Thursday, April 29, 2004

Report Misuse

Checked my school email address this morning to find a "Report Misuse" email from a seventh grader (I'm the site administrator). He had forwarded to me an email from a classmate who'd emailed the entire seventh grade some lyrics - lots of "izzle" stuff - and then wrote that they should cheat on the "uckin CTB math test" - as though leaving off the F would keep it from counting as a curse - and then (now this was a clever move to evade getting in trouble) claimed in the email to not have written the first two lines of it - followed by a warning not to tell the teachers, followed by signing his name. I promptly disabled his email account, then went to another computer to print out the email. By that point he'd already realized his account was disabled, since they'd just turned on the laptops in Communication Arts class. I called him out of class and confronted him about it, at which point he tried to slip through the loopholes he'd so cleverly left himself - not actually typing out any complete curse words, claiming not to have written the email - but I wasn't hearing any of it. "What does the AUP say about emails sent from your account? You are responsible for ANYTHING & EVERYTHING sent from your account, even if your friend did write it... besides, you signed your name!"

I emailed the boy who reported the offensive email message and thanked him for doing the right thing. We are keeping his name out of this, which is easy to do when the email was sent to the whole seventh grade!

Called the first boy's mother. She was understanding on the phone, although when she spoke to the principal later, she was much less understanding and accused us of picking on him. But that's mostly because this is just the latest in a long string of incidents involving her son - three this week! - and she no longer has any clue what to do about him, so she's trying to shift the blame.

That's how we found out that another teacher has been calling parents and telling them stories about how we, his colleagues, are interacting with their children. That is so not okay. He calls them, acts like he has no problem with their children in his classes, and then weaves dramatic stories about small or non-existent problems that their children have been having with other teachers. Lovely. Wonderfully professional! He was absent today.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


My Specialized High Schools Exam Prep class is a lot of fun. It's full of bright, funny kids who learn really quickly. I can kid around with them. At the same time, it's scary what they don't know, sometimes:

Ms. Frizzle: (during a brainstorming session to find ways to simplify an algebraic expression) That's not even remotely close!

Boy 1: What does "remote" mean?

Ms. F: Far away, not close to here. We traveled to a remote village on our safari. Your answer wasn't even close!

Boy 2: Oh, I thought you meant like TV remote!

Students: (in low voices) Yeah, yeah.

Ms. F: (makes funny face) Um, riiiiight. No, seriously, where do you think the remote control gets its name?

Blank stares from 2/3 of students. A few - future English majors - start to get that "catching-on" look....

Ms. F: You can use a remote control to turn the TV on and off... remotely. Without getting up off the couch!

Students: Oooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh! Oh, yeah!

Ms. F: Wait... that was news to all of you?

Students: (laughing) Yeah.

Ms. F: (Turns dramatically, places hands on chalkboard, knocks forehead against chalkboard, laughs).

As I later realized and pointed out, I barely remember a time before the remote, so I guess my students - born more than ten years later - wouldn't have thought about these things.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Locked In/Locked Out

As I spent the last two hours dealing with the lock on my apartment door breaking and being completely replaced, I don't think I have time to blog tonight. More on the march tomorrow.

Monday, April 26, 2004

March For Women's Lives, Part 1

I left early Saturday morning to drive down to D.C. with my friends J. & M. M. was photographing the March, so he had a hotel room & gas paid for by Planned Parenthood. I had been hoping to attend but had not had a chance to work out logistics, so it was very generous of J. & M. to include me! The day was gorgeous - tank-top weather, a day to break out the new halter top. We stopped for coffee & TCBY and arrived at our hotel a few hours later.

M. left for an organizational meeting while J. & I set out to explore. Museums were out due to the beautiful weather, so we wandered over to the Mall to see what it was like before the march. On our way, we saw many women - and some men - who were helping set up or just looking around like us, many wearing t-shirts that said, "This is what a feminist looks like." Finding t-shirts like that became a mission. Some nice folks pointed us in the direction of a storefront at F & 12th, headquarters of one of the sponsoring organizations (NARAL, I think). They had lots of yellow & purple signs, t-shirts, and posters, but nothing quite what we were looking for. I asked another woman where she had gotten her t-shirt, and so we headed next for a gathering in Dupont Circle.

Finding Dupont Circle was an endeavor. Being optimistic and caught up in the heady atmosphere of the weekend, we were travelling without a map. This forced us to talk to people, and the directions we got were correct, though a bit confusing. Just when we thought we'd gone hopelessly off-course, we ran into a large group of young college students who seemed to be headed in the same direction. We walked with them for a while, but split off after realizing we'd all just gone on a long detour!

Eventually, with the help of several friendly DC residents, we arrived in Dupont Circle to find a large number of pink-t-shirted women, a smaller number of gaping bare-chested men, tents where people could get information about rape crisis hotlines and the rape survivor t-shirt project (lots of painted t-shirts on display). Interesting stuff, but it was closing down, and no sign of the shirts we wanted. We basked on a bench for a while, watching the men watch the women. *grin* We left after the beginning of a Take Back the Night Rally, and made our way back to our hotel.

