Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Muji needs to move closer to the West Coast

My favorite pencil - one that I've had for nearly 9 years - died on my this month. I had fed it cheapo pencil lead, which breaks easily, and thus smashes into powder easily. Which then clogs the mechanism in my mechanical pencil. Boo to cheapo lead.

Luckily, I had some forethought and bought two more when I was in Hong Kong last summer. It's great because usually my fore-thinking is just worrying, since nothing that catastrophic has happened to me, for which I'm thankful for.

It's just nice to be reminded that thinking forwardly is useful, and not a waste of brain space after all.

Next up: use up that cheapo lead as fast as possible so I can get the good lead so my favorite, difficult to acquire, pencils won't break. Maybe give the lead to my students as a prize? What? They have cheapo Bic pencils. Not my precious, genius, and simplistically designed pencils.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Slow Food schools

I'm all about food. I never used to be as a kid - never appreciated it as much as I do now. Never was conscious of it as a kid.

But I'm really enjoying Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. I'm learning lots about food, culture, economy, trade, agriculture, etc from this book.

It's a slow read for me. I get through maybe 15 pages a week. Just letting all the new info simmer and sink in, and rejuvenating my desire to make a school garden at whatever place will hire me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Media Mondays: A Vision of 21st Century Teachers

Not as dynamic as A Vision of Students Today. Also, is it just me or is it kind of funny that teachers copied students for this project?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 Wakko's United States

The final CA history/social sciences fifth grade standard:

5.9 Students know the location of the current 50 states and the names of their

My elementary school had a huge map of the US painted on the playground black top. My teacher tested each one of us by making us jump from state to state, naming them and their capitols. It was exceedingly fun.

Here's another creative, quick way to help students memorize 101, sometimes very hard to pronounce (and spell) location names:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Positive pressure, part 2

A flurry of activity.

Speaking of positive pressure:

My Algebra 2 student is improving by leaps and bounds. She was getting an 18% when we first started five weeks ago. She's up to 45% now. I had crunched some stats for her (she needs a GPA of 3.75 to get a HUGE merit scholarship) to show her where exactly she stands and what exactly she has to do. At the rate she's going, she'll definitely make a B/B+ by the end of the school year - which will bring her GPA up to the needed points.

She had an awesome reaction to the news. Last night, she increased her online assignment scores by 10 points, an all time record.

I lit a fire under my reluctant Earth Science student last night as well. Really pushed him as far as he could go - which resulted in him scuttling out of the living room as fast as he can when the tutoring session was over. Poor kid. He desperately needs a backbone, preferably one with lots of energy. No worries, life will give him one. After all, life gave me mine, and not too long ago I was an even bigger sloth than he is.

In any case, kicking it up to full speed really worked. We got more done last night than in the previous three tutoring sessions combined.

And yes. I am not their actual teacher. I do not give them grades. But I WILL STILL assign them homework, and I will keep assigning them homework until the last tutoring session. These kids need more homework, not less.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Positive pressure

It's easy to enjoy the delicious final product, but getting there takes work. Hard work.

I tutored my NCLB student last night. It didn't go so well. Her math is coming along (albeit, slowly) but nothing else is. And by "nothing else," I mean her language arts: comprehension, vocab, writing, reading fluency, spelling. She's also rather lazy. Her teachers at school assign virtually no homework, which doesn't help at all.

Oh dear. I guess I'm much better at teaching math than at language arts. Need to work on that.

I only have 8.5 hours left with this student. That comes out to about a month, since she only does two session a week. THERE IS SO MUCH LEFT TO WORK ON WITH HER. There is just not enough time to help her get the results necessary to raise her knowledge, her grades, her confidence, and her test scores.

Well, I'm falling back on Mr. B's, my CT during phase 3 take 2, advice: Do what you can, and let go of the stuff that you can't control.

I'm kicking up her sessions to the next level. Much more writing. Much more algebra. Which means more homework for her. She hasn't been doing any of the homework - not since the first assignment. There's no pressure since I don't give her a grade. I CAN give her an incentive though. Would giving her stickers for each completed homework assignment be too juvenile? She's in 8th grade, but maybe she needs a goal like collecting stickers to fill up a "Finished Homework" chart. Some students do.

I also need to give her a little wake-up call lecture. Because no matter how much I do, it'll all be for naught if she doesn't put in the effort.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pregnant Alzheimer's - no urban legend

Mo says, "Nuh-uh!"

Did you know THIS could happen to women when pregnant? Is that insane or what? I already knew, from a long time ago, that it's going to take an extremely special man to convince me to have a baby with him (not that I'm any where close to that stage yet).

Now, it's going to take an extremely special man who will ensure some sort of collateral - some VERY EXPENSIVE collateral - in exchange for MY BRAIN CELLS THAT WILL CEASE TO FUNCTION PROPERLY in the course of giving him an heir to his name.

Otherwise, it's to the adoption center, no ifs, ands, or buts.

It does explain why some of the moms of my students are the way they are though.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another day, another dollar cut

Mo says, "Make kids smarter! Make less waste! And when you DO make waste, at least make it useful waste, like how you can turn my poop into compost!"

