Saturday, April 30, 2011


giacometti, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day #135

I love my boss. When she's critical, it's constructive. When I tell her I don't get something she shows me how to do it. She worked with me for two weeks, planning lessons and co-teaching my class because she likes to do that with all her team-members; not only does it help us learn the Expeditionary Learning techniques we need to know at this charter school, but it helps us develop a stronger professional relationship. While she was teaching in my room she noticed my frustration at trying to teach editing with Word and an LCD projector and hand-written charts and the dry-erase board. A couple weeks later an ELMO document reader showed up in my room, so now I can edit paragraphs manually and show text and images and even three-dimensional objects without having to scan them into my PC or blow them up and print them out.

My school is awesome, my boss is great, and the kids drive me bonkers! Well, some of them. But this school year is ticking away quickly.

Here's a good indicator about the kind of school year I've had compared to the previous three years: April 28th was the first day I saw a student's blood. If you followed this blog when I was at Booker T. or at the March, blood was a routine part of my job. We are more than 2/3rds done this year and I just saw blood for the first time! And it wasn't blood from a fight, it was blood from stupid seventh grade boy horseplay! I was almost happy to see it, because I got to say "See, I told you you were going to put an eye out," after three boys tried to tackled another boy in my room and one ended up splitting his eyelid open on a metal screw in a chair. I've always wanted to use that "put an eye out" line.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Books #14 and #15

Yay! I canz read growed up books!

It's fitting that Mr. Toibin opens this collection of short stories with an excerpt from Henry James's notebooks, because he's very much a writer in the same vein as The Master. I don't mean stylistically, because James wrote much more convoluted and intricate sentences. While James would have been aghast at some of the frank sexuality in these stories, I think he'd recognize the trans-Atlantic nature of many characters in them. James specialized in innocent Americans going to the Old World to be victimized by wicked old Europeans; Toibin writes about Europeans who've escaped to the New World, and find themselves displeased at going home.

Toibin can capture a person's consciousness quite as readily as James did; he writes gay and straight, male and female with equal conviction and compassion. I've read The Master and Brooklyn, and was not a bit disappointed by these tales.

I assigned this novel to some of my higher level kids over Spring Break--I think it's quite good. Jethro is a youngin in rural Illinois when Civil War breaks out and rends his family in two. His path to maturity includes running a mule team and wagon to town alone, facing down accusations that his family harbors Southern sympathies, and writing a letter to Abe Lincoln about a complex moral issue. That's all I'll say about this book, which deserves its reputation as a classic YA novel.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spring Break

Made the most of Spring Break this year by taking the train to Manhattan Friday night. We stayed at John and Leesha's place and ate several fine meals. The highlight of the weekend was seeing The Lion King on Broadway: it was my first such experience, and the fact that young Simba was a student of mine from SBCS made it all the more exciting. For a $20 donation to an HIV/AIDS charity we got to take photos with the stars--young JB was shocked when I walked over. "You could have told me you were coming, Mr. Geoff," he complained. The woman photographer asked if he wanted a picture of us together and JB asked "do I have to pay the $20"? I told him how good he was, and then teased him about his homework. "I left it at home!" he swore. Heard that one before...

On Sunday we went to the Cloisters Museum. I'd never been, and liked it a great deal. There was one gallery in particular which really captured the feel of an old Gothic church chapel, with a few dukes and duchesses in repose in their sculpted marble tombs, some stained glass from churches in Normandy, and reconstructed bits of doorways and architectural details from the old country here and there. I also really enjoyed the gardens and the unicorn tapestries.

We rented a car from Manhattan and drove west, but only made it halfway across PA before we stopped for the night in scenic Clearfield. The Super 8 was brand new and rather nice. Not much to do, however, other than sleep. There was a Sheetz and a Wal-Mart, but the Dutch Kitchen was closed.

We made it to Chicago Monday evening. Cold, rainy, and blustery! But we checked into the Hotel Knicerbocker off the Miracle Mile and strolled around anyhow. What a gorgeous downtown! We had the mandatory deep-dish pie at Due and that set the tone for an over-stuffed week.


Millennium Park: we first played around there in the drizzle, but got to see it in sun a couple days later. I love the interactive nature of the sculptures and fountains, and how the city itself is incorporated as artwork.

The Arts Institute: A premier collection, on a par with the Met or the National Gallery. Thank God the Ancient Americas exhibit was closed; though I was disappointed by that fact I think my feet would have fallen off had I strolled another gallery. We did the whole thing in one day, and I don't recommend this to anyone older than 19. But it's hard to resist such a profound collection. The new Modern wing is delicious, with spectacular views of the Chicago skyline visible via floor-to-ceiling windows in many rooms. Many famous works: Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Picasso, Van Gogh, Seurat, etc. Not much in the northern Renaissance period, but they had an exhibit with a rare DaVinci canvas (Madonna of the Yardwinder) and several Jean Hey canvases which satisfied quite well my craving for oldies and goodies.

