Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's more like being volun-told...

Day 14 -- Prompt: Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes, where do you volunteer? If not, why not? Courtesy of Kassie @ bravelyobey.blogspot.com.

Hmm. This is an interesting question because my initial gut reaction to this question was, "Uhm. ::long pause:: Hmmm. ::thinking:: Um. No, no I really don't volunteer anywhere... is that ... is that something I should be doing? ::thinking:: Hmm."

And then I realized something. I volunteer a LOT of my time, but it's in the context of my actual non-volunteer career.

I am my school's Speech and Debate coach. While I do get a small coaching stipend for this job, it's not really enough to cover the sheer number of hours I spend on the weekends of tournaments supervising kids, judging, coaching, and helping. I do the things that a parent might do volunteering for their kids' school. Last year, for example, I served as a judge at the California State Speech and Debate Tournament -- and this was completely voluntary, given that none of my students were actually competing at this tournament.

I am also the teacher advisor for my school's Science Olympiad team, and this is not a stipend job. I volunteer my lunches when they need my room for a meeting, I've volunteered at least one evening a year so that they can have a parent meeting, and I collect forms and money and such to pass on to the parent volunteers who actually run the times.

And speaking of Science Olympiad, I also actually run one of the events at the regional competition, and, as I'm writing this, I realize this is probably the biggest volunteer endeavor I take on each year. I run an event called Write It, Do It, which involves technical writing and building something following directions. I competed in this event when I was a Science Olympian in high school, and now that my high school coach is one of the regional big-wigs here in San Diego, she recruited me a few years ago.

I've been doing WIDI now for three years -- this year will be the fourth year, I think, that I've done it. And every year I get a little bit better at doing it. But this, out of all the things I do, is truly a labor of love. It takes HOURS to prepare for.

See, there's this little detail: San Diego has the biggest regional Science Olympiad competition in the United States; each year, we have in the neighborhood of 75 teams from the middle school and 75 from the high school. So, 150 teams worth of kids (each team consists of 15 students...). For me, this means 70+ building kits. I build my "devices" out of those green floral foam blocks and all kinds of wacky materials, like pipe cleaners, straws, toothpicks, quilting pins, beads, paper clips, stickers, and anything else I can buy in bulk cheaply. I have to build at least 8 copies of the original device, and then I have to make enough kits for each team that has signed up to compete in the event.

This takes DAYS.

I'm not kidding.


And then the day of the competition (which, actually, here in San Diego, is now two different days, the middle school and high school competitions happening separately. Kinda sorta because of my event. Heh), I am there all day, first running the competition and then grading the devices. Thank god for my mom -- she's a trooper. I honestly couldn't -- and wouldn't -- do it without her. Luckily, she loves it as much as I do. Oh, and I also voluntarily wrote a coaching manual a few years ago. So I think this is were I pay my volunteering dues. I'm incredibly supportive of Science Olympiad -- I loved every second of it as a competitor and I feel so lucky to be able to be involved in it now as an adult.

Oh, and I also help with the San Diego Unified's Language Academy Spelling Bee! I've been the Wrong Answer Bell Ringer for three years running and have already signed up for my fourth! It's awesome. I do it to help my friend Summer, but it's really just a delightfully exciting evening. Except I always have to be the dream squasher. Haha. But it's a fun way to support programs in other places.

So there. I guess maybe I volunteer more than I think I do, I guess it just doesn't quite meet the connotation of "volunteering" that even I think of when people mention volunteer work.

Face It. I'm Just BETTER.

(I can barely pull off a title like that; I'm totally kidding, just so that's clear.)

Day 13 -- Prompt: What are three things you are better at than most people? Courtesy of Catie @ catiecake.wordpress.com.

Three things that I'm better at than most people? Geez.

Well. The most obvious one, for me, is Learning and Remembering Things. I've always known I was different than other people -- even as a very young kid, I had a heightened awareness that my brain worked differently than my classmates. My brain works faster -- maybe my hamster up there was given steroids, I don't know. But it became more and more clear as I got older into high school that I have a gift most other people don't have. Things that took most of my classmates, say, 30 minutes to do would only take me 10. And I'd get an A and they might get an A, but sometimes not. I barely every actively studied for tests and such, was usually done with my homework in class, and carried a 4.5 GPA by my senior year. I guess I'm wired differently, and so I think this is the biggest thing that distinguishes me from others. Plus, I'm a trivia boss in a lot of ways -- I was on the Academic Team in high school and am often people's "life line" for information.

The second one is, I guess, related to the first, which is that I read faster than anyone I know. Not too long ago, I was just arriving at the gym to meet with my trainer and there was one of those forwarded emails printed out (heh) and sitting on the counter of their little juice bar area. Chris, my trainer, and his friend Kyle, another trainer, point it out to me and want me to read it. It was about the difference between how men and women shower. It was funny -- and it took me all of maybe 10 to 15 seconds to read the 2 pages of bullet points. Basically, I picked up the page, read the front and back, and put it back down. They were both completely incredulous -- "there's no way you read all of that!" And I immediately set about reciting what I had just read. Nearly verbatim. It was fun -- not only did they have to eat their words, but it watching them roll their jaws back up the floor was awesome. I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in about 8 hours? I think? My book arrived from Amazon at around 3 in the afternoon and I finished around midnight. And I had taken some time out for eating dinner with my parents. I'm sorta scary.

Now for the third. Hmm. Making messes? Sitting on the couch? Procrastinating? I'm not sure I can really think of a third. Is that weird? I type really fast. I get ready for work really fast (I get out of bed at 6:15 and am generally in the car by 6:25/6:30). I certainly don't sing well. I play the flute well, but not better than anyone, really. I bake decently, but my mommy is better. I could be a good graphic designer if I had the time or the resources, but I don't, so I'm not that good.

How about this: I'm just better at being me.

(And I'll bet I'm not the only one who says this today.)

If Loving Toddlers and Tiaras is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

I'm behind, but I didn't want to skip this one! It just ended up that way. So another double assault today.

Day 12 -- Prompt: Name and explain the one guilty pleasure you can't live without. Ie: that cupcake shop you visit weekly, a book you repeately read to find solace in, etc). Then explore the idea of how you would feel if you gave that thing up for a year. Courtesy of Neha @ whereyouarehere.blogspot.com.

Oh geez. I have so many guilty pleasures. It's possibly embarrassing. Therefore, I will be making a list.

  1. Starbucks. Grande Non-Fat Extra Hot Chai Latte. This is probably my biggest vice.
  2. Trashy Television and/or Reality Television (since they're not necessarily the same thing). In no particular order: Hoarders, Toddlers and Tiaras, Cupcake Wars, Intervention, Project Runway, Top Chef, The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, Chopped, Obsessed, Dateline on ID, Solved, Disappeared, and most permutations of crime shows.
  3. Friends. As in the television show. I would be a very sad and unhappy person without this show. I fall asleep to it almost every night. It relaxes me.
  4. Crocheting. Though this may not be necessary a fully guilty pleasure, it is when I'm doing it *instead* of grading. It soothes me, but sometimes it's probably not the most appropriate use of my time.
  5. Sombrero's Mexican Food. I'll admit it. This is my Mexican food of choice. I've been eating it more rarely lately but it's definitely a guilty, guilty, delightful, delicious pleasure.
  6. Facebook. I'm not even going to pretend like I'm above spending hours a night on Facebook, at least while I'm doing other things.
  7. Disneyland. I have an annual pass and pretty much get withdrawals if I don't go in any given 4-6 week period.
  8. Golden Spoon. Frozen yogurt in general is a pleasure, but Golden Spoon, in my opinion, is the closest to ice cream as you can get and it's amazing.
  9. Diet Coke. I've really been trying to wean myself off. But it's too. hard.
  10. Christmas Music. Because I've been known to listen to it year-round. Well, maybe not year-round. From about September through the Christmas season. I'm especially fond of George Winston's "December" album. Favorite album of all time.
There. I think ten is sufficient. In terms of what I could or couldn't give up? I could probably easily give up Christmas Music, Sombrero's and MAYbe the trashy television. But give up Chai? Diet Coke? Disneyland? I think not. Pretty much everything on this list is a guilty pleasure because it all helps me relax and survive the hellishness that is my job right now. Though a lot of these things distract me from work, at least they're things that fill me with happiness and joy.

But if I lose my job this year, Disneyland will probably have to be the first things that goes. D:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Day 11 -- Prompt: How are you like your mother? And if you're a mother, how are your kids like you? Courtesy of Jessica at profbanks.com.

The honest to goodness answer to this is that I am ever so much more like my father than my mother. I have my dad's temperament, many of his mannerisms, and most especially his look: I am a carbon copy of my dad.

Yet, for as much as it often seems like I am 100% my father and 0% of my mother, I like to think that the intensity, the negativity, the short-temperedness, and the mercurial nature of my dad has been tempered by my mom.

