Thursday, December 20, 2007

Everybody Dance

'Tis the season for teachers to make fools of themselves for the love of their students!

At Dead President Junior High, the winter assembly is a grand event. It's traditionally capped off by a performance by the faculty band (which only exists for the sake of this one performance), an appearance by Santa (played by the hilarious shop teacher who also builds my sets for me), and a dance choreographed by Kelley and performed by any teacher courageous enough to join.

This year, Kelley made a mash-up of music that included "Soulja Boy" and "Kiss Kiss", which prompted immediate and boisterous screams of delight from the student body out there in the darkness. (Kelley is a very wise producer!)

Anyway, our brave dance troupe this year, in addition to Kelley, included Amber, the gym teacher, Erin, the science teacher, Angie, the technology specialist at our school, and me. We donned our finest "gangsta" clothes and did our very best with one day's rehearsal. I feel bad since I am usually better at not obviously watching the best dancer in the group for cues.

Still, it was a blast, as always. Here's the video, as shot by techie Carly from the booth:

My pants, by the way, were safety-pinned to my other pants to achieve the ultimate sag. I really don't know how the boys at our school beat gravity so consistently. My English class came up with the idea for the arm tats. They gave me many, many styling tips, then proceeded to mock me mercilessly for following their advice. I love these kids.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


With the remnants of my purple hair color growing out into way-too-obvious roots, I decided to dye my hair this morning. I had bought a DIY "Dark Golden Brown" kit and followed the instructions right down the the strand test.

Of course, the joy of DIY is the unpredictability of the results, right?

Actually, I don't think this photo does justice to how startled I am when I look in a mirror. I actually don't mind it too much, but it is way darker than I intended.

Hair color experimentations aside, things are busy, but fine. With the concerts, special projects, and, of course, the much-anticipated winter break, it is taking more and more energy to reign them in long enough to teach them each period. In my Advanced Drama classes, we've started work on Shakespeare monologues. I assigned a unique monologue to each of my kids - something that took quite a bit of time on my part, but that paid off in their eagerness to see which speech they each "get" to do. They do like individual attention. In addition, as classes we've choreographed "To Be or Not To Be" and "All the World's a Stage". I've now got them memorized, and my students are not too far behind. They are catching on to the impressiveness of being able to spout off such famous speeches on cue.

The musical is going along fine as well. Kelley and Janelle and I were noting the other day how much easier it seems to be this time. I think we're figuring out how to do these things. For example, instead of trying to take roll by calling it outloud (as we did two shows ago) or in small groups with appointed-but-sometimes-flaky section student leaders (as we did last year), this time we've created boxes for each 25 students. The boxes get set out across the stage at the top of the rehearsal, and the student go to them to pick up their sheet music and to sign in on a clipboard. Meanwhile, we have three excellent students who check off the clipboards and put away the boxes at the end of each rehearsal. They're the ones who figure out who's missing too much unexcused practices, who's coming late, etc. A lot less work for us directors, but it keep the kids accountable.

Speaking of special projects, it's "babies are bad" time at school again. Rather than the raw egg I had to carry around as an eigth graders, our ninth graders get flour babies - ten-pound sacks of flour that the Home Ec. teacher wraps up in duct tape and the students personalize with blankets, baby clothes, and the occasional Cabbage Patch Kid's head. While the caring requirements certainly convince the students that a baby's inconvenient, I have my doubts about whether this assignment promotes abstinence. That "indestructible" falsehood they buy into at this age also applies to the consequences of sex - you know, "Sure, I know that sex=babies, but it won't happen to me."

The project did lead to an amusing scene outside my door, though. The flour babies unit coincided with the winter dance. While some teachers though the students should experience the difficulty in dancing with an "baby" in your arms, others (thankfully) realized that turning 400-some-odd students loose in a gym with dark lights and bags of flour may lead to some undesired white powder flying, well, everywhere. So, they set up a day care center. For 75 cents, the student could leave his/her baby outside of the dance, tended by one of our school aides. It was pretty popular with the "parents", although it must have been uncomfortable for the "babies":

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Argument

In English class earlier this week, I introduced persuasive writing to my students. On the board I wrote


and I said, "These are the three types of arguments. Can anyone guess what the words mean?"

Lui, one of my delights in this class, called out, "Dirty, nasty, and ugly!"

"What?" I asked as the students and I looked at him.

He grinned and replied, "That's the kind of arguments I do!"

Christmas Bells Are Ringing

All night, all morning, and part of the afternoon, too. It's finally become pretty outside.

So, inspired by that and my newly rekindled health, I pulled out my Christmas decorations today.

Since I rarely have guests, and since I spend the actual holiday elsewhere, I don't do too much decorating for the holidays. Last year, in fact, I did absolutely nothing. This year, I decided to pull out only some of my favorites and set them up for the next month.

