Monday, December 31, 2007

Post #55

There was this game, you know, advertised on TV when I was a kid, with all of these sticks and marbles and you tried not to have the marbles fall. My brother tells me that the game was called Kerplunk. I'm currently too lazy to confirm this. The point however, is that my Christmas break is best represented by the game Kerplunk. Well, maybe a backwards Kerplunk.

In this analogy, my sanity, my life, is represented by marbles. Novel, right? Well, in normal standing, there are like, I don't know, 20 little sticks holding up all the marbles, and depending on the day, sticks are being removed, sticks are being added, whatever. Well, this Christmas break has brought an influx of fully operational sticks. Sticks have come in and buttressed the crap outta everything that's already there.

It's like all of these different pieces are coming together and either supporting existing structures that were weak (propping up a sagging cross-beam) or completely replacing/removing structures that were decaying (replacing a cross-beam, removing that wing of a house).

Hmm. I guess you know that an analogy doesn't work if you need another analogy to explain it, but whatever. So I don't think I am making any sense. But I want post 55. Again, I the point is that pieces just keep coming together.

Or maybe they are falling apart. Yesterday I tried to take my parents to a movie. We drove to the wrong theater. The movie only shows on one screen, in one theater, at one time each day. We missed it. I read the internet incorrectly.

Today I missed my flight. Well, I was in time to catch my connection; if I had been in Memphis, TN. I wasn't. So yea, I missed it. Because I couldn't read the internet correctly. But, I seized the opportunity and went to see the movie I missed yesterday. Bella is powerful. I recommend it.

I don't know what that's about, but I still feel like things are coming together. Happy New Year. Happy 2008. Happy post #55.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

N. Y. C.

"We're not scaremongering / This is really happening / Happening / We're not scaremongering / This is really happening / Happening / Mobiles skwerking / Mobiles chirping / Take the money and run / Take the money and run / Take the money / Here I'm allowed / Everything all of the time / Here I'm allowed / Everything all of the time"
- Idiotheque from Kid A by Radiohead.

Radiohead plays. Shouts. It is the soundtrack of my exploration and discovery. The subway plunges into and through portals of clinical light back into darkness. This is my soundtrack for the exploration and discovery of New York City.

I flew up to NYC on a Thursday. My sub plans were in order, complete with contact information in case of emergency, referrals for the bad students, and an excess of work for all of my wonderful kiddos. It is harder to get into trouble when you are drowning in worksheets. Of course, sometimes you get into trouble because you are drowning in worksheets. So with sub plans in order, I left school at 3 pm to make it to the airport for my 5:30 flight to Newark International (EWR). I normally get out of school at 4:15, but since I had this flight I skipped my planning period, conveniently located during last period.

I made it to Bush in plenty of time to wait for 2 hours of flight delays. There was freezing rain in New Jersey. Planes couldn't land.

We eventually took off. I arrived at 12. I waited for the train. It came at 1.

The train from EWR is nondescript. There is nothing notable about it. It has seats. It has windows. In fact, the trip into NYC would lead one to believe, if one did not know better, that the train merely passed through some minor industrial and residential areas before continuing into some unknown countryside. This is managed by way of tunnels; it is very hard to tell that you are entering the most populous city in the US if you are underground. Underground there are no signs of millions of inhabitants. There are just walls. And lights. And the rushing wind as the train plows through then artificial (and in my case, actual) night.

No, the first signs of New York come after I disembark at Penn Station. I step out of the train, drag rolling luggage after me, and climb 2 flights of stairs. I see ticket booths. Changing boards of arrival and departure times. Some people. I climb another flight of stairs. To 8th Ave and 31st St. The city punches me in the face.

Buildings tear into the sky, tear at the sky. At 1:15 am Friday morning, the cacophony of taxis, people, assaults me. The city is alive, it is a living, breathing, moving thing, which demands action, and will continue to do so until I depart. But first I must sleep.

See, I am in New York City because Teach For America has its national office there. I need to be at TFA's national office so that I can interview to be a program director in Denver. Or Memphis. Every winter and early spring, for the past I don't know how long, TFA site managers converge on NYC so they can screen candidates for PD and RD jobs, jobs which basically amount to managing corps members (that's a PD) or recruiting college seniors (that's an RD). I am here because I might want to be a Program Director. I think I would be good at it. Turns out, either TFA doesn't think so, or the openings did not line up with my abilities. Cuz I didn't get an offer.

Interviews were Friday. They were fun. I thought I conducted myself well, giving a fair showing of my abilities and my faults. I do not like to mislead.

After the interviews, I called my buddy Ajay who lives in Manhattan. Hey Man, what should I do? Maybe go to the museums. Go here, catch this train, get off, take this shuttle, take this other train, get off, turn around, walk, click your heels.

The instructions continue. I botch em. I ride the subway, listening to Radiohead. Radiohead is my anthem for NYC. Its sounds perfectly fit the forced proximity, the spiritual, emotional, psychological detachment. You have to cope somehow when you ride the subway, packed into a car with no room to move, to sit, to breathe. Radiohead anthems.

I walk through Central Park. Miles to and fro. It's cold. There's snow. I see rock shear out of the ground. I think about climbing it. I walk to the Guggenheim. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the museum. It has a 4 floor spiral staircase. With a 50 foot diameter. Approximately. I didn't measure it or anything. I look at Richard Prince's art work. There are lots of prints of trashy romance novels. With nurses. There are some pictures of cowboys. I'd like to be a cowboy. Someday. There are silk screens of Found Jokes. They are all dirty. I laugh at some.

After leaving, I retrace my steps. I pick up my bag at the hotel. I walk across Manhattan pulling my suitcase. To Ajay's. We go out. We are looking for the Art Bar. Apparently it's close, but we walk for 30 minutes with no luck. We find the Village Vanguard. The greats played here; Coltrane, Dizzy, Davis, Marsalis. I stumble across it while looking for the Art Bar.

We decide we are lost. We get ready to call a cab. We see the Art bar. I'm starving. It's 10. I haven't eaten since noon. I meet his friends. I destroy my hamburger. We leave and go to some other bar. There is a birthday party for some friend of Ajay's. Some other people show up. We walk across the street to some German bar. They sell Liter Beers. Liter Beers are consumed.

We leave. We go back across the street to the birthday party. Dancing is happening. It's crowded. I dance around. No one is paying attention. I can't hear anyone. We pack up and head to the Beauty Bar. In a cab.

At the Beauty Bar, they are playing 50s music. Some early 60s. It's bop. It's On the Road. It's perfect. I dance. We dance. There are little chairs around the room, where ladies used to get their hair done. Those ones with the space helmet looking things on em. That go over your head. Over your curls. I dance some more. Some ladies prowl on me. I laugh. I dance. I ignore them.

We leave at 3:30. Ajay and I cab it to his place. I pass out in minutes.

Saturday comes, and passes at a steady but lethargic pace. We wake after noon, and make plans to eat brunch, even though I thought brunch was between breakfast and lunch, not after lunch, but maybe it is all about your intentions, and we definitely intend to eat brunch. We talk. Ajay and I. Dreams, jobs, traveling. Where could we go? Where couldn't we go? What could we do? Would they pay us to do that?

I pack my stuff, even though it is pretty much packed, and take a cab to Penn Station. I leave the city in the same nondescript way I entered. The city backs out of view through the windows of Penn Station as I descend the steps to the main concourse. A guy gives me his train ticket. He had purchased the wrong one. Thanks man. You don't have to pay me or nothing, I just don't want it to go to waste. Oh, um, okay.

"Everyone / Everyone around here / Everyone is so near / It's holding on / It's holding on / Everyone / Everyone is so near / Everyone has got the fear / It's holding on / It's holding on."
- National Anthem from Kid A by Radiohead.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Laziness Aroma

I love tracking.

There I said it. Sometimes people look at me slightly askance when I talk about my myriad tracking systems, which range from the huge wall chart that takes up the entire south wall of my class, to individual student tracking for objectives, Critical Thinking Problems, and Mad Minutes, my own tracking of objectives and CTAs, and most recently, surveys.

Tracking is so great! I mean, I can open up my 12 mb Excel file and tell you exactly who did not understand how to solve percent problems when the problem was arranged such that we were finding the "whole" as opposed to the "part" or the "percent". I get pretty geeked about it. And actually, the "slightly askance" is more like the look at me like I need to be committed.

But this is not a post about tracking. This is a post about the survey.

