Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Can I Survive This Overbearing?

The problem with not blogging on a regular basis is I tend to wait until I get so wound up by something that I NEED to blog about it. Brace yourself - I'm going to sort out my day.

School started for me on Monday. No kids yet - we've got a week of new teacher orientation first (that alone should be a signal to you fellow DPJH teachers how different this district is).

Monday was a lot of logistics, including a bus tour of the district. DPJH is a Title 1-qualified school, so I do have some experience working with at-risk students. But when the tour guide points to a row of tiny, run-down apartments and says that 2 or 3 families live in each of those before pointing out the trailer park on our left, well, you know you're in for a challenge.

Tuesday - Technology training, time to work in our rooms. Rather than planning, I spent the time alphabetizing and putting away the books in the my room. Mindless work, but my procrastination actually paid off today.

We were scheduled to meet with the curriculum coaches/mentors this morning. The 6th grade language arts teacher is also new, and our shared mentor is the 7th grade LA teacher, Joe. I'm liking him. And, boy, was I glad he was at the meeting this morning.

After talking about vocabulary lists and the school's sacred goals, one of the coaches gave each of us a "pacing guide" for the first quarter. Let me translate - she handed us each a two-page paper that dictated exactly what we were supposed to teach our classes. It came with the instructions that we were NOT to deviate from the pacing guide AT ALL. Any resources we wanted to use had to be approved by the curriculum director at the district, but for the first quarter we are required to only teach non-fiction, finding the main idea, and writing a summary paragraph. No, let me repeat - ONLY finding the main idea and writing a summary paragraph, using ONLY non-fiction.

To be fair, let me give you a little bit more context behind this district mandate:

The state test scores for last year was released this week, and this district tested abominably low, as usual. As in, about 70% of the students were either Not Proficient or Partially Proficient (i.e. failed) in Math, Reading, and Writing. Where the state average for scores were in the 60s, these kids were in the 40s.

(Quick reminder - trailer park.)

So, one month ago the district appointed a new superintendent and a new curriculum director. These two folks took a look at the test scores and concluded that drastic measures must be taken. That is, they must stipulated EXCATLY what will be taught in the math and language arts classrooms, how it will be taught, using which pages in what textbook, and demanded that the teachers agree to follow these instructions with total fidelity.

Without asking any teachers for thoughts or opinions, by the way.

Which is why I was glad Joe was there at this meeting - he was just as blown away as we were at the requirements. Thank goodness. If he had taken it all as de rigeur, I would have been a lot more concerned about working in this district. We were all upset, though. In the frantic panic that comes after receiving shockingly bad news, we asked whatever questions we could to try to salvage our personal teaching styles and lesson plans. Which made it worse - we were told that in all likelihood, they were going to eliminate reading novels from the curriculum altogether because it "takes up too much classroom instruction time". It was suggested that the school offer an extra-curricular book club instead if we were that concerned about kids reading entire books.


Look, I get it. I know that this is a poor, transitory, minority, already-below-grade-level population. I know that the school will be on Academic Watch this year, and that the threat of the entire district being shut down looms over our heads thanks to NCLB's fantastical expectations that schools and schools alone can overcome racism, poverty, immigration issues, the evaporation of reading for pleasure, and the persistent idea that school is something you just have to suffer through. Without adequate funding.

But what makes me so dysphoric is I want to teach kids that there is such unimaginable beauty out there in the world. That there are huge ideas and horrible events and remarkable people and places they've heard of and places they've never heard of and they can each get out there and explore all of it. I want to rejoice in their worlds of video games and hormones and sports, but then show them the fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles that make life wonderful. I want to give them stories!

Of course the skills on the test are important, and of course I teach them in my class. But my students learned those skills while they were discovering the art of language.

So I was angry and sad and hurt and so many other things all at once. So were the other teachers. Joe was kind enough to mention later on that while he was upset, he couldn't imagine how upset I must be to have given up a job and moved to a different state only to have the expectations and very nature of the job I took yanked out from under me.

There's no getting around it, either. This is how it must go.

But here's the reason why I didn't quit today (aside from my upcoming first mortgage payment) -

My principal and the two coaches at the school sat down with us after lunch, acknowledged our feelings ("there's some bad mojo seeping out into the hall"), validated our feelings ("and I get that - I felt the same way when I heard about this"), and did something that I've never had an administration do: listened to us, talked honestly and openly about the issue with us, and treated us like professionals who know what they are doing. I am putting my faith in the remarkable impression every person I've met at this school has given me.

So I'll go back tomorrow and I'll teach the lessons they tell me to teach and I'll say what they tell me to say and I'll hope that someday I'll be able to teach these kids about the art of language and the power of storytelling.

I'll tell you what, though. My kids are going to write the best damn summary paragraphs those testers have ever seen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life Lessons Part 1


is just awesome.

Here's the teaser, if you have no idea what I'm talking about:

(Incidentally, while I am enough of a geek to delight in this tragicomic musical, I am sadly not geeky enough to have caught it while it was still free to watch online. Still, totally worth the $4 on iTunes.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hello, Hello There!

I finally got my internet to work! Praise the technology gods and look forward to more entries from me.

Now if only I could get my external hard drive to work....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Run and Tell That!

A little treat for all of my former-students-turned-current-readers:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Close Every Door

Three stories for you:

Story #1 - My Stupidity

The day I signed the papers for my place, I naturally dashed right over. Since having a garage was a new feature for me, I immediately found the door opener in the laundry room, slid it into it's little place on the driver's sun visor, opened the garage up, drove my car in, and then hit the button next to the garage door to close it, relishing the thought that my car wasn't going to be 200 degrees when I drove away later.

