Thursday, May 31, 2012

New York - Day 5


After checking out of the hotel we headed back to the theater district for one more acting workshop, this time from Lou Liberatore, a character actor.  It was similar to the one the day before, but the kids still enjoyed being up on their feet and Lou did a much better job at keeping them engaged and moving.

Our final stop of the trip was the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Interestingly, most of my students said they wished we had gone there at the start of the trip, which was my opinion as well.  Once we were checked in, I led a group to the cafeteria at the back of the museum.  On the way one of my students and I were discussing some of the pieces we passed, since she had taken my Humanities class a few years ago and was surprised to see so much of what we had covered.   One of the Nebraskans who was following us said, "You're so lucky you have a teacher who, like, knows about stuff and tells you about it."  I was glad to hear that, since I had worried that my constant sharing of facts and stories was secretly driving my students nuts.

Once they found the cafeteria I turned the students loose and headed outside to get some lunch for myself from one of the street vendors.  I had given them that option as a cheaper and faster alternative, but they were still a bit wary of venturing too far outside of their comfort zones.  So I enjoyed a quiet lunch on one of the benches outside under the trees, then headed back into the museum to wander through some of the exhibits I had missed when I visited back in April.

At the appointed time my students and I met Tim and Bill outside to transfer our luggage to the shuttle that would take us to the airport.  The kids bid the Nebraskans farewell, promising to stay in touch on Facebook, and my group and I headed out to LaGuardia with a very chatty and friendly new driver.

Checking in at the airport was a breeze, and we found the tiny gate area without issue.  There were few seats available, so we claimed a spot on the floor instead and settled in to wait to board.

And wait, and wait, and wait.  Due to weather between Denver and New York, the plane we were supposed to fly on was rerouted to Ohio.  We wound up waiting for it for over five hours, becoming very familiar with that spot on the floor and the limited restaurant choices in our terminal.  The Nebraskans arrived at the airport two hours into the wait, just after we should have departed.  They were in a different terminal than us, but the students stayed in touch via texting and we heard of their travel woes as we waited for some conclusion of our own.  Thankfully, our plane did eventually arrive and, even more thankfully, we got to board it and take off.  The Nebraskans were not so lucky - their flight was cancelled shortly after they arrived at the airport.  The last I had heard was that they were going to spend the night at the airport to catch a flight the next morning and maybe, if they were lucky, they would get to Omaha by the next evening.  I had spoken with a gate agent after our sixth or seventh delay to see if we could make a plan for my large group, just in case.  The agent said that due to all of the weather issues, if our flight was cancelled the earliest they would be able to get us back to Denver would be Thursday night.  Needless to say, I was very, very happy when we finally boarded our plane.

The kids were getting slap happy by the time we were onboard, but they (and I) quickly fell sound asleep once the plane took off, despite Frontier's gift of free TV for the flight to make up for the delay.

We arrived in Denver at 1:30 AM and, after some exhausted antics by the boys on the train to the terminal (Ezra was dangling upside down by the handholds while Paul fell on his belly on the floor, reluctant to get up because "This feels like surfing, you guys!"), we met their parents at the baggage claim.  One of the parents had gotten a hotel room at the place we had stayed the night before we left, and he offered me both a ride back there to retrieve my car as well as a rollaway in their hotel room for the night.  I accepted the ride and declined the bed.  He was very insistent, offering over and over again to let me share the room with him and his daughter.  It was very sweet, but also pretty creepy to think about sharing a room with a student of mine and her parent, no matter how nice they are and how tired I was.  I did inquire at the front desk of the hotel to see if they had any rooms available, but they were completely booked.  So I loaded my suitcase in my car, put down the windows, cranked up the radio, put in some eyedrops, and drove myself home, arriving just after 3 AM.

Really, though, since the worst of the trip was the long delay at the end, I count myself lucky.   The kids were excellent (I overheard one stranger commenting on what a "nice group of students" they were - yay!), we had a lot of fun, and everyone stayed healthy and safe.  I don't know if I would go through Smithsonian again - there are a lot of pros and cons to weigh for that decision, but I would definitely like to take another group there again in the future.

Best of all, several of the students told me they wanted to go back with their families as soon as possible.  That right there is exactly why I did the trip in the first place.

Also?  Look at how cute they are:

They got me a souvenir clapboard and a Newsies print, which they all signed.  Which is pretty swell, if you ask me.

New York - Day 4


We got up earlier than usual Monday to catch the ferry to Ellis Island.  This was another part of Smithsonian's itinerary that I was opposed to - we spent all of the morning and the early part of the afternoon visiting Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and riding the ferry about.  I would have opted to see both from Battery Park and call it good.  Still, some of the kids had never been on a ferry before, so at least there was that.

The later part of the afternoon was given over to an improv workshop with Christopher Scott, a director and character actor.  He had the kids up on their feet right away, thank goodness, and ran them through a lot of basic exercises and a bit of scenework.

Dinner was at Bowlmor Lanes in Times Square (strange to eat at bowling alley with no intention of bowling), and we had a bit more free time afterwards before the show for the evening.  My kids were feeling much more confident in the area, so I gave them some geographical parameters, reminded the of the three rules, and turned them loose.  Some shopped, some bowled, some went after cheesecake.  I walked around, enjoying a bit of time to myself in the midst of the Times Square crowds without needing to constantly count ten bodies.