I give a survey out at least once a marking period (9 weeks) because I want to give my kids a forum for voicing any needs that I am not meeting, and I also want to measure some more vague, non-academic things. I want to know if my kids think math is more or less important after 15 weeks in my tutelage. I want to know if they can tell that I care about their success. I want to know if they are willing to take risks. I want to know if they think they are working hard.

With the data in, I can tell you conclusively that students like my class a great deal more than they did at the end of the first marking period. There was an increase from 57% approval rating to a brisk 66%. On the downside, the "How much do I care about your success?" question dropped from 79% to 76%. And actually, all the rest of the categories saw a decline or no-change. So there was only the one bright-spot.

Well, almost.

One of my students in third period wrote that "What she likes most about this class" was "the laziness aroma."

Now I don't know what this is, but I am fairly confident that this student is not on drugs. That is the first consideration. Since no other students mentioned this aroma, I am guessing that she might have an over-active olfactory sense. Or not.

Any ideas?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I'm just not doing work today

"What are you doing Susan?" I asked.
"Nothing Mister."
"What are we supposed to be doing right now?" I always try and draw the correct behavior out of my students like this. I wonder if they get sick of it.
"Oh I know we are supposed to be doing this Problem, and then working on this quiz. But I'm not doing work today."
At this point any sane person would pause, and continue very carefully. This student is very sure of herself. And she is alternating between sucking in her belly and pinching her belly fat and pushing it out and rubbing it.
I choose the safe route. "Really? Well, why not?"
"Look Mister. I'm fat. I look pregnant."
Again, any sane person would pause. I tread on shaky ground.
"Nope, you don't. That's just your belly. But we are talking about the Problem. We have to choose one of the stores. You did a really good job on this on Wednesday and Thursday. Let's do it once more and then you get to go home for the weekend."
"No Mister, I'm not doing any work today. I'm tired."

Her resolution was apparent. The blank stare, the eye contact, the lazy way she played with her belly fat (she is an extremely petite 13 year old) all confirmed that she was not going to be doing anything, whether through bribes or threats or prosecution or act of God.

And being that it was Friday afternoon, my last class of the day, I decided that I didn't care. She *had* worked really hard all week. She answered all my questions all week long. She knew the material as well as anyone in the class. So I didn't push.

I feel like Susan right now. Not so much with the playing with the belly fat, although I do a little of that, but with the "I'm not doing any work today. I'm tired."

I came back from Thanksgiving with energy and a renewed compassion (and patience) for my kids, but that lasted a whopping 3 days. I have only had 2 days so far this year that began with the thought "I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to go to work. I don't want to deal with my kids today." Two days of that nature is far fewer than whatever number I had at the same time last year, so that is good. But I can't exactly say I have been excited on the other days, you know? There are some days, when I am excited, but normally, I am just on auto-pilot.

I wonder if that is normal. I wonder if this feeling is telling me that I ought to do something else. And really, I don't know. What I do know is that right now I am tired, and I don't want to do any work. So I'm not gonna. I'm gonna play with my belly fat.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Food Poisoning

Really, I feel guilty for not posting on here. 2 posts in October. That is just weak sauce. And I just read this sweet post by my buddy whose getting his MBA. It was witty and well written and had psychic weight (in the words of my creative writing professor). I was put to shame. This post enters to salve my wounds.

There are a few simple rules to live by if you want to avoid food poisoning. First, avoid all-you-can eat-oriental-buffets. This rule actually extends to sketchy restaurants in general, but General Tso and his chicken have been responsible for such numerous bouts of FP that I think it actually has become a verb, as in "I got General Tso'd this weekend." Thus, the rule lends itself more in the oriental direction.

Once you are avoiding the sketchtastic restaurants, the next line of defense involves your drinking water. Everyone knows not to drink the water in most South American countries, Mexico etc etc. But few give much pause to the water around them here in the US. There is nothing quite so sweet as an iced glass of fertilizer water pumped out of your neighborhood well. Fertilizer is great; it makes fruits and vegetables grow quickly and to a great size, and it also will leave you heaving your lungs out for three days. Just ask my brother.

With the water under control, now comes the the third, and truly revolutionary rule for avoiding FP. Throw away your old-ass-food. Yep. That's it. An example will probably help:
"Oh look, here's some yogurt. I want some yogurt. Hmmm. It says Expired 6 days ago (yea, yogurt containers say that. shut up)"
What should our test dummy do? That's right! Throw it away!

Now, the difficulty lies in the foods that don't have expiration dates. What about leftovers? What about other crazy things? I suggest playing it safe.

Let's look at another example.
"Hmm. I want some eggs with my bagel. How long have these been in here? I don't know. At least a month. Oh well, I don't think eggs go bad. I'll eat them."

So what did this person do wrong? Yep. They made the poor assumption that "I don't think eggs go bad." That's just plain stupid. The result of that kind of stupidity? Let me tell you. You end up feeling kinda funny around 12:30, but think "Maybe I'm just hungry" and eat a peanut butter sandwich. You feel a little better. You still feel bad, but you go for a bike ride anyway. For 2 hours. When you get back, you feel horrible and lay on the floor. But then you remember you have a date that you *can not* miss, so you shower and feel a little better. Maybe you're just hungry you think hopefully. You will go to Central Market on your date, and feel light headed the entire time. You will be kind of spacey but still witty and charming (again, hopefully). You will eat your yogurt covered pretzels and fruit with your date and feel a little bit better. You will get the false sense of security that "It was just hunger". Then, after an hour, you will feel the looming VOM. You will say "I think I have to go." You will kind of sketch out of your date, still managing to walk her home, but having no idea what you said, because you are so focused on not VOMING all over the place. Then you will get home. You will have a disastrous but oh so pivotal decision to make; which end first?

You will not be able to keep down anything. Even water will make you yak. Your ribs and back will be sore. You will sweat. You will curse. You will hate your life. Then you will feel better. You will sleep. You will yak some more. And so will go the next 12 hours. At this point, you will chance some water because you fear dehydration. You will keep it down and sleep for 3 straight hours. You will wake up sore. You will move to the couch. You will eat a Popsicle. And another.

And you will never eat old eggs again. The End.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on reconciliation

I find my self in the midst of reconciliation. Reconciliation is something that happens every day, with students, with friends, with God, but this Period of Reconciliation is entirely different. This is a full-fledged, “I don’t ever want to talk to you again, much less see you, think about you, know about you” kind of brokenness leading to a wide gulf for reconciliation to bridge.

A couple nights ago I was talking to my friend from Cincinnati, the one who was my crying shoulder during the formation of this chasm, and we were wondering what this Period has in store for me. I think this is an important question, what lies ahead, but I think that the question I should be asking, is why did this reconciliation become necessary. If I believe the things that I say I believe on Sundays, or at Bible Studies or when I am praying, then there are things about God that I need some serious review on. Specifically, and I think this is true for Christians in general, I think that my generation has a lot of head knowledge, and not a lot of heart knowledge. We think about God, but we don’t know God. I guess I would say it is the difference between reading travel brochures about a place you have dreamed of going and then actually being there. It is something that has to be experienced.

Anyway, I think God is pretty similar. I tend to get bogged down in thinking about “What would Jesus do?” or “what is God’s will for my life?” or “what should I do next when TFA is over?” I mean, don’t get me wrong, these are good questions to be thinking about, but with me, these questions take over and they block my vision of almost everything else around me. The symphony of the world gets muted to dull whispers behind these questions. And I think the thing that I forget, is that if I am knowing God and living in God and thinking God and breathing God and loving God, then all those other questions will be taken care of.

It’s like the calling of Simon Peter. There he was, doing his thing in his fishing boats, and Jesus shows up on the scene and invades his work space. Peter experiences this amazing, miraculous blessing in his work place, but, Christ is using this for his in-road. He follows this up with “How would you like to be a fisher of men?” Now, Peter could have gotten all hung up on the blessing part. “Wow, I am just starting to make headway in this business. If I kept on, I could be such a huge influence, sending missionaries all over, building temples, helping the poor….I could run my own business and my own charity! It would be so amazing!” he could have thought. But with that thinking, he would have missed the calling that Jesus himself placed before him, to just go.

Coming back to the reconciliation. There is this passage in the Bible that I think sounds really beautiful, but in all honesty doesn’t mean all that much to me. I love reading it, because I think it is kind of comforting or whatever, but when it all gets down to it, I don’t know this to be true. It’s from Romans 8:37-39

“8For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So I think this reconciliation is God’s way of showing me that this is true. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and the evidence is that this broken and ugly and painful thing in my life is being redeemed at this very moment. It’s like God is saying “Hey, look here. If I can fix this, don’t you think that I can take care of you? That I can fix anything? That I will always be with you?” And I respond by not paying attention or saying “Yea but…” or something. Really though, I think that the pain and awkwardness makes me overlook the redemption for most of the time.

