Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Lost in Translation

I'm working on putting together the student handbook, a ten-page booklet containing the school calendar, dress code, course descriptions, bell schedule (not that we have bells), and the like. The question now is how to get it translated into Spanish in time to hand out to students and parents? Providing materials for parents in their native language is so important, but we don't have any consistent way to get it done. Our Spanish teacher and one or two others can handle short letters or memos, but long documents like the school handbook or monthly newsletter are way too much work to ask someone to do on top of their regular teaching load. On-line translation sites don't work that well. Last year, a parent volunteered, but she got upset with us over something unrelated and stopped translating. No other parents have ever volunteered or seem likely to do so. This seems like a civil rights issue to me, so I keep urging my principal to find someone we can pay, so that we can have a system in place and also demand reliability - but of course, finding a translator is easier said than done. The next time I'm in the Columbia neighborhood, I'm going to look at their bulletin boards and see if anyone is advertising services there.

Can you imagine being a father who cannot read any of the materials sent home from school?

Can you imagine being a mother who must rely on her son or daughter to translate what the teacher says at parent-teacher conferences?

Monday, August 30, 2004

Keepin' It Real

Hipteacher and posthipchick and class is in session all have excellent posts on the joys and challenges of the first few weeks of school.

I think you can tell who is going to make it in teaching, because they are the ones who sneak hope into their most negative posts. I see this when Miss Teacher writes,

"and another that has bought the line that they are stupid so they don't try to do anything but get away with murder. i swear i will have them reading and writing by the end of the year. or i'll die trying. it's a deadheat right now."

And I see it throughout hipteacher's writing, for example,

"I really enjoy the "bad" kids. They are often pains to have in class and disrupt learning every five seconds, but I really like them--even the ones who want to grow up to be pimps."

Good luck to all the new and returning teachers out there!

First Day Stories

One of the reasons I love my school is that the first day feels like a homecoming, complete with smiles and some hugs from students and parents, and a really genuine warm feeling upon seeing my babies and how they've changed - and how they're just the same - and sensing their hopefulness about the year ahead, even those who didn't do too well in the past.

(Okay - eighth graders are not babies. But sometimes I feel protective of them in that way.)

The day got off to a rocky start. I arrived about 25 minutes before we were supposed to welcome students and parents in the school's auditorium, only to be met by the custodian and security guard, who insisted that we could not hold the event because we did not have a permit and that working conditions in the main school building were unsafe for the security guard to work, therefore she could not sign in parents. After some discussion, I called my principal (who was attending mandatory meetings at the Regional Office all day), and she spoke to everyone involved. Then our dean showed up and straightened everything out. We did, in fact, have a permit, but some miscommunication at the Regional or Central office meant that we had no security, so we could allow students in the building but not their parents.

We introduced ourselves to all the students and told them what subjects we'd be teaching. Spontaneously, the students started to applaud after each teacher's introduction! It was a nice welcome. We took the seventh and eighth graders upstairs and started classes, while the sixth graders got a somewhat more extensive welcome in the auditorium.

The building was hot and oppressively humid. Kids and teachers alike suffered. I didn't have to teach first period, but I was busy answering phones, making photocopies, and rushing around helping people solve various problems.

Second period, I introduced the school's core values, and we discussed them and generated examples and reasons why the values are important. When we got to "I learn from other people's differences," we talked about the many ways we widen our own experience by being open to learning from those who like different things or are from a different culture. Then I asked if the students knew what really big event was going on in New York this week, and most of them knew about the Convention. So I asked who knew what had happened yesterday, and most of them knew about the protest, and a couple of students had even participated. We talked about how people who disagree on political issues can still talk to each other and learn from each other, and how issues are sometimes portrayed as polarized, which blocks people from finding out more about other people's perspectives. I didn't promote one political view or another - although the kids were bursting to talk about the candidates and most seemed to be vocal Democrats! - but just expressed a wish that we could keep dialogue open. It was a fun discussion, one of those things you can do when you know a group of kids as well as I know our eighth graders.

Later, in our conversation about teamwork, we got onto the topic of the men's Olympic basketball team, which won a bronze medal. The kids were not happy about the behavior of some of the players, and so I helped them relate the team's problems to our core values. It seems that some of the players did not follow through on their commitments, did not do their best at everything they tried, did not act like team players, and were not open to always learning. They concluded that we could have won the gold medal if the players had been more committed.

The only problem with second period was that the kids were very high energy and very, very chatty, and I wasn't quite in my groove enough to crack down as much as I probably should have. I generally try to be very strict during Orientation, because it sets the tone for the whole year. The fact that the eighth graders are so comfortable in our school and with their teachers is a blessing - but it also means they are already pushing, pushing, pushing at the limits we set.