The Shedd Aquarium: We had to contend with busloads of school kids, but the aquarium is worth it. I think B'more has them beat in a few areas: our dolphin show is better by leaps and bounds, we have sharks out the wazoo, and our rainforest exhibit beats theirs hands down. But Shedd has an outstanding Philippine coral reef display, and they have beluga whales. B'more hasn't had belugas in nearly two decades...

The Cultural Arts Center: What an amazing building! Two Tiffany domes, one mosaic and one stained glass? Intricate inlay and mosaic work all over the place, a la the Library of Congress? Ornate stair cases? Gotta love it. Oh, and free galleries, music, lectures, nice cafes. And incredibly patient and helpful information staff.

Architectural Tour: Do the Chicago river architectural tour. It's worth it, and you can see many fine buildings and learn their history without hurting fallen arches, corns, and bunions. Bundle up, however, if you go in April!

Arun's: This Thai place was featured in the book "1000 Things to See Before You Die." I'd put Arun's there, definitely--and if I had a dying wish it might be to go back there again. It's pricey, yeah, but that's unquestionably the best restaurant meal I ever had. 12 courses! Let's see if I recall them all:

--a leaf stuffed with amazing goodies which exploded delightful flavors all over my palette.

--a spring roll cut in two with crab piled in the middle

--a rice dumpling stuffed with spiced chicken and veg

--a crab cake with asparagus and a squash pouch decoratively affixed atop it (Cha's fell over--a recurring theme!)

--fine noodles and noodle-encrusted shrimp with scallions and bamboo and awesomeness

--an exquisite mushroom soup

--red snapper battered and glazed

--lobster tail

--shrimp curry for me and beef for the Mrs.

--a dish of diced eggplant, chicken, and cilantro encircled by artfully arranged veg. I should point out that the garnishes were ridiculous. There was a carrot carved into a goldfish that Cha brought home in a cup. I think she is going to put it into our aquarium.

--a crepe filled with custard with creme and black cherries

--a pastry dish containing lychee sorbet with a ginger-baked pear

And an exquisite pinot noir topped it all off. I think the bill was nearly what we paid for four nights in the hotel...

Seth: after exchanging emails, music, movie and book recommendations, and blog comments for much of a decade, I got to meet Seth in person. He kindly met us for lunch at Smoke Daddy, where I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich and a quality local brew. Seth even paid for lunch and gave us a brief tour around the neighborhood to boot. It was an enormous pleasure to meet him and chat about what we'd seen and done.

So Chicago was great. I'll definitely go back, but probably will go in the summer next time. The weather this week was atrocious! It rained the entire drive home yesterday, but we still made it in 12 hours.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Had a great weekend in NYC--thanks to John and Leesha for putting us up and showing us a good time. We saw The Lion King starring SBCS sixth-grader JB, and we even managed to score a photo op with young Simba and Nala afterward.

The drive to Chicago was pleasant. We're in the Knickerbocker hotel about to head out and see the Art Institute. Alas, the weather is cold and rainy today, but whatcho gonna do?

More later...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day #130

Had a doctor's appointment today. Just as the nurse is drawing my blood, he pops his head in the door and we have this dialogue:

ME: I wandered if I'd see you today. I have a strange growth on my shoulder.
HE: You mean your head?
ME: No, a bit to the left of that. No--the other left.
NURSE: I just started taking his blood so you have to wait a minute.
ME: Sorry?
NURSE: Him, not you.
ME: Oh, sorry. I didn't realize you could boss him around.
HE: I'm low man on the totem pole. I'm not even a supervisor any more.

I'm very lucky to have had the same GP since I was 14 years old when I got my first physical to run track in high school. I hear about people struggling to find a doctor, and having terrible experiences with doctors, and their doctor retired, and their doctor no longer accepts their insurance, and I feel very priviliged.

Even though his practice has just been absorbed by a larger conglomerate, I still have him, and I see him twice a year.

Surprising teacher fact: My blood pressure was 106 over 12 today. How is it that after nearly 4 years in the Baltimore City School System, my blood pressure is even lower than it was when I started?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day #125

The tank is on E. By tomorrow afternoon I'll be running on fumes. By Friday I'll be pushing kids out my classroom, with a boot up the butt if necessary.

