Monday, June 27, 2011

The Big Picture(s)

We did something we hardly ever do this weekend.  We went to the movies.  I'd go often if it were totally up to me, but my husband isn't a big movie goer, and over 30 years of marriage, I'd say we average one movie theater trip a year.  When our kids were little we went more often (after all this was before VCR's and DVD's and Netflix!) to watch the latest Disney flick, mostly.  So it was a pleasant to surprise to get him to agree to go!
He was interested in seeing Bad Teacher, but good friends of ours had seen in it the night before and told us not to waste our money.  I therefore got to see what I wanted to see - Super 8.  We both really enjoyed  it.  It's a monster movie of sorts - think E.T. meets Jaws meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Lost.  It's 1979 and a group of middle school friends in Ohio are making a super 8 movie to enter into a film festival.  As they are filming they witness a horrific train wreck caused when their science teacher purposely crashes his truck into the train.  His dying words tell them not to speak of what they've seen. As the Air Force takes over the investigation into the wreck, mysterious things begin to happen in their town. Of course, the teens decide to investigate.  I enjoyed the paean to all of Spielberg's movies and the movie was quite predictable, but what really stuck out for me was the innocence of the movie.  The teen actors got the nuances of friendship right, and as a middle school teacher, I recognized my students in their portrayals.   It was pure entertainment - not the best movie I've ever seen, but a very enjoyable rainy Saturday afternoon.

The second movie I watched was completely different. Using my Netflix subscription I watched The Black Swan.  Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman)  has just landed a career-making role as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.  She struggles to interpret the role of the Black Swan and as the pressure mounts, she falls victim to paranoia and delusion.  It's a really creepy movie, and there were scenes that I watched through my fingers. (I don't take blood and mutilation well!).  At the same time, it was very powerful.  Barbara Hershey was compelling as the ultimate stage mother, and I liked the way the ballet storyline and Nina's descent into despair paralleled.  I can't say I liked the movie, but it was a terrific movie, nonetheless.  I can see why it won Academy Awards.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book #48 The Weird Sisters

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance the plot seems a bit cliched.  Rose, the oldest sister, has stayed home to care for aging parents.  When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, her two sisters Bianca and Cordelia return home.  But their motive for homecoming goes beyond helping to care for their mother.  Each has a secret she is hiding and home is a place to run away and hide in.

I'm not sure what made this book so compelling:  the unusual narration (first person plural), the tension between the three sisters, the Shakespearean tapestry weaving the story together, or the oh,so accurate depiction of caring for a breast cancer fighter.  When I first started reading, I had to get used to the narration style, but once I got past that, I loved how the shared perspective enriched my understanding of the characters. I connected with the sisters' shared rivalry as they each attempted to be "first" in their parents' hearts.  I also remember quite clearly going home to help my own mother with her mastectomy and recovery, and many years later, to help care for her through her final battle with colon cancer. Most of all I connected with the love that each sister had for each other.  Despite their rivalries and insecurities, the sisters understood the meaning of family.  Eleanor Brown caught the nuances of family relationships perfectly.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Ten Random Observations About Moving Classrooms

1.  First day of summer vacation!  At last!! Yesterday was hellacious as has most of the week.  So how did I spend my first day?  I went to school and spent 5 1/2 hours packing up my room and moving everything but the furniture to my new room.

2.  I have a lot of stuff ---- I should have photographed it!  Teachers save anything and everything we think might be useful . . . SOME DAY!

3.  Why did I move a box of empty plastic jars for the third time?  I used them for a science experiment two years ago, but I don't teach science anymore.

4.  I have approximately 20 used one-inch binders.  They fit into my wastebasket quite nicely.  No, I didn't throw them out.  That's how I packed them to move!

5.  I've learned how to steer a loaded dolly around myriad corners, into the elevator, up 2 ramps and through 2 sets of double doors.  I made 11 trips in all.

