Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Farewell Whanwhario (and Good Riddance)

Burn out + crazy parents who yell insults at me by email and by phone + working through breakfast + working through lunch + students making hurtful choices that make a lot more work for me + ... well, you get the point.

It was a hard day at the end of a hard month.  I'm starting to feel a bit better now, thanks to this self-medicating:

1) A long phone call to Mom.  She let me vent, she agreed with me, and she offered interesting other subjects to focus on.  She's the best remedy I know.

2) Drank water.  I keep not doing that.

3) Ate first meal of the day.  Mmm... comfort food.  Tonight that's eggs-in-purgatory and salad with an avocado that I bought as a special treat to myself.

4) Found happy things to watch while eating.  Kottke.org posted something spectacular that did wonders to improve my mood.  Are you aware of the Pronunciation Manual Channel on youtube?  Because oh, my, goodness:

After prying myself away from that channel, I watched an (old) episode of Community. Now my blood sugar's back up, I'm hydrated, my neck pain is decreasing, I'm starting to feel better about the world again, and I'm ready to tackle all the stuff I need to... oh hey look it's bedtime.  Well, there went that day.

But before I go, here's one more video. This one is for all teachers out there. The whole video is awesome, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series (yay, Humanities!). I am posting it here, though, for his answer at the beginning to the oh-so-familiar question, "Is this going to be on the test?" At least watch that much, even if you don't stick around for his open letter to elephants.

I need to memorize that speech, right?

P.S.  That's John Green, by the way.  You have probably heard me talk about him.  You should all know and love him and his brother Hank.  They are doing great and wonderful things for teenagers, especially those of the smart, nerdy variety.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lessons from Homer

"... which means," I said, wrapping up the overview of The Iliad and The Odyssey that kicks off the unit on Greek mythology, "and this is important to remember, if you ever find yourself in the middle of a Greek myth do NOT get proud.  The gods do not like hubris."

The students laugh appreciatively.  Chris raises his hand, "How will we know if we're in the middle of a Greek myth?"

"Easy," Sam jumps in, recalling the statues and paintings I had included in the overview, "everyone around you will be naked."

This time I join in the laughter, too.  But when I think about it, "I don't know, Sam," I say, "the last time I was surrounded by naked people it definitely wasn't a Greek myth."

P.S.  Bonus Humanities class quote: "So, if the Egyptians really liked music, they might paint the Eye of Pod in their tombs?"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hour 18

While waiting for the last debate to wrap, I made a dash to the bathroom and came across half my team sleeping as you see here.

We left the school at 11:05 PM last night. Not much sleep was had.

C'mon last debate! We're tired!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Out of the Frying Pan...

As of this morning, I finally got that whole field trip mess settled!  Bus requests are in, check requests submitted, permission slips are handed out, done!

Sadly and unsurprisingly, that has not resulted in less work.  Instead, I am in the throes of getting the Speech Team ready for State this weekend while juggling all the other school/musical stuff.  Beyond practices before and after school, all of the logistics of taking the team to State are plentiful and cumbersome.  Each step requires a multi-group negotiation similar to the field trip steps, as I handle the communications between the students, the administration, the parents, and the managing party (the hotel, the state speech board, the hosting school's PTSA, etc.).  Arranging for food, lodging, and competition rights for a group of students is not a quick task, and I look forward to the days when I can use my planning period to simply, you know, plan.  And maybe grade papers, too.  Oh, wouldn't that be loverly?

I did get to spend a delightful weekend with the parents.  They braved snowstorms in the Rockies for a quick weekend break of shopping, restaurants, and Jack-time.  In the course of our Saturday excursions we visited the new Fancy Tiger location and, to my delight, even threw in a trip to Tattered Cover.

I want to dive into the two new craft projects I have sitting on my countertop (the result of the Fancy Tiger expedition) or the new book on my Kindle (via Tattered Cover).  Instead, I am working my way through a wicked case of writer's block as I try to explain in essay form why I want to study Chaucer this summer.

