The State of My Blog

I’ve been thinking about this blog—about why I hardly ever write here anymore. Last week, it was raining and I was preparing to go into Kroger for a round of groceries and it all came together. I don’t write in here because I feel like I should write only about education, yet there is nothing that says that is the only subject I should write about. Just another example of the imaginary obstacle courses I create in my mind.

So a list, if you will, of things that I’ve been up to.

I am still growing it out. It’s really pretty strange to run my hands through it and have to buy hair products and spend time on it. Last time I went in for a trim, the new hair girl was sure I was done and there to chop it all off. I’m determined to grow it out to at least my shoulders. After that, there is no telling. I may go back to the pixie cut or keep it long. It is just hair after all. I know it seems sort of a paradox that I made that last comment and I write a whole paragraph about it. Sometimes I think my determination comes from some people around me betting on my failure.

For some reason, last year around the start of school, I decided I should start wearing makeup. Prior to that, I only wore a swipe of mascara, face powder, and lipstick on special occasions. Now, I’m all about the eye shadow. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube learning about brushes and color combinations and techniques. It’s sort of fun to play with it. Sometimes it ends up really bad and I just wipe it all off and start all over and I think that’s what I like the best about it.
I’ve also gotten back into painting my nails. I stopped this trend when I started wearing acrylics and then last summer, after a particularly painful and horrible experience at the nail salon, I was done. My nails are still healing from the battle wounds, but they are much better. One of my students always comments on my nails. I think she finds it amusing to keep track of the colors I wear and whether or not they match my outfits.

I’ve read a few books, still on the more reading than writing kick. One of the more interesting YA books I’ve read in a while is If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser. It’s pretty bleak, but very good. I think everyone should read this book. The insight it provides is unmatched. It’s sort of like Speak and The Throw Away Piece. These difficult tales, that make me want to smack some of the adults in the books over the head and said, “Can’t you see that kid needs help!” It reminds me to be more sensitive to my students.
Currently, I’m reading Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis. It’s about these two teenage girls forced to go on a road trip with their weird grandmother who doesn’t like to be called Grandma. It’s taken me a while to get through it because I haven’t taken a day to just immerse myself in it. I do like it though. I like how the story weaves the past and the present.
Audio books have also become part of my life. That is how I got through the Twilight Series. I listened to every other book (New Moon and Breaking Dawn). I’m thinking about going to get My Life in Paris from the public library.

Speaking of which, I just saw Julie/Julia and I loved Meryl Streep. I found myself gushing over her. I know, what a cheese ball. I just love the Julia she portrays. She’s fierce and ruthless and the person I want to be. After reading the Julie/Julia book this summer, I was so inspired and despite what the reviews said, I felt the same way after watching the movie. The Julie parts were a bit annoying, but the Julia parts were amazing.

Interview Judge
This last week, I had an opportunity to be a judge for the Decathlon Competition. I was helping with the interviews. It was pretty cool because the first student to walk in was one of my former students. She was awesome, but I think the best interview we had was with this young lady, a senior, who had the most amazing story.
When she walked in, she treaded carefully because the floor was so slippery. When she got to the desk she was supposed to sit at, she took a deep breath, studied it for a minute before trying to wedge herself into it. I felt for her because I have the same problem—always have. I was up first and asked something lame like, “Why did you decide to join the Decathlon team?”
As the interview went on, she said that college wasn’t a possibility for her. We were interviewing the honors kids, so this kind of surprised me. So when my turn came around again, I asked, “Is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself?”
We were told to ask a variation of that question somewhere during the interview because they’d been practicing their response. Anyway, her response was completely unexpected. It turns out that she is the legal guardian of four of her family members, so she can’t go to college because she has to work to take care of these kids. At one point during her story, I had to look down until I was able to control the water works.
She reminded me of Precious. Her story can teach people. Her story can change the way people are. Her story is only one of the many dreams deferred that sit in our honors program classes. The ones shake our heads at because someone should do something, yet we do nothing.


As the Kids Say...Be There!

You’re invited to the first Children’s Prison Arts (CPAP) Fundraising Mixer!
October 27, 2009
AvantGarden (411 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77006 / 832-519-1429)
6-9 pm

CPAP is nonprofit arts education organization founded by Gypsy Walker in 1993 to introduce juvenile offenders in correctional facilities and shelters to an innovative educational theater and visual arts forum where they can express their thoughts and visions in constructive ways in Houston, Texas. 

CPAP is funded in part by grants from The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, The Brown Foundation and The Houston Endowment.

Please come and enjoy yourself after a long work day and support this important project.

