Tuesday, March 27, 2007

YES! College Prep

Today I visited Yes! college prep. Yes! is a charter school cut from the TFA fabric; high expectations, hard work, lots of support, sights on college.

I was inspired. For I remembered
  • Students, just like my students, can have a joy of learning.
  • Students, just like my students, can think critically about topics.
  • Students, just like my students, can express themselves fluently.
  • Students, just like my students, can succeed.
So now I am left with a "now what" kind of feeling. How am I going to coalesce my reality, my teaching environment with the culture of accountability, of achievement, of growth represented by the students at Yes! Prep?

It's never to late to make a change.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


On Friday I was really tired. I had stayed up until 2:30 am finishing this book I was reading. It was a good book.

Even though I was tired, I still made plans to have fun on Friday. I heard that my church was having a game night from 7:00 until 10:00, and earlier in the week games sounded theoretically like a good time, so some TFA folks agreed to go.

After school on Friday was a different matter. I had no energy to move, so even though I had some work to do in terms of putting my classroom back together (it's like an explosion went off in there at the end of every day), I just couldn't do it. Hoping that motivation might come, I sat at school for half an hour while I read espn.com. I almost fell asleep.

I made up my mind to leave school at 4:35. I debated between going home and sleeping forever, and following through on my plans. I went rock climbing as a compromise.

I really like rock climbing, but I am not very good at it. My strength to weight ratio is not high enough to make me capable of all the really cool stuff that rock climbers do, like dyno-ing. A dyno is what Tom Cruise does at the beginning of Mission Impossible II, in that part where he jumps from one ledge to another. I'm just not strong enough to do it. Or I weigh to much to do it. Either way.

Another observation, is that rock climbing seems to be gaining acceptance as a trendy spot for youth birthday parties. Maybe kids don't go to arcades anymore since everyone under the sun has some video game platform, but it seems like every time I am over at Texas Rock Gym, there is a herd of 7 year old children running around and screaming their heads off. Part of me laughs and enjoys watching the abandon with which these dervishes approach their play (getting to the point here soon) but another part of me recoils from the screaming, twisting, running, bouncing, here-I-am-but-now-I-want-to-do-that-give-me-a-cookie-now-I'm-done-bathroom-or-else energy. It ruins my controlled, purposeful brainwaves.

Mr. Beuthin, his roommate and I ended up riding bikes over to church. Do you ride bikes? You should. It's grand. We stopped at Pei Wei for dinner, and marvelled at what we currently believe to be free beverages and unlimited free fortune cookies. How do they make money? Seriously. I could probably live (for about 3 minutes) on beverages and fortune cookies. At least I would live a very knowledgeable life right?

Game night was held in the children's area of my church. When we got there I immediately started playing with the blocks. They had all sizes, but there were some 2 by 4 size blocks that I was using to make a giant something awesome. Someone commented that it looked like Jenga, and bam, giant super Jenga was born. We played giant super Jenga for about 20 minutes. It is very satisfying when a 4 foot high tower of 2 by 4s falls crashing to earth. Slightly dangerous though. Luckily, there were no casualties.

After game night, we rode home. We attempted to hold on to the back of this SUV, but that didn't work, so we raced him. He went home and cried to his momma after we smoked him. We rode by this big fountain and decided to climb some trees. At the top of the trees we had a tree shaking contest, an animal noise contest, and a peeing contest. I eventually decided that I was Rafeekee from the Lion King, and started chanting some mumbo jumbo, that unknown to me at the time, was actually the key to turning on the fountain. Marvelling at my power, I attempted to chant the fountain into spitting fire, but sadly, this never panned out.

We continued to ride our bikes around, travelling to this little park. On the way, I rode down a big hill and hit a giant mud puddle, effectively transitioning from clean-but-sweaty-Mr.-Blair to did-you-get-in-a-fight-with-a-wild-boar-Mr.-Blair. At the park we rode around on the basketball court running over cockroaches. They crunch and squish, squish and crunch in a very satisfying way. At the play ground we were secret agents infiltrating a compound, and we were careful not to set off the motion and pressure sensitive floors. Or to fall out the window and land in the lava. Both would have been a sad way to go. Home.

We wrapped up the night by attempting various gymnastic exercises on the crossbeam of the swing set, and by throwing a football in the parking lot.

Apparently, little kids are contagious.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Loose Ends 3 - Spring Break

I am on spring break. Right now. Right now, I am on spring break. Spring break, right now, is happening for me. It's happening.


I went backpacking for the first half of my spring break (did I mention that I was on spring break?). I travelled across the great state of Texas for 9 hours, and arrived at Big Bend National Park.

At first, I was rather skeptical about Big Bend receiving "National Park" status. Yes it seemed wrinkly, yes it seemed big, but was it really worthy of being called a *National* park? I had my doubts. It was all brown and shrub covered.

The first night was an adventure, because we made it to the park just before closing time. All of the traditional campsites were full, and the ranger said that "For your safety and comfort, you should leave the park for tonight." We, of course, thought this joker was full hilarity and nonsensical statements, and decided to backcountry camp the first night. It was the right decision.

As we quickly discovered, Big Bend is dominated by the sun. There are 3 important times for every visitor to be aware of:

Sun Rise - a.k.a. when I can get up and stop pretending to be sleeping in this crazy hot weather.

Sun Set - a.k.a. when I can get in bed and quit pretending that I want to be outside in this crazy hot weather.

2 to 4 pm - a.k.a. when I can (try to) find some shade to escape the crazy hot weather so that I don't suffer heat stroke

After 3 full days, 38 miles, lots and lots of elevation gain and loss and 4 nights, here are some take-aways:
1. Big Bend deserves to be a national park.
2. Cowboy hats are sweet. Especially bent up ones.
3. Sunset, sunrise, and stars make any outdoors experience memorable.
4. Staking out a bluff, for the purposes of gang territory, in the wilderness, does not really pose any realistic benefit.