Third period, I gave the practice Intermediate Level Science Exam, just a tiny bit of it, really, the first section of multiple-choice questions. The multiple choice section of the test is what concerns me most, as I am fairly confident that my kids will rock the performance exam. I was gratified to find that the kids at least recognized which questions dealt with material we had covered in the past two years - and although I haven't finished marking the tests yet, seem to be doing better on questions about material we covered than on questions about material they have not yet studied. I mean, one would hope that would be the case - but anyone who's taught knows the uniquely blank stare students sometimes give in response to, "Remember this from last year (month, week, period...)?"

We sent the babies home and met briefly to discuss. Everyone was drooping, but positive about the day. I am excited about the rest of the week - but I am even more excited about the real start of school, about digging in to science content. I know the kids are going to love - love, love, love! - the things I have planned for them in Life Science!

And the other thing is - so far I have not had a single school-related anxiety dream! It could still happen, yes, but I feel confident about everything working out in a way that I never have before. Partly it comes from really feeling like a leader within the school, with so many new staff members looking to me and the other returning teachers for guidance.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Show me what democracy looks like -  Posted by Hello

This is what democracy looks like! Posted by Hello

Street theater by a group calling itself "Weapons of Mass Distraction."  Posted by Hello

Marching. Posted by Hello

This group carried flag-draped coffins symbolizing deaths in Iraq. Posted by Hello

Marching for peace. Posted by Hello

I saw a sign with a quote by Buckminster Fuller, "If the Success or Failure of this Planet, and of Human Beings, Depended on How I Am and What I Do, How Would I Be? What Would I Do?" This feels relevant here.
 Posted by Hello

Books not bombs, indeed. Posted by Hello

The girl in pink was young but loud and a strong presence. And video cameras were everywhere! Posted by Hello

Drummers set a beat for our marching and chanting. This also gives a sense of how full the streets were - there was literally no space from one wall across the sidewalks and road to the wall on the opposite side. Posted by Hello

Not In Our Name brought a crowd. Posted by Hello

We have to reclaim the flag and other symbols of patriotism...  Posted by Hello

I was there.

It turns out that there's no such thing as spectator democracy, particularly not when several hundred thousand people are marching through the streets of New York. I left my house this morning lathered in sunscreen and with my backpack full of fruit, water, and granola bars, so I guess I knew on some level that by going to observe the protest, I was really planning to participate. As I walked through Tompkins Square Park and continued northwest, the crowds of people carrying signs and festooned with buttons grew and grew, until I found myself part of a crowd on 16th St. waiting to join the main body of the march heading up 7th Ave. So I bought poster board, a Sharpie, packing tape, and made myself a sign.

It also occurred to me that the only way to make sure that a peaceful march takes place is to make sure that peaceful people attend!

Everyone who attended will have a different story to tell, but my experience was overwhelmingly positive - I found the other marchers to be friendly and peaceful, the police hands-off and friendly, the energy focused on getting Bush out of office in November, and the crowds patient in the face of very slow movement, especially at the start. I led some chants, took some pictures, and held my homemade sign high.

One interesting new use of technology developed for the conventions is txtmob, a service that allows you to sign up to receive text messages as part of a group. I signed up last night for the comms_dispatch group, and throughout the day received text messages on my cellphone informing me of crowd movements, location and intentions of police lines, the start and end of the march, and much more. Since I had some safety concerns about the march, I felt like this service helped me keep perspective on what was happening beyond my own limited sight lines.

For example, when I was on 34th St. halfway between 7th Ave. and Broadway, a lot of photographers suddenly turned back towards 7th Ave. Looking back, we could see a cloud of smoke at the corner of 34th and 7th Avenue, without any clear source. You can imagine what rushed through my mind - it could have been gas used by police in response to a disturbance, it could have been a bomb or attack of some kind, who knows? The crowd around me grew anxious and I saw, for the only time during the march, the potential for panic and chaos. Fortunately, most people kept moving away from the smoke and asked nearby police officers for information. Within a half hour, I received a text message from txtmob that said that a dragon float had caught fire, the march was delayed at that corner, and things were under control.

Other things I saw... A cabdriver pulled over after the march, read my sign, and said, "I hate Bush!" Lots of protesters interacting with the police, thanking them and reminding them that we were here for peace. Young people organizing other youth to participate in the march. A group of marchers clearing a pathway for a woman in a wheelchair to cross the street. Drummers and musicians bringing joy and rhythm to the march. Marchers heckling the Fox News broadcast on the side of Macy's.

I'm glad I decided to participate. I can't imagine telling my children that I lived in NYC but didn't march - that's like living in Woodstock but skipping the concert!

