Today, I learned that one of my students - a great kid - has a brain tumor that is so serious that (arguably) the world's most renowned doctor is set to operate on it in the next couple of days. The kid couldn't be more jovial and good-natured if he tried. Please send your good thoughts and prayers his way.
Several of my students attended this "No Education, No Life" protest. A few of them are very active in the group.
It's impossible for me not to get goosebumps when I see kids wearing a big red X - the symbol they have adopted for their campaig for equal funding - on their backpack or jacket. I'm totally supportive of this current campaign, which seeks to equate the city's murder rate with the lack of financial support for our city schools.
I try to explain this to them when they ask if, when they attend a rally, they will be excused for their absence. I tell them that I'm 100% in support of their civil disobedience. After all, I'm a teacher who has seen his class load increase by 250% (fro 80 to 170-180) and my class size increase by 40% in the last four years (from average 24 to average 33, some near 40). I've been told by my principal that he has to choose between an assistant principal and a classroom teacher when he looks at staffing the school, that giving our 1500-student school a 3rd vice principal would require cutting another classroom teacher, when nine positions were cut in the last year alone. Those are the big things, but my daily classroom and extracurricular activities are always hindered by lack of books or lack of uniforms. So, yes, I stand alongside them metaphorically in their demands for equality in funding.
But I also tell them that for something to mean something, then something has to be sacrificed. Civil disobedience wouldn't mean anything if you didn't have to sacrifice something. Therefore, no, the absence isn't excused. You're not excused from the work. But I'm glad to say that several of my kids blew it off nonetheless and did what they knew was right.
It's very hard to be a good coach and a good teacher. I've been just getting by nearly every day.
Today, I somehow whipped up a quiz just before my sophomores started class, because I wanted to see that they've learned what they needed to learn about Whitman and Dickinson, but also because I just couldn't imagine filling 48 minutes of time in front of them with the lesson that I had. My junior classes are going slightly easier, as every day I randomly pull a couple names from a pile to do an oral project, and we're working on other things as well. Still, it feels like I've got so many things up in the air right now that something is going to fall to the ground.
I think my exhaustion this year as opposed to past years has to do with not having an afternoon planning period, to to the recent (and still unfolding) move. I usually have been given my last period as a planning period when I coach. That hasn't happened this year, and thus I have to leave my classes unattended when I have to travel to away games. Finding a substitute is impossible; often, substitutes aren't found for teachers who call in sick, so kids are left without supervision throughout the building every day. Luckily, I teach very good kids in the afternoon, but there are way too many of them in the classes (high 30s) and that's simply too many kids to be sitting there alone, even if I do leave them great work to do.
So, tomorrow, I'll be okay with a rainout.
Overall, it's just been a long week. Yesterday, I ended up in the middle of a fight between two groups of girls. I knew one of them, a smart spitfire I taught last year, who now was crying, her breath heaving, her hair mangled, and walked her back to the department office - we have no phones, so it wasn't like we could call anyone, even when a major fight breaks out - and thought I calmed her down. I got her some water. A few minutes later, she asked to go to the bathroom, so I escorted her downstairs to the bathroom and then to the main office; I figured the halls would be calmed by now. However, on the way, she saw the group of girls again, and she threw the cup of water at them. I tackled her, and we both hit the floor in a heap. I'm a lot stronger than these girls, and was okay, but I also heard that my 60-something year old female boss was tripped during the melee - she took a sick day today because she was in pain from it.
Today, I got in a big conflict with a student who had skipped my class yesterday. Somehow, I snatched a hat off her head (after she put it on right after I asked her nicely to take it off) and sent her to the office, after she rudely told me she didn't owe me an explanation for missing my class (I saw her a few minutes before the bell rang to start my class). This is uncharacteristic behavior for me, but, I have to say, she's a little jerk and deserved it. Still, the whole last two days have left a bitter taste in my mouth, which only disippated after baseball season (which was really great, even though it was against the backdrop of a softball bat attack on the grounds from a rival school that had let out early because the kids had set the building on fire).
Is it spring break yet? At least it's Friday.
I need to concentrate on the good: the wonderful discussion I had about the first few paragraphs of Song of Solomon in my 8th period, the fun "Imagine a date between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson" assignment we worked in in 4th period (kids have to imagine a conversation between the two of them, integrating lines of their poetry into the dialogue), my players who asked to stay later after practice to work on fly balls and blocking pitches, the fact that we got our first two bats in two years today...
The first game was a big victory. We whomped them, but I think we kept ourselves composed.
