30 April 2006 

Brandi Carlile

I'm hooked - I admit it.



Tomorrow brings work. It brings students I adore and miss, even though I saw them yesterday. It brings a softball practice that surely will include laughter, because we're okay with being a scrub team even though we try for more. Tomorrow brings me. Me and my big fat voice singing in my car at 6 in the morning, espresso drinking, volume blasting, hearing dying, tires flying.

I'll sleep with sight on what was fought:

We danced and waved our arms around in the air, like we were somehow graceful at it. I was a pseudo hippy in the crowd, overdressed and quiet and peaceful. I'm attracted to the freedom, but restrained by responsibility.

I danced to Santana songs among potheads. I danced among intellectually stirring people, whom by the way weren't on pot. The dedicated rain didn't dissolve our energy, it strengthened the pull. The light pitter patter outside bore the rhythm inside.

Feet, thighs, hips, arms, fingers, stumbling around, releasing what we fought through all week, until each muscled and tendoned part contributed to a powerful subculture of freedom among strangers.

28 April 2006 

Who am I to judge?

In my previous post, I ranted about teachers that I wish would just leave my school. I'm sure those teachers exist at every school.

Anyway, I'm a hypocrite. Check this out. I'm leaving for a new professional and educational opportunity, but whenever I think of other people working in my current position I cringe (or openings in other departments). What is it about the situation that is making me feel this desire to control everything? Why am I obsessing over if this person or that person is good enough? How do I know that I'm even good enough?

I need to let go.

Focus on now.



The reason I'm not burned out right now, although close, is because I get to miss every staff meeting due to softball. Students don't stress me out: coworkers are my demise - usually. This sounds horrible, and I like a decent handful of my coworkers.

My school has not met AYP standards for too many years in a row, so we are being mandated to implement a school improvement plan. While at softball, here's what happened: the staff acted like assholes to two teachers who were asked to represent the staff on the district committee responsible for the implementation. They said things to these people like, why should we give our input, nothing ever gets better. Or if the state wanted to fire us, they would've fired us by now. Or go ahead, let the state fire us. Nobody else would work here. Why are they attacking these two teachers? Besides, what teacher wouldn't want to try to improve the school's standards? Here's my metaphor: Teachers have to update their lessons or toss them out completely when they have the opportunity to teach them again, because students and their dynamics are constantly changing. Why isn't that true for the operations of an entire district when its enrolled population's needs are always changing as well?

An anonymous teacher put a note in the union reps's box saying that we deserve hazard pay for working in our district! It also stated that teachers only work at the school for the paycheck.

My response: leave. If you don't respect our students then get the hell out of their school. I work here by choice, not because I can't get a job anywhere else.

For the first time, two of these teachers' actions disrupted my own classroom yesterday. Two students came into my room raging during first hour. Apparently another teacher made a passive-aggressive-sarcastic remark to one student in the hallway. Another teacher was an asshole and wouldn't explain why the other student received detention. My response and attempt to calm them down to to my work was to apologize to the other student for that inappropriate comment and not to worry about him. The teacher told him he was tardy when he wasn't. I told the student I was the teacher right now and to forget about the other one. I proceeded to serve dishes full of positive reinforcement for showing up, because he's been MIA lately. I told the other student, also steaming, that he should go ask the vp for an answer, and I'd be more than happy to write him a pass. Detention is supposed to correct and prevent behavior, but how can it if kids don't know why they're serving? (Not that this form of discipline even works)


Besides that, my day of teaching yesterday included laying out on the grass in the bright sunlight and fresh air reading The House on Mango Street. It's refreshing to watch students devour books.



The rock of grief

Becomes, fine s.a.n.d.
between fat toes.

24 April 2006 

Mango Street

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once remarked that the reason Japan's citizens are more intelligent is because their society is racially homogeneous. He even said that Black and Latino cultures don't encourage academic achievement.

I brought up this point in my American literature class, because I'm tying The House on Mango Street to sociology this semester. In small groups I asked my students to do two things: 1 - analyze what Nakasone means 2 - react to his statement.

