Friday, November 9, 2007

A New Generation of Babies?

I obviously "misunderestimated" the amount of energy and time that would go into this new AP Govt course. It sucks every moment from me at this point. I'm treading water as I try to figure out how to teach this course along with balancing the two other courses I'm teaching. But I'm learning a LOT. It is such a tumultuous time to be teaching government, so that alone gives each lesson an element of spontaneity.

My biggest challenge this year isn't actually the curriculum of the AP course, but the kids themselves. They are so incredibly needy. I haven't met a group of seniors like this in my teaching career. They are the advanced students, but they appear to have gotten into the advanced track by following ALL the rules and doing exactly what they're told so that they get the most points possible. They are so uncomfortable with thinking outside the box, they can barely stand it. Oh, they're great with critical thinking about political/government topics, but when it comes to basic academic skills, they are so rigid, I don't know how they're going to adjust to college. They are complaining that I'm teaching them to write a thesis statement different from their AP English teacher. Of course I'm not, I just say it differently and apply it differently because the context of this course is different. But they are unable to bend their minds around the idea that they can adjust the same basic skill in different ways.

Last week it came to a head in my larger class -- we actually ended up having what amounted to a half-hour intervention. They were so freaked out about the upcoming research paper due for me, they were almost paralyzed. I looked at them and said, "you want to sit here and tell me that you think your professors in college are going to all teach you the same way and require the same things of you?" They just sort of looked at me blank faced like they'd never thought about it. "If you can't adjust to different requirements and different styles of teaching and management, you might as well not apply for a university." (I'd had enough of the whining by that point). They want me to tell them minute details of things I've already told them. My assignment has been a step-by-step research paper where I've taken them through each step and they STILL insist they don't understand what I want because they're sooooooo confused because I tell them one thing and their English teachers tell them another thing.

I know this isn't true (I collaborate with the English teachers)-- and I'm just amazed that they are so unable to be flexible in their thinking and so scared of not understanding. For some reason, they haven't learned how to trust themselves and think creatively. Is this because I'm seeing the first of the new generation of coddled kids where they were given only positive reinforcement and had things, including academics, handed to them? I can't think this is totally true - how could they have gone through at least 6 years of advanced tracking without learning how to think for themselves?

I'm obviously frustrated. I'm probably not going to be their favorite teacher, but on the other hand, I may be the only one who is realistically preparing them for college. I expect a lot of them, and I'm not leaving them to dangle, I'm helping them all along the way, but they are also going to have to learn how to think for themselves.

I wonder what they will be like in the workplace?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Lost my Homework!

Does it count to say that I forgot to blog amidst my cramming every day for all my classes? Probably not.

Teaching 3 preps is a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. Especially when one is an AP course that has no curriculum. I am used to being well planned and knowing the Big Picture for what I'm teaching. With this AP course, it's day by day and it makes me feel insecure. But so far, I think I'm hiding it from my students.

I'm also Speech Team Coach (yep, got pulled into that one 3 weeks ago) - so my weekend was a Saturday of 12 hours of speech tournament. Yay!

I'm also advisor to the Peer Mediation team, which I am taking on an overnight retreat in two days.

So this weekend I promise. I will take an hour or more and catch up with my blogging friends and renew my blogging fingers.

Promise. To Myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time Warp

The park area is segregated. But the black kids ask if they can sit where they want to. They are told they may. They do. The next day, nooses appear hanging from the tree under which they'd sat. Tensions escalate. A white man beats a young black man. Young black men try to confront the perpetrators of the hate crime. A shotgun is pulled on them. A fight breaks out after more taunting from the white boys. Six black boys are arrested and charged with attempted murder. No white boys are arrested. An all white jury takes the advice of a white supremacist d.a. and convict the first boy, a 16-year old, for attempted murder. The weapon? A shoe.

1930? 1955? 1965?



Jena, Louisiana.


Today in Jena, that boy will be sentenced and could face up to 80 years in prison for a fight on school grounds that was prompted by a series of hate crimes committed against the young black population of that town. What is going on? How is this possible in 2007?

Oh, it's possible. In fact, the amount of racism, segregation and ongoing white supremacy institutionalized in local governments throughout the South in this country would probably boggle the minds of most Americans. Especially most white Americans.

Yesterday and today there are rallies taking place in Jena to show support for justice. Equality. Fair treatment under the law. Not too much to ask for. But the rallies are all being led by leaders of the African American community and attended by African Americans. Here is the problem. Why aren't white Americans down there showing as much strength of purpose? Will institutionalized racism in this country EVER be demolished as long as we sit back and assume that the call to action should only be answered by those who continue to be oppressed? It can't work this way. There has to be a new call for white people in this country to join in for the final push towards the elimination of bigotry and racism in every level of our justice system.

Think about it this way. If a judge had found the same findings he found about Brittany Spears (drug use, staying out at all hours, endangering her children), but she had been a single black woman in L.A., would she still have custody of those kids?