I tried to get all the players in, and ended up putting a guy in at catcher that I hope can get some time this year. See, my catcher has been the same catcher for the last four years. He's a great kid, the team captain, but I need to find someone who can replace him, and work someone new in there. My hope is it will be this sophomore that I'm a big fan of. However, I put him in today for his first inning behind the plate. I noticed he was playing all tentative, and finally I figured it out: he wasn't wearing a cup. A quick motion from me back to him confirmed it, and I pulled his ass quick and gave him a stern talking-to.
Afterwards, he asked me to take him to Dick's Sporting Goods to buy a cup, and I ended up taking him and another sophomore I'm liking a great deal this year. We ate at Chili's on the way, and I somehow forgot that I'm nearly 30 years old, because I ate like I was fifteen: we all got chocolate shakes, along with an awesome blossom, tostada chips, and burgers (mine a black bean). I'm still full. Then it was off to Dick's, where one of the boys asked - for the other player - where the "extra small" cups were. Then, we got a decal for my car that looks like a baseball going through it. Yup, they're keeping me young.
Consecutive games tomorrow, Friday, and Monday, so I hope we can start the year off on a little winning streak.
I've been so busy lately that I've barely even been able to see an end to it. Baseball season is always incredibly busy, but adding moving onto it, plus a lost cell phone, it just makes it all the more busy.
I'm soldiering through, though. I got home tonight at 10pm, after practice until 6:30, then rides home to kids until 8:00, then a trip to the mall to get a new cell phone, then to the grocery store for some odds and ends, then to the old house to pick up the mail, and then, finally, to the new house, where I'm trying to set up negotations between my dog and the roomate's 12-week old kitten. He's a chaser, she's a runner, it's not working.
The strangest thing happened on the way while I was driving the kids home. I was driving on The Alameda, near Harford Road, when a group of six or so youths started coming from either side. They were doing a strange dance, and the kids I was driving immediately identified it as Bloods Dance. The miscreant youths started walking through the center of the busy intersection, somuch that I couldn't turn left when I wanted to, and had to swerve to miss one of them. My carmates told me they must have just banked someone, and, as we continued to drive along, we saw a bunch of police cars and an ambulance up ahead. There, as we drove right by it and ended up being stopped in front of the crime scene (one block up from Erdman/Bel Air, which just happens to be walking distance from the new house) and, there, I encountered my first real visceral experience with the Baltimore murder rate: police lines drawn out, caution tape up, and a copious splattering of blood on the sidewalk. I don't know if it was a gunshot or a stabbing, but, with the amount of blood we saw, I don't think the victim lived.
Tomorrow's our first game. Thursday, Friday, and Monday follow. I'm not telling anyone but you all that this is a great team and that a city championship is possible. Depends on how those other teams are, though, I guess.
The first move I remember was in the summer following the 3rd grade. My dad, a state police officer, had been transferred from South Haven, a small tourist beach town in southwest Michigan, to Detroit, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. State police officers in Michigan expect two transfers in their career, and my dad, then about eight years into the twenty-five he would spend there, was expecting it. He grew up in the Detroit area, and hated it, and didn't want to go back, but it wasn't an option to stay.
He left several months before we did, as mom, my sister (who had not yet started school), and I waited for the house to sell and to finish out the school year. He visited as often as he could, but, most memorably, he would send us tape recordings of his voice. He wasn't much for writing letters, but I remember these tapes like they were yesterday. We'd get one in the mail, pop it into the cassette player, and listen to dad talk to us. Heidi and I would make mom play it before bed every night, because he used to tell us "good night" in the tape. This is one of the saddest and sweetest memories of my father growing up.
We moved to the Detroit area, settling into a suberb called Redford Township. There, we lived for almost four years, during the important formative years of late elementary and early junior high school. The house was so different from the ranch out in the country where we lived in before. In South Haven, our nearest neighbor was nearly an acre away, and, in Redford, he was fifteen feet away. The houses lined up on the street, separated only by a driveway. Still, I loved it. I made my first best friend, a kid across the street named Marcus, and we spent hours playing pitcher-catcher with a tennis ball or talking about girls. In fact, we knew all of our neighbors, I made a lot of great friends.
Moving from there after the 6th grade was hard. I remember crying during moving day, and my dad looking at me and saying, "It's alright, son, no one cares if you cry." I still get a little misty-eyed thinking about that block of Leverne Street. When Grandma - who lived in Redford about a mile away - died this summer, her funeral home was just a few blocks from the old house, and my sister and I not only drove by, but we knocked on an old neighbor's door. They recognized us right away, even after 20 years, and said they were expecting us since they had seen Grandma's name in the Obituary section.
So we moved back to South Haven, building a house just two lots away from the first house my parents owned. I was so excited to go back, despite my love of Redford Township while growing up. South Haven is a beautiful city, and we spent many hours talking about that southwest Michigan paradise we had left. By the time I graduated from high school more than six years later (we moved back in 1988, I graduated in 1995), of course, I was jaded by the smallness of the town, by its dead winters, and by its conservatism.
