime next week.

The other departments either don't have to worry about a state test, or they have an extra THREE MONTHS to worry about it. We, however, are on a big fat deadline! I think we have about three weeks of regular school days until our asses are on the line. Why are we being messed with, AND not being told about it?

I am not happy about any of this. Grr!

Why can't we get an extra three months like math? How can the state live with themselves by making us assess our students not even halfway through the school year? I know this is old news, but it's infuriating me anew.

...Probably to get my mind away from all the assessment and data-driven nonsense that I'm trying to do.

Two weeks until vacation....we can do it. I'll do everything I can, and the rest is up to the kids. If they want to steal days from me, obviously there's nothing I can do about it. It helps me get some work done, since I refuse to bring that kind of work home.

Ack, I need to start inputting grades to give out progress reports. Not like we're doing any real work for the next month, but whatever.

ARGH! Shut up, school. It's almost Friday and I'm tired.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

melancholic holiday rambling

I'm feeling a wee bit blue at the moment. Perhaps it's because a leg is aching, or it's the middle of the December teaching struggle, or listening to Susie Suh's gorgeous music. Quite possibly it's travel.

In nineteen days, it will be Christmas day and I will be off on another solo Europe trip. But while I am relieved to have travel plans, to know that I'm going somewhere, I'm not feeling it all the way. I 'chose' Amsterdam for this trip because it was the cheapest option and I haven't been there, and it's supposed to be nice....? Eh.

I'm not excited to see it. I don't really know anything about it. I just reread a few blog posts (namely this one), and another one, and they seemed to have enjoyed it. But, meh.

I think I was like this about Prague. That was another random choice, and I knew even less about it. In fact, I probably still know less about it, having been there! However, Prague simply blew me away with its splendor and sights, and I cannot wait to visit again, in the summer (when it's warm, sunny, and everything is open).

That may be part of my blahness--the season. Visiting most any nontropical place in the depths of winter is not enticing at all. Sun makes things better and prettier, even if it's not warm. (As a lifelong gloomy winter sufferer in Seattle, I have come to love and rely on the cold sun of New York winters.) Also, I'll be there, or somewhere near there, for an entire week.

One week is too long for one city; I've long thought that. But I don't know if there's anything interesting enough (and new to me) nearby to stay for a couple days. Advice or tips welcome!

When I was in Paris for a week in 2004, I left in the middle (even my favorite place is too long for a week) and visited Brussels and Bruges (the former for about a day and the latter for just an afternoon). Apparently those are good places to go from Amsterdam, but I really don't need to see them again. Lovely, both, but for the time and money, I would want to see a new place.

Look at me, full of bourgeois travel woe. Poor little girl, depressed about her Europe trip!

I want to be excited. I bookmarked a bunch of sites, and that inspired a bit of hope in me. Maybe I can finally visit a concentration camp. I didn't have time in February, and now I'll have lots of time.

Extra time, in fact, because I don't know if I'll have lodging for the last three nights of my stay! I'm leaving on New Year's Eve morning, I think, and naturally, hostels and hotels are quite full up for that time. I don't think I'm adventurous enough to think about camping in a park or something...eek. I'll cross my fingers that my hostel will have room, or I'll have to suck it up and pay for a real hotel. With holiday prices. I could find a little budget hotel on my own, perhaps. But what if everything is booked? What will I do? I'll really have to leave town then. Ack!

Note that Boyfriend got me a Let's Go Amsterdam guidebook for my birthday, and I haven't touched it yet. I know that that would build up some excitement and hope for the trip, not to mention knowledge, but reading that and planning and thinking is a day-long task.

Not to mention that I have this weird avoidance-therapy thing with travel. It's like I ignore it because if I get too excited, things will turn out badly. Or I'll get too anxious to go when it's still too far away. (Like freaking London, which is still two and a half months away! See why I had to go somewhere at Christmas?) Plus, this month is always crazy anyway, so it speeds by and rather takes me by surprise. Which I like, because vacation is always better than working.

It's after 9 on Wednesday, and I should be watching television like a good little addict! So I'll shuffle off this computer coil and try to drown my worries in other mindless electronic drivel.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Man, I am boring.

So it's Tuesday, which means I teach. Heh.

Did I post yesterday? What did we do yesterday? Was that the day we did the three steps? I think so, but it seems like it was longer ago than that. Hm. I think I'm getting old.

Anyway, so today I 'tested' them on the steps. And on paying attention. On the overhead I put some practice questions.
First question: "Ms's motto is, When in doubt...
a--eat lots of cheese
b--go back to the passage
c--follow the directions
d--take a walk.

Ha, it made me giggle. And it made some of my kids giggle. Cause apparently I'm also twelve, like them.

Anyway, after that, I timed them on completing a section of a new test (ten minutes for one passage and five questions). After reviewing the three steps, of course. And I watched them, and I saw them previewing and underlining questions!! Cue the angels on high! I must be teaching and they must be learning. It's a Miracle, I tell you!

I had them do some accountable talk about what they did to arrive at their answers, and we quickly reviewed the actual answers. According to the hands raised and their affirmations at the end, the vast majority of each class got them all right or only one wrong. That is very good news indeed! Once again, they said that using this strategy helped them work faster and more correctly. Hurrah!

So tomorrow when we do an official mc assessment, I hope that the scores are much higher than in the past. Wish us all luck.

Especially me, because I think my health is going downhill. For a couple days, my throat has been a bit sore. Nothing too bad, but I sure hope it doesn't get worse. Teaching with a bad throat SUCKS. Then this afternoon, my tummy started to hurt, like that pinching type feeling. Since my last period is free on Tuesdays, and my room was empty and I don't have a homeroom, and I got my bulletin board up, I went home about half an hour early.

Therefore all afternoon and evening, I've been watching tv and chillin' out. I like that, but it's boring. In a good way. Boringsville, that's me!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I think it was a long week

Last week ended pretty well. I was very pleased at the number of final essays turned in. It wasn't at 100%, but it was much closer than in the past. Progress!!

Also, I shocked myself by taking time on Friday, one mere day after the turn-in, to grade two whole classes' worth of essays!! Shocker. But in a good way!

On Friday I taught my classes the Three Easy Steps of multiple choice (Preview and underline, Read and underline, Answer and refer back). I explicitly modeled this with an entire passage and questions. I marked up my copy, explaining why, and the kids did the same. They saw me easily figure out the answers and not get tricked, because I'd previewed questions.

It took a long time, but I think it was definitely worth it to work through the whole section. Because when I was done, I set them on the next section. And by god, nearly all of them immediately started the same process I had modeled! When they had finished, I asked them how they thought it went. Many of them looked surprised, or said, how much easier and faster it went. Whee!

It is December. What?! I looked at the calendar a little while ago and saw that there are only three weeks left of school before the break. Which means four weeks until I leave for Amsterdam. Yay for real me, boo for teacher me!

This week I hope to get in the last of the testing skills that I haven't yet worked on. Not only that, but reinforce the things we've already done. I hope to start doing online work with assessment, and I've already assigned differentiated homework. I'll try to do more of that as well.

Also this week I want to start timing them. I've got a ton of old testing booklets and a bunch of test skills books, so we've got plenty of materials to work with.

I'm not worried about interesting lessons at this point, because I don't have the energy and we just need to get through things. Three weeks this month, and then less than two weeks in January. Power through!