Monday, April 30, 2007

April Showers

Just a few things:

1. Remember my cool heating grates? Well, some of them are on the floor, which is ok, except when there are earrings involved. I was trying to put a cool hair wrap in my otherwise uncool curly, curly, windblown locks and in my haste, knocked one of my cheap, Big Lots earrings into the depths of the grate to commune with the golf tee , cat hair, and dust bunnies. Or so I thought. I had written it off- not too worried, because they cost me all of 2 dollars. To be safe, I decided to move all of my stray jewelry off the dresser, away from the grate, to be stored in an undisclosed location. That's when I heard the small, metallic "clunk" of an earring falling through the grate. The other earring? It was miraculously still on top of the dresser. That still left one in the grate. What to do? I harkened back to my Brady Bunch days- remember when they went to Arizona and got locked in a jail cell by some psycho in a ghost town? The keys were hanging on the wall and they used Bobby's gum to get them? Well, that's how I got the earring. Half a piece of Hubba Bubba, one stray stick from the yard, and black earring is reunited with its life parter.

2. Minute Maid juice pouches aimed at the elementary school set should not have "Stick it here!" printed at the top. Yes, I know it's to indicate where to put the straw. But, "Stick it here!"? Um, no thanks. I'll stick it somewhere else. How rude. So is the Cheez-Its box that reads "Get Your Own Box!" Because that's
the kind of message we want to send. As if we all need to snarf entire boxes of salty, greasy cheese crackers high in calories, fat, cholesterol and other miligrams of artificial goodness.

3. I'm increasingly offended and intimidated by "helpful" computer messages that pop up. I think they are all written by the worst of the worst IT people (Mr. T is an IT person, so I can say this.) I wish I had a good example to give you. This isn't a great example, but my Internet Explorer has a new toolbar that I frankly don't care for. I clicked on the yellow star for "Favorites" and then my Blogs folder. It asked me if I wanted to open it a different way and I clicked "Yes". THEN, it told me "Are you SURE you want to do this? Opening 78 files could take several minutes." I must say, I don't really like its attitude. I feel like I'm talking to KITT (remember David Hasselhoff's car in Night Rider- or was it Knight Rider?

4. Raise your hand if your mid term grades were due today and you didn't get your 4th block's grades entered because you are a LOSER who has the best of intentions, but somehow always manages to drop the ball. You too?

Shawnee sent me some interview questions. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In which Mrs. T vents about crappy teacher ed programs:

Disclaimer: I am totally supportive of teacher ed. programs and providing up and coming teachers with whatever knowledge, advice, teacher tips that I have in my bag of tricks. I was a teacher in training once, we all should give back.

In January, I was asked if I would be a "cooperating teacher" (not sure of the exact lingo here...) for a "field experience student". In my own teacher training, this meant that the person was not a student teacher, but was to put in a certain amount of hours observing - perhaps participating minimally. The teacher had a couple of evaluation forms to fill out that were basically a checklist of observable behaviors- stuff about my professionalism, how I interacted with the kids and the other teachers, etc. The field experiences was in conjunction with Child Development, or some other preliminary, required class. We kept a journal, we discussed our experiences with others in the same boat. Current students are given a checklist of things to do, like go to a basketball game, eat lunch in the teachers' lounge, go to the cafeteria, attend a band concert, etc.

As a teacher, I have had students come from several different colleges and universities- and what I just described is pretty standard. The student comes, observes, maybe goes over homework assignments with them, I give them tips, pointers, they hand me an evaluation sheet, I fill it out, they go bye-bye. Sometimes, I speak to the director of the program. Sometimes the university sends me a token of their appreciation in the form of a certificate valid for 1 free credit hour. I've had wonderful students and I've had others to whom I have recommended that they choose a different career path.