I moved to Michigan State in August of 1995, just before my 18th birthday. For some reason, this wasn't a particularly memorable move. I remember packing up all my things in the car, and my dad and mom driving me up there. I remember my dad saying, "(Epiph), there are so many opportunities on this campus, and make sure you take full advantage of them," and that's always something I tried to do while there. I loved going to Michigan State for almost the entire six years I was there.
One of my most memorable moves occurred while there. The summer after my sophomore year - an important year, because it was the year I had my college multiple hookup partner, my first drink of alcohol, my first job where I felt a part of the campus, the year I got the RA job for the next year - I ended up deciding at the last minute to stay in East Lansing for the summer. It didn't seem so at the time, but I now recognize it as a big move - the first real break from home with my parents, making summer 1996 the last time I would ever spend any significant length of time at their house. A girl I'm still friends with (she called me Thursday night for the first time in a few months, but I can't call her back until I get my phone back) convinced me to get an apartment at Cedar Village Apartments for the summer. This was a big party-spot on the MSU campus, and that's saying a lot. The summer was a memorable one - lots of vodka, lots of slurpees from 7-11, (often together), an almost-job selling knives, working in a paper cup factory, bats in our apartment - but the moving day might have been the most memorable part. I just remember this girl, helping me pack up my dorm room, with my dad looking bemusedly from the doorway, as she screached at me to throw shit like my purple shag carpet and half-used dental floss away. She's with me in spirit this weekend, as I try to throw everything away that I haven't used this year.
By the time 2000 came around, I was a fifth year senior, and pretty depressed - I tipped the scaled at over 300 pounds, I skipped class all the time, I was sick all the time, I hated my residence life job, and was just going through the motions. Luckily, I had a rejuvenation in grad school, as the regular schedule of student teaching and doing things that mattered to people who needed it (I student taught in Lansing City Public Schools) really agreed with me. I also took on a residence life job I mostly enjoyed, as Assistant Hall Director of a dorm in the middle of campus. I loved student teaching and being a Hall Director, and did things like lose 50 pounds (I eventually lost 110 in all) and start running every day.
Still, by the time 2001 ended, it seemed most of my friends were getting married or getting ready to get married, but I just felt like the world was my playground and didn't want to feel tied down to anything. I couldn't decide where to move, but I knew I wanted a change from Michigan. Should I move to California, where first year teachers make $45,000? Florida, where my grandparents lived? Charlotte? I ended up getting offered jobs in all those states, and wentsofar as driving down to Charlotte (where, on that trip, I happened to see a then-unknown John Mayer in an audience of 40 in Durham at a place called Cat's Cradle) to talk to a principal there. I didn't take that job, though, as the teaching salaries are horrible there ($28,000), and something about Charlotte just didn't mesh with me. So I continued to drive up the coast, stopped in Baltimore, and fell in love with it.
I moved down here with my best friend from college, who was in a similar position to me - no ties, a recent teaching certificate in hand. We found this house by chance, after meeting a guy at teacher orientation who was moving out of it. We misunderstood him, so we ended up moving in while he was away on a weekend - we just thought he had left the place a mess - and quite a scene occurred on the front porch. But it all ended up working out okay in the end.
The house has been good. It was owned by a hands-off old lady for much of my time here, and the rent of $750 for the whole house was split up nicely between three of us (we met up with another new teacher as well). After that first year, best friend moved to Florida, and 2nd roommate got married, so I've continued to have parades of roommates come through these doors: crazy Todd, the asshole Christian McGinty (who ripped me off of $400 and didn't tell me he was moving until 2 weeks beforehand), great friend Rob, good friend Jesse, the dropped-off-the-planet Fool's Fate, Daria and her girlfriend before they moved into their new house (they've since broken up and it is Daria's place where I'm moving, one zipcode over), and, lastly, "Bobby" from around March to the time he went to college.
I'm really ready to move, though, as the house is way too big for me and the new landlord wants to fix the place up and raise rent. But the path here was one guided by chance and gut feelings, and the path away from here is guided by the same. In fact, I still don't really know how I ended up here, or what compelled me to move away from everything I've known, but it's worked out well for me. I still miss my folks, but the plan to move back someday has become less and less likely. Still, I haven't bought a house yet, and that's probably significant; I guess I just don't place enough faith in Baltimore City Public Schools to do the right thing consistently enough to commit just yet. But I probably will soon (if I'm still in this new place in a year, please shoot me).
Friday: Very strange weather hit Baltimore, with sleet, ice, and snow falling throughout the area starting at around 2pm. All after-school activities were cancelled, and I took advantage of a rare afternoon off during baseball season to engage in a long-missed happy hour at Brewer's Art. Afterwards, it was to Marcia's for her annual St. Patrick's Day party, which I stayed at for a couple of hours before deciding I'd better get home to finish packing. I also came to the realization that I lost my cell phone somewhere since Thursday afternoon.
