Thursday, January 31, 2008

No Going Back

I don't think I can go back to teaching. At a ski retreat (I don't ski, but I had fun staying in the warm cabin), I was doing work on my laptop and enjoying myself. As I was about to leave, I realized I had forgotten my computer. I went back in, saying, "Almost forgot my computer," and a friend said, "If you forget it, you'll have to go back to teaching!"

That was enough to strike fear into my heart. Everyone else thought it was funny, but I didn't so much.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Possible Strike?

The Tribune reporter has a blog about what is going on in the district - another strike possible. You can read my comment under the name "Former Oakland Teacher."

Also, someone postulated that the reason that teachers in this district quit at the beginning of the year is so they can have no gap in their health insurance (comment #3). I was a little irritated. Sure, a few of them do stupid things like that, but first of all your health care goes through late August anyway, so quitting in late August gives you exactly the same amount of health care as you would have if you had quit in June. People should learn what they're talking about.

Second, (I'm comment #4 and 12 on the list) there are AMPLE reasons to quit at the beginning of the year. The district greatly misrepresents things. I'm not at all for quitting any time before the end of the school year, but then (as evidenced by the fact that I spent 8 years in this district) I might be more of a masochist than others when I'm thinking of the kids.

We really shouldn't ask why so many teachers quit. We should ask why all of them don't!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Changing Times: Cell Phones

When I was in college, I took a physiology class (1995 maybe? it's so long ago that I gt confused!) Actually, it wasn't that long ago - definitely not earlier than 1995 - but no one I knew had cell phones. The first person I knew who got a cell phone was my friend who moved away from the immediate area when he graduated and got this horrible analog phone... but it was better than what anyone else had, which was nothing.

Anyway, I was in this physiology class, and someone's cell phone ring. It was the first time I had ever heard a cell phone ring during class and the professor just pointed toward the door and said, "OUT!" It was a 500+ person class and everyone watched as the disgraced student left.

Not even 15 years ago.

Last week, as I was subbing in kindergarten, two out of the 15 kids had cell phones. Two kids might not seem like many, but remember, these kids are 5 years old. They don't all know how to write their names yet. They don't know all the numbers to 10 or all the letters of the alphabet. But two of them have cell phones. Incidentally, the way I found out is that the cell phones kept falling out of their pockets. It turns out that kindergarten pockets are too small to fit cell phones.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jesus and Politics

In college, someone asked me - with much sincerity - how I could be a Christian and vote against Proposition 187. For those of you who may not have been in California or paying attention at the time, Prop 187 was an initiative that was meant to deny social services, health care, and public education to illegal immigrants. Health care workers and teachers were also supposed to report suspected illegal immigrants, I believe. The proposition passed, but was later overturned by a federal court.

Aside from the disturbing consequences that might come from having the illegal portion of our population denied vaccinations and education (anyone really think that's going to help us out as a state? Whether or not you agree with undocumented workers being here, I would think we'd all want to make sure their children didn't get polio, even if it's only for the selfish reason that we don't want another polio epidemic!), I was confused about the assumption that Jesus would obviously want me to vote for Prop 187. Really? Because, if you actually read the Bible, you'll start to notice that Jesus spends an awful lot of time with people that others thought of as not being worthwhile or not being in the right place. The oppressed and downtrodden, even. I have a funny feeling that he might have been on the side of the illegal immigrants.

Now, I'm also not saying that you have to be a Democrat to be a Christian. In fact, I think that reducing God to the level of politics is shameful. God transcends politics. Jesus would not be a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Peace & Freedom Party (although they have a great name!) I think that when we try to sum up Christianity in terms of political platforms that we are limiting God and trying to make him small enough for our minds.

I've been a Christian for a long time, and I'm pretty sure that in order to be a Christian, you have to "Confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead" and you will be saved. (Romans 10:9). Not vote against illegal immigrants. Not be a registered member of the Republican party or the Christian Coalition. Not stand for "family values" (and who decides which things are values, anyway? Jesus seemed to think that standing up for the oppressed, feeding the poor, and visiting prisoners were more important than many of the so-called family values. Look at Matthew 25: 34-45.

The ridiculousness continues. Apparently Republican voters in some of the primaries are asked in exit polls about their religious convictions. Democratic voters are asked about their union ties. Because obviously, an evangelical Christian couldn't be a Democrat. And Jesus cares more about banning gay marriage than social justice. Right. Not likely.

Now there's talk about Mike Huckabee wanting to amend the Constitution to "God's Standards." First of all, what exactly does that mean? Is it going to be constitutionally mandated that we all sell our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor? Or that we love our enemies... including Islamofascists?