I got an email from my boss today about how tutoring for low-performing, low-SES students will potentially be cut from the 2010-2011 school year. I can't say I'm surprised. It's just another brick on top of the burden that is called "educating the nation's children."

This tutoring is free for the student and their families. When the program started, each qualifying child received 20 hours of tutoring which, on average, raised their test scores by at least one bracket (i.e. If the student was scoring in the Below Basic range, he/she would be lifted to the Basic level after tutoring). This school year, each child's tutoring hours were reduced to 18.5, and the requirements for qualifying were tighter.

I'm not saying that tutoring is the one and only thing that helps these students. I'm not saying that these students should get help only to raise their test scores.

I'm just wondering why the things that research has shown to work in helping students learn - music, art, sports, science, et al - are continuing to get cut. When the budgets of things that don't help students learn - more of those endless meetings, more paper to push, more diagnoses and less actual healing - are relatively pristine.

We are starting a petition among the parents, gathering success stories and signatures, in an effort to keep this tutoring service afloat. We know the hours per student will likely get cut (again) anyway, but that is better than having no tutoring at all for those who need it.

If you are interested in learning more about this. Let me know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When students run out the door and don't tell me where they go

The kid center front is one of the shyest, most aloof kids I know, yet he was willing to go up on stage and share his kung fu - because he enjoys it.

This afternoon, I'll be going to my Tuesday art class. I've been teaching at this school, at this time slot, since August. I really like this school. I really like the students here.

So it made me a little sad when one of my students walked out on my class last week. Nelly* is a second grader and it's like pulling teeth to get her to care about each week's art project. Every other kid in my Tuesday class is self-motivated. They can draw and color for hours on end. But Nelly, she can't wait for 4:30 when I release them.

Now, there may be multiple reasons why she wants to leave so freaking fast, and hating art might not be one of them. Still, she shoots out of there so consistently, and always does such a half-hearted job, that I wonder.

Last Tuesday was an easy art lesson. There are so many perfectionists in this class that I wanted to have them do something simple, completely and well, rather than something more difficult and half-finished. I got some really good sample student work that day. I'm glad I brought my camera.

Nelly was the first to get through the lesson, messily as usual. Like usual, I prompted her to make a "good" piece of art better by going back and carefully covering up the white spaces she left behind, making lines connect with the other lines, coloring right up to the edge of the paper. I even sat down and did a little bit with her. A few weeks prior, I had spent nearly the entire coloring portion of the art class with her, encouraging her to push herself to a higher level. She did slightly better than week than any other time.

Last Tuesday, I didn't have that kind of time. My kinders, who were out sick last week, were back. Some parents were hanging out and had questions about the new session. One of the boys was being particularly high maintenance. Every single green marker decided to die on me that day so I had to improvise with telling students to "mix media" and tossed green color pencils into their boxes of markers.

The next time I looked for Nelly, she was gone. Backpack, jacket, person.

Oh. Thunderous. Crap.

Losing a kid in a crowd is said to be a parent's worse nightmare, and it probably is. I don't know, I've never been a parent, but I imagine it to be horrific.

Losing a kid, as a teacher, is heart attack inducing. The liability! The law suits! The firing from said job! Good grief, this must be what a principal feels when some green, n00b of a teacher goes rogue and does something totally unconventional.

I run to the door and looked around in the courtyard. No Nelly. I called her name. No reply. I had a hunch she was just around the corner of the building at the pick-up line which, I knew from experience, was within earshot of the door I was standing in. I called again, louder. Still no reply.

I couldn't leave the other students in the room either.

Luckily, a parent I knew walked by and I asked her to check to see if Nelly was at the front of the school. I was right, she was there. The parent brought her back and I had a quiet little conversation with her, telling her firmly that she needs to be in this room until 4:30 - even if she wasn't doing any art. She looked annoyed and relieved at the same time. I think she was afraid I was going to make her color that insipid picture again. I told her she could do her homework, or read a book from the shelves.

Thank the good lord art class is held in the library. The girl made a bee line for the shelves.

Those last ten minutes were long for me. They were probably long for Nelly too. When her parent arrived, I pulled them aside for a chat. After asking some questions and finding out that everything was "fine" with Nelly and "fine" with art class, I told the parent about the day's events. I said that I love to have Nelly in the class, that she's doing good work and improving her drawing skills a lot. But I also want her to want to be in the class too. And that if she's really not happy here, she should keep looking and trying activities that she would enjoy more - or maybe she just needs a break from after school activities, since sometimes kids get tired of doing so much (I had gotten a HUGE hint from one of the other students, he was Nelly's neighbor and he knew her goings and comings pretty well; apparently, Nelly has been shipped out to various places everyday and never went home until late - there may also be some traumatic family event, like divorce, going on). I told them they don't have to decide right away, and I'll still continue to do new things to try to make art more interesting for everyone, but it's ok if she wants to do other things besides art.