From there it was dress-up & dinner & a glorious sunset in Georgetown. Dinner was excellent - I cheated a little on my vegetarianism and ate seafood. M. rejoined us; he was originally slated to photograph a party at Nancy Pelosi's apartment (we saw the party from the street in Georgetown - nice place, great views of the river) but it turned out that photographers were not allowed.

M. left in the grey light of dawn on Sunday to photograph people arriving on buses from around the country. J. & I slept in and ordered breakfast. Nothing like french toast to start off a day of political demonstrations! Of course, I'll be eating nothing but rice for a week as a result of the room service bill..... We left for the Mall around 11 or so, falling in with more and more marchers as we approached. I took a picture of a family of three generations - grandmother from NJ, mother & two little girls from Seattle - carrying a handmade sign that read, "If Jenna needed a choice she'd have one. So should we all." The day's first accusation of Republican/pro-life/Bush hypocrisy!

We arrived on the Mall and started weaving through the crowd towards an area of tents where we thought we might find the elusive "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirts, not to mention some signs to carry. Signs were easy: I got a pink Planned Parenthood sign reading "Reproductive Justice for All" and J. got a NARAL purple & yellow sign reading "Who Decides?" T-shirts were a-plenty, and we even found the feminist t-shirts, but they were out of all reasonable sizes. I got a "Rock for Choice" t-shirt and decided to get the other one on-line in my size.

Suitably attired & postered (& buttoned & stickered), we kept moving towards the March stage at the foot of the Washington Monument. We got pretty close thanks to persistence, held up our signs, and heard many interesting people speak in the hour or so before the march began marching. A small group of Republicans for Choice who were standing near us were soon joined by a large parade of Republicans for Choice. A few people called out, "Put your vote where your mouth is!" J. & I giggled at their slightly horrified expressions when a spoken-word poet took the stage with a piece about living in cunt-land (imagine the search terms that will now lead to my blog...). Then again, any number of the Democrats for Choice were probably mildly horrified as well! I hope those Republican women succeed in making change within their own party - and I hope their daughters become Democrats! LOL.

That's all for now... more tomorrow.

March for Women's Lives - blogging to come!

I just have to get laundry & some work done, and catch up on phone calls, but I promise I'll at least begin to post on this amazing, re-politicizing experience later tonight.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Which of these have you read?

Okay, so I didn't intend to confuse anyone with this list... I found it at I Speak of Dreams. The books in bold are those that I have read. It was really interesting for me to go through this list... it made me reflect on the quirks of my own education and interests. My high school teachers were big on books from the American South, and I read a lot of Shakespeare and the Greeks in both high school and college. My education did not include much by the Brontes or Austen, and although I've read some on my own, they are not my preference. I prefer modern novels. I adore Garcia-Marquez, and have read many of his books. Anyway, I just thought this was an interesting journey back through my reading, and piqued my interest in learning more about the books that I have not read so as to choose some to read this year. There are a few books on the list which I have read but might want to re-read because I think I could appreciate them better now that I've had a bit more life experience - Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five, for example.

Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment

Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad

Homer - The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior

Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find

O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm

Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth

Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex

Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five

Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son

New to the Neighborhood

I've been meaning to update my links for a while, as a few are dead and there is a passel of new or new-to-me bloggers out there writing about teaching. So why not now?

Lectrice is a very talented writer writing from the "Blackboard Jungle" of an inner-city school in Australia(?). She has a thoughtful post today on how salient race is in the lives of her students.

Seprah seems to be a teacher in Uzbekistan, maybe from the Peace Corps. I am fascinated by the camel loping out of her blog...

Touching Silence is a teacher in Mississippi. Her ex is moving back into town; she wants them to be friends. Strange... I had wanted that, too, but it's looking less and less likely. *sigh*

Eduwonk bills itself as "Education news and analysis from the Progressive Policy Institute's 21st Century Schools project." Brand-spankin' new blog; nice crisp layout.

Afternoon plan? Eat some cookie dough ice cream with a fork, pack for DC, and crash out on the couch for an hour or two. With any luck, Valentine will join me for my catnap!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

March for Women's Lives

I am going to the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. this weekend! Anyone else out there going?

Here are my reasons:

Sex ed policy is getting more and more ridiculous. As a science teacher and a teacher of pre-adolescents, I care about this stuff! Abstinence is an excellent way of preventing pregnancy and STDs, that is absolutely true. But abstinence-only education - enforced by funding rules, lawsuits, etc. - is counterproductive. Teenagers are having sex! How can we take the risk that kids who are having sex don't know the first thing about contraception, sexual health, or even basic anatomy??? And I don't want to have to tell kids I can't answer their questions because I might get sued - no, thanks!