It's tricky to fight writer's block when I leave rehearsal at 5:00, get gas, run to the grocery store, make dinner, sort laundry, do some banking, clean my sink, and then realize that I have 20 minutes until bedtime and must resist the call of Zelda/crafts/new book and instead choose between 20 minutes on the elliptical and 20 minutes of trying to put Chaucerian thoughts onto a dauntingly blank Word document.

The Chaucer-struggle was fought tonight, although it is far from vanquished.  I must to bed now, but I go with the hope that I shall eke out an enticingly brilliant paragraph or two again tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Coulda Been

I went visiting teaching tonight.  My companion and our visiting teach-ee are both a little bit older than me and are long-timers in the ward - they've taught each others' kids in Primary and Scouts and can recall old presidencies and ward events from long before I moved here - so I spent a good chunk of the visit listening to them ask and share about their kids.  They spend their days working and driving their kids to various activities and having dinner as families and watching Downton Abbey with their husbands when they get home for the night while their kids bake muffins and do homework in the next room.*

That's the life I fully expected I would have.  Granted, I didn't necessarily imagine Downton Abbey in particular, but I never imagined that I wouldn't be a mom, wouldn't be married, wouldn't be living that kind of life.

It's hard to shake off what I spent so many years expecting to happen.  It's hard to realize that I'm past the "all my friends are getting married" and "all my friends are pregnant" stages and am now in the "all my friends have multiple babies and some of those babies are almost teenagers" stage.

Being courteous people, Lisa and Cindy include me in the conversation with the question that anyone who knows me even a little always asks - "What's your next trip?"  I say that I'm going to New York in a few months to see an opera.

"You're so lucky," they say like always.  "Good for you.  You should do stuff like that while you can."

I am lucky.  But they are too.

* Side note: I thought this was a funny detail from the conversation because it reminded me so strongly of my parents' ritual - all three of us kids knew very well that we were not to touch the New York Super Fudge Chunk Ben & Jerry's ice cream because it was Mom and Dad's "grown-up" ice cream to eat while watching Northern Exposure.   To this day when I go home to visit and Mom or Dad offer me a cup of that flavor of ice cream it feels like a very grown-up treat I'm being allowed to have.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Much-Needed Break

Last week was a crazy one at school.  Not an atypical craziness, mind you, but rather the kind that reminds me that this is what work will be like for the next few weeks and/or months.

I spent most of my non-teaching time trying to arrange three field trips for the term.  Here's how it went:

1) Contact the theater to get potential dates and prices.
2) Float dates and prices to class, make sure all are on board without schedule/financial conflicts.
3) Propose idea to principal, two secretaries, assistant-principal, and athletic director.
4) Principal and all approve, call back theater to book tickets.
5) Theater informs me that they have since sold out of that performance.  Would another date work?
6) Repeat ad nauseum.

It truly took me at least three rounds of that procedure to schedule just one field trip.  The fact that I was trying to make three happen just compounded the issue.  When the athletic director at our school pulled me out of rehearsal after school Friday to inform me that a district championship basketball game has been scheduled for the same night as a drama class play (which I scheduled back in August), I had reached my wits' end (or is it "wit's end"?  Is there more than one wit?).  He told me we could do both at once, but I pointed out that the gym shares a wall with the theater, and when there's a game on thumping and cheering echoes through as clear as day.  Grr.

I'll go back to the calendaring mess tomorrow and keep trying to sort out schedules.  It's one of those things that would be so much easier if the school just maintained a shared and constantly-updated online calendar, but they will not break away from their old habits (that is, two separate calendars managed by two separate people kept in paper form on their desks).

Thus I welcomed this weekend with open arms.  I had very little I had to do this weekend, so I did an awful lot of what I wanted to do - I read 2.5 books (one of which had me sobbing in bed at 1:00 AM.  Literally sobbing.  Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful book.  But it's about two teenagers with cancer, so you can just imagine), played Zelda, watched Downton Abbey, did some housekeeping chores, joined Rachel for Zumba at her rec center, spoiled myself on a Whole Foods grocery store run with a basketful of delicious produce, and so on.