So, in January, I get this student- she has already completed a BA in Spanish and is now pursuing a Master's in Education at Fly-by-Night College- one of those strip mall varieties that offers a whole bunch of degrees to people so they may be Dental Assistants, Administrative Assistants, Medical Transcriptionists. All very noble, fine fields. But, I question the whole "Masters in Ed." thing at this joint. For one thing, the classes are on-line. She has no hours in education whatsover, but she can get a teaching degree online? Also, I was initially contacted by one person, who came to school to meet with me and handed me a stack of papers that was literally like 3 inches high- it was all of the syllabi for the courses in the program. Um, why do I want this?

From the get go, the objectives and expectations set before the student were extremely unclear. No checklist, no list of things she HAD to do.

So, it was agreed that this student would come observe every day for one block, since she's working as a para in the district and must report there for duty each day. THEN, I get an email from a different person from Fly-by-Night College asking me 4 questions- all pertaining to the field experience student- or "candidate" as they like to say. I refuse, because that's just stupid, educationalese jargon that I hate. Anyway, the questions are supposed to be the evaluation. I am told that I will receive an email from this person who is not the person who came to me initially on a biweekly basis. The questions are:

1. Verify the times and dates the candidate came to your classroom. (Exuse me, but shouldn't the student have a log of some sort that she shows me and I sign? Why is this MY responsibility?)

2. Briefly describe the names of the classes observed and to what extent the candidate participated. (Every week I have to describe that she's observing my Spanish 1 class? Shouldn't that be a one-time deal?)

3. Briefly describe the teaching strategies the candidate observed. (I HATE terms like "teaching strategies". What the hell am I supposed to write? How about this for a strategy: "Try to keep slacker kids from sleeping so they may pass." This is really more of an evaluation of ME at this point.)

4. Share any concerns you may have. (Well, that's just vague as hell, now isn't it?)

Obviously, these questions are crap. I have several other problems with this evaluation method as well. First of all- since it's all via internet, nothing is actually signed- seems kind of shady for any kind of evaluation. Secondly, the field exp. student takes no responsibility for meeting deadlines and asking me for the evaluation herself. Nor is there any directive to evaluate WITH the student, which would be beneficial. PLUS, in addition to getting these annoying 4 questions every other week, there was always the directive to respond "NO later than Tuesday at 3 pm " of the following week. Ok, the other colleges and universities are much more easy breezy and are much more grateful to have teachers willing to help them out. I passive agressively took my time getting back to him. One week, I even asked if he had considered using a checklist type of evaluation, as that was my experience with other, larger, more established, non-strip-mall universities. (ok, I didn't really say that last part, but I swear the rest is true.)I basically ripped apart those 4 stupid questions. PLUS, he neglected to place an apostrophe in the phrase "candidate's participation". Not once, but every week. I always corrected it in my response (copy, cut, paste, edit).

His weenie response had him snivelling about how it might be kind of hard to implement some of my suggestions because the field experience was embedded in coursework. Well, shit, ALL field experience is embedded in coursework. Does this guy even have a background in education???? He wondered if I had copies of the other schools' forms. Oh yeah, I'm going to 1. send him copies of stuff from the competition and 2. do his job for him? Um, no. I told him he should go online and look at some of the other schools' websites, Iowa State in particular. He did not respond. He continued to send me those 4 lame questions every other week for the next few months.

Oh- and the guy that initially contacted me? He sent me 2 emails-"Please send me any concerns about Winky that you have." Why would I do this when I've already answered the other 4 questions? I just forwarded those to him. And then I never really heard from him. And when I asked the other yahoo about why there were 2 guys, I never really got an answer.

So, not only is the program complete and utter shit, but the student is a trip as well. First of all, her dad is a teacher in our building, and her mom is an administrator elsewhere in the district. Second, she graduated from the school where I teach. I question the appropriateness of her being placed there. There are several other schools in our district where she could have gone and several other districts that she could have gone to. I think she would have had a much different attitude if she had to blaze her own trail.

To say that she's an odd bird is an understatement. She didn't interact much with the kids and complained later that they weren't much fun (hello? it's 7:40 in the morning and they are teenagers. What do you expect? Be glad for the peace.)She has an extremely annoying voice and the manner in which she speaks comes across as being condescending. Many times she asked me "Have you ever tried blah blah blah?". For some reason, this irritated me- mostly her tone, I guess, but I took it as a judgement of my teaching. I think she felt that all of this teacher ed stuff was just a formality and that she'd be able to pick up a teaching position with no problem.

