Class of: 1984

Class size: 780 or so? Starting nearer 1000

Did you know your spouse?: I can exactly quote Village Charm on this: "This is going to knock your socks off, but I am unmarried."

Did you car pool? Um, no. Rode my bike or took public transportation (that is, a bus)

What kind of car did you have? I did not have a car until I was 25 or so. For at least a couple of years during high school we did not have a car at all, which no one could believe.

It's FRIDAY night where are you going? Friday nights... often sleepovers with friends that involved going down to Belmont Avenue in Chicago, or to Wax Trax, or to underage shows, or just hanging out and drinking underage.

What kind of job did you have? I worked at the public library shelving books, and also at Northwestern University, shelving books.

Were you a party animal? Eh, no. I did go to some big parties with what would now be known as hipster students, where live ska was played, there were kegs (one, I remember involved a nighttime chase after a hijacked keg, ending up at an obscure park), etc. And I went to a couple of cast parties (as well as throwing one BY ACCIDENT) including one hosted by John Cusack. I was impressed that he (that is, his liberal parents) had a big poster from the 1982 Nuclear Freeze March in NYC, which I had organized a minivan of student activists to go to, from Evanston, Illinois.

Were you considered a jock? You kid. I DID, after getting bronchitis, pleurisy, and pneumonia all in a row for a few months of senior year, have to take THREE GYM CLASSES A DAY in order to graduate -- one before school, one during, and one after. Fun times.

Were you in choir/band? Oh, so many. Not band. I don't play anything. But I was simultaneously in Chorale, Choir, and Choristers, the latter of which met before school. Also a Madrigal choir and a Gospel Ensemble, briefly, as the only white, only atheist member.

Were you a nerd? I guess? I was definitely one of the arrogant smart kids who butted heads with teachers she didn't respect and only did the work she enjoyed -- which was quite a lot of it.

Did you get suspended? No. I drove the administration crazy and they hated me for loud politics and activism, but they couldn't get me for breaking any rules.

Can you sing the fight/school song? I can. When I TAd for one of the worst right wing assholes at the University of Missouri, in grad school, Haskell Monroe made anyone who was late to his (7 AM) lectures stand up and sing their high school fight song. I was perversely pleased that I would have been able to do that. "ETHS/We will fight for you/For the right to do/Anything for you/We will cheer and we will win the game/We will bring you fame/Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!/Orange and the blue we'll proudly wear/May your banners e'er FLY/Victory comes while we sing/Many trophies we will bring/So fight! Fight! Fight, fight, FIGHT!/We will win the game for Evanston HiiiiiiGH!" Your life is better now. It could only improve if I had sound in this entry. I'm pretty sure there's an 80 year old on YouTube singing it, if you're really curious.

Where did you eat? There were four cafeterias in that giant high school, named by the directions and also with names of I don't know, boring former Superintendents. I ate in South, aka Bacon, aka the Burnout Cafeteria, not that I smoked, or was particularly successful at getting high. Bagged lunches from home.

Where was high school? Evanston, Illinois, "the City Suburb"

What was your school mascot? A Wildkit -- get it? A BABY Wildcat, like Northwestern. If only we'd taken their classy purple and white colors too, instead of pumpkin orange and navy blue.

If you could go back and do it over? I liked high school a lot, actually, though I was more arrogant then than I am now. I was a crazy manic socialist activist, and that was fun.

Do you still talk to the person you went to prom with? I could not even imagine going to Prom. Bizarroworld.

Are you planning on going to the next reunion? Good god, no, never.

Are you still in contact with people from high school? Yeah, actually, probably more people from high school than I am from college.

Did you skip school? I skipped a LOT of high school. A LOT. I had my parents' signatures down cold, good enough that I could have kited many a check. Make-up work was easy, there were no draconic policies about some maximum number of absences you could have, etc.

Do you know where your high school sweetheart is? Facebook for the win -- we had a traumatic break up and he hated me for years (like, cross the street to avoid me hate) but we got back in touch several years ago and are now quite close friends who chat a lot and often watch shows simultaneously on our devices and text during them -- Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, The Get Down... and movies.

What was your favorite subject? I always loved my French classes, even though two of the teachers were absolute asses. And I loved my history classes, especially Freshman Humanities with a teacher I adored and crushed on who became a real friend and who gave me a graduation card with my favorite Marx quote on it "Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it." He called himself a Marxist of the heart and I puzzled over that a long time before realizing it meant liberal. Oh, and my US History AP class was excellent, too. I got to make a Document Based Question on the Haymarket Martyrs, among other things.

Do you still have your High School ring? I got one of those Jostyns rings, with an amethyst, even though I was firmly chastized by a fellow Red Diaper Baby for how trite and bourgie that was. Jerk. But then I lost it somewhere within a year.

Do you still have your year-books? I do have my yearbooks, though I never look at them. The only interesting bit is a focus piece on me as a Freshman, reading Against the Current, which profiled me as a socialist. Lest that seem lefty of the yearbook staff, the next page had a profile of a friend of mine as a knife collector.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I did not write that last entry thinking there was an LJ revival going on, and who are you new people? Really?

Okay, I'll plunge.

