Monday, December 22, 2008

Bits and Pieces Again

I have been busy. Extremely busy. Partly having to do with a former student of mind who is now in middle school, alternately flunking out and getting kicked out. When I have more energy, I'll write about him. When I'm not so worried about him, maybe.

In the meantime, here are some interesting educational articles.

Schools in California may just completely run out of money and end early this year. Nice to see we're valuing education.

Mae Jemison talks about why science is important for everyone.

Almost a disaster.

Skyline High School's neighbors seem to be justified in complaining about the noise from the school's PA system. On the other hand, they're not allowing the school to use its track and field lights for football or track practice, making the athletes practice in the dark. One hurdler broke his leg because of this.

I found this photo in a box - it shows a couple of things quite well. One is the lack of diversity in the town I grew up in in the early 80s. The other was the fantastic lack of fashion sense in terms of haircuts and clothing. (I'm the cute one with the very red collar in the front row)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Black President

I am so excited.

First, let me say that I did not vote for Barack Obama because he is black. I voted for him because I thought he was the better candidate, and will make the better president. I think he will help how the rest of the world sees the United States. I don't think he is the Messiah and I'm sure I will be disappointed in him at times during the next 4 (or 8) years. However, I think this is the right direction for America to go in and I am thrilled because of the person we have elected, while still being unbelieving.


While a lot of me wants to rant about how I can be a Christian and still be a Democrat, how liberal is not a bad word, how pro-life should be for the duration of life and not just and how I don't understand why McCain was seen as the Christian candidate by so many when he's the one of the two who had an affair, got divorced, and doesn't claim to go to church... I'm not going to right now. I want to talk about how excited I am to have a black president.

Yes, I know he is half white. But it wasn't black people who initiated the one drop rule. It was white people and black people suffered for it in a lot of ways. I for one, am totally happy to say that we have our first black president.

But how happy I am for my own self is nothing compared to how happy I am for all the kids I have worked with. For eight years I worked with primarily black students who were resigned to the fact that presidents would always be old white men. As a white person, I could tell them that they could be anything that they want to be - even the president! - but it's really hard to believe that something is possible when you've never seen it. These kids finally have an example.

When I got to Oakland, I didn't think racism was still as alive and well as it is. It may not be as obvious as it has been in the past but it is still entrenched. If you don't believe me, feel free to leave a comment and say so and I'll dedicate a post just to examples of entrenched racism but I'm not going to do that now.

I'm just going to say that I will never have to hear again that an eight year old thought they "they just didn't let black people be president." And for these kids, that is huge. It's a barrier that needed to be broken.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Random Political Thoughts

1. I'd like to save constitutional amendments - whether state or Federal - for things that really really need to be amended. Not for laws that people have attempted to pass and failed. I'm tired of voting on this issue.

2. The dumb local Alameda robocalls should be made earlier - I already voted, people!

3. If Christians followed what was in the Bible, we would not be spending time arguing about abortion or homosexual marriage UNTIL we had established justice in the world, fed the hungry, helped the widows and the brokenhearted. The Bible says to love our neighbor, to bring justice to the oppressed, to feed the hungry, and a lot of other things that we are not doing. When I hear people talk about how government shouldn't provide welfare and social programs, but instead, it should be faith-based institutions, I want to shake those faith-based institutions. Let's STEP UP and help already so the government doesn't have to!!

4. I actually LIKED John McCain until he got weird and grumpy and spent all his time defending Sarah Palin. I used to like him. All of a sudden, he's seemed to switch his opinion on many of the hot-button issues, which makes me wonder what will happen if he's president. Also, he's gotten a lot less "straight talk mavericky" and a lot more grumpy old man lately. If he were one of my third graders, I'd call him Mr. Cranky Pants.

5. I don't like Sarah Palin. At all. I'm sure God loves her, but I am not God and she doesn't think I am part of Real America.

6. Fox News Sucks. This is old news but when they ran their little thing saying "Outraged Liberals: Stop picking on Obama's Baby Mama" thing while someone was talking a few months ago, they totally lost me. Do white people have any idea how offensive that is? Can you imagine if John McCain said something about laying off of Cindy and someone referred to Cindy McCain as "McCain's Baby Mama??" I can't imagine that it was meant for any purpose other than trying to make Obama seem scary and ghetto and too black to be president.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Proposition 8

I just have a minute but I want to say this.