I've been collecting creches for a few years now. Nothing too extensive, I just look out for them when I'm traveling. I've got seven at the moment, as you can see here:

My newest creche (from St. Petersburg):

My littlest creche (from the Vatican) (the wood to the right is the edge of another creche, to give you a sense of the scale):

My favorite creche (from Peru, bought at Ten Thousand Villages)

Rather than setting up the little fake tree stored in my closet, I got this cute little plant at IKEA last weekend, and set it up on my piano:

While I'm posting photos, here's a few others that were on my camera:

Our carriage-ride tour guide in New Orleans:

The ladies out and about town
(The fellow in the photo above took this picture, after peering into my camera and saying "Smile, damn it!")

Daddy-o hanging out at Preservation Hall (and browsing on his Blackberry):

When Janelle and I went to her classroom after auditions on Friday, we discovered this:

It seems the auditioners made us a mural out of their numbers.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Throw It Out

Tuesday night I decided to put the Thanksgiving leftovers to good use, so I made a quiche.

Three hours later, I was laying on my bathroom floor, cursing quiches and their kin.

At 3:00 am, I called in for a substitute. At 6:00 am, I dragged my laptop into the bathroom so I could email sub plans to Janelle in between bouts.

As the symptoms increased in include body aches and a fever, I began to suspect that my cooking was not at fault. Since I'm home now for the third day in a row, still not trusting myself to be more than seconds away from a toilet, I've decided that I've fallen victim to the flu. Unfortunately, I still can't imagine eating quiche again anytime soon.

The biggest problem is the auditions. First of all, I love being at school this week - watching so many kids talk about them, seeing the dance being practiced in the hallway, hearing the same 16 bars sung over and over again. The excitement is tangible, and I miss it.

I have been dragging myself to school for the auditions themselves. There's not much I can do about that. Fortunately, because of busy evenings this week (orchestra concert Wednesday, Kelley's dance class Thursday), we spread out the auditions over three days rather than one or two really long nights. The three of us sit near each other in the fourth row, surrounded by student information papers and contracts, each with our own clipboard of audition notes. The past two days, I've added to the picture by being huddled up in as close to a fetal position as I can manage in a theater seat.

The students come in in groups of four, always looking freaked out. They bring us their papers first, then line up on stage. Each one sings a few bars from "Opening For a Princess", then reads one of six scenes I selected. Then, the group performs a bit of "The Spanish Panic".

We've seen maybe half of the auditioners so far, mostly kids who are new to our musicals. We've got about 30 on our call back list so far (we'll whittle out some of the "maybes" today after the rest of the auditions). It feels good to be doing this again - I love working with Janelle and Kelley. And those of you who have done school musicals know how strange that is.

So, it's the best of weeks and it's the worst of weeks. I tried real food yesterday (chicken soup), but that didn't take so well. Instead, I'm trying bananas, applesauce, and toast. Yay for the BRAT diet!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Young Blood

I'm sorry, dear friends, that the last real entry I left up here for so long was rather pessimistic. Especially since that was a very passing mood. Things have been pleasant, although busy as always, for the past week or so. Here's an update:

The Play

"Robin Hood" went happily. Both casts had rockier first performances - messed up lines, missed cues, a few forgotten props, etc. One of my leads was so nervous he just plain froze up during his first scene. He couldn't remember any of his lines, even with the Town's Girl heroically prompting him with decreasing subtlety ("Robin, weren't you going to tell us that you think the Sheriff of Nottingham is a little, slimy worm?")

Once he stumbled his way into the scene with the Sheriff and Marian, those two actors did such a smooth job that he pulled it together and the rest of the play went fairly well. I talked to him later and found out that not only was it his very first performance ever, his "real dad" had flown here from Portland for the day just to see his performance. No wonder the poor kid was nervous.

That cast (4A, by the way) let their shaky first show push them beautifully and their second performance couldn't have been better. We even had the drama club from the nearby elementary school come to that show, and the cast and I stayed behind a bit to do a Q&A with those eager little thespians. It was fun to see my kids being admired, and it did them good to be the authorities and answer questions about acting. The cast bonded in ways that still amaze me, even though I watch it happen every time.

The other cast (period 4B) had smoother shows. I both loved and hated some of their between-shows behaviors. I was really curious to see how the two classes would respond to each other. I required each class to see the other's evening show, stressing that there was absolutely no competition between them. The 4B cast were in the audience first, and I couldn't be prouder of them - they cheered and laughed and brought such a positive energy to the entire show that they made the audience one of the best. Essentially, they did my director's-laugh-in-the-audience job, but times 30.

Which is why I was disappointed when some of the 4A class came to me the next day. A few of the other class members had been making fun of their stumbling performance, even going so far as to mock Robin Hood to his face for messing up the first scene. No, disappointed is the wrong word for my emotions when I heard that - I was shocked and livid. I asked the 4A cast to
1) be the better people (pointing out that it would be a far better revenge anyway than any insult they could come up with),
2) let any anger or hurt push them to a better performance, and
3) know that the other cast was far from perfect, and I would be talking sternly with them.

A bit later, the stage manager for the 4A cast came to me and said the actors didn't feel like I needed to say anything to the other cast - they had decided that they didn't really care what they said, since they knew their second performance had gone so well. I assured her that, while I admired their charity, the 4B cast still needed to hear what I was going to say.