I am a second generation socialist and a third generation atheist (who nonetheless fucking LOVES Christmas; I can't help it, I was trained that way by my mother and grandmother). My nieces are fourth generation atheists and so far, third generation socialists, which is awesome. I have not reproduced. I made a list a few weeks ago of all the very close to fairly close friends of mine in my general age range who have not reproduced. It was an extensive list. Do I select for them? Dunno. It's not that I am opposed to reproduction or anything -- I adore my nieces endlessly -- just that it's interesting to me that I've never really had that whole biological clock thing and apparently a lot of people I've known since high school or college (or more recently) also have not.

I am a public school teacher -- middle school, English/Language Arts and Social Studies, taught in my district as a "Core" which means two periods with the same set of students, repeat twice more. This is astonishingly (astonishing to me) my nineteenth year teaching. There are many things I love about teaching, but to be honest, I largely decided to do it for the following reasons:

1. I was All-But-Dissertation in American Social and Labor History, dipped my toe into the academic job market waters and thought, oh, fuck this. Public schools are more democratic (small d), are, with public libraries, one of the only ways in which the US has ever aspired to social democracy, are unionized (remember, this was almost twenty years ago, when charters were just beginning, and Scott Walker's Wisconsin was unknown... though there were even then plenty of right-to-work states where a teacher's union didn't mean much).

2. I could get a decent-paying job immediately in most inner-city school districts, without a credential. I was done with living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year, and student loans. I chose Oakland because my sister had moved out here with her then boyfriend while I was in grad school in Missouri. I knew she'd make a family out here, and I wanted to be close to her.

3. I actually love doing all the work assignments I give students. I like projects. I love drawing. I love reading, and writing, to a nearly obsessive degree. I love history. I make models of everything we end up doing (and I also keep the best student models, which leads to improvement pretty much every year as students see these... truly, they don't ever try to copy; they work to surpass).

4. I can memorize a shit ton of names REALLY FAST. I usually know students' names within the first week of school every year (though that's no guarantee I will remember all of them six years later). I usually have about 95 to 100 students a year. (I can get names so quickly that, when I have to lose my prep period in order to cover for another teacher when there is no substitute teacher, I can often pinpoint specific kids immediately during that period, which they react to as if I have arcane powers).

5. I love creating curriculum. I would be great at that as a job, but these days "Teachers on Special Assignment" don't create curriculum, they police other teachers and try to ensure that they are toeing whatever the district line is this year. I would be terrible at that job and would never, ever want to do it.

Okay, that's teaching, more or less. Most years I enjoy the hell out of most of my students. Some of the ones I had way back in the beginning in West Oakland are FB friended to me, and I am glad to still be in touch with them. However, I don't let students friend me until they're out of high school.

What else? I love books. I read, and I also re-read a lot, constantly. I like Goodreads for tracking my reading, though I don't review everything I read, at all. Including re-reading, I basically get through at least 365 books a year. More like 420 or so. Now, granted, I read a lot of genre fiction (historical mysteries, historical fiction, sci fi, fantasy) and YA fiction, not just Marx and Trotsky and Luxemburg and history and biographies and memoirs.

I also love writing, though I think I have slowed down on that. I mean, look at this practically moribund LJ of mine. I've kept some form of journal non-stop since I was 9 years old, and I have all of the volumes except one I lost when I was in college.

Given a choice between dogs and cats, I will pick a cat every time. I've had three as an adult: a deeply loved long-haired white cat (the people at the animal shelter in Columbia, Missouri lied to me and said she was a medium coat, maybe even a short hair, when I got her as a kitten; I had no experience of long-haired cats) I named Rilke. She was intelligent and fierce and loyal to me (a way of saying she pretty much hated everyone else except my mother and grandmother). She lived to 18, and only died a few years ago. I also had a black long-haired cat (that one's on me; I just wasn't paying attention when this needy tiny kitten hooked her claws into me at an adopt-a-pet kiosk outside of Safeway my second year in Oakland.) She was Maya. She was friendly to all. She also was missing one of her fangs, so she drooled one hundred percent of the time. She made it about thirteen or fourteen years. Now I have a young orange marmalade (with color-suppressor gene) cat named Devlin, who is delightful and cuddly and fairly smart -- she has funny tricks like trying to catch cat treats with her paws and washing her face with both paws at once. She has never hissed once in her life after I chose her from a litter of feral rescue kittens that friends were fostering. She has never gotten touchy about belly rubs, ever. She has only barfed about twice in four years. For a while I was documenting her bad habits -- climbing screens, drinking in the sink, pulling ornaments off of trees, chewing flower petals... but they're not really that annoying, now that she's too heavy for the screens. I love my cat.

Hm. Go look at my interests. They're pretty much all still true. They also serve as an introduction. Bollywood! Bertolt Brecht! Inessa Armand! Alexandra Kollontai! Brighton! Prismacolor pencils! (I'm actually not sure these are all in that list, but they could -- or should -- be).
maeve66: (FI hammer and sickle)
I don't even know what to say on LiveJournal anymore. I miss how it was. Facebook is so ubiquitous and easy, but it doesn't build community at all. It just keeps you in touch (at different levels) with people you once knew, people you've just met, far-flung family members, and somewhat random political 'friends'... as well as those you feel you know well from the internet, specifically, from LJ.

My mother, who once tried LJ for a hot minute, but who cannot really remember well enough to form new habits any more, was shocked that my last entry was in something like August, before school started. Me too.

What should I round up, as an end of 2016 post? One of about... TWO. Oh, god, two posts.

