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!"


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Crazy or Awesome

I had this awesome conversation with Mr. B today. I was laying out my new-found dissatisfaction with the status quo .

I am going to build the argument backwards, so that it makes more sense, and then loop back to encapsulate it all into a neat little bundle of one-serving bliss that might or might not relate to the title.

I am a first year teacher. As a first year teacher, every day I am at the mercy of numerous devastating youth for multiple hours, while simultaneously at the mercy of far fewer, but equally devastating, adults for multiple minutes. During these periods of entropy (at best, directed craziness), I am certifiably crazy. Insane.

This fact was not known to me until about October. During October I worked 2 weeks of 12 hour days (by choice) and flipped out. I then realized I was crazy, and as a result, physical activity was a *necessity* every day just to protect myself (and all those other people/kids I interact with) from a true crazy episode.

It is important to note that this exercise is not for entertainment purposes; it is for survival.

Now add to this mix the development of relationship. In first semester, I am so busy with survival, and so hopped-up on the adrenaline of running the show and not knowing what's going on at the same time that relationship is an after-thought. When it happens, it happens and is great and I am better for it. When it doesn't, I don't notice because I am surviving and hopped-up on adrenaline.

But this is not entirely true. I know, deep down, that I want, need, relationship. And every time it doesn't happen, I get a little weaker.

By February, this weakness was blooming into fully grown dysfunction. Strange desires and behaviors were cropping up all over the place. I was eating toothpaste and brushing my teeth with pickle juice. I was doing the worm while listening to B.B. King. I was skipping on treadmills, coloring my nails with sharpie markers, and eating tubs of peanut butter.

Okay, none of those were true, but I was acting weird. And now I know: I am in a profession, in an organization, that promotes a selfless masochistic work-ethic, but I am of a religious persuasion that emphasizes community and relationship. Relationship that is sadly lacking.

Mr. B and I decided that there is a Teacher Continuum of Craziness. It hypothesizes that a teacher is always in flux, and you are either becoming more awesome and more balanced and more in-control, or you are becoming more loony, more loner, more unresponsive. You are either developing into Crazy or into Awesome.

TFA subtly emphasizes workoholism as the path to awesome. But I need relationship. It is important. I think it will form an integral part of any path I find that leads to Awesome.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Four Skinny Trees

"Four Skinny Trees" is an excerpt from the book by Sandra Cisneros entitled The House on Mango Street. "Four Skinny Trees" is found on pages 74 and 75. Copyright Sandra Cisneros, 1984 and published by Vintage Contemporaries, 1991.

"They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city. From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn't appreciate these things.
"Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.
"Let one forget his reason for being, they'd all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around the other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.
"When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Birthday Celebration

My friends organized a birthday dinner tonight. It was splendid. We had a large round table, with a visage of Pope John Paul II in the middle. He would stare at us and stare at us until we turned the lazy susan and made him stare at someone else.

This was a great ending to an otherwise disappointing day where the following exchanges happened:

"I think I am getting a brain tumor from this." - me
"Hahaha Mr. Blair's getting a brain tumor! He won't teach here anymore!" - girl in advisory

"Everybody treats me like I am stupid. I am not stupid." - student
"When did someone treat you like you were stupid?" - me
"When you tell me to stop talking all the time."
"Well were you talking about the problems, or were you saying I'm a real boy over and over?"

"Mr. Blair, your hair's falling out." - student in advisory
"... thanks" - mr blair.