Any contribution helps
$10      one acrylic paint jar
$20      one canvas
$30      refreshments for youth after a performance
$50      printing of 100 postcards that advertise CPAP art exhibits or performances
$100    paint and three canvases for one art session (10 hours)
$200    costumes for theater production
$400    salary for visual art instructor (10 hours) or theater instructor (10 hours)
$500    half a year of office supplies
$1000 framing of 6 juvenile art works

Carolina Villarroel, President
Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Vice president
Laura Zubiate, Treasurer
Georgina Baeza, Secretary

For more information on CPAP visit http://www.childrensprisonart.org/gallery.htm


The Comfort of Old Friends

When my horoscope read, “Get things done today so that you’ll have time later in the week to reconnect with someone,” I thought they were talking about the BF and I. Imagine my surprise when I’m walking out of the office and I hear a loud, raspy voice that could belong to none other than my mentee from two years ago.
She came by to say hello and we sat around for two hours talking about students, work, and her never-ending issues for not fitting the mold. Despite all the struggles, she’s maintained a sense of humor and has even more passion about educating our students.
I wish some people could get past their issues and realize what a great fit she is for our kids. I can vouch for her because for the last two years, the students I have received from her are kids that are prepared for me. They’ve retained instruction and have developed the work ethic needed to be 7th graders. Sure, I have to nudge it out of them at first, but when I find out she was their teacher, I know they have no excuses. In her class, the expectations are never lowered—no matter what.
Being her mentor, I never felt I had anything to teach her. With her, I saw myself as someone who just needed to help her get situated in our school. She knew so much, not just because she was a good student but also because she had her Street Smarts Ph.D. In fact, I probably learned more from her than she did from me.
I know that when her path leads her elsewhere, so many kids are going to lose out. For many of them, she is that one chance that they have to finally break the mold and create a different future for themselves.


Directions Quiz

As a teacher, I get tired of telling kids, "Read the directions." This past week, it took my Pre-AP kids 25 minutes to revise a sentence because they didn't read directions. So, I decided it was time for a directions quiz. I googled and found one and made some modifications to fit my class.

It was comic relief Friday for me. I can't post pics of the kids, but I can post the quiz for you.

Directions Quiz

Read the entire quiz first, then follow the directions given. You have 10 minutes to complete this test. (Your teacher will be watching you and making notes of what you do, so read carefully!)

1. Write your name in the upper right hand corner

2. Put the date in the left hand corner

3. Write your age:

4. Write the name of the President of the U.S.

5. Write the name of the author of The Outsiders

6. Stand up and stretch.

7. Write your two favorite colors here: ____________ and _____________

8. Walk once around all the desks in the class.

9. Write the formula for a sentence*:

10. Put your left shoe on the desk and leave it there.

11. Get up and sharpen your pencil.

12. Fold this paper in half.

13. Add 237, 4986, and 866. Answer: __________________

14. After you do number 13, raise your hand for ten seconds.

15. Write the name of your favorite food: _______________

16. Sit down and stand up 10 times as fast as you can. Record how long it took you here: ________________

17. Print the name of the planet you live on ____________

18. Write down a compliment for the person to your right or left on the back of this paper.

19. Draw one red circle and two blue triangles on the bottom of this page.

20. Don’t follow these instructions. Instead, turn this paper face down and read your book quietly until time is called.

*The timer was sitting on top of the foldable we've been working on for sentence types. The formula for a sentence was to the left and I have them recite it weekly at least.


It's Been Such a Long Time...

There have been half a dozen times that I type up a blog post, but never get around to actually posting it. Some of them are saved and some have been lost.

Life has been going on, you know?

Work is good. Although I’m not leaving as early as I intended and sometimes it gets really crazy busy, it’s not so bad. I like my kids. The same kids I kept hearing were so horrible I’d want to flee the building screaming and pulling out my hair. Perhaps because of this reputation, I’d convinced myself that I was going to be a hard ass at first, and I guess I have been. I haven’t had many issues aside from the incessant gum referrals. I keep knocking on wood hoping that it’ll stay good all year long. We are just sliding down the October slope though. I’m determined not to spend the entire year in the dip though.

I suppose I should mention that I have a student teacher. She’ll only be with me for a couple weeks more and then off to the other end of the building. I had no idea it’d be so cool. I know a lot of it has to do with her being super awesome and me not being a demeaning witch, but it really does make the day go by swimmingly.

In the home front, I have two new pets. I actually just got them today. I named them Jeff and Kelley. I was told that those were stupid names, but the peeps that know me, know me know why I called them that. They’re happily floating in their plastic cylinder right now. I’m convinced to clear off my desk tonight, so I can sit in there and watch them as I force myself to work.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of podcasting the Rachel Maddow show and watching it before I go to bed. She cracks me up. In the mornings, I like to listen to Fresh Air. It makes the hair situation more bearable. I’ve been growing my hair out some, so now I must do more than rub in some gel and muss it up. Interestingly, my hair kind of resembles that of Rachel Maddow. I’m not sure how long I’m going to let it get, but it’s a nice change. I’d had the same hairstyle for ten years.