Here's one random thing. I still miss [profile] wouldprefernot2 deeply. I was telling my fifteen year old niece about Livejournal, and trying to show her how the network of people could often be narrowed down to a few people who then ramify, and it led to me telling her about him, who really was the person who started my internet friendship network. And just now I looked back at his memorial LJ, and almost immediately (after I scanned a few of the miserable entries recounting his hideously unexpected and quick vanishing into death) fell into some of the old political and cultural conversations which I miss so much. I'm so glad I know [personal profile] microbie now, who I did not, before his death. I can't remember if I told her (I'm sure I did, or I think so, anyway) what I told my niece yesterday... R. is very into gender politics, and her interest reminded me that for literally the first several months I was reading [profile] wouldprefernot2's Livejournal, I did not know whether the writer was a man or a woman. I had never been in that position, and it was absolutely fascinating to see my own gender biases and shifts at work, as I first saw the writing as by a woman, and then by a man. I kind of really liked it, and was almost disappointed when he finally wrote something that made it clear to me (I have no recollection of what that was) that he was a man. A cis het male, as one might say, today. My fifteen year old niece was four when he died.

Let's see. This year... politically this summer was just a series of fucking horrible shocks and bad news, from Nice to Orlando to Turkey to Brexit to Podemos' loss to bombings in Mecca to Syria. The Spring had been good... I enjoyed how long Bernie persevered, and it felt different to Nader and any previous third-party campaign of, e.g., the Green Party. I'd liked Bernie Sanders since I was a kid, one of the few Congresspeople who didn't disgust me. But it was pretty incredible to have long conversations with the (Mexican-American, late 50s maybe?) head custodian at my school about how he really preferred Bernie and intended to vote for him in the Primary, and hoped he'd get the nomination. But the conventions were both horrible, and the long juggernaut of a campaign and its sickening denouement... fuck. I am not convinced of the need for catastrophism, yet, but I am nervous and constantly unhappy about political prospects. The only thing that gives me hope is that the youth that I see -- even middle schoolers, like the ones I teach, are angry, and possibly open to systemic challenges, to questioning the entire fabric of society. This year, for instance, my middle school, which is in a working class Latin@, Asian, and white suburb in the Bay Area, started its first Gender and Sexuality Alliance (formerly these tended to be called Gay Straight Alliance clubs, but the national group changed its name to reflect more diversity). Same 15 year old niece had helped to start the GSA at her Oakland middle school, in seventh grade. My current seventh-grade niece is active in that same group, now. And the high school niece texted me photos of the walk out that happened at Oakland Tech High School on November 9th, which was the only good thing I saw or heard all day. I want a big tent anti-capitalist political organization, a new one, a non-sectarian one, SO BADLY. I'm glad the Green Party has finally openly adopted anti-capitalist planks to its platform... but I want something young people will be willing to join and experiment with.

Other more domestic news and bits and bobs. My cat Devlin continues delightful and lovely and snuggly -- thank goodness cats need help to regulate their warmth. She's in my arms as I type right now.

The school year... well, it's better than last year because I only have one ridiculous student instead of four mean as well as disruptive students in one class, which I had last year. Whom the counselors, per the principal's direct orders, refused to separate, although every single teacher who had that group, which stayed together all damn day, requested schedule changes for them. This year I have a student who cannot (I mean, like Tourette's level cannot) prevent himself from calling semi-random shit out every few minutes while I am doing direct instruction, who walks around and bothers other students, especially girls, who touches all my shit in the classroom, including expensive stuff like the LCD projector, the document camera, the printer and computer -- utterly nerve wracking because it's clear he wouldn't care in the slightest if these things broke -- as well as just my own pen I write with, my lesson-planning book, anything that I am not literally holding in my hand at the moment. He's not malicious, but he truly doesn't care about "being redirected", or getting calls home, or detentions, or anything. He is Syrian, by the way. Moved here about three years, has great conversational English by this point, and not bad comprehension and writing skills in academic English. Bizarrely, he told me his family was going back to Syria around the time of Ramadan, this Fall and I didn't really believe him. But they did. They left for two months of the school year, and just got back and re-registered him for school last week. His family is Druze, which is a trip. I'd heard the name of the religion before, but have never (until now) known anything about it. I'm glad I asked him before beginning our next unit on Islam this week. I have quite a few Bosnian students, literally all of whose names end in -vic, but I don't think I have any Yemeni students this year. I usually have a few. Mostly I teach Asian-American kids, Mexican-American and Central-American-American kids (Latin@ or Latinx, for convenience, though I don't tend to use those terms at school), and roughly equal numbers (about 10% each?) of Black kids, white kids, and Pacific-Islander-American kids. The latter sometimes approach me to ask for a ruling (no, seriously) about whether they are Asian or not. Umm, politically, sometimes? I see API groups exist? It's up to you? I like my students an awful lot this year.