6.  My bookshelves and table tops are dirty!!!  Disgustingly so!  Even though I clean them regularly.

7.  I found a snack size bag of Fritos in my closet.  No idea where it came from.

8.  I have a TON of maps.

9.  Old-style AVON boxes are still the best packing boxes I've ever had.  They don't use them any more according to my BF who's also an Avon rep.

10.  A lot of teachers were in the building moving too --- and none of us get compensated in any way for moving rooms.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Survival Mode

As the last day of school is finally almost a reality, we've been in full survival mode.  Grades closed last Friday, and so we've basically been trying to keep a lid on the energy that's threatening to explode.
And so here's Survivor:7th Grade Edition

Monday:  While half of our students finish science presentations Monday morning with my partner, I kept 25 students under control with tesselations, line designs,  packin, and final prep for the afternoon activity:  Ethnic Entrees.  Students prepared a meal representing a country they'd researched, invited a guest, and served it up.  We had spicy chicken and soup from Thailand, a tofu dish with pickled ginger from Japan, stuffed dates and hummus from Egypt, hoisin pork from China, and a lamb and potato dish from Greece in my room, while my partner had dishes from Russia, Australia, Poland, Cuba, and France.  It was fun and delicious.

Tuesday:  We put our kids in groups and challenged each group to create a video Survival Guide to 7th Grade or 7 Tips for Success in 7th!  They had a lot of fun with that project. We gave them 2 hours for the project, and then spent the last 1/2 hr of the morning watching their videos.  During the afternoon the whole grade walked to a park for kickball, capture the flag, and basketball.

Wednesday:  Today's plan is a medieval themed movie: Robin Hood - since we've just finished a study of the middle ages.  This afternoon one of our paraeducators asked to lead a cooperative game called Survival.  So of course, we said yes!  We'll also throw in some locker cleaning and packing.

Tomorrow is the last day- and it's a half day.  We have awards and then a school-wide celebration involving a  rotation of activities: karaoke, a dance, board games, and something else that I've forgotten at the moment.  It was originally planned to be a big outdoor affair, but since the forecast is for stormy weather, it's been moved indoors.  I actually think the indoor idea will be easier to control!

So, the end is truly in sight!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How I Spent Today

5:05 am:  Roll over, look at the clock, and realize I can sleep longer since it's Sunday.
5:29 am:  Repeat
5:46 am : Repeat
6:07 am:  Still don't have to get up, but the brain cells are starting to get too active.  Decide to give sleep one more try.
7:15 am: Wow!  I actually fell asleep again.  This time though, I'm awake for the day and I get up.
7:30 am:  A bowl of Cheerios and finishing up the shopping list for my husband.  He's going through the Sunday paper for coupons and then heads out to the store.
7:50 am:  Decide to boil some small red potatoes for potato salad later in the day.  Head to the shower.
8:30 am:  Dressed for church, read the paper,  make out offering check.
8:45 am:  Check email, play a game or 2 of solitaire.
9:10 am:  Chat with Elder Son via googletalk. Invite him up for burgers on the grill this afternoon.
9:30 am:  Leave for church.
10-11 am:  Service with wonderful young pianist, and some good hymns.
11:20 am - 1:05 pm.  Moderate a lively church council meeting with a lengthy agenda.  Aside from usual business discussion topics include progress on establishing our food pantry as an independent nonprofit corporation, safety of shelter guests and employees when nobody else is around (i.e. locking the church), and improving handicap accessibility to our building.
1:30 pm.  Arrive home and find Elder Son has arrived, groceries are mostly put away, and everybody is hungry.
2:15-3:30 Enjoy grilled burgers, green salad with fresh-picked greens, and potato salad. Admire Elder Son's new Android-type cell phone.  Enjoy his visit, and help him "grocery shop" in our cupboards. Say goodbye as he heads back home.

3:30-4:15 Write the monthly moderator's column for our church newsletter. Email it to the newsletter editor.

4:15-6:00  Relax on the porch. Knit a few rows, doze in the sun, knit a few more rows.