Here's the part that kills me: My proud, amazing, beautiful, wonderful, Native American, students - removed their culture from their critical thinking. While it's good to look at the world from different perspectives other than your own, they simply left theirs out in favor of one that seems more intelligent. Their discussion started with contemplating what our society would be like without diversity. Soon they realized that many conflicts just wouldn't exist and people wouldn't be marginilized. I guess what sort of freaked me out was that they used the sample homogeneous culture as Caucasian European instead of Native. What is wrong with our society that my students can't see their culture as a possible dominant culture? I'm also not assuming a dominant culture is even a good thing.

So after we talked about minority groups, poverty, and institutionalized racism, I asked students what they thought we gained by having a diverse country. They had no serious answer. This means, I am going to push the issue. Big. Time.

I'm beyond excited for this unit. I know students walked out of my room with their heads spinning, in a good way. The facts were loud enough to cause shock, they learned a new discipline, and they are reading a fabulous book by Cisneros tonight.

I love this class...so much.

23 April 2006 

6 Weeks

The latest thing weighing on my mind is how to leave school on the last day.

  1. Do I tell my students I'm not returning? (what do I say, how do I say it?)
  2. Do I just walk out and send in my resignation letter during the summer?

Leaving is a sensitive issue in my situation. Students feel very abandoned by teachers who left due to trauma. Some understand the departures, others feel anger.

I'm leaving for an amazing opportunity, not because of dysfunction or trauma. Although, there were moments when those things were slowly pushing me out the door to never return.

What it comes down to is leaving this school is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life.

The facts speak loudly of life outside of my profession: I don't want to live here, because it doesn't foster the lifestyle I want. I feel like there is little to explore anymore in this region. My close friends have/will all left, and I want to meet new people. I need to leave my comfort zone and be anew.

Then there are the facts of my profession: My new opportunities in Baltimore and Philadelphia are amazing and will open the door to other opportunities later in life. My teaching will be revolutionized by leaving. There are no academic opportunities for a respected masters in teaching or even - hopefully - a Ph.D.

To leave without hurting my students is what I want. I want them to understand, at least a few of them because surely some will not. Therefore, enter the dream world of an English teacher worried:

The fifth hour American literature students were all staring at me, wondering why I was so quiet and somber looking. I could feel my face hot and tingly. This was the defining moment I'd been dreading.

The night before I had brought home my class set of As I Lay Dying. We were supposed to read Faulkner the last month of school but for some reason ran out of time. Inside each book, I wrote a long goodbye to each of my students.

I started passing out the books only moments before the bell. As students received them, looking slightly confused as to why I was giving them a novel, Faulkner at that, on the last day of school I started to explain to I wrote each of them a letter inside this book.

The letters explained all the different qualities I adored. I also directly addressed that I wasn't abandoning them and was pursuing my masters out East.

After the novels were all passed out, I looked at the clock to see only ten seconds remaining. I told them to read the letters I wrote to them and challenge themselves to try to read Faulkner over the summer.

I woke up and went to school.

20 April 2006 


At 2:15 I get on the PA system at school. Trying my best to sound like a cool radio announcer, I call my softball players out of class to get dressed for our away game. Problem #1: It's Fuckwad Hitler's birthday, so that means students make threats = hardly any kids in school = not enough softball players.

I'm not the head coach. I'm the lowest rank coach, so I just sort of stand back and let them make big decisions. They decide that we are going to call and wait around until we get a few more ladies to show. Well, the head JV coach decides not to go to our away game since it didn't look like we'd have enough players for two games. Alas, we sort of did.

With only 7 players we managed to play a pretty solid game. 8-12. Can't complain. Through it all, they communicated, discovered a rising star catcher (pretty sure she caught one of the highest pitches I've ever seen a catcher grab), we held the other team with no runs for an inning, and we hit runs in each inning. Even better than all of those things and other little details not mentioned, the ladies left the field feeling really good about themselves.

Finally, winners.

