Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I've been a fan of RC since I was 14. I found a cheap paperback in a pharmacy in York, PA called The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants and right away fell in love with his style and his clever re-imaginings of themes from Lovecraft. I still, almost three decades later, look forward to new Ramsey Campbell books. This one falls into a comfortable old formula, nipped from HPL: an ancient evil unsuspected by most has coexisted with the citizens of Liverpool for millennia. Because its origins lie in the ancient pool from which the city drew its name, the evil force or race or elemental or whatever it is is associated with water. As is his wont, Campbell sets about describing water and rain and wells and puddles and similar whatnot in his paranoid style. Characters mis-perceive damp spots on walls as squat mis-shapen figures in the corner, or they see puddles on the sidewalks as the sploshy remains of soft footprints. Campbell also dips repeatedly into a wellspring of water-related puns and figures, showing off the literary chops which earned him all those awards. Of course when Campbell builds up like this you know the characters aren't actually mis-perceiving things: there is something spooky going on which they fail to understand.

Gavin Meadows is a tour guide who tells tales of Liverpool's unsavory past: murders, occultists, mysterious stories are his focus. One day his conspiratorially minded father joins the tour and then disappears. At the same time Gavin's services are found lacking and he is let go. With a missing parent and free time on his hands, Gavin starts to follow in his father's footsteps, looking for research materials about peculiar historical figures which have suddenly disappeared from libraries, investigating unearthed tunnels dug centuries before, and learning new tidbits about stories he'd long used to baffle and amuse tourists. But Gavin has little idea what is surging beneath the town, and finds himself totally unmoored and at sea.

I would give Children of the Pool 3 stars out of 5. The opening fifth is some of Campbell's finest prose, but Gavin's character changes too quickly from sure and sympathetic to unreliable and unlikeable. Some of the obscurities in the prose and the mis-apprehended dialogue exchanges between characters--a Campbell trademark--are more trouble sorting out than they're worth. He's used a similar story line a dozen times, most recently in The Darkest Part of the Woods, with branches, trunks, roots, and leaves in place of drops, rivulets, streams, and pools, and at times his tricks are too apparent and time-worn. This one reeks a bit too much of HPL pastiche: I thought Ramsey had buried that tendency ages ago, but Creatures of the Pool is all "The Rats in the Walls," "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." (There's even an antediluvian manuscript uncovered in the library which uses HPL's favorite adjectives to drive home this point). And if, as I did, you guess the ending early, then you must endure a long chase in a dark labyrinth already knowing what is likely to be the outcome. But an OK novel by Ramsey Campbell is still worth checking out. He's been on a hot streak of late, and who can blast him for having fun with his own passion for the genre?

Of course new readers unfamiliar with Campbell and his stylistic tricks might enjoy it and discover a body of work really worth checking out for fans of ghostly tales with a literary bent.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day #111

When I left school yesterday afternoon there had been another melee on campus. An 8th grader was describing it to another teacher when I walked over: "These girls was beefing and then they started throwing down and next thing you know they all jumped in, people standing around, everybody banging and then some niggaz from the 'hood is in there fighting and they knock some old lady down and she jump up and banging back and then the po-pos came."

I saw the school police officers lazily trailing off after a crew of 8th grade girls. The "old" woman, likely in her mid-30s, was coming down the sidewalk, a bit dishevelled but none too worse for wear. She was escorting a lovely young woman with a swollen purple eye and a bloodied nose. Three neighborhood toughs were there too, smoking blunts and looking fly in their swag. The woman with blood on her face was saying "you all bang on a girl like this, uh-huh, it's just a swole eye, you ain't be punching no nigga in the face I bet, buncha punks." The toughs were high-fiving and laughing. "Best get some makeup on yo eye," one said. "I'ma seal the other one up to match it!" another replied. The "old" woman screamed "shut up! Get outta here you punks. Jumping in on a school fight and knocking fists with children and women!" The toughs found this very amusing. They paused and each in turn exchanged intricate handshakes with the 8th grader telling the story before moving along.

The police needed to be following these guys, not those girls...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day #110

I have never in my entire life needed time off as badly as I do the Spring Break week around the corner. Thank goodness my job comes with built-in swaths of recovery time because I'm closer to going postal than a tea bagger after Glenn Beck's show.