I know that I, as an after school art teacher, have the luxury of telling students to seek better things for themselves if they don't fit in well with art - or if art doesn't fit with them. No public school classroom teacher EVER has that kind of choice.

Nelly had been clammed up all day and I didn't expect her to say anything. But at this point, she burst out crying and couldn't stop. I thought it best to leave the conversation that day as it is and bid Nelly a "It's ok, you're not in trouble, get some rest, calm your nerves, and you can tell me more later, if you want to." They left, Nelly still bawling all the way out.

It really makes me sad to see kids not enjoying the things I'm teaching them. Sad for them, I mean. Sure, they may not be good at it right away, or even after a decent amount of time. But never have I taught a kid who didn't learn something, who didn't improve upon something they already knew.

It's sadder still when my students can't manage to find some sort of escape from whatever troubles they have (if they have any - and more likely than not, they do) in art class. It's meant to be fun, social, challenging-yet-accomplishable. I carefully shape the class so that students feel safe enough to unburden their worries at the door when they enter the world of art. Many students do, and the quality and quantity of what they learn/improve grows exponentially when they enjoy the time it takes to cultivate that knowledge/skill.

For Nelly, it wasn't enough. Which makes me think I wasn't enough. I didn't do enough to relieve her of her fears, not even for an hour-long art class.

Today is the first day of a new art session. I wonder if Nelly will be there?

*Not real name.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Media Mondays: Card games for fractions

Ace of spades!

This is quite a nifty idea to teach (or re-teach in many cases) operating with fractions. Math games with standard decks of cards are so much fun. Lots of mental math involved.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 westward expansion

Renewing an old topic.

I haven't done one of these Standards Sundays posts in a long time. Getting back to studying these has left me uninspired for some reason. However, knowing these things backwards and forwards just helps me understand where my students need to go in acquiring knowledge. Thus, I'm back!

Here's where I left off, the Social Studies/History standards for the fifth grade:

5.8 - Students trace the colonization, immigration, and settlement patterns of the
American people from 1789 to the mid-1800s, with emphasis on the role of economic incentives, effects of the physical and political geography, and transportation systems.

Immigration! Mexican-American War! Louisiana Purchase! Physical geography of the US! These topics are much more down my academic alley than any of the Pre-Revolutionary/Revolutionary War stuff.

Don't get me wrong, the Revolutionary War was important, but it's a little anti-climactic to me. There's so much other stuff that shaped the way the nation is today. Stuff I never knew when I was in grade school. Stuff that formed American policy on trade, agriculture, immigration, and even on international affairs. Everything is interconnected in some way.

That, and I'll get to have Oregon Trail tournaments. Awesomeness!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Everything but

Ono Hawaiian Barbeque: everything's good except for the veg. Why can't they grill some zucchini instead of this tasteless pile of cabbage?

It's 7:45 PM on Friday night. I'm with my last tutee of the week. She's a very bright girl and catches on quick, but at the most inexplicable times, she has these senior moments that make me smack my forehead.

For example:

Me: Now all you have to do is simplify the radical. The square root of 144 is.....?

Student: 14!

Me: No.

Student: 11.

Me: No.

Student: 13.

Me: No.

Student: 15! 18! 16!

Me: Dude, you are saying every number EXCEPT the correct answer.

Student: (pause) 12?

Me: Yes! Finally!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Field trip Fridays: The Bay Trail

The Bay Trail is long. Very long. I'm just talking about the part near SFO today.

It's a nice picnic area.

Besides the planes landing and taking off, and *maybe* a connection to marine life (though for that, there are better choice than this place), there really is no obviously strong academic connection to this field trip location. I'm just attracted to the idea of having a "Last Day of School Class Picnic and Game Day" here. You know, as a reward for working hard throughout the school year, celebrating achievements, reflecting on growth, and getting excited about all that is to come.

This section gave me the chills when I walked it. For some reason, it reminded me of the TST Promenade in Hong Kong - the area that fewer tourists go to, towards Hung Hum. They don't look anything alike. However the combination of marine air, a well-maintained sidewalk, the presence of a Starbucks, and the roar of nearby-yet-partly-hidden traffic gave me a strong sense of familiarity.

I also love the fact that free parking exists somewhere on the SF peninsula. Awesomeness.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kids say so much, sometimes you wish they hadn't

Everything would be beautiful, if only it could always be viewed with Barbara Walter's soft-focus lens.

My brightest tutoring student has a younger brother and sister. The younger sister is quite...well, in your face.

She had been sick this past week and was just getting better, so she had extra energy to spare. During my tutoring session with my student, the younger sister kept bugging him, then bugging me, then bugging both of us. My student had an easy assignment, so I was cutting him some slack (although I hope he finished that extra credit assignment that I made him do).

At one point, Younger Sister sidles up to me and stares me in the face. The tip of her nose is barely an inch away from mine.

Younger Sister (commenting on the peach fuzz above my upper lip): You have a mustache.

Tutoring Student (Older Brother does older brother thing and becomes embarrassed for YS; hey, I have an older brother, and I know that look well): Riley!* That's rude!