She decided not to come on the testing day because she "didn't see the point of sitting and watching students fill in bubbles all morning" and then didn't get it when I told her that I really wished she would have shown up so she could gain the experience of administering a standardized test- not as easy as you might think. Then she started missing other days and not calling or email to let me know. She missed an entire week, not emailing until Thurs. to tell me she was still ill, and then missing Friday to boot. She decided not to come on the days of finals. She emailed one week and said she'd be observing at a different school- ? Several times, her dad called my room looking for her and asked if she had been there on previous days that week. All in all, I think she missed like 18 days.

I gave her tests to correct and she messed them up- very inconsistent on grading vocab. quizzes- you can't be, you must be precise and detail oriented- not fair to the kids, otherwise. I didn't have her correct tests anymore after that.
I had her go over homework and other activities with the kids. I also had her teach a grammar lesson. She did those pretty well. I would have maybe tried to incorporate her a bit more into the fold had she not been such a flaky attender.

She was supposed to be done at the end of March sometime- never gave me an exact date. Well, since she missed so many days and had a minimum number of required observation hours, she ended up having to come well into April. Last Friday was her last day. Free at last! (me, not her.) I hope she does not become a teacher. And, I hope FBN College loses their shaky accreditation.

That's ma story. It certainly felt good to vent. Thanks for listening.

Monday, April 23, 2007

No Prey in Public Schools

I may have mentioned before that I share a classroom- my desk is housed in a colleague's room and I have a cart that I wheel from room to room. I have a good working relationship with said colleague and am lucky to be able to remain in my room during my prep, and she does the same when I am teaching and it's her prep. It's not a big deal. The cool thing is that we each have gotten to know one another's students. Last year, I became rather fond of one of her seniors- a sweet, talented girl, T. Her projects were always the ones the teacher wanted to keep, because she put cute embellishing touches on everyting. She related well to adults, I think because she comes from a rough and tumble family- she lived with her grandma because neither of her parents is responsible enough to be a parent.

She graduated last year- her senior picture is still stuck to my colleague's filing cabinet, along with several others'. She has beautiful, long brown hair, sparkly brown eyes and a sprinkling of freckles. She was the kind of 18 year old that had no idea of how good she looked - or at least she seemed not to.

As charming a student as she was, I hadn't really thought much about her since last spring, when I wistfully hoped she would "do something with her life" and go off to college and pursue studies in whatever floats her boat. I didn't think of her until one of my current students mentioned her. And mentioned that she was 7 months pregnant. By one of the track coaches.

I don't like to promote any kind of idle gossip, but this sounded like it was actually true. I did my best not to gasp "NUH-UH! No he di-int!" I asked the girl perpetrating the story later if it was this particuar track coach- an assistant, who was employed soley as a coach and is not, nor has ever been a teacher in our district. She said yes, she thought it was.

I know this guy - have been in several social situations with him- he's in his mid/late 20's, a really nice, intelligent person. I couldn't believe that this was anything he'd be involved in. So, I asked the coach, who also happens to be a friend of mine, and he confirmed it. He kind of grinned at me sheepishly and said "well, she is 19. He's not that much older than she is. They are getting married. They are both very happy."

I don't care. I don't care if he's only a few years older. I don't care that she got pregnant a few months after he was her coach. I don't care that it's not so bad because he's not a teacher, he's a coach.

The fact of the matter is that we go to work with young people- as teachers, as coaches, as counselors- and we do so because we want to teach them, to impart some knowledge or skill. We do so because we enjoy working with young people. At no time should anyone look at these young people as dating material. As parents, we need to trust that our sons and daughters can go to school, go to camp, run track, play tennis, and not be preyed upon by those who are in leadership positions. Teenagers may look the part of adults, but inside, they are still kids. Children. Minors. People who need guidance and protection and for whom to set a good example. I don't care if it's the student who initiates it- and I know that is frequently the line of defense that is taken. It is the responsibility of the young teacher, coach, counselor, to take a step back and say "No."