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Republicans are here...

and the question on every red-blooded New York girl's mind is: What to do?

Corie provides links to many events, so I'm not going to re-invent the wheel. She also has beautiful pictures of last night's Critical Mass, in which thousands of people rode bicycles through the streets to promote transportation alternatives and protest the Bush administration. It ended with about 100 arrests, although most of the bicyclists rode in a peaceful and orderly fashion. My friend P. rode and called me this morning to warn me that the police were pretty, um, aggressive at that event, in his opinion, so I should be careful at any events I attend. My friend W. missed a Fringe Festival play waiting to cross the street while Critical Mass rode by, but she wasn't bitter; she said the energy was amazing and that it inspired her to see such an upswelling of political action from the community.

I attempted to volunteer for the Kerry campaign here in New York this past week, but due to my lack of email access and changes in their process for volunteering, it didn't happen.

This morning, I met three friends for brunch in Brooklyn and then marched across the Brooklyn Bridge along with several thousand others in the New York March for Women's Lives. It wasn't as high-energy as April's march in Washington, D.C., but it was still a good experience and a great way to take action. I like these marches because the issue is very important to me, the marches are extremely well-organized and peaceful, and the message is clear. I am not so wild about larger, less-focused protests; I'm worried about the possibility of violence and I think that lack of focus often undermines the effectiveness of the message. The funny thing about New York City is that an event that would be huge in most cities can take place while people only a few blocks away go about their lives without noticing. As I walked uptown from City Hall, leaving the rally, I walked through Chinatown and SoHo. Thousands of people there blissfully went on shopping for lychee fruit, dried squid, trinkets, and fashionable clothing while we marched and chanted and rallied. And we're used to a crowd; I think Chinatown was actually more densely packed with shoppers than the Bridge was with marchers! I don't have any photographs because I was filming it as a favor for a friend.

Tomorrow, I will possibly go take a look at the large and controversial march and rally planned by United for Peace and Justice. The consensus among most people I know is that we want to see it, but don't necessarily want to find ourselves in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by police officers and metal crowd-control barricades. I am not normally a conspiracy-theorist, but I don't find the idea completely ridiculous that conservatives/Republicans/Bush supporters/someone might send people to the protest specifically to stir up trouble and discredit the protest movement. Add that to the mere presence of thousands and thousands of people in a small area, hundreds or thousands of police officers, a high level of general tension and holding-of-breath, the existence of small groups of protesters who do not want a peaceful march or at least are not particularly attached to the idea, and the controversy between protesters and the city and within protest groups over the location of the rally... well, anything could happen. Including a perfectly peaceful, uneventful, effective political action!

I might attend the panel of political bloggers speaking at PS 122 that takes place at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 31st as part of the Imagine Festival. I will definitely be at St. Mark's Church on September 1st at 8 pm for DEMO: A Demonstration in Words Featuring 20 poets. Grace Paley will be there - she's a poet, essayist, and has been working for peace and human rights for longer than I have been alive.

I hope to see you New York readers out there standing up for what you believe in!


I was lucky enough to have Frances, a friend of a friend, staying with me this past week. She is a filmmaker who needed a place to stay for a week in New York, and since I have an empty room right now, I invited her to stay in exchange for talking to me about how to structure a unit on digital video for middle school students.

Like all artists, filmmakers make numerous aesthetic choices, large and small, that transform mere moving pictures into films. Frances helped me understand those choices and brainstorm exercises that would be interesting for middle school students and would help them become more conscious about the process of creating art and communicating through video. We talked about lighting, the rhythm of editing, music, scripting versus improvisation, framing, choosing different types of shots, and much more.

As a writer and poet, and friend to artists of many kinds, I am familiar with this language of choice - it is what links all the arts. When I write a poem, I choose one word over another, one metaphor over another, one rhythm or rhyme or slant-rhyme over another. These choices about form deepen the meaning of the writing, by complementing the words or lying in tension with them.

I have always found teaching to be a creative outlet. During my first few years in teaching, I did very little creative writing of any kind. I felt that the creative space in my brain was filled - sometimes to overflowing - by the challenges of designing curriculum, reaching the turned-off or resistant students, and experimenting with yet another way of maintaining order in my classroom.

The other day, as I looked over a first draft of a unit plan given to me by one of the new science teachers, I asked him to think about whether he would introduce concepts first, then do activities to explore them, or reverse the order and allow the students to explore and observe as an introduction to new concepts. I explained that some teachers generally present the ideas first, others let the kids explore first, many use whichever seems most appropriate for the material, and some mix exploration and explanation in still other ways. By reflecting on the possible ways to organize a unit, and making conscious decisions, the teacher takes the material beyond content so that it communicates something to the student about doing science, thinking science, and being a scientist. And that, it seems to me, is one of the aesthetic choices that define the art of teaching science.