Me (smiles at my student reassuringly and say to YS): Well, yes. You do too.

Younger Sister (completely innocently): I do?

Tutoring Student (is probably completely annoyed and fed up at this point by all the bugging his sister is doing): Yes, yes you do. Now go away.

Younger Sister (ignores): Why do girls have mustaches?

Me: Everyone does, boys and girls both. People are supposed to have hair on their faces. It's for protection, like your eyelashes.

Younger Sister: Oh.

Me: You can go and look in the mirror at your own facial hair. Now leave your brother alone - he'll be done with tutoring in ten minutes and then you can play with him.

Younger Sister trots off and I return to tutoring.

I said it with all honestly and truthfulness - or as true as I knew. The hair on our bodies IS supposed to protect us. However, when I got home tonight, I plucked under a magnifying mirror until my upper lip was as bare and smooth as a baby's butt. Vanity wins.

*Not real name.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not so Irish

Green in star jasmine = good. Garish green of hats and leprechauns = not so much.

I'm not a big fan of St. Patrick's Day. Partly because I don't like the taste of beer. Partly because it's the anniversary of my Horrible Teaching Day of horrible teaching days last year. And Partly because it's just too frat-bro for me.

But there's tons of other things to commemorate on March 17th! On this day:

- In 1950, researchers at UC Berkeley found the 98th element and named it "Californium."

- In 1959, the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet for exile in India.

- In 1845, the rubber band was patented.

- In 1919, Nat King Cole was born.

- 1853, Christian Doppler (as in the Doppler Effect) died.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day-light savings and students

Like looking out of a hotel room window, not knowing where you are

Well. Apparently, yesterday was supposed to be "The Groggiest Day" of the year. I guess for adults it would be. However, kids sometimes have different reactions. For example:

Tutoring Student #1's session yesterday went something like this:

Me: (notices student is particularly slow and listless - not just about writing the problems, but in terms of his mental gymnastics; he's usually very good at mental math) What's up with you today? Are you ok?

TS#1: Yeah.

Me: (I'm not convinced) Are you sure? Nothing making you feel down?

TS#1: Yeah.

Me: Is it because of day-light savings?

TS#1: Yeah. (a little sheepishly) I thought it was going to be "fall back" the time again, so I thought I could stay up a little later. But nope, I made a mistake.

Tutoring Student #2 had a completely different reaction to Spring Forward. She was literally bouncing off the walls and I had to call her back to earth several times.

TS#2: So then, the green has more votes than yellow. But votes for blue and red together is more than green! I love tally marks! They are so easy!

(We were working on statistics and mean, median, mode)

Me: Good. When math starts feeling like it's easy, that means you are getting better.

TS#2: I'm getting better! I love getting better! I love the color blue! I love the blue sky! I love swimming under the blue sky!

Me: Um, okay.

It was funny and annoying at the same time. It must be how some people think of me when I'm in a certain kind of mood. A near-hysterical one.

Tutoring Student #3 of the day wasn't so affected, probably because he was my last student of the day and it was getting late. Also, he hasn't been improving the way his mother wants him to, so they are thinking of stopping tutoring. Which doesn't really make sense to me, since he wasn't improving AT ALL without it. Also, I've only had this student for about a 1.5 months. Improvement takes time - especially when you are in 9th grade and have deep-seated reading comprehension issues.

In any case, my last session was more sobering. I don't envy classroom teachers this week. Although, apparently, some schools are already on spring break. In that case, props to the administrator who decided to have spring break the week after day-light savings begins.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Oh grow up!

This blogger says it better than I can, so go there.

Well, the problem is set out. Now how to fix it? It's more than just cutting out slang and using "like" as a filler word. It's about confronting gossip in the face. It's about calling people out on their shit, in a constructive way. It's about staying clear and dry from scandal, put-downs, tattle-telling, and any and all non-beneficial comments. It's about saying sorry with sincerity and honestly patching things up with colleagues again.

In other words, is living a professional life that is completely opposite of the Gossip Girl crowd. When it's put that way, I'm sure many adults will cringe and turn a new leaf, not matter how hard it is to kill old habits.

Because who in the world really wants to be called Blair or Serena? I mean, really. Using "motherChucker" as a euphemism when you're old enough to rent a car is just sad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Day!

Random and silly like a float with a face on it? Yes!

Happy pi day!

In my classroom, for Pi Day, we will eat pie - the sweet variety, or the pizza variety. We will memorize pi up to 10 digits. We will do all sorts of circle activities. We will do all sorts of fun, random things to celebrate pi. We'll learn about some historical facts of pi.

Oh yeah, there's of course a web resource for Pi Day. Everything has a webpage now.

Go pi!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Overheard misconceptions

As silly and awkward as people in triangular pyramid suits.

I went to a Chinese New Year celebration event tonight and I overheard a conversation that I now wish I had written down because I've forgotten the exact words. The fact that I can't remember is bugging me more than the actual topic that inspired this post.