K. works at my morning coffee stop. She is about my age, and incredibly friendly and perky at 7 am, recognizes all of us regulars, and takes the time to say hello. She is the reason I get my coffee there, because her warm greetings brighten my mornings. On Monday, she seemed a bit down, so I asked her how she was doing. She said she was tired, and thought she might be pregnant. "Congratulations!" I said, with a grin. "Oh no, I don't think so... it's not like that," she said. That gave me pause. If K. doesn't want a baby, she should have the option not to have one. Supporting a child on the kind of wages most coffee shops pay would be difficult. I don't know any details of her situation, but I do know that I want her, and myself, and my sisters, and my students to have the option of abortion if that's the right decision for each individual woman.

I know at least one woman who has had an abortion, and probably many others who have not chosen to share their experiences. I know women who have babies. I know children who were unwanted, and who are still unwanted (by their parents). I know children who are loved and loved and loved. At least one girl (probably several, by now) from my very first group of students - 8th graders - has a three-year old child today! Her child will be in kindergarten in a couple of years; she could barely read when she graduated from the 8th grade. I know that I have had days when I thought about what it would be like to be pregnant, and to have a child at my age, on my income, how it would change everything, in good ways and in bad. I want to have a child when I am ready and have made a choice, and if I am responsible and yet still get pregnant before I am ready, I want to be able to choose not to bear a child. I want accurate information about contraception to be widely available, so that my sisters, students, and friends are less likely to get pregnant by mistake and face the extremely difficult decision about whether to have the child & keep him or her, have the child and put him or her up for adoption, or have an abortion.

abortionclinicdays is a blog by a woman who works at an abortion clinic; she has an interesting story today about a man who fathered three children through a surrogate mother, then refused to take the babies home for several months, during which time the surrogate mother cared for them. Now he wants them back! Real life is not so simple as many abortion-debaters (on both sides) make it sound - life is a series of choices, and there are many ways to choose life.

And so I am going to march on Sunday.

CTB-Reading Test Might Need to Be Re-administered

My students came in buzzing about a report on NY1 TV last night that students might have to take the CTB-Reading test again. I went to the website for details; the report applied only to the third grade test, which included many items that were identical to last year's test. Nevertheless, it seems likely to me that if the powers that be decide to re-do the test, they will find themselves re-doing tests at many grade levels, with a large number of children, despite Bloomberg's assurances that it affects just a "handful" of students. Even I recognized reading passages on this year's sixth grade test that were also on last year's test, and I have never read either year's test closely! How many articles on bonsai trees can there be?

Administering a test like this a second time is complex. Is another, comparable, field-tested exam available? What will it cost the city (if anything)? How soon can it be ready? How soon can it be scored, and how will a new timetable affect the Bloomberg administration's 3rd grade holdover policy? Will they make only some students repeat the test, or all students? If they only make some students repeat it, how will they determine which students must re-take?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Today was perhaps the ideal test day, weather-wise. Clear, warm but not muggy, sun pouring into the classrooms. The day felt sharp, and I sincerely hope it rubbed off on the children's minds!

In the school where I worked when I began teaching, test days were unbelievably stressful. First, we'd spend a whole day's professional development going over the test administration procedures as a staff, excruciatingly slowly. Despite all that preparation, I had no idea what to expect when test day actually arrived. The administration was stressed out, and they took it out on us teachers, and many of us took it out on our students. Not the best way to put the kids in a successful frame of mind! The best article I've ever read by Alfie Kohn was given to me by a colleague; Kohn argues that if standardized tests must occur, then it is the responsibility of each level of bureaucracy - from the state down to the teachers - to absorb as much stress and pass as little as possible on to the next level.

That's the exact opposite of how my school worked; I felt as though I was being tied to the (high) stakes, burning matches tossed around my feet. The district is coming! The state is coming! Don't hold a pencil in your hand when you walk around while proctoring! Here, administer the test to your worst-behaved class! Oops, not enough test booklets! Oh, we forgot to sharpen pencils! Do NOT let anyone go to the bathroom, there's a really elaborate procedure for that!

The feeling that our children were going to fail - and we would fail with them - pervaded test days and the months leading up to them.

In my current school, the atmosphere is much more relaxed. Yes, we worry. How could we not? As a new school, we could lose everything if our test scores slip. But we also prepare, and then we cross our fingers and hope that our kids do well, knowing they are as ready as they can possibly be.

Not everything went perfectly today. We were a little disorganized about who was administering the test to which class, but it got worked out fairly smoothly, and without any shouting. We taught regular classes the period before the test, and regular periods after it was over, to reinforce the idea that the tests are just another part of the regular flow of the year, and to keep the children focused and calm and not worrying. Pencils were ready ahead of time.