There’s not much else to really tell. I’ll probably disappear for another few weeks or months. The textbook committee meetings start up soon, and I’ll most likely be spending lots of free time on finding and defending the best book for our district. As big of a nerd as I am, I’m really excited about it.



The bf has this young male co-worker that is having issues with the ladies. Well, with one lady because he doesn’t get that she is with someone and completely happy with that someone. He hangs on to the hope that she will someday leave her partner for him. Where he gets this hope is beyond anyone because she shows no sign of being interested.

So, naturally (that is meant with a tone of sarcasm), they decided I should compile a t-chart (because I am a teacher and that’s the standard teacher format) with do’s and don’t when it comes to the laydeeez for this kid.

When the bf told me about this, I’d had a long day of meetings* and was idling on the couch trying to clear my brain. Then, I made sense of what he was asking and I said, “Do your work friends not know about me? Do you even talk about me?”

Deer in the headlights looking bf says, “What do you mean?”

“Do they not know that I’m not your typical woman?”

“That’s why I thought it would be funny. You could give him a feminist take on it.”

“Huh,” I said as I returned to my idling.

It made me wonder later. Are feminist really that different? Am I a true feminist? Because although I agree with a lot of feminist theory, I don’t feel that I know that much about feminism to comfortably use the term and stand my own in an anit-feminist debate and such.

Then I started thinking about the things I would write on this t-chart, and I don’t know that it would be any different than most women. If it is different, it’s because I have my hang ups since I have been fat almost all of my life and that tends to shape how you deal with people of whatever sex you are attracted to.

I never did get around to that t-chart. I don’t know that I will either. I’m much more concerned with spending my free time sleeping and doing things that I enjoy like research, watching Youtube videos, and maybe hammering out a story or another chapter in that damn novel that has been plaguing me.

*True story, we had a meeting about having meetings. That was a doozy. Seriously, like, really, a meeting about having a meeting? All you can do is laugh.



“I won’t be able to take you to work on Monday,” I said as I unpacked groceries.

He tried to give me the puppy dog look and said, “I know. You’re going to get busier.”

I looked at him annoyed because he hadn’t been paying attention to anything I’d said in the last week, “I’m back to work officially on Monday.”

“Oh really?”

I’m pretty sure it’s most men that are this absent-minded and self involved, but good grief is it annoying.

I haven’t done anything “special” for back to school. I spent Friday running errands, yesterday I stocked up on groceries to help prepare easy meals, and today, well, I don’t know yet.

It’s been a good summer. I had a little remorse in early August for taking off all of July, but now I don’t. I enjoyed doing nothing or whatever I wanted the whole time. I enjoyed spending almost all of the week my mom was visiting with her, my sister, and my niece.

I turned down being the campus representative for my teacher’s union and I quit my Tuesday tutoring gig. I still feel bad about the tutoring because it’s extra cash. Still, there were times I bought materials out of pocket and if it means getting home earlier to make dinner, I think it’s well worth it. I’m determined to eat out a lot less.

It always happens that in the summer I cook at home a lot more because I have time to peruse ads, plan, shop, and organize. Plus, it helps to watch the Food Network once in a while. I don’t necessarily make what I see, but I get inspired to make things that I thought I couldn’t. This summer’s dish was ribs.

I’m interested to see how this all pans out. I am resigned in a sense to giving less of me. I gave up a bit of my summer to prepare, but my classroom is completely ready. Kids could show up tomorrow and it’d be okay. I’m not freaking out about dept. head duties. If some of the people on the team don’t want to work as a team, then that will be their problem. With our new curriculum, they are going to miss out on opportunities. Where I lost it last year was trying to help all kids. While that is a noble cause, I can’t do that at this point. So this year, I will focus on my kids. The ones on my roster. If I accidentally help others, that will be a bonus.



I’m not sure where I read about a new book about lying. Perhaps it was in the Oprah magazine that I browsed through at Barnes and Noble earlier. Anyway, it pointed out some stats like white lies aren’t really all that good and a large percentage, like 80%, of people tell lies. As I cut through the parking lot to the easiest exit, it got me thinking about all the things I have lied about in particular the things that I’ve lied to myself about.

I lie to myself a lot. Mostly to “fake it ‘till I make it.” On those days where everything goes wrong and I’m convinced my day is going to be horrible because the steamer ran out of water or my alarm clock didn’t go off, I often rationalize that those things will not dictate my day and plaster a smile across my face at the first sign of students and colleagues.

That’s not a lie you may say, but to me, it is. See, this is how I got myself to like reading. I have always read, ever since I was a little kid. My oldest sister used to buy me books from some mail service. I remember I had this huge book with all these funky looking drawings. The book was designed to teach me my colors, numbers, the alphabet, etc. I’m sure you know the kind. I loved looking at it and wanted so bad to know what it said. I had other titles, too and Gabi always brought home books for me from the library. Despite us being immigrants and poor, our house was not a poor print home. My mom always tried to instill in us a love of reading.