This makes it all the more amazing that anybody follows God though. I mean, if I can come out of my self-centered, selfish, obsessive behavior long enough to notice that God is actually doing this thing and calling me to some beautiful place, then I am becoming more in tune with how God works, and that means that anybody can do it. With God’s help of course.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ramble On

Good Led Zeppelin song.

I've been...uh...reconciling this week. It's as if I suddenly found the loose ends of a sweater that I thought was completely unraveled, only to find that the ends lead to a large hole in an otherwise complete garment. On the one hand, I am very used to my wardrobe without these holy garments (to continue this awkward analogy), but on the other hand, I remember the glory days of their association. I loved them. I still love them. But I am a completely different person, and I wonder if/how they will fit.

I've also been reading Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island". It has some interesting thoughts on friendship that have challenged me this past week.

"In order to love others with perfect charity I must be true to them, to myself, and to God. The true interests of a person are at once perfectly his own and common to the whole Kingdom of God. That is because these interests are all centered in God's designs for his soul the destiny of each one of us is intended, by the Lord, to enter into the destiny of His entire Kingdom. And the more perfectly we are ourselves the more we are able to contribute to the good of the whole Church of God. For each person is perfected by the virtues of a child of God, and these virtues show themselves differently in everyone, since they come to light in the lives of each one of the saints under a different set of providential circumstances. If we love one another truly, our love will be graced with a clear-sighted prudences which sees and respects the designs of God upon each separate soul. Our love for one another must be rooted in a deep devotion Divine Providence, a devotion that abandons our own limited plans into the hands of God and seeks only to enter int the invisible work that builds His Kingdom. Only a love that senses the designs of Providence can unite itself perfectly to God's providential action upon souls. Faithful submission to God's secret working in the world will fill our love with piety, that is to say with supernatural awe and respect. This respect, this piety, gives our love the character of worship, without which our charity can never be quite complete. For love must not only seek the truth in the lives of those around us; it must find it there. But when we find the truth that shapes our lives we have found more than an idea. We have found a Person. WE have come upon the actions of One Who is still hidden, but Whose work proclaims Him holy and worthy do be adored. And in Him we also find ourselves."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Donuts and a Dog

On Monday I had my students read the following story. Then they had to find any "math problems" in the story and write expressions for them. An example is shown below.

One day, Michael and three more people decided that they were bored. For the past week, all they had done was watch the new Soldier Boy video and learn the dance. First they thought they should get a snack. They bought three packs of eight donuts. While they were eating their donuts, two fewer than the total number of boys decided to throw their donuts at a dog. They threw one-third of the total number of donuts and hit the dog in the face. The dog was upset for two more than three minutes, but then it realized “Hey! Those are donuts! and so it ate them.

While the dog was eating the donuts, one less than the total number of boys thought it would be a good idea to get something to drink. They bought a twelve pack and divided it evenly among the whole group. They drank their Mountain Dew while they watched the dog. The dog decided that it liked Mountain Dew, so it stole two out of the total number of sodas. Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t have any hands, and its teeth were really weak, so it couldn’t get the bottles open. It went home and cried.

1. Expression for total number of people, p = 1+3 =4


This week I have been blessed by two independent forms of confirmation. Actually, come to think of it, there have been more than two, so I will put the total at 4, but I only will speak of two in this post. How's that for useless information.

On Monday, I taught a rocking lesson. There is no way around it. Basically, I had my kids read the story in the post above, and then we talked about changing words into numbers etc etc. What was even better though, is that my district math specialist, district math interventionist and school math specialist all visited my classroom on a walk through. And they came during my second best class. And they were rocking hard core.

My district math specialist said "This is awesome. I want to clone you."
me: "What?"
Her: "I want to clone you and put you in every school in the district. This is exactly the kind of stuff we need to be doing in our classrooms."

So...yea. That's a pretty glowing review.

The second confirmation was second hand, so that tempers it slightly. Basically, someone who's opinion I respect in TFA told my roommate and I that "It would be a shame if you do not go on staff next year. You might not be AMAZING teachers, but the things you are thinking about, the work you are doing, this is what this organization needs."

To temper these moral boosters, are three independent confirmations that I am a secret-selfish-jackass. What happens is that my default personality is such that I meet 95% of expectations (for personal interaction) placed upon me, but once the friendships/relationships become more important, I inevitably do a sabotage maneuver by not really thinking about the other person. I don't really have an explanation other than, "I don't think I have been challenged before." Which I think is true.

So the thoughts running through my head currently are "what does it look like if I really focus on something?"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yet another reasons clubs suck

So you are probably thinking "Yea right. There is no way that this guy goes to clubs."

I understand this thought. But it's simply not true. See, here's what happened.
First, I realized that I enjoy dancing quite a bit. Second, I moved to Houston. Third, I decided "I'm gonna dance like crazy and not even care what anybody thinks."

Well steps 1 thru 3 worked perfectly. I know go dancing regularly, and might even be considered above average. I still, however, have a problem with a few things, in general.

To begin with, I am not a huge fan of grinding. I mean, I can do it, I can keep the rhythm whatever. But what happens, is I will be dancing with some girl and then I will get to thinking "This is boring. I keep doing the same motion over and over and over. I need variety." And it's true. In general, guys who are grinding just...uh...thrust. (i just wrote thrust. this is a ridiculous topic). The girl might do some other stuff, but the guy...nope. And yes, I can, and do, change the from side to side to other junk, but really, the options are limited because of the grinding necessities. The point being, it's just kind of boring.

And then comes the random people at the club. I have no idea what most of the people at the club want to do, but normally, I go out with a group of friends, and as long as a couple of them are willing to dance, I have no problem dancing around like a crazy person for hours on end. Sometimes, ladies will come over and then be dancing around near me, and I think "I don't want to freak her, (b/c i don't want to freak at all)." So that's awkward.

Now, enter last night. Most of my friends were out of town this weekend, but me, two other guys and a female friend of ours decided to check out this new club we heard about. It's pretty cool, with all these different rooms with different atmospheres, but since we didn't bring girls to dance around with, my roommate and I had to go walking through the dance floor trying to find girls to dance with. Now I am not interested in taking any of these females home with me. Really, I do not even want to freak them. I just want to dance with/next to them.

We were shot down at least 5 separate times. It was ridiculous. I mean, I do not think I will win any fashion modeling tryouts or anything, but I am not an ugly person. I have been described as attractive. Same goes for my roommate. WTF. Maybe I just need a sign that says, "IASANSKWJWTD "- I am a single, attractive, non-serial killer who just wants to dance.

I guess the acronym needs some work.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yea i'm late

sorry i haven't posted all month. school is cranking and i find that any energy i have when i get home i want to siphon (why is this not spelled with a y? can anyone tell me this?) into other outlets. pathetic i know. Of course, at this point, who really reads these things anyway? :^)

Lot's of updates, so I am going to brush over them all, and then, hopefully, just start posting regularly. That's the plan anyway.

  • I joined an ultimate team! I played at sectionals this past weekend in Austin with Red Angus, a club team in Houston. They are pretty good, but definitely not Machine caliber.
  • Austin is awesome. It beats Houston in every single possible category. If anyone is thinking of a move to Texas, Austin is my recommendation. And, the fields at UT were pillow soft. I layed out a lot.
  • I caught a lay out huck for a score at sectionals. Go me. I also THREW a scoober score! Hah! And of course, I had the requisite "I'm tall and going to D you" action. Those are the highlights.
  • This summer I hung out with this girl who is awesome. There was mutual attraction. But she was in GR. I left. Now she's dating some one else. Figures. :^)
  • I started a Bible Study. Actually, I was prompted to start a Bible study after attending a small group from my church and being thoroughly disappointed and thinking "I could do at least 8.354 times better than this myself! And I will!" And I did.
  • Our fourth roommate finally moved in! We now have 4 guys living in the most fly house ever possessed by TFA members in the history of the world. Seriously. Our place should be on cribs. We have a pool. It's a three story townhouse. We have a gourmet kitchen with a two level dish washer, wine fridge, double ovens, industrial gas range, and custom cabinetry. Not to mention the chandelier that hangs over the third floor bath tub!
  • School is going sooo much better this year. Really there is no comparison with last year. It's like going from T-ball against 2nd graders to playing 1AA (I'm definitely not in the pros yet). Still, extremely good.
  • I still don't know if teaching is for me. A friend of mine told me that she did not really start loving teaching until her 3rd year. That baffles me. Who knows.
  • I am currently eying Denver, CO and Portland, OR as my next likely stops. They both rock, and they both have a Big Picture School. Assuming I want to teach. They also have engineering of some sort, since they are big, with Lockheed being in Denver, and I have no idea what, in Portland.
  • I am still 6'7"
  • I bought a mountain bike. I love to ride it.
  • We are throwing kickin parties at our place fairly frequently.
Yea, that's about it, I guess. Umm...more later.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

People Who Should Be Replaced by Elmos and Litepros

Oh man. The title was just suggested by my roommate and my eyes are watering. But seriously. I am talking about a large group at my school.

