Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Show Goes On

Oh. My. Heck.

I checked my email this morning and found a message that promptly and thoroughly made my freakin' day:

Dear Heidi and Amanda,
Thank you for your submission to Wasatch Theatre Company’s 8th annual Page-to-Stage Festival. We received many scripts this year and have selected six for production and three for staged readings. We are pleased to announce that your script has been selected for a staged reading.


I haven't talked much (at all?) about this project on my blog. I'm at school at the moment and should be grading papers, so I'll have to save the longer story for another day.

Short version:
We wrote a play both for the people who know what it means to be a teacher and for the people who think they know what it means to be a teacher. That took, oh, about two years.

Then, we performed a staged reading of it for a few invited guests about a year ago.

In May of this year, we found out about the Page-to-Stage Festival and, in a fit of madness, we revised and submitted our script.

Then, I got kinda busy what with the whole end-of-school-year-move-to-Denver-buy-a-home-start-new-job-ness that was the last three months. Occasionally I would wonder what happened to our submission, but it had been so long I figured we didn't make it.

Then, the arrival of the email of validation and self-confidence! Hurrah!

So. If I can figure out how to, I'm totally going to fly to SLC for the reading. How can I miss that?! I'll post a reminder here, because you're all invited (Do you hear me, DPJH-alums?!).

More information from the email:
This year, the Page-to-Stage Festival (a co-production with the Utah Association of Community Theatres) will include the production of a full-length original play (Breaking the Shakespeare Code), the production of six short scripts from local playwrights, and several staged readings and workshops. The festival will open Thursday, September 11th and will run Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through September 27th and will take place in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts (138 West 300 South).

Your staged reading is scheduled for Saturday, September 20th at 5:00 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. This event is free to the public. The purpose of the staged reading is twofold. It will give you a chance to hear (and see) your piece as interpreted by others and it will be an opportunity to receive feedback from those in the audience. Feel free to invite friends to the event.

Okay, back to being a teacher.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Speak Six Languages

A short story:

La clase esta en la escuela.
La maestra esta en la clase.
La maestra dice - Buenos tardes, chicos!
Los chicos grita - Adios, senorita!
La maestra esta cansada. Ella se sienta en la silla.
El maestro corre en la clase. El mira la maestra.
El maestro dice - Hola, senorita.
La maestra ve el maestro y sonrie. La maestra no esta consada.
El maestro dice - Ven conmigo a-
Maria corre en la clase y grita - Senorita!
La maestra grita - Maria! Adios! Ven a tu casa!
El maestro ve Maria va y el rie. El ve la mesa grande y el maestro sonrie.
La maestra dice - Aqui?

Today was the second session of my "Spanish For Teachers" class. I'm enjoying it so far - it's very hands on, low grammar emphasis, high practical use focus. The dialog above was written me and three other students/teachers using the words we've learned in the last week.

Despite our group's assurances that the two teachers were only going to use la mesa grande to review the CSAP data together, our performance of the scene garnered quite a few laughs and many winking references throughout the class. (I played El Maestro - there was only one guy in the class tonight, and he was in the other group.) My group made sure everybody knew that the la mesa grande bit was my idea. I, however, take pride in my attempt to write subtext despite a working vocabulary of only 30 words.

During our introductions at the first class, many people mentioned other languages they've studied. Here's my count, in chronological order:

  • American Sign Language (thanks to Grandma Dorothy, who quickly taught the not-yet-speaking me important words like "cookie")
  • English (obviously)
  • German (2 years worth at the DODDS school in Landstuhl)
  • French (studied in middle school/high school, accent gleaned from ma grandmere)
  • Russian (college/summer 2007)
  • and now Spanish.
I'm leaving out Swahili, since 1) I've surpassed it already in my Spanish studies, 2) I never got to hear it from or speak it to a native speaker, and 3) it would screw up the perfectness of the song title for my post title.

What makes me sad is how little I retain of the languages. I'm good for counting at least to 10 in all of those, a few pleasantries, plus a smattering of other words. After English, I'm most proficient in French, but 1) I've had far more chances to practice it and 2) I studied it for much longer than the others. Still, I'm kind of proud to realize what a polyglot I might be.

