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Showing posts from 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 80…

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.

However.

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 …

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 g…

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 &qu…

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 ex…

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 w…

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.

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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.

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Third, shameless self-promotion. I sold a rat scarf on etsy.com 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…

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.

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 produc…

Black Names

There is an interesting article in Salon.com 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. Pr…

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.

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…

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 p…

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.

Louisiana

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…

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 …

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 overwhelmingSurprise expressed when a student mentions having a fatherTeach…

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.

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…

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.

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 wouldhave had to go back at…

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, S…

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.


Anyway.

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 o…

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 becaus…

Two Exciting Things

First of all, Stephanie is in Europe at this very moment! She is probably the only kid on the trip whose daddy couldn't just write a $4500 check for the trips, judging by the surprised response I got from the agency when I asked about fundraising possibilities. But I don't think she will care. Her dad deserves some serious credit for working double and triple shifts to get her there, and my friends who donated money are pretty awesome too. I'm excited to hear how it has gone.

Secondly, Oakland's middle schoolers created a poetry anthology that has been made into a real book and is for sale at the Barnes and Noble in Oakland on Saturday, April 12. I think it will be a very interesting read.