Zumba was a first for me.  It wasn't my favorite kind of workout - it caused too much stress and tension because I focused too much on trying to do the dance steps correctly.  The teacher wasn't great at giving cues, and I'm not very good at just relaxing and dancing (something the instructor kept yelling at us to do).  The tenser I got, the more stressed I became about not relaxing.  I wasn't anywhere near keeping up with the instructor or Rachel, but I did hold my own against the grannies in the back row.  While it wasn't a workout routine I'll seek out in the future, it was a good one and I enjoyed working out with a buddy.  It reminded me once again how much happier and healthier I feel when I have enough time to put in a solid workout.

I'm not looking forward to going back to being crazy-busy tomorrow, but I can handle a four-day week with the promise of a weekend with my parents at the end of it.  I just have to do an evening with all of the speech parents before I get to see my own.

Because of the loss of several speech programs in schools across the state, our calendar of meets has been a lot lighter this year.  While I for one am thrilled about losing less Saturdays to 14-hour speech meets, the team really does need another one before State.  We had one at the beginning of December, then nothing until the beginning of January, then nothing until the big one at the end of the month.  It's too long of a stretch to keep up their skills and performances.  There were a few schools hosting this weekend and next weekend, but they are all over 3.5 hours away.  I put my foot down, not wanting to stomach a 3-4 hour bus ride across the Rockies in January.

As a compromise, I offered instead to host what I titled a "Sweet Speech State Send-off."  This Wednesday the team is doing a pot-luck dessert bar and performing their State events for parents and whoever else wants to come.  I'm keeping it as low-key as possible, but I think having a "public" performance will give the students the focus they need to work on their pieces before the next and last competition of the season.  Hopefully.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

L'Elisir d'Amore

Because I can't stand not having a trip in the near future...

Because I didn't have plans yet for Spring Break...

Because Jason mentioned that he was going to see this the last weekend of my break...

Because it's starring Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau...

Because they had a few tickets left...

I'm going to see L'Elisir d'Amore at the Met in March!

(arms straight over head) WHOO!

Although I probably should celebrate that more like a grand dame and less like a sorority girl.

(claps like Dumbledore) Hurrah.

I don't have plane tickets yet or a place to stay (details, details), but by golly I've got opera tickets!

And in case you don't click through my links, let's look at why Juan and Diana are worth flying to New York:

(Skip to :57 to get right to the good stuff)

(Skip to 2:10 to get right to the good stuff)

I also pointed out to Jason that Newsies will be playing by then.

"True," said he.  I was confused by his lack of enthusiasm.

"Boys!  In suspenders!  Singing and dancing!"  I eloquently explained.

He did not understand.  This is why I need to see the show with Rachel.  She understands the appeal of boys in suspenders singing and dancing.  She will be a cougar with me.

See?  Hot.

(If they don't keep the one-fist-beating-while-shuffling-in-a-circle move, I will be severely disappointed.)

Sunday, January 08, 2012


A speech meet on Friday meant my weekend was free, which meant I could babysit Jack Saturday night.

It was fairly uneventful - we had dinner, watched "Kipper," read some stories, played with his toy cars, and, as you can see, played with my iPhone camera while Jack gnawed on a big soft ginger cookie.

The biggest event of the night was when Jack tumbled down the stairs. Thanks to that wonderful toddler rubberiness, he was fine, just scared. He was a sight - lying spread-eagle at the foot of the stairs, his cookie abandoned halfway down, with a stunned expression for those tense seconds of quiet that preceded the big wails. I picked him up, restored the cookie, and we read "Pigs in Hiding" until he calmed down.

All in all, an easy night. I even had time to read more of "The Three Musketeers" before Rachel and Ben got home.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Here's a text I just got from a student while at a hotel in the far eastern plains of Colorado 1.5 hours after taping them into their rooms for the night.

Was it only yesterday I was celebrating being a teacher?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Good Signs

Today, the first day of new classes, went well!  The kids are excited, I'm excited, and although my classes are not as obviously good groups of kids as last semesters, I think they will turn out well.