I am starting year 2, and there are individuals who I am still not sure what function they actually serve. Really, when you think about it, if it is not immediately apparent what you do in your place of employ, you are either A) so awesome that you are used only on an as-needed basis or B) you are so useless no one wants to use you for anything.

I have some personal exposure to some of the individuals to whom I am referring, so I know that if they fall into category A, they must be hiding it pretty darn well.

In other news, Mr. F and I want to write some grants for Elmos and Litepros. We feel like these two items will really bring our teaching to the cutting edge of technology. Or in other words, they will help us to do less work. And yea, our teaching will probably be more entertaining for our students, but really, it's to do less work.

As a result, we reach the natural next step: they should just fire the useless people and replace them with the Elmos and Litepros that we want.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I love coincidences. Maybe I read to much into them, but I feel like they are the microscopic pushes of God.

It's like the quote I love from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters."
You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creatures to stand up on its own legs — to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.
(Sorry that was so long.) So last night I was watching this Nooma video and Rob Bell gets ends with this amazing benediction. I love his benedictions because they feel like the Holy Spirit is being breathed out onto the congregation, like a balloon is getting filled. He always begins with "And May You..." I am getting chill bumps right now just imagining it.

After hearing this amazing benediction, I talked with my friend Michelle about how these blessings are just so powerful. Then I thought, "I want to bless like that."

Now fast forward to church tonight. Chris Seay spoke on the meaning of living well in community. The first part of this was blessing. We ought to bless.

I guess, then, that I ought to be a blessing. I'll see what I can do.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I finished setting up room 1107 in preparation for Teaching: Year 2. I am very excited to see how all of the classes and trainings and planning work out for my kids this year. I think that my new focus on problem solving will be a great thing, but I don't really know yet.

On the positive side, I am not nervous. Teaching summer school gave me a dry-run on first day of school stuff, so I feel like I know what I want to do, where it will go. I feel prepared. Of course this is a huge shift from last year.

In other news, my quest to become environmentally aware and friendly is growing; I am now recycling. I even put up signs over the garbage to remind my roommates that they too have an obligation to recycle. They were forgetting.

I finished Serve God, Save the Planet, and highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in environmental or health issues. Even if you are not of the Christian persuasion, the author is well spoken (or written, I guess) with a lot of sound advise for everybody out there.

Friday, August 24, 2007


This week marked my first week back at Alief Middle School. Last week was full of professional development opportunities (oh yes, opportunities) through TFA or the Alief district, and while some of that time actually proved to be quite useful, it is just not the same as being on campus, in your classroom, getting things ready for Day 1. Which is the 27th.

In preparation for this week of in-service training, planning and copying, Mr. F and I rolled over to AMS on Wednesday afternoon of last week. Our goal was simple: pilfer as many tables and chairs as possible.

See, last year, we came in as wet-behind-the-ears-newbies, with grand aspirations for the 'group concept', only to be greeted by a room full of desks on our first day. After submitting furniture requests and even begging at one point last year for tables, we now know, being the grizzled veterans (of one measly campaign!), that if we want tables, we have to do it ourselves.

Luckily, we knew where we could acquire said merchandise without offending too many folks. A teacher left the math department, who just so happened to have a room full of tables.

Mr. F and I arrived on Wednesday during a deluge and began moving desks out of his room, swapping tables back in. I was waiting on final word for a potential room swap (thankfully, I managed to remain in the same room this year), so we piled all the chairs into Mr. F's room, and most of the tables.

But at this stage of the exchange, two important things happen. First, my assistant principal catches us in the act, asks what we are doing, and then says "Oh, well, keep up the good work" in response to our explanation. Second, we realize that we know have 2 rooms worth of desks, but only one room to store them in.

An executive decision prompts us to stash all of my desks, all 24, under the stairs to the second floor, in the "Cub Reading Den". It ends up looking quite ridiculous. Imagine row upon row of desks with about a 2 foot clearance above them. Bring on the wee people! (I do not know the DCA term for people of abnormally small stature)

Our job done, we left.

This week, we meet our new teachers and find out that Lo, the school hired an interventionist to occupy the pilfered room. She is a first year teacher, and in a eerie turn of events, strolls in with a sketch for a grand group concept, of course necessitating tables. She asks me "I wanted to do lots of group work, where could I find some tables?"

I of course feign ignorance, and (laughingly) bring her to Mr. F. "Hey Mr. F, she needs tables. Do you know who to ask?"

Mr. F nearly dies.

New teacher gives up on tables. Shifts focus to getting uniform desks. At least if they are all the same color, type etc, things will be manageable right? Well, there is a classroom worth of yellow desks under the stairs. Whose are those? Nobody knows.

New teacher goes to ask the Math Department head. "Whose are those?" "I don't know. Ask the assistant principal."

New teacher goes to ask AP. "Can I have those yellow desks?" "What yellow desks? Oh those. Well, yea you can have them. But if anybody comes asking for them you have to return them."

So let me summarize (that's a higher level thinking skill.)

Mr. F and I decide we want tables. We take tables. We dump desks.
New Teacher wants tables. She has our dumped desks. She can't find tables. She then asks for more of our dumped desks. She has to get permission. Then she has to get more permission. For our dumped desks.

Should I feel bad about this?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Future - Or More Accurately, Thinking Too Much

School is right around the corner, as much as it pains me to write that. YES summer school is great, and I love teaching there, but since it's culmination directly correlates with a week of vacation followed by a week of professional development and then school starts, it is basically like school starts tomorrow. Or something.

Anyway, a bi-product of my rapidly depleting summer is an intense focus on what I will be doing *next* summer. I already have grandiose ideas about traveling the world, or more accurately (yea it's the second time I've used that now) going to some far-away land and staying there all summer, there are other options and perhaps other necessities.

Here are the thoughts running around, pellmell through my brain.
  • I could go teach at YES prep next year. This would be a minimum 2 year commitment. It would keep me in Houston. It would be an awesome teaching environment. I would be 27 when I could forseeably leave. I would continue to get summers off. Do I really want to stay in Houston for 2 more years? Is 4 years away from engineering too much? Which leads to...
  • I could go work at some engineering company. I could go anywhere to do this. There are some social activist type companies out on the west coast that make products specifically to combat injustice (like clean drinking water), and that would be cool. I could go to Seattle (which I love) and work for Boeing. But do I really want a corporate job again? Would my conscious let me go? I think I'd feel like I was selling out.
  • I could go to grad school for engineering. I think it would be great to be a professor, and always be learning and teaching in a subject that I like. I also like school, and am good at it. I always felt vaguely impatient at school though, as if I was waiting for real-life to start. Whatever.
  • I could go teach somewhere else entirely. I love the concept of the Big Picture company. That would be a 4 year commitment. I could go all over with those schools; they have schools in Detroit or Chicago or Portland or Denver. All of those would have benefits.
I was talking with a friend of mine today on the phone. She was telling me that I just need to figure out what I love and do that. I said I didn't feel like I was serving anybody if I did engineering or something like that. Her response was that if you don't love what you are doing you can't serve anybody anyway.

I think this is an interesting point. I am not sure if I love teaching. I am sure that I did not love corporate engineering. I could love teaching at YES prep. Who knows.

I guess the thing to do is to go sit on the beach and rock climb and run and swim and watch movies and cook great meals because those are the things I love doing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

YES! Summer school!

Oh yea, summer school started today. I am teaching summer school at YES! prep, and I love it already. Even though I have no idea what is going on. And I didn't even have a lesson for today. And it is a billion degrees outside. And the following situation occurred:

student - "Mister, do we eat with the 7th graders?"
me - "Uh, I don't know."
student - "Mister, do we have to pay for lunch?"
me - "Uh, I don't know that either."
student - "Mister, can we sit anywhere we want at lunch?"
me - "Uh, I don't know that either. But I can find out the answers to all of your questions."
student - "Mister, you sure don't know what's going on."
me - "Uh huh."