Point One: No matter what your views are on gay marriage, and I don't supposed I can change them, whatever they are, as a schoolteacher, I can tell you this: The yes on Prop 8 people are lying. Gay marriage will not be "taught" in schools. Marriage is not taught in schools. There is no part of the elementary school curriculum that "teaches" marriage. Good heavens, we can hardly teach math and never teach science any more with all the dumb literacy testing. Does anyone really think there will be time to "teach" gay marriage? Quit lying, people.

Point Two: I have worked with excellent gay and lesbian teachers (I can't believe I even have to state that, like that's a category of people who might be in danger of not being good teachers, but apparently I do). None of them have talked about their sexuality to the kids. Just like my heterosexual colleagues haven't. None of them have tried to "advance the gay agenda." None of them are scary. There has been no difference between them and any other teacher I've worked with... except that these particular people I'm thinking of were possibly more committed to the students, if anything.

Point Three: If Christians (and yes, I am one) are working so hard to protect the sanctity of marriage, why is divorce OK? Why is the candidate that the Christian right is going for someone who cheated on his first wife and is divorced? I'm not saying that my divorced friends are wrong. I'm just saying that if we're going to talk about the sanctity of marriage, well, don't be hypocritical please. Please.

And write to the Oakland City Council. (See below)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Another Chance for Activism

OK, I know we're in tough economic times (just ask the clients who haven't paid me yet... grrr...) and that cuts may need to be made. However, this is not the place to do it.

The Oakland City Council may stop funding its Cultural Arts Program. The two programs I am familiar with are MOCHA (the Museum of Children's Art) and the Circus Theatre Program.

MOCHA has low cost field trips (that I mostly just paid for my own self rather than try to get them approved by the district) that are now often the only experience to art that kids have. Their teachers are artists who are respectful and experienced with children and can handle my students, which not everyone can. My kids have learned about the color wheel, made sculptures out of recycled objects, made books, and done many other art projects there. They love it and look forward to it and ask me when they can go back. In fact, I love it there too.

MOCHA has also started to create an art curriculum that goes along with the extremely rigid mandated reading program so that kids can actually learn art and their teachers still be in compliance with No Child Left Behind. I've only seen the kindergarten pilot program, which was a few years ago, but it was great.

The Circus Theatre is awesome. Fourth and fifth graders learn real circus arts including stilts, unicycle riding, juggling, and more. I have known several kids who only went to school (yes, fourth graders ditch school) in order to be in this program. It helps them stay in school. Just like anything else, we'll pay for it later if we don't pay for it now. I guarantee that it will be more expensive to keep these kids in juvenile hall and while it may sound like I'm catastrophizing, I really don't think I am. They need to keep this program.

Feel free to write and express your displeasure: (I'm happy to answer any questions you may have)

Oakland City Council
One City Hall
Oakland, CA 94612

The City Council members are here along with their email addresses.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Questions about Subbing

So, I'm doing the paperwork to be a sub in the little island-ish town (OK, little for the Bay Area) that I live in and I have some questions:

1. If I needed to go to college and graduate in order to get into the credential program and needed to graduate from the credential program to get my credential, why on earth do I have to submit official transcripts as well as the credential? Shouldn't the credential be enough?

2. Fingerprinting is all online now. Shouldn't they just be able to save my fingerprints and be done with it forever? I've been fingerprinted more than most convicted felons.

3. Why on earth would they put the HR department in the place where the directions have to be:

"Go into the district office, walk through the adult school, turn right, go down the stairs, go out the door, then turn right and when you don't think you have anywhere else to go, there's the HR office in the corner by the fence."?

4. What do they do if you actually have TB when you take the test? And why is that the only disease tested for in any district ever?

5. Why is everyone at this district office nice and happy and smiley and at my old district, they were so.... not?

6. Why did I not start out in this district?

It was fun to see the change in demeanor from "Do you have a sub permit?" to "Oh, you're a credentialed teacher who wants to sub!?!" Guess I won't have to worry about getting jobs.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Some educational, some not.

First, the happiest:

A message I got on my phone: "Ms. H--, this is "James," I just wanted to let you know that I got a 3.0 on my first report card of middle school."

Yay! Kid had problems reading but worked really really hard. And so did his parents.


Second, the most confusing, at some sort of town hall meeting.