My mom and I have the same sense of humor; we share many of the same favorite movies and especially favorite scenes of those movies. Galaxy Quest. The Princess Bride. Blow Dry. About a Boy. Star Wars (episodes 4-6). Legends of the Fall. The Shawshank Redemption. What a Girl Wants. Ghostbusters. Trading Places. We quote from these a lot.

My mom and I are both wickedly intelligent, good and dedicated readers, and are obsessed with word games and crossword puzzles. I've spent many a Sunday at my parents' house, with my photocopy of the same puzzle my mom is working, racing her to complete it.

My mom and I are both creative and crafty (certainly something I got in no WAY from my father). I may not be able to sew like her, but we can both paper and yarn craft quite impressively. We both generally try to make our own Christmas cards, and often make our own [fill in the occasion here] cards. We sent each other Halloween cards this year we'd handmade -- and it was entirely independent of each other.

My mom and I are both very picky about the art/decoration we allow into our living spaces. I think this is something I was taught by her. My mom will no allow "pre-fab" art in her home. Instead, everything that hangs in her living spaces -- which, in their giant house they share with my grandma accounts for almost four rooms -- has been meticulously selected, created, framed, and hung to suit an exacting eye for what she wants. My mom has been known to make her own frames, her own mats, and her own actual art. That's not to say that everything is 'handmade' -- my mom also carefully selects the kinds of art prints she hangs, and most of the actual store-bought printed material that hangs on walls was collected during our travels. She's got prints from all over the world. In my kitchen at my house (which is actually my parents'), there's a print of Monet's that I actually bought at Giverny, and a print by a Scandinavian artist she bought at an art museum in Lillehammer, Norway. She's got prints from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark; the Tate Museum in London; the Bristish Museum in Victoria, British Columbia; a small art shot in Taos, New Mexico. I share this snobbery -- everything in my bedroom was created particularly by me.

I'd like to think that I'm loving and caring like my mom. My mom is the best hostess, and I try to emulate her accommodating and welcoming ways when I host things (to the point where I think sometimes I overdo it). My mom is an awesome cook; I'm not that good, but I have my moments. But she makes sure that you're well fed and not hungry and that any dietary restrictions are taken into account.

My mom and I also share an irrational fear of lightning. I don't know if I learned my irrational fear from her, or if we just both happened to have terrifying experiences with lightning during the same formative periods of our lives. Either way.

And of course, my mom and I share a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter. Otherwise, I'd probably disown her.

Short and Sweet

Day 10 -- Prompt: What is the best and/or worst thing about your life right now? Courtesy of Dana at simply-walking.com.

The Best: Christmas is in the air, Netflix is available on every device I own, and I'm *thisclose* to having a vacation.

The Worst: The stress of my job. My job is sucking the life out of me every day, and it just makes me sad that my job is the worst part of my life right now.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Breathe Books

Wait. I can only pick ONE?!


I'm an ENGLISH teacher. This is an entirely impossible task for me.

Ergo, I will be picking ten.

1. Katy No Pockets by Emmy Payne.
I loved this book because my name was in the title. I didn't really get much more sophisticated than that as a three year old. MY NAME IN A BOOK!? COOL! But really, it's a pretty cute story about a kangaroo who has no pockets, but needs a pocket for her baby. So she gets an apron with a ton of pockets and becomes everyone's mom!

2. The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack
I just have incredibly strong memories of my mom reading this story to us at bedtime. I love the illustrations and the cute little duck.

3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
If you don't love this book, you don't have a heart. The end.

4. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Baillet
This one is for a slightly older crowd; I first learned of it from a sixth grade teacher I was working with early in my career. It's sorta like pre-teenager's first mystery novel. And the illustrations are beautiful and actually part of the story. It's delightful.

5. Corduroy by Don Freeman
I just find this book so delightfully lovely. The pictures are adorable and I feel warm and fuzzy inside even when I just see the cover.

6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Ste Exupery
We had to read this as core lit in fifth grade, and though I don't think I fully and completely grasped the whole idea of the book then, I knew it was something special.

7. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
This makes my top list because I remember reading it for the first time: in my first grade teacher Mrs Iler's trailer classroom at Sunset Hills. I still picture the inside of that room whenever I see this book on a shelf.

This is a link to the iPhone app I discovered that is based on a book and cassette set I had as a kid. It's the story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier read by Jeremy Irons. I repeat: JEREMY IRONS. When I discovered the existence of this app, I downloaded it in a heartbeat. I LOVED listening to this story as a kid, and I loved the pictures in this version. Plus, Jeremy Irons's voice adds such a creep factor to the story.

10. The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is one of the few books I have memories of my mom reading us faithfully several times through, and then as an older child, reading them on my own. Last year, in the spring, one of my students organized a used book drive to benefit a local children's hospital and one of the students donated the entire set of Little House books. The book drive went for a few weeks, so I actually ended up reading the entire series again from the donated books -- I borrowed them over a weekend and inhaled them and then put them back in the pile. Loved them even more than I had as a kid.

As a sidenote, as a teacher of English, I was curious what the interwebs has to say about "good" children's books and came across this list of the NEA's top 100. SO MANY GOOD BOOKS ON THIS LIST, including many of the ones I already listed.

Hey Teacher! Y U BLOG?

Day 8 -- Prompt: Why blog? Why do you or why do you like to blog (recognizing that these are not always the same thing)? Courtesy of Kristen, kristendomblogs.com.

I think my first blog was a DeadJournal, started in January of 2002. The first post, though, inexplicably, says "This isn't much different than blogger," which begs the question: did I, at some point, have a different blogger site? ... That's a little creepy to think about. (I also just weirdly fell into the old DeadJournal site. Reading things from Sophomore Year me is just hideously bizarre).
I transitioned to Xanga at some point in September 2002 (guess DeadJournal was unappealing). I actually had decent bouts with consistency on my Xanga -- pre-facebook, it was a decent way to communicate with some of my friends who were at that point spread around the country. I sometimes still update it, but not as often. I guess the microblogging done through Facebook these days suits me much, much better.

I started this blog as the educational unrest in California continued to plague my life plans. As a teacher, I often feel completely and utterly powerless to do anything about the situation. It's like a free fall all the time, which is pretty horrible when it involves not just your job, but your calling. Not being really that protest/political-outcry inclined (not that I don't have opinions, but I just think I don't have the civil disobedience gene), I felt like blogging was at least a teeny, tiny way to get people paying attention to the humans behind the supposedly-power and money hungry, vacation-getting, lazy-after-tenure teachers that apparently pack our schools and drain our state budget. I am really, really good at what I do (most of the time) and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that teaching is my calling. I can remember having dreams of teaching as early as fifth grade, and I know that this is the one single profession that fulfills me and propels me and sustains me. So blogging on this particular site enables me to do that.

The problem is, though, that teaching, especially this year, renders me so tired and with so little free time that trying to keep a blog in my free time, on my home computer, is nearly impossible. It's sad, really, that it's so sporadic because I always feel so empowered when I update it. But it's sort of a weird paradox: Decide to write blog to demonstrate how much time teachers spend doing their job. Discover that this time you spend doing your job is what prevents you from blogging about the time you spend doing your job. Le sigh.

I like blogging about my life as a teacher because I'd like to think that it's clear that despite complains about the non-teaching things (making my own copies and such), I love what I do. I am still incredibly proud of this post that I wrote because it so well captures me and my students at our best; more my students, actually. I still beam from ear to ear when I think back to this day, and I'm so, so, so happy that I committed it to memory through setting it down into this blog. Even if this blog doesn't necessarily achieve its envisioned purpose, at least I'll always have that entry -- and a few of the others -- to look back on and be proud of.

And then there was YouTube. And life was never the same.

Yesterday was Wednesday, which is my world is my weekly hectic day from Hell. Wednesdays are my days where I teach straight from 7:30 to 3:35 with no break except lunch and no prep period, then sometimes I have Department Chair meetings until 4:30, then I have rehearsal a little over half an hour away in El Cajon. Yesterday, though, was our Winter Concert, so I rushed home from school and changed into my concert black dress and attempted to rush down to Cuyamaca College and ended up being 20 minutes late for call time (which basically made me stressed out the rest of the night). I didn't get home until about 11, and then I went straight to bed, so the blogging thing didn't happen. But this was a prompt I very much wanted to write about, so I'm just going to do two day.

Day 7 -- Prompt: Who or what makes you laugh so hard that milk shoots out your nose and why? Slapstick, dry witty comedy, your kids, Monty Python? Courtesy of Kassie @ bravelyobey.blogspot.com.

I'm a good laugher. I laugh at lots of things. I'm fairly easy to make laugh, I think, and since I tend towards collecting people in my life that I genuinely love and enjoy, I laugh frequently.