Last year (I don't remember if I wrote about this... ah, having checked, I totally did not) was an Evaluation year for me. Once you've taught in this district for eight years or something like that, you only get evaluated every fourth year, and I've been at the school I am at now (I should make a fake name for it... Hamilton Middle School, let's say) for six years, it was my second time to be evaluated. AND, as I was now past my tenth year in the district I had the option of applying for an alternative evaluation, where you design a Teacher Inquiry and meet periodically with the principal to discuss it. So I did that -- observation evals give me quite close to literal PTSD, from shitty experiences at my last middle school in this district, and from the horrific final year of working in Oakland, when the new district imposed principal who came in to shut the school down, took all the teachers who were paid the most as her evaluatees and crushed them (us) where she could. ANYWAY, god, it was so good to do that style of evaluation! I will happily research and analyze stats from standardized tests and write up assignments and discuss student interviews and write up a fucking 15 page report for you ANY DAY OF THE YEAR in preference to meeting with you to discuss my abysmal classroom management practices. And the principal gave me warm fucking fuzzies in response to our discussions, which I haven't gotten from an administrator almost ever. And now I don't have to do it again until... 2019-2020. Thank christ. Or thank Saint ... is it Jude? Who is the one for hopeless causes? This, by the way, is my nineteenth year of teaching. Next year I want to have a party for my twentieth. Also, if I can get affordable insurance, I want to retire in ten years. Only two more evaluations.

Okay... maybe it's not impossible to write LJ entries. Is it really an echo chamber now? Hello, fellow LJers.
It is almost 10:30, and I am not ready to go to bed and concede that my weekend is over. I also haven't eaten dinner, and that is stupid for numerous reasons, actual physical hunger being one of them. (In a follow up to my last entry more than a month ago... I have been able, so far, to continue doing pretty well in tracking and being regular with diabetes stuff, despite school starting. I am especially doing well in eating well at school, and drinking tea there, and not wasting money and pancreatic health on the fast food franchises that infest all school neighborhoods in the US... I have a microwave, a plug in kettle, and a small fridge in my classroom, but until this year, I had not made the best, most consistent use of those things. I am also hella grateful for cheap frozen meals from Trader Joe's, and fruit, and cut up veggies from ditto...).

Anyway... as far as the title of this post... yeah, Sunday Night Blues, amplified by two things -- first, our union's tactics in contract negotiations with the district, see how they suck. The president has pretty much hinted (and it was no surprise given this union local's generally supine approach to the district, with whom they USED to be cozy as hell) that if we do go to impasse and then arbitration and then vote for a strike, it will be long and depressing because the district is headed by Scott Walker wannabes aiming to gut any union, and we'll lose. Great! So the only tactic the union leadership is pushing is a) electoral, as far as getting two new members of the local school board elected who might vote against the superintendent, and b) work to rule until that school board election, although not every site is participating. My middle school site is THE VANGUARD, ahead of any other school including the two high schools. Crazy.

So here's the deal. [This is mostly excerpted from a chat with a friend, to whom I was explaining what is going on]

Labor situation: our union, the [redacted] Education Association (so, NEA rather than AFT) has been in negotiations for the past eight or nine months, and we've been without a contract that long. The district is playing Scott Walker hard ball and has utter contempt for us. They offered a 1% raise while districts surrounding us were offering 8% or more. They've inched up to 2.5% or something derisory like that. They have tons of new money that is neither restricted nor one-time only income, but they refuse to spend it on either salaries or smaller class sizes in the lower grades, which was supposedly a California priority.

In reaction, we're "working to rule" at least at my site (I am very curious about at least one of the other middle schools, because they were supposed to vote on this last week) until mid-November, after the (stupid) school board elections. I don't think much of this electoral tactic — why the two board members supported by the union would make THAT much difference, and also, why they would necessarily get elected, despite a big push and precinct walking by the union. This is a pretty conservative community, small, mostly stable working class and lower middle class, with a lot of Christians and a lot of Mormons.

Working to rule means we can only do what is literally in our (expired) contract: we can't work early or late (which ALL of us do); we can't have our rooms open and supervise children during the morning break or over our lunch period (which sucks because I have a group of kids who like to eat there and who are hella nice, from last year and this year); strictly observed, we shouldn't even grade at home or send email to parents or students answering their email at home. I am very nervous about not grading, though generally I am hella up to date on that. Right now I have two weeks' worth of Reading Logs for my three English/Language Arts classes, and one article with "talking to the text" all over it to comment on in depth for those three classes, and one Review & Assess on a short story by Gary Soto, and coming tomorrow, one character trait/character/supporting quote assignment on the same story. The Social Studies grading mostly happens in class, so there's that, at least. There are two more weeks in the first quarter, and we've been told to do our "best guess estimation" on grades.

My friend asked how anyone could "catch me" grading at home, or sending emails at home. I told him that they (the union) cannot. But it undercuts solidarity with my fellow teachers if I grade and post grades for parents to see on Schoolloop when other teachers are not doing it; it divides us. I may decide to grade at home, but not post the grades publically, that is, update Schoolloop (the online grading/email program we use to communicate with students and parents). Literally, grading and planning and emailing students and parents is all unpaid overtime that teachers do at home and after school and before school ALL THE TIME.

But it sucks. It's painful, and it makes my job harder while I'm on the clock.

Here, have a couple of pretty pictures that show how my classroom has progressed since the first bare day.

Bookshelves with classroom library near front door

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New bookshelf for my own teacher stuff, and more posters/decor

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Past extra credit projects from first quarter's Medieval Europe unit

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I can't believe I didn't write anything this summer. It's been kind of... well, at Thursday's bullshit welcome-back-to-forced-blah-blah meeting we had to have "Circle Time", where our entire school site staff sat in a big circle outside in the glaring sun, and used 'speaking objects' to take turns sharing. Our first sharing question was to describe our summer in seven words or less. I said "Family and personal health and Lake Geneva". And that was my summer, folks. That and being enraged about Gaza and Ferguson.

