Saturday, June 26, 2010

And we're off...

For a four-day break. Beach. Sand. Booze. Breezes. You know the drill: in the car for three hours, and back mid-week.

Stay cool, B'more. See you in a bit.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Easy Living

Just over a week into summer and I'm starting to move out of the doldrums. 2010 has been a hard year, and is only halfway done.

I've been watching a great deal of World Cup, and drinking red wine, and working out, and taking baths. And reading--glorious reading! I'm catching up on Harper's and Foreign Policy and the NYRB, and reading some fat novels to boot. I've even begun some long-overdue projects around the house: mending the back "yard" fence and clearing out some junk in the basement. I still dream of work every night, but the tone of the dreams have changed gradually from miserable to indifferent.

We're off to the beach tomorrow for four days. I plan to be impossibly lazy. When we return I'll have a bit over a week before training commences for my new job. A week-long Expeditionary Learning conference at the Hyatt downtown will help shake the cobwebs out of my head.

Today: Yahtzee is coming by to watch Brazil v. Portugal, then I'm having lunch with Julio, and then we're off to the Single Carrot theater tonight to see Tragedy: a Tragedy by Will Eno.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I'm at school, and it's the final day. I can't get everything done in time. There are kids trying to take their tests, there are kids throwing bricks through car windows on the faculty lot, there are teachers and students shooting at each other. I can't believe all the things I have to pack up and take home: books, coffee maker, microwave, toys, supplies, lamps.

In the dream the elementary side of my school is in a large medieval stone tower, and suddenly it tilts over and falls to the ground. I burst into another teacher's room and out the window in order to start trying to help any survivors. I climb into a window and begin picking up toddlers and carrying them out one by one when I wake up jazzed and stressed out.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Stanislov Grof documents decades' worth of paranormal or synchronistic phenomenon observed over the years in his clinical practice as a psychoanalyst and therapist. Of course you have to understand that Grof's technique is to put his patients into alternate states of consciousness in order to heal them; often this is done via high doses of psychedelics, or through Rolfing or breathwork or shamanic drumming or combinations of all of these. At any rate, I'm sure the incidence of ESP and past-life and out-of-body experiences are higher when the therapists and patients are zapped on LSD and rolling around the floor at Esalan listening to Bruckner.

I mean the snark good-naturedly, of course. I love books about psychonalytic theory, drugs, aliens, the paranormal, and synchronicity, and Grof always delivers a rousing entertainment, straddling as he does the dividing line between scientist and mystic. We know next to nothing about how consciousness works, and Grof asks interesting questions about the data he's collected over the years.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The End

My time at W.C. March ended with a whimper, not a bang. For the third consecutive day there were more staff at school than students, and there were very few staff present.

Again, the social studies teacher and I took what kids we had over to the gym to play hoops for several hours. And then it was done. I turned in my keys and bolted from that place as quick as I could, never to look back.

And it happened on a beautiful Bloomsday.

My new school.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day -1

My room is empty and tidy. My posters are down, the computers are covered, my paperwork is done. I have a few more hours at The March and I am done with the East Side. Back over West, where I started, but in a charter school this go-round. I just registered for a week-long training in their methodology this summer.

What did we do today at work? I played basketball with another teacher and some sixth and eighth graders today. I hadn't played in any kind of organized game of hoops since Michael Jordan's first retirement, but it was fun to get out and move around. I had a lot of trouble with layups early on, because playing ball isn't like riding a bike--but I recovered and ended up at 30% shooting. I made some great rebounds against Talon, who is 6'3" and has a huge wingspan. I was really proud of him for his leadership and skills, but I took pleasure in contesting him on every shot. He told me he's never played against someone with faster feet, and I thought that was hilarious, and impossible. My feet didn't stop him from scoring a couple dozen points the first game.

The second game I was on Talon's team. I set lots of picks for him which he finished with grace, switching hands often and showing off his skills. He hung off the rim once but never jammed today, for some reason. I benefited on post-up plays from his good passing and got a couple easy buckets.

As remarkable as Talon's talents are, I still have to shout-out my man Shaken, not Stirred. He's about 4'11" tall, but he is fearless and has a great floater and a fantastic deep shot, which he can only make underhand like some 1950-s free-thrower.
I was entertained no end by the sight of Shaken, not Stirred shaking off Talon a couple times and floating a shot over his gigantic wing-span for a deuce. I saw it several times today.

Because I'm done, and because there won't be more than a dozen children in the building tomorrow (there were barely that many the last two days) I was thinking about calling in sick tomorrow. But Talon asked me to play hoops again tomorrow, and it's worth going in for that.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I had almost no expectations for The Road, despite having admired director Hillcoat's The Proposition, and of course having loved the novel, and of course loving Viggo Mortenson. So I watched it the other night suffering from acute insomnia and that's the best time to see such a bleak film; under duress, unable to read or think, and capable only of wallowing in misery.