The conversation was between a boy, around 10-12 years old, and his parents. They were sitting in the corner behind me, talking non-stop throughout the first portion of the performances. The boy made a comment on how the MC has used a Chinese word incorrectly. The parents laughed with him, agreeing with each other on the stupidity of the MC.

Except that the MC HAD used the word CORRECTLY. There was no language mistake.

It reminded me of various things I've heard and seen while on the street, or waiting in line at the grocery store, or just observed while people watching. Small, jarring notes of ignorance that, like the conversation I overheard tonight, once said and done are just as easily forgotten.

And that disturbs me.

I'm disturbed that people - college educated, working, respectable people with families and lives and mortgages - can be so inexplicably ill-informed.

I'm disturbed that I can so easily forget and forgive their wild misconceptions too.

Most of all, I'm disturbed that the ignorance breeds itself, perpetuating in person after person after person. There's urban myths and then there's believing President Obama is Muslim.

Then, on a whole different level, there's successfully convincing other people to believe President Obama is Muslim when he is not. Therefore, effectively cycling false information and fostering a non-fact-checking culture.

Well, I guess you CAN fact check. OR you can go around and call people "US Americans," like Miss Teen South Carolina did.

Oh, the work, the sheer vertical cliff of work that is education.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Field Trip Fridays: Golden Gate Bridge

Is it worth it to drag 30-odd students on a 3 hour (at best) round-trip bus ride just to spend an hour walking across, and back again, on a historic, construction-zone with headache inducing traffic noise?

Sure! Why not!

Well, there's actually plenty of other things to do in the area. Such as the state park and recreation area surrounding the bridge. The place where they filmed that lady jumping off the building in Vertigo (see second photo from bottom, above). Not to mention just enjoying the scenery and marine air.

But the bridge, in my opinion, is by far the most interesting part. It's really cool to walk across something that sways and vibrates, for one. It's intriguing to know the story behind all the fencing, netting, cameras, and the dudes on surfboards floating around in frigid water waiting to rescue potential jumpers.

Yep. Just gruesome enough to make students interested, and not gruesome enough to illicit worried, angry phone calls from parents which send the principal on your back. Again.

I really like this place. It's nice. I would come here more often if SF traffic wasn't such a bother to navigate. Come one future students! Invent that teleporter already!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


In a world where boys and girls dance with pink embellishments for no apparent reason.

I know a lot of people don't like Lost anymore, but I like it better and better. Ben is possibly my favorite character. Yep, crazy-creepy Ben. Not cute, popular, cry-baby Kate. Not handsome, heroic, tormented Jack. Not sexy, southern, flawed-but-good Sawyer. I like the dude who seems to always have a plan up his sleeve. Oh, and he walks weird.

So I'm always happy to watch a Ben-centered episode like "Dr. Linus" from this week. I was also pleasantly surprised at how some of the lines rang so loudly of an educational policy message. For example, this exchange:

Ben: Taking care of the kids, that's what's important!
Artz: Ok, you just keep dreaming.

My thoughts: Too bad people tend to fight excessively over the "how" part.

I don't know. I think if educators and policy makers just cut each other a little slack (or at least stop complaining about each other) more good teaching can get done.

And then there's this:

Ben: I have a doctorate in modern European history, and I'm babysitting burn-outs in detention.
Roger: Detention, huh?
Ben: The worst of it is, as I look out over the ingrates that I'm tasked with watching, I can't help thinking that maybe I'm more a loser than any of them.

My thoughts: Teaching is the most honorable profession? Sure, it can be. But it's difficult to remember the honorableness when one has to deal with red tape, leaking roofs, and students that call you a meffingc and then throw books across the room on a daily basis.

Plus this:

Ben: You're one of the brightest students I've ever had. I don't worry about your future at all.
Alex: Really?
Ben: Really. Now what can I do to help? I can write you a great recommendation letter.
Alex: No, I need someone who went there [Yale].

My thoughts: There are so many things going on here, I don't even know where to begin. Let's just say that many times, a teacher's ineffectiveness isn't because they don't teach well (when they do) or because they don't connect with the students (when they do, again), or any of the other things teachers are accused of. Many times, their ineffectiveness comes from non-recognition of the worth of their opinion.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


No stopping, none at all.

I started tutoring about two months ago. Well, technically, I was hired in August last year, but didn't actually have the time to take on students until now.

Anyway, one of my tutoring students is a "NCLB tutoring" kid. Which basically means that federal money is given to a school district to provide one-on-one tutoring to low-performing, low-SES students for the express purpose of improving their standardized test scores. The school district hires a contractor (my boss), and mandates that the tutors (me) MUST use certain curricula.

What happens if I deviate? I get fired. My boss losses the contract (which is a HUGE money maker).

What else happens if I deviate? My student gets a tailored-for-her-needs tutoring assistance rather than the flimsy, cookie-cutter, mass-produced education that the government says she needs. She gets something that'll benefit her for the rest of her life, rather than something that'll only benefit her for one standardized test - the one she'll take this April.

Because all the stuff I'm teaching her now, from that fancy, expensive curricula? It'll all be out of her head by May.