Plans for the rest of the evening:  Read further in  "Game of Thrones."  Knit a bit more.  Plan tomorrow's lunch and pack up my school bag.  Early bedtime.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Getting There . . . . .But Oh So Slowly. . . .

Three and half more days . . . that's what's left of the school year.  Time is just crawling by.  We are definitely just marking time since grades closed today.  Now it's just trying to keep everybody under control which can be quite difficult.  We have just  a couple of major activities planned, all in the afternoon, so the mornings are going to be tricky.  Monday afternoon is "Ethnic Entree".  Our classes have divided themselves into groups.  They've chosen a country, explored its cuisine, planned a meal, and on Monday, they get to serve the meal to themselves and an invited guest.  The trick is that they all have to remember to prepare their dish at home, and bring it in on Monday!  My colleagues say it will happen, but like Thomas, I will have to see it to believe it!  Tuesday afternoon our classes will walk to a local park and play capture the flag and whiffle ball.  Then Wednesday . . . .well, nothing is planned for Wed.  At least not yet.  And then on Thursday we finally have Awards and school-wide party down on the soccer field.  And then. . . finally, the school year is over.

I cannot wait.  Of course I'm still trying to pack up my room for another move . . . and I'm scrounging for boxes, as are about a dozen other teachers. . . I will have to spend a few days when school gets out to finish that, but at least there won't be any kids around.  Don't get me wrong,  I love my students, but right now I'm really tired of some of them!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Terrific Read: Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life NovelHalf Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeannette Walls has written a fascinating "true life novel" about her iconoclastic grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Born in 1901 Lily grew up in West Texas on a struggling horse ranch.  She learned how to break horses as a youngster and by her "tween" years, she was running the ranch.  Lily was sent to Catholic boarding school at 13, but was soon pulled out against her will, because her father used her tuition money to invest in Great Danes.  The investment failed.  In order to earn money for her family, Lily set out at 15 to teach school in a remote Arizona school 500 miles away. To get there, she traveled by herself, on her pony.  She loved teaching and was successful, for a while.  Eventually Lily struck out for the big city - Chicago, where she met and married her first husband.  Later she and her second husband are hired to run a huge Arizona ranch.  Lily never shied away from new technology: she learned to drive a car and fly a plane in an age where women rarely did anything but teach, nurse, or type.  She sold illegal alcohol, played a mean game of poker, taught school, and lived life with gusto.  Jeannette Walls made her grandmother come alive, and I couldn't put this book down.  I need to find a previous novel, The Glass Castle that Walls wrote about her mother.  

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tired, but It's a Good Tired

I woke up this morning at 5:30 am thinking "We forgot about the change!"  Today was the church supper I was co-chairing with another woman, and I'd realized that one of had to go the bank to get change for the tickets.  So my day started a little earlier than planned, which was probably just as well.  By 9:30 am I'd done a load of laundry, gone to the grocery store to shop for the supper, (and our own personal shopping), and I'd stopped at the church to store some of the groceries.  When I got home, I mixed up 5 lbs of meatloaf, and got it ready to bake.  I did  a few household chores, and by 1 pm I was back at the church hall to start preparations for the dinner.  My church holds a supper on the 2nd Saturday for 9 months of the year.  We serve between 75-100 people.  Tonight the menu was meat loaf, baked potatoes, green beans, rolls, green salad, homemade pies, or brownie sundaes.  We served 79 paying guests and about 15 workers.  I got back home at 8:15, and I'm tired.  But we raised over $500 and had a really good time working together.  Our suppers are an institution and we've been doing them for about 25 years.  We used to get a slightly larger crowd, but recently the local Catholic church changed the time of mass because of the consolidation of several small parishes.  The Catholics used to go to 5 pm mass and then head over to our church for supper at 6.  Now the mass is at 6, and they can't come at 5 and the supper is over at 7.  We've been talking about changing our serving hours, but nobody wants to work any later than we have to!   We vary the menu.  During the summer months we do a chicken barbecue that always sells out, and in September we do steaks.  We're going to try a pig roast in October.  Other popular suppers are a turkey dinner, pot roast, and Swedish meatballs.  It's work, but it IS fun.  So, I'm tire, but as I said, it's a good tired.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ah, the Joys of the Last Weeks of School in 7th Grade