My mom always recalls me sitting in my rocking chair next to my record player looking at books and listening to music. I loved having books around and looking at the pictures and being read to.

When I finally learned to read, I was motivated by programs like Book It or by praise from my teachers, but honestly, I didn’t like reading so much.

I would have to read passages over and over sometimes because I didn’t understand the words and/or would go off on a mental fieldtrip. Still, I continued to read.

It’s funny that for someone who didn’t love reading, I actually read a lot. Perhaps my lack of friends helped. In seventh grade, I would spend my lunchtime in the library perusing the shelves. Or maybe the summer that we moved to my sisters and there was nothing to do and I learned to stay up all night glued to a book because I became enthralled by the lives of the characters. During high school, I often avoided going home and hung out in the library instead.

When people asked what I liked to do, naturally, I said read because it was something I did often whether or not I was successful. I faked it until I made it because now, I really do like to read. I’ve spent much of my free time this summer with my nose in a book or listening to one on my iPod as I clean or attempt to fall asleep. So maybe lying to myself this instance wasn’t such a bad thing.



Today, amidst the cleaning and napping and errand running I visited two memories.

The first happened when I was sitting on the floor at the foot of my bed staring at the various tubes of lotions that ended up in my bedroom. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed because there still seemed to be so much to do and I couldn’t figure out how I was going to carry that many products back into the bathroom and then I’d have to rearrange the contents of the cabinet to make them fit, but before that I would need to change the litter because surely I wouldn’t be able to stand the smell and I might as well sweep and mop the floor before I clean the litter. So I sat there and took a trip to the district championship soccer game last spring. Who knows what got me thinking about it. But I started thinking how telling it was that the student who invited made sure to come up into the stands to say hello and thank me for coming. I also got to wondering if he’d invited any other teachers. The old coach who took a position mid-semester was there, as was the head coach, and the program coordinator that funds soccer (soccer is considered a club and not a sport at our campus).

It made me feel really good to go and see some of my current and former students kick some SoHo butt. I also enjoyed listening to the parents cheer on their kids. Everyone was supporting “los rojos.” Some parents brought gallons of juice and coolers for the little kids. One of my former students was out there trying his best while his mom gave birth to his baby sister down the street. His dad and little brothers were there supporting him. Those are the things that I truly miss. Last year I had so many duties that although they help kids, don’t allow me to be in the midst of all the action interacting with the kids. I hope I can change that this year.

The other memory trip came as I was driving to run an errand. Again, who knows what triggered it, but I got to thinking about my graduation party. Thinking back, I feel guilty that I wasn’t around to help much. My sister, her bff, and my mom did all of the work from cooking to setting up tables and decorating. It was really cool. There was mole, frijoles refritos, Caro’s famous empanadas, garbanzo and onion salad (one of my favorites), and perhaps some kind of wine punch. There was a cake made by my old supervisor at APP. I’m sure there were other things, but that’s all I remember these days. It was cool because despite it being crazy times, lots of people came and we all just had a good time. When I was thinking about this earlier, I was captivated by the idea that these three women had done this for me, like my ada madrinas. I guess in a way they all kind of are. It’s the kind of thing that happens in movies and sometimes we say, “wouldn’t it be cool if I had….” Sometimes completely missing that we actually already have that.


Summer 09

Summer is halfway over and I feel like I just now got a chance to relax. Even though I attended fewer staff developments this year and the training I helped lead didn't involve as much planning as last year, somehow I feel like I’ve spent the first half of this summer working. June felt like it just flew by.

The good news is that I can totally get away with slacking off now if I want. Aside from spending Tuesday conducting interviews with a slew of characters, I spent most of the week just relaxing. Although, when your nose is constantly congested and your hearing is a bit off because of it and you’re living for your next dose of Sudafed, it’s not much of a vacation.

I did manage to get into a little routine in which I live my life in thirty to one hour increments depending on what television show is currently leading my life. Today, I made a conscious choice not to do that. Yesterday, the finale of the Gilmore Girls was re-aired and I’d been waiting for that since Spring Break, or maybe the little break I gave myself in May. Anyway, I mostly laid around reading a manuscript of an upcoming Pinata Books title with the television on something crappy just for background noise.

The good thing is that it doesn’t take much for my obsessions to change. I just have to become involved in the lives of the characters and then it’s like my sunflower seed addiction—don’t stop until you finish the bag…even if you scald your tongue with the salt.