That said, I had fun today. Yes, it's a constant struggle to get the kids to stay in their chairs, and it's a totally lost battle to keep them quiet, but I get my 20 minutes of teaching time into each 90 minute class, and that's better than many other teachers in the building, who are simply passing out word searches and coloring pencils this week and throwing up their hands. I've been letting the reins up a bit and enjoying the show. At least we've had a surprisingly non-violent week (knock wood).

Two more days...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day #108

Had my second formal observation of the year today. Went very well, and I had nothing but positive feedback afterward. This time the AP did it (he used to be my P over at the Book) instead of the Big Cheese.

Of course my first formal observation went very well too, and I still got trashed on my mid-year performance review. We'll see how this pans out.

I'm registering for the voluntary transfer fair in May--B'more teachers who have at least 2 years in the system can go and interview for open positions. I'm definitely going to try and move for next year. I'd like a charter school, or maybe a high school. Might be time to try something new and different.

The kids are OFF THE CHAIN! The MSA is done, Spring Break starts Saturday, and they are NUTS. I find it hilarious that the administrators are trying to do formal observations this week, with hordes of kids running around the building without passes, tearing shit off the walls and whooping it up. Kids are busting in my room and hitting students with shit and running out: I've had students hit with dictionaries and backpacks and shoes in the head this week, while sitting innocently in class.

Three more days and we get a nice breather.

Monday, March 22, 2010

health care

Now let's hope the hysteria dies down a bit, and that the 40 states planning to sue the Fed over health care reform don't get their cases to the Supreme Court for Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy to rip the new rules to shreds. "Make insurance companies pay for procedures which keep people well? Hell no! Corporations are people too!"

I am not at all pleased with much of this patchwork mess of ways to force people to purchase health insurance from private tyrannies, but at least we have pre-existing condition improvements and other small victories. Hopefully this lays the groundwork for a big improvement down the line, instead of a Republican swamp in November resulting in everything being overturned.

We could have had a public option with a little more balls on the part of Reid, Pelosi, and Obama. So close! Oh well. Take what you can get out of Washington these days.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day to Day

More fights in and around school yesterday, including a big one at the corner of North and 25th, off-campus and at the bus stop. As I drove by on my way home I saw five police cruisers rolling up and a herd of stampeding belligerents and spectators was swarming in all directions across the Avenue and out into the neighborhoods. Gonna be a long, hot spring. Already we've got temps in the 70s, the dogwoods and cherry blossoms are poppin', and the kids' hormones are in high gear.

On my way to work this morning I stopped at the light at North and Park. A young woman on the corner started smiling and waving and I thought "Why is she being so friendly?" before realizing that I was being solicited by a prostitute just a couple blocks from my house. Usually I don't see them until I get a couple miles east. They work 25th near Harford Road, which is right around the corner from my school. I've never seen one so obviously soliciting along such a busy corridor in such an obvious spot during rush hour before. Again, it's gonna be a long, hot spring...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 112

So this morning Nike, the star attraction at yesterday's gruesome beat-down, shows up in my class with a pass from the Big Cheese. "As soon as testing is done, send her back to the office for long-term suspension."

Is the MSA math test really so essential that this girl who put a classmate in the hospital needs to come in and take it? What bullshit. I spent far too much time this morning protecting Nike from 8th graders who are now out to beat her down.

Apparently there wasn't much face-stomping yesterday at the fight. Turns out Nike grabbed Samsara by the sides of her head and repeatedly bashed her into the concrete. At least that's what witnesses are saying.

Samsara is going to be "ok." I'm not sure I define "ok" in the same ways as others, but that's the word from the hospital. Word on the street has it that family members are talking guns and Nike's family is now terrified.

Nike got arrested. She doesn't understand why. "That girl was running her mouth. She got what she deserved," blah-blah-blah. I am having trouble maintaining my compassion for Nike.


I'm not sure how to classify Ellen Dissanayake. The interwebs call her variously an "anthropologist," an "independent scholar," an "art expert," and an "ethologist." Perhaps it doesn't matter. I enjoyed her book What is Art For?, and for its own sake, too.