I have a lot of new students in Intro to Drama (last term's class were almost entirely comprised of former speech kids from the year before) who are very talkative and very energetic.  I had to do a lot of redirection and reminders and reprimands, but it's the good kind of energy that, if I can harness and channel it in the right direction, will make for some fun plays (which, not coincidentally, is identical to the kind of energy that drives other teachers up the wall).

As much as I've been looking forward to teaching it again, I was concerned about Humanities.  At first, I was worried because of how many of my drama kids signed up for the class.  I didn't want them to be disappointed or upset because it's not like drama.  I warned them.  I told them it was more academic-like, more "like a real class."  Even forewarned, they groaned a bit when they walked into my room and discovered desks, then groaned again when I said the desks were here to stay.

They got into it, though.  I went over the scope of the course, and they were excited about what we were going to study.  We went through a slideshow of a variety of art pieces and debated over which ones were actually "Art," then they discussed possible ways to define art.  My confidence grew!

And then the kids I didn't know, the group of boys sitting the furthest away from me, started to lose interest, to chat.  It's the last class of the day, the first day back, etc.  I get it - it's a hard time for them to stay focused for 90 minutes straight.  I redirected them away from their whispered conversation about snowboarding, but I was worried about how they would handle in the more artsy parts of the class, the stuff that is definitely not cool to your average teenage boy, the stigmas that makes most of the jocks afraid to sign up for drama class.*  I braced myself for a lot times to come of having to justify the awesomeness of art.

Then, as part of that first-day project/discussion, I showed them a clip of Diana Damrau singing the Queen of the Night aria.

"Damn!" one of the boys in the back exclaimed under his breath when she hit those F6s.  All three of them were enraptured, staring slack-jawed at her.

That's when I knew this was going to be great class.

* The best comment of my year so far came from a senior basketball-playing boy who took Speech last term when his female friend twisted his arm.  He confided in me towards the end of the class that it was really fun, that he learned a lot, that it was one of the best classes he's taken.  He then told me in a concerned-citizen kind-of-way that "your classes have a reputation around the jocks at this school of being..." he paused, searching for the right polite word. "...weird."

I nodded. "I'm okay with that," I confided back to him.


As of this week, I have been teaching for ten years.

I did some reckoning as I drove home today to try to wrap my head around the concept of a decade.  (This comic's observation blew my mind a little earlier this week, so obviously I needed to give myself some concrete numbers to process ten years of teaching.)  For example:

Since January, 2002 I have...

- Taught nine different subjects (13 if you count each different grade level of English as a different subject).
- Taught kids from grades 6-12, ages 11-19.
- Taught in three different schools.
- Taught a class as small as nine students and a class as large as 52 students. 
- Produced/directed seven school musicals (eight if you count the one I'm in the middle of now).
- I tried to count how many plays I've produced/directed, but it's just too many to count.  Guessing, I'd put it at... 40 productions?  Maybe more?
- I also tried to estimate how many students I've taught/directed.  Again, it has to be a guess, but I am well over 1000 students, and probably closer to 1500.
- Taken students on dozens of field trips, including a memorable one to Cedar City and, in five months, a long one to New York City.
- Seen over 30 plays on field trips with students.
- Introduced over 100 students (and several parents) to professional live theater by taking them to shows.
- Watched "The Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged" and "Into the Woods" on DVD over 20 times each.
- Said, "And that's us!" after Check-In in every class period, every day, for over 180 days per year, since 2006 (except for a few months at STMS when my principal forbade me to do check-in).
- Coached speech kids to win dozens of Best of Event trophies at over 30 speech meets.
- Ridden thousands of miles on school buses.
- Okay, seriously- 1500 kids!  I can't even wrap my brain around teaching for a decade, let alone the fact that I have talked to, worked with, worried about, celebrated with, sung with, laughed with, graded papers written by, made a deliberate fool out of myself, and gotten to know that many people.

I have also met some of my favorite people in the world, pushed myself in ways they never warned me about in teacher college, worked through a lot of my own fears and hang-ups from school (mostly middle school), and, despite some really hard days and countless nights where I fall asleep while eating dinner, I am still glad to be a teacher.  It's who I am, it's who I am meant to be, and it's one of the best parts of me.