I got like that with My Sister’s Keeper earlier this summer. It was during the three day TALA training that I twitted about. I would stay up until 2 or 3 AM knowing that I had to be at training the next day, but I'd become so obsessed that I was dedicated to finishing it before the week was over. In my mind, I rationalized my reading with being brain dead at the training. I think that’s the only way I made it through that week. Kelley Gallagher said it best, “I was better off sitting in my cubicle staring at my belly button and watching fuzz grow.”

I do have to make a more decent effort at not spending my days wishing I would just get up and shower so that I could sit at Barnes and Noble sipping tea and writing or reading as the afternoon sunlight streams in and causes a golden glow on the table tops. I also really want to check out the renovated main library. Apparently, best coffee shop in the area has a café in there. I should totally go and take advantage of reading smut magazines instead of rushing through them while waiting to check out at Wal Mart.

Next week the Mother arrives so that should be fun. And then after that, I think I have one official week of summer left before my times gets eaten away by the little work caterpillars. I must make the most out of this last bit of summer. Next year isn’t promising anything different and I will need all of the energy and I can gather up.


State of the Nation

Okay, so not really the Nation, Nation, but my little nation, you know, my corner of the world. 

Things have been ah. For like a week there, I was prancing on cloud nine. But here lately, things have hit a whole new level of suck. There have been broken cars, unwelcome houseguests, arguments, deceased pets, work disappointments, and new levels of negativity.

At this point, the only thing that keeps me going is that crazy optimism that lingers around even if it’s just a faint hint of fog in the air. The one where those major moments of joy and excitement play over and over.

I’m very excited that school is almost over. We have exactly seven days left. Well, eight if you count Saturday which I will be spending with the choir kids at Fiesta Texas. But really, who counts a field trip in which kids who actually like you get to hang out with you and you get to ride roller coasters? It will be a long day, but incredibly fun. 


Bendita tu luz

As she looked for another puzzle piece that fit, the light was in that dangerous zone of melancholy that Sunday night. “I didn’t tell you that the agency we were with closed.”

I felt my stomach drop with overwhelming sadness and impotence. “That’s terrible,” was all I could say. What else does one say at the sound of devastating news? I’m sorry? 

Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk at school hammering out another word parts quiz for the kids when my phone rang. I can’t recall the exact greeting, but what I do remember is her voice on the other end saying, “I have a baby.”


“I have a baby. The agency called me today. They have a baby girl for me.”

I remember thinking is this really for real? There were tears and congratulations and more tears. 

It’s not every day that people’s dreams come true. 


Dramatic Irony

There is a person in my family that is really, really sick. She’s been sick for a while and most of us know, but there is one person that hasn’t been told, my mom. I know it’s wrong to hide such a big thing from her, but this person has decided that they would rather she not know since my mom’s health is pretty fragile as well.

So many misunderstandings have occurred because of this secret--things that if it were out in the open wouldn’t be much of a big deal. But there is nothing I can do. It is up to that person to come clean.

In the meantime, I continue talking with my mom and feeling like I’m watching a Shakespeare play with the dramatic irony unfolding right before me.


A couple months ago when I mentioned my niece being shipped out to war, it didn’t happen because she rolled her ankle and had to have surgery and a brace, etc.

Today she’s finally on her way. I say finally because that’s what she makes it sound like. She told me the other day that she wanted to leave already so that she could get back to see her little brothers.

Strange how she had to leave Easter weekend out of all the weekends. We’ve talked a bit on Yahoo when she wakes up and signs in on her phone. I need to find a St. George candle.

There are so many things I want to tell her, but I’m also trying to remain positive about the whole situation. I just hope she knows, knows how much I love her and hope she's safe and think about her.


Pre AP

Last week for a meeting I was holding, I shared a “My Turn” piece from Newsweek about a mother who has an autistic son and a gifted daughter. She discussed the discrepancy in education between the two. She wonders what would happen if the education system spent even a portion of the funds dedicated to her special needs child on her gifted child.

Ironically, in this meeting, we were told that next year, we would no longer have Pre Advanced Placement Science. We went from Pre AP being offered for all core classes down to three, now it’s two. I wonder which will be the next to go. Perhaps the whole program will go away.

I know all this has to do with funding, but it still infuriates me. It’s so unfair how little is spent to foster some of the talents gifted children have. I suppose it goes with the culture of the country for the past eight years of placing little value on intelligence. Perhaps this will soon change…


The Con Artist

This year has been one of many trials and tribulations. There have been times when I don’t know if I’m going to make it, and other times that I just want to cross my arms, give up, and pout. But I know that if I don’t go through that, then the cool things won’t be as cool. 

Monday morning was our first day back from our Spring Break. Our tutoring time has basically turned into TAKS prep time for our homeroom students. This is a waste of time for my homeroom because they’re the Pre-AP bunch that has consistently done well on the exams. I’ve grown tired of bucking the system on this, so I’ve given in for the time being. Anyway, that morning, one of my students walks in and asks where she can put a tri-fold poster board. Even though my class is cluttered and overrun with student desks, my kids always ask me to hold stuff because I’m one of the few that will, I’m on the way out of the building, and I’m always there after school. So I didn’t think much of it. Later, curiosity got the best of me, so I opened up the tri-fold poster board.