The last show of the trip, as I mentioned, was Phantom.  The kids had been super excited to see it, but were generally disappointed.  Paul leaned over to me immediately after the house lights came up at intermission and asked, "Does it... get better?"  I told him, no, it does not.  The students and I talked through intermission, about how very much it is a museum piece now, that it's best appreciated if you think of what it would have been like in 1988 to see such a show, and that their criticisms of it are perfectly justified.  We also discussed the audience's behavior, which was different than the other audiences we'd seen that weekend.  This was very much a tourist crowd, people who were here because seeing Phantom is something you do in New York, not because they especially love theater.  At least I hope that was the nature of the crowd, given the number of talkers, the rustle of cellophane, the lights from cell phone screens, and the occasional photograph snapped.  Oy.

New York - Day 3


By this point in the trip, the students were doing a much better job at mingling with the Nebraskans and were forming some tentative friendships.  It was also adorably apparent that several of the Nebraskans had crushes on some of my kids, which naturally became a source of much teasing on both sides.  I, however, was not doing such a great job at befriending the adults.  This can be attributed to several reasons:

1) They had so many adults!  The Nebraskans had a ratio of 1 adult:2-3 students.  Crazy!  Naturally, this meant their adults all had people to socialize with already, and there was quite a mix in their group.  Some of the adults were parents, some were teachers, and some were relatives of their group leader.  One of their chaperons asked me at one point how I had gotten away with such a high student:teacher ratio.  "What do you mean?" I asked. 

"How did you get the administration or school board to let you travel alone with so many kids?" she asked.

"I didn't ask their permission," I said.  Besides, 10 kids?  And really good ones at that?  That's nothing!  But I can see how it might be daunting to them given reason #2:

2) None of them had ever been to New York before.

Seriously.  Not a single person in their group.  Not even the group leader.  In fact, from their comments along the way, my impression is that many of them had never left Nebraska before (and they are from a very small town - apparently the school where they attend/teach is a k-12 school of less than 200 students).  And while I applaud them for their bravery in coming out to the big city, and while I certainly approve of their accomplishment of seeing New York, the division between their experiences and mine was quite the chasm.  They were fine with Tim knowing things about the city, but much more wary of my own knowledge of the city.  I believe my confidence and casualness about the things that struck them with awe and uncertainty gave me an aura of snobbishness.  I did try sometimes to dissuade that - to be friendly and helpful and approachable.  But sometimes I'm okay with being a snob, especially when it's around people who say things like:

Chaperone A: "Good god, that show took forever!  Why couldn't they just say what they had to say and be done with it instead of singing on and on?"

Chaperone B: "Well, Phantom of the Opera is an opera, you know.  That's how those things are."

Chaperone A: "Then I never want to see another opera again in my life.  How can people stand those things?"

I didn't say anything.  I listened to them complain about the show most of the way back to the hotel, but I kept my mouth shut and reminisced with myself about L'Elisir d'Amore instead, opera snob that I am.

Anyway!  Let's get back to the Sunday breakdown.

We began in Central Park, but further up than our previous visit.  Tim pointed out the Dakota to the group before leading us through the Strawberry Fields past the Bethesda Fountain, along the boating lake, with stops at Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland.  The group had some free time to enjoy the sights, take group photos, and eat snowcones.  It was another hot day, but the park was as pleasant as you would expect and my mountain kids sure loved being surrounded by nature again, even if it was man-made.

We met the bus on the other side of the park, and Bill drove us downtown to the site of the World Trade Center.  We had tickets to see the memorial later in the afternoon, so we first visited St. Paul's Cathedral, Wall Street, Battery Park, and grabbed lunch at a sandwich shop near the 9/11 preview museum.

Once we got past the security for the memorial, Tim gave the group an hour there.  Given the temperature, the temperaments of teenagers, and the nature of the memorial itself, that really was too much time.  I believe it was the result of Smithsonian dedicating an entire afternoon to sites that could be done in an hour combined, but Tim squelched the kids' protests over the lengthy time in the memorial by playing the guilt card - "Think of the families who come here to remember and mourn for their lost loved ones.  For them, an hour isn't enough."  Personally, I liked the design of the memorials and I think it will be a great site when it's completed, but agreed with the students that we had to spend far too much time there.

We had dinner at Schnipper's Kitchen, which was actually pretty tasty and very accommodating for such a large group, then headed to the Empire State Building.  The crowds were plentiful by this time, and we wound up waiting in line for over two hours to go to the observation decks.  The kids complained about this as well, naturally, and I agreed that it really wasn't worth the wait, although I did try to console them by pointing out that the Empire State Building really is one thing you should do in your lifetime and now they can check it off their lists.  This provided little comfort.  To my personal delight, their main complaint was that we were spending the evening waiting in line instead of seeing another show.  How quickly I have molded them to my line of thought!

They were actually pretty well-behaved, given the circumstances.  When they spent part of the time in line having a dance party through their tiny cell phone speakers, I nervously checked in with the patrons in line around us to see if my students were too annoying.  Instead, I found that the other tourists were smiling and enjoying my students' antics.  I think they were glad for the diversions as well.

New York - Day 2


Hot and muggy, Saturday began with a "workshop" with a Broadway Actor.  Smithsonian's use of the term "workshop" was a bit misleading, since the event was more of a lecture/Q&A.  The actor was Madeleine Doherty, who is currently appearing in Sister Act.  She had some interesting things to say, but was obviously unprepared and rather oblivious to her audience, spending most of the time rambling and reminiscing about how different New York was when she first arrived in the 80s.

From there we headed to Rockefeller Center for lunch and a tour of Radio City Music Hall.  I was pleasantly surprised by the tour, which was fascinating (especially architecture and the art of the interior) and was led by a fantastic tour guide (the kind of lady whom you love right away because she's obviously awesome and very, very good at putting people at ease).