I didn't even know this kind of tutoring this existed until now. I knew classroom teachers do tutoring (their time is on a volunteer basis, by the way) for their low-performing students. Research says that's the most effective method of tutoring. But the classroom teacher only has so many after-school hours, and there are just so many low-performing students (I know of at least one teacher who carves 45 minutes out of every school day morning for tutoring too).

I can't help this student with her homework. I can't use resources outside of what I'm given. I can't teach this kid anything except for what the school district - and by proxy the government - says I can teach her.

Which kind of sucks. But I knew that already.

The thing that sucks the most? It's terribly difficult for me to form any sort of relationship with this kid. The tutoring sessions are free to her and her family, but I only have 18.5 hours with her in total, compared to the months, maybe even years, I'll have with my traditional students. The student knows that, and the student knows that I know that. The student knows that her school district is giving her a tutor because she's "dumb" (her words, not mine).

You can imagine the unhealthy perceptions this kid has about tutoring. That tutoring is only for "dumb" kids. That the tutor does nothing - not encouraging strengths and talents, not widening her academic view, not providing school and career and life mentoring - except "make" her "smart."

What happens when the student still doesn't get it? When they still don't feel "smart" after all the money and time poured upon them? When they still score low on those damned standardized tests, which apparently, is the One And Only indicator of how smart they are?

You and I can only imagine. But my student? She has to live with it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Turned away. With masks. Which makes it even harder to see.

You know the job hunt is bad when recruitment fair organizers are forced to cancel the event because no vendors want to be there.


Well. Accounting is looking mighty attractive right now. Just so I can stop job hunting. Because the entire process is exhausting, not to mention discouraging. I don't get replies very often, and the replies I do get is the same story, "not hiring at the moment, but we'll keep you on file." Bleh.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Media Mondays: International Women's Day

Plastic people?

Didn't even know there was one.

It sounds like one of those days where I could do all sorts of fun school activities with a slightly academic twist. And considering how public school is, I'll probably have to do a Men's Day too.

But I don't think I will. Not that this day shouldn't be celebrated. Not that women aren't still struggling for equality around the world.

However, I don't think I will. Partly because I agree that it is a little absurd, and the absurdity cheapens the meaning a bit.

Well, March is Women's History month. Let's celebrate Women's History for this month only, and then we can all go back to normal for the rest of the year!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sometimes, I hate feelings

Rabbit says, "It's ok. I love you even if you are a loser."

I haven't felt like blogging very much lately due to all the job hunt drama - which allows for a lot of insecurities to flow back in through places I thought I had sealed. Crying Kid from art class, I get you, I do.

Well, that's another example of being behind in posting my ideas. I thought I had blogged about Crying Kid, but I guess I haven't, and thus have no link to embed here to refer to the story of Crying Kid. Eh.

I've been comparing again. Which leads me to feel sorry for myself, second guessing the decisions and events that led me down winding side streets. What if I didn't study abroad? I wouldn't have had to spend extra time doing those residency credits and making up for those bombed classes. What if I didn't go to China? I might not have been placed in that awful phase 3. I might have gotten my credential, a masters, AND been at a teaching job for a couple years now.

Like several people I know. All of them decided to be teachers after I did. All of them graduated after I did. And they are all in classrooms now. Have been for years. I could have been part of that group.

But I'm not.

Then it leaks into areas of life like being married, finances, home-ownership, other relationships, etc. Nope, not there yet either. Won't be there in the near - or far - future. What on earth have I been doing with my life? How come I have so little to show for it?

Most of the time, I'm ok with not being part of the pack. Most of the time, I'm thankful I've led a rather "road less travelled" life. Most of the time, I like that I've had unconventional milestones. It took 24 years for me to enjoy all of that.

Tonight is not one of those times. Tonight is one of those nights when I wish I was part of the pack, doing the things most women my age do, thinking the things most women my age think, preparing for things most people my age are preparing for.

The most awful feeling in this pile of crap feelings? I hate that I'm regretting and pitying myself. I'm so busy pitying myself right now that I'm struggling to muster up the energy to do anything about it. Regression is the suckiest feeling of all.

Ok. Emo rant over. Getting back up one step at a time. First step: putting away laundry.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why I don't understand teenaged girls

In your face, and then not again.

Reason #286

Somehow, quite a few of them tend to think it's necessary to be flighty. It is not.

I had made an appointment with a couple girls from the youth choir I help out in. We were supposed to go shopping for new formal uniforms. They decided to go to a football game instead - and I didn't find out until I was at their door, talking to their non-English-nor-Chinese-speaking grandmother through the front window because the she thought I was too suspicious to open the door for.

I guess I got a little ticked off. I don't think I would have been if they had called me to cancel. Or if they didn't have a reputation for pulling stuff like this.

I went shopping on my own. Hey, I needed clothes anyway. Then I went home and watched classic movies all afternoon. Teachers need their own relaxing-time too.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Middle school memories

Crossing fingers, hopping for a good end to a long road.