McCain supporter: "I don't trust Barack Obama because he's an Arab."

McCain: "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man."

Wait a minute... the opposite of Arab is decent family man? What? Anyone else confused by this? Please tell me there's something I missed here.


Third, shameless self-promotion. I sold a rat scarf on and someone told me that I should sell them on my blog. I can't really do that but I can post pictures and you can tell me if you're interested in buying a rat scarf, a sheep scarf, a dragon scarf, or any number of other fun knitted items. The rat scarves come in any color and have red or black little beady rat eyes.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Central America Pictures

I have a lot of photos.

They are here, here, here, here, and here.

I told you, a lot.

Now I am busy frantically trying to get enough writing/editing/tutoring/anything work to pay off the vacation. More soon. Send any extra work you need done over here, please. If you're paying.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Guest Blog - Healthy Eating

by Coleen:

I've been struck, recently, by the slow food craze that is taking over
the bay area. Well, let me be more specific, it's taking over the
foodies' hearts here in the bay area. Tom and I are interested in the
concept, and the idea of slowing, savoring, bringing the family back
around the dinner table and all it entails sounds mighty appealing to
someone who values both food and relationships. And I just read an
article in Sunset magazine which spoke of bringing people back to
the farm (or close to where the food was produced) to (no pun
intended) feed the hunger for reconnecting with the land, where food
is actually produced. It's lovely, it really is.

And then I read the fine print of both of these events...and my eyes
pop a bit. Let's get back to nature, all right, but make sure you
bring your credit card. Dinners al fresco in Soquel will run you about
$180 a head, and the slow dinners in SF this past weekend were over
$100 as well. I do understand that the mass production of food (not
necessarily in good conditions, etc) has cheapened the price of food.
I get that small family farms cannot produce their produce for said
cost. But I'm not at all convinced that people aren't making a very
healthy profit on this as well. And it isn't so much that they are
making a profit--we all need to make a living, and farmers are no
exception. But I start questioning the percent profit and what the
ultimate results in this cause and effect equation. Because right now
what it looks like is this:

Healthiest eating = must be rich

That disturbs me greatly. I have my own issues with money (although
you wouldn't know that today as I've gone out to breakfast, got my
hair cut, and am now leisurely sipping coffee at a coffeehouse, but
that's a different entry), but I really think me being disturbed comes
from a more righteous "anger". What it implies is that kids in the
ghetto don't have a chance of eating well, even if their parents were
dedicated to feeding their kids organically (or locally or whatever),
merely because of finances.

But what I'm trying to do today (and tomorrow and the next day, I
hope!) is to not just critique (an easy trait to embrace, as it gives
me "power" to call out the flaws elsewhere) but to try to help achieve
change. So what does that mean here? How can I try to let everyone
taste the fruits of local living and eating? Does it mean trying to
plant gardens in Oakland? Supporting the efforts in Berkeley schools?
Trying to get flamin' hot cheetos banned? Seriously, though, is it
about taking kids to farms for outings? About trying to get grants and
volunteer chefs for recreating something like this that is more
affordable for all? Heck, even though I could afford a splurge for an
activity like the above, I don't find it to be the best use of our
funds. But I do want to support these ideas. How can I go about that,
and offer it to others?

(note from me: please offer your ideas in the comments!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Black Names

There is an interesting article in about the history of African-American names, and I suggest you read it, especially before making fun of any black people's names. Which many people do. Now, while I have known some interesting names through my time at school (when Special is in special ed, that's just a cruel twist of fate); names that sound suspiciously like "tequila," or that don't follow basic rules of phonics (Samantha being spelled with an "r" in it: Simmorntha or something like that), there have been some really beautiful names too. There is a throwback to some old fashioned names recently: for girls, gems and other precious substances such as Ruby, Jade, Diamond, Pearl, Emerald (and Esmeralda; I knew one class with three Esmeraldas in it. Imagine having to go by "Esmeralda G." because there were three of you!), Ebony, and Ivory. Virtues, such as Patience, Justice, Faith (Imani in Swahili, I think), Hope, and Charity. Precious, not in the Lord of the Rings way, but in the good way. Cherish. For boys, old standards such as Frank and Malcolm. Marquise is a popular one, as is DeVaunte (various spellings). Jamal and Jamar, of course, Lamar and Lamont, and many Tajaes.

