Monday, February 28, 2011

Day #97

The kids were riled up because it's Monday and because the weather was warm and sunny after a morning rain. And then shortly into 2nd period the sky got very black, the wind started kicking hard core, and the lights flickered, went out, came back, then went out again.

There was a lot of shrieking. It took a while to get the kids back, but I managed to get a chunk of class work done before we were forced to close due to lack of power. We had no power for about 45 minutes before the decision was made.

It was quite a job notifying parents and herding kids out of the building in the dark. 5 minutes after we got them outside the lights came back on.

Used the bonus planning time this afternoon to talk about taking all the middle grades over to Harper's Ferry for a day this spring. I'm thrilled to be teaching the Civil War, and I really rallied for Harper's Ferry instead of Gettysburg because I want to start our expedition with John Brown and really get at what was going on in the country before the war started. John Brown at Harper's Ferry of course predates the Civil War but we also want to do some environmental science stuff with the kids, and perhaps a hike on the Appalachain Trail to boot! Much as I love Gettysburg, it's too spread out and too built up: Harper's Ferry maintains its old charm and the landscape is quite beautiful.

I hope the kids like it. A team of teachers is heading out there Friday to do some advance scouting--can't wait!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book #7

Walter Benjamin does a lot of hashish after reading Baudelaire and deciding that while Artificial Paradise is a great work--one which "monitors the psychological states aroused by hashish poisoning for their philosophical importance"--he must complete a book on hashish himself. Thus launches a series of "experiments" (intellectuals don't get baked--they do "experiments") in and around Marseille.

Of course Benjamin's book was never completed; what is collected here are his notes and ramblings about hashish. Some of it is redundant, some of it is actually written by his co-conspirators, and some of it has been published elsewhere in different collections of unpublished notes and ramblings (The Arcades Project).

Walt engages in fits of howling laughter whilst strolling around in public, orders nearly everything on restaurant menus not because of the munchies but out of a sense of fairness to all entrees, and dicourses on all sorts of high-fallutin stuff like Surrealism and Nietzsche and his idea that children become impertinent once they discover they cannot perform magic.

The best part, however, is when he invites Gershom Scholem over and they synch up Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day #96

Sometimes it's fun to mess with the kids. Yesterday Cha made homemade cookies and when I got out my lunch at work I was surprised to find some cookies stuffed in the bag. She's so sweet.

But the problem is, whenever Cha does this I always have kids eating lunch in my room. That was the case yesterday: Akeera was using the PC to write her memoir, Desdemona was looking at magazines, and Koran was making me give him math problems to do on my dry-erase board.

Usually I don't even try to eat the cookies in this situation, I just give them up to the kids. But I wanted them, so I ate them on the down-low. And I almost made it without being noticed, too. The kids had left my room for their next class and I was working on the last cookie when I got busted by a group of sixth graders at my door. "That cookie looks good!" "You got any more of those cookies Mr. G!" "Please, please, please, I want a cookie!"

Awww, so cute! "I'm sorry," I said. "This is the last one, and I'm almost half way done. Tell you what I'll do. I'll describe to you how delicious this cookie is as I finish it right in front of you." I took a bite and made some exaggerated gestures of appreciation.

"You PETTY!" Hikeem shouted, and the group marched off in a huff. "Hold up Hikeem," I said, and the kids all turned around, thinking I would relent and share. "I just wanted to let you know that the bite I just took was even better than the other bite."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day #95

I can still smell a fight before it happens. Even though we don't have them nearly as much at my hippy charter school, I can still feel them in the air when they're coming. Unfortunately that doesn't always translate into fight prevention.