Saturday: The day of the big moving day. And I cancelled it because of the ice. It was a tough decision, because I had no way to contact my friends except by sending an e-mail, which I was afraid they weren't going to read. So I sent the e-mail at 7am, then waited for several hours for a reply, and, not getting one, I figured they were coming, but they never did, and finally at around noon I gave up, and went to get some coffee at Red Canoe. It turns out it would have been a fine day to move, as the ice melted by mid-morning, but it's probably for the best because now I'm farther along packed. I've rescheduled the moving day to Sunday afternoon. After a day of packing, I headed to work at the restaurant, where I had one table and made $16 while working for four hours. That sucked, but it's not surprising that people who want to eat a nice dinner out don't want to fight the St. Patrick's Night crowds down in Fell's Point.
I'm living really unhealthily these days (no gym trips this week, and my lunch was a huge Chipotle burrito and my dinner some Cadbury eggs), as I balance packing up the last six years of my life, running baseball practice, giving rides home across the city, and, tonight, attending the (very entertaining) school play.
While it's all happening, I feel inspired and filled with optimism. But then I finish, and go home, and wonder how I've been out of the house for 16 hours and how in the world I'm going to start up again in 8. But I will. And moving day is Saturday, so it will all start to slow down after that.
I'll have earned this spring break, that's for sure.
I spend much more time planning a meticulous baseball practice than I do my lessons in class. This sounds bad, I know, but there are some good reasons - baseball practice is almost three hours long, and I have to have a plan for every moment of it, while class is 48 minutes long; baseball is weather dependent, so I have to plan to get certain things in while we can be outside, because tomorrow might not happen; and, of course, I studied for six years of college and graduate school to become a teacher, and all my experiences as a coach have been on-the-spot or as a fan or player. So today's practice was a masterpiece, by the way. The kids went home tired. I'm lucky enough to have a brigade of area youth coaches helping me out right now. I'm sometimes intimated by them - who combine for 50 years of coaching experience next to my four years - but they appreciate my thorough plans and batting tips and help me out with my weaknesses, particularly with pitching. One of them - this one's a young guy who helped me out a few years ago - taught me a new drill today that was a lot of fun to run. And, the kids went home tired. I was too.
One of the better decisions I've made this year is deciding to take three 10th graders on my varsity team. One is a kid I taught last year who is classic ADHD, but when he gets on the baseball field, he is nothing but mature. I give him a ride home everyday and we talk baseball and school. The second is a kid who I've always thought of as a punk-ass kid in school, always in trouble, always giving his teachers a hard time. But he's really grown on me out there on the baseball field - earnest, hardworking, intelligent, and a natural athlete in every way. The third kid I don't know as well, but he cranked two home runs in batting practice yesterday, something the seniors didn't even do. All three will get plenty of playing time, and I'm feeling pretty smart for keeping them on the big team right now.
I am 80% done with packing up the last six years of my life into used moving boxes and crates. The big moving day is Saturday. I can't believe it's so close. I'm really excited about a semi-fresh start.
I never remember Daylights Savings time kicking my ass like it has so far this year. My alarm clock goes off at 5am, and I don't even consider getting up to go to the gym; I immediately reset it for 7. Then 7 rolls around, and even though I've got to shower, eat a bowl of cereal, get dressed, and pack for the day, I can't muster up the energy to get up until at least a couple of snooze button hits. Now, I'm struggling to keep my eyes open. My energy level is really low, although I'm pretty sure I also won't be able to fall asleep tonight.
A kid I've coached for three years walked off the field today without a word, pissed off with me because he didn't get to play shortstop at the start of the first official day of practice. He felt he deserved it, I guess. If he doesn't show up in my classroom tomorrow, apologetic and forthright, then he's off the team. I'm already suspending him for the first game. What a bummer, I really like this kid. And he was set to play every game; I just wasn't sure where yet.
Another kid who is a favorite of mine disappointed me today, too. Miss Dynamite showed up late to class, then decided to just slide over to the group discussion in the library instead of reporting to class. When I saw her after school, I let her have it good, about how disappointed I was in her. Because I was. When I returned home tonight, I got an e-mail from her that read, in part, "I know I have missed alot of time in your class and I have been late but I don't want that to effect my grade..... and the way that you think of me. I was upset myself that you were really upset at me. I can tell you were not joking. Starting tomorrow I will try my best to come on time and be a better student.It's alot that have been going on and I have to learn to not let that get in my way. I'll try harder." I'm fine now, but I'm going to let her sweat it out a bit. Especially since she misspelled "alot" in her e-mail, which is one of my least favorite grammatical mistakes of all time. The effect/affect one is just slightly more tolerable.