Next up was a tour of Lincoln Center.  The ABT was performing in the Opera House, so sadly my students couldn't even glimpse the lobby of the building I had most wanted them to see.  We toured some of the other buildings on campus, though, and got to peek in at the matinee performance of Susan Stroman's new ballet.  It was enough to whet the kids' appetite, and many of them expressed an interest in seeing a ballet for themselves.

Dinner was at a sandwich shop in the Fashion District, and the rain that had been looming all day finally burst into a downpour while we were at the restaurant.  We had some time to kill before that evening's show, so I asked Tim if we could branch out on our own again.  He readily agreed, so I put up my umbrella and led my troops up a few blocks to the nearest metro station.

I bought single-use passes for each of them, and we passed through the turnstiles into the Times Square station.  I gave the kids a quick run-down on how to read the signs, then led them to the shuttle to Grand Central Station.

Once there, though, the kids showed far more interest in riding the subway more than in seeing the train station.  So, in one of those happy fits of teaching inspiration, I said, "Okay.  Get us to Union Square."  They looked at me with disbelief at first.  They were in charge?  But what if they screwed up?  I just smiled.  "You can do it," I said.  "I'll get us to the show on time if you get lost, but you can do this.  Get us to Union Square." 

Two of the kids said, "I'm on it!" and immediately led the group over to the nearest subway map.  They consulted it and each other several times before turning to me with a tentative course to take.  "Is that right?" they asked. 

"Let's find out," I said.  "Lead the way."

And they did.  They were, in fact, quite right about the path and we arrived at the Union Square station in just a few minutes.  I congratulated them, and asked, "Are you ready for more?"

"Yes!" they cried.  So I gave them a new destination, one that would require a few transfers.  They figured that one out (and watched some subway performers and some giant rats scuttling along the rails as well, much to their delight and disgust), I gave them a new destination, one that was even trickier, and appointed different leaders from the group to make sure everyone was paying attention.  With 15 minutes left until we needed to be at the theater, I gave the group one last task - to get us to Times Square.  They did it perfectly (albeit with a little coaching from me about the difference between local and express trains).  We exited onto 42nd Street and I led them to the theater, delighted by their self-congratulations and their new-found pride at how easy it is to get around the city.

Then, Newsies.  I have mixed feelings about the show itself.  On one hand, the 14-year-old in me still loves the old movie version and was naturally offended by most of the changes made to it (and there were many).  This version lacks any nuance whatsoever - the plot races by on even more historical inaccuracies than the movie, and it feels like every emotion, every moment is shouted at you at top speed ("I WANT TO MOVE TO SANTA FE!  PULITZER'S A JERK!  WE SHOULD STRIKE!  STRIKE! STRIKE! STRIKE! HOW DO I RUN A STRIKE AND MOVE TO SANTA FE AT THE SAME TIME?!  OH, NO, CONFLICT!").  Essentially, it has same lack of nuance and character development as all of the other Disney shows up on Broadway right now.

Conversely, the dancing and singing were terrific, if a bit high strung.  "Carrying the Banner" was a series of stunts and tricks, and they gave away their best choreography on that opening number so the remainder of the show was an ongoing repetition of the same stunts, albeit with a few prop tricks with newspapers sprinkled in along the way (Rachel - we should totally steal their tricks dancing on newspapers for the show next year).  At first, I was not happy at all with the show (except for the sets, which I did admire).  About halfway through, though, I realized that if I stopped looking at it as a play or even as a version of one of my favorite childhood movies, and instead watched it with the same perspective that I watched Lord of the Dance, it became a lot more enjoyable.  Just think of it as a concert - a showcase of dance and singing.  Good theater it is not.  But it is fun to watch, and whoo boy are those boys good at leaping.

New York - Day 1

(Big kudos to Ben for the idea and the setup of the Twitter feed for this trip.  I don't know how many of you were following along, but the students and I had a lot of fun documenting the trip on the go!)


After a bleary-eyed early morning, we arrived at the airport and met up with the final two students joining our group.  Really, the entire journey-to-New-York process was smooth and uneventful.  Upon arrival we found our tour guide, Tim waiting at the baggage claim area as promised.  The other half of our tour group, a large contingency from Nebraska, were coming in later in the day, so Tim took us out to meet Bill, our bus driver, and we headed into the city.

Quickly figuring out my comfort level with the city, Tim and Bill dropped us off outside of the Apple store on 5th Avenue.  We set up a rendezvous at the nearby Mariella Pizza for dinner, then I led my troops out into the city.

Lunch was high on our agenda, but the students were soon distracted by the sight of FAO Schwartz.  I set up my three rules of the trip (1. No one goes anywhere alone,  2.  Stay aware of where you are and what's around you, and 3. Don't be stupid) and let them loose to explore the store.  To my delight, they followed the rules and met me at the appointed spot right at the time I requested.  That boded well for the rest of the trip.

We walked downtown a few blocks and I pointed out some of the sights of 5th Avenue in my search for a place that would work for lunch.  I suggested trying the street vendors, but the students were still a bit city-shocked and I could tell they needed a break to absorb; so we ate at a Cafe Metro where we had the entire downstairs seating area to ourselves (well it was 2:30 in the afternoon at that point).  I then led them back up to Central Park where they got to play on the swings, relax on the grass, and even attempt to climb a tree or two.  They loved it, and I patted myself on the back for figuring out a way to ease these mountain kids into the city.