A friend teaching in Chicago public schools told me it was fairly common - esp. for young male teachers (sorry-I'm just reporting, not trying to gender stereotype)to date their students. That's creepy. It just is.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Where Have all the Waldos Gone?

Anyone else who teaches the Adolescent Set deal with any 4/20 nonsense today? For those not "in the know", 4/20 and 4:20 and 420 means many things- not the least of which has to do with Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine shootings, but more commonly having to do with the universally agreed upon time and date where one should imbibe a bit of weed. Interestingly, virtually none of my students uttered a peep about it. Our Dean of students however, at the top of his daily emailed memo re: suspended students, etc. that he sends out to the entire staff
looked like this:

"Friday, April 20, 2007 *smoke'em if you've got'em ;)".

The hell? Of course, there is a part of me that laughs, because it' kinda funny, but he's the freaking DEAN for the love of Christ. Inner Priss is having a hissy. Should one make dope jokes in so public a forum when one's role is disciplinarian of dope smokers? Funny to say, yes, but to put on your "professional" memo? Uh, no.

PS You have to read the link about the history of 420 to get the title of the post.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Preguntas Meme

I stole this from Shawnee. I loved her answer to the "invisible" question.

What is your favorite book of all time AND what is the absolute worst book you've ever read?It's very hard for me to say my one favorite book- I guess A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is right up there. I also loved The Kite Runner and many others.
The worst book I ever read? Well, that is also hard to say, because if it is really bad, I don't finish it. I did not care much for Catch 22, nor did I like A Confederacy of Dunces. I just couldn't get into it and found it to be pretentious and tedious. I also hated the Shopaholic book, I don't remember which one, just remember thinking how horrible it was and how it was trying to be Bridget Jone's without her spark.

What's your most irrational fear?I have an awful rat phobia- to the extent that I sometimes have nightmares about them. The other night, I woke up after having dreamt that I was visiting some friends whose house was inhabited by these furry rodents who grew to 3 times their size while you were looking at them. EEk.

If you were invisible for one day, who would you spy on?My kids- not because I want to catch them doing anything bad, but because I'd love to see them interact with their friends and hear what they talk about.

What was the first CD you ever bought?I really don't know. If the question had read "what was the first 45 you ever bought?", well, that would be easy- "Movin'Out", by Billy Joel. CD? Maybe Paul Westerburg's "14 Songs"? I really don't know.

If you have to do a shot, what's your alcohol of choice?There's no "have to" with me, it's more of a "who's gonna join me? oh, come on, just one...". I'd have to say Southern Comfort. Yum. It's so sticky and sweet, I could practically lick the glass clean.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Some thoughts:

Every now and again my Inner Priss does rear her perfect, prissy head. In this case, it has to do with any lettering, writing, messages or what have you that are printed across the behind of shorts and sweats-especially those marketed towards little girls and teenagers. I think children are over-sexualized in advertising as it is and having anything printed across one's behind just screams: "Hey! Look at my ass!" I'm sure it sounds a bit heavy handed to say that it exploits young people, but in a way, I think it does.

My students are way too freaking needy for me some days. I just need a little bit of time to do some correcting, enter some grades in the computer, gather my wits without a barrage of "Mrs. T, can I show you my work that I should have done a long time ago, but now I have it and I want credit for it and by the way can I have an update on my grade since I made up that quiz and I won't be here Friday so can I have my make up work?"

One of my students, who also happens to be quite needy despite his cool guy exterior, informed me that he's moving before the end of the term/school year. Why his parents aren't pushing for him to stay and finish the year, is beyond me. Would you do this to your child? Wouldn't you postpone the move a month or so and if you absolutely could not, wouldn't you arrange to have him stay with an aunt or a friend? Wouldn't anyone?

I deep-cleaned the front rooms (living and family) this afternoon. Let me first say that all the hype about the Dyson vacuum? Is true. Love the Dyson, save for the fact that it shows me how incredibly filthy my carpet is. And secondly, let me say that after vacuuming the couch and finding all kinds of crap in it, EWWWW.