Anyway, the first day went well. My kids were good, and we worked on a big math problem for the entire period. It was quite successful. Somehow, this math problem segued into the following exchange:

student - "Mister, would a pig spider freak you out?"
me - "'re asking if I would be freaked out by seeing a spider. That was a pig."
student - "Yea. A pig spider."
me - "Yep. That would definitely freak me out."

yea I have no idea. But it *would* be freaky.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Loose Ends 4 - Now I have a job

This whole 'unemployed teacher' situation actually worked itself out a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to post it. I think that I wasn't too flustered about the whole situation so when it was resolved, it did not seem like that big of a change. I guess it was though. Maybe.

So here is the sequence of events:

In February I got the flu, and had a meeting where a bunch of bosses told me to shape up or find another job.

In March, my principal told me that Alief Middle School currently did not have room for me, but I wasn't being fired. Instead I was being put into a teacher pool. I need disinfectant.

In May, I left school and Texas under the impression that there was approximately a 5% chance of having a math job at AMS.

In the middle of June, the TFA placement coordinator called to tell me that "Alief no longer feels confident about placing you. You can now go wherever you want." She brought up an engineering position at an HISD middle school. I give her the green light to pass along my resume and stuff.

I get a call from the principal of the HISD middle school. Turns out the position is not engineering. It's eighth grade math. But it has one or two robotics electives tacked on. I do a phone interview. There is no further contact for 2 weeks.

I talk with TFA placement coordinator again. She tells me that YES prep has an opening. Would I be interested. "Hell yes!"

I get a call from YES prep. I talk. We talk. We keep talking. We try and set up a live interview. I was going to FLY DOWN for an interview. It cost too much. Principal asks for material to show my skills as a teacher. I email him a bunch of stuff.

We keep talking. He asks for a sample lesson. I remember I have a dvd of a lesson I gave in Feb (around there anyway). I think the dvd is on my desk. I have my roommate deliver it to YES prep. It is the wrong dvd. The dvd is actually an advertisement for YES prep. Ha.

We keep talking. He asks how confident I feel moving to high school. I tell him that after initial misgivings, I am totally psyched for the position. He tells me that we are going to have a couple more conversations and then he will get an offer formalized. "At this point I don't want either of us backing away from this, because this is the direction we want to go". The direction he means is hiring me.

The next day Alief Middle School calls. Apparently, the 7th grade teacher who thought she was staying decided she was leaving. My job is now available. If I want it. Dangit.

After debating, I decide that even though TFA specifically told me I do not have to take the job, and that my duty to Alief is done, I feel like I ought to go there. And I am excited too. Well, sort of. I call AMS and accept the job.

I call YES prep and give them the bad news. He is very understanding. He says that the "quick hiring has turned into a more long-term process". I smile. Looks like I might get to work at YES prep HS someday anyway.

Oh and guess what. The YES prep HS is the only school in Houston to be ranked on Newsweek's top 100 schools nationwide. It's number 37 or something.

Environmental Activism - Another Soapbox?

That questions is targeted at me. I wonder if I soapbox. Or rather if I soapbox too much. But then I realize that this is my blog and while readership (oooooh so snooty! I might have people who read this, but definitely no readership) is great, well, I'm talking here.

So anyway. I've loved the outdoors for a while now. My family went camping every summer since I can remember, and while I did not really take to the fishing aspects that well (they were kind of boring, and usually really hot), I loved the tent part and the playing part and the trees part and definitely the hammock part. My passion for the outdoors continued in Boy Scouts, where I eventually found myself doing "High Adventures" to places like the Adirondacks and Boundary Waters, and loving every minute of it. I now would describe myself as a backpacker, who aspires to be a rock climber, mountaineer, mountain biker, canoer and maybe kayaker (that's lowest on the list of priorities).

Thus, in the current debate about climate change, I have a vested interest: I want to continue to play outdoors. I can't say however, that I have done anything in particular to *be* an environmentally aware person. I mean this past year I started walking to the grocery occasionally, and using my backpack instead of grocery bags occasionally, and I rode my bike to church once, but that was because I wanted to ride a bike, so that doesn't really count. I have also carpooled somewhat frequently, but again that doesn't count because I did it to save on toll money. But I've wanted to recycle. And I've felt guilty for not.

So it was interesting when, as I sat in my last day of Curriculum Theory & Development class on Friday, one of the groups presented on recycling and called it "Solely a moral decision." I expected them to say it was a stewardship issue, or an ethical issue (as in 'you should recycle unless you have shoddy ethics'), but it wasn't. It was a personal moral issue. So they said. And their reasoning went something like this. First, there are hidden costs in recycling. More trucks come to pick it up. More roads break down because of the heavy trucks. More tires are wasted. More gas is consumed. Then the recycling begins. Well it might begin if someone wants the materials, otherwise it just gets shipped to the landfill anyway. But if someone wants it then the recycling begins. Well sort of. Because only parts of the material can be recycled. It is not a 100% yield enterprise. You don't get all of the material back as useful new stuff. There is waste. And to top it off, the process is very energy expensive. This means it burns more coal or whatever to power the transformation that doesn't even recycle *all* of the junk.

So, one *could* argue, that in the current environmental and ecological landscape, the ethical thing to do is trash everything. Well, everything that can't be composted. Everyone should have a compost pile. That *was* agreed upon.

The recycling bit was news to me. I hadn't really thought about it before. Although, it is somewhat incomplete, because processes only improve if there is an incentive to improve them. It is almost impossible for the process to improve if no one is recycling at all. So having recycling around might spur more efficient recycling centers. Hopefully. So that is a reason to recycle.

But that's not really the point. The point then, is that the other 2 "R"s of the 3Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, are that much more important, and if you notice, they come first. So, as an individual, I can choose to purchase a huge tub of Gatorade powder instead of the 36 individually packaged Gatorade bottles because that reduces my waste. And then I can reuse the huge tub for...uh...something. Okay, I would still throw it away, but there would be less trash. The point is, people are starting to be environmentally conscious about food production (organic and whatnot) but the packaging is just overlooked.

Then, adding to all that, church today had the author of the book "Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action". The author, J. M. Sleeth, talks about how conservation is a Biblical imperative and that every person can do their part to help preserve the world around us. Then there is the website for his organization, called "Serve God, Save the Planet." It has lots of information, from religious textual examinations to church statements to next steps. Here is a list of questions and hints that he provides concerning a lot of the things that an individual could do to help cut down on their own environmental impact.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blah blah

My class has two days left.

It feels odd, sitting on the ending side of this thing, the class and even this first half of the summer, that the results could be so vastly different than my expectations.

I mean, I was coming to Michigan largely because I did not have anything 'better' to do; no one was willing to take me up on a grand adventure to the far reaches of imagination and travel. So I did not expect my time to be occupied with people that I will miss, and with thoughts that will change my teaching and relationships and life.

Next summer however, I am definitely leaving the country. So here is the open invitation: I am planning on doing a study abroad for all of June and July next summer. I want to go to a Spanish speaking country. If you are interested, let me know.

In other news, I am pumped for the return to Houston. My place is awesome and I am unabashedly planning on sleeping in my roommates huge bed while he's gone (I only have a twin).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

More Curriculum...and other stuff

This class is mind-blowing.

Seriously. My mind is blown apart.

The articles and ideas that we discuss just come through as true to me; ideas that make education into a mutual journey, that make it relational, that make it a search for truth, that give such dignity to the student.

An amazing quote that I came across today will explain some what I mean.

"The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between."
- Diane Ackerman

So as an educator, my job is not as some conduit of knowledge, pouring the things I know out like water into the gaping mouths of open, unblinking vessels. The vessels being the students. Instead, I am challenging my students to take risk, to become aware of the beauty that is around them, to challenge them to move in it and through it and become part of it.

This weekend I am up in Traverse City. One of my TFA friends comes up here every summer. I currently sit, watching the wind whip small whitecaps across Elk Lake, feeling the old dry sun warm my face and move the wind's crispness off of my arms, listening to the trees dance some ancient chant and call as they shake shake shake.