So I had a talk with the 4B cast. They knew they had acted badly, but what I think finally drove the point home to them was when I reminded them that I was the director of both shows, so when they insulted the other performance, they insulted me, and it hurt my feelings.

(I think I really am getting better about sharing my feelings with students since the Shakespeare Institute. No crying or anything like that, but I do try to remind them that I'm human. I think they respect me more for it.)

Anyway, aside from that incident, I really am pleased with how it all turned out. Numerically, by the way, we paid off the costs of the show the first night, which means a 100% profit. So, whoo-hoo!


For some reason, the school board was generous with their calendaring this year, and we had Wednesday off school. It was a wonderful start to the holiday weekend, since it gave me a day to get things done before the family time started. I went to the dentist, the bank, two grocery stores, got a haircut, did two loads of laundry, cleaned my bathroom, and shopped with Janelle before meeting my parents for dinner.

We feasted on Thursday, went to see the silly "Enchanted" all together, played board games, shopped, and hung out. Oh! We also met my grandmother's suitor, Dick. He's been lurking in her conversations for several months now, but we hadn't actually met him, due to deliberate avoidance on her part. I was a little disappointed to find out that he was real after all - the idea that she had an actual was far more interesting.

Aside from missing my sister (Rachel and Ben went to Maine instead this year), it was a fun weekend. I even got in quite a bit of obsessive reading; finally giving in to the suggestions of my cousins and my female students by reading Stephenie Meyer's teenage-vampire-love trilogy. Yes, it sound ridiculous. And it was. But it was also 1800+ pages of compelling story telling (in between all of the "Edward can't possibly love me as much as I love him!" and "His absolute physical perfection stunned me again!" and "Breath, Bella!" romanticism over and over again). She even got enough Shakespeare in the second book to make me decide to work it into an essay question for the Romeo and Juliet unit next semester. As with Harry Potter, I'm grateful for any decent book that gets kids reading as obsessively as I do. I just wish there were more books like that out in the world.

The Musical

With just two school days and a five-day weekend to rest, auditions for the spring musical began today. Yes, it's five weeks earlier - with Janelle's pregnancy coming to term in early April, we had to move up the performance dates, which lead to scheduling the auditions around all of the concerts that herald the month of December at school. I'm both excited to be doing it again, and a little sad knowing that it's probably the last show the three of us will do together. I'm well aware of how extraordinarily lucky I am to get to direct with two ladies who are talented, creative, passionate, dedicated, and my friends. Really, it's too good to last.

In any case, we had 169 students come to the auditions today, and the excitement is tasty. We also had about 10 alumni show up from the high school to help out, which is always pleasant. They asked for the microphone at one point, and when I passed it over, they cautioned the prospective cast, "Don't piss off the directors - they're scary when they're angry."

I will, of course, keep you posted on how the auditions go!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Birdhouse in Your Soul

Little something-to-do, anticipated movie, excellent book.

(And, yes, I cheated by using a non-showtune song title, but it fit so well!)

Monday, November 12, 2007


This will probably be an entry of complaints. Just to give you fair warning.

So I had a marvelous weekend in New Orleans. Great food, fun town, interesting tours, fantastic music. There are two kitties who seem to frequent Preservation Hall. Did you know that?

Did you also know that when the people around you are tapping their feet to the music, it feels like Preservation Hall has a heartbeat that's also keeping time? It was a happy sensory moment for me.

So I came back from a fun little trip to the hell that is Show Week. Specifically, I landed, got luggage, got Gma Cook off on the right parking stop, got dinner, and then spent the evening finding and editing the sound effects for the show.

This morning I got up early and headed to school for what I knew would be a crazy day. It was one of those days where I didn't even have time to go to the bathroom, let alone handle things patiently and rationally. Between sewing last-minute tunics, setting light cues, fixing broken microphones, printing the program, emailing teachers who are bringing their elementary school classes to see the show on Wednesday, making last-minute props, striking the set for the symphony tomorrow, meeting with Howard and the wrestling coach to smooth things over, racing out to a nearby high school to find thrones, answering hundreds of little questions, and, oh yeah, teaching, my patience was non-existent today.

And I hate that. I wish I could be the calm type, getting things done early and smoothly with no last-minute rush. And while I know I'm getting better at my job, I'm far from where I want to be.

When I ran out to the high school today I was surprised that 1) I felt short (no, really. I forget that students can be taller than me) and 2) the neediness doesn't change. And while a lot of students are needy and that's exhausting and all; my kids are also totally inexperienced and messy and forgetful and selfish and they just don't think about the consequences of their behavior for anyone else. Like the wrestlers who, while running laps through the halls, pulled down 15 of our show posters and left them on the floor. I know it wasn't malicious, but it was incredibly inconsiderate. That's probably the most frustrating part of dealing with this age every day.

So, yeah, I'm stressed and I feel like a bad teacher and I'm trying really hard to stop caring that neither cast has their lines fully memorized. It's out of my hand, really, but that's probably a big part of my stress. I like to be in control, if you haven't noticed. And really, I'm disappoint right now because I know this isn't going to be my best show yet and I really don't like falling short of my standards.

