Aug. 8th, 2015

... and there's not much time left in which to write one. Ten more free days, then meetings and classroom work begin, and on August 24th, students are back and the 2015-2016 school year begins. For some reason I always have difficulty figuring out exactly how long I've been teaching, maybe because we do the years in that half-and-half way... I began in October of 1998, after the school year had already started, at Lowell Middle School in West Oakland, which no longer exists. There are two schools sharing that site now, a KIPP school ("Knowledge is Power Program" Charter school, with extended school days, extended school years, and extended school/work hours for teachers... not with extended pay, or union representation, mostly) and the West Oakland Middle School... what is their fucking PROBLEM, with that name? James Russell Lowell was a dumb enough name... OBVIOUSLY if you're naming a school in West Oakland, an overwhelmingly African-American (and historically significant black nationalist) neighborhood, after an American poet, Langston Hughes is the poet to choose (there, I'm a poet and I didn't know it). And, equally obviously, the school mascot should be a Black Panther. I mean, DUH.

ANYWAY, I began in October 1998... which means this is my

2004-2005 (left Lowell; left Oakland Unified School District)
2010-2011(left first middle school in new district for second middle school in new district)

eighteenth year of teaching. I don't think I come off as a hoary veteran teacher, secure in my skills and satisfied with my teaching. At least, that's the best spin I can put on the fact that whenever I meet new teachers (at Professional Development trainings, e.g.) they seem extremely surprised that I have been teaching this long. I could, of course, put a very negative spin on that reaction, too. I struggle a lot with impostor syndrome, for damn sure. And this upcoming year is an evaluation year, hallelujah! Oh, glory, glory, glory. Not. We have a (still) new principal, whose first year was sort of her (in her own words) watchful waiting year. Now she feels like she's made the transition from high school to our particular middle school and is ready to put her own ideas into place. I am terrified of being evaluated by her, because a) after my experiences with two (women) principals in specific, I have fucking hella PTSD around classroom observations, and b) she is one of those people whose faces you cannot read AT ALL. She is immensely awkward and I do not get her. On the other hand, she is very intelligent and I do not think she is an evil administrator who lives to carry out district mandates.

Okay. I am trying not to borrow trouble here. This year, I am going to try to pull together a teacher inquiry project and ask for alternative assessment, even though everyone agrees that it is much harder and has very difficult hoop-jumping involved. I still feel like I will hate it less than being observed in my classroom... which, by the way, does not mean that I will not be observed teaching: we all are, frequently, on random walkthroughs which are supposed to produce non-formal written reactions. The principal was in my classroom loads of times last year, but I only got one such non-formal written review. It was depressing, in that she observed kids off task at the back of the class.

Anyway, beginning to organize a teacher inquiry is part of what I need to do over the next week to ten days. I know I want it to be about kids' reading, which is a powerful mystery to me, and which happens to coincide with the PD I went to this summer, the Reading Apprenticeship program. I also want to work in technology in the classroom and how that can affect student reading and writing (since, after last year's Project LEAN-In, I have a full set of chromebooks and a charging cart dedicated to my class alone)... and the practice of Socratic Seminars. It's going to take some doing to craft a concise set of questions and imagine what kinds of data I can collect. I know I want to start with some baseline writing and reading samples and with a self-survey about reading unfamiliar texts, and a reading interest survey.

Other things I have done here in the waning days of summer, and then things that I still want to get done:


1. Cleaned out both of the big closets in my apartment and threw out seven (at least) huge black garbage bags of junk, as well as giving away eight grocery bags worth of clothes and stuff.

2. Got rid of a bookshelf and two-thirds of the books on it, as well as a total of six other bags of excess books which I have purged. No Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Mandel, Freire, or Kollontai was harmed in this purge. On the other hand, lots of mystery series I now own as ebooks have made their way to a new home in thrift shops.

3. Cleaned and wiped and dusted bookshelves.

4. Cleared and reorganized a strange piece of furniture next to my desk which seems to be made of dark-stained plywood. It came with the apartment, which I got basically furnished, through subletting from a friend of my sister's who moved to NYC and then Spain, seventeen going on eighteen years ago. I've changed out a lot of the furniture over the years (to cheap IKEA stuff, basically) but there are still a lot of the original things, some beautiful pieces of art she painted herself, like my coffee table and a hinged piano bench I use for tools, and some just weird like this drawer/shelf combo. But it's ORGANIZED now, with a section for Hindi study, for art supplies, for envelopes and folders (and, apparently, my cat, who I just disturbed there at the back of the bottom shelf. I had no idea that was one of Devlin's hiding places).


1. Plan teacher inquiry, as stated above

2. Reorganize bulletin board above desk

3. Upload photos from phone and from camera... I am somewhat OCD, so that involves captioning or titling every single photo... I cannot bear them not to have titles

4. Scan more of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of old photos I got this summer

5. Do All Of The Laundry, ugh, probably at a laundromat because I hate going up and down the stairs to the basement, and we only have one washer and one dryer.

6. Clear and reorganize the living room bookshelves, though I already weeded the books.

The sad thing about this is that although *I* know that all of this work has taken place, it doesn't necessarily show up clearly to someone visiting my apartment. Frustrating.

Devlin has abandoned her super sekrit hiding place and is now relaxing between my arms again, as I type.



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