I started the summer with a wretched cold that was almost Whooping Cough... it lasted for weeks and weeks, and involved extreme exhaustion. Also in terms of personal health, I spent the summer trying to deal better with my diabetes. Recording and tracking blood sugar levels, checking off pills and insulin daily, tracking (observing, more, not prescribing or critiquing) meals. It's been very good to do that, and I hope to fuck I can continue now that school is starting.

On the family health front, that really means my mother, who in addition to her COPD, is also dealing with what my sister and I have just learned to describe as Mild Cognitive Impairment, aka dementia-in-waiting. There have been signs and portents for a few years, but incidences have been increasing and finally even my denial (second only to my mother's superior powers in that area) was fractured. One example: we were getting some gas and she offered to pump it, which was nice, but once she finally figured out how to put my card in to pay for it (which failed multiple times) she tried to gas the pump rather than my car, and asked in confusion where she was supposed to put the nozzle. Pretty terrifying.

Thing is, her confusion and her issues with memory are so greatly affected by emotion and depression that it's a little hard to tell what is baseline. When she is upset and dealing with negative emotions, she is much more likely to become confused. And that gas pump episode was after a hell of a week at the beginning of the summer when I'd taken her to three doctors' appointments or tests, and then she'd had a spell of dizziness and falling that took her to the ER -- due, it turned out, to drug interactions. She hadn't told her doctor out here about one drug her doctor in Chicago had her on, and the combination of two of her pills dropped her blood pressure down to extremely dangerous levels. When she started falling and we rushed her to the ER, however, we didn't know that, and her doctor used the very scary word 'stroke'.

So. We're working on getting her to live out here in Oakland full time, and it seems like we've finally mostly won that argument, though she is not yet selling her co-op in Chicago. She has agreed in principle, though. ANYWAY, my main point is that this summer has pretty much been about dealing with all of these things. Even going to Lake Geneva for two weeks was mostly about dealing with stuff for my mom; we went together, and both stayed with my dad and stepmother. Thank fuck that they and my mom are family and friends. I can't imagine estrangement there; what a nightmare that would be. She's doing okay right now, though emotionally fragile with the recognition of this MCI stuff. My sister motivated her signing a contract with a geriatric management company out here that has assistants who do daily home visits and check her pills and get her engaged in the day, which prevents my mom from slipping into sleeping for vast portions of the day due to her chronic depression. This is a good thing, though damn, it costs up the ass.

Otherwise, I feel like I mostly used the summer to do expensive personal chores I couldn't get to during the school year, like a brake job and mundane household purchases (new desk top, new mattress topper, sheets, new external hard drive, etc.) And now it's over. I don't know. My classroom is ready (a giant thank you to my younger niece R., for helping me yesterday, photos below). I am not really thinking about teaching yet, although it starts Monday. But it's a minimum day, whatever. I'll practice their names and seating charts, even though my rosters will probably change in a week or two.

A serene empty classroom:

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My niece R-the-younger:

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maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
... when there are only nine days left?

But I do. Ugh. Lesson planning is done until the end of the year. Everyone is on final end-of-the-year-projects (well, not the 6th graders... I wish I could think of something for that... I should...) either poetry books for ELA, or make-a-boardgame-for "The Age of Exploration" or "The Enlightenment", for Social Studies. And after the poetry book is done, which should be this Thursday, we get to read and then do Readers' Theater for "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street", which is an enjoyable Cold War allegory from The Twilight Zone. And then we get to watch it, and maybe also watch the one about William Shatner coming home on a plane after a nervous breakdown, and seeing an abominable snowman on the plane's wing, trying to sabotage the plane. But no one else can see it! Just the once-again-crazy guy!

I SHOULDN'T have the Sunday Night Blues!

Bah. I'm just going to go to bed and read. I'm on the second-to-last (boy, I'm liking the dash tonight) medieval mystery series about Isaac of Girona, by Caroline Roe. A blind Jewish physician in post-plague Girona, in the kingdom of Aragon. It's before (about a century before) the expulsion of Jews from Spain, fucking Isabella of Castile, and before the Reconquista, though the Jewish quarters are under pressure, and courtly exchanges between Moors and Christians are fraying. I like the series. It's a little slow moving, but it definitely does well with the setting.

Speaking of reading, I am going slower this year, on my goal of an average of a book a day. I put in 365 again, on Goodreads, but I am only 24 or so books ahead of where I should be. Last year I just kept getting farther ahead. Maybe I'll catch up over the summer. REREADING, baybee. (I still do that to comfort myself, [personal profile] springheel_jack).
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I am typing this in Dreamwidth, which tells me my paid account is lapsing in a week or so. I am not sure why I have paid for DW. I do not think I will continue to do so. I will have fewer icons. So what. I can change them to what I want in LJ. I guess I will continue to post here, just so I have a back-up if the untrustworthy Russian carcass of LJ goes under at last.

I think I am friended to, like, five people in DW, and I think all but one of those five are from LJ anyway. It hasn't -- as many others have noted -- worked as a network.

So. I haven't written in weeks. Wow, not since early August. Well, the early school year is often like that; it takes weeks to get settled into it and stop being deeply exhausted. This year has been even more exhausting, because at the beginning of the second week (I think -- it could have been at the end of the first week) my principal dropped by my classroom during my prep period and dropped my jaw by asking if I would please teach a 6th grade English/Language Arts & Social Studies Core class in addition to my two 7th grade ELA/SS Core classes, dropping the two ELA-Support classes I had.

