Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day #54

I've had the luxury this week to watch two awesome MICA interns run the show in my classroom. I need do nothing--they have a signal if they're in over their heads, but they haven't used it yet. So I've been able to observe the room and see things I typically miss from up front.

Yesterday I snatched 6 notes being passed second period. Each time I told the kids "If you are PERFECT for the remainder of class, I won't read this, and I'll return it to you. If you screw up once, I'll read it and recycle it. If you screw up twice, I'll read it and give it to the Big Cheese."

One of the notes I ended up reading because the kids passing it goofed off again. It was a chart listing boob sizes in the class: None, Small, Average, Large. Two of the categories had been filled in with names by two different boys. I took the boys out in the hall and walked them down to the copier machine. I photocopied their boob chart and said "these copies go in your folders. I dare you to screw up in my class again this year. If you do I'ma show them to your parents and the Big Cheese." I took the original and shredded it. Then we had a talk about disrespect and emotional safety.

Today I played counselor second period. We're working on collages of a situation from our lives in which we played the role of oppressor, victim, bystander, or rescuer. All of this is to help synthesize what we learned studying Hitler and the Holocaust. Many of the kids have awful things to share: a father shot and killed this summer, a sister who leapt to her death from a high-rise in September, a drive-by at the front stoop, etc. I spent an hour taking kids out one by one as they broke down in class. When the MICA kids planned their lessons I never thought to say "we might get some really raw stuff--be prepared for that!"

Last period today was a zoo. The sixth graders just can't handle the freedom of "here's several piles of collage materials and a hot glue gun--help yourself!" I thought about reining things in a few times, but let it ride, intervening only on a small scale. The interns never flashed the emergency sign, so I hung fire. I did, however, step in at the end. There were kids running rampant with clothespins, pinching each other. I jacked them up. I thought the interns should get a taste of what can happen when things go off the rails. They did! Tomorrow we'll debrief what went right and what went wrong.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book #42

A remarkable memoir by an amazingly tenacious survivor. Any one of the close shaves, beatings, or miraculous escapes in this book would have done in a lesser spirit; Bretholz managed to sustain his will to live over seven of the darkest and most difficult years in Europe's history. I was on the edge of my seat for much of the text, and I won't say another word because you should read Leap into Darkness tomorrow and I fear to spoil it for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My job takes so much of my time and energy that I rarely get to interact with film in a serious way anymore. That's a huge regret, because one of the things that made this blog somewhat successful back when it used to be somewhat successful was the time I spent watching serious flicks and commenting on them.* Now I'm likely to fritter away any free flick time on TV shows via Netflix or fluffy entertainments like horror flicks. I simply don't have the requisite intellectual space to devote to one of my main passions anymore. Even over the summers I prefer to veg in front of light fare, and I can't recall the last film I saw in a theater. I'd had this disc at home for about six weeks before I got to it at all.

I watched The New World in half-hour increments over several days. That's not ideal. Malick's stuff deserves one's full attention, and I like to soak in his films like a hot bath in order to appreciate them. But I did the best I could with the resources allotted me.

I found my experience of Pocahontas totally overwhelming, almost painfully intimate. Malick's dreamy approach perfectly conveys her curiosity, her deep sorrow, her joy, her playfulness. Who else could direct this material? The Scorcese who made Age of Innocence, or Kundun? Perhaps he'd do something interesting--but his approach is too direct, too severe. Peter Weir? Jane Campion 15 years ago? I don't know. But Malick nails it. I want to spend another few half-hours in this new world. And Ms. Kilcher? Wow. Why hasn't she done anything at this level since?

A strange melange of The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature Burial, and The Pit and the Pendulum. I skimmed some scenes, I admit it. I never really liked Vincent Price much. I don't find him particularly creepy.

*blogging, alas, is another passion I've had to give up--or at least I devote much less time to it than before

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book #41

At a bleak, stress-filled moment in my life I re-discovered this small book of edifying translations by the brilliant Kenneth Rexroth. The narrators of these ancient poems often feel melancholic, stressed, bummed out, miserable, useless--just like I do. And yet they take the time to notice the moon sailing over pristine lakes, or the crane tending its young, or a plum blossom drooping lazily by the gate, and everything seems OK.

Worth keeping around and re-visiting again and again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day #45

My two teaching interns from MICA have arrived. They're pretty confident and they jumped right in, working with kids on their kristallnacht assignments. Starting Tuesday next week I turn the class over to them for about a week or so; they'll be teaching a final art project which will display the students' learning about the Holocaust and Hitler's rise to power.