* My brother makes me laugh with his grumpiness and sarcasm. My brother also collects odd turns of phrase, which, while not necessarily always his own, just make me giggle. The newest phrase I learned from him was "Oh, it looks like that guy's really ridin' the Struggle Bus." And also, "Okay, okay, I'm smellin' what you're cookin'" -- which means "Oh I get it now." He's just a hilarious kid. And he's especially funny when he's telling a story about his life, and his stories about working as a bartender at Island's are PRICEless.

* Jack makes me laugh pretty much daily for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes he's grumpy like me at things, other times we laugh together watching our favorite YouTube videos, sometimes we laugh just generally at each other or with each other. We laugh together at The Daily Show, at The Big Bang Theory, at random things we find online. And Jack has the best laugh -- it's somewhere between a giggle and laugh and it's awesome and infectious.

* My mom makes me laugh because she's just awesome. She's brilliant, which makes her witty and she's awesome at making the most random references to things, especially Galaxy Quest, Friends, and The Princess Bride.

* Summer makes me laugh with her snark and her wit. We pretty much spend most of our time together laughing. If we're in good moods. And not complaining about work. Heh. She has a great laugh, too. And we tend to find many of the same things funny.

* I will NEVER NOT find a well-placed "That's what she said" funny. Ever. I'm such a bad teacher; I will laugh hysterically when a student effectively deploys the "That's what she said".

* My students. For many, MANY reasons. This is both a blessing and a curse.

* Eddie Izzard, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Margaret Cho, Bill Engvall, and Greg Beherendt will always make me laugh. I love stand up comedy when it's smart and realistic.

* I will always laugh at Tom Hanks laughing in The Money Pit.

* I laugh at idiocy.

* I pretty much always laugh on Disney's Tower of Terror. I don't really scream; I giggle like an idiot.

I laugh at almost everything. But these are the things that make me happiest to list.

Enjoy the YouTube videos. :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

La la la you can't make me la la la

Day 6 -- Prompt: List 10 things you would never do. Courtesy of Katrina at katrinatripled.blogspot.com.

1. Have a surgery that wasn't life-saving or ultimately absolutely necessary. I'm terrified of anesthesia.

2. Quit my job and strike out on my own as a nomad. As delightful as it would be to have no responsibilities and travel around, it's just not how I'm made.

3. Go spelunking. Jack wants someday to do the underground tours of Carlsbad Caverns, and to this, I give him a hearty "No thank you."

4. Celebrate New Year's Eve in Times Square. Or, really, even in Las Vegas. (I think this might make the top three Worst Nightmares I Can Imagine list.)

5. Not take care of my parents when and if they needed it, or allow anything to jeopardize the relationship I have with my parents. More and more lately, I recognize how lucky I am to have such a good relationship with them.

6. Jump willingly from a plane, platform, mountain, or otherwise high place that would require a parachute and a change of underwear.

7. Run for President. Mostly of the United States, but really of anything, probably.

8. Compromise my beliefs for any one or any thing.

9. Give up teaching The Great Gatsby in any American Literature-based course I teach. (courtesy of Emily Beaver, my former APEL student and published authoress)

10. Blindly allow an affiliation (political party, religion, job status, union, membership, etc.) to define what I think about an issue, the issues that I care about, or how I live my life inside my brain.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Day 5 -- Prompt: What is the one thing you finally did this year that you always wanted or said you were going to do, but in your heart of hearts never thought you would actually do? Amy, 2bperfectlyfrank.blogspot.com

Though it doesn't necessary fall into the category of "things I always wanted to do," it does fall into the category of "things I would never, ever, EVER have thought I would want to do." This year, I trained for and ran the San Diego Rock N Roll Half Marathon.

I am not a runner. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I weigh more than 2oo pounds right now and heft about my person a set of DD breasts. And yet, I completed a half marathon in a little over three hours this past June.

I've always been heavier than average and have always hated running. Middle school PE was a hellish nightmare of torture and humiliation because we ran twice a week, every week, unless it was raining. And I grew up in San Diego: rain is a rarity. I remember the ONE SINGLE TIME in my life I ran a mile is less than 10 minutes. I was in eighth grade and my time was 9:59. Most of the time, I averaged between 12 and 15 minutes (and not much has changed).

Then, in high school, I was in marching band and as my school had a huge and intense marching band program, that was our PE, so enforced and graded running became a thing of the past. And stayed that way for a long time.

Then, about five years ago, I started working out with a personal trainer and lost over 80 pounds. It was then that I realized I could probably run. I could do an hour on the elliptical no problem and started casually running occasionally just because I could. I didn't like it; at least, I didn't like the running part, but I did like the part where I wasn't dying while I did it and where I was doing something I never really thought I would do.

Two years ago, my best friend Bri asked if I wanted to run the Rock N Roll Half Marathon. This would have been the 2010 one. I agreed, grudgingly, but then within a week or so of that decision (which has been either January or February before the race) I got really, really sick with strep throat and it lasted forever -- I was sick for almost a month. By the time I was better, I fell and hurt my ankle, and so between the sick and the broken, I lost training time and ended up not being able to train for or run the race. But my parents and I went to cheer her on at the finish line ad after the three hours or so that we stood there and spectated, I realized how stupid it was that I didn't just run the damn race. Or at least walk it. I was angry and mad at myself for not taking the risk, even with the problems I had encountered.

So as soon as it was possible to sign up, I signed up for the 2011 Rock N Roll Half Marathon. I started training really early -- December or January, I think -- and just plodded along on my training. Soon, I was running five and six miles at a time, shocked at myself and my ability to persevere through a run. It wasn't fun -- my body hurt for weeks leading up to the race because, as I said before, I'm on the heavy side. I'm not super muscular, though I am freakishly strong and have been told by my trainer that I routinely lift (with his help) heavier weight than many of the men he trains. But heaving that weight for miles at a time takes a toll. My feet always hurt in the morning and often my back and hips hurt, too.

I remember the first ten miler I did. It was the worst run of my entire training adventure because I wasn't fully aware of the absolute necessity of food in a run that long. My body completely locked up around mile seven and I could barely force it to plod through the last three miles (but I had to; I was on a circular route around a lake...). The second ten miler was a litter better, but not much. And I only did two before race day.

Race day was terrifying but exhilirating. I made it nearly eight miles before really starting to feel like it was a really stupid idea... and then around mile ten, I just sorta lost my willpower. The last three miles were agony because I hurt everywhere. Plus, unlike MOST June days in San Diego, where the fog never, ever goes away and it's in the 60s all day, this year, there was not a cloud in the sky even at 6 am when we were lining up before the race. It was in the upper 70s and lower 80s and heat is my kryptonite.

But I freaking finished. I crossed the finish line running -- er, jogging. Pretty slowly. But finish I did. And I burst into tears as soon as I crossed the finish line because I couldn't believe I had just carried my body 13.1 miles. Running. On purpose. I was so proud of myself.

But then, immediately, I was pissed as hell at myself because my time was over three hours. My goal had been three hours or less. I was frustrated with my time, and of all the people I knew running the race -- my boyfriend, Bri again, and my brother's girlfriend -- I was last. It was annoying and saddening to me that for as far as I'd come, I didn't achieve the goal I'd set for myself. And I know that's stupid.

But regardless of that stupid, crippling hate of failure, I'm incredibly proud of myself that I did it. I pulled it off and I've even signed up for another half marathon this coming January. And I'll certainly be signing up for the Rock N Roll again. And I certainly never EVER thought I'd run a half marathon. If I went back in time and told 22 year old me or 24 year old me or even 26 year old me, "Hey! You're gonna run a half marathon in your future!" I would have laughed SO hard because it wasn't anything I'd ever considered doing before 2010.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In Which I Utterly Suck At This Whole Actress Selection Thing

Day 4 -- Prompt: In the movie version of your life, which actor/actress would play you and the significant players in your life? What kind of movie? What would the major plot points be, and how will it end?

I know lots of people think about this kind of thing often; I really don't. This seems an impossible prompt for me. I love television and movies and used to have a rather unhealthy trashy magazine habit, so I'm pretty familiar with a lot of actors and actresses that I might use to populate my movie.

My gut says to go with Sandra Bullock for me for my main adult life. She hasn't done a teacher movie yet, right? Haha. After that, my brain goes buzz. My brother would probably love to be played by Ryan Reynolds. But who to play my parents? Grandparents? My friends and lovers? I'm tapped out. So I'm choosing to slide right over the casting list and focus on the major plot points.

I think if you asked my parents, the beginning would be reminiscient of a horror movie, since apparenty I was a terrifying kid. Not, like, possessed terrifying, but just scary. For example:

Scene 1
Setting: Disneyland's The Haunted Mansion
Year: 1985
Age: 2.5

In line, about to ride The Haunted Mansion for the first time

Mom: Okay, Katie, now, this right might be scary, but just remember, it's just a ride. It's not real -- nothing will hurt you.
Katie: looks up, smiling. Exasperatedly. I know, Mommy. It's just a three dimensional, computer-generated, holographic image. It's not real.
Mom: long pause. Sighs. Okay, welp, I'm more afraid of you now than I've ever been of this ride.