During baseball season, I end up giving kids a ride home every night. I live near a kid who always ends up driving with me the most, because I drop all the other kids off and then end up with him as we head back over to Northeast. Tonight, I really wanted to go to Sports Authority to get some baseballs, because playing on the tennis courts all last week really beat up the balls we have, and we haven't gotten any new baseballs yet this year. I decided to take him along because we were in the area and it would have taken too long to drive all the way to his house and back. To make up for his having to run errands with me, I bought him some batting gloves for thirty bucks; the kid is not well-off and doesn't have a father or anything like that, and his mom works late every night. I'm going to get him to help me move some furniture down for moving this week as repayment for those batting gloves. Then I dragged him to Staples and got him home at around 8:30, just in time so I could make it back to see 24, which continues to be a show that enthralls me. My television has been on for three hours total in the last three weeks, and that has been 9-10 on Mondays. That's it. I guess, technically, it's on right now as I listen to the news before bed. But it's just because it's still on.
On Friday, three of us ended up at Rocky Run, where somehow 7:15 turned into 1am and plans to meet up with different friends later were lost.
Saturday morning was spent mostly recovering until I had to attend the difibbrilator training across town. That particular training was just fine, but unfortunately I also had to sit and work through the entire 4-hour CPR course that I took less than a year ago; the defibbrilator training was tacked onto it. It's good to know how to use it, though, and the presenter who I had both times is really good. Did you know that the Baltimore City Public Schools are the first to have four difibbrilators in every high school in the state? They're working on middle schools. It's nice to be ahead of the game in something, for once.
Straight from class, I zipped across from way-west Baltimore to southeast Baltimore, where I arrive at 4:40 (40 minutes) late to my second job, waiting tables in Fells Point. It turned out to be a very busy night; we were pounded hard from 5pm on, and by 8pm, I was exhausted, because, with the class, it just felt like I had worked a double. I also kind of had a mediocre night with my tables, I felt, as I was seated very heavily for a stretch of 15 minutes or so and just couldn't keep up with everything. Still, everyone seemed happy and I made a lot of money.
I was at the restaurant until 2am, and then had to work at 9:30am the next day, and, with the time change, that meant just a few hours of sleep. But I made it there, almost on time, and worked until about 3 and came home and took a nap. Now, I'm ready to pack like crazy for the rest of the afternoon and evening. No gym trip for me this weekend, unfortunately. I need to be out by Thursday, but probably will pay the extra rent and be out by Sunday.
I had a conflict with a parent today. Sort of. She was a nice woman over the phone, but beneath each nice remark, there was a cutting critical remark. Her daughter clearly does not like me. I'm not looking forward to the meeting next week with her. I found myself getting angry with her over the phone, even asking her once not to interrupt me, with a "please," of course. Her daughter has done next to nothing this year, and I'm hearing from her for the first time in March, despite requesting conferences on her last two report cards.
At school this year, parental contact is nearly impossible. I have no phone in my room. Today, there was a fight in the hallways, and the only way for me to get any security guards to help was to sprint down to the office and get them. I shudder to think about whether it was a real emergency.
To call parents at home, we must use the English department phone. However, the line out was inadvertently cut a few weeks ago by custodial services, and now there is no way to call out from that office. Therefore, I had to go to the main office, and speak in the very public area there while I had a 25-minute, intermittedly angry phone call with a parent.
A few times this year, I've used my cell phone to call parents, but my cell phone gets poor service at school, and I got tired of the dropped calls. Therefore, I've made very little parental contact this year. It sucks, because in past year, I've prided myself on this. I've been known to call a parent of a problem student in front of the whole class, and make the kid talk to the parent right there.
When the new contract this year is negotiated, I wish this would be written in - that the school should provide a convenient line out for teachers to administer parent contact. It's just not fair to expect parental contact and then not give teachers the access to do it.
18 kids have made Varsity. I'd like to keep 19 or 20, probably not 21.
I've got eleven seniors, five juniors, and two sophomores so far.
There are five candidates for those two or three spots:
1. JM: He was on the team two years ago as a 9th grader, but quit the team after two weeks or so because he wasn't getting enough playing time. Has a strange relationship with his father that I think might have led to his quitting. Mother passed away within the last three years, a bit of a troubled kid. Really annoying, too, but that probably shouldn't matter. He's got some baseball talent. Smacked a triple yesterday in practice on a day where the hitting was tough. Will not get a great deal of playing time this year, because he's an infielder and the infield is pretty much set. But he could get in here and there. He quit swimming in December after two weeks, so the whole quitting thing hasn't seemed to go away now that he's an 11th grader. Still, I believe in the redemption of teenagers. And this kid has gone through things that most kids don't have to go through. I've already told him that tryouts will be his time to prove to me that his character issues are behind him. He had a hundred excuses about why he quit swimming. We'll see. He's also the only junior on this list, so if he doesn't make the team, there's no JV team to fall back on (and, to be fair, our JV team didn't play any games last year, and may not play any games this year).