At the end of the day, which went pretty smoothly, Nichay and Talapia started arguing about who had tape on her glasses first. Nichay has worn a piece of white tape above the bridge of her nose for weeks. Talapia doesn't even wear her glasses most days, and when she does, there's no tape. But they argued about it nonetheless. And I'm not talking regular fussing, I'm talking full-on spitting and red-faced, ready to throw down fussing.

And these are two of the best students in the class. Nichay reads a couple years below grade level, but she is bright and has strong recall and comprehension skills and she works diligently on each assignment; Talapia reads on a 10th grade level and freaks out if she gets anything wrong, launching into crying jags and gnashing her teeth at anything less than a 100%. To see them arguing over something so peculiar--Nichay's glasses aren't even real, they're frames with no lenses--was hilarious. The MICA students were appalled at the sudden outburst, however.

They'll learn.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Books #39 and #40

I found Evans' book particularly useful as I worked to create our fall Humanities expedition about Hitler's rise to power. Though dealing with an enormously complex time period, Evans' narrative is efficient and engaging. His description of the Nazi's uncanny ability to take advantage of circumstances and twist them to their own ends is startling even to someone who knows this history pretty well. His analysis of the professed "legality" of Hitler's rise is powerful and concise. I'll definitely read volumes I and II, though I'll likely take a break first.

I don't often read books of poetry. I devoured this one in about an hour. Charles Reznikoff took testimony from Nazi war crimes trials and trimmed a bit in order to present the Holocaust in the words of perpetrators and victims. It's an elegant, shocking, and unbearably brutal work. I might use it in class to help kids examine the roles of oppressor, victim, bystander, and rescuer during the Holocaust. The stories and events presented are of course unimaginable, and Reznikoff must have had amazing mental and spiritual endurance to complete this awful work. I suspect he knew it was necessary.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Day #41

All day I'm thinking "Damn, did I forget how to manage a class? WTF?" The kids were squirrely, confrontational, distracted, unfocused, incapable of sitting still. It was awful.

After a nearly 12-hour day at SBCS I walked out and saw the cause of all my woes.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

foe liege

foe liege, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

3 blocks from my house

3 blocks from my house, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

view southeast

view southeast, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Day #37

I'm rushing here, rushing there, trying to maintain. Stacks of uncorrected papers accumulate on the windowsill, my desk, my tech station, my dining room table, the table in my bedroom which is now my home "office," and in my brief case. I'm writing progress reports for all my kids, IEP progress reports for my SPED kids, IEP reports for SPED kids whose IEP meetings are forthcoming, planning a DC field trip, writing differentiated social studies and literacy tests, editing first drafts of homework essays, running learning stations about kristallnacht in my classroom, breaking up fights, listening to the new math dude across the hall threaten to quit, trying to chair 8th grade crew leaders meetings and failing miserably, attending School Leadership Team meetings and working on the Community and Culture Committee and on the Habits of Work and Learning CCC sub-committee, planning a service project for my crew boys, attending Humanities team planning meetings, teaching a new daily 30-minute reading intensive class, running detention, holding coach class after school, drinking, eating food, doing the nasty, trying to find a few minutes to do push-ups, collapsing into bed and then having anxiety dreams about all the work I can't get done.

Tuesday is Election Day. I'm hoping that in a good 12-hour period I can get caught up to where I should have been last Monday. If I can get caught up to last Monday by next Tuesday i'll put myself in a good position to catch up to the Monday before Thanksgiving by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, and then by Xmas eve I might be able to have all the work done that should be done by then by January 1st. Or something.

"October is the worst month!" my boss yells at me as we pass in the hall. "Remember that." We have papers under our armpits and in each hand, and we know if we don't get them where they belong quickly that we'll end up putting them in the wrong place and losing them. Sure enough, a parent catches me and asks me for my email and I use a list I need for standardized testing to scrawl my address down and she runs off with it. Then in my panic to call the same parent and tell her I need that paper back I end up dropped four piles in the hallway. It's the scene in Brazil where paper devours Robert DeNiro.

"Fake it 'til you make it!" my boss yells after witnessing this. I get back to my room, sort out my piles of paper, and see that while I was out someone came in, rummaged my desk, stole my tape dispenser and box of Sharpies and several glue sticks. Then it's time to teach sixth grade.