The woman from the regional office who came to observe was very nice and actually quite helpful. In the past, we've had to cover every bit of text on the walls of our classrooms with newspaper, so the kids can't get any clues from the walls. This has always felt a little ridiculous when we find ourselves covering math posters to prevent kids from using them on the reading test! The woman from the regional office said, oh no, don't worry about those. How rational! It did not feel like she was trying to catch us doing something wrong.

I am aware of Claude Steele's research on stereotype threat and have always wondered what a teacher can do to minimize any effects of stereotype threat on tests like the CTB. Steele's research shows that people who believe they belong to a group - gender, ethnicity, etc. - who do poorly on a certain kind of test will actually perform less well than people who believe that people like them do fine on the test, or who are free of associations with any particular test-stereotype. Steele has been able to turn on & off this effect depending on what is said about the test before it is administered and what kind of demographic data is collected before the test.

Anyway, I'm not sure whether middle school age children experience stereotype threat, and certainly the CTB doesn't ask them to report any demographic information. Nevertheless, in schools where everyone is stressed out about standardized tests and somewhat hopeless about the children's performance, I can imagine that some form of stereotype threat might apply; the kids must be able to pick up on their teachers' fears that they will not do well. Even if it's a small effect, why not try to do something to relieve it?

This is what I said to my kids this year, both my homeroom and the class that I gave the test to: First of all, I know you're all as ready for this test as you can possibly be. Your Communication Arts teachers prepared you very, very well. Also, you're at this school partly because you're good at things like tests.* I want you to stay as calm and focused as possible, be confident but don't rush, and do your best. And no matter what happens, your parents and teachers will still love you (I say this with a little wink, so the kids laugh).I know you're going to do a great job.

When the test was over, we stood behind our desks and did some stretching. And then it was back to normal classes.

I think they did well today. The kids themselves felt they did well. I'll keep you updated.

*I'm not thrilled about saying this, because it seems kind of elitist, but it's true, and it might help the stereotype threat situation by reminding them that they are in a group that's expected to perform well.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Learning to Talk

I'm going to learn how to talk! I saw an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor today because whenever I get stressed out, I lose my voice. It was much worse at my old school, where I was perpetually stressed out, and the kids were much louder, and more of them per class, and more classes per day. I know, I know, now you all think that I scream at the kids all the time, but it's not that. I'll admit, I've been known to yell on occasion, but losing my voice seems to happen just due to strain on my vocal chords. Anyway, my regular doctor suggested seeing an ENT specialist for a referral to a speech pathologist, because apparently I talk using my "false vocal chords" rather than my real vocal chords, which is why I lose my voice. Hmmm. Many people have suggested taking theater classes to deal with the voice problem, but health insurance will cover a speech pathologist, so I guess I'll go this route! Anyway, I think the possibilities are so interesting.... I mean, imagine if my real voice turns out to be totally different from the voice I've had all these years.......... I know that's unlikely, but it would make a good short story, wouldn't it?

The Meeting

Met with the superintendent, my principal, the mother of one of my students, and the student himself. The superintendent was acting neutral, but clearly understood (if any of us do) what was going on. The mother insisted that she knows her son, he does all his homework, he couldn't possibly lose it between home and school, and that "something is going on." She refuses to believe anything we tell her about her son's behavior - he's not even doing anything so terrible, just odd stuff - and has turned a pretty small thing into a huge issue. She has implied that we are racist, that we pick on her son, and that we are wicked in the eyes of God. I stayed pretty quiet at the meeting, letting my principal and our superintendent do the talking. I could tell that my principal was getting pissed when the parent claimed that the Social Studies teacher said her son does ALL his homework - even though we had documentation that he had not done Social Studies homework at times. Of course, after the meeting, when I asked the Social Studies teacher about it, he was like, "What is she talking about?" Anyway, we left it that we will communicate with her on a daily basis through her son's agenda, so that we can clear up any miscommunications about homework immediately. The woman has started photocopying her son's homework to prove that he does it, she comes very close to accusing us of lying, yet stops short. Whatever, it's over, for now.

To all the visitors looking for help on tomorrow's CTB-Reading Test...

I can't help you. Especially not now. The thing to do is walk in there knowing you are as ready as possible, confident, but not so relaxed that you doze off in the middle of a reading passage. There's nothing more you can do to prepare, I promise!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

oh my god

It's raining on one side of my building, and the sun is shining on the other! I'm not making this up.



Not sure how much blogging is going to happen in the next few weeks; all I want to do is walk around the city, read good books, listen to music, talk to friends, lie in the sun in the park, write things, plant things, move to California (the desire is INTENSE right now, I have to keep reminding myself that the state has become two-thirds fantasy to me).... not sure how much school work is going to get done, for that matter......... yes, teachers get it too, and it's called

spring fever.