19 April 2006 


Oh ladies. You know, we are going to lose our fastpitch games if you never show up to practice. We are going to lose our games if you continue to get in gang fights at school and fail your classes. We are going to lose our games if you don't learn to focus and let the other coach and I call parents and escort off the fields and stands the male gang members who are only there to harass you and wear rags. We are going to lose if you don't talk to each other on the field. We are going to lose if you hold onto your mistakes longer than you need to learn from them. We are going to lose if you give up before the last inning. We are going to lose if you don't forget about losing. We are going to lose if all you care about is winning. We are going to lose if you are more worried about how you look than being an athlete and learning. We are going to lose if you don't have fun.

More Losing

The drama that has followed this district makes me sick, because the drama and threats have only become worse lately. I'm literally queesy. Last night, before I left the school around seven (had a game), my hands were shaking as I was writing out lesson plans for the next day. I know better than to try to teach when I feel like this. For the next three days there is apparently a legitimate threat against the school. Attendance has been awful because of it. I would be totally ineffective when, if anything, my students need stability and a leader and calmness. I'll reclaim those traits after my mental health day. I will continue to relax this afternoon, drive to school to coach, take a nice long jog afterwards, relax tonight, and make these last five weeks as great as possible. I must be positive and proactive until the last inning.

17 April 2006 

My Other Home

I'm back to my other home, where I live alone, work all the time, see friends on the weekends, never have a chance to call them back (yet somehow blog?). I have to say, the three day weekend was relaxing and totally unproductive.

Not to mention it all started out with my team winning on Thursday night 18-6. The best part, my little thugger players (really, they're mostly gang members) wernt 0-6 in the first inning. Offense: One player swung the bat, missed by like six inches. The rest of them, in the first inning, just stood at the plate horrified. Defense: After letting in six runs, they ran into the dugout looking at me with the, "Please let us load the bus. This sucks. We're going to get killed again."

Master manipulator, me, pulled the oldest girl aside and told her to get real corny and start talking to the ladies when they bat. Before I knew it, they were all squirming and shouting and excited. We went straight through the batting order. Here's my favorite part about coaching Thursday, they're actually embarrassed to lead off the base. What!?? I've never encountered that in my years of coaching. They thought they looked silly. By the end of the game, I had almost all but one of them broken of that habit if you consider taking three steps leading off. I just kept telling them, there's nothing silly or embarrassing about scoring or being safe. Why doesn't logic work with hormonal teenage girls?

Now on to the joys of lesson planning. I think I'm going to walk my seniors through several poetry analyses in class as a discussion, since what I did last semester was crap and their analytical papers proved that.

These are the poets I might expose: Adrienne Rich, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Wilfred Owen, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton, E.E. Cummings, etc.

16 April 2006 

Preparing for Distance

Next year I'll be out East. It'll be unlikely that I'll get to fly home for trivial holidays like Easter, so I soaked up the strange nature of my family this weekend. So Easter...My family's not so Christian. But we are competitive and spend hours upon hours playing all kinds of games on Christian holidays and European invasion/genocide holidays. This holiday, we played the Amazing Easter Egg Race. Hell Yeah. I was pumped. Who wouldn't love tearing up roads, solving riddles, spending time with the last grandparent left in your family, and kicking some major ass? We had to take pictures of us completing each task in order to prove it was done since we are all too competitive therefore untrustworthy of each other's teams. I'd post pictures for each highlight, but I don't care to spend that much time on this post.
Highlights From the Race:
  • Bottoming out my sisters car on a gravel road going over 60 mph
  • My grandpa's mouth bleeding because he ate Easter eggs too fast at one challenge and started to choke - in the future he'll not bite his tongue when under a deadline. Blood literally was dripping from the sides of his mouth.