I visited the school that invited me when we met at the job fair. It is a middle school. Although I've taught middle schoolers, I haven't actually stepped foot in a stand-alone middle school since I was actually in middle school.

Middle school have gotten HUGE since then. Or at least it seems big to me, comparing it to the elementary schools I've been to exclusively for the past three years. The students are bigger, the hallways are bigger, the books are bigger.

Kids are still kids though. And the physical size of the classrooms seem the same.

I don't have a lot of memories of middle school. I remember the awkwardness of switching from my old elementary school in one district to a brand new school AND district. I didn't know anyone and had lunch by myself until I found a group to hang out with in the middle of 7th grade. I remember the really fun P.E. teacher I had for both years. I remember making hot air balloons out of tissue paper and setting them in flight. I remember dissecting a cow's eye (which I had already done in 6th grade - can anyone say A+ to being desensitized to the squeamishness?).

And that's about it.

I enjoyed myself today. I saw one mediocre lesson, two that were not so great (but I would have struggled the same as them if I were in their situation - although there were one or two improvements I would have made), and one spectacularly done lesson. I like to think I'm somewhere in between mediocre and spectacular. Probably closer to mediocre, at this stage of my career. I'm aiming for the spectacular though, and I'm pretty sure I'll get there. I'm getting there already.

So I'm submitting all the paperwork for the job tomorrow. Priority mail, so it'll arrive on Monday morning. I'm setting up an automated email (so I don't forget) to the principal, letting them know I've officially applied and to keep an eye out for my papers.

And now, I'm beginning to really want the job. I like the school, I like the staff, I like the atmosphere. I liked how clean and tidy the campus was, albeit a bit shabby, like many public schools. At least the windows weren't falling out of their frames, like at one of my student teaching schools.

The front office people were really nice. The security people too (that's something I'll have to get used to - there are no actual "security people" at elementary schools, just janitors and plant managers pulling double duty). The students were sweet - rowdy, but sweet. I helped one of them figure out how to change a decimal to a fraction. I helped another find the measures of angles in overlapping triangles.

Shoot, now I'm going to be disappointed if I don't get this job. Eh.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The constant

Functions are as reliable as a cookie.

The scene: yesterday at my 4:30 tutee session.
The topic: functions.
The set-up: To CFU (teacher term for "Check For Understanding," I ask a lot of seemingly obvious questions. Well, obvious to you and me, but not necessarily to the student.

Me: So, when y=10, and x is something else, y is still 10. What do you think y is when x is 1?

Student: ::pauses to think (another teacher term! "Wait Time!" and I give A LOT of wait time to this kid:: x is 1?

Me: Yes. If x is 1, what is y. Remember that our function is y=10 now.

Student: Y is....ten?

Me: Yes! Why is y ten?

Student: Because the function rule says y=10.

Me: Correct. Now, if x is 100, what is y?

Student: .....10?

Me: Yes! What about if x is 1000?

Student: Ten!

Me: You got it!

Student: And if x is a million, y is....ten!

Me: That's right.

Student: Oh! Y is ALWAYS ten because y=10! I get it! If x is ten million, y is ten! If x is a gajillzion, y is ten! If x is a hundred thousand light years trillzilion, y is ten!

Me: Um, sure!

Lightbulb moments are great, aren't they? And yes, my student did actually say "trillzilion."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lessons from driving in the rain

Lesson #1: Just because you are driving safely, doesn't mean other people are.

I like to think I'm a pretty experienced, safe driver. I've had my license for ten years, no accidents, no nothing. Ok, one parking ticket, but only because I was in a hurry and there were no spots open except for the carpool ones.

This past week, I was almost run over by another car. On three separate occasions as I was driving to my tutoring sessions. All in the rain. All in my little Honda civic. All during the day time when the water on the ground makes that "whiteout" effect.

I guess my car just blends in with that whiteout.

For the rest of this rainy season, I'm taking the family's Xterra out anytime I think I might be caught in the rain. I would rather not be flattened into a soggy, crushed mess of twisted metal, k'thanks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The educator's recruitment fair

Weird, random teacher gadget I got at the fair. What is it for? I don't know, but it is pretty cool.

Or "The Craziest Gathering of Desperate Unemployed Teachers And The Administrators Trying Their Best to Fend Them Off."

I went to my first one ever on Saturday. Nearly every hour since then, I've been wondering how I can write all my thoughts on the thing. I had so many thoughts. I still have so many thoughts on it. Chronological order seems to be the most logical way for me to put down those thoughts so that they make some sort of sense.

6:00 AM - Wake up. The fair is about an hour's drive away from my house. I would like to get there early. Ate breakfast. Prepared some coffee and tea for travel. Made a final check of my portfolio and resume copies.

7:15 AM - Leave the house. Mo wanted me to stay home and play. I did too, but that would have to wait.

7:30 AM - Turned on traffic radio. Big rig jack-knifed on my route to the fair. Awesome.

7:32 AM - Radio people said the back-up was on the eastbound. Yay! I'm on westbound, and I was planning on going a different route to come home anyway. No traffic worries for once.