I promise this blog will not become Some Random Teacher Reviews Books & Movies & Music:

Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds

But I love the I, steel I-beam
that my father sold. They poured the pig iron
into the mold, and it fed out slowly,
a bending jelly in the bath, and it hardened,
Bessemer, blister, crucible, alloy, and he
marketed it, and bought bourbon, and Cream
of Wheat, its curl of butter right
in the middle of its forehead, he paid for our dresses
with his metal sweat, sweet in the morning
and sour in the evening. I love the I,
frail between its flitches, its hard ground
and hard sky, it soars between them
like the soul that rushes, back and forth,
between the mother and father. What if they had loved each other,
how would it have felt to be the strut
joining the floor and roof of the truss?

-from Take the I Out

And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is amazing. When I left the theater I would have turned right around and seen it again. I have a whole list of people in my head whom I have got to drag to see this. It's best not to know too much about the movie before you see it, that's what my friend J. told me after she saw it, and she was right. So I won't say much here, except that it's a hilarious, poignant, nightmarish romp through the inside of a mind.

"Drink up, young man. It'll make the whole seduction part less repugnant."

Heard on The Next Big Thing this morning: Brave Combo. Listen to Chopsticks. *grin*

Friday, April 16, 2004

And Tomorrow

Rollerblading in the gorgeous sunshine!


The most eventful thing that happened today was that my bra came completely unsnapped right in the middle of teaching! Oh my god, I was horrified! I was picking up some papers from my desk, when - snap! Yes, these moments do happen. It's inevitable. A friend of mine once nearly had her pants fall off in front of a middle school class...

So, anyway, I went over the homework keeping my arms firmly - but hopefully not conspicuously - crossed in front of my chest. Then I got them started on their labs, and sneaked over to the door, hoping to pop into the next room, fix the problem, and pop back in before anyone was the wiser. This plan was foiled by a conference of four teachers standing in the hallway outside my room. So, instead, I beckoned to a colleague to cover my class long enough for me to head to the ladies room.

Good grief.

Our experiments were fun, by the way. Each group chose a variable to test whether it would affect how fast substances dissolve. We had groups testing water temperature, type of solute, type of solvent, stirring/not stirring, crushed/whole Tums & sugar cubes, and other variables. It was messy, one thermometer broke, three stopwatches ran out of battery life, and one Tums-vinegar reaction created a baby-blue foam mushroom in a beaker.... oh yeah.

On Monday, I collect 110 lab reports (first drafts). Yes, I know about staggering assignments, but honestly, I'd still be way behind.


Sorry. Didn't intend to leave anyone hanging. Eventful, like I said. Now, when I write it, it seems like small stuff.

It started at 6:50 am, discovering after waiting for 10 minutes at the new bus stop, that the change of route was only for one day, and the bus was, in fact, at the usual stop. At Union Square, I needed to stop in the supermarket to pick up some lab materials. If you ever notice someone in the checkout line at 7 am buying white vinegar, a box of sugar, plastic cups, sugar cubes, Tums, vegetable oil, and a small coffee, you can be sure it's me, and no, I'm not stocking a new kitchen. Now, the coffee counter at the supermarket is presided over by a middle-aged clerk who has been placed there specifically to slow down people who are about to miss their trains. This is why I normally buy my coffee elsewhere. Yesterday, just after I put all my stuff down on the counter, the clerk noticed a bottle of tonic water belonging to the customer behind me, whom she proceeded to wait on instead of me! Apparently you can now hold yourself a spot in line with carbonated beverages. This would have been okay, except that this woman needed a cup of coffee, a buttered bagel, and a couple of other things rung up. I felt like pulling a New Yorker and punching someone in the nose, but I settled for making grouchy noises and looking at my watch. When I got to school, two seventh grade boys had already had a fight - over cereal, apparently. And a parent was waiting to talk to me about some trouble her son got in the previous day. So I was thinking, man, it's only 8:15 am! What's next?!

I got a lot done, thankfully, since Thursday is the day I have several prep periods (to balance out days like Friday when I have just one). I cleaned my fridge, which was molding, thanks to a fickle outlet plus several spilled science expo projects. I cleaned my desk (it has a surface! who knew?). I graded papers.

After lunch, a boy told me that C. was crying. C. is one of the students on my I'd-Adopt-You-If-Anything-Happened-To-Your-Parents list; she's a good student, down-to-earth, enthusiastic about school, good attitude. I approached her, and she insisted that she wasn't crying. I said, okay, if you want to talk about anything, wait here while I take the class upstairs to Social Studies. She waited for me. She said that at lunch she had told her three best friends that she didn't want to be friends with them anymore. Now, to picture these three girls, imagine the three nicest, smartest, most-conscientious, pretty-but-not-conceited girls you went to school with: that's them. So I thought, C. has nowhere to go but down if she rejects these girls' friendship! We discussed it:

Ms. Frizzle: Why do you not want to be friends with them anymore?

C: (looking at her feet) Because, in elementary school, they did mean things to me.

Ms. F: Like what?