My parents would clearly be prominent figures in this movie, as well as my brother. There would be a lot of traveling, and thus my grandparents would also figure prominently as well. I'd probably want some of the focus to be on my high school experience, and also on my college experience. My adult life is pretty boring, but it would kick a lot of ass to end up having a biopic about me because of my teaching life. You know, for revolutionizing teaching or something. But I'm not Dangerous Minds gnarly or Freedom Writer's Diary free to do what I want, really. So it's probably unlikely. But it could be fun.

I'd like it to be comedic at it's essence, because that's who I am, but a documentary also feels fun, too. Interviews of people -- as I'm thinking about this option, I'm loving this idea more. Why bother with actors and actresses? WHy not just actually have the people I love featured, telling stories about me, while at the same time, getting to tell stories about themselves and my family? I guess I've landed at the realization that I'd rather my movie be about me and how I fit into my family, rather than just me.

And the soundtrack will be AWESOME. Obviously. Lots of Paula Abdul and Hanson and No Use For a Name and the original Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and Tracy Chapman and Huey Lewis and Paul Simon.

Roll credits

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Live In My Parents' House.

Day # 3 -- Prompt 3: How did you become more of a grown-up this year? Or did you pull a Peter Pan and stubbornly remain childlike? -- from Bethany.

This is a tricky prompt for me because I feel like my life definitely straddles both sides of this coin, so in my rather tired state, I shall attempt to look at both.

I am, and have always been, an Old Soul, which I've been told was partially inherited and partially because of my intelligence. My mom recently unearthed some baby pictures of me she'd lost track of, and when she was narrating her way through them to me, she came to one that was taken around the first few weeks of my life, and she told me that she felt like I was starting into her soul -- knowingly -- at that moment, and she felt like it was weird and freaky and an indication I had knowledge beyond my ... well, days, at that point, but eventually, when I was older, years. I've always been the girl that colors inside the lines, that liked it -- well, more like reveled in it -- when adults paid attention to me and included me, and I know from both stories and memories that my brother and I have always been very well behaved, grown-up acting people. My grandma likes to tell a story about the owner of a restaurant once complimenting my grandpa (and my parents, ultimately) for my brother's and my behavior at the restaurant table; the owner said he'd never seen such young children (I think I was maybe in 2nd grade and my brother was a Kindergardener) behave so well and so maturely in his restaurant. My brother and I are both just like that. So to think about how I became MORE of a grown-up this year? Maybe in subtle but significant ways -- my boyfriend and I have been more and more integrating his kids into the fabric of our relationship this year and now they spend at least one of the nights he has them every other weekend here at our house. I recently also found myself in a situation of having to take my mom down to urgent care because of an issue, which wigged me out when it probably shouldn't have, but the dawning realization that your parents are going to someday reach a point where you'll have to take care of them was unnerving to me, despite having watched my parents care for my mom's parents for the last seven years (well, grandpa for five of those; he died two years ago). So I guess that changes have been at once major and minor -- major because they involve pretty significant steps forward in my life, but minor because I don't think they've necessarily altered me as a human; not fundamentally, at least.

Yet, the sticking point to this prompt for me is that I don't really often feel like a "real" grown-up, but not because I obstinately refuse to act that way; I don't fancy myself to be Peter Pan. It's just that the way my life is working out has made me feel sometimes like I'm hovering in a persistent state of reality limbo. I live in my parents' house while they're living with my grandma fewer than three miles away; I try to rationalize this as "caretaking" of the house, when there are other times I just feel like a loser who doesn't have the grown up responsibilities of things like paying rent. Granted, I pay all of the utilities, and so since I live in a full-sized house, water and electricity and such are, all combined, probably as much as someone's normal rent would be, but still. It's the house I've lived in since I was 2, I just occupy a different room.

I also have never yet owned my own car; I've always driven a hand-me-down or loaned car from my parents. I was seriously considering buying a car right as school started, but decided against it for now. Lately, I have, however, assumed the responsibilities of paying for whatever goes wrong with my current car, and as its a BMW, this is a fairly expensive adventure, but still. I still ask my dad what to do, where to go, and how to take care of it.

It's really all just weird -- I have a career that I love, and I've been at the same school now for six years, but also, that feels weird too because I live currently in budget crisis limbo-land where my job is always at stake, so it's hard to fathom what I would do instead, and it also makes me very, VERY cautious about taking on any other kinds of responsibilities like buying a condo or even a car.

I'm realizing that a LOT of this is relating to money, as if somehow I equate "being a real grown-up" with "able to spend money on sensible things like homes and vehicles" ... I don't really; in my head, though, it's more about the responsibility that is connected with those kinds of investments. I see other people -- and other people much, MUCH younger than me, buying homes and cars and going on big vacations and I can't wrap my head around getting myself into those situations with such financial uncertainty in my life.

But essentially, my point in this second half is that it's hard to feel like a "real" grown up when I haven't really transitioned out of being a kid living at home. It's different, of course -- I don't live with my parents and I've had pretty free reign to make changes to the house that aren't terribly permanent (paint color, furniture, etc.) -- but really, it's not. I live in the 'burbs, which I guess might make some people feel really good, like they were successful, but not me. I guess the difference is that I haven't had to work to come back to the 'burbs because I never actually left, really. ::shrug:: I guess it's all perspective. Some day, maybe those things will happen for me, but maybe even then I won't feel like a "real" grown up...

Oh. But if it matters: I totally still color in coloring books. Take that, grown up me!

Friday, December 2, 2011

How Can Smart Be So Stupid?

Day # 2 -- Prompt: What is the stupidest thing you did this year? What about in your whole life? You can take stupid to mean: embarrassing, dangerous, funny, lame, whatever you consider "stupid."


Heh. Well, I'm not a stupid person. I'm actually a really, really smart person -- really smart. But there are definitely stupid things I've done, and just like yesterday, I've been ruminating on this prompt all day (and now it's after 10 pm) trying to decide what to write about.

I think this year, there have been two stupid things that I keep coming back around to, but really, in their essence, they aren't all that stupid at all. But they seem more than a bit stupid in retrospect.

Thing #1: Deciding to Run a Half Marathon.

Obviously, this isn't really all that stupid. Hundreds -- nay, probably thousands -- of people a year train and run half marathons and full marathons and all manner of ridiculously long races for really no purpose but for the ability to say that you did it. I decided late last year and early this year that I needed something new to motivate me to stay active. After having lost almost 80 pounds four years ago, the last two and a half years have seen my weight creep back up and it's really pissing me off (you could probably also categorize that under "Stupid Things" also...), so I needed something else to focus on. My best friend ran her first half marathon two years ago -- she did the 2010 San Diego Rock N Roll Half. I was initially going to sign up for that one, but ended up getting really sick for a really long time during the crucial training part. I did, however, go and spectate, waiting for her at the end of the race, and I remember being really disappointed in myself for not just sucking it up and doing it anyway. So this year, I did it. And really, it was awesome and also stupid. I just still can't really wrap my head around the fact that I willingly dragged my over-200-pound body through 13.1 miles of running (er, the last two miles, it was less running and more hobbling...) -- I just still think running is stupid. But maybe the stupider thing in all of this is that I have recently signed up to run my next half marathon. I guess the stupid thing about this is that I really and honestly barely have the time to eat and bathe and sleep, let alone run the amount I need to run to get ready. I have no idea why my schedule is so stupid right now, but I'm struggling to eek out the time I need to train for this race -- and it's happening in January. I'm wishing now I'd just held off for the Rock N Roll Half, because it doesn't happen until January. But I guess a related stupid thing is that I'm way too nice and don't always put myself before other people (in fact, that really should be I don't often...).

Thing #2: Deciding to Radically -- and Publicly -- Change My Sophomore Curriculum

Oof. I classify this as stupid of the overly-ambitious and possibly-idiotic kind. Last year, my mom sent me a video that the teacher that she worked for had seen about gamifying education. It's a really great theory, and for a partial gamer like me, it makes total sense and it seemed like an excellent way to re-invigorate what I've been doing for a long time and would be a fun experiment. Plus, the theory was that it would help students be successful. So I tried it. And it's wearing me out. Completely. Don't get me wrong, it's been an awesome and completely fascinating experience, but there are so many moving parts to it that I didn't even anticipate -- my class sizes of over 40 being one of the biggest and most critical hurdles -- that I can't really keep up with the way it needs to be kept up with. It was stupid of me to decide to take this on in the hardest year of my career. The biggest classes I've ever had, therefore the most students I've ever had at one time, with three sections of sophomores instead of the two I've been having that last three years. So I've been nothing but overwhelmed and frazzled trying to make it work. It's been like throwing spaghetti at the wall. But I have hope for the system, and have hope that it will eventually work, and I trust my students enough to ask them for feedback and help. But I really am kinda wishing I hadn't undertaken it in a year like this. But oh well.