I currently sit
watching the wind whip
small whitecaps across Elk Lake, feeling the old
dry sun warm my face and move
the wind's crispness off of my arms,
to the trees dance
some ancient chant
and call as they shake

Monday, June 25, 2007

Curriculum Class

I am currently enrolled in, and have now completed my second day of a course at Calvin College titled (why do I want to say entitled? does that even mean anything?) EDUC 580 - Curriculum Theory & Development. I have posted the course description for your perusal.
  • Participate in a study of theories and development of curricula for pre-school through grade 12 students in all content areas. In this course, you will become more aware of theories that inform curricula choices and contextual curricular issues, with special consideration of the more practical side of implementing curricular change. Discussions will be grounded in the integration of faith and learning including issues of social justice. (3 sem. hrs.)

So a couple of things jump out, which actual course experience has borne out as well; "Discussions will be grounded in the integration of faith and learning including issues of social justice."

!! Well. The integration of faith and learning bit is not quite up Teach For America's metaphorical alley, but issues of social justice? Come on! Can I guy get an Amen? (Amen. Thanks you in the back).

Furthermore, let's look at "with special consideration of the more practical side of implementing curricular change." Wow. That sounds suspiciously like "The education system is all #$%& up so reform is necessary, but we need to figure out what reforms would be good and how to get them going."

And sure enough, both of these things have formed a vital component to the class so far. It has been amazing! Who would have thought that I would ever write that about an Education course?!

I think the most influential aspect so far has been the reading of One Kid at a Time, by Eliot Levine. This book describes the development, operation and results of a new school model in Providence, RI organized by The Big Picture Company. This organization is starting schools across the country with a truly innovative educational approach that is all based on experiential, interest-based learning. You should check it out.

Wedding #2

Last night I got back from my second wedding of the summer, having now upped my Wedding Index to a pretty strong 9 points.

For those of you scoring at home, the Wedding Index expresses your value to your friend circle as a whole, as well as giving a small commentary on the ages of your friends. For the Wedding Index you get points for various roles as follows:
3 points - maid of honor or best man
2 points - brides maid or groomsman
1 point - usher, flower arranger, photographer, singer, scripture reader etc (these must be for a friends wedding, NOT as a profession)

The value of being the bride or the groom is yet to be determined. On the one hand you could argue that its value should be higher than 3 because as a bride or groom you permit everyone else to score points at all. On the other hand, you are out of the game and so maybe you don't score points. I am not sure yet. I need input.

Anyway, the wedding went really well. I liked the locations for the wedding and the reception, which were both nature/outdoors themed. And before you go "What? That sounds hideous" I will explain that this theme just means that the wedding itself was outside, including lots of outdoor pictures, and then the reception was at this nature center auditorium. See, not so ugly right?

The wedding ceremony was conducted by my pastor (and the bride and groom's pastor more importantly) from Purdue. I thought he did a great job, making a very good explanation of the sanctity of marriage from a Biblical perspective, and tying in many of the great anecdotes you would want to hear from a college pastor who knows the participants intimately.

Wedding #1 was similarly officiated by a college pastor of the bride and groom, to good results. I feel like having there be a strong connection between the couple to be wed and the pastor makes for a more significant wedding ceremony for the couple (all though I do not know this from personal experience) and from the guest's pov as well. Maybe I'll do that for my wedding.

Or, there is the other option. My buddy Nick and were talking about how ridiculous the planning has been for Wedding #2 and the idea of a destination wedding was broached. I feel like this is an awesome option for a couple of reasons:
  1. It seems like the bride and groom don't even get to enjoy their party that much! I mean you are getting married! I want to party! I want to dance like a maniac with my wife and family and all my friends. It's going to be epic! I don't want to be running out of there to go get it on with my wife (although that will be nice I'm sure), or feel like I can't really enjoy myself because I have this way uncomfortable formal wear on. I feel like the party aspect is increased by about a factor of 1000 if you do a destination wedding followed by a reception afterward.
  2. While the wedding ceremony is beautiful, and I love seeing my friends look into each others eyes and say the words and smooch, I mean come on. Most people are in it for the party! Go back to number 1. Think about the weddings you have been to. Wouldn't they have been way more fun if everyone was dressed just a little more casually and the bride and groom were getting down until the wee hours of the night? Exactly.
  3. Destinations are cool. That's why it is called a destination. It's where you want to go! So you know that you and your immediate family would have a smashing time in Hawaii or Italy or wherever. And just try and tell me that you would not become hopelessly romantic if you were getting married by the sea in Italy. I'm falling in love just thinking about it.
  4. Cost. Weddings are EXPENSIVE. By having a destination wedding you are diverting huge amounts of capital into a much tangible payout. Instead of bouquets, you have tropical plants. Instead of a huge cake, you have dinner by the sea. Instead of a reception you have...a party. Okay that's pretty much the same thing. But all the other things are good!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer Reading

If you are looking for some books to occupy your summer, here are two different lists that I found interesting.

  1. Faculty of University of Texas summer reading list - This is pretty self explanatory. I like having lists like these because I never know what current novels are crap and what might be interesting.
  2. This course by Orson Scott Card made use of different genres of current american literature, with the intent being to give a true accounting of what american literature actually is, without all of the fluffy 'I want to sound super smart' junk.
  3. For what ever reason, one of the books I want to read this summer is called On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, which as far as I can tell, is *the* novel from the Beat Generation. And while I was at it, I looked up some Chuck Klosterman stuff, and this guy called Tom Wolfe. I guess the theme for this list is "Hippie drug culture", which I cannot explain my interest in, but let all be comforted that I do not plan on partaking in LSD any time soon.

Locations & Musings

I am not one that usually spends a lot of time thinking about what could be, but I recently have thought quite a bit about the affect that location has played in my current position in TFA, my career trajectory, interests, friends, etc.

Right now I wonder if I would be teaching if I had not joined the co-op program at Purdue (and you can see right away the futility of this line of thinking, and yet, I am currently deep in it). I think that co-op and its unique mix of meaningful work experiences combined with inane absurdities and general drudgery is at least 50% responsible for motivating me to apply to Teach for America in the first place. If I didn't know that corporate engineering was lame, would I now be working at some engineering firm in Seattle, WA or Greenville, SC? Would the added responsibility and work-load of a full-time position make it actually enjoyable? I don't know, but it is interesting to think about.

Another affect of the co-op program was to move me every 3 to 4 months from one place to another (that's usually what moving does). I went from school to work, from work to school, and only my first year (fall '01) and fifth year (fall '05) did I complete a normal academic school year. My friends became concentrated in the co-op program. There were about 4 guys who rotated together, took ME classes together, did the house stuff together. Later on I took more advantage of enjoying the church community of which I was a part, but how did these relationships get stunted by leaving? Would I have different friends? Would I be married (good question since so many of my college friends are checking that box this summer or last)? Again, I don't know, but it is interesting to think about.

For a moment. And then I look up and around at this summer that is here and now, and the realities of the friendships that currently exist, of the work that I am currently doing, of the summer school that is starting in 3 weeks, and I am moving again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Activity Update

What follows is a non-chronological list of activities performed by me or people who look remarkably similar to me in dim lighting.
  • Making use of the driving range to discover that swinging a wood as hard as you can usually yields approximately 19 feet of forward progress while hitting irons in repeatable rhythmic motions churns balls into the 220s on the fly.
  • Sprinting full speed into the shallows at Muskegon to bid (that means 'to dive head first') for the discs thrown by Hunt or Miller. Realizing that jumping from the shore drastically increases your likelihood of hitting bottom.
  • Crawling on the floor and under coffee tables.
  • Discovering that spider webs usually congregate in the northeast corner of coffee tables. By usually, I mean on this one, unconfirmed occasion.
  • Watched "Prairie Home Companion". Discovered that woman was created first, she had 3 boobs, decided that was excessive and cut the middle one off, asked "What should be done with this useless boob?" and decided to make man. Ha!
  • Went climbing. Loved that guy who had no volume control AS HE SHOUTED THAT WE WERE DOING A GREAT JOB!
  • Went running. Running in Michigan in the summer is great. There is a breeze and there are trees and it is beautiful. I remember running in Houston. It was loud and humid and miserable.
  • Scrabble. I played. I lost. I made up words.
  • Cribbage. I played. I won. I did not make up any words.
  • Cooking! Pasta salad, pizza, enchiladas, brownies (out of a box), Kool-aid (does that even count?), egg sandwiches, brats and dogs on the grill. Mmm summer foods.
  • Ice cream eating has almost become a daily event. I have hit East Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Forest Hill Foods, Meijer...
  • I read "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls". Very...interesting. Yep. Interesting. Don't judge.
  • Threw the disc again and again and again.
  • Threw a bachelor party. DJ Haywood spun some mad hits including the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye and Christmas songs. Believe me, you wish you were there.
I have one more week of the true summer experience. I am proud to say I have proven my meddle as a summer experiencer because I have not been bored, nor complained about not having enough to do, but instead been gleeful occupied for approximately 95% of these past 3 weeks. While my "I have all day to goof off and enjoy myself" ends next monday when my Curriculum Development class starts, after a week of 7 hours of class per day, I drop back to 3 hours per day and hope that 8 hours of play time will be sufficient. I would not want to get too used to this schedule, right?