2. DG: He happened to be my favorite student I taught last year. He separated his shoulder last season before tryouts, and couldn't play. I've kept good tabs on him, and he's just a great kid. Also, it appears that he'll be moving to North Carolina after this year, so this will be my only chance to coach him before he moves. Still, I'm not sure what kind of a ballplayer he is. But he's a good athlete. He's in the 10th grade, so he could play JV. But I doubt I'm going to get a kid with better character for this slot.
3. SJ: Except maybe for him. He's a great athlete, but also quiet and unassuming. I've taught him all year, and you'd never know he was a sophomore star of our (very good) varsity football team. He's talked to me all year about baseball, and, then, when tryouts came, he couldn't try out last week because he has turf toe. I'm hoping that he's as good as I think he's going to be as a baseball player. I'm just not sure yet. He's got a good chance, just because his character is so good and I know what kind of an athlete he is. He'd probably be the fastest kid on the team. The doctor should give him clearance to start trying out on Friday.
4. EM: Huge tenth grader, even a little chunky. His dad was in prison from the time he was 6 months old until last year. A bit of a rocky relationship, and he definitely needs some mentoring. He was the only JV pitcher last year, and he might be able to help us out on the mound. Not much of a hitter. Another year of seasoning might do him good, but I'm feeling some pressure from colleagues really pulling for the kid to take him on as a 20th player and mentor him a bit. He's a good athlete and I want him in the program.
5. BJ: My assistant coach has seen him play in summer leagues and tells me he's the best outfielder we have. I'm inclined to believe him. I believe he's probably made the team, but I want to see a little for myself. Don't know him at all.
It will be interesting. It's hard to make choices, though, when I've barely seen them play, and now there's three inches of snow on the ground...
In order to create an environment where meaningful discussion of literature can occur in a class of 38, I decided to develop a plan to group the students into three groups. Over the course of three days and three different discussions, students would either have the discussion, observe and analyze with the IB rubric discussion, or independently have the discussion, and then report back to me. Each group of students gets to do each of the discussion assignments, all over the course of three days.
This made sense to me, but it was a logistical nightmare to explain. In 8th period, though, the explanation went fine yesterday. However, the period after, in 9th period, was 48 minutes of pure confusion. First, I explained it in a way that only me and the Asian girl understood. Then, I explained it in a way where everyone except for me understood. Then, I noticed students totally turned off from my explanation, as I struggled to get all the logistics correct for each group of students, as they patiently - or not so patiently - waited for me to explain it in a way that made sense. It took nearly the entire period.
However, today it was totally worth it. Thirteen kids went next door, into an empty classroom, and had their discussion alone; the two times I snuck up on them, they were conducting themselves excellently, and seemed to be really digging into the material. Their reporting sheets reflected this. Meanwhile, twelve students were in the middle circle in the classroom, discussing the topics (the scientific ethics of Frankenstein, then the relationship between God and man compared with the relationship between creature and creator in the novel) with analytic depth that, at times, gave me goosebumps. The other eleven kids were in the outside circle, not involved, but analyzing different aspects of the discussion according to the IB rubric. Tomorrow and the next day, the groups will rotate, and will engage in different discussions (Is Frankenstein a radical text or a conservative text? Is Frankenstein a feminist text?).
So, it appears I have found a solution to my huge class sizes - just send a third of the kids away. Then, I have a class of 24, and things begin to feel normal again.
Strange day today. Snow, but no closure or delay, despite the fact that nearly every other county around the area was closed. Roads were pretty bad in the morning and attendance was poor, particularly early (six kids showed up in my first period at first). I struggled all day whether to have some sort of baseball practice, even an instructional film, but the decision was made for me late in the day, when BCPSS cancelled all after-school activities. This was best, probably - the snow wasn't abating by the point, and kids getting home safely was probably more important than watching Cal and Bill Ripken discuss baseball tips on DVD. I took advantage of probably the only day without practice of some sort until May, leaving school at around 4pm, came home and packed some. I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The frigidness of practice was nearly unbearable today, but I stuck with my promise to keep the kids out there until 5pm. We couldn't feel our fingers by that point, but I'm worried it might be the last day outside for a little while; two to four inches of snow tomorrow do not bode well for baseball practice. In fact, I'm worried about what I'll do tomorrow with these 40 kids; the weight room is closed down and all the teams will be vying for space to exercise in some back hallway somewhere. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
After practice, I decided to offer to give one of my players a ride home after a different one asked. Usually, I just give this kid a ride to Mondawmin Mall, but I was so sick of the route that I offered to drive him all the way home; I figured that since he lived north, that I wouldn't lose much time then cutting back through Charles Village to my house. He lived off of Liberty Heights Road, which I don't think I've ever been on. Well, it was much, much farther than I ever imagined. Who knew that Northern Parkway actually stopped if you far enough west? Yup. Then, it was north for several miles - past the beltway, and then past some car dealerships. We finally made it, almost an hour after we left school. Then it was back across town to give the other kid a ride home. He lives near me, and he probably never imagined that he would have to drive clear across the city when he asked for a ride. Or imagined that we'd need to head to my eye doctor's to get my contact lens on the way home, since I've been two weeks without it and needed it pretty bad.