And stupidest thing in my life? Meh. Weirdly, nothing is leaping immediately to mind, which is both unnerving and totally misleading. I've done plenty of stupid and embarrassing things. I forgot the words to the poem I was supposed to recite in my fifth grade talent show. I once said -- I think when I was in 7th grade -- that if "Granny were alive today, she'd be dead by now," which is a quote my family STILL uses against me. I once tried to leap from one end of the monkey bars to nearly halfway across, obviously missed, and landed on the sand so hard it knocked the wind out of me, all in front of the boy I had a huge crush on. (<--- it's fun to link to people you know on Wikipedia. I had the biggest crush on him through almost all of elementary school. After I fell down the stairs in second grade (this was not a stupid thing, it was a horrifying accident), he made me a get well soon car with a picture of an ambulance. I swear I still have it somewhere.) ANYway, I digress. Where was I? Oh, right, stupid things. It was stupid that it took so long for me to figure out that I'm allergic to vodka; no wonder any time I tried to play the part of the "cool kid" in college I got violently ill and hated every second of it. It was stupid not to have told boys I liked that I liked them.

But you know what WASN'T stupid? Changing my major from Aerospace Engineering to English, despite having wanted to be an astronaut and aerospace engineer since first grade. I don't regret it, not one tiny little bit, even though my job right now is beyond stressful and I'm nearing my breaking point with my workload. I still love what I do now and have never, ever regretted not continuing on to become an engineer. I know I'm smart enough to have done it; I probably could have been really successful. But I wouldn't trade any of that for what I do now -- especially since my job now allows me to wear a felt Roman helmet (purchased at Michael's, of course), a black cape, and carry a plastic sword around yelling "FRIENDS! ROMANS! COUNTRYMEN! Lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him!" I mean. I could have done that in an Engineering job, I guess, but it would have a much different outcome. It would have been stupid not to have listened to my heart.

And so now I will leave you with the Stupid-Looking-But-Actually-Awesome image of me, dressed up in all of my Julius Caesar glory, banging on the desks of the students not working on their assignment and yelling Shakespearean insults at those who dared mock my amazingly silly looking outfit.

Nitey nite!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Me, At 18.

Once again, I'm signing on for a project that I hope to see through to the end, but we'll see how that goes: when I went and looked at my Xanga (which atrophies as easily as this blog... ::sigh::), I think I made it all of two days through trying to post every day for a month. Such is life. If there's anything indicative of why I NEED to continue posting to this blog -- especially blog posts that help capture the life of a teacher -- it's that I don't have time to do so. Blargh paradoxes.

Anyway, with renewed focus (and the fact that two of the four weeks of December will be spent in vacation), I am embarking on a month-long daily blog posting project as part of the Reverb Broads. You can also read the post that inspired my joining here -- thanks, Kassie!

Day # 1 -- The Prompt: "If the you of today could go back in time and give advice to any of the previous yous, which age would you visit and what would you tell them?" via Kristen at kristendomblogs.com

I read the prompt for today's blog at about 6:30 this morning and it's about 6:30 in the evening, so I've spent most of my scant unoccupied minutes thinking about which Past Me deserves a good visit from Current Me. Most of my day, I've been composing letters in my head to 12 year old me and 16 year old me, but then when I really started to think about it, I think it's actually 18 year old me that probably needed the most help and also could have benefited from the most advice.

Dear 18 Year Old Me, in the Fall of 2000, During Your First Week Away at College:

Get a life. No. Seriously. Get a life. A real one. Stop being afraid of EVERYthing and get a life. Leave your dorm room, and not just to go to class. When someone invites you to a frat party, just go. You are still allowed to say no to the alcohol. But go, to have the experience. You'll learn that it's really just innocent fun and that college isn't about being able to tell stories about your professors or your assignments or the carrel you inhabit in the library (by the way, to save you some time, you'll eventually discover that your favorite carrel is on the sixth floor of Olin, on the North side, by the power outlet and the window that overlooks Sage Chapel. You're welcome.)

Stop being so afraid of failure. You DO already know this, but you will be a teacher some day -- and yes, a teacher of English, not of science, and it's okay when the time comes to let go of the Engineering dream. No one is going to be mad at you, no one is going to be offended or hurt because they bought you astronomy books when you were 10 and took you to every Science Olympiad meeting before you could drive and tolerated your science nerdiness and invested in your dream to be an astronaut. Your family doesn't care about any of that crap, so don't waste the next five months crying yourself to sleep out of the sheer terror of disappointing everyone who has ever pinned their hopes of having a world famous scientist on you. You are smart enough to do it -- you're good at it. Close that chapter in your life happily and willingly and hunker down into the novels you'll be teaching eventually. Don't waste your life dwelling on the potential of disappointing your parents, because eventually, when you have your dream job of teaching English at a high school that values your hard work and your intellect and your talent, you mom is going to write you an email that makes you cry, because she tells you how damn proud she is of you for doing what you do for kids. In fact, if you want to know the truth, 18 Year Old Me, your parents are going to be even more supportive of this career path because they know it's what you will end up living and breathing and loving.

Also, I hate to break this to you, 18 Year Old Me, but you will still be struggling with your weight when you're about to hit 30. There have been ups and there have been downs, but someday, though you won't believe it right now, you will successfully complete a half marathon and three 5Ks and will be in the process of training for a second half marathon as you approach your 30th birthday. Your body is awesome, and though you will continue to battle it and fight against your genetics and your hormones and your stupid inherited issues and your own stupid choices, know that you are freakishly strong and incredibly healthy, regardless of the size of your pants.

Speaking of your body, 18 Year Old Virgin Me, sex is not as scary as you keep thinking it is. You're in college now: get some. ... Okay, maybe that piece of advice is silly while dealing with your weight issues and your homesickness and your intense desire to be academically successful. But seriously, don't be so damn afraid of boys and men and sex and your body. Like I just said, your body is powerful and you will actually end up enjoying sex, so stop being such a prude and such a scaredy cat and allow yourself to be available and dateable.

But if you don't, know that you'll meet an amazing man who shares so many of your interests and quirks and appreciates your intelligence and your curvaceous body and your love of sex (heh) and your love of all things Star Wars and Star Trek and, eventually, grudgingly, Harry Potter. He'll make you laugh, he'll bring you fro-yo when you've had a terrible day, he'll bring you Tylenol AND Advil at 2:00 am because you're sick and having a melt down, and he'll help your parents and your grandparents with their computers and he'll talk you down out of Crazy Head when you are about to explode from your fear of failure.

18 Year Old Me, get a life -- or, at least, get living the one you have, because spending the next year of your life (your entire freshman year of college) because a reclusive, crying, depressed, anxious mess is going to do no one any good. Trust me: eventually, the crippling fear of being laid off that seizes you EVERY year for four years and the enormous stress of ever-increasing class sizes and your two-teachers-worth workload will make you REALLY wish you'd done at least some partying in college because by the time you're a grown up with real responsibilities, you'll be too damn tired to do anything but watch TV...

So go. Get out. Meet some friends, have a drink, go to a frat party or two, flirt with some boys, and enjoy the parts of college that you should be enjoying. I'm here to tell you, as Almost-30-Year-Old-You, you'll look back on college fondly, thinking about it every day, but also desperately wishing you'd done things differently in the beginning of it. Ultimately, your hard work paid off and you are allowed to be more than proud of your gnarly Ivy League academic achievements, but holy crap, girl, get out, get down, get funky, get kinky, and get living.

Current Me

Friday, October 7, 2011

Exhaustion, Thy Name is Friday

Here was my yesterday (Thursday) after school: photocopying a packet for the next unit I will be doing with my sophomores. We're moving into the persuasive research paper unit, which will take us to Thanksgiving and beyond. The packet I put together was 38 pages (that's front and back, though, so 19 pieces of paper, plus the cover, so 20 sheets of paper). But here's some rudimentary math for you: 39 imprints per student with 126 students = 4, 914 copies made. This photo shows a stack of approximately 2,520 pieces of paper. FIVE reams. And to make a 38 page packet with 19 pages meant that there were 19 sets of masters I had to flip over and copies I had to flip over, etc. I started copying at 3:15 pm. I gave up after my second phase of collating -- our electric collator only holds 8 stacks of paper, and I had 20. So I did two shifts, 8 at a time, to create two sets of collated packets, which took way longer than it should have because apparently the collator is sick and has decided that it needs to spit some of the papers randomly out the back of it... so it had to be babysat the whole time. I heaved all of these packets back to my classroom, cleaned up, and climbed into my car at 5:45 pm. Thank goodness for my mom the short order cook who made me dinner when I called on my way home all stressed out and harried from doing all the copying. Also thank goodness for my TAs -- they've all been so helpful in keeping me sane this year, but three of the four of my TAs worked to finish these packets. My 4th period TAs, Emily and Sean, worked like bosses to actually finish them -- I was going to let them wait until I bought a new stapler because my staplers have gotten worn out this year and have decided to crap out, but they made it work.