I really do believe that doing theater is good for these kids. How healthy is it for me, though? I hate that I didn't even have time to listen to my stage manager when she told me that the sub they had on Friday said some really inappropriate things to the class. I have no idea when the sub said, since my stage manager told me this in the midst of a blizzard of demands for my attention. I did promise her that I was not blowing it off and I really, truly did want to hear about it. I just couldn't do it then. When I can't even stop long enough to go to the bathroom all day, I don't know how to stop long enough to listen to her. Tomorrow I will, though.

I should be going to bed, since I have to be on my way to school by 6:30 tomorrow to set up for the symphony, but I'm having a hard time clearing out my head and heart enough to sleep. I wonder if it would be different if I had someone to talk to about all of this when I get home. Part of me is glad that I don't have someone, because I'm sure this side of me is far from attractive, let alone pleasant. Then again, I'm all knotted up with frustration over so many different strings that I don't know if I can untangle them without someone to actually talk to in those precious moments between school and bed.

It'll pass. It always does.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Books - an encore

Sometimes the best lessons are the ones I come up with at the last minute.

With the show next week and all of the craziness, I had no idea - absolutely, literally no idea - what to do with my AVID class today. For my other classes, we're either in the middle of projects or I've got enough stock lesson plans that I could come up with worthwhile activities for the 80 minutes I have to prep for each class. But AVID? Nothing.

So last night I was heading for bed, figuring that I would just have to come with something when I got to school in the morning, and I stepped into my library to enjoy the room. I was admiring my fine alphabetizing when I recalled the assignment I had given the AVID kids last time.

You see, the more I teach, the more I believe that the foundation to educational success is a love of reading. I did a poll with this class and found that out of 30 kids, about 6 of them read for pleasure. How sad is that? So I told them that they each needed to get a book (age-appropriate, at least 200 pages long) and read it by winter break. Not too hard, right?

I recalled that assignment as I enjoyed my own biblioholism last night, and suddenly I started pulling out books from the shelf. I went through my collection and soon had a pile of about 40 books that meet the assignment's needs - roughly appropriate for 8th and 9th graders, and all over 200 pages long.

I began the class by spreading the books out on the floor in the middle of my room. They were immediately curious. Then I walked them through these steps:

1. Look, but no touchie - Based only on the front cover, which book would you pick to read and why?
2. Select a book, one book per student. Read the back cover and any inside flaps. Write down a summary of what the book is about and what kind of book it is.
3. Read the first chapter OR the first ten pages (whichever comes first). Describe what's happened so far in the book, and what characters you've met.
4. Would you continue reading this book? Why or why not?

And badda-boom, a 75 minute lesson. But here's the magical part - they were way into it. They wanted to touch the books, look through the books. They were fighting over who got to pick which book. And I'm not sure if you will understand the significance of this, but when it came time for them to read the first part of their books - they all did. Silently. I mean, I even stepped out of the room for a moment to get something, and when I came back they were all still reading quietly.

I though to myself, "Holy crap, it's a literary miracle!"

At the end I asked how many of them would like to keep reading the books they had picked - two-thirds of them raised their hands. And I know some of the others didn't because another student had nabbed the books they wanted to see.

So I realized a few things.
1. I should never hide or undermine my own passion. I think it's the reverance and excitement that I can't suppress when I talk about books that sold them on this project to begin with.
2. One of the greatest things my parents did for me was take me to the library regularly. I talked with Janelle about it, and she told me that going to the library is still anxiety-ridden for her, since her family never did that. It's just overwhelming, so she doesn't go. No wonder these kids of mine don't read - their parents don't either. That's why
3. I have to teach them how to pick up a book. It's so intuitive for me now, but it's not for them. But, hopefully, it's not too late for them to learn it.

I hope this project works. I need to hunt down more books for them, though. Especially books with Hispanic main characters - "Sister Chicas" was one of the most popular choices.

If you have any suggestions for my kids to read, feel free to post a comment!

The List

Here are the books I took for my students, as best as I can recall without looking at the stack since I left them at school:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arther Conan Doyle)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot)
The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud)
Artimus Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
Birdwing (Rafe Martin)
Burning City (Ariel Dorfman and Joaquin Dorfman)
The Blue Sword (Robin McKinley)
The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau)
The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
Dealing With Dragons (Patricia Wrede)
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkein)
Finding Miracles (Julia Alvarez)
The Freedom Writers' Diaries (Erin Gruwell)
The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman)
The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale)
Hero's Song (Edith Pattou)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Holes (Louis Sacher)
Hoot (Carl Hiaasen)
The Legend of Holly Claus (Brittany Ryan and Laurel Long)
The Lightening Thief (Rick Riordan)
Magyk (Angie Sage and Mark Zug)
The Merchant of Death (D.J. MacHale)
The Outlaws of Sherwood (Robin McKinley)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
Redwall (Brain Jacques)
A Ring of Endless Light (Madeline L'Engle)
Sister Chicas (Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, and Jane Alberdeston Coralin)
The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke)
Uglies (Scott Westerfeld)
Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech)
Warriors (Erin Hunter and Gary Chalk)
The Wind Singer (William Nicholson)

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Rather than sewing costumes, as I was supposed to do today, I spent the afternoon and evening putting together my new bookcase from Ikea.