How do Christian morals and values affect foreign policy? It's not as clear cut as many Christians in politics make it out to be. For example, would Jesus perform pre-emptive bombings on countries that might be developing dangerous nuclear weapons? Probably not. He seems to let people make their own choices, even if those choices result in people dying. I'm not sure what I would want my national leader to do, but if you're looking to what Jesus would do... it's not always in line with what Christians would want!

Second, being a Christian is about the state of your heart. Theocracies turn out to be... well, not that good for everyone! I believe that mandating Christianity - or even Christian values - is not what God wants. If it was, he would have created us without free will. What makes Christianity truly remarkable is that we have the choice to follow God or spit in his face. He loves us either way and rejoices when we come back to him, but he never takes that choice away.

Many Christians lament the lack of prayer in school. I happen to take a different view, and I don't think that makes me a "worse" Christian. If I, as a Christian, can lead prayers in school, -then we also have to let Muslim teachers, Jewish teachers, Pagan teachers, and Scientologist teachers lead prayers in school. (Something that Christians leading the prayer in school charge tend to forget). Otherwise we very much risk becoming more like Iran than I am comfortable with.

Also, kids can pray in school. After the September 11 attacks, one of my third graders asked me if we could pray. I said that I couldn't pray for them but that I could give them a few minutes of silence and that they could pray inside their heads or just be quiet if they wanted. Turns out that, as usual, the kids are wiser than the adults. One of them informed us that "Duh, you can pray any time you want because God hears what is inside your head. Even in the shower." A Vietnamese girl, who was raised Buddhist, asked her Christian friend if Jesus loved her (the Buddhist girl) too and the friend said yes, he loves her very much and would she like to come to church with her. Both much more powerful than if I had been the one to answer... and totally legal because it was kids sharing their opinions, and not even during instructional time!

Another one said that he was going to pray for the terrorists. He said that the terrorists hated people and that means we needed to pray for them.

And to think I would have missed all this if I had led the prayer.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lou Dobbs

I have a lot of other things to write about soon, when I get over this cold and feel better, but right now I want to point out something I think is kind of funny.

If you have read my blog, you probably know my feelings about Lou Dobbs. Lou Dobbs is a CNN anchor and also has his own show. The thing that he may be best known for is his stance on immigration - anti-amnesty, pro-border fences and the Minuteman Project, outspoken about any flag being flown in the US other than the American flag, even at cultural events and demonstration (all of a sudden, I really want to go get me a Mexican flag and fly it!), and thinks that immigrants should assimilate, describing illegal immigration as an "invasion." (I personally think that he puts the "ass" in "assimilate.")

Anyway, guess whose billboards are all over East Oakland right now - especially in the Latino parts (where there are many many illegal immigrants - and I'm not saying that because they speak Spanish and I'm assuming they're illegal, but because I happen to know for a fact that many of the families around there are illegal)? That's right, Lou Dobbs Tonight billboards all over the place, where normally there are Spanish billboards for clinics or telenovelas. Now it's Lou Dobbs. Man, did some marketer get the wrong demographic, or what?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Notes From Subbing in Kindergarten

Kindergarteners are very small. Very, very, very small.


More later - the small ones wore me out.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Moral Dilemma

A friend of mine was waiting for an appointment in the office of our church, with a lot of other people. She didn't know any of them - it's a big church - but a father caught her attention because he was berating his child. I wasn't there, but it sounded like his little son dropped or knocked over a piece of paper that was directing people and my friend went to help him pick it up. The dad starting in telling the kid that people were counting on him, he had ruined this, look how stupid he is, etc. Then the mom came in from the other room and the dad started telling her how stupid their son is, look what he did, he ruined this, he's so stupid. For dropping a piece of paper.

So, my question is: what does an observer do? I don't know what I would do in that situation but I'm not sure I'd keep my mouth shut. I don't know if it would help to say anything, but - especially if it was a member of my own church community - I would feel some kind of responsibility. But then, what is appropriate - or helpful - to do in that situation?

I'd love to hear from anyone with ideas. I've been in similar situations and have never known what to do. If the dad was beating his child with a belt in public, many of us would step in. I happen to think that yelling at a kid and telling him he's stupid, worthless, etc. has effects that are just as lasting. What would you do?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Horace Mann (Mystery Solved!)

OK, probably nobody else cares who Horace Mann is, but I finally found out! Read the article, he's halfway down it, but it's really not that exciting.