The end of the school year is only 9 1/2 days away but it feels like months!  The past couple of days have been really hot and humid.  My classroom was 87° at 6:45 am yesterday with steam room-like humidity.  My 7th graders have been mentally on vacation for almost a month, and nothing seems to catch their attention.   I'm not alone with this struggle.  My partner, who's been teaching 7th graders for a while, says he's never seen such lack of attention.  It hasn't helped either that we haven't had a "normal" day of classes for the past week. One day  band members were missing for a morning because they gave a concert at the local elementary school.  The  gifted and talented group presented a Renzulli fair one afternoon.  We also had a grade-wide  math placement test that interrupted our schedule, and yesterday we had "Transition Day."  The incoming 5th graders came to visit the middle school, the 6th graders visited 7th grade, and the 8th graders went to the high school.  Today, Friday, is the first normal day we've had schedule-wise all week.  But even today we will have a group of our kids missing as they are on a field trip. They are a group of "at risk" kids.  Most of us teachers aren't sure why they get to go on this really cool field trip -- the ones from my classes are all failing and  they are disrespectful and disruptive in the classroom.  We would feel better about the kids missing classes if they had EARNED the trip, but the teachers were not consulted.

I've been trying to plan some "fun" activities in a so-far vain attempt to capture interest.  In social studies we've been studying the middle ages, so I've asked the kids to research a topic of their choice.  They have to prepare a presentation (again, they have lots of choices as to how they present,) AND they got to choose who they worked with.  Between my 2 classes I have 15 groups.  I predict that 4 of the groups will actually have a decent presentation.  The rest?  Good question. I have one group of boys who are researching castles. One of them took great notes while one partner watched.  The other wrote a skit that he wants to present, but his 2 partners don't want any part of it. He showed me his script yesterday.  He has one knight challenging another and then they have duel with swords and pistols!  I asked him, "Where is the information on castles?"
 He looked at me blankly, and said, "Oh, I thought that was boring, so I wrote this."
 I said, slowly,  "OK, so can you tell me about the knights and their duel?  What's with the pistols?"
"Oh, I saw this black and white movie with my dad.  They had a duel, and the bad guy pulled a pistol out."
"Hmm.  Did you look at any of the books on knights?  Or on medieval weapons?"
"What do A. and J. think about this?"
"They think it's okay."
"What happened to the model of the castle you were going to build? After all that's what your presentation is supposed to be about."
Blank stare.
I won't continue, but you get the drift.

Also on my plate:  Packing up my room completely in preparation for ANOTHER move.  I just did this last year when I got moved to 7th grade.  Now I get to go back to 6th grade (YIPPEE!!) but really . . ..

I think when I retire, I will write a book or two:  Classroom Conversation: What Your Kids Really Say (and Do!)  or  Moving Classrooms:  100 Ways to Minimize the Use of Your Own Time Since That's When You Have to Do It.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Book! A Book!

I sat out on my lovely porch yesterday evening and earlier this evening, with this terrific novel:

One Was a Soldier (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #7)One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 7th installment in the Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series was well worth the wait.  I do admit it took me a chapter or two to get myself re-oriented to the story (a drawback when it's a long wait between volumes!), but once I re-wired the connections, I couldn't put this one down.  I think what I like so much about this series is that both Clare and Russ are so human.  They are good people, trying to live good lives,  but they are flawed, and make mistakes which can have a huge impact. For those not familiar with the series, Clare Fergusson is the Episcopal priest in the small New York village of Millers Kill.  She's also a military helicopter pilot.  She is in a relationship with town's widowed chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne.  