Our dinner appointment nearing, we walked through the southern end of the park to swing by Dylan's Candy Bar before meeting up with Tim and company again.  As we waited outside the pizza place, we wondered about whether we'd be able to spot the Nebraskans.  Suddenly one of my kids exclaimed, "You've got to be kidding me."  There, coming down the street, was a hoard of people in matching fluorescent orange t-shirts, Smithsonian lanyards, and bright blue-and-orange backpacks.  Just before the wave of orange Midwestern hit, my kids quickly turned to me and thanked me profusely for not making them wear matching outfits.

Tim led us inside where everyone grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda.  The kids made half-hearted attempts to mingle, but everyone was still pretty standoffish.  Once we finished dinner, the Nebraskans branched off to visit the Candy Bar and I led my kids down the street to see Serendipity 3, mostly because it's there and we didn't have anything else we could do in the time Tim had allotted post-dinner.

Once the groups reconvened we met up with Bill and the bus again and headed down to Times Square.  The Nebraskans had tickets to see The Lion King, while we had opted instead for the off-Broadway play Potted Potter.  I assured Tim we would have no problems getting to our show and entertaining ourselves afterwards, so we ditched the rest of the group and headed out.  With about 90 minutes until curtain, per their requests I took the kids to Toys R Us, Forever 21, and the Disney Store (with a much anticipated run-in with the Naked Cowboy en route) before leading the group to the theater where I met up with my parents, my aunt and cousins, and Grandma Cook.  They were also in NY for the holiday weekend and had jumped on board when I offered to get group tickets to this show.  I was glad I got to see them, if only for a little while.

The show itself was fantastic, in part because the actors happened to pick a young firework of a boy from the audience for their interactive Quidditch match.  It's the kind of show where you can tell how much fun the actors are having, and I enjoyed seeing how much they were improvising.  The audience, including my students, absolutely loved it, and my students have been quoting the prophecy ever since ("One of you shall live, and one of you shall die!").

After the show the students begged me for more time at Forever 21, so we headed back there.  The boys had no interest in that store, so I took them across the street to a few of the better theater-specific souvenir stores.  We met up with the girls again at the appointed time, then found Bill and the bus.  With a few minutes still before the Nebraskans showed up, I ducked out to the nearby street vendor and got a knish for the students to try.  They were wary at first, but decided it was quite tasty and many of them dashed off the bus to get their own late-night treat.

Once everyone was back on board we headed out to the hotel in Jersey.  The Nebraska chaperon and I went in with Tim first to get the room keys and to meet the security guard Smithsonian hires to keep watch in the hallway all night.  I got the room assignments and discovered that all of my students were on the 3rd floor while I was on the first floor.  My chaperoning instincts kicked in first, and wariness flared at the thought of being so far away from them.  But then I looked at the big, beefy security guard and thought, "Hey!  I can be far away from them!"  There have to be some perks to going with a big tour company like Smithsonian, right?

And so, with my students presumably tucked into their beds by the big, beefy security guard two floors above me, I unpacked and very, very quickly fell sound asleep.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I am just checking in quickly to say that we survived the trip, it really was fun, and I will post a more detailed summary tomorrow.

The primary adventure, which is also the reason why I am not blogging much today, was the 6-hour delay at LaGuardia that resulted in my getting home at 3:00 AM (5:00 AM NY time).  Upon tumbling into bed I was accosted by a very neglected cat, for whom I dragged myself out of bed mere hours later to take to a stylist for her annual haircut.  Following a run to the grocery store and a much-needed nap, I also enjoyed a lovely evening out with Lisa, in which we tried the Baker St. Pub at Bel Mar and saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

And now I shall tuck myself back into bed for a proper sleep; if the cat allows it, of course.

Friday, May 25, 2012

End of Day 1!

We're on the bus heading to the hotel in Jersey. Today was awesome. The kids are great and they're loving everything. Potted Potter was terrific, and it was really fun to rendezvous with my family for a wee bit.

We're tweeting up a storm, so keep following along over there. Link's in the sidebar. Also here:

I'm really looking forward to Newsies and showing them Lincoln Center tomorrow. But right now I'm really, really looking forward to bed. :)

Central Park!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wake Up!

Nothing like setting your alarm for 3:30!

The Airport Hotel

I got to the hotel an hour early with the hopes that I'd be able to settle into my room and eat dinner (take-out sushi from Kokoro). To my surprise, there was a student and her father waiting in the lobby when I arrived. So I checked us all inn and set up camp in the lobby instead to wait for the rest of the troops, most of whom had been texting me with various questions and concerns all afternoon. They all made it here, though (well, almost all. Two more are meeting us at the airport in the morning), and are now all tucked into their rooms if not into their beds. The boys are directly across the hall from me, and I've only had to go shush them once so far. They explained that they were fighting each other ninja-style to figure out who gets the first slice of the pizza they had ordered. Don't worry, though, they reassured me. They documented it all on Twitter. I just finished my late sushi and I'm off to bed. I've got to be up, alert, and all responsible-adult-in-charge-like at 3:30 AM. Wish me luck. P.S. Just so you know, it seems you can't access the mobile version of the group's Twitter site without logging into Twitter first. However, from a regular computer you should be able to see it fine. Good night!

Thanks, Mom!

I came home to a lovely surprise yesterday: my mom had sent me the hat I was lusting after!

Sadly, it's not packable. I will be using it this summer, but not in NY.

Thank you again for the surprise, Mom!

Tweeting the Trip

Rachel and Ben had the excellent idea that I should get my students to tweet the New York trip.  With Ben's assistance on the set-up, I and my students each have mobile Twitter accounts to chronicle our journey as it happens.  Exciting, no?