Busy Busy Busy

So--you can probably imagine, given how often I post, the pain of not being able to blog for almost a week. I actually had to say to myself, even though you don't have the internet, you can still write - on paper! or even just in Microsoft Word! I tried this. I didn't like it. This blog has become my writing space. Losing access to it was like losing a favorite journal or pen, or trying to write while riding the subway if you're used to your own quiet living room or favorite cafe. I couldn't express myself.

Nevertheless, I managed to find things to fill the long stretches of time vacated by not being able to blog.

At school, with the help of the other science teachers, I sorted and moved all the science supplies into cabinets and other storage spaces. We will have to do more work on that after school starts, especially because we are ordering even more supplies, but we got the classroom into shape for the children's orientation next week.

For those who are wondering about our early start date, my school is one of the new small schools that the city is promoting and starting. We opened our doors in 2002 and have been expanding into a full middle school by adding a grade each year. One of the stipulations in our agreement with the Region when we started the school was that we would get paid time in the summer for a week of teacher orientation and a week of student orientation. So far, they've followed through on their end of the bargain, and we've used the time to prepare ourselves and the students for the hard work that happens during the school year. We set the tone during orientation so that we can teach content on the real first day of school.

On Thursday, we split up into teams to plan orientation for each grade level. The eighth graders have been through two years' orientations and two years of school, so their needs are different from the brand new sixth graders and the mix of returning and new seventh graders. Ms. Pascal and I decided on a mix of diagnostic testing - 8th grade is a year of four huge state exams - along with icebreakers and an explanation of the changes to our school's procedures. The students are also going to work in teams to create PowerPoint presentations about each of the Core Values.

Friday, each team shared its orientation schedule and we went over other nuts-and-bolts issues. Since we are still expanding and in our infancy as a school, we cannot simply do things the way we did them last year. This will be the first year that we get our own lunch period, for example, and we are now so big that we're not sure what we will do with the students during recess on rainy or freezing cold days. I spent much of the remaining time on Friday working with the other returning teachers to make some key decisions on issues like the type of report cards we will use, how to solve the recess problem, and so on. It gets overwhelming when you begin to think through even a single day in a school - so many small but important decisions need to be made regarding use of time, flow of students, and so on.

Each day this week, I stayed later than the previous day, far more hours than we are actually getting paid for, and the work continues at home this weekend. Yet the time put in now is what makes our school run effectively during the year. I think teachers should work more days, especially before students come to school, so that we can prepare and problem-solve. Most teachers already work some in the summer on their own time, but the time in the building together is invaluable.

The transition back to school is has affected me physically much more than in past years. I guess I'd forgotten that when I eat breakfast at 6 am, I become incredibly hungry by 11 am, and again at 3. I'd forgotten how bone-tired I am by the time I get home each night. The other day I had to have a chai just to make it to the community center to pick up my veggies - and that was after an hour's nap! It's thrown me for a loop. We've been working (in theory) half days, without any children present. I still have no idea how some people manage to work a full day teaching and then go home and raise their own children. Adulthood is hard!

Where I've Been...

No, the first week of school did not swallow me up.

My desktop got mad computer disease - similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy in that its brain got eaten from the inside out.

Or at least, that's what I feared had happened when I suddenly lost internet access Tuesday night. I checked the modem and everything was fine up to the point where the signal entered my computer. Things did not look good. After wishing the problem would fix itself for a couple of days, I broke down and called Time Warner. They assured me that they knew about the problem and had technicians working on it and would have me back on-line in a day or two... sweet relief! But when I still was not on-line today, I called again. This time, they had no memory of ever having known about a problem, let alone having worked on it. I went through three levels of technicians before I got one who could reset my modem from afar and get me up and running. Now I ask you, why didn't we just do that the first day I called?

Anyway, my computer has a few other symptoms of mad computer disease, so I am now in the market for some knowledgeable yet cheap technician to do a house call. If I disappear again and you hear heart-rending screams emanating from Manhattan, you'll know why.

How did computers get to be so empowering and disempowering simultaneously?

I was forced by my lack of connectivity to take up collage... Posted by Hello

Sorry about the reflective bits in this one. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

First First Day(s)...

Yesterday, my staff returned to school. Our starting-up schedule is a bit complicated: we have a week of half-day teacher orientation followed by a week of half-day student orientation, followed by a week of citywide professional development (this is when teachers start at most schools), followed by the real first day of school for students on September 13th.