This morning I'm in the cafeteria where the middle school gathers for breakkies before being escorted to homeroom. I see Courtley, a tough sixth grade girl in a faux leather coat standing up and glaring across the cafeteria. I see her glaring at Bye Bye Boydie. Bye Bye Boydie is sitting down and glaring back. I stroll over and put my arm around Courtley's shoulders. "There some drama going on Courtley?" I ask. "These bitches...I'm sorry...these girls be talking smack. I'ma rise above it though. I'm trying." "Ok," I say. "I appreciate that." I work my way around chattering and shrieking kids over to Bye Bye. "Bye Bye," I say. "Is something going on that I need to know about?" While I'm bent down talking to her a gal peels off from Bye Bye's posse and clocks Courtley in the eye piece. Courtley grabs two fist fulls of extensions and then we have a very brief grrrrl fight. It was brief because I was over the table wrapping up Bye Bye's minion in a flash, and I was the 2nd adult engaged; the counselor Mr. T was already between them, and while I was holding one girl and talking her into letting go of the others' hair three other teachers were also pulling on the other girl and only one blow was struck and only a few dozen strands of fake hair were lost in the melee.

Both girls were suspended, and I could have prevented it if I weren't a bit rusty. Cardinal rule: Always watch the posse when you're interrogating the primaries.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Snow Day

For the second time this winter, a 3-day holiday weekend has been extended by snow. Last night's surprise 5 inches in B'more were a nice gift. Love this peculiar weather: 70 degrees one day, 19 and blustery the next, then 60 degrees, then a snowstorm with ice and sleet mixed in, then high 40's. All the snow that melted today is expected to freeze overnight, which could mean a delayed opening tomorrow.

Because of remodeling last summer our school opened a week late. We were scheduled to stay a week later in June BEFORE these snow days (I think we've used three now). I'll be teaching 'til July 4th at this rate.

But I won't deny the time off was much appreciated. I got a lot of work done Friday after school and on Monday morning, but I also spent some quality time curled up with books, journals, and mags which were long-neglected. I worked out, I got a massage, I hung out with my wife. I drank too much wine. We saw friends and family. It was nice.

Now I move into the Underworld Investigation, starting tomorrow. I'm a bit worried about how it's going to go.


I need only say four words: Kurosawa, samurai, Mifune, and Criterion. Those four words suffice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book #6

A convalescent, nailed in prime adulthood by a mysterious virus which nearly kills her and confines her to bed for years, leads a morose and purposeless existence until a friend brings her a woodland snail. The snail lives for a time in the convalescent's room inside a potted plant, but as Ms. Bailey becomes more interested in the tiny creature and its peculiar habits her caregiver arranges for more suitable habitat: a terrarium with mosses, ferns, rotting branches, and a mussel shell watering dish. The wee beasty thrives, and the fascination it holds for the observer helps bring her renewed purpose and the possibility of healing.

Ms. Bailey meditates on the habits of her companion, and researches dilligently into the surprisingly diverse literature on snails and other mullosks. This charming little tome is half memoir of illness, half amateur naturalist's observations of an amazing little creature. Just as the tiniest creatures might seem insignificant but prove most resiliant and complex, so can the smallest of books.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day #92

Just a sample of a typical day:

*handed two-sided form for Special Ed student at last minute before an IEP meeting at 8:22 as I'm gathering my homeroom together to lead them upstairs. IEP meeting is at 8:30 because parent finally showed up after months of phone calls and I fill out the form against a column while reading texts from the principal on my phone and listening to a student tell me about his cat. I turn in the form to the Special Ed teacher on the way up the stairs.

*I send a student to the nurse. He's obviously sick. The nurse sends him back to my room for some unknown reason, and said student pukes in my recycling bag. As soon as the odor hits the class two other students are ill. One pukes in the trash can (fortunately), the other runs down the hall with hand clasped over her mouth and only sprays a bit before getting to the bathroom. Although B'more has single-stream recycling, I don't think they handle yesterday's half-digested Wendy's #6 meal with upsize fries, so I have to take my recycling bag which was nearly full of plastics and papers and chuck it in the dumpster.