The exciting thing is that I've wondered for the last 8 years who Horace Mann is. This is because there is a school in my district called Horace Mann School. It's interesting that you can tell which schools are old and which ones are the "new small schools" because the old schools have names of people that are dead. Some are obvious: Martin Luther King, Jr. School, Lincoln School, etc. Others, like Horace Mann and John Swett, not so obvious. I student taught, in a different city, at Fern Bacon School and I always felt bad for anyone named Fern Bacon.

The new schools are all called very inspiring names like Think College Now and Futures (sounds like an item on the stock market - its sister school could be Commodities). Or else they have really long names with acronyms.

Anyway, the reason I remember Horace Mann School is because the kids always called it "Horseman." "She's leaving our school and going to Horseman School." I think they all thought that was the real name.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Nutcracker! (or: Men in Tights)

Happy New Year! If you can't read his headgear, the dog is also wishing you a happy New Year.

I chaperoned a field trip right before Christmas - we took the kids to the Nutcracker. I was thrilled to not be the person actually in charge, so it was a fun day for me! Trips are much more fun when I'm not the one in charge of figuring out how we're going to get there, pay for it, not kill each other, and get home with everyone still in the group.

The principal started off by being his charming self. Mrs. Dwyer set up the field trip and got people to donate the tickets as well as their time - she actually got enough drivers to take the whole class downtown. The teacher was very organized about getting everyone into the correct cars and keeping track of everyone. Mine was the second to last car to leave. As we were getting into my car, I saw the principal come over and talk to the teacher. Apparently he told her that he hadn't approved the field trip. Good timing, dude. Three fourths of the class is GONE and now he says he hasn't approved the field trip?

Except he was lying. The teacher had filled out the field trip request and the permission slip and clearly written that the kids would be transported by private cars. The principal had signed it - his signature was on each and every permission slip. He might want to start reading what he signs because apparently his problem was the traveling by car part, which he had approved.

The principal said that the kids couldn't go by car (it seemed to have escaped his notice that most of them were already gone). Not only could they not go by car, but in the history of the whole school, there has never been a field trip to which kids traveled by car.

This leads me to a few observations:
  1. The school is over 100 years old. Probably there has been a field trip that used car at some point. He does not, in fact, know about every field trip that has happened over the last 102 years.
  2. The only reason that most of the field trips are not by car is because the parents don't have cars - they're poor. It sounds horribly stereotypical, but many, perhaps most, of the families don't own cars and some that do are not licensed because they are not legally in the country. In the schools located in the nice parts of the city (the "hill schools"), almost all the field trips are by car. It is legal, sanctioned by the district, and encouraged. The only reason to not let our kids travel by car when we have found drivers is to continue to hold them back from the opportunities that the richer kids have. Not something the leader of the school should be doing.
  3. Who in their right mind tries to stop a field trip after most of the kids have already left? That's just dumb.
I think that he is aware that he is not dong a great job as principal and somehow trying to deal with that by seizing every bit of power that he can get his hands on. Just my theory.

Anyway, the ballet.

I must admit that I was a little worried about taking a bunch of inner-city kids to the ballet. I know these kids and I was afraid that it would take a lot more action and possibly violence to keep them interested. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Although there was some snickering when the first men in tights appeared on the stage (and honestly, who can blame them? The guys don't have pants on. Just tights. We're not even used to girls just wearing tights with nothing else.) , it turned to oohs and ahhs when the Christmas tree began growing, when the snow started falling, and when the scenery changed. The kids loved the costumes (minus the men's tights) and were very impressed with quick costume changes and scenery changes. The boy next to me kept saying, "How do they change the wallpaper so fast?" every time there was a scenery change.

I think it was just a little long for them but they seemed to really like it and did really really well with their normally very short attention spans. It was really awesome to see that it was magical for them - and the boys were impressed with how strong the men are! ("Did you see them lift those ladies?!" It almost made up for the tights.) Also, all the kids with us behaved well in the theater. Some other kids were talking and kicking chairs and our kids complained about them.

The one thing I definitely learned on this field trip (this isn't very profound; don't get excited) is that when there is a matinee on a school day of a show that is geared toward kids... everyone in the entire audience has to go to the bathroom during intermission. Seriously. It was amazing. I have never seen so many children in one bathroom. I think the intermission lasted extra long to accommodate all the small bladders.

The other really fun part was that the show was at the Paramount Theatre, an Art Deco theater from the early 1930s. So, if kids got bored, all you had to do was say, "Hey, look up! Look at the ceiling!" They had never been in a building that was anything like the Paramount.

A good field trip!