If you give a girl a bookcase, she's going to put it together.
Once she puts it together, she'll want to put it up.
Once she puts it up, she'll decide it looks better on the other side of the room.
Once she decides that, she has to put all of her books in the hall so she can move the other bookcases around, too.
Once she moves the other bookcases around, she will decide that the chair from the living room belongs in the library.
Once she puts the chair in the library, she has to move the bookcases around even more to decide where they go.
Once she decides where they go, she will have to put all her books back.
But those books have to go into categories
and then they have to be alphabetized
and then they have to be shelved.
And once she gets her books all shelved,
she'll look around the library and say,
"I think I'd like another bookcase."

Actually, I jest. For once, I think I'm actually good on shelf space. I even moved the second taller bookcase into the living room, and I'm debating which books belong out there.

I wonder, though, if I have just cinched the true ownership of the second bedroom. Nash already claims it during the day, and now that I've put her favorite scratching post/napping spot/fur-collector (i.e. my reading chair) in there, I might need to change this door sign:

to read "Natasha's Room".

Here's a few more pics of the rearrangement:

Hopefully I'll have time this week to hang those pictures up, although between the usual week-before-a-show stress and a trip to New Orleans next weekend, they may have to wait until after "Robin Hood" is over. Sigh.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Photos from Portland

I ran away last weekend, and it was marvelous! I flew up to Portland, Oregon Saturday morning, and spent a wonderful two days there walking, reading, exploring, shopping, and just enjoying a new city.

Brace yourself and your server for a lot of photos.

The Japanese Gardens:

There, I attended an Ikebana demonstration:

The International Rose Test Garden (In late October... imagine it in June!)

There were a lot of dogs out with their people. These two are staring at a Starbucks.

Where I stayed:

The sign speaks the truth:

Reading three books, buying a dozen or so more while sipping white chocolate-steamed milk, watching "The Darjeeling Limited", eavesdropping on three French sisters, chatting with a gal from Bath, enjoying great public transportation, and walking around a Bobo's paradise, it was a delightful 52 hours away from home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween/ The Happy Goth

Happy Halloween!

Keeping with school dress code, I did my hair and makeup today going for a different me. I tried to go as goth as I could without buying anything. Turns out, I'm not much of a goth. The students liked it quiet a bit, though.

Janelle brought Donavon to school this afternoon, and I did his makeup. Here's a picture of the two of us in costume:

and another, since I can't decide which one I like better:

Cute, aren't we? Too bad you can't see my hands - wearing every ring I own, purple-painted nails with red french tips, and the fingerless gloves my sister knitted for me, they were the most gothic part of me.

By the way, Donavon isn't sullen looking because of me - he missed his nap and was in a pouty mood. I'm sure he loved his lion look deep down inside.

Coming soon - pictures from Portland!

The Duel

So. It turns out I'm an athlete.
I know, I know. You're just as surprised as I am. Although, after my spectacular basketball victory last year, I really should have known.

Last Thursday was my last fencing class. We held a tournament ("we" being the three other students who had stuck it out and I), and get this - I won! I am officially a fencing champion.

Here are some photos of the event:

(I'm the one in the green tennis shoes):

An action shot (the green light means I scored a touch!)

The score sheet (you may need to click on the picture to actually be able to read it):

Our instructor, Kenny (same guy as you, Annie?):

In retrospect, I'm glad I did this. It wasn't what I expected, but I'm getting more comfortable with the sporting life, and I enjoyed myself. Besides, I at least have some basic knowledge to use the next time I'm choreographing a duel on stage. And that was really this point of it all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Le Redecouverte

One of my former students sent me a link to this video of the Korean BBoy performing group "Expression":

A fun piece of theater, n'est-ce pas? He also sent a link to another video of the same group. Jeff was listening to the music from this video while hanging out in the booth with me and my techies last year. I told him that the "Amelie" soundtrack was one of my favorites, but I was surprised that he knew of it. He said he heard it in a BBoy performance first - hence the link.

I love it when my students have already found a real passion for something, and I love it even more when they teach me about it.

The World Around Us

It's the end of the quarter, which means stacks of grading for me. It's not too bad this time, though. I've done a better job at entering the daily stuff right away after school. Given that, all I've really had to grade and enter into the computer this week are extra credit papers, some late work, and two English assignments.

I've been focusing on writing with my English class this term. They're writing I-Search papers right now. It's basically a research paper, but it's written in first person, it focuses on what occurs during the search process, and the topics must be ones that are particularly relevant to the students. Given that, they've picked quite the range of topics, including interior design, diabetes, the history of Halo, gangs, serving a mission, teen suicide, and modern dance.