So... what's my point? I need a secretary. Or something. But my point in this rather long-winded introduction is that there are things that I think people don't realize teachers have to do, especially these days. When I was first hired at Poway, there was a classified employee employed full time to manage the copy room -- we mostly could do our own copies, but she was there to make copies if we left them in advance, to laminate, to fix and monitor the machines, etc. But now? It's every man for himself. And though I've generally always done my own copies because I don't usually copy until the day before or the day of, it's just a fact of my job that I have to be my own secretary. Taking attendance. Refilling my classroom staplers. Making all of my own copies. Filling out scads of paperwork (this week, it was three Teacher Input Forms for National Merit Scholar Qualifiers, four grade change forms for the Incompletes I gave at the end of second semester last year, one input form for a student being tested for a learning disability, passing out to my classes federal survey forms (which require keeping track of who has submitted them and who hasn't) and suicide prevention cards, and signing my weekly attendance report). And since my prep period is only 57 minutes long on most days, I have no prep on Wednesday, and a 2 hour prep on Thursdays, there's not really enough time to do all of that work within the school day, especially when you want to do something like I did, which is make a packet for an 8 week unit.

Really, though, it's been one of those weeks, where I wish cameras were following me around. (Okay, maybe not really, but maybe I wish a politician who makes disparaging comments about teachers being overpaid were having to job shadow me...). I've spent a lot of extra time at school this week and have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off the entire time I've been at school this week. As soon as I arrive, it's go go go and I barely have time to sit or think or do the human things to take breaks to make sure I don't go completely insane. I've been making copies and planning and adjusting my lessons. I've collected more work than I even want to think about right now because I have to grade a lot of it this weekend, since six week grades are due Wednesday. I've barely gotten to work, barely gotten to interact with other adult humans, barely gotten to really teach properly because my students haven't been progressing the way they need to; I have to keep going backwards and reteaching things.

Plus, I had a bit of a scerfuffle -- which ended up being really nothing more than a poorly-written misunderstanding -- with my student who is blind. It turned out to be not as big of a problem as I thought it might turn into, but it consumed a lot of my brain Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday until I had a chance to talk to him. And it was in my interaction with him on Thursday that prompted me to think that I wish people could be job shadowing me right now. Because it's weird to have a student who is blind suddenly lean in for a hug when I don't *do* hugs. It's a challenge to really communicate effectively when you're someone like me who communicates a lot with my face. And it's a challenge to teach a student to write who can't see -- you wouldn't really think so, but I'm starting to realize how much of good writing is visual. But this is the year when I wish anyone who thinks teachers have a sweet, kooshy deal with our summers off and our zillions of dollars of pay (... pssh ...) was made to job shadow a teacher for a week. You only get to sit when I sit, you only get to go the bathroom when I do, and you'll be up to your elbows in the RISO machines because I'm going to teach you how to fix them because, alas, I don't just get to sit on a chair and discuss poetry with my students; I have to repair damn office machines and do some of my own janitorial work, like emptying my pencil sharpener and cleaning my whiteboards, and clean off the tops of the desks. And all of this is in addition to actually preparing rooms full of swarms of high schoolers to be humans in a world changing so rapidly around them that none of us can keep up. Oh, yeah, and have I mentioned lately that I'm still pursuing the gamifying of education experiment on top of everything else? I'm rolling out adaptations to this theory on Monday; we'll see how much better this works. The theory is totally working; it's the practice that has some kinks. But, yeah, in a year where we're all collectively doing more work than ever, I've added EXTRA work with this experiment.

What all of this boils down to is this: it's only the beginning of October and I'm starting to feel burnt out and am so exhausted that I am useless once I leave school.

Oh, and it also all boils down to this: the next person near me that puts down my profession is going to get a swift kick in the shin, followed by an invitation to come and walk around in my super cute but not that teaching-friendly shoes for a week. And I will tell them to bring ant spray, because the ants are back in the bathroom. With a vengeance.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Musings on My Music Teacher

This might be a departure from my normal posts, which generally about my life in the classroom. Tonight, I wanted to, in a way, pay tribute to one of the most inspirational teachers in my life, my high school music director Warren Torns.

A few weeks ago, I attended my first rehearsal with the Cuyamaca Community College Concert Band, which is Warren's newest directing gig. He had announced the opportunity at the end of summer band this summer, and I was immediately considering joining, but the fact that CCC is pretty far from my house was nearly a dealbreaker for me, not the mention Wednesdays being my really long days with no prep and often a 1-2 hour department chair meeting after school. But it was a conversation with several of my lady friends -- and something that Bethany said in particular -- that clinched my decision to join the band. Granted, I missed the first rehearsal because of the first day of school, but I signed up and have spent my last few weeks worth of Wednesdays there.

It's a small-ish group, at least compared to the last couple years' worth of summer bands, but it had a fairly decent instrumentation mostly, minus some french horns, bassoons, and a bass clarinet. I don't really know anybody -- I know almost all of the clarinet players by sight, but not well. Warren picked some decently challenging music, I would say, for the group -- I think Persichetti's "Pageant" is pretty challenging because it's like musical pointillism, so you never get a sense really of how your part fits in unless everyone plays their part correctly (heh...).

But I'm sort of digressing from my point, which is that Warren is an amazing teacher of music. What's always been sort of a weird thing for me to realize, now that I'm a long ways out of high school, is that this is a man who spent his life teaching high schoolers to be musicians. High schoolers! I know I teach high schoolers, too, but I look out at them and can't fathom doing what Warren did for so many years. I always felt like Warren treated us like adults, at least as much as he could, which I guess is why it's mindblowing to me that in actuality, he was dealing with the same teenagers that I do everyday. Plus, he's a stickler for detail and commitment, and I mean that in the absolute best of ways. He might have gotten frustrated with us and lectured about practicing and not expecting to pull an amazing concert out of nowhere, but he praised us when we did well and molded us into not just the musicians that we were (and some people continue to be), but really, into the humans we became. Warren's high expectations absolutely affected my obsessive need to be early to important things, my appreciation for hours of practice of anything that's important, and my additionally obsessive need for perfection (though I think I had a healthy dose of that before being a Marching Sundevil....). But ... high schoolers! I put up with HUNDREDS of high schoolers every year! This just blows my mind every time I think about it.

Some have complained that Warren was too hard on us, or yelled too much during rehearsals, or had expectations for us that were too high. But those complainers just clearly didn't appreciate the life skills Warren was instilling into us. And really, with a band of over 400 high schoolers, how do you control that without yelling? Cattle prods? Land mines? Many of my high school friends I'm sure would agree that whether we play our instruments still or not, we still embody the values instilled in us by Warren and our experiences as Marching Sundevils. We all still recite the motto that "to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unthinkable." And this is why I always have a book in my car...

Anyway, I have been reflecting often during the last few weeks, after it has been clear that a fellow bandmate who didn't know me didn't know that I've been playing the flute for a long time, that I started playing the flute 19 years ago this fall, and that I first joined the Mt. Carmel band 15 years ago. I realized in a nearly-blinding flash on the drive home after my first rehearsal that I have probably spent more time under Warren's influence than any other teacher in my entire student life. I've been a part of three music groups besides my high school band that Warren has conducted; it's almost like I'm a groupie, I guess. But between four years of high school direction (and in the fall, this was two periods a day), four years of Wednesday night rehearsals, trips to Scandinavia, Indianapolis, and Sacramento, community band in Grossmont in the old days, and more recently what I think is five years of summer band, I have watched Warren teach more than any other teacher I've ever had.

But besides really loving music and being able to play my flute in a group and having that kind of relaxing and transcendent experience when I'm playing, I love being a part of Warren's bands because of his insistence on practice and perfection. Warren expects a lot out of his musicians, and having played in other groups run by other directors, Warren can somehow get more out of his groups than other directors. I mean, maybe I'm biased, but I've worked under at least seven or eight other directors in my 19 years as a musician, and I never feel like the group is as successful under anyone else. Warren runs a tight ship during rehearsals, something I've learned is not always the case, and this is why this most recent band experience has been weird and why I am finding myself deep in reflection on every late night drive home.