I wrote a really long post about yesterday, but as I explained last night, it vanished - perhaps someday it will be found in a "dead blogger office" somewhere in a musty cellar in Silicon Valley. You never know. Anyway, here's a shorter version.

6 am - Getting up before 9 am is rough! Shower, cereal, coffee. In an effort to save $1.40 a day, I bought one of those plastic filters that sits on top of my mug so I can just boil water and pour it over the grounds. Unfortunately it is a little wide for the lip of the new thermos I'm using, so coffee spills all over the counter. I move the whole operation into the sink.

6:something am - I need to catch the bus around 6:40, but my clocks have slipped over the summer, and I no longer have any idea what time it is. My bedroom clock seems fast, my bathroom clock slow. My cellphone is in between. My watch battery died a few weeks ago and I haven't missed it badly enough to replace it yet. Anyway, it's not the end of the world if I'm late this week, since no children are in school yet. Halfway down the block I realize I left the thermos in the sink. I turn back for it.

Note to new teachers: Do a dry run of all the nuts and bolts of your first day of school. Do not try out a new route to work, new alarm clock, or new shoes on the first day. New haircuts should happen at least a week in advance. And never, NEVER test pilot a new thermos on the first day of school.
On the bus, I open the thermos for a sip of coffee. Maybe it's the early hour, maybe it's the fact that I haven't had any coffee yet, maybe it's just me... I don't notice that this is a classic thermos, the kind where you unscrew the cap and turn it over, making a little cup, then pour from the vessel into the cup and drink. I try drinking straight from the thermos and end up covered in coffee. At this point I can't go home to change my shirt, so I thank heaven I won't have to meet any kids today - my colleagues already know I'm a freak. Luckily, it dries by the time I get to school and you really can't see it at all.

A couple of teenagers get on the train with an enormous black and red plush dog, a prize from Six Flags. I love the fact that New Yorkers feel so comfortable bringing strange and outsized stuff all over the city by train and bus - I wouldn't want it any other way! Yet it does pose some challenges for security, given that you could hide a couple of ten-year-olds inside this dog with room to spare. As the train pulls to a stop, the dog falls over onto my leg. It's surprisingly heavy! I grab it by the ear and shove it back towards its owner.

We start the day with a meeting of returning staff only, to clear the air and put any lingering conflicts, tension, or resentment behind us, and to set a more positive tone for ourselves and our brand new teachers. It goes remarkably well! We begin by making "Four Agreements" about how we will communicate with each other. Some of the specific things we discuss include staying away from gossip and "the meeting after the meeting" because it tends only to increase our anger with each other and get in the way of actually bringing up issues honestly with the people who are involved. We also go back and forth on the appropriate role of administrators in our school. Ms. Principal had no administrative experience when she started our school; she had been a teacher for a long time and had just finished an administrative degree. She has found it difficult to really lead, partly because we all want to make the major decisions as a team. We tell her that we like it when she takes certain responsibilities and makes certain decisions by herself or with the help of Ms. Dean, because that lifts a burden from our shoulders and frees more of our energy to be great teachers. At the same time, there are some kinds of decisions that we want to be a part of, and we agree to speak up if we feel that a certain type of decision ought to include our input. In the end, it is a positive meeting. No one cries, yet I don't leave feeling as though important things were not said. Maybe we are learning, at last, to work together and trust each other.

At ten, the new staff arrives. We are so many, now, that it takes four large tables combined to make a conference table for all of us! I lead a round of "Two Truths and a Lie" as an icebreaker, and then we tell the story of how our school came to be and what essential features make it what it is. Then we break into groups and brainstorm "Core Values" that we would like to see our staff and students embody, things like honesty, creativity, responsibility, and so forth. We come together as a group and create a list, which we then narrow down to ten core values. We revise each of them so they are active-voice I-statements, like "I do what I say I will do" and "I tell the truth" and "I treat others the way I wish to be treated."

Finally, Ms. Principal handed out two books which she bought for us. The first she encouraged us to read but said we should at least keep visible to remind us that on some level, we are parents to many of our children: Parenting - 10 Basics of Conscious Childraising, by Karuna Fedorschak. The second book is called The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, by John C. Maxwell. We are supposed to read a chapter or two every night so that we can discuss it during our week of professional development in September.

And that was yesterday - so positive! I am really excited about the coming year. Our new teachers are smart, hardworking, and committed, I think. And we all know the power of good expectations...

Ms. Pascal and I went shopping on our way home, and realized that we are likely to be back-to-school shopping in August until we are fifty!

Today we started setting up our classrooms. Lots of heavy lifting. I discovered mouse droppings in one of my closets - the mice found my chemistry supplies, also known as sugar, pasta, flour, cornstarch, salt, etc. I'm moving upstairs. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, August 23, 2004


I am not happy.