We're not there yet. But we need to get there fast. Get on board. Every white teacher in this country should be telling the story of the Jena Six today to their students and taking a stand for justice. It's something your students will remember. And it's something that would make a difference.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Teachers with Guns

Bad Idea. We're not exactly a low-stress occupation. Here in Oregon we're having a HUGE discussion about this right now. A teacher in Medford, a southern town down near the California border, wants the right to carry a concealed weapon with her as she teaches school. Oregon does have a concealed weapon right, but the school district opposes it. So the teacher is taking the school district to court. Her argument is that she has a scary ex-husband who violates restraining orders and of whom she is terribly afraid. Even for her life. So she wants to have her gun while she teaches sixth grade.

Well, in yesterday's paper, this teacher (still anonymous) wrote her own commentary to tell her side of the story. The Oregonian notes that all her legal expenses are being paid in full by the NRA.

I'm the Medford school teacher you've heard about. The one who will ask an Oregon judge on Tuesday to affirm my right to carry a Glock pistol to my school so I can protect myself from a man who's hit me and threatened to kill me: my ex-husband.
Children entering a classroom as students are just as important as the teacher's own. But, far beyond any wealth of knowledge that they might receive from an instructor, the greatest gift is assurance that their school is a safe place in which to learn. At the same time, this case allows them to see the importance of knowing our rights and helps them see that if left undefended, such rights may be lost forever.

It is woefully irresponsible to deny the possible risk of violence in public schools. It is shameful to attempt to victimize those who would seek to defend children in our schools, ridiculously inciting fear over teachers' mental competency or proficiency in handling a firearm. More importantly, it is abhorrent that any district would be so hypocritical to insist students receive instruction on the importance of individual rights only to trample the rights of their teachers whenever it sees to do so.

I encourage you to demand that the Medford School District obey state law and abandon its current policy that bans me from carrying a tool I need to protect myself, my students and my co-workers.

So her argument is that if we're going to teach kids about personal rights we should then demonstrate those rights by allowing loaded Glocks into the classroom?


As you may suppose, I have a HUGE problem with this. This woman sounds like she's operating on a basis of tremendous fear of and anger towards this ex-husband, which to me is the worst possible combination of emotions when carrying a weapon. So what is she going to do if the guy walks into her classroom? Draw on him in front of the kids? And where is she going to conceal this weapon? In her purse? Where will her purse be? On her body? What if she wears a holster under a jacket and it gets hot, then does she teach with a loaded weapon showing on her hip? What happens when that big kid gets pushy and lunges for the gun? What happens when.... You get my drift.

I feel sad that this woman feels so hunted by her ex, but I cannot think of one good outcome of allowing concealed weapons in a classroom. In fact, isn't the classroom one of the safest places she could be? I am concerned also that she believes she is teaching young children the value of personal rights by introducing the potential for horrible violence in their lives - even the worst symbol of violence. Is she daft? I don't buy any of her arguments, and this crap about how the VA Tech shooter would have been stopped if all those kids and professors had been packing is what it is: crap.

The right to own a gun is firmly entrenched in our society. But does that mean that we must encourage the use of guns? I don't know if I could teach in a school where I knew teachers had concealed weapons on them. I couldn't bear to be a part of the consequences of one wrong moment.

Teachers with Guns? No thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Here's a telling item about the community I teach in. At the beginning of every year, I have my students fill out a questionnaire so I can get to know them a little better, be a better teacher to them. I ask a variety of things, including what they do in their spare time, what they are good at, what tv/radio/book/graphic novel/video games/movies they like, etc. I ask what city they were born in and what language they speak at home. This is the first year I have 2 students from Micronesia who speak Chuukese at home. I also have a student recently from Sierra Leone, here to escape the fate of child soldier or worse. He speaks three African languages and his grandfather is chief of his village. That is only a touch of the variety of students I have - some here recently others born and raised. Russian, Ukranian, Bosnian (2 who escaped the genocide as toddlers), Croatian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Guatemalan, Equadorian, Honduran, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Rwandan...the list goes on.

But all live in or near this neighborhood.

and so, when I also ask "how do you picture yourself 10 years from now?" -- it's not surprising anymore for me to see several questionnaires come back with the same answer: "hopefully, not dead."

Thursday, September 6, 2007


First day went great - though I was so exhausted off my feet I actually fell asleep on the couch for a few minutes during Olbermann!

It was great fun seeing former and new students. This is an especially poignant year because it marks my first graduating class - I've been here 4 years, and started with these kids when they were freshman. I had hundreds of them as sophomores, and now they are seniors, some of them in my government classes. It's so great to see how far they've come.

But the most incredible part of my first day yesterday was at 7:30 when I walked through the doors into my building, and walking out at that moment was "Joe" - a student I have known for several years. He is a senior this year, and he is one of my Peer Mediators and he volunteers to help with our supply closet where we handout supplies to kids who need them - including food, clothing and school supplies. He is one of the most committed students I've known - shows up every day, participates willingly and animatedly in discussion and work, and maintains mature, responsible relationships with teachers and friends. I was not surprised to see Joe was the first kid I saw on the first day, so early in the morning. Joe is a great kid and an amazing student. And...