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Not much is going on in Michigan these days.

But really, that's just the affects of having the semblance of a routine and no extraordinary things breaking it. I have actually been busy, living this summer for play.

I am no playing basketball and ultimate regularly (2 to 3 times a week). Last night was my first night back at ultimate since final semester at Purdue. I was nervous (I always get nervous before unknown competitions), but ended playing pretty well. Since it was pick up and not a club team, summer league or college team, the offense was pretty selfish, and defense was one dimensional, but it was still fun. I played third handler which is definitely not a typical position for me. I handled at sectionals during my last year at Purdue, but that was only because no one else was there who could do it. And with our offensive stack moving all over the place, I took it upon myself to be the anchor for lining up and setting up our O. As a result, I did not have any huge catches for scores, but I did throw some hucks. Granted they were in general pretty floaty, but for the first time back, very solid.

I also got a climbing membership for the month that I am back. Apparently, Houston has pampered me in this regard, because the Texas Rock Gym is *significantly* better than Higher Ground. Really, higher ground has a much cooler location, but the location's limitations dictate a three room layout, each room being the size of my living room. Its tiny. The size makes me very self-conscious if I am there late in the evening, when it is busy. Because of the nature of the climbing sport, there usually are large numbers of really experienced climbers and not that many newbies. So while there is not any judging going on (I have never heard "man you suck!" or anything akin), I am watching what other people are doing, and they are watching me and everyone (I assume) is mentally grading themselves in respect to everyone else. Maybe this doesn't happen, but I imagine it happens.

Speaking of imagining things into reality, I started reading this book called "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls". My aunt lent me the book last summer after she found out I would be teaching middle school. Accompanying the book was some disclaimer about how crazy adolescent girls are. Well, I decided to start reading the book, finally. One of the things that really struck me, and explains a lot of the behavior I noticed over the past year, is that adolescents (specifically girls, but probably boys as well) are developmentally just beginning to be able to think critically/abstractly. As a result, they generate countless faulty syllogisms that originate from "I feel so therefore its true" or from "Here's one example so it must be true".

Let me give you an example. Students in my class say to me things like "You never call on me for ______". This is a case of the first faulty syllogism. The student has one example, or maybe even a couple examples of me calling on other students instead of him/her. They *feel* like I am purposely ignoring them. Since the feel it, it must be true. I *am* ignoring them. This state of disregard on my part then necessarily stretches infinitely backward and forward in time. I have *never* called on them and I *never* will. Which really, if you think about that feeling, is pretty serious, albeit completely based on falsehood.

Students in my class also say things like "Other math classes don't get homework every day! Why do we?" This is the second faulty syllogism. The student usually has one friend who doesn't have homework. They then extrapolate that to everyone. For a more concrete example of this mistake think: "That famous actor bought his 16 year old daughter a brand new Mercedes CLK for her birthday. Therefore ALL parents buy brand new Mercedes for their children's' 16th birthday. Therefore I should get a brand new Mercedes for my 16th birthday."

Ahhh, youth.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cell Phone Hell

This past month I have existed in a state of cell phone hell.

Anyone who has tried to get a hold of me probably has experienced some side-effects of my purgatory; dropped calls, disconnected phone line, fuzziness. I was basically a living, breathing cell phone commercial.

Here's how it all played out.

For the past two years I subscribed to At&t wireless. I was very satisfied with their service. My phone was great, the rates were extremely reasonable (I got a discount by purchasing the plan through a previous intern employer), the online website was easy to navigate, and the coverage was consistent.

The problem that eventually developed was the time that I had to talk changed; I needed to go to bed by 10 so that I did not scream unconditionally at my students and average 3 aneurysms a day. If I was going to bed by 10, that meant I was talking to people from like 8 until 9:30. If I wanted to talk to anybody. Which I did. Because I like people.

So I'm sure you see where this is going. Huge cell phone bills resulted. In March my bill was $180 or so. That was a painful bill, so I resolved to monitor my usage and buckle down and some more cliches about paying attention to stuff and meaning business. I went over in April.

My bill was like $150.

The system was broken. I started researching cell phone companies. My roommate had Verizon. I checked it out. I liked the motorola Q, especially because I wanted to get a smartphone this time around, but the per month fees were really high (he was paying 90 a month or some such nonsense). I just could not justify the jumped from 40 to 90 plus tax.

Then I saw sprint had 7 to 7. It had the Q. It was inexpensive. It was oh so seductive. I overlooked the fact that ever single person said that "Sprint drops calls left and right" and "their coverage sucks". And it dropped calls left and right. It had shoddy coverage. I hated my life. But the final straw was when they made me put a 250$ security deposit down AND would not let me pay with a credit card. I mean, come on. Join the 21st century. I want to pay online. Your service already sucks and inconveniences me to the point I have to go to my car in the parking lot just to carry a normal conversation but then I have to write checks every month?

I started looking at cell phone service again.

Then I found a Motorola Q on It was 50$. It was Verizon. Bam. I ordered it. And they proceeded to botch my order in ways that I did not even know were possible. My phone would not activate when it arrived. Then the port did not work. Then the port did work, but Verizon did not have any record of my request for service.

I talked with at least 20 different help desk people, spent 4 hours on the phone and eventually spent 2 hours in bestbuy before the Verizon people got my stuff working again.

I love text messaging.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

TFA Year One - Recap

No writing occurred for the past three weeks on this blog. This is self-evident. All you have to do is scroll down and see for yourself that the last date posted was May 6th or something.

One of my friends told me the other day that he thought maybe some freak hurricane washed me out to sea and since I was the only fatality of this otherwise innocuous natural disaster, there was no press coverage. What else could explain, he continued, your lack of postings *and* non-existent cell phone?

In truth, there was no natural disaster. I was ruminating. And I my phone stopped working.

I struggled, during this past month, to put this year in prospective. I knew that I would be returning to the Midwest for June, and with that return would come many friends, family and just acquaintances that would call me to give an account of my toil.

And my struggle revolved around a couple of questions:
  • How do I explain the impact that I had when all of my hard data shows that I had no real measurable affect on my students? For that matter, *did* I have an impact? What was it?
  • How do I explain the reality of schools like mine, where students are driven by the test and not much else? How do I explain the youth addicted to entertainment, with no focus for anything that does not involve BET, a movie or video games?
  • How do I explain the administrators and teachers that are on the ground, working for the best for the students, but at the same time, trying to preserve their jobs? How do I explain their decisions?
  • How do I talk about Teach For America, when I do not see 'solvency' in my classroom, when I see progress yes, but not solvency in my school, when I don't know what solvency even looks like in the broad scheme of things?
I think I struggle with these questions because they are hard questions and deep questions. I want to write that maybe they don't have answers, but as part of this movement, as a member of this movement fighting for educational equality, I *have* to believe that solvency is possible in some form. Maybe I am just not smart enough, experienced enough, creative enough, something enough to think up a solution that could work. I don't know.

The reality of this year though, is that by the numbers, I did not really make an impact. Yes, 7 of my students passed the standardized test, where no one passed last year. But there are quite a few students who passed 2 years ago or 3 years ago, and did not pass this year. In terms of net improvement, I had 50% of my students increase their scores. That means 50% decreased. The actual number of questions increased was also balanced by the number of questions decreased. So statistically, numerically, I am a wash for year one.

Yes, I still had an impact on my students. One of my students wrote me a letter talking about how she did not know how to divide before this year (a 7th grader) and now she does, how she was bored and ignored the teacher and she found herself being interested in fractions (!). This is a real impact. And so many of my students come to spend time in my room before school or during advisory saying "I don't want to go to so and so, they don't like me". Time and again the tough students come to me.

And while this *is* important, I cannot stop looking at the numbers. I cannot stop looking at one student who will come and engage me in conversation and then sit and do literally nothing during all of my class, regardless of my pleadings. If they don't *learn* anything from me, any math...well, did I alter there course? Did I change their life options? Who knows.