Many people make fun of the apostrophes in La'Shay and Ja'Quon and say that black people are trying to sound too French or too African, or just making names up. If you've thought that, here's something else for you to think of. I can find out the name of the French knight that was my ancestor from 1096. Imagine not being able to trace more than 150 years of your family; sometimes less. Can you blame anyone for wanting to recapture their heritage by choosing names that sound like what they imagine their heritage is?

Anyway, when you're around them every day, you see obvious patterns. Not patterns I can explain, but ones I just know. For example, can you pick out the one boys' name among these? Keante, Chianti, Shonte, Javonte, and Leontae? Let me know if you have any guesses.

A funny story: we were doing a practice test (which is why I can talk about it; I can't talk about the REAL test) one year, and the kids had to infer from a diary selection whether Tad, the narrator, was a "brother, sister, father, or mother." I think the writer was assuming that since Tad was talking about a sister, and Tad was a boy's name, the kids would figure out that he was a brother. Well, half of them put sister, because they had never heard the name Tad and didn't know if it belonged to a boy or a girl. "Teacher, what kind of crazy name is this?"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Three Things to Remember...

... when taking a class to the Hall of Health in Berkeley for a field trip.

1. They will call it the Hall of Hell and aren't trying to be funny, they just didn't hear the "th" at the end.

2. Make sure the staff -- who are really quite wonderful -- cover up the reproductive system display. Third graders are not mature enough for that display. Neither are their chaperones.

3. When a kid says -- looking at the picture of an exploded meth lab for the display on how drugs hurt your body -- that that's his uncle's apartment, believe him. He's right.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why He Quit

Here's an essay from a psychologist in my district - or should I say my FORMER district?? - outlining why he quit. It is an interesting perspective and sadly, I can't say that he's wrong. His last example actually reminds me of an experience I had. I may have shared about this, but here it is again, briefly.

I had a student, we'll call her "Denise." Denise has some traumatic experiences around abuse when she was an infant. The abuser - her biological father - is in prison and no longer in her life. She, along with her twin sister, who was not abused, is being raised by her mother and loving stepfather. Denise is a sweet child who has some learning disabilities and extreme anger issues when she gets frustrated. For example, if she can't understand something, she might pull every one of the 400 plus books in the classroom off the bookshelf and throw them across the room, grab scissors and stab the white board, rip papers up, and overturn desks. Her behavior was such that we had a meeting very quickly and, since her parents were in complete agreement about Denise needing a different environment, called in the district special education specialist.

Before meeting with the specialist, I was called into the principal's office - a principal who was not generally a bad one - and told that we would be asked some questions. It was all very strange and I would love for someone to shed light on this if it makes sense (Debbie?), but I was told that the principal and I would both be asked if we thought that Denise's emotional problems led to her acting out and her problems with learning. The principal told me that our only option was to say no, that we thought they were totally unrelated. I disagreed and told her so and got something about "district services" and was told again to say no.

I don't really know what that meant, but my guess is that if the child was not responsible for her behavior because of emotional problems, that the district would have to provide services, while if she was responsible, we could just blame the parents and move one. Again, I'd love it if anyone could clear that up.

We had the meeting, with the awful, awful special education woman who was rude, overbearing, and elitist, blaming Denise's mother, who sobbed through the whole meeting. Did I mention that this mother was one of the few mothers I've met with who took responsibility for her child and didn't just deny that there was a problem? She said that she's been wanting help for her daughter for years and she just didn't know how to go about it. Instead of giving her help, the special ed woman just made her feel bad with her condescending ways and flat-out blame.

When it came time for the questions, the principal said that no, she did not think that Denise's emotional problems related to her problems at school. The woman wrote that down and turned to me. I said that I disagreed and that I thought her problem at school had everything to do with her emotional problems. I was asked to restate that. I did. Everyone looked at me and the principal argued. I restated again. The special ed woman dealt with this treachery by being even meaner to the mother who had to leave because she was so upset. I was reprimanded, but - since I already had tenure - couldn't be fired.

The child was placed in a counseling-enriched small special day class where she needed to be and has a full-time aide.

The special ed woman is no longer in the district, the principal has changed schools and I have left.

This is one of the situations that I really, really wish I had videotaped.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Time With the Three Year Olds

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some foster kids. A couple at my church is doing a foster to adopt program and got three year old twins. I am super excited because this is what I'd like to do someday and because they are really, really awesome kids. The photo at the bottom are of the three year olds' rendition of my dog Solomon, on Post-it notes.

