Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Innocents

I never shop at Barnes and Noble...well, almost never. Bad blood from the days I was a Borders employee? But B&N is still hanging in there, doing the brick and mortar thing. Even if their selection is shallow and even if it's hard to find books amongst the clutter of knick-knacks, iAccessories, board games, mugs, and Rosetta Stone stuff. But once a year they have a 50% off Criterion Collection sale. I allowed myself to buy six titles this year, the rule being they had to be films I'd seen once or twice and adored, and always thought about buying but never did. The first of my recent purchases in the Blu-Ray player was The Innocents. Henry James in his late phase loved to pull back the curtain a bit on the paranoid consciousness of authors--his own, in particular--the endless inferences and digressions and interpretations his mind took after an overheard snatch of dialogue at some society party feature prominently in all the late works, but most particularly in The Turn of the Screw and The Sacred Fount. The Turn of the Screw was turned into a wonderful screenplay by Truman Capote, and made into a delicious little film featuring fantastic sets and fine actors and truly remarkable cinematography. The Governess of course "writes" the entire story in her virginal, puritanical, repressed little mind. Capote has obviously read the scholarly debates about the story--whether James intended the hauntings in the tale to be "real" or not--and he comes down firmly on the side of--well, I'll leave it to you to decide. But all the clues are available to the Governess as she constructs her hot and steamy fantasy of demonic dead lovers attempting to take over the bodies of her innocent charges. It's a good time no matter which interpretation you prefer!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Outward Bound

Five days canoeing and camping along the Potomac River with my 8th grade Crew. I've known these guys since 6th grade and it was a privilege to share this Expedition with them. Our Outward Bound instructor was a former Marine and a current marathoner. He had us up at six daily to run and pump and dip (in the river). I lost 9 pounds and was pleased to see I can still run 7 minute miles pretty easily despite no cardio training in 2 years. The last morning we did a 5k and I ran it under 24. Not bad for a crusty old guy out of condition! We paddled 32 miles in five days, often moving down the river for 6 hours or more. The kids took complete responsibility for unloading boats, packing in to camp, setting up, preparing meals, getting a fire going, and organizing a pack line, then stowing the boats safely for the next day. In the morning after working out they would do the reverse. I helped them a bit day 1 after they were trained, but by the next afternoon I was refusing to help them and they were self-sufficient. They even navigated. My kids were amazing. Yes, there was drama, there was homesickness, there was whiny neediness, there was miserable discomfort, there was surly discontent. But these guys were gutsy and honest and stepping WAY outside their comfort zones with grace and perseverance. I had a joyous time--my best, most satisfying experience as a educator.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Work Exchange or Sanctioned Human Trafficking?

Over the past two decades I've noticed that all the restaurant and shop employees in places like Ocean City, MD have become East Europeans. I've been quite curious about how they were treated and the agencies which brought them here. Today we picked up two youngsters from Lithuania who are staying with us a couple nights via AirBNB. They were traveling down from Atlantic City NJ to Baltimore on Greyhound, and planning to do three days in DC and a week in New York before flying home. Via car-ride small talk I found out that M. and W. were guest workers for a casino hotel who did housekeeping over the summer. "It was terrible...not nice at all," W. said, twining her long Goth dyed red hair around a finger. A quick litany: The guests were disgusting and mean. The bosses were rude and intemperate. The dormitory was not secure and in the first week many students had their personal belongings (phones, laptops, passports) rifled and stolen while they were asleep or at work. When the students complained to the owner of the dormitory he replied: "At least you weren't shot or stabbed!" This sounds a lot less like a work exchange program and a lot more like officially sanctioned human trafficking. Is this the impression of the United States we want to send back with thousands of East European kids eager to practice English and get work experience? Why do we bring them here to expose them to the worst aspects of first-world capitalism and decay? Why should they go home and tell friends the USA is better than Russian dominance of Eastern Europe after their experience here? Even worse, lanky, athletic and tall M. told me they were supposed to work until yesterday but the hotel booted them out because it went bankrupt. Ironically I picked them up at the Greyhound station next to the shiny, new Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City. I was very self-conscious about the appalling state of our roads and sidewalks and West B'more neighborhoods as I drove them to our house in Reservoir Hill. I remember back before the neoliberal revolution in the 80s when roads and sidewalks and public areas in the USA were pretty well maintained as a matter of course. I've driven on better roads in Honduras than we have in this City. How badly we've been derailed, and how hard it will be to get back...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