If you'd like to follow along, the group's page is here:

You don't need to be registered on Twitter to follow along, and I'll add a link in the sidebar for your convenience.

I let the students choose their own usernames, so a rundown on the cast of characters might be handy:

H2Opchsny = yours truly
Teekapchsny = Karijka, a sophomore girl
Vaderpchsny = Zach, a junior boy
Salsacondor = Paul, a senior boy (who can't follow the instructions, apparently)
Jennypchsny = Jenny, Paul's sister who graduated two years ago but still wanted to come
Torriepchsny = Torrie, a senior girl
Yodogpchsny = Allana, a sophomore girl

There's a few more who still need to sign up.  I'll bug them upon their arrival at the hotel tonight.

I will, of course, also be blogging as I can.  Because I'm sure you just can't get enough of my wacky adventures!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So Close!

I administered finals to two of my classes today, and graded them with such speed that my students commented on the ninja-like turnaround time.  I showed them their grades, we stacked the desks and chairs, and farewells were made, some for the summer, some for a lot longer.  The students were bundles of various emotions which, good teenagers that they are, were all felt at maximum capacity.  Mostly, though, there was a feeling of tantalization in the air.  The end is very much in sight.

We have a half-day tomorrow; just enough time for the last two classes to take their finals. The first period of the day is my planning period, which will primarily be spent filing papers, getting things in order for the New York trip, and cleaning my classroom.  Then, after proctoring my last final and whipping out my ninja-like grading skills again, I plan to be on the road with my carpool by noon.  Won't that be glorious?

Granted, Thursday is a mandatory teacher work day, and Thursday night I'll be meeting the kiddos at a hotel by the airport.  I may be done with school tomorrow, but I've still got another week with the kids.

I am going to seize the half-day I get though.  The latest manifestation of my stress, etc. has been in my neck and shoulders.  I've been stiff and sore for over a week now, so I booked myself a massage appointment for the afternoon.  My self-bargaining has been raging all week with the upcoming trips ("If I skip the massage and take an Advil instead and if I don't buy that shirt I was looking at, I can justify half the cost of the plane ticket to fly from Madrid to Marrakesh" or "I returned that hat the students talked me into buying on the field trip and I haven't eaten out in a week so I'm allowed to shop for new sunglasses") (Am I the only one who feels compelled to justify any non-life-sustaining purchase?). 

Despite my yearning and inclinations for frugality or at least delayed pleasure (1 massage = 1 Michelin restaurant meal in Spain) (And after reading about the challenges of traveling in Morocco mid-Ramadan, I think Jason and I will be easily persuaded to treat ourselves) (Not that we take much persuading to treat ourselves these days) (cough, cough, Paris! cough), I concluded that having a full range of motion in my neck has moved from a want to a need, particularly if I am going to be responsible for ten not-so-wee-ones on an extended adventure.

A half-day and a Teacher Work Day.  Summer vacation is so close I can taste it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Student Quotes

"I was thinking about it last night, Ms. Waterhouse, and it seems like I've learned a lot more about life from you than I have about theater.  Isn't that strange?"
- Sammy (10th grade girl)

"Ms. Waterhouse, I like your sense of humor and I like your boobs.  Boots!  I mean boots!  BooTTTTs.  Dang it."
- Canyon (11th grade boy)

"Rhinoceros." - Every student in my Humanities class since I showed them this a few weeks ago.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Farewell Weekend

It occurred to me Friday night that this is the last weekend I'll be home until school starts.  I'll be around the occasional weekday, but I may have gone a bit overboard in my attempts to compensate for the change in summer plans.

Despite the finality, this was an abbreviated weekend.  I worked late Friday night with Grad Night (an event celebrating the seniors, which always seems redundant to me given the actual graduation ceremony that follows) and went up the mountain today after church for graduation itself.  Saturday was spent primarily running errands, but I did get to relax a little Saturday night and watch the 1996 version of Jane Eyre, the preferred version for one of my new friends.  I didn't love it, but then no version I've seen has lived up to this, one of my most favorite books.

This evening Jason and I wrestled with our now-annual problem of How We See Everything We Want to See in the Time We Have.  We came to few conclusions, but gave each other specific assignments.  I have a lot of train and plane schedules to search in my future.

The Trek Across the Bridge

We have to cross an overpass to get to the football field where the ceremony's held. I always imagine it would be quite the sight for the cars underneath to see the hordes of black and blue robes.


The teachers are waiting....

Friday, May 18, 2012


We're sitting in a circle, as usual, and doing some end-of-the-year-style Checking In.

"I'm surprised I never got written up in this class," Jacob comments.  "I deserved it, like, twenty times."

Everyone agrees, chuckles.

"I'll tell you the reason if you want to know, Jacob," I comment.  "It's no secret."

Jacob sits up.  "Heck yeah I do!  Why?"

"After check-in," I say, gesturing for the next person to continue.

The moment I say, "And that's us!" Jacob's hand shoots into the air.  "Why didn't you write me up?" he asks.

"There's actually two reasons," I say.  "First, a big part of being successful in theater is being able and willing to take risks.  You have to put yourself out there to be successful, and you have to be okay with trying new things and being noticed.  If I punish you every time you act out, you'll be a lot less likely to take that risk anywhere, including on stage.  Yeah, it would be great if you were mature enough to realize that there's a time and a place for you to be the center of attention, and that acting out in class while I'm giving instructions is not the best thing to do.  But until you figure that out, if I have to choose between telling you to be quiet over and over again and punishing you for cracking a joke or doing things that will make you more successful on stage... well, to me your success as an actor wins."