*I visit the 7th grade boys at lunch. One is obviously in distress (and seated at the table next to the counselor who pays him no mind). I ask what's wrong and other kids tell me another student messed him up. The student in distress starts bawling uncontrollably and I lead him down the hall. He's got PTSD. His PTSD triggered a flashback to physical abuse when he was young during a hockey game in the gym--another boy checked him into the wall. "It's not his fault," the boy tells me. "He was just playing the game. But I can't control this. Now they all think I'm a sissy."

*I'm eating lunch. I have about ten minutes to do this. The principal walks in. "Sorry to barge in on your lunch," she says, and laughs. I've got a kid shaking with PTSD in the corner, I've got another autistic kid using my desktop, two girls are for some reason dancing on my carpet and reciting L'il Mama lyrics, and I'm reading BCRs and typing a lesson plan. The principal is of course joking. Teachers are quite used to having lunches barged in on. The kid in my 2nd period class who is soon to be Simba on Broadway is leaving after Friday. We need to plan something. "When you get a moment--I'm just planting a seed. We should do something Friday." Everything I'm working on slithers away in a vortex. When I get a moment, I think. When I get a moment. A moment. There is only one and it is now.

*I'm giving a test on POE and literacy skills tomorrow to all three of my Humanities classes. I decide to scaffold for the struggling 7th grade boys by giving them the test ahead of time. I'm going to let them try it out, then go over all the answers with them, then print out a study sheet with all the answers typed up so they can study it all night and take the test tomorrow. They still talk and play and point laser pointers at each others' eyes and pack each others' shoes and text on their phones and debate 2nd century heresies and whatnot. But I've seen their recent standardized testing results and they've all improved though they claim it had nothing to do with the teachers.

*I lose my voice between 8:30 and 9:45 because I'm struggling with cold number 1,303 of the season and I have to type everything on the LCD projector. I kind of like it because the kids can talk as loud as they like and it doesn't interrupt class.

Day #91

We're about the wrap up the Poe portion of our Nevermore: Mystery and the Imagination expedition. The second investigation will focus on various cultures' stories of the underworld and/or afterlife. We're expecting some controversy because the kids (and some parents) have difficulty distinguishing between sociology and evangelization: We're simply studying other belief systems, not trying to change anyone's!

Our focus question for the investigation was "Why do people tell stories to explain mysteries?" But we revisited this question because of the word "stories" and the potential implication that all stories are fiction. We didn't want to get into a situation where we examined a Bible story and parents or students objected to the word "story" as an implication that it was merely something made up by people to explain a mystery.

So after some thoughtful late-night email exchanges and a fruitful meeting yesterday, we settled upon: How do people try to explain the mysteries of life? Now we're liberated to explore myths, legends, stories, and beliefs from everywhere and every time and the kids will come to their own conclusions. The plan is to have them investigate and research a specific culture's beliefs in groups. Then each student will write a short poem about visiting that culture's Underworld: who will they meet? How did they get there? What is the setting like?, etc.

We start next week with a discussion of religious tolerance and law in the US. Then we talk about the investigation and its big questions, then we confront some short texts about different beliefs around the world, and then the kids write a journal reflection about what they believe. Then, on the 2nd day, the kids run the show with a Socratic Seminar about their ideas and beliefs. Any time they disrespect someone or belittle their beliefs they lose a point--if they ask questions, respond to questions, or share ideas, they get points. Could be fun, could be a catastrophe! Either way I'm excited, because this is the kind of meaty shit I love to teach. Screw all that Main Idea and Supporting Details crap.

Let there be Light!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day #90

Weeks on end of overcast gray days. Weeks on end of bitter blustery winds and temps hovering in the low 20s, occasionally climbing into the low 30s. Weeks on end of sleet and freezing rain and snow storms missing us by a few miles and occasionally dipping low enough to shut us down for a few hours. Weeks on end of frozen piles of crusty dirty snow. Weeks on end of ridonckulous heating bills.