7 Year Itch

I'm two weeks into my 7th full year as a middle school teacher in Baltimore City public schools. This will be my 5th full year at our amazing hippie dippie progressive school in Pigtown. I work with the best people ever, the smartest, the most genuine, the most creative, compassionate, supporting, selfless, innovative...OK, you get the picture. I'll not inflict any more adjectives upon you. (well, one more: they are also all sexy). Over the past seven years I've morphed from a Language Arts teacher to a Humanities Teacher, meaning I mostly teach Social Studies and History now. I think I'm getting the hang of it. I think my first two weeks of school were my strongest start yet. And judging by the ideas swirling around my brain I think this entire trimester may be my strongest yet! Now if I could actually get the plans down on paper, LOL.... I started the year in a dark place. I felt drained and detached, and that feeling had hit hard last January. I was BURNED OUT and summer did nothing to change that feeling. I've never had a job for more than 7 years, and I wonder if I'm experiencing that cycle again, the need to move on and try something new. Just in case, I've applied for a position teaching deployment kids in Europe for the Department of Defense. This is just a shot in the dark--but it would be nice to take a couple years off from Baltimore and teach in Belgium, Germany, or Portugal. But I would be an idiot to leave my school. It really is the best school in Baltimore City, and my wife often claims it is the best school in the state of Maryland. (She has been in LOTS of schools in Maryland, and she's an expert at what makes a good school.) The professional and personal relationship I have with my current supervisor has been the most fruitful and challenging and rewarding of my career. I know our kids and have taught little brothers and sisters of brothers and sisters I successfully got to high school. I was pretty instrumental in building the middle school, and I have a certain status in the building as a result. I can be very unorthodox and loose in a way that public school administrators find galling, and yet my bosses tolerate my quirks, foibles, and insanities because I find a way to deliver the goods, the goods being challenging, exciting content delivered in a way that gets the kids fired up and thinking deeply about issues. If I work anywhere else it'll be: "Follow the curriculum, update your Word Wall, have a detailed scripted plan hanging on your board for us to access when we do a compliance audit." That change would be difficult, to say the least! Other reasons I'd be a nut to leave: I can sit down with teachers struggling with an Expedition plan and just off the top of my head give them an angle or a barrage of potential objectives and connections regardless of the topic, and this school is the exact sort of environment where a weirdo like me can help the most. I have very strong emotional, personal, and professional bonds to my coworkers. I really love these people. We not only teach the kids, we continuously teach each other, and we always fill in for others and support each other through the rocky challenges of 180 days of hard core urban education. I feel in many ways that my best students at this school have been the administrators and other teachers I've worked closely with over the past half-decade, and I hope I was their best student as well. But I also never wanted to teach middle school--I was assigned to it by Baltimore City and became typecast as a middle school teacher over time. I would like to teach high school for a while. I also would love to live in Europe for a while (before I'm too old to adjust and enjoy it). So if DOD offers me a gig in Italy it would be really hard to say no. Perhaps I won't make the grade, and I won't have to make a decision at all?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

UPS Can Suck It

When did UPS become DHL? They left a note on my door last Monday saying they would attempt delivery again after five Tuesday. I rushed home from work and nobody showed up. They attempted delivery Wednesday at one in the afternoon when I was at work, so I went online and paid five dollars to change the delivery to my work. They tried to deliver to my house again at noon on Thursday and left a notice saying my package would be held for pickup for five days. I tracked the number and it said the package had been returned to sender. I called UPS and they assured me the package would be rerouted to my work. They attempted delivery Friday at my school at seven pm. I called UPS again and they said they would deliver Monday. I gave specific instructions about leaving it in the office if I was unavailable and that the school would be closed after four. Nothing Monday. Nothing Tuesday. I called last night to check and they said they would deliver today guaranteed. Nothing. I came home and they had attempted to deliver it to my house at two o'clock in the afternoon while I was teaching at school. I called again this evening and blew up at some poor woman who had nothing to do with this mess. The postal service is much better than this, even when I have to go down Pennsylvania Ave to my Post Office and wait in line! Don't even get me started on Comcast...

life in the hood

came home from school today to a line of junkies and a crew slinging drugs outta one of the alleys. i don't even need to see the dealers to know what's up. i can tell because there is a lookout stationed on the corner of Whitelock and Madison and two decoy runners in the park across from my house. Bmore, baby!


We have an AirBNB guest this week who is an MD studying to be a forensic pathologist. She is doing an internship and interview this week at the medical examiner's office in Baltimore, a few blocks from my school. On Monday I got to hear about the autopsies she assisted on...the football player who died of heat stroke, the dude found in two separate bags, the gunshot victims. Monday was apparently a busy day even for Baltimore. While she told me about this stuff I cooked us a nice spaghetti dinner with veggies from the Farmer's Market. My city is a primary training ground for this kind of work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Three Amigos School begins on Monday. My classroom is mostly set up, and I'm beginning to fart around with lessons. I wish, however, that there was one more week at the beach available...