I just wrote for an hour all about my first day of school today. It was a good post and not something I have the energy to write again, and when I went to publish, it vanished. Disappeared.


Sunday, August 22, 2004


If you're like me, you've known you'll be voting for Kerry for a long time. Some of you might have known you'll be voting for Bush for a long time. (If you disagree with my politics, I hope you'll still read my blog - I like to think that people can disagree and still have interesting conversations). Supposedly there are people out there in America who are still undecided...

I realized yesterday when talking to a friend about volunteering for the campaign that because I know that I don't like many of President Bush's policies, and therefore will be voting for Kerry, I have been a little bit lazy about researching exactly what Kerry has in mind for our country. I mean, I know roughly what he stands for - but what about specific policies? Some people are quick to say there are no meaningful differences between Bush and Kerry. Others say the differences between them are so great that this is the most significant election this century. I decided to go to the candidates' websites and research their actual campaign promises. (NB: I am not analyzing whether they will or can fulfill their promises).

Today, I give you my summary of the Kerry-Edwards "Plan for America." Bush I will do another day. All of this information comes straight from the Kerry-Edwards website. I started by clicking on the issues listed under "Plan for America" in the left-hand sidebar, reading the (very vague) summaries, then looking at some of the more specific plans and speeches located in the right-hand sidebar. If my summaries are incorrect, feel free to point out problems in the comments - or add detail.


  • Cut taxes for businesses that create jobs here in the US.
  • Enforce trade agreements to protect American jobs.
  • Cut middle class taxes.
  • Cut the deficit in half.
  • Invest in the "jobs of tomorrow" - industries that are likely to grow in the next few decades.

Energy Independence

  • Explore/develop new energy sources.
  • Provide tax credits to encourage the use of more fuel efficient cars.
  • Develop new technology and production methods to promote cleaner use of coal and natural gas. Develop natural gas resources within the US - one example is building a pipeline across Alaska to transport natural gas.
  • Create a hydrogen institute to study and promote the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Increase fuel efficiency by 20% in the federal government and provide incentives for states and local municipalities to do the same.

Homeland Security

  • Create a new position - Director of National Intelligence - and generally increase coordination between the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies.
  • Tighten shipping container security and increase efficiency in that area.
  • Increase security at chemical and nuclear facilities.
  • Increase domestic readiness.
  • Appoint an attorney general who values and protects civil liberties.
  • End indefinite retention without access to a lawyer.
  • Make adjustments to the Patriot Act.


  • Recruit 40,000 new soldiers - not necessarily to serve in Iraq.
  • Increase the special forces, civil affairs personnel, military police.
  • Modernize equipment and invest in non-lethal weapons that can be used against terrorists in populous areas without killing civilians.
  • Improve training of the National Guard and station them in their home communities with a homeland security mission.


Cut premiums by $1000/family.

  • Reimburse qualifying plans for catastrophic costs greater than $30,000. To qualify, plans must cover all employees and must promote disease management and prevention.

Cut waste and inefficiency.

  • Reduce unmerited lawsuits without strictly capping damages.
  • Provide incentives to improve quality. They cite a statistic that if the postal service had the same error rate as hospital ICUs, 16,000 pieces of mail would be lost every hour. Better quality means fewer lawsuits. Specifically, hospitals and pharmacies should be using computerized systems to help diagnose illnesses and prescribe safe combinations of drugs.

Make prescription drugs affordable.

  • Disclose financial incentives that drug companies provide pharmacies; pressure pharmacies to pass on these savings/incentives to customers.
  • End loopholes that keep generic drugs off the market.
  • Extend discounts (such as buying prescriptions in bulk) to greater numbers of people.

Cover all Americans with quality care.

  • States agree to enroll all children in Child Health Plus from families with incomes up to 3 times the poverty line. They enroll the whole family in state-provided health care up to 2 times the poverty line. And they enroll everyone - even single adults - who are below the poverty line. In exchange, and to ease the burden on the states, the federal government pays the costs of all the children insured under this new system.
  • Create new pools in the federal government's health plan - what members of Congress belong to - so that more businesses and individuals can choose that health plan and afford it.
  • Invest in the "safety net" - school-based health clinics, community health clinics, etc.
  • Promote disease prevention strategies, nutrition, exercise, etc.