I have already put my Spanish to use. A few days ago, the students in my 5th period were checking in. They always pass it from student to student, passing it to me last of all. I was sitting on a table near some students in the corner (trying to keep them from talking) as one of them did his check-in:

Ruben: Hi, my name is Ruben. One new word I learned last week is "ratio". I pass it too...
Jonathan: Thinking he's going to "get me" as he whispers Ruben! A la maestra!
Me: Smoothly, without looking up from the attendance I was taking You can pass it to me if you want.
Jonathan: Astonished You speak Spanish, Miss?
Me: Si. Who are you going to pass it to, Ruben?

I emailed my Spanish teacher this dialog, and she was quite proud of me.

Hasta luego!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Write, You Read

After my comments about the academic levels of my students (and my subsequent dispair), some of you have asked me just what their writing looks like. Behold! Samples, transcribed with no editing on my part:

Assignment #1: After I read them a shortened version of the first chapter of Heat by Mike Lupica, I asked them to write a 1-2 sentence summary. I also wrote the title, author, and main characters (Ramon, the thief; Michael, the ballplayer; and Mrs. Cora, the victim) on the board and made it quite explicit that they were to include those things in their answers.

Heat by Mike Lupica describes how a man name Ramon and he is a thief that steels Mrs. Cora's purse and Michel a kid that loves baseball trows a ball to ramon so he can stop the stelling.

mike lupica, "heat" tells about a guy taking her purse. he pushed her down, the kid doesn't wana work so he steals stuff.

Heat by Mike Lupica is about a lady who had money to buy groceries and then a kid stole her purse. Later. he got hit by a baseball player and thats how the cop got him because the ball slow him down.

Heat by Mike Lupica is about a woman who's purse stolen by a 16 year old who has never been caught by olice until he had a sharp pain in the back of his head then tumbled down to the ground. A baseball player throw the ball so hard it wet past the stadium wall and hit the robber in the back of the head.

Heat By Mike lupica
Ramon was stealing
stealing the old womens
bag then Ramon was
being chased by a cop
then out of No where
He drops to the floor.
then when he awakes
he is already cuffed.
Editor's Note: I don't think Isaac was going for poetry in his answer, but it does have a sort of e.e.cumings ring to it don't you think?

Assignment #2: You've officially been an 8th grader for one week! What are three things you've learned so far?

3 things I've learned so far in school is The word sum, How to do a New way of multiplacation, How to do division

Three things I learned this year is foldable, and how to kick ass
Editor's Note: I wonder what class that last part was taught in?

My one week in 8th grade so far are. The classroom expectations. Raise your hand,

Three things I have learned in one weerk in 8th grade are some of the speeches of Joan McCain and Barack. Also the roars. Also the safety of doing and experiment
Editor's Note: "roars" referrs to the school's positive behavior acronym, so that's actually not as nonsensical as it sounds. Although, I do like that she's on a first name basis with Obama. Joan McCain, on the other hand...

(By the way, I did pull these examples from both the higher and the lower students in my classes. Sadly.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You'd Be Surprised

I'm at my desk at school (That's right, DPJH friends - I've got full internet access as a teacher here!), biding my time 'till the end of Back To School Night. The parents and students are doing a condensed version of their schedules, just 12 minutes per class, and this is my "consultation" period. So I thought I'd share some data with you:

Academic Level of Class .......... # of Parents who came to BTSN
1 (Highest) ........................................................... 13
2 .......................................................................... 6
3 .......................................................................... 2
4 (Lowest, aka my 5th period) ................................... 1

Coincidence? You decide!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

"The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life."

via Chocolate & Zucchini

The ones in bold are the ones I've eaten. I've done better than I would guess, especially if you eliminate the ones ruled out for religious reasons. What about you?