Dissanayake takes great pains to present her idea that art, as a universal production of human cultures and societies, must somehow be biologically useful, or it wouldn't have survived millions of years of evolution. Like all scholars, anthropologists, or scientists, she has trouble defining precisely what art is, but she never allows this problem to bog down her book. She spends a bit of time discussing the similarities between art and play and ritual and religion, before neatly side-stepping its indefinability and focusing on what it is useful for, what does it do?, what are its purposes?; these are better questions to ask from an ethological point of view anyhow. I mean, we all know what art is, even if we have trouble putting it into words, just as we know what love is. But Dissanayake is more concerned with why we seem to like or need art. How has it helped us adapt and evolve and succeed? What about art and its creation and appreciation made the tribes or groups or cultures which had it last, while the others died off?

There are clever answers in her book. The creation of common bonds/myths/ritual behaviors/songs allowed a greater civic cohesion, a more reliable and sturdy mass identity, a more consistent world-view and value system to emerge. Through a process called "making special," Dissanayake associates art initially with useful every day items which are decorated, blessed, or otherwise differentiated from regular every day tools and utensils: for example, you might have a bland clay pot for chow and a decorated clay pot reserved for ritual observances or for guests or whatever. The decorated clay pot becomes through the ages and via extraordinarly complex adaptations and mutations Rembrandt's The Night Watch. The clay pot was useful, and Rembrandt's The Night Watch is too, but not really in the same way. You can cook and eat out of the clay pot, but if you're hungry in the woods you'd be hard-pressed to find a use for The Night Watch, outside of burning it to keep warm. And yet if someone were bombing Amsterdam this week the Dutch would spend a mint to hustle the contents of the Reichsmuseum to an underground bunker while clay pots would be left to explode. From that original idea of making tools more attractive or interesting via adornments our current love and appreciation of art emerges. Yes, I'm dramatically over-simplifying, but you need to read the book to learn this shit. I ain't trying to summarize the whole goddamn book for your lazy ass.

So there are extremely old tools which show aesthetic flourishes, like axe heads with fossils preserved in them which were obviously chosen by their workers for the beauty of the stone as well as its utility. Dissanayake says we are hard-wired to appreciate beauty and that making things special has assisted us in numerous ways as a species. Toward the end we get a touch of C.G. Jung and Modern Man in Search of a Soul, but overall the book is very similar to books by Stephen J. Gould or J. Bronowski or Carl Sagan which I read as a youngin. Where the similarites to Jung come in is in her argument that we are lacking something in modern Western civilization which some regard as a loss of faith and morality. Others think it's our dis-association from the natural world. Dissanayake thinks we've lost our participation in making things special, that we hunger for an "embodiment and reinforcement of socially shared significances." In other words, we're unmoored from each other in our lonely angst-ridden lives. FB ain't gonna help you, beyatch!

I'd like to re-read this some day. I found parts of it rather striking, and there are some bits to which I might object if I ever stop smoking ganja and get my mental mojo back. But before I re-read it I want to move on to her other books, most particularly Homo Aestheticus, which is somewhere in the stacks surrounding my night stand.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 111

So my current school is in many ways a step up from my old school. The level of violence at the March, for one, is far lower than that at the Book. I saw kids lying in their own blood about a dozen times in my year and a few months over West; although I've seen several fights on the East Side (including one last period in my room this afternoon) today was the first time I saw a child in a pool of her own blood at the March. I didn't need to see it today. I will think of that big red blotchy Rorshach stain on the cracked cement for a long time.

Samsara is a heavy-set girl who is impossibly sweet-natured. She is at most 5 foot tall and likely weighs 170 pounds. She always accessorizes colored hair bands with rings and bracelets and bows. She is gentle and silly. Today she got beat-down after school and was left lying in a pool of her own blood, twitching, as several dozen students stood around and laughed at her and pointed. All because a bigger tougher girl got the idea that Samsara was "running her mouth." Likely second-hand information, and likely from an instigator who just wanted to cause turmoil. I doubt Samsara said a word until she was confronted for saying things she never said, and then she likely tried to give as good as she got. Once she got knocked down, there was a free-for-all of head-stomping, which is the unfortunate and merciless MO of City middle-schoolers, whether they are beating random adults at bus stops, or each other. And the girls are often worse than the boys.