And then suddenly, on Valentine's Day, a 65 degree sunny day. The kids were amped and unfocused, and I didn't blame them one bit. I wanted to be outside too. I opened all the windows in the classroom just to smell the air (yes, even Pigtown smells fresh and clean sometimes).

And it's supposed to get even nicer this week--up to 70 or more degrees by Friday? Holy shit, nothing will get done!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A brief rant

Ah, Baltimore City! I was so happy earlier this year when you re-surfaced Madison Avenue and painted the new bike lane down the street! I was even happier when you put in all the new sidewalks on my block, and the way you expanded my tree box pleased me no end. The neighborhood was so excited by these improvements that we all got together and busted out some more tree boxes and planted a few dozen trees. There was much joy.

But, being Baltimore City, you can't get anything right. After you spent all this money to put in new sidewalks and a new street and a new bike lane, etc, you sent BGE in to replace the gas lines. Bye-bye, new street and bike lane! Torn up and devestated for months on end. Also destroyed were some of the new tree boxes, and several trees we'd planted just weeks before were killed in the process!

Oh, and then, to top it off, BGE just blasted through the new sidewalks this week. They killed all the mums I'd bought and planted in my new big tree box, and the hearty pansies too. And despite their assurances that things would be restored to normal, things weren't restored to normal. The gaping holes in the sidewalks were filled in with ASPHALT. Looks great! That's some quality urban planning right there! Replace sidewalks and tarmac first, then immediately destroy all that shit to replace the gas lines.

I love B'more.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Now and again I like to slum it with crappy horror flicks. The first installment was sufficiently crappy for me to check out the prequel. Despite the fact that a pool vacuum cleaner is a key part of the story, Paranormal 2 didn't suck. Well, actually it did, but only in the most satisfying ways.

Yeah, it's more of the same--more of the exact same, in fact--but again I found it cute enough to entertain. Turn off your brain, don't pay too much attention to the acting or the peculiar actions of the characters, and enjoy the cheap thrills.

Warning: you will have to wait for the cheap thrills.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Day #86

Have to have The Talk with the 7th grade boys tomorrow. I mean The Talk. You know, sexual harrassment. I heard them saying some very disrespectful things about a paraeducator who helps me out with them in the afternoons. She's perhaps 21, fresh out of college. She's very cute, very sweet, and they treat her like an 8th grade girl. I heard them saying things about her ass and a thong and let's just say I nearly did something which would have got me fired--namely beating up 7th graders who were acting way too grown with an adult female.

So in the morning we're going to have The Talk. I might extend The Talk to include other The Talks, like the Birds and Bees in general, and/or the drugs The Talk. I mean, we have Crew in the mornings to do character-building and to develop relationships, right?

So I'll have The Talks with them. I'm tempted to use the line Mr. Steigelman used on me when I goofed off at Hereford High School: "I know 50 ways to kill a man and nobody would ever know. Do that again and you'll find out." It never worked on me; I remained a jackass until graduation.* But I can still try.

*OK, I admit it: I'm still a jackass.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Book #5

The kind of book you can keep on the back of your toilet for a few months until it's finished. I've read better books about sacred geometry and the intersection of mathematics and various wisdom traditions, but this one is a reasonably erudite intro to the topic. I was hoping for more depth, more sophistication--but that's my bad. Any book which touts itself as an explanation of the math behind the DaVinci Code can't be too advanced. That said, if you're a fan of that stuff you can learn about the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio here.

If you're interested in math and numerology or numerical symbology, you could get a quality overview of such material from Shesso. There are a couple gullible chapters regarding the Priory of Sion hoax, but the rest is ok.

I should note that the book is not geared toward those curious about learning how mystics use math in their contemplation of the divine or mysterious (as I'd hoped): it's actually geared toward practicing magicians who want to use mathematical applications in either spell work or astrology.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Day #84

On Fridays my school closes early to have in-house professional development in the afternoons. On Fridays we alternate between academic days and what are called Crew or Community-Building Fridays. We have school-wide meetings where kids share art or learning, where they dance if they choose, and where we sing the "Quality World" song, and then the 11-student Crews spend the rest of the day with their Crew leaders, working on character, team-building initiatives, academic goals, sharing, playing in the gym--whatever.