- Lil' Flapjack, gang leader of SW-4
"This is our bluff."

Loose Ends 2 - Losing my job

This week, I am on spring break. The glory of being a teacher. I am definitely calling all of my engineering friends tomorrow.

So, everything seemed to be on the mend with my principal, and everything was running smoothly. Well, as smoothly as 6th and 7th grade classes could hope to run with a first year engineering major running the show.

I got an email last week from my principal, asking me to come speak with her during my planning period about employment. She used a different word than employment, but it currently escapes me. Whatever.

So I roll down there, after talking to that other TFA guy (Stockton), who did *not* receive a similar email. I meet the 8th grade intervention math teacher at the office. She is my counterpart for 8th grade math.
"You got the email too?"
Me - "Mmm hmm."
"Someone's in there right now."
Me - "Ahh."

After 15 minutes of nail biting I am in.
"So as you know, the district is switching to traditional schedules next year, so we are going to be cutting units at all of the secondary schools. As an extension of this change, the math intervention role does not exist next year. This program was federally funded, and we don't get the funding next year."

"But don't worry you are not getting fired. We as a district are putting all of these teachers into a pool, and we will be filling future positions from this pool before we do any job fairs of any sort this summer."

Riping my fingernails out of my hand.
"It is important to understand, these are not walking papers. You are not getting fired. We are going to be finding another school for you. Since you are in TFA, we have to find you a school with another TFA corps member, so that might be hard, but you are not getting fired."

Gouging my eyes with my thumbs. "Okay."
"So we are going to sign this paper saying that you understand this process. We are going to be trying to find a spot for you here first, but that comes on the basis of seniority, as determined by contract signing date."

So my job doesn't exist next year.
This means (by my estimation) that I have about a 5% chance of being back at my school next year. I would need 2 math teachers to resign before I would be offered a position, and that just won't happen.

My options are to seek positions at schools my friends work at, by having my friends put a word in with their principals. "You, I know this dude. He teaches math right? And he is way sweet. Get him over here." Well, something like that.

Or I could wait, and maybe my district would run out of slots. Then I might get switched to HISD or to YES!

At least one other TFA math teacher (at a different campus), has received similar papers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Loose Ends 1 - Almost Getting Fired

So almost two months ago, I received this email from some guy who works for the district, of whom I had never heard. He said he was in charge of ACP (alternative certification process), and that he had gotten word that I was having trouble with "professionalism". He scheduled a meeting for the following Wednesday, in my room, at 10:35 am. The email was copied to my principal, my PD, and to my PD's boss.

Needless to say, I was shocked. Even more shocking, was another TFA teacher, 2 doors down from me, received an IDENTICAL email, except his meeting was at 10:50 am, and in HIS classroom. WTF indeed. So, much debate ensued. The next week rolled around. Wednesday I came down with the flu. I went to school SOLELY BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE BEEN UNPROFESSIONAL TO MISS THE MEETING. *grin*. *head shake*. Anyway, at the meeting, the district guy, two of his aides, my PD, and her boss all sat down and discussed the specific nature of my unprofessional behavior.

It started like this:
"So do you know what this is about?"
"No, actually, I have thought about it, and I have no idea."
Awkward waiting.
"Well, let me read you some specific things...blah blah blah blah"

It ended like this:
"I am going to go out on a limb here. I know you are sick, and I don't know you, but I am reading that you are angry. Maybe I'm wrong, but that is not a good position to be in."
"Uh huh."
"Well, if you ever need anything, you can contact me. I'm more than willing to help."
I leave the meeting, and the district guy follows me out. He shakes my hand and then:
"I meant what I said. I think you are angry. And I am willing to listen."
Pause. Trying to decide what to do."Of course I'm angry. I'm furious. This was like a slap in the face. I am working really hard, and this is the first I heard of it?"

Ugly situation. I did not go to school the next two days. Flu. I went back, on Monday, was cooled down some, and scheduled a meeting with my principal to discuss my plan for redemption. *cough* I mean improvement.

So I roll into this meeting with no real idea what I want to talk about. I thought she would dictate the agenda to me. Oh well. So I make up some stuff.
"I didn't think the meeting went well."
"You were sick, it is understandable."
"Still. There were some really good points. I have a few questions."
"That's great. What were they?"
"Umm...Yea...so with the DCA stuff, what is the timetable you want for those things?"
"As soon as you administer the tests, the results should be posted."

This continued for about 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes where my principal started talking about how we can reach every student if we try hard enough. During this whole period I was trying to think if there was anything I *really* wanted to know. I was paying attention too.

"One thing really kind of upset me about the meeting though. One of the comments was that I was not a 'team player' and that I was hard to work with or something. I feel like I am always going around work with a smile on my face, willing to help, greeting everyone, so I don't understand where this could have come from."
"Well, when you are by yourself you are like that. That is exactly why I wanted to hire you in the first place. But when you are with... hmmm..."

At this point, my principal debates about telling me something, and then goes for it. Basically, when I am hanging out with this other math TFA guy, we become super negative. Jerks. Arrogant.

Well. Look who has egg on their face now.

"Wow. I didn't even know I was doing that."
"Yea. That is why I wanted to bring this up. I know you guys can be great members of our team. So by addressing this now, we can get back to work."
"Sounds great!"

A couple weeks ago, my principal drops by the computer lab, while my kids are working on their tutorial program.
"Could I speak with you for a moment Mr. Blair?"
Ohhhhh no. "Sure."
The district guy is hiding around the corner.
"I hear you have been doing a great job since our chat."
"Yes sir! Things are going very well."

Everyone smiles and rides off into the sunset.

I feel ill.