The girl who knocked Samsara down is in my homeroom. She was talking smack in the hallway after last period and I pulled her up about it, and pulled her aside for counseling, and another teacher joined me, and we thought we had cooled things down. Obviously not. By that point the news of a fight had spread through the school, and once you're billed as the main attraction, failure to perform is not an option. So Nike, the girl in my homeroom, had to step up and punch her target, and once her target was down Nike's "crew" had to stomp her face in. If they didn't stomp her face then they might be targeted themselves. They waited until they were a few feet off campus and in the alley which leads to the school. Some teachers rushed out and chased the belligerents away but the damage had been done.

A sixth grader should never get her face stomped into concrete. A sixth grade girl fight should be over when somebody is knocked down and crying. The ambulance should not have to come and fetch a sixth grade girl off the driveway of her school, brace her neck and put her on a back board and restrain her while her legs and arms are twitching and she is saying "I can't open my eyes. My eyes don't work. What happened to my face?" Her class mates should not find this entertaining. Her mother should not have to come up there and see it, and the elementary kids next door should not have to leave school and step over pooled blood on their way home.

Days like today make me want to take a couple percocet with a couple whiskys. Days like today make me wonder what the fuck I am doing here, instead of living in Vancouver or some place where this shit doesn't happen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 110

The math part of the annual MSA test is tomorrow and Wednesday. I did my part, teaching percentages, fractions, and averages to the kids. I was given no material, so wrote my own word problems using the characters from the Bluford books we've been reading. It was actually fun.

At one time I was quite the math geek--seems ages ago! I took trig, analytical geometry, calculus, and physics in high school, and earned a certificate of achievement in math and science, but then got to college and switched from an engineering track to literature after one semester. I just lost interest, I suppose. I was, however, the only English major in my class who took college algebra, calculus II, and physics lab for gen ed math and science requirements as an undergrad. My fellows in the department took courses designed for people with no hope of passing math or science courses, but needing credits in those areas for a liberal arts degree. I remember getting up in a graduate seminar at Temple U taught by Phil Stevick and attempting to explain Hubble's constant to the class--I wish I'd retained some of that math. Anything above geometry now is a bit too challenging for me. Is there a program which re-trains those skills, the way Rosetta Stone teaches languages?

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I could nit-pick a few things about Up in the Air, were I so inclined. But I really liked the film, and in particular George Clooney's performance. I kept thinking as I watched it that this guy is as close as we come to Cary Grant anymore. And to think he used to be some dude on bad sit coms and doctor melodramas.

Because of the spring forward I'm being far too pithy today. I apologize.


I admire writers who can make me laugh, because I don't laugh easily. Writers who make me guffaw are even more rare. Moore did it several times in this story collection. Sometimes I laughed at the antics of her characters, but more often I laughed in delight at her peculiar and imaginative similes.

Even more than writers who make me laugh, I admire those who can blend humor with the bleakest despair. Moore is a master at following a belly-laugh with a shocked gasp. I thought Self Help was a pretty good collection: with the exception of a couple too-long pieces in the second half, Birds of America is an exceptional collection of fine short stories.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day #106

Today started off on a rare positive note. I got mad props from The Maestro, a jazz drummer who's played a few gigs with Miles Davis and other greats in Baltimore when Pennsylvania Avenue was a mecca of sorts for hep cats. He took his own trio around Europe for several years. He is the drum teacher at The March, and he worked in my classroom for a couple days during the MSA testing. We'd chatted several times before because he's seen my jazz posters and he's always poking his head in when I'm playing Coltrane or Ellington or Sun Ra for the kids and giving me a thumbs up.

Well anyway he stopped me this morning in the office and said "Mr. Godfrey...excuse me...Brother Godfrey" (and here he took my hand in his). "I want to thank you for enlightening me in your class. Your rapport with the children is really remarkable, and I can see your love and commitment. Thank you." I was speechless. The Maestro is one of the few teachers in the building who can silence a roomful of thugs with an arched eyebrow, and he made my week with his kind words.

Of course everything after that was fights and cussing and throwing things and suspension paperwork and phone calls home. I even called my brother-in-law by mistake and started telling him about a student's misbehavior because his first name was the same as her father's last name and I thought I'd dialed her house. He played me for a fool and I didn't realize what was going on until he started cracking jokes and then I recognized his voice. The day was so hectic that I completely forgot the Maestro's suggestion that I had an admirable "rapport" with the kids.