The students are nodding.  They get it.

"What's the second reason?"  Jacob asks.

"It's tied pretty closely to the first one," I continue.  "A lot of what I do, a large part of my teaching philosophy, is grounded in creating a good classroom community.  Because you need to take risks to be successful at this work, you need to feel like this is a safe place to do that.  You're doing something that scares most people in the world, standing up on stage.  You need to feel like you're in a group of people who will support you no matter what you do.  That's huge for me, and that's why we do a lot of the 'weird' things we do, like Check-In.  It's also why I get so upset when anyone's absent."  They nod.  They've seen me react to discovering who's missing each day.  "Absences mess with our group dynamic - we're not the same if any one of you is gone.  So if I hate it when someone's absent for reasons like being sick or whatever, you can imagine what it would do to the group if I was the one who sent them away.  I don't want to say to any of you, 'You're not allowed to be a part of this group right now.'  I will do it if I need to.  I've sent kids out when their behavior is so disruptive they really can't be part of the group that day, if it's unsafe or inappropriate.  But I hate it when they put themselves in that place."

Jacob nods, somber.  I look around at the group.  "So, knowing those reasons, tell me: Should I have written Jacob up?  Should I send people out of class more?"

I ask this, knowing that a lot of the students in this particular group are the good, smart, well-behaved kind.  They're the ones who complain to the administration about teachers who don't get rid of the kids who disrupt their learning.  They're the ones who never get office referrals.

"No," they say collectively, shaking their heads.  "That makes sense.  Your classes are different."

And, in fact, they are.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Things of Varying Levels of Interest

1.  As you saw, my Adv. Drama class (finally) performed their last play of the year Monday night.  While I am glad they had a chance to redeem themselves from a below-average (okay, horrific) performance in school on Friday, having a show on Monday night has truly confused my mental calendar.  Almost hourly I have to remind myself that it is not Friday yet.

2.  Additionally, I felt less relief than I anticipated upon the wrapping up of that show.  Instead, I found my extracurricular mind simply transferred all that stress to the upcoming New York trip.  I realized that I was not actually done with field trips for the year, far from it.  In nine days I will be in charge of ten teenagers on their first trip in New York.  That produces more tension than I anticipated.

3.  To deal with that tension, as is so often the case, my pre-trip preparations are in full swing.  Tomorrow is The Big Meeting (i.e. the one parents are invited to for reassurance), and in anticipation of that I have created a six-page handout for those students and their parents, a to-the-hour itinerary, multiple charts and tables to track details from emergency contact information to confirmation numbers, and I just set out supplies from my closet to demonstrate proper packing techniques and tricks.  I will overwhelm them with organization!

4.  The school year, as you can imagine, is wrapping up.  Between review sessions, cleaning out the theater, assigning final projects, and constantly asking students to put away their yearbooks during class,  I also administered finals today to my seniors and am grading those as quickly as possible in advance of their (hopeful) graduation on Sunday. 

5.  I also made waffles for my Humanities class today while they were testing.  They had been professing their love for the waffles sold at school.  I needed to correct their tastes by introducing them to Belgian waffles.

6.  Their tastes are now adequately refined.  I am a successful Humanities teacher.

7.  However, I also managed to coat both of my guidebooks for the summer with butter in the process of said refinement.  I am now curious to see what happens when buttered guidebooks meet 100+ degree temperatures.

8.  In addition to my baking skills, I have also donated a lot of my prep time at school to helping the various graduation speakers prepare for their speeches.  That's reminding me that when I don't have to work 14-hour Saturdays I actually really like coaching public speaking.

9.  But that still doesn't mean I'm looking forward to next year.  I'm more burned out than I've ever been before, and I'm not sure a summer break will fix me.

10.  Still, I'm really looking forward to my trips.

11.  I'm also lusting after this hat:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wonder of Wonders!

Last show of the year - DONE!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ullr!!! (Shakes fist)

I was within five hours of being done with plays for this school year.  I was counting the minutes, so looking forward to being done, done, done with rehearsals and props and safety-pinning costumes and giving notes over and over to slow down, to speak up, to not ram the boat into the island box, to be careful of the sheep heads because that one keeps falling off.  Hours, I tell you!  Mere hours!

And then it snowed.

It stopped, it rained, it snowed again, and then it started coming down in huge, slushy flakes that covered the roads and turned everything white within fifteen minutes.

And it wasn't supposed to stop until tomorrow night.

And so we cancelled the performance tonight, optimistically rescheduling it for Monday night instead.

As I went to the office to send out the call to parents, I passed Jesse.  As he shook the snow off his head from a quick errand outside, he said, "You have the worst luck with scheduling plays!"

"I know!"  I exclaimed.  "It was 85 degrees yesterday.  85!  And it's May 11th!"

Truly I am magical.

Grr.  So I'm home now, earlier than I expected.  I took off my techie blacks, put on some sweats, and plan to use my evening to work on travel itineraries, shop for a new dyer, upload movies to my laptop, and finish a Mother's Day project.  Mostly, though, I'm going to get a good night's sleep, even if the theater season isn't wrapped up yet.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hey Look! A Sheep!

I was talking with my mother the other day on the phone.  I realized that she may have been hearing some strange noises from my end.

"In case you're wondering," I said, "I'm blowing out a goose egg."

"Of course you are," she said in reply.  "Why?"

"It's a prop for the show."