Now I'm home, and of course too tired to do anything other than hold off a nap so I can go to bed early and get a full night's sleep. I start Emily Dickinson tomorrow. Oh, joy.
Practice in that wind today was unbelievable. I'm hoarse from trying to scream over it. I was able to get away with getting the kids out of there at 5pm, though, which is fine; practice just isn't that fun when the weather is that shitty. It looks like it'll be that way for a while, too, as tomorrow wind chills will be in the single digits, and on Wednesday, we have snow in the forecast.
Today was a day for struggle in the classroom. Things with the sophomores went well, but things with the Juniors were less so. I wish I didn't feel the need to teach Book One of Paradise Lost with them. I would have probably been a lot happier today. On a positive note, it went a lot better in 9th period than in 8th period. I just don't think I'll ever get used to relaxing with a class of 38, though. Every class period, I'm on edge.
I can't shake the exhaustion lately. My daily gym trips have sort of stopped as of last Thursday, which probably accounts for it. I'd really like to get to it today. It's so easy during baseball season to think, "Oh, I'll get some exercise during practice today," but in reality it's mostly yelling I do during that. Yelling and hitting baseballs while standing in one spot. One thing I've noticed this year is that, because I don't have planning period 9th period, I just can't get out to the field until right before practice starts, so I can't do the before-practice run with the rest of my team. Or at least that presents a good excuse of why I can't. Luckily, this year I've got some excellent team captains and the beginning of practice is running itself so far. Cuts will be Wednesday.
An interesting political dilemma I've had lately is the Al Gore Dilemma. First off, the truth: I do not especially like Al Gore. I certainly voted for him in 2000, but felt like he ran a terrible campaign, marked by his unfortunate conservatism on key issues where I felt like he could have made a lot of inroads into George W. Bush's territory (capital punishment comes to mind). Also, personally, I think he comes off as condescending when he talks, sort of like Hillary Clinton does, only worse. Now, I think he was the rightful winner in 2000, and certainly wish he was President instead of the guy we got (we wouldn't be fighting an unwinnable war, for one), but, even when compared with John Kerry (who I also didn't much like, despite my voting for him), I'm not a fan. I thought the love for him at the Oscars was pretty over the top and silly.
However, I think Gore's done many good things since he conceded (and what a concession speech it was...), including focus the world's attention on global warming. I do wish that our times were not so polarized right now, so that his message would seem less political, and that people wouldn't, seemingly, be against any discussion of global warming simply because it is Gore who is leading the charge. Still, despite that fact, he's certainly done a lot of good with this issue, and weathered some outright silly criticism about it.
A closer look at the article reveals an obvious agenda to it. First of all, the article presents only one side of Al Gore, and it quotes the President of the Tennessee Project for Policy Research himself. It's like The Baltimore Sun running an article, then quoting its own editor as a source. In fact, the snarky title - "Al Gore's Energy Use His Own 'Inconvenient Truth'" - immediately reveals a smear campaign.
However, even with all this, it's hard not to still be disappointed in Mr. Gore for the energy usage. His defense is that he buys carbon offsets (which I don't quite think matters much at all) and uses plenty of solar energy (which does make sense) and greenpower (renewable sources). But, still, the questions remain: why the increase in energy usage from 2005 to 2006? Why can't he be a bit more energy-conscious?
But, after reflection, the criticism seems strange to me, because almost none of it is context. Of course, Gore's energy usage is 20 times the national average, but his house is a mansion! He's got a full-time security staff and a full-time staff living there! It's almost as if Gore's critics want him to be living in a duplex somewhere. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but isn't one of the right wing's tenants that if you have money, you should be able to hang onto it? I mean, that's the issue here, the fact that Gore has a mansion, right? His energy use for a mansion is pretty good. Wanna know Dick Cheney's energy bill in 2006? $186,000. Gore's was about $12,000. He has 20 rooms, a guesthouse, and voluntarily pays $4 more for every 150 kW to use renewable sources, which increased his overall bill by $5,893. But does the Tennessee Center for Policy Research mention this? No. It would get in the way of the smear.