See, during most of these rehearsals, Warren was in "teacher" mode. Which is a total trip for me, because it has been a LONG time since I've seen him that way. Maybe not since my last band camp in 1999? I don't know. I don't feel like he even did some of the things he did last night with Wind Ensemble, but I could just simply be revising history. But given that he's brand new to this particular band, it's only natural that he would have to establish his norms for class, norms that I've been familiar with for fifteen years. But as he was explaining/lecturing about the need for a pencil on one's stand, the need to practice the hard parts, I was paying attention (really, Warren, I was!) but I was also thinking about how jarring it was to see him doing the kind of deliberate teaching that I do. I don't often think of Warren doing the same job I do, or of having worked with the same age demographic that I do.

And then, of course, I started to wonder how much of who I am as a teacher is because of Warren. Most of the time, when teacher friends and I are comparing notes about our biggest influences in why we became teachers and the models we follow, I tend not to think of Warren first. I think about all four of my English teachers, and I know that I use elements of all three of them -- heck, I use their LESSONS. I've borrowed (er, stolen) many lessons from Bob Pacilio and Karen Harkins (9th and 11th grade respectively), I've stolen content elements from Scott Currie, and I certainly borrow elements of Jack Mosher's approach to teaching text. So for me, I look to them for inspiration. But like I said, I've spent far more time under Warren's supervision and direction than any of these others, probably combined, and so I have been looking critically at my practice and methods over the last few weeks to see whether or not that influence has translated into my own work.

Now, methodologically, it's hard to tell, because my job in the classroom is so different than Warren's was/is. I'm trying to teach reading and writing; Warren teaches music. Yet, in many ways, learning to write well is very much like learning to play music well. Writing and music both require practice, even of the things you think you're good at. Once you have the foundational skills of each, you can start to take risks and improve and create art out of both, and so I do try to allow students as many opportunities as possible to practice and refine those skills.

I think the biggest way I see Warren's influence on my teaching is my high expectations for my students, but with the same support I always felt like Warren provided us to meet those expectations. Like Warren, I'm clear with my expectations, and like Warren, I definitely try to find multiple ways to explain what I want -- I remember vividly Warren telling the flute section, after several tries of not playing a section of "Apocalypse" the way he wanted, to play the section "orange." As in, the color. Orange. And, weirdly, this was what clicked. Orange. So I think about that -- about the need sometimes to provide multiple explanations and examples for what you want to make sure that all of the students in front of you know and understand what they need to do to be successful. (In tandem with this particular observation, when I feel like the students are not doing everything they need to do to be successful, I am equally apt to get upset with them and lecture them, a la Mr. Torns, about how they can't expect to pull perfection out of the orifice of their choice the night before something is due...)

Oh, and I also invoke the Warren Torns "No Yuck" rule to texts that I love. I tell the students they aren't allowed to dislike a piece of text we read, especially if it's one of my favorites, until we're done discussing it. I invoke this rule with the following pieces, generally: "Young Goodman Brown," "A Rose for Emily," The Great Gatsby, and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Like Warren, I know what my students can do well with and will "play well." Just like a piece of music, I sometimes think of reading a text with my students as playing a song together -- each of them contributes something to the analysis of the piece that helps the whole class understand the objective of the text.

So here's to you, Warren. Thank you for 15 years of high expectations, amazing musical experiences and opportunities, and just generally being awesome at what you do. You inspire me to be a better teacher every time I watch you direct and I feel so very lucky to have had all of the circumstances of life align so that I ended up at Mt. Carmel as a Marching Sundevil. Every Wednesday night rehearsal this fall has shown me that every single one of us that ever sat under your direction learned more than we probably ever realized, and for that, I will always be grateful. Cheers!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

Well this was my Friday. Except that, really, it wasn't. We didn't find out about this until sixth period, though it does explain some of the more bizarre things I noticed during my day, such as all the gates being locked what seemed randomly in the middle of second period and a higher than normal percentage of district office people roaming about. I just figured it was so that they could see for themselves that our kiddos are packed into their classrooms like little sardines. But they were there I guess essentially as security. Hopefully they did a little noticing of the situation, though ...

It is a little troubling to consider that despite being more than adequately practiced at dealing with tragedy on our campus, to the point where we seem to be getting pretty good at it (and what an awful thing to be good at), I'm not entirely convinced we are practiced enough at a disaster -- of any kind. I think about the hurricane happening on the East Coast and the earthquake that just happened in Virginia and about a myriad of other weird and disastrous and dangerous things that have and could happen on a school campus and really have to wonder whether our students -- and our staff, too, I guess -- really know what to do in a true disaster situation. Sure we do drills and practice walking out to the football field, but that's a drill. Nerves aren't rattled, death isn't imminent. I mean, I guess maybe you can never be actually prepared for an earthquake or any otherwise unsafe situation, but I just can't shake the feeling like we just really wouldn't know what to do.

But to change the subject, because dwelling on what may or may not happen is depressing ... I got up early this morning and got cracking at my summer assignment grading. I should probably be doing that instead of blogging, but I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to blog much more frequently, especially this year. But I worked from 8:00 until about 9:45 (I had to be somewhere at 10) and graded about 25. In the old days, this would have meant I would be almost done - I mean, if I'd had 32 kids, I would have only had 7 left. As it stands now, that left me with 17 more, which is going to be about an hour more work. I did grade a handful a few hours ago, while watching Lifetime's Dance Moms marathon (more about that later, perhaps) but now I really should probably get back to them. I want them done for Monday and I still haven't done anything for lesson planning or grading for my sophomores yet. A lot of the problem with grading, I think, is psychological. Granted, I do have almost 40 more students total through my day that I did when I first started, so that is more than a sixth class worth of work to grade, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not *that* many more ... okay, maybe that's me being in denial. But anyway, it's just ... psychologically demoralizing to look at a pile that seems to never get any smaller. When I had classes of 36, you could do half -- 18 -- and feel good and take a break and come back later and do the other 18. Now half is nearly 25 and it's insanity. And I don't really want to even talk about the 120 Writing Diagnostics I have from my sophomores.... but at least those I don't really need to write feedback on.

So anyway. I should probably get about the business of grading. I'll digress into my analysis of Dance Moms later, but for as snarky as I've been in my head lately about this show's existence, I accidentally ended up watching it and minus a few of her quirks, the dance teacher/studio owner lady may be my new hero. A post for another day...

Onward. And tomorrow, I shall discuss gamification. And my attempt to gamify English. ... Heh.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Notes on the First Day of School

Wow am I tired. And wow do my feet hurt. And so does my throat. I always forget how much you're on your feet when you teach and how much talking you do the first day. But I lived. And it actually went really pretty quickly. But holy moly am I tired.

First period was just about as bad as I was picturing it being: I ran out of space for students to sit and my poor but good spirited TA ended up sitting on the picnic blanket on the floor (I told you I wasn't kidding). But I even had one student at my teacher desk and five students on chairs. They were pretty good-natured about it but it was overwhelming.

Then my third period sophomore class is at 44, and I attempted to have them get up and move around in a Four Corner Debate, which worked *mostly* but oh my god, it's like when you're trying to pack a suitcase: when you first pack it before you leave, you can get everything to fit with room to spare when you pack it neatly, with everything folded and rolled, but when you've used and worn things and decide to just throw everything back in the suitcase willy-nilly, NOTHING fits. It's like that with students in a classroom, too: sitting in their desks, 44 fit fine, but trying to stand in groups in the four corners of my classroom was like being in the mosh pit at a concert. I had to climb onto the top of a desk to get above the fray because otherwise I end up having a giant panic attack.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful as things go: the kids are unsure about me, and I'm crazy, so they spend a lot of the period looking at me like I'm from outerspace, come to steal their binder paper, but I think I have a good group. Lots of girls in APEL and lots of boys in sophomore English. It's weird.

It's weird seeing so much of campus empty, though. There are empty classrooms gathering dust. One of the science teachers today, after school, was saying that there is an entire ROW of science classrooms empty, with equipment just moldering in it. And though our school population is smaller, it's not THAT much smaller. Classes are bigger and thus you need fewer teachers. Ideally, there would be teachers in those classrooms with classes of 28-30. And the staff is dinky now, too -- there used to be over 100 teachers, possibly closer to 120, and I think now we're down in the 70s or 80s (I could be COMPLETELY wrong about this, but for perspective: when I first started to work at my school, there were nearly 30 English teachers. We filled up the department chair's classroom. Now there are 12 of us. That's it. 12. With not really THAT many fewer students spread out between us.

So at this point, I should probably plow into the summer assignments I collected today. I guess the silver lining is that even though my classes are PACKED to the gills, I still actually have fewer APEL students total than I did last year, so that's nice. I think I've got 90? Last year I had 115 or so. Yay. I think?

The other silver lining: some of our buildings were without air conditioning today (and our classrooms are essentially designed for AC ... there are no functioning/opening windows in any classroom that I can think of) but mine was not one of them. So there was that...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And tomorrow, it all starts again.

It's 9:20 pm the night before the first day of the new school year and I am freaking out.