There's a lot in which to wallow here. If you read the book, you know what I mean. The film follows rather closely Cormac McCarthy's grim vision. And no, you can't really film what made the novel special, namely McCarthy's Biblical prose and the way love and hope somehow win out in his frank portrayal of violence and despair. But the cast is great, the settings are sufficiently grim, and after a couple days without sleep and with continuous images of earthquakes, floods, and fish and fowl coated in oil bombarding us all the movie fit my mood. Surprised to see Robert Duvall and my man Omar Little in brief cameos. Would I recommend it having seen it wide awake in the theater? Probably not. But I liked it fine in the wee hours.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Day -6

I heard the kids in the hall yelling "fight!" and my classroom emptied but I stayed in my chair. I just wasn't in the mood. Then I heard Ms. B the IST shrieking and I jumped up and there was a damn mob of seventh graders swirling around. I charged down the hall and started yelling and throwing bodies aside just as the fists starting flying. An 8th grade punk name of Terrence was in the middle trying to fight a 7th grader one-on-one but about 8 kids were punching him. Much as I dislike Terrence and figure he was getting what he deserved, I must admit he a warrior. I saw him take several solid blows to the face and he only became more focused and angrier in his pursuit of his quarry. There was already blood along his cheek and his eyes were puffy when I got in the mix. The tall hall monitor joined me just as I started trying to dislodge boys, fists raining down all around my head and shoulders and hitting me in the sides. She was grappling with the two main combatants so I turned my back to them, pushed them into the wall and started trying to fend off the half-dozen kids just throwing random punches at the 8th grader. I heard Miss M screaming "Y'all hittin' me, stop it!" and I was flinging kids away and then Officer Trout the young cop hottie jumped in the fray and started bangin' with her fists and stick and we had a fight on our hands.

It likely lasted 45 seconds to a minute but I felt like I was in the melee for a long time before a second cop arrived and released a blast of pepper spray. Next thing I know I'm hacking, Ms. B is hacking and crying, Ms. M is holding a rag over her face and dragging punks up the hall, and there are kids on the floor puking and hacking all around me. All the sixth graders were running up and asking if I was alright and hugging me and saying "You were taking some hits Godfrey! Your face all red! You okay?" and whacking me on the back and handing me wet paper towels.

Yeah, I'm okay. The 8th grader's face was a mess, however, as were several other boys'. I think B'more's finest took 5 or 6 young men out in cuffs, and hopefully their summer vacation starts a few days early and I'll never see their sorry asses again.

Day -7

An administrator got on the horn today and made a testy announcement about teachers taking down their bulletin boards and classroom decor too early. I'm guilty. I've not taken down all my boards--only half--but I've taken down everything else. I've packed up all my books, I've brought 80% of my stuff home. By Friday of this week I want to be done loading and hauling, so that next week I can fly out the door on Wednesday without a care in the world.

The administrator made the point that taking down the bulletin board displays outside our classrooms was making the school look bad, and we had many visitors coming in over the final week. So far as I know no teacher has taken down a hall display early; rather, the herds of students running through the halls are responsible. I had to remove some decorative borders this week because they were ripped and torn or besmirched by graffiti, but I left up student work and unit and assignment rubrics. But while the sixth graders were participating in an assembly yesterday those whose behavior had excluded them from the gathering ran around the school trashing class rooms and wreaking havoc. They dismantled my board and wrote "Ms. Turner a bich" in magic marker on the orange base paper. (The absence of linking verb and the mis-spelling of "bitch" means the culprit is obviously not my student.)

So once again, if the administrator in question actually went out into the hallway once in a while and saw the state of the school, she would not be scolding teachers for something beyond their control. As for not tearing down the insides of class rooms early? Every soul in that building is desperate to escape, and ASAP.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Day -8

Two job offers came in. Each is a major step up from what I've suffered the last three years. Each is very challenging, with some difficult kids. One is a diverse middle school with large percentages of Latinos and whites which wants me to stick faithfully to the wooden and rote learning model espoused by B'more City headquarters. The other is a dream job, a charter school which runs outside the City school system with the full blessings of the City school system. Were I to accept it, I would be teaching a combination of History, Social Studies, and Language Arts under the title "Humanities." There would be a lot of work involved in collaborative planning with other teachers, and doing arts integration lessons, and long-term projects. But I'm really leaning that way. No more fucking standardized tests, no more worrying about required useless crap stapled to my walls. I can concentrate on teaching? Whoa! I'll have to take and pass the Praxis II in History this summer, but how hard can that be? I'll also have to do a week-long training in July for something called Expeditionary Learning. Bring it on!

I haven't signed anything yet, but I know where I'm leaning. First I need to get through 8 more days at The March. But I'm moving from Hell to Purgatory with this news. Perhaps I'll get to Paradise yet.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Christ, I'm only on pace to read 40 books this year. Inexcusable! Better get it in gear this summer.

OK, I've mentioned before how these Demon Princes novels are formulaic, but Vance is so imaginative the ride is always worth it. Here for the confrontation between Kirth Gersen and his final victim we have as setting a planet set aside for study of its unmolested flora and fauna. The few pages of description of the creatures and their habits is alone worth the price of the book. I'm sad to have finished the series, much as I was when I finished the superior Dying Earth novels. But there's a lot of Jack Vance to go, and I will seek him out again.