Upon opening, I discovered Shakespeare information. This kid had gone home during the break and on her own, looked up more information, and put together this poster board and made it look “preeety.” I was shocked and honored. See, before the break, my students had done some research on Shakespeare’s life and times. Then we’d read some adaptations of King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Othello. The kids had really gotten into it. They were upset when the bell rang on Friday before we left for Spring Break because “it was just getting good!” 

We finally finished reading Othello yesterday. We had such cool conversations about who was the real villain, what the characters could have done differently, what kind of injustices exist in our times and how they are similar to Shakespeare’s.

I shared this with the people at my training today, and one lady couldn’t believe I had gotten 7th graders so interested in Shakespeare. Then, when she thought I wasn’t hearing, she dismissed the idea of teaching this because she “woudn’t want to step on any toes,” meaning that Shakespeare should be reserved for high school. Well, that’s her opinion. In the meantime, I will continue conning my kids into learning things they might otherwise hate because someone may not take the time to draw them in.


Mr. Hinz

On my Facebook status earlier this week, I posted about being on spring break and limiting the work to a maximum of three hours, which turned out to be a total lie. I spent three hours yesterday browsing bookshelves, doing research, typing up my quick start power point, and planning out lessons. I still have to grade some things, enter the grades onto the online system, find a decent Othello clip, create the Othello summary sheet, and type up my lesson plans. That could easily take up all of today and half of tomorrow. I don’t know that I’ll dedicate that much time, but I’m definitely dedicating the rest of the afternoon today. 

So before I get back to school and life gets all crazy, I want to spend some time remembering one of the reasons I went into teaching.

I’ve always been one of those people that will bend backwards for friends and family. I mostly do this because it makes me feel good to help out others. When I was in high school, I had a friend who used to get to school really, really early. The band room didn’t open until 7:30 AM so a lot of times, she was left sitting outside for a long time. So me, being me, would get there really early, too. It also worked for me because I hated being seen walking to school on the other side of the canal and I really hated crossing the four lane street during morning rush hour.

We used to meet by the rock wall/bench in front of the hallway where most of our classes were. A lot of times we sat there doing homework or reading. When the chill of fall started to greet us in the morning, I’d often arrive to find the rock wall/bench empty. A few minutes later, my friend would come out of Mr. Hinz’s class, our Algebra teacher, and invite me to his class.

Mr. Hinz was this very tall and loud man. He walked with a limp and wore a brace on one of his knees. He once told us that he’d been injured while working on the Panama Canal when he was in the military. He had tons of toys and knick-knacks displayed throughout the classroom. He often wore vests and khaki shorts and a button that said “He with the most toys wins.” And he always, always had his radio tuned to the oldies station The Fox 92.3 FM. I loved going into his classroom because it was a place that I felt I could work.

My friend and I had the same exact schedule all day long. So of course, we would go everywhere together. When Mr. Hinz would see us walking down the hall, he would announce, “Here come the Bobbsey Twins!”

We would always giggle. It never bothered or embarrassed us. We just took it as one of the things Mr. Hinz did. 

We had our blocked algebra class with him. He would teach his lesson, show us a couple of ways to find the answer, and give us time to practice. During the practice time, he would always turn on the radio to the oldies station. Sometimes, I would misbehave by talking or laughing too much during practice time. Surprisingly, he only kicked me out of his class once.

For Christmas, the class decided we wanted to have a gift exchange. We were an uneven number, so he threw his name into the hat. When the day of the exchange came, he gave me a box wrapped in the comics. I thought it was odd and he laughed at my face. When I opened it up, there was another box inside wrapped up nicely with post office paper and raffia bow. Inside was a beautifully crocheted white stocking. His wife had made it for me. It was something I hung onto for years. I’d never really had a stocking before that.

The next year, we had moved onto Geometry, so we no longer had Mr. Hinz. He had however nominated me for Honors Geometry since I had a consistent A average in his class. When he saw my friend and I in the hallway, he still continued to call us by our nickname. Sometimes he referred to us as “slothmores.”

The day of my graduation, I was elated to be done with high school. The future was chock full of potential. When I was walking around the grounds afterward to find my family, I ran into Mr. Hinz who gave me a hug and said, “You’re super kid.”

Such a simple little phrase that looks so cheesy on paper, but it’s something that’s stuck with me all these years. In a place where one could easily get lost in the masses, he made sure my friend and I were someone worthy of announcing in the hallway. He gave us a place to hang out and made sure we moved on with some knowledge of Algebra. He also made sure I knew what I was worth.