This was going to be a career first, in that I would have been teaching the same thing for a THIRD YEAR IN A ROW. That had never happened. And now, it still has never happened. You can't really say no to your principal on something like that, even if it is phrased as a request. I mean, maybe you could, if you were a year or so from retirement and had unassailable tenure and didn't give a shit about your colleagues. The reason I was being asked was a) one of our sixth grade ELA/SS teachers had emigrated to Australia over the summer. This wasn't news -- we gave her a huge good bye party last June, and it had been in the works for literally years. But the district refused to replace her, predicting that our incoming 6th grade class would be smaller this year. Well, it was smaller. But not smaller enough. The other three 6th grade ELA/SS teachers all had classes that had 45 or more students in them. Our contractual limit is 34 students per class (which is still WAY TOO FUCKING BIG) and the district treats that limit like it is both the ceiling and also the floor. In other words, they try to cram exactly 34 kids into each class, and don't like classes in the 20s.

When my principal first 'asked' me, he said he'd keep my class at 20 students, and would try to compensate me for the vast additional amount of planning and grading by getting me out of after school supervisions... mine have been the school concerts (specifically, recording them on a digital videocamera) and I like them, though they keep me at school twice a year until almost 10 PM. Within a week, he had to admit that the class would be 28, at a minimum (and will probably go up to 34, like all of my other classes... where the Support classes had been nice and small; one was 21 and the other was 14, which was LOVELY -- oh, man, that class was so nice this year! I had kids reading silently in complete absorption and fascination, and working together well in grammar and vocabulary work, and listening intently to read alouds ... sigh. 14 kids is a great class size). And then a few days later he added to the joy by changing my schedule so that I lost my 4th period prep which a) was right next to lunch, thus giving me a long lunch, in effect, and b) got me out of horrible Home Room, which is a pointless ten minutes of announcements and rah rah school spirit nonsense, AND the Pledge of Allegiance. UGHHHHHH.

Contractually, if your teaching assignment is changed once the school year starts, you get two days off with paid subs to plan. So I took them last week. I will meet the new 6th grade classes tomorrow, and try to comfort them for their changed schedules and the fact that they've lost the teachers they've bonded with and the routines they've gotten used to. And now I will be trying to plan for four entirely different subjects and keep up with two entirely different teaching teams and their meetings, all year long. At least I know what I am doing tomorrow; I got that lesson planning done, except for writing a welcoming and explanatory letter for their parents. I have to do that this evening, and then get there early tomorrow to make copies.

One thing I am trying to do more this year is to integrate more technology (I'm eons behind Miss Tabby here, but that's okay). I've been having different seventh grade students volunteer to log in to their Schoolloop accounts to demonstrate how to use that school-home interface program our district bought several years ago... man, maybe almost ten years ago at this point. It has built-in email features, an electronic gradebook where kids can see what assignments are due, have been assigned, are graded, etc. It has lots of room for attachments (including, this year, video) so I put up a lot of models of completed assignments, as well as very detailed instructions, and recurring assignment forms that can be printed out, etc... I also take a photo of my daily Agenda that is handwritten on the whiteboard, and post that on Schoolloop, so kids who are absent or forgot to write down the homework can see it.

I use Goodreads myself -- I made a goal of reading 365 books this year, sort of as a joke, and have so far read 336, 20% ahead of my goal -- and was trying to figure out how I could get kids involved in that, but another teacher found a more kid-focused site which also has the benefit of being a teacher-controlled closed community with parental links/controls. This is important at the middle school level, sigh. So BiblioNasium allows you to create classes and individual memberships for your students, and make bookshelves with recommendations, and search for books by Reading Lexile* levels, etc. I want to have kids finish reading a book, reporting weekly on their Reading Logs, and then come up in front of the class, log in to BiblioNasium, and personally add that book to our classroom library shelves. I'm hoping that will get them starting to talk about books and write about them and compete a bit with one another.

I finally, finally have my classroom set up so I can show my students sites and YouTube and what have you from the internet via my LCD projector. Thank fuck. That's been overdue. More slideshows via PowerPoint (yeah, I know, but with good art images, they're not bad) and perhaps some Prezis, and ... well, I'd like a good platform for making a class website, for free, which I can moderate and not have outside visitors, but I don't really know what to look for, for that. Something easy, not something that is going to kill me to learn it. Suggestions?

*Lexile levels... they're a brute measure of how difficult a text's vocabulary is. The measurement system has severe problems in my mind ... you can look up books which have established lexile levels, and the results can be mind boggling**... but it IS true that trying to read a text where you do not know AT LEAST 95% of the words is a recipe for frustration and lack of comprehension. Students need to know their lexile level and try to read at or just above their lexile range to improve.

**An example: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Lexile Level = 770 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Lexile Level = 950 No, I did not make that up. You can look it up.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
Day 14: What did you expect to be doing at this age, when you were young? How does it compare with the actuality?

But first: what the fuck is wrong with Facebook? Everything is taking a bazillion years to do, look at individual pages (including my own), load more wall items, upload a photo... ugh.