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (my ancestors must be ashamed)
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht (which, despite the numerous times it was served to us last summer, I still like a lot)
Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (the best was at Bambara)
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (A cheese so strong it's rumored to have been banned from French public transport? How have I missed this?)
17. Black truffle (mmm... truffle...)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (My mother apparently "accidentally" fed the infant me fermented apple juice)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes (Thanks, Liberty Heights!)
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans (made some just last week!)
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (A wonderful way to get children to drink milk!)
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I love a lassi, but I've never tried them salted)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail (I watched my dad eat one in Italy, though!)
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala (LOVE it!)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle (Yay! I love Spaetzle!)
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (sounds gross)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (I'm offended they've grouped these together!)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

P.S. Am totally procrastinating 1) grading vocabulary tests, 2) doing laundry, 3) doing dishes, and 4) dealing emotionally with my 5th period class. I will probably deal with all of those in the next few days, and will post again. Tah!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Side by Side

I suppose it's inevitable that I've been constantly comparing my old school, Dead President Junior High, to my new school, Dead Playwright Middle School (thanks Teresa for the name suggestion!). Here are some of my observations:

DPJH - 8 classes total, divided into 4 80-minute classes per day ("Block Schedule"), plus an advisory period
DPMS - 6 60-minute classes that meet every day

My opinion - It's an adjustment to realize that I see these kids every day, and it's both a blessing and a curse, depending on the kid/class. I do think it's better for learning and retention to have the daily touch, and I'm glad we have the longer class period. When we weren't on block schedule at DPJH, we had 7 50-minute classes a day. That was really too short to be effective. An hour is just about right.

School Size
DPJH - about 1100 students
DPMS - about 350 students.
Bonus Fact: Dead Playwright School DISTRICT has about 1400 students enrolled, which was the size of Dead President Junior High's student body when I started there.

My opinion - This is one of the biggest differences. It's odd to be in the halls during passing periods and realize 1) I already know almost all of the 8th grade, and I'm recognizing most of the 6th and 7th graders and 2) I'm not in danger of death by stampede. It's SUCH a more managable size, and I especially see the difference in the administrators as they do their job.

Dress Code
DPJH - STRICT! Only navy, white, and khaki allowed, must be a polo shirt with buttons, and a bunch of other rules that took me about 5 years to memorize.
DPMS - No dress code, other than the usual rules for safety and modesty.

My opinion - I didn't realize how much I would miss dress code! While it is easier to figure out kids' personalities when they get to wear what they want, there was something about having a set outfit for school that made the students and the school seem ready to learn. It's kind of like the reasoning behind church clothes. However, I don't miss having to regulate and enforce it all of the time, and I don't miss wearing it myself (which I voluntarily did for the last 2 year at DPJH).

DPJH - Gloriously large! I was totally spoiled, and I fully recognize it. On the other hand, it was essentially a bomb shelter - no windows, pitch black without the florescent lights, and it was perpetually either freezing or boiling hot.
DPMS - About half the size of my old room, no carpet, long and narrow, but IT HAS WINDOWS! That OPEN!!

My Opinion - I think my exclamation marks have already given it.

Bonus Note - DPMS let me paint my room, too. Pictures coming soon!

DPJH - No cell phone reception in my classroom or the halls and the closest landline to me was in the teacher's lounge, on the other side of the buildling
DPMS - Full bars in the room, and every teacher has a phone.
Bonus Note: My own classroom phone is apparently haunted. It rings several times a day, but there's only a dial tone when I pick it up. Also, this ringing overrides the "Do Not Disturb" setting on the phone, so it rings during class. I've submitted a repair request, but in the meantime I keep it unplugged unless I need to call out.

My Opinion - I fought for years for the teachers to get classroom phones at DPJH. It was both a safety and a convienence issue, so I'm thrilled to have one now. However, it comes with the expectation that teachers make at least 5 phone calls a week to students' parents. I HATE calling parents. I'm not much of one for talking on the phone as it is, and calling up strangers who may or may not speak English is even less appealling to me. This will probably be my biggest hurdle of the year.

DPJH - Umm... have you read my blog?
DPMS - None.

Other Teachers
DPJH - Average age: 50-ish
DPMS - Average age: 35-ish

My Opinion - I feel a bit like when you're a gifted kid who's been in a mainstream class for years, then suddenly gets placed in a gifted program. There were some amazing teachers at DPJH (honestly, they're probably the ones who are reading this!), but there were also some tired, overworked, distracted, and even downright bad teachers there, too. Here at DPMS, a lot of the things that made me stand out before, most of the teachers do. This is an extremely dedicated staff. They're friendly, deeply attached to the school and the students, and they go above and beyond. I've run into many of them working here after hours and on the weekend, a lot have dropped by my room to observe me during their consultations, and from what I've seen, they're really, really good at what they do. Honestly, it's freaking me out. What I do normally is now the average, and that's hard for me to handle.

