Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I spent the evening with others who love, enjoy, and respect the works and life of C. S. Lewis. The president of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Dr. Stanley Mattson, was our guest, and as he spoke, and when he played a video of this coming summer's Oxbridge Summer Institute, I teared up.

I am an educator for many reasons, and one of them is my love of and belief in the power and beauty of words and ideas. Now, the culture we inhabit is one that is dominated by the body--its primal needs and desires, and advertisers capitalize on these themes to possess the minds, tastes, time and money of my students (of us all, really). Part of my classroom mission is to open kids' eyes to ideas beyond their 13 year old persons, and to open their hearts and minds to the great things inside themselves and in the world.

Confession: I've recently admitted to myself that I'm an intellectual. Sounds snooty (mainstream American culture regards intellectuals with suspicion at best and derision at worst), but I looked it up, and yep, I care about ideas and stuff. You can only imagine what that video dangled in front of me: a chance to hang out with other nerds who care about ideas and words and learning and love and truth.

This is from the website--just a teensy bit shortened:

"...[W]e will address the question whether, and to what extent, cultural transformation is desirable or possible. Then, more specifically, in mathematics and the natural sciences, we will explore the implications of contemporary physics and quantum theory for the Christian message of hope and meaning.

In literature, philosophy, history, and theology, we will examine the origins and significance of the crisis of vision in order to engage the mainstream culture from an understanding characterized by genuine sympathy and integrity.

Our leaders from the social and behavioral sciences and cultural studies will consider the roots of chaos and dysfunction in our families, cities, and culture, and will explore paradigms based on Christian themes that hold hope for the transformation of lives and culture.

Our colleagues in theatre, dance, music, visual art, and film will lead us in understanding the dimensions of the crisis of the loss of vision, and they will also help us palpably sense the power of transforming vision.

Finally, in worship throughout the Summer Institute, as well as through active prayer, we will own the crisis in our own lives that leads us to Christ, and celebrate the hope that springs from both acknowledging and appealing to the transcendent source of all goodness and beauty."

Oh, yes, I'm going. I am going to be around literate, thoughtful, dynamic, joyful, creative people from all over the world, from all Christian traditions, and I want to come back transformed and equipped and ready. I can't wait to meet more kindred spirits--I already met one this evening, dear Stanley Mattson.

I didn't know I was so thirsty until tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

the best people I know work in schools

So I'm on MugBook Sunday evening and find that one of my dear colleagues had posted a list titled "10 Reasons Why I Can't Wait To Get Back To Work Tomorrow."

Really: how many people do you know who love their jobs that much? Then another colleague posted his list, so I followed suit. Here are the lists with just a few changes to protect privacy 'n' stuff--get ready to ride the Positivity Train to Optimism City:

10 Reasons Why I Can't Wait To Get Back To Work Tomorrow by K.
1. It is healthy to have a routine.
2. My routine is my passion--even though it is a daunting one.
3. My students keep me grounded.
4. My students make me laugh.
5. I am contributing to the greater good of society.
6. I love my colleagues--except when M. calls me names.
7. I love giving M. a difficult time.
8. I love to warm myself by the copy machine.
9. Can't wait to eat lunch with the girls.
10. Going back means I am that much closer to Winter Vacation.

10 Reasons Why I Can't Wait To Get Back To Work Tomorrow by J.

1. The students of B-11

2. The students of B-11

3. The students of B-11

4. The students of B-11

5. The students of B-11

6. I can't wait to see their African Masks!

7. I can't wait to give back the "Islamic Bound Books" project

8. I can't wait to start work on the African Griot Storytellers project ( 1 week away!!!)

9. I can't wait to see my homies K., C., ( hopefully she's better ) A., M., A., S., E., M., S., P., C., etc. etc.

10. I can't wait to holler out " Hey M.!" at 6:30 A.M. at you know who.......

10 Reasons Why I Can't Wait To Get Back To Work Tomorrow by Lola

1. I love 8th graders

2. My colleagues are as inspiring as they are good looking and humorous

3. My 6th grade advisory class: cuteness defined

4. What crazy thing will C.T. (period 1) say next?

5. Gonna launch Animal Farm--can't wait to hear their perspectives about power

6. When you're a teacher, you're famous--kids yell "HI TEACHER!!!" from miles away

7. I wanna see how much the kids remembered about the Constitution over break

8. The lunch ladies sell these really yummy cookies

9. Some kids turned in a bunch of makeup work and I get to tell them how improved their grades are now

10. S.'s hugs

(BTW, "M." is our awesome custodian--how awesome is he? He turned the heat on in my bungalow this morning so when I got there it was habitable!! LOVE HIM! Love the people I work with! Another colleague, S., read on Mugbook that I was feeling yucky, and she brought me matzah ball soup! Is it like this in the corporate world?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a heart full of gratitude and warmth

I've been a bit low regarding my career lately, so how lovely and timely was the call that came yesterday period 7: a delivery of flowers for me! "Read the card! Who sent them?"