Okay. I remember doing this same topic last year, somewhere sandwiched in among the not quite 365 entries that high schooler had come up with. As I recall -- and as true, in any case -- I did not think about being a teacher, as a kid. I thought about being a writer, a translator of French, an archaeologist, and possibly a professor of history. I don't think I considered much else. I would have liked to consider artist, but I never felt like I had enough originality and creativity to do that. And I made progress towards some of those intended goals during college and afterwards -- I majored in French; I took the intro to archaeology course and then got frightened off by the final lecture in which grad students took turns telling us there were no jobs at all and if we were LUCKY we'd be doomed to running ahead of a backhoe or bulldozer that was putting in a highway or a Walmart. I got an MA (and am ABD, sigh) in history. I worked as a translator for a revolutionary left newsmagazine in Paris. But somehow, I have ended up a teacher anyway.

The weird thing is, I can see how it started to coalesce, this decision, bit by bit, wavelet by wavelet, until it was a tide I couldn't resist. In grad school, a housemate gave up his potential PhD in Art History and Archaeology (which we'd spent tons of time talking about; I can still geek out on archaeology for any length of time you care to mention) in order to Get a Job. He entered a credential program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and we shifted our hours of late night conversations to teaching and education reform (actual reform, not the disgusting NCLB, which did not exist yet, anyway). I remember we spent time going around on the Ebonics issue, which I defended hotly, while wishing its champions had chosen a less foolish name. A false analogy with phonics did not help the cause.

Then, when I ran out of department support (in hindsight, probably not something I needed to really worry about: I could have cobbled together jobs that paid the same amount without TAing) I went back to my mom's in Chicago to finish the research and writing (Jesus fuck, I've just realized I can use to look at the 1930 and 1940 census for Clarks, Louisiana, the epicenter of my research, oh, MAN, I am going to do that) I got a job tutoring at the high school I'd gone to -- Evanston Township High School. It was a great job. Only half-time, so not enough to live on. But twenty hours a week working with high schoolers one-on-one or in very, very small groups, on all kinds of subjects: different areas of history, English, French or Spanish... I enjoyed it immensely. And then something started happening all the time. I would create some tools to help me tutor kids on, say, The Odyssey -- the Robert Fitzgerald classic edition with the Matisse-like line sketch illustrations. Like, I found sixteen or eighteen passages that were absolutely golden from all over the book, and did a close reading with the kids ... for instance, the lines from the suitors' feast in Ithaka when Odysseus and his retainers bust in and kill them all, which include the first use of the unimaginably common phrase "bite the dust". And newish teachers, or some not new at all, would come ask if they could use my materials. My curriculum. This kept happening, and I started to feel like cutting out the middle-man. Why not become a teacher? At the same time, my sister had decided to become and elementary school teacher in Oakland, and she walked into a job, on just an emergency credential. That looked good to me, living back at home with my mother as an adult, and chafing to be earning an actual income.

I was sort of on the interview circuit for history positions, even though I hadn't started writing my diss, and I had a few interviews. At one (Doane College in Nebraska) they told me with supposed regret that they thought they were too white for me. True. At the other -- Traverse City, Michigan, a community college with UNBELIEVABLE funding sources, since it's such a tourist town -- they obviously had an inside candidate, but still flew me up to interview. That would have been a strange and interesting job. Distance learning via video to students in the U. P. Anyway, I wasn't too keen on teaching a class here and a class there, the modern adjunct migratory labor of the "freeway flyer". Ugh. And I felt like teaching public school was a more democratic option anyway, one of the few public services left in this country, and free and open to all children. Like being a public librarian, as my mother was. Also not an inconsiderable factor: teaching public school comes with a union, and union activism.

I intended to be a HIGH SCHOOL teacher, of course. But the first subbing position I got as a teacher on a sub credential in Oakland was for a middle school position, and they hired me in six weeks as a permanent employee on an emergency credential, and that was that. It's been middle school ever since. I still think longingly of high school, though. And peer through deeply rose-tinted lenses back at being a college instructor. The freedom! The joy of saying whatever you want in your lectures (yeah, yeah, as long as it is historically supported and relevant to the course description)! The ease of lecture format, compared to the entertainment factor and multiple methods we have to use in teaching middle school! I mean, my lectures were cutting edge, and visual, and audio... for 1996. For every lecture, I had a set of detailed, primary source mostly full-color, or black and white photographs, or political cartoons visuals that were printed on transparencies and projected to enormous size behind me at the podium. And I talked around and about those images, as well as bringing in audio clips or, once, singing myself. I even made a collective database project for social history through genealogy, as a project that showed exactly the demographic trends we'd been talking about, after students had first collected on paper and then entered into Filemaker Pro, four generations of their family, with demographic questions as well as the standard genealogical questions. Damn, that was fun.
maeve66: (fairylights dhamaka)
And things are calm, and kids are in a good mood, despite the fact that I am three class parties down, and three class parties to go. The cleaning-as-we-go thing is working well so far, hallefuckinglujah.

My tree is decorated! It is a giant explosion of Xmas lights -- two big bulb LED strings, and one small LED string. No blinking; I hate that. It's very, very pretty. I will add a photo to this post when I get home, which will be hella, hella, hella early.

There are cut out snowflakes on my classroom windows... yeah, I know I frequently sound like an elementary school teacher.