C: Well, K. used to be my friend, but then in fourth grade she made other friends, and she changed. And I told her she changed, and she said she'd change back, but she never did.

Ms. F: Mmm, that's hard. But you've been good friends so far this year, right?

C: Yeah.

Ms. F: Have these girls done anything to bother you in the last few months?

C: Not really, but my mom says when something hurts you, it scars you for life.

Ms. F: Yeah, some things still bother you even after they're over. But it still seems like you four girls get along well. Why did you decide not to be their friend today?

C: (narrates long, complex story about chasing a ball at recess, ending with...) And today, I fell chasing the ball, and they laughed at me.

Ms. F: That's not very nice of them. Do they know that it hurt your feelings?

C: I don't know.

Ms. F: Are you regretting that you told them you didn't want to be their friend anymore?

C: Kind of.

In the end, we decided that she would sleep on it, decide whether she had made the right decision or a mistake, and we could all talk about it during homeroom this morning if need be. By this morning, all was forgotten. She'd spoken to K. on the phone, they'd apologized, and harmony was restored to the universe.

Shortly after that talk, I got to try to sort out another complex friendship drama, involving a seventh grade girl crying and a seventh grade boy who might or might not have called her a boy before or after she hit him after she might or might not have overheard him - or his friends - talking bad about her, which might or might not have happened before, and all this despite the fact that he might or might not have agreed to be her friend earlier that day, and friends just don't say things about each other behind each other's backs. We left that one to sort itself out, too. I said, you can be friends or not be friends, avoid each other if necessary, but please, no more hitting and no more talking about other people behind their backs, and if any of this happens again, please see me or another teacher right away.

Often, these friendship dramas are mysterious to adults. It can be close to impossible to sort out what really happened. Listening, calming down all sides, and letting them hear each other out can go a long way. And then you let them know that if problems continue, they should come to you, and that's usually the end of it. (fingers crossed)

I also found out that I'm losing a sweet little girl from my homeroom, because she needs intensive English services, which we can't provide. We could get in trouble for being out of compliance with her IEP (Individualized Education Plan - basically a plan for providing for her special needs), so she's going to have to transfer from our program to the larger school that we are technically a part of. It's true, we can't provide her the services she needs to learn to read and write well - we tried to hire someone, but no one applied for the job - but I wonder if this transfer will really help her in the long run. She MIGHT get the services she needs, but quite likely at the cost of getting eaten alive at a larger, much-less-safe school, where far less education happens during classtime. We have one or two students who have legally waived their special education rights to stay in our program, deciding that it was a worthwhile trade-off. Right now, we are just too small - we don't have the capacity to provide many special ed services. It's a shame that there isn't a great school out there that has that capacity. Maybe we will, someday.

I guess the biggest event of the day was that we got a call from our Regional Superintendent. Apparently, the mother of a sixth grader has been calling the Regional Office to complain that I pick on her son, and that we won't resolve the issue. Not true! Her son sticks objects in his mouth and up his nose, admits it to me in class, goes home and tells his mother another story, so she calls me. She speaks only at high volume, calls other students in our school wicked and implies that we teachers may be wicked liars ourselves, informs me of her churchgoing ways, reminds me that her son was never in trouble at his old school,* and accuses me of racism. Somehow, this has all spiraled into a situation where she is extremely frustrated with our school, came in and said she wanted to complain formally and remove her son from our school, and has been calling everyone at the R.O. for weeks. On Monday, I'm going to have to attend a meeting with my principal, our superintendent, this parent, and possibly the boy. I know my principal has my back, and I know the superintendent is skeptical, but still, it's making me anxious. I don't want my first real contact with our superintendent to be this situation! No, I don't particularly like her son, and I like her even less, but I do not pick on him. I merely punish him when he sticks screws up his nose, doesn't turn in homework, and tastes lab materials - just like I would any other child.

*Um, no. He got suspended at his old school for throwing the class terrarium out the window, or so says one of his classmates from that school.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I spoke too soon....

Today was eventful. More on that later, maybe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

First Day Back

An uneventful first day back... yes! And that despite anxiety dreams, a change in my bus route (discovered at 6:40 am), and The Bus That Never Came. But it's much later than I intended it to be, so good night.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

No one can ever prepare a would-be teacher...

for the realities of grading. I don't care how interesting your assignments, how creative or insightful or malaprop-prone your students, reading 110 of the same thing is deadly.

And I've got about five assignments backed up, to the point where I'm like, Please, steal my bag! Good riddance!

To think that I told my students not to save their homework for the last day of vacation....

Monday, April 12, 2004

Burning Marguerite

I read somewhere once that innocence is not virtue. Perhaps that explains me, or rather describes the girl I was. For although I was innocent, I was never virtuous. My mother taught me that.
-from Burning Marguerite, by Elizabeth Inness-Brown

My friend E. gave me this novel for, well, for something halfway between Christmas and my birthday (the best kind of gift!). I read it in two sittings. When I finished it, on the train home today, I deeply longed to continue to know the characters, to travel with them. The story ends, but the setting and its people persist.