8:15 AM - Arrive at fair site. It's a high school, a pretty cool one. The school is on a hillside, so the buildings are terraced. Sit in car for a bit to gather thoughts and relax.

8:25 AM - Enter building. Many, many, many people. Ug, crowds. I'm not always at my best in a crowd.

8:38 AM - Arrive at the top of my first line. Introduced myself to woman at table. Awkward pause, since I didn't know what to say next. She helped by asking me what kind of credential I hold. Naively, I say multiple subject. She replies that they weren't hiring for MS but gave me an application to fill out for their files anyway.

8:39 AM - I wait in my second line of the day while filling out the first form.

8:49 AM - Got to top of 2nd line. No go for MS credentials again, but there was an elementary school principal willing to talk - however, not willing to make contact and exchange cards.

9:12 AM - Top of 3rd line. Extra surly handouts and applications "for file." Same story with no hires for MS. By this time, I'm thinking I really should play up my middle school math credential more.

9:27 AM - Had a long conversation at my 4th table with a really nice and energetic man about, guess what! The same story! He talked to three of us job seekers at once, which was maybe why he was so energetic. He could tell the same story two times less that day. One of the other women in my group was extremely loud, with a very grating laugh. She flirted mightily. Table Dude inched a little away from her. I did too.

9:31 AM - 5th table. I changed my story to 7-9th grade math. They are hiring for that! Everything is online, so be sure to check Edjoin! The lady I talked to was a part-time principal at one of the schools I taught art at. Question that went through my mind, but didn't ask: What on earth is a "part-time" principal?

9:32 AM - 6th table. I was pretty tired by this time. Woman at table intercepted me, asked about my credential, and turned me away because they were only looking for special education people. I opened my mouth to ask something and she cut me off before I could make a sound. I tried again, got cut off again. She did not give her name. She did not ask for mine. Thought: well, THAT doesn't come across as a place where teaching talent is nurtured. That is a place where they only want something out of you and won't be willing to provide any professional development in return.

9:45 AM -7th table. FREAKING LONG LINE. Finally got to the table.....and snagged a spot on the interview schedule for middle school math teachers! w00t! It's at 11:45. Crap. I have to hang out for another two hours. Potty and stretch break.

10:00 AM - Returned to the gym (which is where the fair is held). Many people have left by now. I stop by the county office of education table (needs staff for things like adult school and such). Scan all the various for-profit "universities" lining the room. Wondered what the requirements for special education credentials were and asked at the credentials table. They told me to ask at each of the "universities" table. Which means each one will have something different to tell me so I might as well look it up on the CCTC website. Killed some time filling out the applications I had picked up along the way and returning them to the tables I got them from.

11:15 AM - On the advice of a fellow job seeker, I meandered back to Table #1 and asked about their math teacher openings. The math person overheard me talking to their front-person and offered to interview me right there and then. Had a pretty nice conversation.

11:30 AM - Got back to the table where my appointment was. Many people were there. People without appointments. Two dudes in suits and messenger bags were ahead of me. They did not have appointments. They could have been metrosexual twins, except one dude was Black and the other whiter-than-paper.

11:50 AM - The interviewees finally got to me. They all knew my name from the list. Had a nice conversation too. I could have used more academic teacher terms, but I was tired. I was cranky at the two non-appointment dudes who cut in front of me, even though I had been asking the staff that were walking around if they could show me to my appointment spot - and the non-appointment dudes heard me. I know they did. They looked right at me, and STILL went ahead of me.

Anyway, it was a pretty teacher-teacher conversation. Something you would find in a professional, polite staff lounge than in an interview. I'm sure they were pretty tired too. They invited me to visit their school. I think I will.

12:10 PM - Left the fair happy to have learned tons and to have landed two talks with real people who were involved in the hiring process. Don't think I actually have a chance, but at least I wasn't rude to anyone, like the Non-Appointment Dudes. Or obnoxious, like the Loud Laugh Woman. Or Unprofessional Gossipers like nearly everyone else, especially the ones who haven't graduated yet.

I overheard a lot of things at the job fair. Some things I learned:

- Keeping it real and sincere is my style. I'm looking for a job placement, yes. I'm also looking for a place where the people are friendly and helpful, and where I can fit in. I want to present myself in a way that won't make me cringe later.

- I'm pretty lucky that I'm not in any rush to find a job. Well, no, I WANT to find a full-time position as soon as possible. But I'm fortunate enough to not feel the urgency that being unemployed brings. I'm thankful that there are more opportunities for me outside of this one job fair.

-I'm also thankful that there are more opportunities for me outside of any one location or position or time.

- I would definitely NOT have been so relaxed and laid back if I went to my first job fair this time last year. I would have been a nervous wreck, making all sorts of professional and personal faux paux. I'm glad I had an extra year to mature into a comfortableness with myself.

I'm planning on going to another job fair about two weeks from now. Definitely will play up the middle school math thing first thing. Won't even talk about the MS until someone asks specifically what credentials I hold.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A little more

Like those additional postage stamps, I need a little more to get back on track. Another placeholder tonight.