We have a bowl full of the orphaned jelly beans from Easter. Pink, black, purple and a couple of white. Every year, it's the same. They are gathering dust.

And here is my Personal DNA. I think these things are such a kick. You know if I took this quiz again tomorrow, it would be different.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Happy Blogiversary to Me

It was just one year ago today that I decided to delve into this little corner of the world, called Blogland. Or the Blogosphere... or...?
Anyway, I had read an article in the NEA Today journal, which is remarkable in and of itself because I hardly ever read it. Something about teacher bloggers caught my eye and I checked some of them out. I was immediately drawn to this site, especially because of the warning of foul language. I became kind of an addict, checking on her site all of the time- waiting for her to have her baby, checking out sites of her commenters and those sites on her blogroll. (I was horribly disappointed this December, when she decided to call it quits.) After noodling around, I thought, "Hey, I could do this!" And that's how it all began.

Actually, it all began in the summer of 2004, when I was a participant/"fellow" in the Eastern Iowa Writing Project, a grassroots project that is an affiliate of the National Writing Project. I was a reluctant participant, only signing up for it because it was practically free for 4 or 5 hours of graduate credit. I ended up loving the class. The people that I were with were fantastic, we had so much fun and shared laughter,tears, stories, and parts of our lives for the next 5 weeks. They had an "e-journal" where we could post our writings for people participating nationally to read and upon which to comment. I became hooked. It was kind of like blogging.

So, here I am, one year later, still blogging away. I have "met" such interesting, funny and talented people through this little hobby of mine. I thank those of you who read regularly, those who stop by, those who comment. I'd like to thank the Academy.... In honor of the Blogiversary, I would like to encourage any and all "lurkers" to leave a comment. I promise I won't bite.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The ever-popular Music Meme

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what they are. They must be songs you are presently enjoying. Then tag seven other people to see what they're listening to. (I've tagged myself, since many of the blogs I read are written by the Tag-Shy)
Here goes. Don't judge me.

1. "Earthquake Weather"- Beck (I LOVE this song- my morning "commute" music)
2. "What is this Feeling"-Kristin Chenoweth ("Wicked" soundtrack- the girls and I have so much fun with this one)
3. "Buddy Holly"-Weezer ("oh, oh, and you're Mary Tyler Moore"...- my kids hate this song. I downloaded it onto my phone just to spite them.)
4. "Blitzkrieg Bop"-the Ramones (more morning commute songs... Hey, Ho! Let's Go! Of course, this "ho" is not of the Imus-spouting kind.)
5. "Theologians"-Wilco (damn, they are coming here when I will be in Spain, so will have to miss a great show. I love me some Wilco.)
6. "Theme from Shaft"-Isaac Hayes (you're damn right...)It was that trip to Memphis what did it. We toured Stax Records museum and I hopped aboard the Soul Train.
7. "Breathe"- Wheat (What a fun band- even the girls like them.)

That's it for me. Feel free to consider yourselves tagged.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

El Rey de la Cerveza

Remember how I told you we ran into a guy Mr. T knows from the music "scene" we've got here? (Oh, yes- we've got a scene.) We rendez-voused with him and his family at Charlie Vega's Rendez-vous Barbeque in downtown Memphis. Great ribs- they do a dry barbeque, which I wasn't sure I'd like, but I sure did. When we travel, we like to partake of the local fare when we can.

We also like to imbibe of the local spirits whenever possible. Yuengling beer in Pennsylvania (as an aside, we had it at Disneyworld, too), Goose Island in Chicago, Amana beer here in Eastern Iowa. I had a mint julep in the Peabody Hotel lobby while in Memphis. Here's my take on the mint julep: brush your teeth with really minty toothpaste. Do a shot of whiskey. There's your mint julep.