Here's another little bit, to pique your interest:

I showed her the things in the portfolio first. Bowls of fruit, stacks of old dishes, old hats. She nodded and made small, pleased sounds, but said nothng. Then I showed her the new one, still tacked to my drawing board, lifting the tissue from it for her to see. She gave a low whistle. "When did you do this?" she asked.

"Last night."

I looked at it with her. It was a drawing, primarily of what I later learned was the blossom of an Angel Trumpet, Datura wrightii. Huge, white, unfurled like a narrow umbrella--a horn, a trumpet, with sharp tips that marked where its petals would have been divided, had God chosen to divide them. I had drawn it largely by negation--by inking the leaves around it in black, as they had looked to me in the strange light of my lamps.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Vacation Round-up

I remember reading an article in an animal behavior class about rewards and behavior. If the pigeons or mice or whatever (I'm a little weak at details) pressed the lever and food came out, they'd press the lever more. If they got a shock, they'd press the lever less. But if they pressed the lever and got food sometimes and a shock other times, they'd press the lever more often than in either of the other situations.* I am a hungry lab rat in the land of blogs. If a blogger posts every day, I stop by their blog pretty often. If they rarely blog, I stop by less frequently. But if they blog just a few times a week, with no pattern to their posting, I stop by all the freakin' time, hoping for a pellet, er, I mean a post.


I really like what Scott says here, about teaching needing an intellectual foundation, and vacation often being the time when teachers build that foundation. True for me. I've been doing a bit of creative writing this vacation, something I haven't done for a long time.


You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
-Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott writes in this great voice, compassionate and loving and accepting, and bitter and witty as all hell. She is comfortable with the side of herself that is jealous and snarky and mean-spirited, and at the same time, she seems like the kind of person who loves genuinely and openly. It doesn't hurt that she's a hippie mom who lives in and writes about one of my favorite places in the world, the Bay Area.

I just finished Blue Shoe, her novel about a newly-divorced mom struggling not to repeat the mistakes of her own troubled parents. It's not her best, but I enjoyed it. But if you're going to take my advice and read some Anne Lamott, please start with Bird by Bird or Travelling Mercies. The first is the funniest, most honest book about writing and being a writer that I've ever read. The second is a memoir of how Lamott hit bottom and - just when she most needed to - discovered a caring, hippie Christian church in the San Francisco Bay Area. The people she met there saved her, as much or more than Jesus did, and she is still a member of that church, as far as I know. A similarly caring church shows up in Blue Shoe.


Whoa! There are less than 11 weeks of school left! If you take out holidays, testing days, and clerical half-days, that's less than 50 days. And we have soooo much left to do....

Here's what I've scheduled:

April, 2 1/2 weeks on solutions, acids & bases, chemical reactions.
May, 4 weeks on motion, forces, and energy.
June, split between machines and waves (sound, light).

Hindsight is 20:20, right? Well, looking back on the year, I messed up the pacing big-time. We got mired in electricity, bogged down in atomic theory, and then I had no idea how to approach chemistry and forces and motion. With Earth Science and Life Science, I know what to put before what... I don't have the same perspective on these topics in Physical Science. Luckily, we've hired someone for next year who will be passionate about it. On the other hand, I've learned so much from teaching it this year, I think I could do much better if I taught it again. Not least because I've finally got a copy of the Region's Science Syllabus, which is incredibly helpful, puts everything in order, suggests resources, pacing, performance tasks, and yet leaves a lot of room to do things "my way." My first years teaching Earth & Life Science were even more jumbled than this year's Physical Science, so I think there's a learning curve.


RadioParadise is really good today!

Radio angst for liberals: Who will stick with NPR? Who will switch to AirAmerica? Who will listen to both? The more liberal radio, the better, for both stations and for all of us. But you can only listen to one station at a time........


*Okay, okay, I'm sure some of this is mixed up... it was 6 or more years ago, so if you know the studies I'm talking about, please correct me!

Well, here's what I found on my own:
Variable ratio- reinforcement is given after a number of responses, but that number varies from one reinforcement to the next. A rat might be reinforced after ten times of hitting the lever and the next time it may be reinforced for the thirtieth time it hits the lever. Slot machines are based on a variable ratio schedule. It takes slightly longer to condition, but takes a long time to extinguish.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Trying So Hard

My project over the last two days has been to enter all my bank transactions since last December (2002) into Microsoft Money, to find out where my money goes and create a budget. Despite being a generally organized and responsible person, financial things make me really anxious, and I finally decided it was time to take a good look at how I'm spending money.