I have always wished that more people would adopt. I understand that people want their "own" kids - actually, scratch that, I don't understand at all. I don't get the biological child thing (and I know, I know, I'm the minority here). I think that kids are kids and if there are kids without homes, we should be taking care of them before having our own. I am not forcing that view on anyone, but it would be my ideal world.

Especially for Christians. When talking about Christian values, there is one message that is throughout the Old and New Testament - all over the place. Take care of the poor and the orphans. Help the fatherless. Do not oppress. Help the oppressed. Help the poor. Help those in prison. Look out for the orphans. A woman from Africa (I think Uganda but I may be wrong) spoke at my church last year and said that with Christians in the world, there is no excuse for orphanages. I think she's right. Forget fighting gay marriage, forget legislating "morals," forget what have traditionally been called "family values." I think it's pretty clear that God has caring for the kids who need caring for right up at the top of his list of family values.

Anyway, that is one reason I was excited about meeting these kids. It's hard to get people to adopt kids who are not newborns. If they can't have their own kids, they want newborns. After kids are walking and talking, they're probably not going to get a family, and that is absolutely not the way it should be. One of these days - preferably if I get married - I would really like to adopt kids who don't have a chance of having a family. Kids that are too messed up because they're already old enough to be bitter and hurt. Kids who everyone dismisses, saying it's too late for them. I wish more people were willing to take those kids.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back From Vacation

The blog will come back as soon as I recover from going to Louisiana, Colorado, and Seattle in three weeks. (When I scheduled the trips they did not seem so close together!)

So, if you'd like some entertainment until I get un-discombobulated, here are photos of the trips.

Louisiana and more Louisiana, Colorado, and Seattle.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Separation Forms

I have already filled out my separation forms and am now "divorced" from the district, I suppose. They paid me for some of my sick days - it's either 1/3 or 2/3 of what you'd get for a day's pay when you cash out sick days, I forget which (But I think it's 1/3 - that's why I tried so hard to use them up!) In their infinite wisdom, the payroll people sent the check to my old school, where I have not worked since June 2007. Luckily, a teacher called me to let me know it was there.

A friend of mine, who is just now separating from the district, went to the district office to ask about this. The person she spoke with told her that she doesn't get paid at all for the sick days she doesn't use. That they "stay with the district." (Are they an actual physical commodity that the district is trying to stockpile?) I guess he just didn't know the answer, so it was easier to make something up than find out for certain. Dumb.

Monday, June 30, 2008

School Trials and Tribulations

A little light reading for you from my district (or, Things I Have Been Meaning to Post About But I Went to Cajun Country Instead)

Budgets for various schools

Schools where black students are "thriving"

Closing schools with poor attendance

The Reading First Program might not be great

Exclusive "hill" schools

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I just got back from Louisiana - where I visited Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and parts of Louisiana with more Cajun influence.

You can see my pictures here and here. I ate great food and experienced extremely humid heat.

Most of the trip was really fun. Good food and fun places to visit. The part that really struck me though, was the short drive we took through the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the flooding was so bad after Hurricane Katrina.

I don't know enough to know who specifically was at fault for the slow response that caused so many people to lose their lives, homes, etc. However, I really do believe that there's no way that the federal government/state government/American people would have let this turn into such a disaster if it was primarily upper middle class or upper class white people being affected. Just like the violence and craziness that has happened at my school would never never be tolerated if the kids were primarily wealthier and white. In my own experience, I've seen things happen in the neighborhood near my school that seem to be universally accepted, because that's just what happens in black neighborhoods.

I really don't understand why we don't see all children as worth the same. I don't know why we don't see all people as being of equal worth, but can't we at least agree on children all being equally valuable, regardless of their socioeconomic status or color?

Here's the 9th Ward, three years later.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SRA Boasts of Accomplishments in District

There is a famous (or infamous) reading program that my district adopted about 7 years ago, that is supposed to be the best for "urban" (ghetto) kids. It has its good and bad sides, just like any reading program. It doesn't give you much room for creativity, which bothers many people, but sadly, some teachers abuse room for creativity and use it to not teach, so it's a tough call. And it's true that before this particular reading program came into the district, we used a strange mishmash of materials. However, the company used our district to make a commercial basically for them, and it's fairly interesting... leans toward the propaganda-ish side. Some of what they're saying is very true, some is true in very specific situations, and some I don't know how anyone could believe.