Clare has just returned from an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq and she is not adjusting to civilian life as well as she thinks she should.  She joins a veterans' counseling group, where all of them are struggling readjust.  The "mystery" in the story, (is it suicide?  is it murder? who stole the money?) takes a back seat to the deeper story of this group of veterans coming to understand that their experiences wounded them emotionally and mentally even more so than any physical injuries. At the same time, Clare's relationship with Russ deepens as they both struggle to "hold on, and not let go of each other."  The realistic portrayal of their individual and shared emotional journeys just adds depth to the richness of the story.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

My Summer Retreat

The big project this past weekend was to get our porch ready for summer.  For the last 2 years, I've been looking for new porch furniture.  We have had a white plastic suite (table, 4 chairs, ), 2 white plastic chaises, and a couple semi-matching end tables.  My husbands parents gave us the table and chairs as an anniversary gift about 25 years ago.  We certainly got their money's worth from them, buying new cushions every few years.  But we decided that it was time for a new look.  The heavy plastic frames just wouldn't clean up very well, and the table just took up too much space.  We rarely used it except as a plant stand and pollen catcher.  It took us 2 years of looking to find a set that we liked, could afford, and was comfortable. Last year we found an almost ideal set, but the cushions only came in one very ugly color.  Three weeks ago we found what we were looking for at Home Depot, on sale, and with free delivery.  So we spent this past weekend prepping the porch.  We dragged all the old furniture off and stored it for a yard sale later this month.  Then we got out the power washer, and I blasted away at the accumulated pollen, dust, and spots of mildew.  Once everything was clean and dry, the new furniture was installed.  I kept one glider chair that came from my parents' porch -- I need to find a new cushion for its ottoman, but the rest of the furniture is new.  I can't wait for school to end so I can live out on what we're calling our OutDoor Room.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Busy-ness Abounds

As the school year winds down, the daily chores wind up.  Transition sheets, awards, field trips, budgets, bid orders, IEP meetings,  all needing to be accomplished yesterday.  The weather is getting hot which makes it hard to keep 7th grade brains, already looking forward to June 23rd, focused on assignments.  We went from 48° mornings to 90° afternoons in 24 hours.  My classroom was in the 90°s 2 days last week with lots of humidity by 9 am.  It felt like a sauna.

We've been busy at church too.  We held a planning retreat, creating a master calendar for the next 12 months, but spending the bulk of our time starting to discuss some big questions about our future.  We desperately need to change, but we need to figure out how.  I"m the moderator, so I'm charged with guiding the conversation.  We're also wrestling with other questions, most recently today:  How do improve our handicapped access to the front door?  We have a ramp, but it's poorly designed, too steep, and almost impossible to navigate without help.  There is a proposal on the table that has many folks very concerned because it will alter the appearance of the front of the church.  I wish we could all walk in the shoes of people who feel unwelcomed by our current entrance.  Perhaps the appearance of the  church would be less important.  Perhaps more people would understand why our new access has to be ADA compliant rather than "it's better than nothing."

That's one of the lessons I've learned this year.  I was moved (against my will) to a different grade level this past year.  I struggled all year, not just learning a new curriculum, but learning to use totally different classroom management techniques.  For years I'd been one of the many  teachers  who looked askance at this grade level's teachers, wondering why they didn't do a better job of making their kids mind.  After 9 months, I've discovered that this grade level is different.  What worked in my former grade level doesn't work with older kids, and you really have to pick your battles.  I've apologized to my new team for my previous attitude, and in fact, I've gone back to my old team and told them how wrong we were to criticize.  I've walked in their shoes, and  things are definitely different.  I've been humbled by this experience, too.  I've had to ask for help in areas I've never needed help in before, and I  have failed a few times too.

I am looking forward to returning to my "home"  next year - not just to sixth grade, but also to the subjects that are near and dear to my heart.  I will bring this year's experience back with me, and remember to be charitable!

Next on my immediate agenda:  I'm one of 2 people in charge of our monthly community church supper next week.  It's both a church fundraiser and a major community fellowship event.  Lots of work and lots of fun, and I think my brain was on vacation the day I put my hand up to coordinate it.  I am also packing my room at school for the move back to 6th grade in between normal teaching.  No rest for the weary, at least until June 23!