I also had to restrain Gregorious who was involved in a play-fight with a girl which rapidly got serious. I stepped between them and they both continued throwing punches, hitting me in the neck and head. After a couple of his ham-fisted blows hit the back of my head I blew my top and the next thing I knew I had his right arm up between his shoulder blades and his face was pressed in my left armpit. "You going to stop now? Are you finished?" I was shouting in his ear, and I felt terrible because I really wasn't thinking at that point, I was just reacting out of anger. I hate to lose control with a child, but this kid is bigger than I am and in a roomful of other young kids eager to take a poke at adults I felt like I had to send a message. I sent him to the nurse to make sure he was alright because I had him twisted up pretty good, and I documented everything, and both he and the girl are getting suspended. I'm not pleased about it, because these are two of my favorite kids, warts and all.


A ghost and his interlocuter tour the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.* The ghost is fortunately an art lover, and knows Italian sculpture and painting quite well. His interlocuter controls the POV and we get some long lingering shots of great paintings, reminding me that this is one of the places I must see before I kick off...

But Russian Ark is no mere tour of the museum. As the ghosts prowl around they move through various epochs of Russian history and interact with the denizens of the palace, its ball guests, its visitors, its management and restoration crew. There are lavish ball sequences as well-managed as any in cinema history, with the camera weaving in and out of the mazurka and lovely period costumes and decor. A very lovely and strange film. I just learned of its director, Alexander Sokurov, in the NYRB a couple issues back. I shall seek out more of his work, most def.

*At least I think that's what's going on. I won't explain out of fear of spoiling things.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 104

According to B'more school policy, cell phones are forbidden. But the kids are ingenious at smuggling them in through the metal detector and they know how to hide them so the door monitor with the wand misses them too. They conceal them in shoes, in undies, in bras, in hoods of coats. And they text and listen to music and take pictures during class. Half the time when I bust them making calls or texting it's their parents on the other end.

It's getting ridiculous: hard enough to teach, after all, without competing with games and the Internet on phones. And today a girl in my homeroom called up her crew after she was insulted by another girl, and there was a gang of outsiders all of a sudden in our building trying to beat down a sixth grader. Imagine back to the ridiculous drama of middle school which you endured, and then imagine having the ability to broadcast your fear and rage out to adults who "got your back." That's what kids do these days, and often the adults decide to come into a school building and "teach a lesson." That's what happened today. Oh, and there was a melee outside involving 7th and 8th graders. I'd been hearing about it all day, and when my 6th grade class complained about me not taking them outside last period, I said "you are staying right here. I know about the plans for the fight, and you are not going outside for anything until I decide it is safe." They were very upset, and every time there was a noise in the hall everyone rushed over to look forlornly out the windows while I stood blocking the door.

2.5 weeks until spring break...
The fight happened but the school police were outside and stopped it quickly.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Day 102

Day 1 of the big fat annual assessments. This week we have two days of language arts testing. Next week there are two days of math tests. Based on the data collected from these tests teachers will be described as lazy, ineffective, and incompetent, regardless of the home situations of their students, regardless of the level of family or community support at their schools, and without consideration of the lack of leadership and management skills in the administrations of many schools. Also ignored will be the lack of resources and the absence of required special education teachers in general ed classrooms.

Yes, some teachers manage to achieve huge data gains despite these obstacles. Some manage the gains honestly and through hard work and a kind of genius which is hard to explain. Some teachers have this genius, others develop it over time. Some hardworking teachers never attain it. I don't have it yet, and I regard with awe those who do.

Other teachers give their kids the answers to the tests, or coach them. The kids have all told me that their elementary school teacher used to feed them answers on Benchmark and MSA exams. These kids get to sixth grade and they test at 9% (the average of my incoming sixth graders this year on the first test), and we get blamed because their test scores were so high the year before. We give those tests the first week of school--what could possibly be done in such a short period of time to ruin previously high scores?

Even though I dislike this type of high-stakes testing, I am optimistic about my results. My kids made huge gains between the 2nd and 3rd tests. Again, I think it's mostly because I paid them to pass with a $10 incentive, rather than any particular teaching skill. When they give a shit about the test and try, they automatically do much better! But I think many of kids will do well. I was quite proud watching them work today.