"Of course it is," she said.  She knows me well enough that I don't think I could surprise her with any task I take on anymore.  I was reminded of that this morning as I spent part of my planning period like this:


The play tomorrow requires sheep. My students suggested we use real ones; I reminded them of the tale of Extra Crispy and Original Recipe (or, "Why Waterhouse Will Never Use Live Animals on Stage").  Instead, I had them papier-mache several balloons, then glue cotton balls on the large balloons and spraypaint the smaller balloons black. I wasn't entire sure how we would attach the styrofoam eyes to the heads or how to attach the heads to the bodies. Fortunately, when we took the balloons outside into the sun to dry faster, they swelled and split the casing. The students were dismayed. I pointed out that the splits could be the mouths. The splits also proved handy when I attacked the attachment issue with duct tape and Elmer's glue. Hence the James Herriot-like photo of the sheep devouring my arm.

When the students showed up for class, I showed them the finished product. 


The general consensus was that they're so ugly they're cute. We've declared them our Tim Burton-like sheep, and with luck and a fresh roll of duct tape on standby, they just might make it through the shows tomorrow. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Senior Prank!

We walked into school this morning to discover that the lack of focus and effort from the seniors the past few weeks had all been channeled into one night:

Senior Prank 2012

 They emptied all of the classrooms into the hallway...
Senior Prank 2012

 ...and marked up the boards and windows.

Overall it's pretty harmless as pranks go. They had asked permission from our principal first, and no damage was done.  Most of the students were quick to help put things back once we gave them all a chance to admire the handiwork.

They did add a bit of a personalized teasing touch to what they wrote on my board, though:

Senior Prank 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

An Attentive Audience

Having finished our tour of the art museum, I led my group of students up a few blocks to take the shuttle to our dinner location.  The shuttle is about halfway full, and we pile in the back.  I instinctively brace myself as the shuttle takes off, and the mountain kids naturally topple into one another giggling.

After a few stops, a disheveled man enters the shuttle.  He's ranting about women and nicotine.  I can sense my students' discomfort and curiosity, so I give them the "It's okay.  Be cool and just ignore him" look.

As the shuttle departs, my students topple over again and he continues to declare his medical/feminist opinions to the crowd that avoids making eye contact with him.  The shuttle shifts, putting the setting sun directly in my eyes.  I pull down my sunglasses from on top of my head and ruffle my hair.  This catches the man's eye.

"Ooh, so sexy with the sunglasses," he says, looking me over.  "Your sunglasses, you, you're so sexy."

I'm pointedly ignoring him, but I can tell my students very much are not.  Any distraction their own conversations, drinks, or cell phones offered are now completely obliterated by the crazy man hitting on their teacher right in front of them.

"Sexy sunglasses..." he says, slurring the last "s" in a serpentine trailing off.  He straightens up, coming to a decision.  "I'm single," he announces.

One of my students snorts.

"I'm single," he repeats.  "And I'm a millionaire.  I'm a millionaire, I'm an alcoholic, and I'm single."

I'm not looking at my students, but I can tell they are about to give in to fits of laughter.  I make a subtle, low gesture with my hand and the students stifle themselves.  The man continues to list these qualities in-between declarations of my and my sunglasses' attractiveness.

As the bus pulls up to the stop, the man reiterates his selling points for me one more time as he gets off the bus.  "I'm a millionaire, I'm single, I'm an alcoholic."  Then, just as the students are about to let the laughter loose, the man steps up to the window of the bus.  He stands on tiptoe on the sidewalk, pressing his fingers and his mouth on the glass.  "And I have a small penis!" he whispers to me through the window.

The bus pulls away, and my students lose it.

We got off the shuttle a few more stops down, and the students had a grand time teasing me.  Later, when we meet up with some additional students at the theater, the art museum group was quick to tell them all about it.

"Dang it!" the drama students exclaim.  "Why don't we get to see things like that when we go downtown with you?"

"Wait," one of them declares, "Didn't you get hit on in New York, too?"

I confirm it.  As they laugh, a student declares, "Man!  You have the best stories and you're not even old!" Another student says, "Why does that keep happening to you, Ms. Waterhouse?"

I tilted my head to one side and wrinkle my brow.  "I'm confused, Cali," I say playfully.  "Haven't you figured out how attractive I am?"

The students laugh as we head into the theater.  "It's funny that guys hit on you like that," one girl comments as we take our seats.

"You do seem to attract some crazies," her friend agrees.

"Yeah!" the first girl continues.  "Maybe it's the vibes you give off."

"I give off crazy-vibes?" I ask.

"No," they both say.  The first girl amends it.  "You give off... drama teacher vibes."

I laugh.  "I don't think those will attract men I'd like to date."

"Oh, no!" they said.  "They do.  You'll attract... a drama teacher!"  They pause.  "Who's hot."  Pause.  "And a guy."  Another pause.  "And straight."  They smile, having figured out the solution.

"Riiight," I say.  "Somehow I think the chances of that are quite small."

I change the topic by noting the upcoming season listed in the program.  One of the shows is a relatively new David Ives adaptation of Mark Twain's Is He Dead?  I point that play out to the student next to me, since she is a growing Ives fan.  The white-haired man to my left nudges me.

"I'm related to him," he says.

"David Ives?" I ask.

"No, Mark Twain."  He then proceeds to give me a run-down of his genealogical connections to the author.  I comment politely and turn back to my program, but the man continues to talk to me, asking questions about the play we're about to see.  I give simple, polite replies, distracted by the overpowering smell of cigarettes coming from him and my desire to focus on my students rather than this stranger.  I note that had I been out with my friends, they would have immediately picked up on the "Rescue me!  Rescue me from this conversation!" signals I was giving out.  Instead my students were completely absorbed in their own scenes and thereby missed yet another proof of the vibes they claim I give off.  Finally, the house lights dimmed and the man's conversation trailed off, as did the conversations of my students around me. 