Spring Break is four days away!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book #13

I've found the novel I was looking for; I needed engaging fiction with short chapters for a read-aloud at the end of each class this spring. I needed it to center around the Civil War. And The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg is exactly what I was looking for, because our focus question will be "What is worth fighting for?" This book will help the kids think about that question.

Rodman Philbrick doesn't flinch from the complexities or nastiness of war and slavery, but he provides a central character who processes this world through a sardonic and compassionate POV. Figg is funny and though he is a liar and serial exaggerator, he is willing to fight and die for what he loves and believes in, much like the heroes of certain famous Mark Twain novels with which he has a lot in common.

Homer P. Figg and his brother are orphans who live with their wicked uncle in Maine. Homer's older brother Harold is sold into the Union army by their uncle, launching our hero on a quest to find him and bring him back before he is killed in battle. Homer's exciting and often amusing adventures eventually land him in the heat of action at Little Round Top in Gettysburg. Along the way he meets abolitionists, slave hunters, conductors on the Underground Railroad, spies, and scammers.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Viewed this following an article by David Thomson in the NYRB. I'm fairly certain that the Red Riding Trilogy is not, as Thomson asserts, "better than The Godfather," but it is really engaging television, as good as Twin Peaks or Prime Suspect.

The story comes from David Peace's Quartet of Red Riding novels, which were apparently written to stitch together imginatively several actual police crimes in Yorkshire.

Though these film are made-for-TV, they are not for the squeamish. I liked them enough that I might read the source material, which means I liked them a lot.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Day #122

Rough couple of days with the 7th grade boys class. Screamed at them yesterday, and today got so flustered by their obnoxious playing that I sent the paraeducator out with the 7 kids who could control themselves. "Get them through the lesson plan," I asked her, "and bring them back for the last couple of minutes of class."

The rest of the chuckleheads I kept behind. I gave them a punctuation worksheet and said "You don't leave until I get this paper completed accurately." Much whining and bitching followed, and then they moved to "why can't we do what we were supposed to do today?" and thence to "we're sorry can you please help us with our work" and finally to one of the biggest jerks staying behind an hour after school to sweep, scrub tables, and wipe boards completely unbidden. Tomorrow I shall do the same thing. Kids who are attentive and focused will leave with the paraeducator to learn a new skill and work on their short story assignment; the rest will stay with me and do a punctuation worksheet and they will learn nothing.

Had an adult show up in my room today who was angry because his nephew had lost his hat and said I had it. He called me unprofessional and hinted that I was incompetent and I pointed to the enormous pile of coats, hats, gloves, scarves, shirts, pants, and shoes in the corner of my room. "You expect me to keep track of a middle schooler's personal belongings? That is one day's worth of the stuff left in my room! I think it's great you bought your nephew a hat but it's not my responsibility to keep track of it." He stormed off in a huff. That set the tone for my day.

Book #12

Young Lije's paw is a Northeastern Yankee transplant to Kansas who runs a farm and a station on the Underground Railroad. Lije is blessed by John Brown, who works with his paw sometimes, and when he comes of age he starts going on raids into Missouri to free slaves and smuggle them north.

On one of these raids they are ambushed. Lije's paw is killed and he is savagely beaten. Then Lije dedicates himself to the abolitionist cause and to revenge. But he finds out that even the worst villain might have redeeming qualities as the war between brothers blooms bloody carnage across the continent.

Still looking for a good novel to read with the kids during our Civil War unit. I liked this one, and it has cameos by Frank and Jesse James, but I'm not sold on it yet. I have time for another book or two before I have to pick.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Day #120

Field trip today for the 7th and 8th graders. We took them to Shake and Bake in the morning--a community center on the once-grand Pennsylvania Avenue where they got to roller skate to loud music for 2 hours. I was heckled roundly for not putting on skates, but the last time I rolled a rink there was no such thing as hip-hop and we were spinning excitedly to AC/DC and disco and even, strangely, Roger Waters' Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. I suppose I could have done it again but why risk a cracked tailbone? I'm thinking my last skating experience was 1982?

After the rink we took the kids down to the Inner Harbor. It was a glorious warm and sunny day, and the kids wanted to spend it walking around the fucking Gallery Mall. So we spent about an hour in there and then they at least wanted to climb Federal Hill. We got to the top and sat and they asked me about the statues and cannons and then we got a rare treat: a flight of A-4 jets out of Andrews Air Force Base buzzed across the harbor for the Orioles' home opener, right at our eye level. That was very exciting for the boys, who wanted to know all about the jets and where they come from and how fast they go and all I could tell was very basic stuff. Maybe tomorrow in homeroom I'll have them look up stuff online.