It's my prep period right now, on our short day. In the classes, all I am having to do is be vigilant that the songs I am allowing them to play on my sound system are clean, and grade their History group projects, a West African Trading Empire board game. Some very, very good ones -- best I've seen in doing this three times -- and some adequate ones -- and some crap, man-you-didn't-exactly-work-hard-on-this-did-you ones. There are three more half-hour classes/parties, and then teachers, too, can leave early, hurrah! We don't have to stay until 3:15, because these are hours we worked at an earlier evening... Report Card Night, most likely.
maeve66: (Eleanor Marx)
History. That was easy.

I like reading, and I like writing. Nay, I love reading, and I love writing. And I can even be interested in grammar's peculiarities. But I do not at all enjoy trying to cozen adolescents into liking reading and writing, or even just learning to read and write better.

History can be fun. Teaching history can involve art projects (so can English, just not as often), can involve little-known weird and gross facts, is colorful and at the same time organized and slightly regimented. It's true that students are very dubious about WHY they should learn history... but then, they're almost equally dubious about why they should read or write.

Also, a student asked me what I was going to be for Halloween this year. I don't know. Maybe Eleanor of Aquitaine? That seems to be the theme right now.
maeve66: (Daoism)
Those were two topics that came up on the random topic generator, one after the other. Both education topics, which is fitting enough because I am finding it very, very hard to focus on lesson planning, this evening. Bah.

Cheating on tests... bugs me. I mean, I feel like it's one of those things that hurts the perpetrator, but that the perpetrator doesn't care that he or she has not actually learned those things, or else he or she would not cheat in the first place. If he or she doesn't CARE about learning, how can someone else possibly "make" them care? This expresses a good portion of my ambivalence about teaching. I can try to make a subject interesting, I can try to make learning an often enjoyable process, I myself enjoy some of what I teach (see next subject, or perhaps it should be tomorrow's topic?)... but if a kid is determined not to learn, for whatever reason*, how can I force him or her? I wonder if there are experiments out there about removing grades as an issue, and of course standardized tests, and seeing how students reacted to learning for learning's sake?

*reasons which obviously can include the fact that somehow, for some set of reasons, learning skills in school has ALWAYS been difficult and therefore not enjoyable for some students, and that they associate reading and writing with failure and boredom and lack of enjoyment, as well as shame and associated rejection. How do you get someone to move beyond that experience, especially when their basic skills are so low that getting information from reading is excruciatingly difficult for them. Yes, you can try to use other means for getting information across, and I do, but at the end of the day, there is still going to be necessary reading and writing.

PS, unrelated, I am finally making greater headway through Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, having reached the Diego Rivera/Frida Kahlo/Leon Trotsky portion of the book. Also, I finished her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which did bother me -- I skipped all of her husband's pedantic mini-essays and the daughter's self-approving anecdotes -- but I tried to take in some of it without sneering at the freedoms which allowed her to "live off the land" and reduce her carbon footprint, etc. I note she and her husband did fly to Italy during the year, to do some farm tourism.


Aug. 23rd, 2012 09:45 pm
maeve66: (me in sixth grade)
God, I loathe teacher meetings. And I loathe my school district. Oakland Unified would NEVER pull this kind of shit on teachers. The morning session of today's "Professional Development" meetings featured, a) a lot of blah blah blah on the new, supposedly nationwide "Common Core State Standards", which, in 2014 will lead to new standardized tests which will supposedly have more to do with hands-on demonstration of mastery of skills. I am interested to see how they will score these. But even in that part of the presentation, it was mostly just stupid acronyms and a lot of menacing passive aggression from the horrible attack dog administrator who swans around the district popping into classrooms to grill students on what standards they are being taught that day. And at the end of her spiel, b) she forced us to watch this video. I wanted to scrub my brain out afterwards. I hate shit like this so, so, so fucking much.

The second half of the morning session was on equity, which means that white teachers should stop disproportionately referring black students on discipline issues, and recommending them for expulsion, although the rules about expulsion are kind of hard and fast and if you have a knife, you have to be expelled. I mean, I totally agree with the principles here, it's just the dude delivering the message strikes me as a careerist opportunist who does not have one useful tool to offer clueless teachers except guilt. The images for this half were marginally better than the butterfly effect video, because the guy had a powerpoint with slides from the old days of innocent and happy hip hop by, e.g. Monie Love and Grand Master Flash versus later evil developments like NWA and Nicki Minaj. He said nothing like Monie Love exists any more, and I wanted to say "What about Willow Smith's 'I Am Me'?" I am kind of stuck on that video actually; she's hella cute. I know she's the daughter of multibillionaire actors and all, but I love a short natural, honestly, and gawky tall girls, and sometimes even autotune.

Okay, fine, it's not hip hop. Still.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
Hahahaha. Let's see. It was my... (depending if you count my credentialing classes, which I am not intending to) 22nd year in school -- three years getting my MA, and three years to ABD, hurrah. It was good. I got to be an Instructor, so I had 100 undergraduates hanging on my every lectured word twice a week, and I was all experimenting with pre-Power Point technology; I'd made hundreds of gorgeous transparencies of primary source photos and graphics, and I put them up as I lectured -- the second half of the American History Survey class, from Reconstruction to the Present (I actually got to Reagan, which was my goal; I was very, very proud. Surveys never get that far.) I actually brought the class to tears in my Triangle Shirtwaist Fire lecture. And I worked in more about the life and times of the Communist Party than you'd ever imagine in a regular US History Survey class, ha.



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