  • Kissing wooden bear statues
  • Trying to pay off Caribou workers to let us budge in line to get our next clue
  • Running through a Holiday gas station freaking out the patrons asking if they had a clue, only to find out it was hidden under a thirty foot statue of chicken we had to hug
  • Cleaning up dog poop in my grandpa's yard as part of a challenge, which my sister (below) intelligently decided to dump out the bucket of poop that other people scooped and we re-scooped and re-bucketed. Hey, the clue just said to scoop poop and didn't say we had to find a fresh pile. No penalty. Saved us precious time.

  • Digging in planters at McDonald's
  • Arriving to my grandma's tombstone to find the tradition she started resting on her plot: the poop egg (as kids we usually fucked up one egg while coloring and it turned out looking like a turd - whoever found the poop egg won a small prize like quarters)
  • Watching my grandpa spill an entire cup of coffee on my sister's front seat after she had it professionally cleaned; then I didn't hold a potted plant in the back seat, which resulted in potting soil all over her tan interior
  • Riding children's rides outside of grocery stores
  • Realizing my grandpa's sunglasses are ladies sunglasses
  • Hitting a bucket of golfballs in 20 seconds at a driving range
  • Being told that we were in last place and going to lose by a clerk only to win the entire race.

15 April 2006 

The Rock Star Complex

Some of the best young teachers are some of the unhealthiest. This is perhaps one of the most clumsy statements I will ever make on this blog, hopefully. I am a young teacher. I've faired well considering how chaotic and new teaching is for a first year teacher.

In my short time at this fabulous and tough school, I've watched the rock star complex fester itself in my friends/coworkers making them hit rock bottom.

Consider this example: Standing in the hallway during passing time one of my juniors approached me about a scholarship essay topic. Knowing this student is quietly starting a revolution in free speech in his community, I urged him to explore this topic and why it would knock out the competition. After I wrapped up my grand idea, he turned to me and said, "Ms. E, you are the only teacher I truly listen to every word said. I mean it. You just talked to me for five minutes straight, and I usually listen to other people talk for about thirty seconds before I space them out."

I'm pretty sure that I had an extra bounce in my step as I hurried myself to my classroom. In fact, I know I felt a physical response, a celebration. Just knowing that all your efforts to help students capitalize on their strengths and harness success creates a high. Then add verbal and literal approbation - wow.

An addiction starts.

Teachers always work hard for their students' welfare. Always. Hardly ever is it about them. Never do I, or my friends/coworkers, sit down and think about if students will like them for a lesson they created - or if it will make them cool. Nonetheless, knowing that you are one of the cool teachers starts to thrust you in new and positive directions in your teaching and relationships. It's a basic concept, positive reinforcement works on teachers too. Some days I feel so good and love my job so much that I could stay at school until the alarm system sounded at eleven.

But I know healthy teachers have healthy lives outside of schools. I know that teachers who bring experiences outside the classroom into the classroom are the best.

Teachers who thrust themselves into this rock star status in their schools become so intertwined in it that they don't see the addiction. They start to feel so proud of their greatness in school, even if they are modest, that the success of their job spills over into their personal lives. Teaching becomes the first thing you mention when someone asks you to describe yourself. You say it with pride too.

Teachers' identities become so wrapped up in rock star status that when they leave their profession for unforeseen reasons, they crash. They literally go through withdrawal of the high that students directly and indirectly give teachers. They struggle with their identity.

I want to be a great teacher, but I don't want to be only a teacher. As a single, young, dedicated worker, I'm worried that even my awareness of my made-up Rock Star Complex will be hard to avoid.

Until recently, the biggest things I noticed in my teaching were my failures. My reflections always focused on which classes seemed challenging, how to improve them, what lessons bombed, etc. Lately though, my classes are seamless. Students look at me with big eyes as I talk, they get excited over my lesson, they try new things, they listen when I tell them I expect better and then do better, they come to me when they have problems and need advice, they trust me, and how does a teacher not start to feel like the shit when the tide of chaos turns?


A true test

Life has thrown me some curveballs. The accomplishment I've achieved is realizing this happens to everyone. For those without a fundamental grip - hang on - paradigm shifts are inevitable, sometimes ugly.

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  • I'm Ms. E
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