Oh, also?  I've been teaching for ten years and I have never, not even once during that time, eaten lunch from a school cafeteria.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I'm starting to wonder if my ward can't figure out what to do with me.  For the fifth time since I switched into this ward (15 months ago), a member of the bishopric called me "with a few questions."  He said the Young Women's Presidency was reorganizing, and they were wondering what my availability was like for being a Laurel Adviser (Laurels being the 16-17-year-old girls in the ward).  Specifically, he was asking whether I would be able to commit to activities every Tuesday night?

Okay, here's the thing.  In our church, there's a strong assertion of inspiration behind every calling.  If the leadership is inspired to call you to a position, the expectation is that you will accept the calling, no matter how impractical or unreasonable it seems to you at the time, because it is God's will for you and it will therefore work out.  Whatever the apparent issue or obstacle, if you accept the calling with faith and try hard enough, it will work out.

And I actually do believe that.  That principle has certainly proved itself in the past when I've been called to such jobs as Ward Chorister ("You know I'm tone-deaf, right?" were my exact words to the bishopric) and Relief Society President (both times at incredibly busy times in my life).

I have been taught and I feel like I should cheerfully and faithfully accept whatever they ask me to do.  But they weren't quite calling me to the position.  The bishopric member asked me about my schedule so hesitantly that I got the feeling that they had already discussed the impracticality of this calling for me.  He certainly wasn't surprised when I said that I didn't think it would work, that with my commute and my after-school commitments, I just couldn't make it to the church every Tuesday by 7:00 let alone plan the activities for those girls.  He said he understood, we hung up, and the guilty thoughts set in.

Could I have done it?  Probably.  Could I have found a way to make my schedule work?  Most likely.  Tuesdays are decent nights for me - my school plays are usually on Thursdays or Fridays, speech meets are on Fridays and Saturdays, and most rehearsals wrap up by 4:30.  Plus, I won't be going out of the state again for a few months, and I really do love working with teenagers.  Being an adviser to the Laurels would be a lot of fun, and it would make me be more social.  However, even though I haven't been in YW for 15 years and I've forgotten a lot about how the whole system works, I'm pretty sure that the preparation that would go into this calling would constitute a lot more than one night a week.

I don't think the calling was offered on pure inspiration, that God wants me to be Laurel adviser and not a RS teacher, that it is my destiny.  I think that I would have been a good fit there, but it's not the only thing I can do.  I think that saying "No" is an important lesson I'm learning, and that I did a good job remembering how crazy things are going to get very shortly despite taking this phone call on the tail end of a blissful two weeks of sleep and reading and family.  I think I chose well in steering their decision away from offering me the calling, and I think that I will be better off this semester if I'm not adding those responsibilities to my already wildly-off-balanced life.

And yet, I'm still thinking about it.

Just in Time!

I was pleased to see this link on Boing Boing today:

You can play the games here.

I came back to school today to an inbox stuffed with emails I had sent myself over the break of things for Humanities. I really need to find a good online bookmarking system for all of these things (the school computers get wiped clean every time you reboot, so I can't store them the normal way). From a good summary of how we wound up with the modern calendar, to a clay animated version of Plato's cave, to photographic art remakes, to historical snippets that give perspectives on things like cheeseburgers, I have a plethora of new items for my curriculum this term.

They eased us into the return from break today with a Teacher Work Day.  I love those student-free days for their outstanding productiveness.  If I had my way, we would have a work day every other week.  Although we get the luxury of coming in an hour later than usual, it's hardly a day of slacking off.  I worked through breakfast and almost skipped lunch as well, so caught up in projects was I.

I'll be ready.  I have planning first period this term, which gives me some extra time before students-proper, followed by Advanced Drama, Intro to Drama, and then Humanities.  I like the look of my classes so far, and I've also already set up my mental goal-markers: Just a week and a half of school and we have a Monday off for Martin Luther King Day.  Then, two weeks later, a Teacher In-Service Day.  Two weeks after that, President's Day.  A month after that and the musical's wrapped up and we're on spring break.  And then (if I blithely ignore that interminable stretch of weeks through April and May) it's practically summer!

That's totally doable.