Normally, I'm pretty good at hiding my anxiety because it's silly but also fairly normal -- I mean, teachers get anxious just like the kids do before the first day of school. But this year ... oh boy, is this year going to be different. And it's got me terrified.

See, there's this little budget problem. Don't know if you, dear reader out there roaming about the Interwebs, are familiar with California's bit of a money problem, but this wee little problem (... if you haven't caught the sarcasm yet, shall I hit you with a stick?) has translated into a huge problem and that is class size.

Now, for some reason, people seem to not really be taking this problem seriously. After all, our test scores have stayed pretty consistently high. Our ELA test scores were mostly the same as the year before, with smaller classes and slightly more resources. Obviously we didn't need those resources in the first place! We can do WAY MORE with WAY LESS!

Except, that at some point, we're not going to be able to. And I have a feeling that "some point" is going to arrive tomorrow. Or at least, the dawn of the "some point" day will break tomorrow.

I have 46 junior APEL students slated to arrive in my first period classroom tomorrow morning -- my classroom that currently holds (barely) 40 desks and 4 chairs. I might teach English, but I can also do math, and that says there's room for 44 students. Those other two? ... I'm contemplating a picnic blanket on the floor. And I wish I were kidding. My room just isn't built for this size of a class, and I'm SURE this has GOT to be a fire hazard somehow. My room is teeny tiny, and I love it, and I don't want to move, but holy crap, the thought of having 46 bodies, plus me, plus 46 backpacks in my classroom is enough to send my already-jittery nerves into a full-tilt panic attack. ::breathes:: You CANNOT effectively teach 46 high schoolers at a time.


I am good. I don't toot my own horn much, really, because I know how much there is still left for me to learn about teaching and organization and planning, and I always see the flaws in what I do, but I'm good. Really good. And though I know I can ATTEMPT to teach 46 with the best of them, and I will do a hell of a job trying to engage all of them and rally all of them and wrangle all of them, but honestly, the quality of their education -- the quality of our classroom relationship, the quality of my feedback to them, the quality of the depth and breadth of the work they'll do for me -- is going to suffer perilously. I cannot physically assign the same amount of things as I used to. I cannot physically counsel, guide, and support them each individually any more. Thankfully, I've embraced things like Facebook and Google Voice and this blog to at least help me get to know my students better, but it's hard. I feel like I learned less about last year's students than any group I've yet had, and that makes me sad. And it helps me recognize that we're doing a huge disservice to these kids by cramming them like sardines into classrooms meant for 30 students. There's no room for anything else. I've already jettisoned furniture. It's just sad and disheartening. It makes me want to scream and cry and teach my ass off.

I guess the only redeeming thing, if you could call it that, is that it seems like everyone is feeling the same way. Teachers are wandering around campus looking completely panic-stricken (... or, perhaps, I'm just projecting my own neurotic fears onto their faces, who knows). But I had at least four conversations today with four different teachers and all of them said echoes of the same thing: "We're so freaked out about how many kids we have on our caseload that we're shutting down and becoming incapable of doing anything productive today." Granted, we all eventually made copies of our syllabi and our first day of school activities, like the good little diligent planners that we are, but what about days 2-175? I can't even fathom. I've got my sophomore curriculum KIND of planned out, but I'm also about to embark on this grand gamification experiment and I really didn't do as much work as I should have this summer to get that up and running, but it's really going to be a lot of trial and error, and I'm going to be really honest with my students about it. After all, it's all about them and their success anyway.

So there you have it. My lunch is packed, clothes laid out, and my copies are sitting in a neat little stack in my classroom. But I'm so terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought about getting back in the saddle tomorrow and having to take the same ride as last year, with less support, less money, less time, and less physical space. I guess it will take some adjusting, but if I run screaming for the hills, mail me care packages, okay?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pesky Essays, FINALLY done!

See that stack? That's ONE ASSIGNMENT. 110 essays, averaging between 7 and 12 pages, with a few outliers. Basically that's nearly 1,000 pages worth of writing. But not just any writing. Student writing. And not just any student writing. Student writing about non-fiction, which is inevitably shaky at best. But tonight I FINALLY finished the. I've only had them since February 11th, but no never mind that. I had to make their AP-based in-class essays a priority because of the AP test looming -- and I graded THREE of those. 330 handwritten essays. But since those have been done, I've been ignoring EVERYTHING else in order to finish these blasted things in time for their 12 week grades.

In honor of my finishing these essays, here is what I've learned from my AP juniors:

1. Correctly formatting a Works Cited page according to the Modern Language Association's (or MLA's) specifications is apparently impossibly hard. I mean, forget that it's a formula, and it is the ONE time in English class where there is a COMPLETELY right answer and many COMPLETELY wrong answers. As my friend Allison said on my Facebook, you'd think THIS is what they would excel at. But no. Evidently, having resources on the Internet like EasyBib and NoodleTools has made this process MORE challenging, not LESS, even though when I was in high school, we had to either check out (or just give in and buy) the MLA handbook to make sure our citations were correct, lest we lose our precious PUSD Writing With Style manual they used to hand out in hard copy to us at some point in our schooling (perhaps 9th grade?). I mean, seriously. I had blue hyperlinks, centered entries that made the Works Cited page look like poetry (fail), incorrect indents, incorrect entries, non-Times New Roman, too much space between entries, too little space between entries, and even students that forgot to cite their actual primary source (their non-fiction book). Sheesh.

2. Students are not above bribery. I found a dollar bill taped to an essay this year. But as Bonnie pointed out, one dollar isn't even enough to buy a delicious Starbucks drink. So that's sorta fail bribery. Exhibit A:
3. Someone out there -- and it is NOT me -- is teaching students to center justify their papers. I don't mean center -- they know (well, MOST of them know) that their essay paragraphs shouldn't have the look of a poem on the page. However, more and more in the last two years, I am having students submit essays with both the left and right margins flush, rather than just the left. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you're probably lucky.) The problem with this is that, despite looking deceptively more "professional," it throws off the internal line spacing and gives me a headache. It just looks weird and unnatural on an essay. But SOMEONE must be teaching this. What else explains this epidemic, especially given that generally when you actually ASK students to do something that requires finding an obscure setting, option, or button in Microsoft Word, it takes a PowerPoint, several walkthroughs, an YouTube Video, trial and error, and snarky Facebook posts to teach it to them effectively.

4. Apparently magazine and newspaper titles require no formatting. Except, actually, they do, and so I have expended more than a little red ink circling all of the times students mentioned The New York Times or Newsweek without italicizing them. And in an essay where these are two VERY popular resources to mention, this is a very nearly criminal offense.

5. Students get really cranky about books they don't understand that they don't realize they don't understand. It's fun.

6. Students *think* that I won't notice that some quotes are randomly in different fonts, or that their whole essay is in a Times New Roman-like font, but is not, in fact, Times New Roman. I have an eagle eye for these things; they cannot fool me. But inevitably, they try. Or, weirdly, this year, I've had whole essays in Times New Roman except for, say, the Works Cited page title, which is in Courier or Arial, or an occasional citation word in another font. It's inconsistent and bizarre.

7. Even AP-level juniors are not comfortable enough with their writing to take risks and stitch all of the requisite elements of their essays together with engaging transitions. The transitions were probably the weakest element of every single paper in that stack because students seem to see this particular assignment as six or seven disparate parts that they can write in a vacuum, away from each other, and then just copy and paste them together and make it work. But in many ways, it doesn't. Sure, their ideas are good, and technically all of the required components are there, but there's no talking of paragraphs between each other, and no ... finessing ... of ideas from one paragraph to another. I suppose this comes with maturity. I guess.

8. Even when students can actually PICK the book they want to read, they still don't read it. This was so apparent to me that I actually am annoyed. I don't really get annoyed when it's obvious they haven't read a core lit novel; it hurts their grade, sure, but ::shrug:: it's life. But when you've been able to PICK your book from a rather lengthy list of non-fiction books, and really, as long as it meets certain criteria, you can even pick books that don't appear on the list, and then you STILL don't read it? This is just stupid to me.

I think that's all I can think of that I learned from them as I was doing this, other than the same standard things that were reaffirmed: students aren't very good at editing and proofreading, they still don't quite understand the idea of full circle arguments, and they don't understand the difference between a semi-colon and a colon. But that's par for the course.

But I'm done. And I feel like a HUGE weight has been lifted momentarily off of my shoulders. That weight returns tomorrow when I arrive at school to the two buckets OVERFLOWING with the work I either have been completely ignoring or just collected TODAY. :-/ I have a long weekend of grading ahead of me to get ready for 12 week grades. Not to mention that I have to prepare my All Quiet on the Western Front unit to roll out.

... sigh. My work never ends. But for now, bedtime. I deserve it. I've graded 16 essays since I got home at 4:00.