That's when I realized that I had just locked the only opener I had to the garage inside it.

After a series of phone calls (my real estate agent's assistant, my sister, my real estate agent, a locksmith) and some begging for some late emergency house call, a locksmith met me at the garage an hour or so later. He cracked open his tool kit and with a lot of swearing and fiddling opened my garage door.

So I carried the opener with me in my purse for a few days until I bought and installed one of those key-in-the-code openers. And about a week after the lock-in, another locksmith came out and fixed the broken door latch so I could still get inside, even if the power was out.

Believe it or not, that was not the first time I've locked myself out of somewhere just after moving in....

Story #2 - Why I'm Afraid of Sliding Glass Doors

Two apartments ago, the last time I had a balcony, I stepped through the sliding glass door my first morning there to enjoy the lovely view of the parking lot. Since it was July and the AC was running, I shut the door behind me.

What I didn't realize until about 3 minutes later when I heard the phone ringing and I tried to go inside to answer it was that the sliding door had a faulty latch. It had been installed upside down, so whenever it got bumped or jarred the latch would easily slip into a locked position.

The balcony was not that far off the ground, but I knew there was no point in climbing down and trying the front door - I hadn't opened that door yet that morning, which meant it was still locked, bolted, and chained. I spent after 15 minutes alternating between trying to pry the door open and pacing in frustration.

By then, some of my neighbors noticed me out there and came over to help. One of the hopped the railing and hoisted himself onto my balcony to also try prying/jiggling the door open, but it was steadfastly locked. Finally, one of the spectators called the landlord to report the young lady stuck on the balcony. He drove over with some screwdrivers and keys and attacked the front door. It was at this point that we discovered that the front door's chain was apparently installed by the same workman - it had been attached to the door vertically rather than horizontally. All the landlord had to do, then, was open the door as far as the chain would allow, stick his hand through the crack, then lift the chain off it's holder. Voila! I was free!

That's why I never fully shut sliding doors behind me.

Story #3 - The Nice Locksmith

It took me a little over a week to get my mail at this new place. The previous owners claimed they never actually used the property's mailbox, so they had no idea where a key would be. I drove out the post office, and they claimed it wasn't under their jurisdiction. The postal worker did give me the name of a locksmith they work with who does discount work. Indeed, he said it would only cost $45 to get a new lock on the mailbox (as opposed to the $100 it cost for the new garage door lock, or the $95 it cost for the emergency door opening from story #1).

The locksmith promised to come out "sometime Friday afternoon or Saturday". He actually showed up at 1:00 on Friday, right when I was walking up to my front door with arms full of groceries. He gave me my new mail key, and then handed back $20 of the payment. He explained that while he was working on the lock, he had started talking to some of my neighbors. They told him that the HOA had a guy who would sometimes change locks for new tenants for free. The locksmith felt bad that I was paying so much for a service that apparently didn't need to be done, so he offered me some of the money back.

So, after three different locksmiths visiting in one week's time, I know for a fact they make a good living. However, they can also be decent people.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Can Hear the Bells

In preparation for The Big Move, I took my cat, Natasha, down to Grand Junction about a week beforehand. Having moved with a cat before, I knew it would be a LOT easier on all of us if she wasn't there.

I missed having her around, though. She's good company. I was glad, then, when my parents brought her up with them last weekend. Now I get to hear that little jingle-jingle trotting through the house, looking for a scratching.

She's looking particularly fetching these days, too. While in Junction, I decided it was about time for her annual shaving. So, in keeping with tradition, here are her before and after shots:


Oh, the fluffiness!

And after

Now, despite her expression in this picture, she actually loves having her fur shaved. She's so much cooler for the hot season that she's a much happier kitty. Plus, less furballs.

The place I took her to this time would not shave her below her hocks, which makes her appear to be wearing go-go boots (yes, Emma, I think of you when I type that). They did, however, shave her tail, as seen here:

My parents keep calling her Rizzo.

P.S. A big shout out to those of you who have recently joined my blog readership and were nice enough to post comments! Specifically:

- It's great to hear from you, Shauna! Personally, I keep up on all of your adventures through Emily.

- Ben: Damn right we did! And at least you won't have to worry about the discomfort of wearing earring and getting your hair tangled in the headset. There are advantages to being bald.

- Courtney, Mary, and Keary: Aw, your comments just make me miss you guys and our drama class. I'm glad you had as much fun as I did teaching you and thank you for giving me such encouragement!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Am Not Dead Yet

But I am in Denver!

Yes, friends, I am officially a Coloradan again. Not that I am registered here or have a CO driver's license again or have even figured out where my mailbox is. I am, however, a homeowner in the state.

Wait, let me do that punctuation again.

I am, however, a homeowner in the state!!!!

And said home is gradually actually starting to feel like one and less like a storage facility. I am almost unpacked. Thanks to my awesome family, a lot got done this weekend; including my awesome new shelves.

Yes, this is where you would expect to see a picture of the awesome new shelves. However, I have lost the baggie I cleverly filled with those little nubbins that hold the shelves up in my bookcases. Without those, I can't fill the bookcases. Without all of my bookcases being set up, I can't unpack my books. And, as you may recall, those books make up quite a bit of my packages.

Still, a lot has been accomplished, and I have already had some adventures. Which shall fill later blog entries.

Sorry, by the way, about the lack of updates. My internet has been inconsistent, so I've not been a good blogger. I will do my best, though, to post more regularly.

To cap off this entry, here's a photo of my new hometown my dad took a few weeks ago. I particularly like the feather-like propeller-in-motion framing.