Bonus Note - Apparently there's a regular FAC meeting for the teachers. That would be the Friday Afternoon Club, which is held at the bar down the street from the school. I'm heading there as soon as I finish this post. If that doesn't show you some differences, I don't know what does!

Lesson Plans
DPJH - Not once in my 6 years did anyone ask me for a lesson plan, be it verbal or written, or what curriculum I was teaching. In fact, the only people who knew what was going on in my class were the ones who attended it or the ones who asked.
DPMS - My principal (who, I should say before I point out the bad, is amazing and I totally respect him) is requiring all new teachers to the school to submit full written lesson plans for every day of class, to be submitted weekly. And, oh yeah, observations, pacing guide, curriculum coaches, etc.

My Opinion - This is a struggle for me, mostly because it takes so much freakin' time. Of course I constructed my lessons at DPJH around objectives and assessments and expected outcomes and such, but I never wrote them down. Writing these lesson plans take about 6 hours a week - it's why I worked a full day last Saturday and why I'm going to work another full day tomorrow (with no extra pay, by the way). I appreciate the preparation in some ways - it's nice to know a week ahead of time exactly what I'm doing, and I've even been ahead of the copying and such. Still, it takes up a ton of my time, and I really could use a weekend.

The Students

DPJH - About 65% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic, 8% Pacific Islander, 2% other
DPMS - About 70% Hispanic, 28% Caucasian, 2% other

My Opinion - I've enrolled in a Spanish for Teachers class. I think I'll be able to pick up the accent quicker than I thought, since I'm hearing it a lot more often. The students here frequently talk to each other, and sometimes to me, in Spanish.

Socio-Economic Status
Both schools are technically Title-I qualified, which means most of the students are on free-or-reduced-lunch (i.e. live in poverty). DPJH had a larger range of SES, though, with some kids who were diffinitly middle class. DPMS doesn't seem to have that upper-end.

DPJH - The "gifted" kids were pulled out separate from all core classes except math and stayed together in a very tightly-knit GT program. My 9th grade English class consisted of a full mix of abilities - from students who were definitely gifted but had chosen not to be in the GT program to kids who read and wrote at probably a 5th or 6th grade level.
DPMS - I teach all of the 8th grade Language Arts classes, except for the one for students who speak no or very little English. The classes are divided by ability level and are very homogenous in that regard. The "honors" class actually means that those kids are at grade level. My lowest class probably reads and writes at a 3rd grade level, if not lower.

My opinion - I am begining to understand the argument for mainstreaming. I'm not fully converted, but I don't like the homogenous classes for ability. The low-level kids just have too many other factors (hello, distractability!) that work against them. I'll probably write more about this in a future entry.

Class Size
DPJH - Last year, my smallest class was 28 kids and the largest was 39 (that was my English class). Overall record - 49 students in my Advanced Drama class. Average size - probably 38.
DPMS - Here are my student body counts:
1st period: 22
2nd period: 21
4th period: 27
5th period: 19

My Opinion - Anyone who says that class size isn't a factor in student achievement is 1) obviously not a teacher and 2) should be forced to try to teach 40 junior high school students English grammar right after lunch on the day before a full moon. And let's throw in a lock-down drill in the middle of class, just for fun.

So. There are a few of my observations. I was terribly homesick for DPJH last week. It's getting better, especially now that I'm getting to know my students here. There are a lot of things I like about DPMS, and there are a lot of things I miss about DPJH (especially you, Ben, Kelley, Janelle, and John!). But that's life, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You've Gotta Have Heart

For a lot of you, for me, but mostly for Heidi.

The link

Monday, August 04, 2008


One week into the job, one week away from meeting my students. I have a lot more to think through and say about school, but I'm going to wait a while more and instead delve into some reminiscing. Before I do, though, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who wrote/commented/called to commiserate and encourage me after my last entry. It means a lot.