Yesterday was a Community-Building Friday and the Phys Ed instructors came up with an awesome Amazing Race rip-off. They provided a City map, a list of clues, and a compass, and each Crew went out into Southwest B'more with a list of tasks: we had to find a bunch of vaguely described sites, answer some questions, and take a photo at each one. We had to cover about 3 miles and get back to school in under 2 hours.

I was along with my Crew but didn't really do much to help them out. The goal is for them to figure out who is good at what job and to work together to finish the mission. This isn't easy with our 7th grade boys, who get into conflicts over the stupidest things, who whine and complain continuously about every activity before starting it and then finding out its fun. So appealing to their competitiveness (something we usually frown upon in hippie charter schools) was a last resort.

And it worked. We finished all questions, we visited all seven sites, and we got back just before noon. I think my Crew returned to the building in fourth place, but some of the Crews ahead of us chose not to visit all 7 sites, hoping to score early return bonuses instead. We may move up a bit.

We saw the B&O Museum, the Babe Ruth house, Cal Ripken's number at Camden Yards, the Dentistry Museum, the Hippodrome, Poe's Grave, and the Irish Shrine and Museum. The kids were hilarious at Poe's grave: "Is he really in there?" "Where dat man who leaves flowers 'n shit?" "I'm scared to be here." "That's nasty to be buried with your cousin and her mom," etc.

The only problem for me was that after two years without a gout flare-up, I happened to have one the night before this activity. I hobbled my ass around on a painfully crippled big toe all day, but it was worth it. I even ran with the kids when they realized they had a chance to beat another Crew on the way back.

I spent the afternoon yesterday planning with the other Humanities teacher. We're working on an amazing exploration of different myths about the afterlife and Underworld (I call it "Excavating the Underworld") with the goal of finding out why people create stories to explain the unkown. I can't wait!

Now I need to rest, because I am SPENT.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Day #83

On Thursdays I have coach class after school for kids who read below grade level. We're reading the first novel in the Bluford series, Lost and Found, which is not at all literary but it's high-interest and suitable for the basics.

Often these coach classes devolve during discussion into shooting the shit about stuff in the community or in one's family. I think it's fine because this is how the kids make connections to the situations in the book.

Today the kids (there were only six of them) were riffing on "rapists" who hang out in Carroll Park. There are apparently a few old dudes who hover around and ask young girls to walk into the orchard with them. I've seen some suspicious cats over there myself--a couple weeks ago I took my boys to play football in the park on a snowy day, and one of them decided he wanted to play in the playground instead. I kept one eye on him while watching the 7th and 8th graders scrimmage each other, and noted a 50-something white dude who kept lurking around. He eventually ended up within a few feet of the kid alone in the playground area and next thing I knew he was talking to him. I shouted and banged on the fence and he took off at a slow lope across the frozen tundra.

The girls in coach class described guys in vans who drive up and order them to get in, lurkers in the alleys in Pigtown, creeps under the overpass, etc. Sometimes I wonder who is learning more during coach class--the kids or the teacher?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Day #82

Had a long meeting yesterday to discuss plans for the boy in one of my 6th grade classes who is leaving soon for Broadway. He'll be playing (young) Simba in The Lion King, and rehearsals start soon. We're trying to arrange a goodly chunk of language arts work for him to do with his father as instructor while they are on the Great White Way.

We're going to work out the logistics of assessment soon, but we'll likely be emailing work and comments back and forth, and there's some talk of Skype lessons.

The virus I've been fighting for months, and which I thought was finally ditched last week, roared back with a vengeance last night: dry hacking cough, painful throat, weakness, and fever. WTF!?