For once I was glad they don't always paying attention to their teacher.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Why, Yes. I Do Love Office Supply Stores!

Travel BooksFew things in life give me as much pleasure as attacking new guidebooks with multi-colored sticky tabs and highlighters.

Coming Attractions

Last night Jason and I bought our plane tickets for this summer's grand tour.  I'll be flying out a week ahead of him to attend the Pueblo Ingles session, but we'll rendez-vous in Madrid and set off from there for a two-week tour of Spain and Morocco.

Current plans include:
Madrid (hot chocolate, churros, and art museums)
The Alhambra
The Rock of Gibraltar
Marrakesh (souq shopping!)
and (deep breath)
trekking to the Sahara by camel to spend the night on the dunes in Berber tents.

That last one should provide all kinds of good blog fodder.

Another victory in my quest to find the quintessential photo for each of our trips!

I'm excited, despite my wariness of the heat and camels.  I realized last night that this trip will bring my continent count up to five.  Five!  Jason, if we plan things right, we can check off all seven before we turn 35.  Imagine!

After purchasing the tickets, we naturally turned our attention to the next most important issue - clothing.  Thus ensued a flurry of emails back and forth about appropriate hats.  I encouraged Jason to adopt a look like this:

Or this:

Or at the very least this:

Meanwhile I wondered if returning my enormous, fabulous hat was such a good idea.  I mean, look at the shadow that thing created!


Hmm.  Maybe if it was in brown?

Fortunately, we have time to sort out our wardrobes, even if it is a little odd to be planning against turning into a sweaty, sweaty mess when the weather outside looks like this:

May Snow

(Shakes head and sighs) Colorado.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Notable Accomplishments of the Last Few Days

- Took Humanities class to the art museum, to the 16th Street Mall, and to see Twelfth Night
- Brought all members of the class and the chaperone safely back from said field trip
- Navigated the bus through pre-Cinco de Mayo street shut-downs and parking woes
- Bought an enormous, fabulous hat at the students' insistence
- Returned the enormous, fabulous hat the next day in a fit of separating my needs from my wants
- Modeled for students how to handle crazy people on the 16th Street Mall Shuttle (story to come)
- Drove safely home after the field trip, despite it ending at 11:30 Friday night
- Researched many, many flight options for the summer
- Bought plane tickets for the Spain/Morocco portion of the summer
- Made plans to visit Emily and co. in early summer (Eeee!)
- Completed Mother's Day project
- Bought 5 pounds of navel oranges from Whole Foods (my new favorite treat)
- Caught up on laundry without a working dryer
- Attended church
- Switched back into student-researcher mode and outlined several articles/interviews/panel discussions on gospel topics
- Ate 1.5 meals today without feeling too nauseous afterwards
- Depression is (finally) lessening
- Survived the week

14 days of school left!
One play production left!
Five flights left to book!
One cat to shave!
I can do it!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


I am perpetually amazed at the timing of my administration's visits.

Since moving last year to the classroom at the far reaches of the galaxy (second floor, back corner, behind a door, down a long hallway that leads only to my room), I do not get too many drop-ins.  Out of sight, out of mind.  It doesn't bother me usually since I really like the autonomy this administration gives its teachers.  It shows their trust in us.  I get a drop-in two, maybe three times a semester, far less than the teachers who have classrooms that face the main hallway or with open walls and definitely less than the infamous "drive-by shootings"at STMS.

Independence aside, however, there are plenty of days when I wish for a drop in because I am still and will always be that Honors student vying for the teacher's approval.  My Humanities class will be working all together in small groups wrapping IV tubes around desks and chairs and each other as they explore the physics of Roman aqueducts, or one of the shyest kids in the school will be standing up in front of the entire class performing an improvised speech while the whole class is looking on and smiling and encouraging her, or my drama class will all be sitting on the floor in a circle actively engaged in a discussion of examples of status in the school cafeteria and comparing the different school factions to the different levels of the court in Macbeth, and I'll think how great it would be if my principal dropped in right then because look!  Look at what a good teacher I am!

But he doesn't.  No, instead he walks into my room while I'm in the middle of describing the time a friend of mine was acting on stage and an enormous loogie flew out of his mouth towards his female counterpart and, according to him, time shifted into slow-motion and he caught the loogie with his hand and clapped it back into his mouth without loosing a beat of the scene.

On one hand, every student in my room was completely engrossed in what was going on.

On the other hand, loogie.  Giant in-the-hand loogie.

My principal stayed to the end of the story, chuckling at their reactions, then slipped out as I redirected the class to the activity of the day.  Part of me wanted to chase him down the hallway, to explain that it's all good - we had been talking about different rehearsal techniques and the loogie was the result of the giant wad of Junior Mints my friend found hidden in a couch during their strange traditional Candy Hunt Dress Rehearsal.  Plus, spitting!  Spitting = good articulation!  We were also talking about that!  I'm a good teacher, I swear!

I didn't.  He knows I'm a good teacher, and he's complimented me several times before on my ability to keep the whole class engaged.  "I never see students with their heads on their desks in your room," he tells me at my evaluations.  Yet Giant Minty Loogie stories don't usually make the list he emails to the staff of techniques to keep students engaged with your curriculum.

I let it go, marveling instead at his uncanny timing.  And when my beginning drama class is learning Air Broadsword choreography a few days later, I make sure we practice it outside on the field that his office window looks out over.