  • Create a National Education Trust Fund to guarantee funding for all Congressional mandates in education. Specifically, increase funding for NCLB by $10 billion.
  • Provide financial incentives for schools and teachers to reward improvement.
  • Change assessments of schools and students to make them more sophisticated, and admit publicly if a school was incorrectly assessed in a previous year under NCLB.
  • Increase rates of high school graduation and provide greater access to college. Specifically, provide a college opportunity tax credit for up to $4000 of tuition yearly.
  • Provide high quality after school programs for more students - "School's Open 'Til Six"
  • Provide a $5000 raise for teachers in high-need areas or teaching shortage subjects.*
  • Improve training and mentoring of new teachers, create rigorous new tests for teachers, and institute fast but fair methods for removing poor teachers - in exchange for new pay structures for teachers including some form of merit pay to reward successful teaching.
  • Provide $25 billion to modernize school buildings.


  • Reinstate the "polluter pays" principle to fund Superfund clean-ups - and prioritize clean-up of Superfund sites in poor and minority communities. Include community revitalization and the creation of "Environmental Empowerment Zones" as part of the Superfund clean-up process.
  • Protect communities from exposure to toxins and clean up toxins already released into the environment.
  • Make sure every child has access to a clean, safe park.
  • Return profits from use of resources found on public lands to conservation.
  • Require that users of public land must return it to its original state.
  • End logging of old-growth forests.
  • Ban snowmobiles and jet skis from national parks.
  • Enforce and fund the endangered species act.
  • Strengthen and enforce the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and roll back the changes the Bush administration made that loosen these regulations.

*I qualify for both.... do I get $10,000?! ;-)

Why I love my neighborhood...

First it rained a little. Posted by Hello

And then it rained a lot. The event started very late. Posted by Hello

But the crowd-watching was fabulous! Posted by Hello

A whole family dressed for the occasion... Posted by Hello

There are queens... and princesses. Posted by Hello

Wigstock! Posted by Hello

Friday, August 20, 2004

What if you threw an open house...

and nobody came?

New York City real estate is extremely weird.

My roommate is going to be gone for the month of September, so I posted an ad on craigslist for a subletter. I got about 30 responses in two days, and decided to have an open house rather than showing the place over and over again all week. So I sent all the interested candidates an email describing the apartment and a little about my living habits, and the hours and location of the open house. I got a couple of responses back saying they'd be here.

And so yesterday I sat around for two hours and not a single person showed up.

I have a couple of back up plans - a friend who is interested but might be allergic to cats or my roommate just paying the rent - so I'm not going to lose any sleep over this - but I don't get it. I don't think the letter I sent was that scary, I mean I didn't write, "Day Job: Axe-murderer" or anything...

New York City real estate is extremely weird.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Festival Express

This is not a movie review. I've heard Festival Express is boring, but I haven't seen it. I am traveling on my own Festival Express, a train rumbling at top speed through the dizzying landscape of indie art, music, theater, and dance taking place in New York this week and next. I've had friends in town, which has been great fun, but I must admit I'm slightly exhausted and looking forward to a morning on my own tomorrow before the next guest arrives!

Sunday, my friend W. took us to the Bowery Poetry Club (yes, I'm a groupie... no, I don't pay rent there) to see the closing night of the Jollyship the Whizbang: Sleepless Fishes, a rock puppet comedy musical that was hilarious. The show has acquired a bit of a cult following; this was W's third time seeing it! You can catch an earlier episode brought back to life at the Kitchen on Sept. 18th.

My friends J. & F. visited me this week. We went to see Decadance Vs. the Firebird at the Fringe Festival on Monday night. It was billed as a hip-hop ballet and that's exactly what it was, an interesting and often very beautiful blend of hip-hop, jazz, modern, and ballet danced to a "remix" of Stravinsky's Firebird. The lighting was terrible, but otherwise I like it a lot and totally recommend it. I'm going to see another Fringe show called Le Fromage de Mon Oncle on Saturday afternoon, and possibly also a dance show, M'Oro Flamenco.

Yesterday, we had lunch and walked around Williamsburg, and had a couple of serendipitous experiences. While looking for the bar NorthSix, we ran into a friend of a friend, a photographer who showed us his most recent project: a series of photographs illustrating a lesbian western romance novel written by none other than.... Lynne Cheney. Yes, that Lynne Cheney. I am not making this up. The photographs were great and can be seen at nerve.com - adult content! - though you may need to subscribe to see them. Anyway, after showing us his photographs, he suggested we check out Brooklyn's best used clothing store, Beacon's Closet, which was a veritable treasure trove, sorted by color.