I was done with martial arts films many years back--the formula was worn to hell ages ago, particulary after Black Belt Theater when I was a kid, and the more recent addition of CGI and wire stunts has made martial arts films not more interesting but less so (with a few exceptions).

But here you've got Tony Jaa doing elaborate extended fight sequences in single cuts with tireless exuberance. The plot? Instead of getting revenge for a killed father/brother/teacher, he's angry over kidnapped elephants taken to Australia. So he kicks lots of ass and runs into Jackie Chan at the airport. Fun.

This is the second time I borrowed Spirit of the Beehive from Netflix. It's a wonderful puzzle, and I need a few more viewings to piece it together. If you like allegorical films with dense symbolism you need to check this one out.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Day -8

One full week remains in this wretched school year. The kids were off the chain weeks ago. They've now become something beyond that. We need a new idiom for their behavior, something to do with BP and oil spills--but I'll leave it up to someone who can think. All I can do anymore is react: "Put the desk down! Stop climbing up there! Why did you throw that? What are you thinking? Stop touching her!" I remind myself of the Bill Cosby Himself video from thirty years ago. "All children have brain damage!"

The mother of a troubled young girl spent the day in school today. I've spoken with her many times. "It's a damn shame they shipping y'all off," she told me. "This mess ain't you teachers' fault, it's the gottdamn parents who let they kids act like jackasses up in here every day. Look at some of these 11-year-old girls. They all hootchie. My daughter wore something like that I'd wear her ass out. Don't get me wrong, I don't like hitting chidren, but if my eleven year old had her titties out in school she'd pay the price."

There are condom wrappers in the stairwells. The police and administrators are hiding in their offices. There are huge chunks of dry-wall in the hallways on the floors. My class room door is down to its top hinge, just like last year. I have to lift it up and twist it to shut and latch the door, but the lock no longer functions. Any tiny tot with gumption can bust my door now, and they do so routinely, running in and swinging bicycle or dirt bike chains.

This is the kind of behavior Baltimore middle-schoolers get up to on the streets. Imagine them in your face all day. There's nothing like handling youngsters all day and then having them buzz through your 'hood in the evenings and on weekends, a couple dozen at a time, on a variety of gas-powered vehicles, popping wheelies, doing stunts, blowing traffic lights. It's like fucking Mad Max around here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

frozen fire escape

frozen fire escape, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Seems such a long time ago, doesn't it?

Day -10

In order to get my kids through the final Benchmark Test I had to bribe them with free time. "You work on your test, you take it seriously, and I will give you 15 minutes free time at the end of class." So we got through it and I collected the tests and I put on some Michael Jackson and the kids were on the computers and hanging out and it was all good. And then some jackasses from the City rolled up in my room and scowled at me and walked out. Ten minutes later the Big Fat Cheese gets on the horn: "Teachers, I want to remind you that school ends in two weeks. Give your kids meaningful activities. Do not show movies or have them lying around your room listening to music."


There are teachers who stopped teaching in November. I've been slogging my kids through lessons every day. They are still reading novels, doing drills and class work, and learning grammar. We have a test every Friday on new material. Half the staff is playing board games and watching videos in class every day.

And I get nailed by a surprise inspection. Mutha fucka!

Oh, well. Who gives rat's ass? The kids running the halls are dismantling the building. Every day there are new and bigger holes in the drywall. Today someone pulled the fire alarm (which happens very regularly). We got the all clear and stayed in our rooms waiting for some lazy ass to get around to shutting down the screeching and piercing siren. Then someone rolled up an old carpet on the third floor and lit it with paper balls and we had a real fire. Building evacuated for arson for the sixth time this year by my count. We only had three of those last year.

Speaking of loud noises, I went to the Michael Franti/Wailers show at Pier Six last Saturday. I never expected that concert to be loud. It was deafening. I still haven't recovered, and wonder if I ever will. Shit was louder than Slayer, and I would know. What the fuck is up with that? I think the sound dudes blew out their own ears on the Wailers, and had to turn it up so loud for Franti to compensate that they made his show into a wall of indistinguishable sound. I can barely hear.

Day -11

I went in yesterday following the three-day weekend with a heavy sense of foreboding, but it turned out to be a very chill day. Aside from the fact the AC is still haywire and we can't open the windows, everything was cool.

Of course there were fewer than 10 students in my classes. As the year progresses their attendance fluctuates as wildly as the staff's.

Still no definitive answer on the job search. East side elementary/middle by Patterson Park wants a 3rd interview tomorrow after school. High school in Hampden wants a conference call interview (again, a 3rd). Cool project-based expeditionary learning charter is satisfied about everything except they want to check my references and get back to me. So, I wait.

I'm starting to see the kids at The March in a different light now that I'm not going to be there next year. Yes, they are for the most part twisted, wounded, and feral little souls with no consideration and not a drop of compassion, but I am going to miss them and I hope they make it.