For example, the statement someone made that "Two years ago, we were the highest performing urban district in the country." What? Seriously? Highest performing in something, maybe (highest rate of turnover for teachers??) but definitely not in reading/language arts. If anyone has proof that I'm wrong, I'd love to see it, but as of now, I remain extremely skeptical.

The other thing that was amusing/sad was that many clips showed students writing on little dry erase boards for phonics and spelling. Yes, those are excellent tools for teaching. No, the district/reading program doesn't provide them. I can pretty much guarantee you that those were paid for by the teacher. Probably the markers too. That depends on the school.

Anyway, here's the video.

Oh, and here are my two workplaces so far this week: I'm in Lousiana!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No Child - The One-Woman Show

I'm not going to spend too much of my time in New Orleans writing on a blog, but I had to say a quick something about the one-woman show No Child that a friend and I went to last week.

The woman performing the show, Nilaja Sun, was (might still be for part of the year) a "teaching artist" teaching theater in a Bronx high school. I won't review it because it has already been reviewed eloquently in many places, including the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. If you have the chance to see it - anywhere - do so. It is the best portrayal of teaching in the inner-city that I have ever seen/heard/read.

A few similarities between third graders in the East Bay and tenth graders in the Bronx:
  • The curious phrasing of questions: "What time it is?" "What page it's on?"**
  • Kids kicking over chairs because they have no outlet for their feelings and their feelings are too overwhelming
  • Surprise expressed when a student mentions having a father
  • Teachers wanting to quit or quitting on a regular basis
  • Unreasonable expectations; I think in the show it was the kids having to pass 5 Regent's Exams in 3 days, at my school it was an 80% pass rate on the tests
  • Not enough time to teach things: in the show, a play was being prepared in 10 weeks, once a week, with some of the days taken over for various reasons. I was told one year that I needed to provide 3 hours of testing each day and "You'd better not cheat those children. I still expect you to provide 3 1/2 hours of language arts, 1 1/2 of math and 20 minutes of PE every day!!" In a 6 hour school day? Are you that unreasonable or just pretending?
  • Kids losing family members to violent deaths and other kids not even being surprised
  • The fact that no matter how ghetto the kids are, once you earn their trust, they'll do anything for you

Monday, June 02, 2008

What's Going On

I have been neglecting my blog for a while, not because - like the last 8 Junes in my life - I am super busy finishing the school year and cleaning up, but because I am actually making it as a freelancer! In fact, I'm getting so much work that I'm not sure how I'm going to fit in blogging, but I have some good stories to tell, so I hope to soon.

In the meantime, I'm writing, I'm editing, and I'm about to teach adults next week: a CBEST review class at CSU East Bay. Exciting but scary!

Some good stories coming up soon. With pictures.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bring on the Hot Weather!!

This is the neighborhood I used to work in. (note that this photo does not show the trash, prostitutes, police crime scenes, or drug dealers)

Last year when it got this hot, I would have trouble sleeping, knowing that the next day would be torturous in the greenhouse-inspired classroom with 20 sweaty little bodies and no fans or A/C... trying to get kids to care about math when they're too hot to move!

This year, I can go do my work in my favorite cafe's garden. Quietly. With no one coming in to tell me in front of the whole class that I'm doing everything wrong and that my job will probably be in jeopardy. (Fear seems to be a favorite motivational tactic in education). I can take a lunch that is longer than 20 minutes, I can listen to music, I can work while hanging out with my doggie...

I miss the kids, but seriously... it's hard to even think about deciding to go back when this is where I can work now... The cat is in the outside portion of the cafe and is a very nice cat.

However, I'd still like to be a part of the solution. I've got to figure out a way to be able to help withe the kids who need it without being sucked into the negativity and despair, and so far I have found no one who is able to do that for very long. Welcoming any suggestions.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Strange Ways to Prepare for Tests

Apparently one way to prepare for standardized tests is to racially segregate kids and hold rallies that way? I don't know about that...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Art Gallery

I'll be in Yosemite until Sunday, so I leave you with some beautiful pictures that a friend's class (I was subbing for her) drew for the gecko. Of the gecko and for the gecko. He gets fan mail. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Tip For New Parents

Don't ever name a child Angel. It rarely works out that said child is able to live up to the name. Most of the time, they seem to be rebelling against it.

