Saturday, September 30, 2006

More Kids Anyone?

Crazy week.

I am doing really well on my bi-monthly blog (okay I suck), and as a result of my pure un-filtered suckitude, I have to back-track to make this story make any sense.

**Back track**
It was a dark and stormy night.
I lied. It was a normal Houston morning. I came to school. I worked on stuff. I closed the Gap. Then I had my department meeting. Department meetings are a monthly event where all the math teachers get together and say "Man, this is going well, but *this* sucks balls." We complain about stuff. We also discuss a couple important things. Whatever. So near the end of the meeting, the department head says, "Well, I think that about covers it. Remember to focus on your bubble kids, and if you are doing tutoring that starts this week. Oh and I need to speak with Ms Agim and Mr Blair after the meeting."

I don't know about you, but when the 'boss' needs to speak with you, 2 out of 3 times (that's a ratio!) it's not good.

Sure enough, the conversation goes like this:
Department Head: "The state of Texas is doing away with SDAA (that's the Texas special ed standardized test). As a result, all schools have to phase out self-contained classrooms because all students will be taking TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). They are all getting moved to inclusion, and since these students are low in math, they are going to be joining your double block classrooms (90 minutes, every day)."
Me: Panic.
Agim: Says something intelligent.
Me: Panic.
DH: Answers Agim.
DH: "Again, the state does not require this until next year, but since our administration likes to be at the front of these changes, we are phasing them out now."
Me: Panic. A couple rational thoughts start taking shape.
DH: "Jacob, you will be getting at 13 new 6th graders and 19 new 7th graders. I know this will put you over the class maximum of 20 students, so you should think about any students that are close enough to proficient that they can be in a normal block math class."
Me: There aren't any students....well maybe one or two. But this would help them *so* much to be in double block. Crap. 32 new students?! "So when is this happening? And oh yea, I just got some new students from Mr. Jow. What is happening with that?"

**End Back Track**

So that was a couple of weeks ago. I kept expecting the new students to show up every day, they never did, so then I kinda forgot they were going to be moving.

Well, they showed up on Thursday. 1st period I had 8 new 6th graders (the rest went to Mr. Jow. I kept the students he sent me). My grand total is now 21. I think I handled it pretty well. I sweated a lot at the beginning though.

3rd period I received 5 new 7th graders. Only 5.

4th period did not change.

The only other change, aside from my classes having 13 new students, is that I am now co-teaching with SpEd certified instructors.

I guess I am still reeling from the changes that rolled through on Thursday. All I really have to say is Cheers to the administration for being on the forefront of the trends. Bleh to you.

Here's a pic of my classroom.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I joined Teach for America because I needed a purpose for my life. I think that I became discontent very early in my academic career because it felt like such a long wait before I could *do* something, something that mattered. Maybe wanting to 'make your mark' is a normal urge in a 20-something college student or grad, but my discontent grew out of the spiritual direction I had accepted for my life as well.

Genesis tells of a beautiful oneness between man and God. Man would toil in the maintence of garden, good work given to him by God, and God would walk with man. I imagine that God would listen not-unlike a parent who listens with a smile as a very young child tells of some new exploit. The parent already knows what the experience is like, everything about it in fact, but to see the joy and discovery in the eyes and face and words of the child brings some of that same emotion to the parent.

And even after the fall, purpose was something that was intimately tied to all of the patriarchs, the Biblical traditions, a man's interaction with God, and life in general. So it naturally seemed that a Purpose was a thing, or maybe *the* thing, that I needed to make my life a success.

I sought Purpose through engineering, sport, academics, volunteering, friends...and it all was very fleeting. The corporate engineering environment is full of inefficiency and waste. Sport is merely a context for the pursuit of fame or vanity or just the joy of movement, but none of these are sustainable. Academics is purely theoretical, and very rarely has an idea changed the world. No, it was always the application of the ideas that changed the course of human history. Volunteering and friends were very good things, good purposes, but they could not be a Purpose for me. Isaiah says to "Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils, of what account is he."

So Teach For America brought to me a Purpose, when even a purpose was lacking. And it has sustained me. I have never worked as hard or long as during summer institute. Defying my body to fail, my mind to lag and my eyes to droop, I worked to exhaustion, with a smile and joy on my face.

This has continued in my placement, Alief Middle School. Well, the will to work, the desire to succeed, the satisfaction in a effort spent and job well done. It is truly a Purpose.

But the discontentedness remains.

On Friday I went out to eat with some friends. I had a great time. We ate. We laughed. I was witty ;^) And I came home, exhausted. Yet I sat up. Instead of the rest of the laborer, I had...nothing.