One girl is writing her paper about the Holocaust. This afternoon, I read the section on "What I Know and Don't Know" (which they write before starting the research). While she was writing it in class earlier this week, I asked her if she knew what the word "holocaust" means. She gave me a confused look, so I also asked if there have been any other holocausts. As she started to say no, I gave her one of those knowing teacher-smiles (I like giving those) and walked away to check on another student. Here's the resulting part of her paper (verbatim and full of [sic]s, by the way)

"I also do not know if there has been more than one holocaust, I don't think there has been anymore, because it would be in headline news and everyone would be talking about the new Holocaust and things like that, and who they are killing, but there has been nothing spoken like that since the 1940's."

I'm eager to watch her discover the world.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Make 'Em Laugh

Here's the video from our school assembly:

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Wow. It's been longer than I thought since I've posted. My apologies to you all!

In my defense, today I finally got rid of one of the big stresses. We did this year's version of the Business Partner's assembly (those of you who are long-term readers/faithful listeners may recall the hated "Rainbow performance" of last year) today, and it turned out nicely. My part, aside from the usual tech work/cleaning the auditorium/emceeing the show/organization, involved directing and editing a video. I had a group of teachers recreate the hilarious History Class sketch from a 1992 SNL episode (with Jerry Seinfeld). We shot multiple times, using three different cameras, so editing was a nightmare, but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. This is including the fact that the history teacher I asked to play the history teacher apparently neither looked at his script nor watched the clip at all before the two hours we had to film it. So, it didn't meet my perfectionist standards, but the audience loved it. So, whoo!

I'll post our version this weekend. In the meantime, if you don't read my sister's blog, enjoy this video which she shared today. It's so true!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Race You to the Top of the Morning

I am very, very tired. And it's not even show season!

After a bad night's sleep, I got up yesterday morning at 4:15 to get to school by 5:30 to pile on a school bus with 51 ninth graders and 8 parent-chaperons to drive for four hours to visit the "local" Shakespeare festival.

It was actually a wonderful day.

The festival put together an amazing program for the kids - a tour of their theaters, including backstage, under the stage, greenrooms and dressing rooms. This is despite the fact that it's the same stage being used that afternoon for a show, so there were techies checking light cues, prop tables set up, set pieces in place, and everything. Next, one of the company's professional actors spent an hour with the kids, doing a workshop on Shakespeare's language and a bit of stage combat. Delightfully, they got to do this on the stage of their Globe-replica theater. Very, very cool.

We had about 40 minutes then to find and eat lunch, so we piled on the bus and drove to a shopping center on Main Street with a variety of restaurants. The kids and I scattered with about 15 minutes to buy and eat food. Then it was back on the bus to attend a pre-show orientation. The host did a great job reviewing the basics of the show, but doing so in such an animated way that he could talk about themes of colonialism without losing the kids.

The matinee of "The Tempest" was actually a good production. They wove in a theme of Leonardo da Vinci through the set and costume designs, Ariel had a very cool look to him, the acting was crisp and controlled, and they performed without microphones, a fact that blissfully did not escape my kids' notice (and don't think I didn't use that as a motivator in rehearsals today).

After a post-show discussion, which was only improved by the fact that we watched the techies completely disassemble the "Tempest" set and assemble the set for their evening performance of "Art" within the 30 minute Q&A with the actors, we got back on the bus and made our long way home.

Aside from a kid throwing a water bottle out the window while we were on the freeway (I turned her into the administration today), and two of the chaperons causing embarrassment (they actually literally interrupted the director of the post-show discussion, one to brag about something he noticed during the play, the other to criticize the way they were handling the post-show discussion), it was a smooth, educational, and fun day. To my surprise, I found out that in our group, only two other chaperons and one student had ever been to the festival before. That made me even more glad that I had set up this trip.

The bus rides were the hardest parts. I had hoped that the early morning start would lead to a quiet ride there. No such luck. The kids were wired from the moment I pulled into the school parking lot and I heard my name screamed with joy as bubbly figures ran towards me in the dark of the morning. They were, to put it mildly, excited. This excitement was amplified when we stopped halfway for a bathroom break and they all bought energy drinks. Some of them were complaining about the fact that the Diary Queen inside the gas station wasn't open. I pointed out that it was 8:00am. "Still!" they said.

The bus driver was getting rather irritated by the ride home. He had insisted that I sit up front for the first part of the trip, but I talked him into letting me move halfway back to better control the noise. I spent the rest of the trip talking "girl talk" with the students around me and predicting their futures. It worked pretty well to keep them quieter.

The kids were also very sweet during the day. Many of them thanked me for the trip, several said they loved me, a few parents even took the time to thank me for it. One boy bought me a lapel pin from the souvenir ship, and a group of students passed me a note on the bus that they had all signed to thank me. The real reward for me, though, came in their questions about the play. They've been thinking about it! They're asking really intelligent questions, thinking it through, and amazingly, applying knowledge! From drama class, from English class, even from their Intro to Drama class last year!

So that's my latest adventure. Here are some photos:

On the bus, just after sunrise.

The backstage tour

Pizza! The kids were proud of having eaten lunch within four minutes.

Part of our group at the acting workshop.