Joe is homeless.

He has no parental presence in his life and he lives from friends' couch to park bench to sleeping where he can sometimes. He has deftly avoided being put "into the system" in various ways, and he has no adult familial support in any way. But he comes to school every day and in June he will graduate from high school. His teachers and counselors help in private and sometimes anonymous ways. But in the end, he's done it all on his own.

NCLB, the government, and even social services are happy to leave Joe behind, but Joe won't leave himself behind.

That's why I teach high school.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Where have all the Heroes Gone?

This question is asked every decade - it was probably asked back when the cave-mamas were pissed off with the bad example the cavemen were setting for the children by going out at all hours and getting impaled on mammoth horns and such. But it is an especially poignant question for a high school teacher of civics and US government. Tomorrow I will face 120 soon-to-be-voting seniors who will be in my class to learn about how this country works. I know I've already written about this over the summer, but as it becomes more and more real, I find I'm still at a loss as to how to approach this year's lessons. Our government is broken. Our military is broken. Our social services are broken. Our economy is fast breaking. My greatest task this year won't be teaching how the government is supposed to work, but imbuing my students with a DESIRE to PARTICIPATE. I will have to have more hope than I ever have to overcome the cynicism that today's students come already full of.

And I do have hope. I believe in that little 4,000 word Constitution more than any other document - it is simple and to the point. It limits government's power and reminds government of the rights of people. Its strength is in its simplicity. But it is being abused over and over again.

So as I sat through each day's news last week, my frustration built and built.

- the resignation of an attorney general that has completely corrupted the justice department and led the way into turning us into an internationally despised country that tortures and imprisons without rights. Will his resignation now shield him from the prosecution he deserves?

- The highest ever monthly casualty rates in Iraq since we have been here. But the President continues to say we are "winning" - what the hell does that mean anymore?

- ANOTHER elected official caught in a predatory crime. Not to mention the hypocrisy of the republican party over the Sen. Craig issue - but just the fact that so many of these guys are soooo awful in their hypocrisy. And the dems aren't immune - what's been done about Rep. Jefferson's $90,000 cash in his freezer?

On Saturday, as the news wrapped up my frustration hit its boiling point and I uttered with a minor screechy groan, "they're all such LOSERS!!!!"

And my little 5 year old looked up from his shark drawings and said, "Who are the winners, Mommy?"

And I looked at him. And I looked down at the floor. And I said "I don't know."

I don't know. But I better come up with something quick - because I want my students to be winners, and I need something to hold up to them as a model.

But I don't know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Potluck Time!!!

I've been blogging since 2003, and towards the end of my last blog I was focusing on teacher-y stuff because I'd gone through grad school and begun teaching full time. But since I've switched over now to a new emphasis on my blog, I need to get to know my community better. And what better way to get to know folks than by going to a potluck! So I'm sending this recipe over to Ms. Whatsit, who is hosting her 3rd potluck, and I'm looking forward to sampling all the other treats that show up!

Now for this potluck, because summer is over and the fall is rushing towards us, I'm going to share one of my favorite dinner recipes that includes some autumn taste to it.

Mustard Chicken Roasted over Squash

1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded & chopped (I like to add in different colors too)
1 medium butternut or danish squash cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 (4-lb) chicken - split in half (or a whole fryer in pieces)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon applesauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 deg.
2. Spray a large skillet and set it over medium heat (you can use olive oil for a richer taste). Add onion and bell pepper; stirring frequently until slightly softened (about 3 minutes).
3. Stir in thyme, salt, pepper then mound the mixture in the center of a 9x13 baking pan
4. Place the chicken (like a tent) over the veggies
5. Stir together the mustard and applesauce in a small bowl until smooth; brush over the chicken.
6. Bake the chicken until golden brown (thermometer would read about 180 deg) - about 1 hour.

Now, sometimes I like to add in a couple of red or new potatoes if I'm feeding more people or people who aren't as into squash. You can also use a kabocha squash. The nice thing about this recipe is that it is super yummy but only scores 5 points on the WW scale (if you're concerned about that sort of thing).

Prep is super easy - you just have to make sure you pop it in the oven soon enough to give it an hour or so to bake.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Well, Here We Go

I know many teachers probably are already counting down till Thanksgiving break, but I officially start inservice today. In five minutes I leave for the big district-wide stadium pep talk and then faculty meeting and then a series of other meetings and meetings and meetings.... sometime later this afternoon when it's reached 90 degrees I'll be able to start setting up my classroom.

Friday, August 24, 2007

This Can't Be Good

Oh Great....

Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.

A hole in the universe? Can this be a good thing? Then again, maybe THAT'S where my curriculum notebook went...I can't for the life of me figure out where I stashed it in June...

6 billion trillion miles of emptiness. Kinda puts that blank in the lesson plans into perspective, though, doesn't it?