I don't know if the fact of my brokenness, or in other words, the fact that sin is here, real and that my relationship with God is not a physical thing of God walking at my side, is the reason for my discontent. Will there ever just be a peace about me?

I don't know.

In the mean time:
"Fan into flames the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."
May I fan into flames the gifts given to me by God. May they be used for the improvement of this earth. And may your use of your gifts, give me boldness in the use of mine.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I got sick on Friday.

Full onset did not occur until Saturday. I basically laid around and drank a lot of water or gatorade all day. Whenever I stood up, my head exploded.

No literally. It's true. Look it up.

Of course whatever I had is basically gone already. So I have nothing to complain about. Mr. Driver has already had cholera like 3 times or something. But then again he is in Morocco.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I see teaching everywhere

Since I started training with Teach For America in June, my life has slowly (okay, instantly is more appropriate) changed into being centered on teaching.

I see teaching everywhere. I read facebook and see my friends talking about jobs as teachers. Or talking about crappy teachers (professors) that they have.

I listen to NPR and hear about a huge scandal in the Newark , NJ public schools.

I come home on Friday and while channel-surfing, discover a 20/20 story about the deplorable state of the American school machine, entitled "Supid in America".

And of course let us not forget the fact that I work as a teacher in a TEXAS public school, one of the first states to implement High Stakes Testing (let us not forget that the illustrious President Bush was once governor of this fair state).

In fact, I am an intervention teacher, which means I am teaching the kids who are directly affected by No Child Left Behind and are at risk for being held back not because of grades but because of 'high stakes testing'.

I find this immersion curious. When I worked at Honeywell or Boeing, my life did not suddenly turn into Engineering Fest. To be clear, I do not mind, in the least, the totality of my current life being consumed with education. I choose this place, this time, and am grateful for the opportunity.

I do wonder however, if TFA'ers have a view of the world that is in stark contrast to the rest of the education system. While watching Stupid in America, I definitely felt sick to my stomach as the NY teachers vehemently defended their rights to suck at their jobs and not get fired.

Maybe job security is more important when your old.

Maybe after teaching for years, you get disillusioned and want to go out to pasture at your own volition.

Or maybe they just suck, and couldn't find a job that requires next to nothing from them and won't fire them for misdeeds.

I am not sure. What I am sure of, and I want to make this a proposal to all my education conscious friends, is that I think this country needs to embrace the capitalist ideals that have helped make it great, and allow vouchers for every students education. My proposal is that we all move to a small state like Rhode Island or Delaware and get vouchers passed as a state-wide initiative to give benchmark data to the rest of the country.

Competition is good. It is the basic driving force for innovation. We can deal with lots more of that in education.

But I better stop thinking so hard. It *is* Labor Day after all. Plus I don't want to pull anything.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day Weekend

Good afternoon to you all, on this lovely Labor Day weekend. I, for one, am extremely thankful for the labors of my fellow human beings and perhaps equally thankful for the Federal Government in deciding we should have a national holiday in honor of the fact.

So far I have spent my weekend cooking (I made salsa and pizza this weekend, and both turned out splendidly), sleeping, eating, laying, and just a little bit of working (I still have school work to do, as it never ends).

Today I have even had the time available to catch up on my reading. I read a couple of blogs fairly regularly, and while reading through Contrary Brin, I discovered this very interesting idea. Basically, the guy proposes to use the border fence that people are yammering about as a long solar collector. This is the exact sort of thing that America has been sucking at, and needs more of. Great ideas that combine utility and creativeness while saving the world. Furthermore, when people keep thinking hard, we get awesome vacations like Labor Day. Keep it up.

I took some pictures of my apartment and thought someone might enjoy seeing what the Blair Abode looks like.
Here is my bed, still placed firmly on the ground. This is helpful for all those times you want to:
A) have a wrestling match on your bed
B) have a dream about falling and then fall out of bed
C) are too lazy to climb into bed
D) not buy a bed frame because you don't have any money and they don't make frames big enough for you 6'10" mattress anyway
Also notice the awesome and colorful rug that lies next to my bed. My grandma made it. She's the best.
It was quite an imposing prospect to buy the oh-so-extensive furniture now arrayed in my domicile, but I am quite pleased with it. The bookcase has room for all the books I brought with me, my DVDs and the other odds and ends that need to go somewhere. I also like my desk because I never bang my knees on it. Of course, the average person couldn't even reach the keyboard but whatever.

Finally, teaching is still sweet. I think the key is probably *gasp* preparation and *double gasp* being well-rested. Whoever said patience is a virtue was right, but in teaching patience isn't a virtue it's a freaking necessity. And being well-rested definitely supports the patience plan.

That's about it for now. Go. Eat. Drink. Be merry. But whatever you do, don't Labor, because it's Labor Day weekend.