See? I'm already being sentimental! You'll see why.

I think it first started when I was unpacking the boxes labeled "8th Grade Classroom Library". I was thrilled to discover these boxes in the book storage room at my new school, since I want to make books as attainable as possible for my students. I had one boxful of books I've bought at used book sales/books I accidentally bought duplicates of (I can't for the life of me figure out why I own 4 copies of "The Scarlet Letter"), but I was glad to have my collection flushed out.

It looks like the previous teacher gathered books for her classroom library from the same sources I did, since they all had those yellowing pages and the used-bookstore paper smell. Do you know that smell? Have you ever walked into the back of a used bookstore and, finding yourself alone in the aisle and completely surrounded by books, breathed deeply through the nose and thought "that's what knowledge smells like"? No? Maybe that's just me.

Sorting through the books, though, was startling. Over and over again I would pull a book out of the box, glance at the cover, and have a sudden and total sensory-recall. I do mean all of the senses. One book even triggered a bit of nausea; not because of the plot, but because it was a book I read on one of our car trips. I would get so engrossed in the books that I would read until my motion sickness got so bad that I HAD to either put it down or throw up. So, I'd hold the book with my thumb marking my place in one hand while I put my forehead against the cold window and take in deep breaths of the little bit of fresh air from the crack you could make with the latch of the windows in the backseat of the minivan until the headache and nausea passed enough for me to keep reading. Repeat until done with book or we reach our destination.

Sometimes specific images from the books themselves are what immediately spring to mind, small moments that for whatever are totally embedded in my permanent memory; such as:

- The file cabinet full of clippings in folders in From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
- The description of skin being turned into lampshades in Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself
- The soft red light in the redecorated attic in A Little Princess
- The partially-eaten face of the pilot in Hatchet
- The shimmers in Island of the Blue Dolphins
- The impression of the dad's button on the protagonist's face in Bridge to Terabithia
- The sound of Bach on an organ in an empty chapel in The Small Rain
- The sound of the sword hitting the silver chair in The Chronicles of Narnia
- The bandages in After the Dancing Days
- The uncooked pancakes in Beezus and Ramona
- The wiggling toes in Pippi Longstocking
- The one million squares in Cheaper By The Dozen
- The gingerbread stars in Mary Poppins
- The writing tablet smashing over Gilbert's head in Anne of Green Gables
- The mud and the wool suits of James Herriot
- The sausage pillow in Little Women
- The pickles in The BFG
- The ax in Where the Red Fern Grows
- The broken china doll in The Wizard of Oz
- The burning flesh in Johnny Tremain
- The bumpy sides of coins in Follow My Leader

And on and on and on.

Take this list (from a blog my sister sent me that inspired this entry), specifically looking at Laura Ingalls Wilder's series:

Blacking on wallpaper. Black-eyed papoose. Sugar snow. Vanity cakes. Water splashed on freezing plants. Bad wells. Real white sugar, wrapped in brown paper. A tin cup and two pennies. Sprigging. (????) Jigging. (?????) Jack, the brindle dog. Baths in used bathwater. School for the Blind. Common Taters on the Axe.

Like Jezebel says, "These are, like some 1800s Goodnight, Moon, seared on my brain." Seriously. Every single one of those images I vividly recall, but I can't for the life of me remember any of the math I learned after about 9th grade. Trig? Calculus? Gone. But, as Janelle and Christine witnessed when we took our day trip to the cabin, I do remember how to twist newspaper into sticks when you are out of smaller wood for kindling. Thank goodness Pa taught Laura how to do that during the long winter!

I don't know if you will understand when I tell you that these books from my childhood trigger senses for me that are somewhere in between smells and tastes. Do you remember in A Room With A View when Eleanor Lavish tells Charlotte that every city has a smell? Aside from the joke about what European cities usually smell like, every city I've been to does have it's own sort of memory-taste. That's one of the main reasons I like to travel - I love that I know what the air and atmosphere of Moscow, Paris, New Orleans, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Tijuana, Dover, or Venice is like inside of me. I breathe in those cities, and I breathe in my books and later, when I'm outside of them, I can touch them and be home.