Also not recommended: combination of mom and dad's name, names of universities* ("Stanford"), football teams ("Raiders," yes, in the plural), or any kind of fruit. Oh, and "Dung." If you live in the United States. I understand that it is a perfectly valid name in Vietnam and I may be culturally insensitive to say this, but don't put your child through that in an English-speaking country, please. Especially (hypothetically, of course!) if the child's last name is Phuck.

*Because it is especially sadly ironic when a child named after a prestigious university is in special education because he is mentally retarded. Actually mentally retarded; I am not using that as a pejorative term.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Sign From God

I'm sending in my resignation from my district! As I think I had explained earlier, I took a leave of absence to make sure that I wanted to quit. I do.

The sign from God, in case I had any doubts, was this:

I got a letter from the district saying that I am on a previously approved leave and I need to tell them if I am coming back or not because I can only be on leave for one year... blah blah blah.

This is the good part:

"Please complete the attached form(s) as appropriate to indicate your employment plans for the 2008-2009 school year. Should we not receive a written reply from you by April 24, 2008, we will interpret that to mean that you do not intend to return, and we will terminate your employment with the District."

The date on the letter? April 22. The postmark? April 23. They gave me exactly no time to say that I wanted to come back. Since my mail comes after the district office closes, for me to reply by the deadline requested, I would have had to go back at least an hour in time and drive the form over instead of mailing it. Good thing I wanted to quit!

It's almost funny if it weren't so dysfunctional and incompetent. And career-destroying for many people. But I guess now I can save myself a stamp and not send this in!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Good News!

I got a phone call this week - out of nowhere - from a former student. We'll call her "Shawna." She was my student during the 2000-2001 school year, which was my second year of teaching ever, and my first year of teaching third grade. She was smart but really angry (I think her mom was in jail, which goes a long way towards making kids have anger problems). She was also a total tomboy, playing mostly with the boys and dressing as non-feminine as possible. This makes perfect sense when you find out that she lived with her dad, older brother and younger brother.

Another interesting fact about Shawna is that her dad had her when he was 61 years old. Her mom, obviously, is younger, but her dad has a couple of dozen kids (I don't think I'm exaggerating; if I am, it's not by much) with various women. I think that Shawna and her two closest brothers might be the only kids he's actually raising, and raising by himself.

Last year, when I was still teaching, Shawna showed up in my classroom to say hi. I hadn't seen her in almost 7 years so it took me a while to recognize her. She told me that she had a 4.0 GPA and promised to bring me report cards. She brought me a copy of her report card - which was indeed straight A's - and some pictures of her, including one at prom.

Shawna got my phone number but apparently lost it until this week when she found it and decided to call me. She's still her same old self in terms of attitude - she is what we call "ghetto" - and strong opinions (which might be why I like her so much). When I asked her about various cousins I had known, she would say things like, "Oh, he dropped out of school; he told us he didn't, but he sure did." or "He look just like a crackhead now. I don't hang out with no crackheads." or "She crazy. I'm not wasting no time with crazy people who be jealous that I'm light-skinded and got good hair." (If you don't know what constitutes "good hair," you need to spend some time with people who aren't white.)

She also told me that her school counselor is pushing her to do "all these things I don't wanna do but I'm good at them so now I be glad." Gospel choir, various scholarship programs, some kind of guaranteed summer employment, driver's ed, and she's still on the honor roll! I told her to call me when she has performances or awards ceremonies and I hope she does.

She also said that her dad - now 76 years old - was in the hospital over Thanksgiving with complications from diabetes and they thought he was going to die. Her older brother lives with his 29 year old girlfriend (he's 17 - yeah, that's not legal), so it's Shawna (almost 16) and her brother who is either one or two years younger than her, I forget which. I can't imagine being that young and having to deal with a parent's serious illness by yourself. Her mom lives about 20 minutes away but doesn't seem to be too stable still.

I'm very excited for her - she says she's starting to think about which college she wants to go to already and promises to invite me to her high school graduation. She has NOT had it easy but she is a stubborn one and I'm sure glad she's chosen succeeding as what she's determined to do.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Craziness

First, here is a picture of Solomon's teeth so that you can all see how scary he could look if he wanted. Of course, that scariness might be negated by the fact that I can put my hands in his mouth and move his lips around and he isn't really bothered at all.