Despite these things, I can honestly say that I loved this year. I am returning next year. I recommend Teach For America to anyone and everyone. While I think it is not the end-all-be-all of educational solutions, I am reminded of a quote that TFA espouses, that really struck me by Mahatma Gandhi; "Be the change you want to see in the world."

TFA is *doing* something. I am *doing* something. And the something is not sand in the wind. The something lives and breathes and dreams and fears and grows up and changes the world.


I am officially on vacation.

There are many projects going on at my house, but I feel I have no duty or obligation to involve myself with these mere trivialities.

For I am the seasoned (tasty!), accomplished (more on the accomplishments later) warrior back from battle in far-away-lands. And by battle I mean, sword fighting. With swords.

So while my brothers toil on re-tiling our laundry room, I am sitting back and healing from the mental and physical afflictions that now accost me.

For example, I am still recovering from the two severe scrapes I received by diving for a volleyball a couple of weekends ago.

But then on a more serious note, I am forgetting and remembering this year, so that hopefully I can approach this coming one with a little more wisdom, a little less tentativeness and a lot more sandwiches.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Year 1 - Nearly Complete

I have 14 days left of class.
I have 19 calendar days until I am flying to Grand Rapids.

It is so close. And yet I cannot seem to find an accurate description or summary or whatever to neatly wrap this up.

Maybe this can't be wrapped up neatly. Well, probably.

But still.

One thing I can say; after the TAKS test, the pressure is definitely off. There is much less urgency everywhere. This is sad, but on the other hand, everyone is tired. I can see it. Shoot, I can feel it.

I for one, have been leaving at 4 pm almost every day. It is a revelation. Mr. F relates it to being in college - it's like we finished class and we don't have any homework until next week, so everyone is looking for something to do.

To occupy this new-found free-time I have been playing very hard.

I found a new game, Settlers of Catan, which many people have recommended over the past couple years. It is awesome.

I also play basketball, and go climbing 2 or 3 times a week.

I'm watching the Wire season 3.

I am cooking a lot.

Good things. I'm ready for Michigan.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Last night I watched the movie by Emilio Estevez (Emeeeeeeeeeeeelioooooooo!) "Bobby". It is about the days leading up to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

It is important to note that this movie is *not* about John F. Kennedy. Nope, this is about his little brother.

So I didn't really know anything about lil' bro until I watched this movie, but I must say, he is a captivating personality. My friend F told me that while the Republicans point to Reagan as the ultimate representation of the conservative mindset in action, Robert was the embodiment of the Democratic or liberal persuasion.

The movie was really well done, in my opinion. It was somewhat in the vein of Crash, with seemingly unrelated parallel story lines all converging (I know parallel lines can't converge) in the final scene.

While the movie was well done, or maybe because, it really messed me up. I don't know what it is about movies like this, where there is such a charismatic personality, or not even that positive - a personality that is empathetic but flawed, who is trying to do good and is stopped by palpable forces of hatred, but I just get all worked up.

It was the same thing with American History X. I see this hate, this hate that we (I am extrapolating here) can put in the back of our minds or let our eyes hop over in real life, and the hate like slaps me in the face and then goes on to kill all of the good and noble and beautiful things in the movie. Like when that kid got his brains blown across the bathroom wall in AHX. I mean what was that for anyway? What did that accomplish? It was over nothing, proved nothing, and the kid had made this huge turn and had so much potential.

That is what I saw and heard in Bobby. I saw this man, who in 1968, embodied so much that was good and right and beautiful about the civil rights movement, and yet had the backing of the powerful (whites). He had reconciliation on the mind in a way that strikes me as more progressive than many that are on the front lines of civil rights today.

It made me so angry that he was killed.

It made me so angry that we are still fighting the same kind of hate and division that existed in 1968.

I really liked Lawrence Fishburne's line in the movie though. He is talking about these two Mexican immigrants, one who is riddled with hate, who bemoans the unfair treatment, and says "No one is going to look at you and say I want some of what he's got" and then the other who is humble and good natured but yearns for fullness, saying, "You sir are a King. King Arthur was not always a king. But he had nobility. You sir are the Once and future king."

Who will I be?

Who will you be?

Who will we be?

Saturday, April 21, 2007


I am all in favor of accountability through testing. It is a good thing.

Students should be held accountable for the materials they are expected to learn in a grade, and if they fail to meet those expectations, they ought to be retained and *supported* so that on the second go-around they *are* successful. Of course, this comes with the caveat that the education system should be equipping every single student to have the choice of attending a 4-year university, and it that end goal, every decision (like, "You aren't ready for the 9th grade because you failed 8th grade math, and we want you to go to college, so you need to know this before you go on") should be made.

And not only students should be held accountable. The schools themselves ought to be held accountable for the product (education) that they are delivering, as well as the environment (safety, cultural exposure etc) they provide. So too should the teachers themselves be held accountable. If you are a disinterested, uncaring curmudgeon who is killing time, picking up a pay check, and terrorizing kids, you shouldn't be teaching.

Again, however, this accountability should come from a place of "We want our children to have the life options of attending a 4 year college, what do we need to offer to get them there?" Good teachers, good staff, and a good, safe environment are all important factors in this goal.

Just to re-emphasize, I think accountability/testing is good.

I think that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and our state "high stakes" TAKS tests are stupid. I just survived a week of testing.

I do not know quite yet what would be a solution, but I know that the system we have now is broken and sucks. Just ask my students. Just ask teachers at my school.

To document, these are the things I did during the 6 hours that I was not allowed to do anything except "Actively Monitor" my classroom on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Oh yea, I was trained on what that meant.
  1. Read Philippians 1
  2. Read Philippians 2
  3. Read Philippians 1 over and over
  4. Read Philippians 2 over and over
  5. Walked around the room
  6. Walked around the room over and over
  7. Took 15 second sit breaks at the back of the room where no one in the hallway could see me.
  8. Took 15 second sit breaks over and over
  9. Counted steps as I walked around the room
  10. Counted steps over and over
  11. Did a crossword (this was on the second day, when I got bold)
  12. Folded paper cranes.
  13. Planned the remaining weeks of school.
  14. Thought about a project I am going to have my kids do
  15. Thought about ice cream
  16. Thought about ice cream over and over
  17. Thought about injuring myself
  18. Thought about injuring myself over and over
  19. Prayed my students would do well.
  20. Prayed my students would do well over and over.
P.S. I was lucky. Mr. F had to monitor on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sharp Bright Spots

During third period today, which is the class occupying the hours of 12:40 until 2:10 pm every week day, my students were working in pairs on a TAKS Study Guide. The students were generally on-task and motivated, both by the reality of *the date* looming in the near future (April 17th folks!), and by the anticipation of playing Jeopardy on Monday and winning candy bars.

While the students worked, I milled around the room, moving from group to group, checking progress and answering questions. With about 15 minutes left in class, two of my Latina ladies stopped me. "Mister," one said, "may I ask you a big question?"
"Well that depends," I answered. "How big is the question? Is it *this* big? or only this big?" I asked, as I made two different circles, the first about even with my shoulders and the second about the size of a basketball.
"Oh, a BIG question," she responded.
"Sure." I take a deep breath.
"Have you ever laid your hands on a girl?"
"..." I wait. I replay the question in my mind. Did I hear that right? Lay my hands on a... What does that even mean? Do I dare to ask what that means? So I wait some more.
"Like, have you ever hit a girl."
"No." Phew. I am glad that is the direction that went.
The two of them look at each other and then both exclaim, "You are going be a great father."

So. I laughed. I had no choice. I mean, the absurdity of the situation, two female students, 13 years old, are commenting on my fatherhood potential, is mind boggling. But then to add into the mix that the deciding characteristic is that I don't hit girls?!?

After I laughed, the girls looked at me and said, "We're serious. It's not funny."
I apologized and tried to explain, couldn't make sense of it, and concluded with, "Thank you."

How do I begin to interact with students who look at not hitting girls as an enviable quality? No, that is not correct. How do I begin to interact with students who look at not hitting girls as a question that one *must* ask when considering males? Is this endemic to a sub-culture? Socioeconomic position?

Maybe I am just naive.

In fourth period, some students asked me, "Mister, are you teaching 8A, 8B or what next year?" (8A, 8B etc are the names of our different grade level teams).
"Well, I teach 7th grade."
"Oh man! I want you to teach us next year!"
"Well you can have Mr. Farber, he's really good."
"No, I want you to teach us!"