And now I'm off to bed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Happiness is

A list of things that made me smile lately:

- A rainy/snowy/generally Bronte-ish weathered Saturday,
- A flock of geese splashing in a flooded gutter on my way to work,
- The mountains first blushing with spots of red, then the leaf-changing growing so now it looks more like the mountains are rusting,
- The student who stopped by after school just to yell "The field trip's tomorrow!" in celebration,
- The mom who thoroughly embarrassed her son at conferences last week by mentioning his voice changing,
- Having a student tell me she's decided to become an English teacher
- Being asked by the same student how many math classes she'd have to take in college if she wants to be an English teacher
- The premier of Ugly Betty (I'm a recent fan),
- Laser Cats!
- Getting 20% all purchases at a book fair where 40% of the profits go back to our school,
- Buying 10 books at said book fair,
- Making apple crisp for the cool weather,
- Discovering my cat curled up in tossed-off blankets,
- It's October!

Happiness to you, too!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Not Since Chaplin

This week I crossed off two things that I've wanted to do for a while.

Thursday night I started the first of four fencing classes. I was quite nervous, which translated into a more-than-healthy concern over what to wear to a fencing class (I went with capris, a t-shirt, and my bright green tennis shoes). As with most things in life, it was far less scary once it began.

There were ten of us there, two college freshmen girls who were rather clingy and giggly, two girls who seemed closer to my age, two women older than me - one dressed in a coordinating workout suit and one who is the kind who gets chatty when she's nervous, two guys who are probably a little younger than me and are friends, and one more guy who clung to the wall, avoiding us, while we waited for the teacher to come. They all seem rather nice. I really did not know what to expect of people who sign up for fencing class. At least I was not the least bit surprised when the teacher showed up with long hair. I was getting worried at the distinct lack of D&D-ness. I mean, it's fencing for crying out loud!

My nervousness, aside from the potenial geekiness, also stemmed from the whole gym-class associations. It turned out okay, though. My favorite moment was when we were lined up across the gym floor, practicing the "parry 4" movement over and over again with invisible swords. The lady next to me (coordinating outfit) turned to me and said "This is so embarrassing, isn't it? I just feel silly," and I realized that I wasn't feeling the least bit silly. I really think it's because of teaching - sometime in the last four years, I just stopped caring about looking silly while doing stuff like that. Not that I'm immune to the worries of the judgementals, but rather I was so focused on practicing, that I never stopped to care about the oddity of practicing a movement over and over again with an invisible sword. Yay me!

After a brief introduction to the types of swords by the instructor (which was cutely interrupted by a man who asked if we would mind if his daughter had her picture taken in the gym. The class is taught at the school where they filmed "High School Musical", and apparently the major basketball stuff in the movie was filmed right where we were learning to fence. Our teacher waved him in, and he led in a cute little girl who went wide-eyed as she looked at the red-and-white banners hung in a gy she apparently knew well.) We warmed up by kicking around some balls, then stretched, then learned some basic footwork (advancing, thrust, retreat) and that "parry 4". At that point, the teacher said that we should do what we probably all came for - suit up and poke at each other with swords. We sorted through the equipment and each donned half of a 3/4 sleeved shirt, a plastic breastplate (well, that was just the girls who had to wear those), a leotard-type thing, a glove, and the helmet/facemask thing. We each took a sword, too (I got a saber), and then paired off and started attempting to fence.

I will say this - my mother would hate it. There was constant metal-on-metal scraping for the next 20 minutes or so, which turned a bit musical once in a while when someone would hit the bellguard of one of the swords just right and it would "ding" like, well, a bell. It wasn't long before we were all rather sweaty. Mostly due to the facemasks and the outfits, rather than the actual workout. Bangs are very uncomfortable when squished against the forehead in those helmets, I found.

I learned some things, though, and I'm trying something new. I'm looking forward to the next lesson, actually. I'll be a bit late, thanks to parent-teacher conferences this week, but I'll be there to get my geek on.

The second new thing I've done is attend an event that I've always thought "Oh, I should go to that!" when I hear about it on the radio. One of my favorite NPR shows, Radio West, did a live broadcast last night, followed by screenings of two Charlie Chaplin films. One of the films, Easy Street, was even accompanied by a live organist. I met Heidi and Brent there, and we enjoyed watching the people who attended in period costume (the best was a fellow in tails, top hat, white gloves and scarf - very charming!). Admission was only a quarter, and I was happy to see both a full house and such a diverse group age-wise.

It was interesting to watch these films, since I hadn't ever seen a Chaplin movie in it's entirety. I can't say that I found them particularly funny. I certainly appreciated his talent - his grace, timing, expressions, and ability to make it look effortless really are remarkable. Still, it's just not my kind of humor. I think, though, that the best way to watch a Chaplin movie is in a crowded theater. It made such a difference to be surrounded by people laughing and reacting with such child-like joy. There were kids in the audience who laughed loudly, but there were some grown-ups who laughed even louder. It really was remarkable to hear so many people enjoying something so simple as a fellow accidentally eating a ribbon that uncoiled into his pasta. I'm glad I finally saw "City Lights", but I'm even happier that I saw it how I did.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When I Go Out Walking With My Baby

Well, it's actually Janelle's baby. But he's cute, isn't he?