The neighbor's ex-boyfriend came back and the neighbor was hollering and really upset because he broke into her house again so I called the police and the landlord. The police - who told us on Sunday that he would be arrested if he stepped onto the property - came and said that since the boyfriend had also called the police, they were sure he was just fine and look! He wasn't even on the property.

Yeah, that's because he stepped OFF the property as soon as the cops came and was standing 6 inches off the sidewalk by our house. Before that, he had been on the front lawn screaming at my neighbor who didn't have the sense to just go back inside her house and quit arguing. She tried to talk to the police officers and they just kept telling her to go back inside.

I thought that maybe they were not wanting to talk to her because she was hysterical (or black, although I hate to be cynical) so I went and told the officers that I saw the whole thing and that he kicked the door in yesterday, and they told me that they'd "get to me." They spent about 30 minutes talking to the dude, who was calmly explaining to them a whole lot of lies about how he's always lived there, and he wasn't even on the property today, and he never broke in anywhere...

After this long, I was frustrated so I went and very politely talked to the other officer, telling him that the guy was on our property and that the landlord has a restraining order against him. He said he didn't need to talk to me because he could talk to to the officers who were here yesterday. He turned around and gave his business card to the restraining order dude, telling him to call if he needed anything!

So, I called the landlord who was nearby... and pissed. He came and talked to the officer who asked him if he was another tenant. The landlord said no, he was the owner. Well, then they talked to him but they still wouldn't arrest the guy who literally left laughing at having made a fool of my neighbor.

This is behavior I would expect of Oakland cops, to tell you the truth, not my nice little island city. They wouldn't talk to either woman. Or to my roommate (another woman) the day before. They were happy to listen to Mr. Crazy Breaks Down Doors But Can Sound Sane, and happy to listen to my landlord.

Oh, one interesting comment from one of the cops: "He said he lives here."

Landlord: "No, he's never lived here."

Cop: "No, he does live here, because that's what he's told his parole officer this whole time."

Landlord: [disbelieving look] No, he's never lived here.

Since when have the cops been on the same side as parolees with restraining orders against them?

So, we're just glad to have the attack pup right now, and are probably going to go get our own restraining order later in the week.

Here's the dog not looking so ferocious.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Solomon the Hero Dog

This is off-topic, but I just have to sing the praises of my dog right now. Some of you have met my dog, Solomon. He is very gentle, so much so that my friends' 16 month old can feed Solomon his entire dinner one piece of kibble at a time out of her little hand. She can also try to push his head into the water dish so that he won't be thirsty and he doesn't retaliate in any way. He has not fussed when toddlers have pulled his tail, stuck fingers up his nose, when I step on his feet (which are frequently in the way), or at any other time. But he knows who the bad people are.

I didn't get to witness his heroism, but my roommate, "T," was home when our upstairs neighbor tried to break up with her boyfriend. Apparently, boyfriend was not too pleased about this and yelled enough that our neighbors who run a rat dog day care called the police. The neighbor brought her 3 year old down to stay with T and eventually came down herself to hang out in our apartment because she needed to get away from crazy now ex-boyfriend.

So, dude decides to deal with this by TRYING TO BREAK DOWN HER DOOR. Big hole in her door. Then he must have figured out she was in our apartment, because he tried to kick in our door. Nice big dent in our door now. At this point, the old lady downstairs called the landlord and the police and now there's a restraining order against him.

But the whole time that he was trying to kick down doors, Solomon stood on guard. According to T, all his fur was standing straight up (and he has quite an impressive "mane"), he had his teeth bared, in attack position, growling, looking scarier than she had ever seen. I've had this dog for 8 1/2 years and I've never seen him look anything like this. If the guy had managed to get through the door, T is sure that he would have bitten him. She said he was crouched and looked like he would spring up and go for the throat. After dude left (which T thinks was at least in part due to the growling coming from our side of the door), Solomon spent the next hour guarding the door.

You'd never guess now that he was so ferocious; the landlord is thumping around fixing the door and the dog is trotting around smiling just as happy as could be. But it's a relief to know that there's some instinct in him that lets him know which thumping people are to be attacked and which are fine to just lick and greet with a wagging tail.

I miss all the excitement! I wish that someone had at least gotten a picture. I guess that wasn't their first priority.