When the teaching worm starting working its way around my brain, I thought back to this experience. Mr. Hinz was part of this superhero teacher crew at our high school. The superhero teacher crew that cared about kids and wanted us to make it, and I owe it to him to pay it forward. 


The Rubber Room

For the last couple of months, as a means to maintain my sanity, I’ve taken to putting myself to sleep with a Podcast. I usually listen to Latino USA or recently, This American Life.

The other night, I was listening to This American Life #350 Human Resources. One of the segments was about The Rubber Room. In New York City, when a teacher can’t be fired because investigations are still being done they are sent to an office off campus where they wait, and wait, and wait until they are either terminated or reinstated. During this time, they are paid their full salaries and there are some who have been there for years.

When Dan the Man came to bed after a few rounds of Madden, I slurred the facts of the story to him. “What?”

More slurred, blurry facts.

“Whatever, you’re lying. You’re just dreaming and making this up.”

“No, I’m not. It’s true.”

Then, as quickly as I woke up, I passed out again. When I woke up the next day, I remembered the conversation and thought I must have been sleeping. So I listened to the Podcast again, and sure enough, I was right.

Since then, I’ve been having nightmares about work. These nightmares come at night or during my daydreams and I zone out while cleaning or showering. I doubt anything like that would happen to me, but it’s sad to think that it does happen.

I know some of those people are to blame and they probably did something ridiculously obtuse—something children should never have to witness. However, I know there are some in there that don’t deserve to be there, but because they used their voice, they got on someone’s crap list.

It also makes me wonder, is there such a place in Houston?


The Problem with Education

I’ve been out of the loop this week because I had to make an impromptu visit to Dallas for a funeral. It was interesting to return home and check my usual websites and listen to my regular radio station and people were squawking about Education in America. I find it interesting that the people who make the most negative claims about education are normally those who have been out of the loop or have never even been in a classroom have the most to say.

They are right, public education for the most part sucks. It is not preparing the type of future generations that this nation or world needs. Here is what I see as the “problem” with education.


There are some bad teachers in our schools. Heck, I know we have at least one confirmed bad teacher at our school. No, it’s not one that the administrators claim to be bad, but one that the kids have said is bad. Why do I listen to the kids? Because these kids have come to me to say, “Ms. we’re not learning anything in Mrs. X’s class. We have been reviewing the state mandated exam for a week now and we’ve been on the same question the whole time.” This same teacher refuses to adhere to our campus literacy plan, and she is a reading teacher. Also, she has awful classroom management. I’ve had to sub for her class and have witnessed it first hand—the lack of procedures, no “go to activity” when kids are done with work. Next year, she will still be around because she brown noses enough so that they find a way to keep her.

Then there are those who are there for the easy hours. And they truly are easy for them because as soon as their duty time is over, they are gone. Heck some of them are racing the kids to the parking lot. These teachers are kept around because their kids do fairly well on state mandated exams. And they should do well, this teacher’s lesson plans include a fair amount of test practice since it’s readily available material.

Lastly, teachers don’t use their voice outside the classroom. In our classrooms, we are the dictators. We create our own little worlds where we are the sole leaders and all must do as we say. But outside of that, we are followers. We allow those who are not aware of the ins and outs of our jobs to tell us what we need and should do. Those that do use their voice end up reprimanded or fired.

State Mandated Exams

I’m not against them. I think there should be some sort of exam that holds me accountable so that I don’t wake up one day and decide, I’d rather teach art than Language Arts. Plus, I want my kids to know how much they have learned. I want them to get their score back and know that they are capable. 

However, I don’t want my entire life dictated by these exams. When preparation for these exams takes precedence over real learning there is a huge problem. Now some people may think, “Isn’t that the whole purpose? Shouldn’t you have to teach a certain amount of standards and then kids be tested on it to make sure you’ve taught what you need to teach?”

Yes, of course. But herein lies the problem, we are not just teaching a few standards, we are teaching load of standards. Currently, our English Language Arts Standards repeat each year. It would be impossible to teach any of those things in depth. That’s not going to help our cause. If I teach say roots and affixes at a superficial depth, do you think kids are going to remember next September? Some may, but most don’t. So next year’s teacher feels like they need to start all over again because “no one has taught these kids anything,” and when it’s all said and done, that teacher is only able to teach the same concept superficially because the kids didn’t learn it the first time. This happens year after year until the get to high school or college and the student realizes they really don’t know anything.

Sometimes the answer isn’t to add more to your plate, but to take some off. That’s what needs to happen here. This would change the way we teach. We may have to say goodbye to some of our favorite lessons, but maybe true learning will occur then—the kind that forces/allows kids to acquire knowledge.

Parent Involvement

Lastly, there is parent involvement in the higher grade. I can’t tell you the number of times I have called parents to discuss a student only to be hung up on or the phone has not been answered. I’ve sat in on numerous parent conferences knowing that everything I was saying or suggesting was going in one ear and out the other. 

