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.