Ok, so, we're at the Rendez-vous and the waiter comes to take our drink orders-sweet tea for the little girls and what kind of beer do you have? He rattles off the old standards and then we hear him say "Busted Leg". Immediately intrigued, Mr. T asked if that was a local, micro-brewed beer. The waiter chuckled and shook his head no. I was still going on about this "Busted Leg", I'd never heard of it- I imagined it to be like Fat Tire or Wicked Pete's. Oh, yes, I'd love to try a nice, cold Busted Leg. Imagine me saying it just as Northern as possible- not quite like the school secretary in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but almost.

Imagine our surprise and overwhelming feeling of being very White and very Yankee when the waiter served us this:

If you still don't get it, say it slowly, lazily and with a bit of a Southern drawl and pretend you are a 20-something Black man. Bud Select.

Busted Leg. The King of ....?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Went to Memphis, Memphis Tennessee

Dear Blogger friends, I have not abandoned you! I've been on hiatus while having a little vacation in Memphis with the fam. What a great trip- we left Sunday morning and arrived at our destination at about 7pm that evening. It would have been 6pm, but Mapquest let us down. For the most part, it was fine, except for this strange I-55/240 deal that made us look for an exit that did not exist and caused us to end up in not such a nice part of West Memphis, Arkansas.

We made the pilgrimage trip to Graceland, which I found to be all at once overwhelmingly tacky and touching. The kitchen is surprisingly small and very homey- very 70's in its decor. Lisa Marie is right around my age and her swingset is still in the backyard- and it's just a regular ol' swingset. I' ve never been much of an Elvis fan, so I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the whole Elvis enigma. He was incredibly talented and seems to have been an intelligent, interesting man with good Southern manners who loved his parents. And then there's this whole fake fur and white jumpsuit thing...That's when I'm like WTF?

We had lunch on Beale Street in glorious sunny, 80 degree weather and then proceeded to make the trek to Sun Recording Studio, where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Mr. Johnny Cash first recorded. We decided to take the trolley, which was kind of dumb on our part, since it's not really on the trolley line, but whatever. We got there and purchased our tickets for the next available tour, which wasn't for another 20 minutes. So, we browsed the gift shop and were looking around, when I hear a male voice say my husband's name, followed by an "Oh my God! What are you guys doing here?". It was this guy Mr. T used to play music with - and with whom he has recorded a few songs- there with his family. Is that not weird? They live in our city, although we've not seen them for years, except for one chance meeting at an ice cream shop a year ago. And then, in a large city like Memphis, to run into them? They have a little girl around the same age as my girls, so we decided to hook up- a Rendez-vous at the Rendez-vous barbeque -yum. We ran into them at the Peabody Hotel- they were there for the ducks at the same time. The were at the Civil Rights Museum with us the next day, too. Almost like being on vacation together.

The OTHER weird coincidence was that while planning our trip, we discovered that the National Civil Rights Museum was closed on Tuesdays, so we decided to hit it on Wed. Wed, April 4. April 4 is the anniversary of his assassination. Isn't that crazy? They had a vigil that evening- George Michael sent a piano that had once belonged to John Lennon and supposedly composed the song "Imagine" on said piano. We figured the vigil would be too crowded, so we didn't go. We figured wrong. But, we did go to the museum earlier that day. It's built around the old Lorraine Motel- it's kind of erie- then you go across the street to finish the museum tour and it's in the old boarding house where James Earl Ray stayed and from where he shot Dr. King. You actually stand in the spot where he stood and look over at the motel balcony- very creepy.

I have kind of a history of travelling to places right at the same time as significant events happen. We were in Savannah, Georgia right after they finished filming "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"; we were in Littleton right after the Columbine shootings; I was in Chicago this fall when Oprah and Bono did their big RED promotion- so I got to see all kinds of celebs. When I was really little I was in Washington DC during the Nixon trials- of course I thought it was nothing short of BORING, but I do remember it being on my grandmother's television.

I always like to come away from a trip with little funnies- like my Beef a Roo sighting. Today's was this crazy billboard around St. Louis that had this cute picture of a baby with the message "WHO'S MY DADDY?"- an ad for DNA testing. And does the state of Missouri really need to have towns called Cooter and Festus? Really?

The other funny is hearing my 6 year old say in her best Elvis voice: "Thank you. Thank you very much."