This week, I spent a few days with a second grader whose homework was to read 20 minutes and study math facts for 10. By the time 9 PM rolled around, she had done neither. Even if she had wanted to read, there weren’t any books around. It made me think of my students. Their parents are probably the same. 

It is the job of parents and teachers to educate children. If a kid’s home life doesn’t value education, guess what the kid will do.

If anyone is going to truly do anything about education, they are going to have to read the research, employ some of the good theories out there, form a council of real teachers that are still in the classroom, and most importantly, not be so quick to judge. Good teachers bust their butts every day fighting an army of giants while answering 30 e-mails, grading papers, attending meetings, serving on committees, and delivering rock star performances to their students. 


Of Mishaps, Accidents, and Change

I have not had very good days lately. Yesterday, I was sent home from work because my craziness got me all antsy and sickly. Today, in an attempt to clean the apartment for the impending Super Bowl festivities tomorrow, I managed to do the following:

  1.       Spill an entire bottle of perfume on the bathroom floor
  2. Break the bucket used to hold the mopping solution
  3. Proceed to get water all over the carpet and bathroom floor
  4. Break off the top of the bath towel chest dropping everything that was on top of it on the wet bathroom floor
  5. Slip on water and almost fall

I still have to wash dishes (I did manage to break a glass while doing dishes), get a haircut, and get my mail from the post office*. So much room for more accidents.

THEN, there was the botched project at work. I totally ruined this event we were planning because I was dilly dallying around. I really hope I can find a new work home for next year. I’m so done being a headless chicken. People say it’s me because I do like to work and be useful and make people happy, but I have had jobs that I’ve done all of the above and still had time to come home and cook dinner and exercise and spend time with people I love. I try to rationalize all the work that I do by saying, “It’s for the kids.” Because when you think about it, it does come down to being about the kids, but I can’t save the world. I have this mentality that believes that even if I don’t teach all those kids, I can touch their lives by educating their teachers. But I can’t because some of their teachers are headstrong or have better ideas or just don’t care, and I don’t have the power to change that. Maybe I will finally get the picture.

*There was a furnace explosion near the office at our complex. The explosion burned down two apartments, our mail center, and the office. Had I mentioned this before?


No. 44

Oh my God, it is really, really true. I cannot even put into words the immense, overwhelming, absolutely wondrous feeling in my heart.


We Must Be the Change We Wish to See in the World...

I saw that quote a couple weeks ago on a cup at the Barnes and Noble café. I’m not much of a quote person. I get too curious about what else it says and if it was taken out of context or what.

But that Gandhi quote really resonated with me.

All around, people keep squawking about change and things are actually changing. You could hear the earth rumbling last year and then it picked up speed at the end of ‘08. At times it seems like they’re coming so hard and fast, they might crush a few of us against the wall.

It’s a little daunting to think of what is to come. Normally, I’m the kind of person that enjoys change, but I don’t know what it is that has me freaking out. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of it all. The fear of falling face first on the ground. I know all of these things are normal, but I hate feeling them. I want that hopeless optimism to kick in already, and at the same time, I know it probably won’t until I make peace with all of this change.

And really, what I put in is what I will get out of this whole experience enter the Gandhi quote. Overall, I think 2009 will bring more of the good stuff and less of the crap that 2008 spewed out at the end. If anything, The Bush will be out of office; so it really can’t be that bad.

When my butt starts scraping the dirt, the Gandhi quote will be my mantra. 


No New Year's Resolution Here

So it’s a New Year. 2009. I will be 29 later this year. I will have completed my fourth year teaching and start on my fifth. I’ll be eight years into a relationship. I will be one year away from thirty.

Someone asked me what my New Year’s resolution is this year and when I said, “Nothing.” They were shocked. They could not believe that I wasn’t setting a resolution.

When I was taking a writing class a couple semesters ago, our teacher said that he was always interested in writing a story that took place on New Year’s Day. He tried to explain why, but I had one of my J.D. moments where I get lost in thought. I knew exactly what he was talking about. How people think that this year will be the answer to all of their prayers. This year will be the year that they decide to change their lives for the better by not smoking or eating or spending so much time at work or spending less time in front of the TV and more time at the gym.

So many people write against New Year’s resolutions. Then there are those that set their lives to them. I fall in between, I guess. If I really think about it, I have fresh starts so many times a year. There is the end of the school year, my birthday, the start of a new school year, the start of a new semester, and then all of those moments during the year that I decide I should change things or the universe thinks I should.

I’m avoiding the resolutions this year, not because there aren’t things that I want to change in my life, but rather because when they come about, I don’t want to have to wait until January 1st to do it. In the past, when I’ve made life-altering changes, the date had nothing to do with it. I want to get away from this idea that it must be done at a certain time.