But there was no name, and so we have a mystery--a kind and generous and beautiful mystery. That someone would take the time, money, and energy to lift me that way is beyond wonderful. I will definitely be paying this forward.

Here is the card:

Here are the flowers:

Here is my heart:

God is so very ridiculously good to me. He is my Shepherd, assuredly. It's true that goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It's true that He makes me lie down in green pastures, and I need nothing because of His provision. He goes out of His way to show me love in ways both humble and divine. I wish I were more faithful and trusting than I am. But one thing He knows: I have a grateful heart and I know Who to thank.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sobs and Shock

Poetic justice and a few heavy hearts this morning. I tell ya, middle school is many things, but "boring" isn't one of them.

Before school on campus this morning, a well-loved colleague noticed a boy launching an aerosol can into the air, an impressive use of physics' principles of pressure and force. She strolled over to stop the ersatz rocket antics. "Boys will be boys," she thought.

When she picked up the spent can, though, her heart sank. The can's label had been whited out and on it was scrawled "Jew Repellant."

Imagine the walk to the office. Imagine the kid looking for a loophole, saying he didn't know what "repellant" was. Imagine the kid blaming "South Park" for the idea. Imagine the kid's horror upon learning that my colleague is Jewish. Imagine his tears--real sobs--his apologies, his "I didn't mean to hurt you." Imagine her letting him know she forgives him. Imagine the kid's dread of the call to his parents. Imagine the kid's shock when the police come to the school because yes, this is a reportable hate crime.

You know what I have trouble imagining? What to say to him when he returns to school.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Angry Colonist

After reading a batch of student work, I mentioned to my students that many of them were forgetting to pluralize "colonists", inadvertently dropping the "s" from the word. We joked about how funny it was to read about this one angry colonist:

"The colonist threw snowballs at the British soldiers in front of the Customs House, taunting them to fire."

"The colonist boarded the ships and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor."

"Paine wrote 'Common Sense' to persuade the colonist to support independence."

"The colonist fired at the retreating British, from Concord to Boston."

Seminar student N. now spends all of his spare time drawing pictures of the Angry Colonist. My favorite is the Angry Colonist clinging to the underside of Washington's boat as he crosses the Delaware, hitching a ride so he can pour out his anger on the sleeping Hessians.

You should know that all pictures of the Angry Colonist depict him foaming at the mouth.

Miracle or Money?

Hmm. Upon reading this NYT article about visionary Geoffrey Canada's charter school, I arrive at a slightly different conclusion about the efficacy of charter schools:

"In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school."

In my school, we teach about 1000 kids, about 300 of each grade level. Average class size in history is over 34 with one licensed teacher. We have two guidance counselors. But seriously, two teachers for 15 kids?

And then there's this:
"The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal 'a tragedy.' "

And where do these dismissed 8th graders go? Oh yes, to public school where WE TAKE THEM. And what happens to the average score of the school that kicks them out? And what happens to the average score of the schools that take them?

We take them all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

1994 and 2010

In December of 1994, I realized I wasn't happy. Teaching wasn't fun anymore. Too much work, too little pay off. Weekends filled with paperwork, class sizes of 38, a block schedule that left me feeling disconnected to the students, three subjects to prepare for (in teacher parlance, three preps)--two I'd never taught before--and all in a new school. The history department was warm, but the English department was Siberia.

I took three years' leave of absence.

The first year I went to several career counselors, did every exercise in Richard Bolles's What Color Is Your Parachute, read books like crazy, went to Europe for three weeks, and did a lot of thinking. Thinking, reading--a good time.

The second year I went to Harvard University's Graduate School of Education to earn a master's degree. I had to choose a concentration, and though administration never had held (nor does it now) any charm, I chose Administration, Planning, and Social Policy. A believer in the transformational power of education, the social policy aspects seemed attractive. I learned much about charter schools, and even had one class co-taught by Tony Alvarado, my future superintendent Alan Bersin's future right hand man.

The third year I hunted for positions as a staff developer, naively thinking my fancy master's degree would be powerful enough to counter my lack of experience in staff development. I taught a few classes at National University (more on that in a future post), worked at Sylvan Learning Center for a few bucks above minimum wage, and....ran out of money.

Back to SDUSD and into the greatest job ever. I was in love again, passionate about becoming the Best Teacher Ever. Impossible, of course, but I wanted every class to be better than the one before, tried every lesson to improve; I wanted to be a part of the transformation of kids' lives. I worked very hard, was inspired by the amazing staff I worked with, and felt like I was making a difference.

A decade later, and I am feeling like it's 1994 all over again. I don't know what to do.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

today's parent conference

THREE parents, one kid:
how can it be that the kid
does not do homework?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

a 6th grader's request

"Can I have a pass?"
His eyes are large and tragic.
"To the counselor?"

Snap judgment: "Sure. Why?"
"I kinda wanna kill myself...."
My eyes embrace his.