We took them outside today to let them play for once for an hour. This was a reward for trying hard. It was a great deal of fun, even though some adults crossing the field stole some cones and a soccer ball out of our equipment bag. At least that's the story--it's quite possible some of the students stole the gear (it's also possible a member of the faculty stole it) and the random adults story was made up.

The boys were really hot-dogging on the field, showing off their moves. Only a couple hot-heads, angry that kids who are inferior athletes were able to tackle them, got upset and tried to start trouble. But it was fine overall. I'd hate to be their parents and guarians tonight. Their school uniforms were rather muddy and grass-stained.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Last year we played four gigs in five days on St. Patty's weekend. This year you have only one chance to see the mighty Move Like Seamus in March: this coming Friday at Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub. Get your Celtic rock fix starting @ 9:30!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Down in the Hole

WBFF FOX45 :: Top Stories

Ah, Baltimore City, where 8-year-olds tote .380 handguns in their backpacks. My wife was visiting the school yesterday and was ambushed by Fox 45 as she left. At the time of the interview she hadn't heard about the incident, and you can see her interviewed near the end of the above video clip.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Day #100

West Side earned 30 minutes of detention for jawing the entirety of second period on his second day at the March. I kept many of his class mates as well. When I was done the math teacher wanted West Side for more detention. West Side kicked a chair and yelled expletives, and Mr. E said "that shit might work at your old school but it don't work with me. Kick another chair and you'll be here until 4:30pm."

I busted through a crowd of 30 cheering 6th and 7th graders to get into the Boys room outside my class where there was a six-man Fight Club in process. I had to fling kids aside who were trying to prevent me from breaking it up.

I'm tired, cranky, bored teaching the required testing materials. I wish they'd let me teach the way I like. The kids are bored and acting out because they can sense when I ain't "feelin' it." Everyone is on edge and the kids bust my balls and I punish them with detention and phone calls.

Mr. C, one of the Filipinos, is so sick of getting cussed out that he's taken to giving as good as he gets. I heard him telling a kid "oh yes? Well give the fucking to your mother as well!" This is a man whose every second word is Jesus or Our Lord and Saviour. The City schools went to Manila to recruit his ass and drag him away from his family so 11 year old East Siders could cuss him out. A damn shame.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Day #99

I knew we would start getting chuckleheads put out of other schools. It's only my 3rd year in the City schools but I've learned some things. Sure enough, I had a transfer in my second period class today and he already throwin' up gang signs in class and talking about bringing his pistol up in school. I looked at his paper and he from some West Side shit-hole a couple miles from the Book. School where they had a police shoot-out with gangs two years back and a six-hour lock-down.

So West Side calls one of my troublesome East Siders a "stupid whore," which precipitates a bit of a mess in my room. After I clear things up and get East Side under control I have to take West Side aside and tell him "Things a little different over here. They play a little bit but if they don't know you they assume you are serious. I know you were joking but you best learn who you can and can't mess with before shooting your mouth off. Some of these kids got friends in the streets who go hard. Watch who you call names on your first day."

West Side is a punk. I know it already. He's defiant, rebellious, and he is going to make class time fun. But I will watch his back until he knows better or he doesn't.

Day #98

My best and brightest kids are dropping like flies: their parents are transferring them out to other schools or they are moving to the GT class downstairs. I used to have 65 students, now I've got 44. And we're starting to get the trickle of students kicked out of other schools with no place left to go. Wonder how many of those knuckleheads I'll end up with.

The big annual MSA exam starts next week with three days of Language Arts testing. I'm taking things pretty calmly, reviewing skills the kids have down as well as those they don't. If we review only the hard stuff they lack confidence going into next week.

It's an exciting time of year because after the MSA I can actually give the kids a bit of an education, instead of simply teaching to the test. We need extensive writing practice; most of my students can't write a sentence, let alone a paragraph. I have a biography of Obama published by Townsend Press which I hope to read with the kids. Along the way I want them to do projects about WW2, segregation, Hawaii, Kenya, Indonesia...

A major problem with the MSA (there are many) is its timing. We stress it so much that once it's over the kids think school is done for the year, even though we've still got 3 months left. It's harder than ever to focus and engage them. But so be it. What is likely my final year at the March is winding down.