I took this one while we were visiting the goats at the state fair last week. This is right before the goats tried to eat his stroller. Strange creatures.

By the way, it is just too perfect to discover that there is a song titled "When I Go Out Walking With My Baby" in the show "State Fair"!

Okay, one more. Here's Donovan with Dallas, totally captivated with the screaming and flahsing rides:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

With So Little To Be Sure Of

School has rapidly settled in for the year. I am still enjoying my classes, although I am detesting the politics at my school right now. I'm trying to fly under the radar, but that's proving to be difficult. Fun for Manda!

I've been trying to enjoy pre-show craziness. I've gone to the movies ("The King of Kong" was the best of the bunch, the others were more "eh"), read a lot, been to the state fair and the farmer's market, and I've been taking advantage of having energy in the afternoon to use my handy-dandy elliptical each day. I'm hoping the habit sticks even when things get busier.

My classroom is gradually getting cooler - my hair isn't damp with sweat most days now, although I still have fans going. I'm looking forward to winter so I can hear my students - they're by and large too quite to hear over the fans.

Speaking of my students, we had auditions for the Advanced Drama play ("The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood"). This show will be interesting - since I have two sections of the class this year, I'll be doing the show twice. I'm trying hard to keep it as separate as possible. They'll share sets (as it were), props, some costumes, and probably a lot of the same blocking; but I'm trying hard to keep from making any sort of verbal comparisons between the groups.

So I held two auditions, two call-backs, posted two cast lists, and did two read-throughs. I'm happy with the casts, and I am eager for the musical since my suspicions that we have strong character actors this year are confirmed.

We spent the last period playing status in anticipation of blocking the big tournament scene. Interestingly, the students kept tying meanness in with taking status. When we moved into playing status in character, Prince John bumped off about half of his subjects for not giving enough status to him. Then again, Robin "killed" everyone except Maid Marian, so maybe it's just that the power goes to their heads.

So, yeah. Things are... going. I just need to start exploring the options for next year with more surety.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sir, You Are Sad

One of my long-time favorite authors, Madeline L'Engle, has died.

As a book fan, you have to be okay with dead authors. It's not like there's been a time when I eagerly awaited the next Bronte release. But I loved L'Engle's books, and I always held out hope for one more. Even though she was 88 - her writing was magical realism before movies found that world, and to me, there was always the chance of another story finding a way out.

I was first introduced to her when Mrs. Peaceman read "A Wrinkle in Time" aloud to our fourth-grade class. It wasn't long before I had worked my way through all of her books, over and over again. I think "A Ring of Endless Light" is the most beautiful, but "The Small Rain" made the deepest impression. It reads like winter - a chilled, very real beauty.

“I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him. I know that is true of ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice. It was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant.”

- From a 1983 Horn Book magazine interview

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hot Hot Hot

Week one - done!

And what a sweaty, sticky week it was.

My school, aside from the main office and a few computer lab, is sans air conditioning. With no air circulation either, the kids were glazed over, glassy-eyed and my hair was damp with sweat by 9:00am. The heat was so bad, I couldn't get done what I wanted to after school - I would just aim a fan at me to get done what I needed to, then escape in my air conditioned car to my air conditioned home ASAP.

The good news is, I think I've got good kids this year. They seem engaged, enthusiastic, and I'm finding teaching is getting smoother each year. The kids are as anxious as ever to find out what the musical is (we announce on Thursday), and I'm getting used to having my favorite class every day, instead of every other day. Advanced Drama is filled with kids who are just ecstatic to be there. In fact, we're diving right into things - tomorrow they start auditioning for "Robin Hood" (our fall play). Unbeknownst to them, I actually started auditioning them last week with some drama "games", but tomorrow they're doing monologues. From what I've seen, it will be hard to pick out leads. There's a lot of talent in the group.

Speaking of weather, my lights are flickering as I type this. A storm's a-brewing, and I have my fingers crossed that it'll thrust the temperatures lower for tomorrow.

This weekend I spent in sunny California, visiting family in San Diego. With a dehydrated day at Sea World (BELIEVE! Shamu orders you, with no further directions, to BELIEVE! Otherwise the world will end and it'll be your fault because you didn't BELIEVE! So BELIEVE! - now add hyped-up music and videos of cute, white children and the ocean and you've can't help but BELIEVE!), a glorious day playing in the ocean (6 foot waves trying to toss us out, dolphins jumping nearby), and much admiration of "the grandchild" (i.e. Sadie, who is unabashedly cute) and you've got a relaxing, rejuvenating weekend. And a sunburn. But it was worth it.

For reasons I can't figure out, the school board made this a four-day weekend. I got up early today and met Janelle for a temple session. We picked up some lunch after that and wound up hanging out most of the day at her house. I didn't get much (well, anything) accomplished, but it was pleasant. And I only have to get through three days this week before another weekend!

By the way, here's a picture of the bouquet of fresh flowers I got for my desk for the first day of school. 24 hours in my room, and they were hanging their heads, giving up in the heat. Poor plants. I don't think they even had a chance to suffer the wrath of my toxic green thumbs.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Did you know...

Teachers get nervous before the first day of school, too?