The interesting thing that's come out of this is that each month, as I go through the expenses, I remember so many things... trips we took together, hoping that getting away might resurrect what was fading between us... dinner out at New Years, at Valentine's Day, both wonderful nights though one led to more distance while the other brought us, temporarily, closer together again... movies on weekdays... so many movies... lots of groceries, I needed him so much every night, so I would make dinner and hope he'd come over. Looking back like this brings back other memories, of course - the baseball game that I took my parents to, my trip to Aspen to visit friends, my trip to NH to E's theater group, San Francisco a little more recently. What's more and more clear to me, though, is how long we were struggling - no one can say we didn't try. It's bittersweet.

I'll leave this post with a song lyric:

Will you say, "I do" even when you think you don't
And hope things can change in a day?
Will I say, "I love you" even when those are just words
The way words sometimes are when you pray?

This is from Nerissa & Katryna Nields, "Heading Home" (on Love & China)

Are they tassty, we wonders? Are they sssuculent?

Do NOT miss this.

Thanks to Penombra for leading me there.


I'm reverting to my old late-night self. I inherit the tendency to get involved with something - or nothing - and stay up until 2 or 3 am from my mother. How many 50-somethings do you know who pull all-nighters organizing clippings from old newspapers? If I go out, I come home and stay up another two hours, talking to my roommate, reading magazines, blogging or fiddling around on the internet, doodling, listening to music... thinking, mainly, but if you asked me what I'm thinking about, I wouldn't tell you, wouldn't be able to put it in words. If I don't go out, I start some kind of project - tonight it's looking through my bank statements from the past year, trying to come up with some kind of budget - put on some music, and get into a groove where whatever I'm doing is wholly in my hands, and my thoughts are elsewhere, maybe nowhere.

This would all be good, if I did not also like morning. No, not the 5:45 am part of morning, but 8 is okay and I really love 10 am. I like daylight, I like the way morning wakes you up into this quiet energy, I like getting ten things done before noon and having the whole afternoon to goof off and feel good about it. Maybe it's New England in my blood, maybe it's the influence of my dad (up at 7 am with a tall glass of OJ), maybe it's just that sunshine keeps me happy, but sleeping really really late has that same sticky quality as eating a bucketful of warm Jolly Ranchers... wonderful once in a while, but I start to rot if I do it too often.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Vacation

(apologies - deep - to Wallace Stevens)

In the hurricane of days,
the only stillness,

I was of three minds,
seeking solace,
solitude, exuberance.

My clothing whirled in the washing machine.
Even small things have color and movement.

A book and a couch
are enough.
A book and a couch and a cat
are more.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

(that one is just too beautiful to play with)

The puppeteer reached
gloved hands over another's arms
to the feet of the feather-haired boy,
drew his legs taut, then let them buckle.
To create human movement,
she danced.

O you people of the business world,
How do you feel the seasons change?
Do you not sense May's surge of warmth,
the languorous days of early August,
the gathering urgency, the clean smell of September?

I know patient questions,
And engaging, educational lessons;
But I know, too,
That vacation is involved
In what I know.

When the emptiness came between us,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

Waking to sunlight,
birds in the alley,
a cup of tea,
modest rituals.

Going home to New England
on MetroNorth
watching the windows fill
with trees, looking
for a little peace
this Easter, breathing in
and out.

I am taking the train south.
Vacation must be ending.

Arching its back, stretching each leg languidly
into the expanse of days, morning
lasted into afternoon and afternoon into evening.
After a week, time realigns itself,
ready to go back.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Blogging from school...

Okay, so my afterschool students are working on homework for 30 minutes, so I have a few minutes to update and check email. Living without internet access at home is like waking up at 4 am with no access to coffee. It spontaneously stopped working on Tuesday afternoon. I called the cable people, who tried to reset the modem to no avail, so I have an appointment to have it fixed on Saturday afternoon. I suspect the modem is the problem. It has had an odd rattle for a few months, ever since it fell off of my roommate's large drum!

Life has been crazy, as usual. My principal and I had a Discussion, during which I resolved to address issues with her as they come up, rather than letting them all accumulate and become emotional. I think she thinks I'm a perfectionist and a snob, and honestly, she's probably right. I don't want to be a snob, of course, but at least I get stuff done, and done well. The problem with our school is that we are all so deeply invested in our students and our school's success, that we take it all perhaps too seriously. It is hard to stay detached and not take everything personally.

If you're curious about school performance in NYC, take a look at this year's school report cards. I recommend clicking on a district in the Bronx, picking a school at random, and examining statistics like how long teachers have been teaching there, demographic data, test scores, and suspension rates. The report cards compare the school to similar schools and to the city as a whole. After that, pick a district in Manhattan, choose a school at random, and look at the same kinds of data. Then see what kinds of questions pop into your head, and continue your research! (Thanks to Middle School Science for the link). By the way, I really LIKE being able to compare data from one subgroup to the next. NCLB is not perfect, but it is important to know whether ALL students have an equal chance to succeed in our education system.

More to come on Saturday! My charges are getting restless.