On our way there, we made an even more interesting discovery, a scent gallery. It really was a gallery, with small bottles displayed elegantly on shelves, arranged in short series by theme. We spent at least half an hour talking to the proprietor and sampling different scents, from "water 1" to "dirt" to "bazooka" - he said you could smell the powder on the outside of the gum and he wasn't kidding - to every flower, food, or spice you can imagine, and more. He explained that customers come in for a consultation and design their own perfume, which is then kept in their library of perfumes for that person for the rest of his or her life. Too expensive for me, but I would love to sit in on a few of those consultations - the process is fascinating to me. So many of our emotions are tied up in smells; I have often smelled my ex's aftershave while walking down the street, and looked around for him. After my grandmother passed away, my aunt redecorated her house. I deeply felt grandma's absence the day that I entered her house and found not only the furniture moved around, but the smell of the place changed. She had remained present through her scent. I have been searching for a perfume that captures the smell of the jasmine that grew along the walkway to my co-op house in college in California - not the same scent as typical jasmine perfumes. So - if you are going to get your own personal perfume concocted, please email me so I can tag along!

And tonight we went to Surf Reality at PS 122, a collection of short, strange, sometimes hilarious comedy and performance art pieces by local artists. After the show, they led us on a tour of the East Village, pointing out sites where various artists used to live and work, where activists clashed with the police, where Giuliani shut down dance clubs. We ended up at Two Boots Pizza. The first strange thing that happened was when we were stopped watching a piece of street theater in Tompkins Square Park, a police van actually drove up and watched over the whole thing. As the tour's leader said, "That's about as much chaos as they've ever allowed." It was just a rock band and a gathering of listeners! The second strange thing that happened was when we entered Two Boots, one of the performers said something - I didn't hear what - to a woman eating there, who proceeded to throw a fit and demand that the managers call the police. Certainly she had a right not to have her dinner interrupted, but we were a pretty low key, respectful group who'd been promised free beer by the organizers of the tour and the HOWL Festival, of which it was a part. Her reaction was so extreme that for a while most of us thought it was yet another piece of planned performance art! But it wasn't.

And somewhere along the way, I found a bicycle wheel abandoned in (well, on) a trash can, and decided I could use it to make something for my classroom, perhaps a gyroscope. You never know when you'll want an old bike wheel.

Posted by Hello

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

IMHO Event for Bloggers

IMHO: Discussing Blogs, Politics, and Culture is a panel that will take place on August 31st (during the RNC) as part of the Imagine festival at PS 122. It seems like it will mostly be political bloggers - that is, bloggers who write about the government, the war, etc. (I consider my blog political, in its own way, in the sense of "the personal is political"). I am going to try to attend.

And here's an article on teachers who use blogs in their classrooms. If I were an English teacher in NYC, using the Writer's Workshop model, I would give my students the option of using blogs as their writing journals. I would definitely have some conversations and set some guidelines about conventions of writing and the place of abbreviations like "btw" and "imho" in blogging and other genres. If I understand Writer's Workshop correctly, first drafts aren't supposed to stress correct grammar and spelling because the students choose pieces to edit, revise, and rewrite in a series of drafts. The only way to become a writer is to write, regularly, and I think keeping a blog could be a way for some students to start writing regularly.

Welcome, Ms. Oh

I just discovered another teacher who works in the NYC public schools and keeps a blog: Ms. Oh. She's been blogging a bunch about the reality of finances for teachers along with nuts-and-bolts stuff for teachers new to the NYC system. I'll add her to my sidebar.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Teacher Education

I mailed in my registration coupon for UFT professional development classes for the fall. My first choice - "Theater Across the Curriculum" - will include four "actual theater experiences." The class will focus on using drama and theater across the curriculum, in conflict resolution, and to teach multiculturalism. I'm pretty excited about the course, and it also happens to be 3 units for only $145. If I don't get into that class, my second choice was "Camping: A Bridge to Understanding" which includes one overnight camping trip and focuses on why and how to take groups of kids on camping trips. I will not be disappointed if I end up in that class instead of the theater class!

I may also be taking a class at Teachers College, either "Health Education for Teachers" or "Development of Creativity." I don't know much about either of those classes yet.

I like learning and taking classes... but I don't like the pressure on teachers to constantly take classes - at your own expense - in order to move up the salary schedule.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Assessment of Teaching Skills - Performance

Results from my certification video exam (ATS-P) arrived today: I passed. After all the work I put into getting that video right, I have to admit it was a bit of a letdown to get a score report that said absolutely nothing except "pass."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

A year ago yesterday...

Invited a few friends over for a blackout-themed party last night - gazpacho, my brother's pisco sours, and two homemade pies. We turned out the lights and lit candles, but kept the AC and music on. It's great to gather with good friends. Posted by Hello

The big scary hairy knobby punctuation-shaped cucumbers turned out to be luscious inside. The moral of this story? Never judge a cuke by its cover.... Posted by Hello

Valentine peruses Time Out NY. Posted by Hello

Miles reclines. Posted by Hello