Part of me, I guess, does wish that Al Gore lived in a small house somewhere, like a regular person, and that he used all solar energy and was a model for how everyone can live. But am I going to criticize Al Gore for living in a mansion? For having full-time security and staff that need 20 rooms to get around in? No. Frankly, I think Al Gore earned the right to live in a mansion.
It's not unusual for today's right wing to, when they can't talk about the actual issue, they try to cloud it over with attacks like this. The Democrats do it too (please, can we stop talking about Giuliani marrying his 3rd cousin or Romney being a Mormon?), but with the modern Republican, this creation of doubt and distraction (the swiftboating of Kerry, the criticisms of Obama's church on Foxnews, even the fake throwing of Oreo cookies at Steele story here in Maryland) seems an integral part of the gameplan.
I wonder when the left is going to stop tolerating it. I admit that even I was distracted by this issue this week. "Hmmmm," I thought. "Is Al Gore really a hypocrite? Guess so" and let it be. Sometimes, I don't need to blindly accept the worst of our leaders. And sometimes, a dilemma isn't really a dilemma at all.
I'm exhausted. No way of getting around it. Working very hard at the teaching job, the waiting tables job, and the packing-the-last-six-years of my life job as I prepare for my move in (less than) a couple of weeks. It'll all be worth it in the end.
The restaurant is short-handed right now, as two waiters have quit in the last couple of weeks. Therefore, I've worked several Fridays in a row, and, somehow, Friday is the day that puts me over the edge. I almost always work on Saturdays from 8am-5pm there, plus Sundays 9-5, so adding a Friday night shift on top of teaching all day and then coaching for a couple of hours just makes me insane. Still, I'm not unhappy about it when I'm there; I'm unhappy thinking about it beforehand. I have a ton of grading and packing to do this weekend, so working 25 hours over three days at a restaurant is simply too much.
One current difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party: the reaction when a politician on the other side makes an obvious vocal flub.
John Kerry used an unclear pronoun, saying, "[If] you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." Kerry had just finished talking about visiting Bush's homestate of Texas, and the whole thing would have made good sense if he hadn't left out the pronoun "us" after "stuck." Kerry was attempting to say that if you're like Mr. Bush, willfully ignoring history and not planning for the future, then you find find yourself in a sticky situation in Iraq. Kerry came right out and said his intent in his wording, yet he was attacked by the RNC, by Mr. Bush, and by Mr. McCain for his comments. The faux-disdain for his comments was a good example of how the right wing smear campaign works. We hear Dick Cheney say, "John Kerry needs to learn that the men and women serving in Iraq aren't there because they didn't study hard or do their homework... They're smart, patriotic, exceptionally well-trained and dedicated to their mission. They are heroes, and they are the pride of the United States of America."
What? Are you deliberately lying, or just stupid? Or both? Why are you willfully misreading Kerry's words?
Of course Bush isn't any better: "The senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and shameful," Bush said. "The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots -- and Sen. Kerry owes them an apology."
They clearly lied, willfully ignoring the actual meaning of the comment.
Similarly, recently Barack Obama made an unfortunate diction choice, saying that American lives were "wasted" in Iraq. The right wing smear campaign came right out on that, too, despite Obama's immediate apology and statement that he had misspoke.
Well, the other night, John McCain, one of the grand flipfloppers in American politics today, said the same thing on Letterman when announcing his candidacy: ""Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be," McCain said. "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives.""
"The one area I don't think he can be questioned is his dedication to American troops," said Sen. Barack Barack Obama, D-Illinois. "It was the same intent that I had when I made my statement, John McCain and I may have disagreements. The one area that I don't think he can be questioned is his dedication to American troops. He's been there. He's done that."
And that's the difference. You misspeak, it's treated as such. It's your intent that matters.
Day one of tryouts went on without a hitch, as we got the practice in right before the sky started spitting raindrops. Lots of kids, lots of sorting out to do, including whittling 50 kids down into 20 spots on the varsity team. I've got 11 returners, so about 9 spots on varsity, and I think I decided on about two of them today.
We're going to have a good team. Our nucleus is four kids who I would trust with my life. They're my team captains, my infield, and my pitching aces. I've been lucky to see them grow up before my eyes over the last four years, and as I write them letters of recommendation and call college coaches about them, it's hard not to miss them already. But the year hasn't started yet, and they're still ours for now. Two of the four weren't there today, because basketball season isn't over, and it's hard to imagine what the team will look like when all four are around the infield. Maybe a week of dry weather will allow us to even walk on the actual infield...
It's going to be a good year. This, despite the fact that my Assistant Coach was fired yesterday - I kid you not. Still don't have the details on that one, but it was sad not to have him out there today.