Sunday, December 25, 2011


A little more than a week has passed since the last day of school before winter break, and yet I feel so much more relaxed. What have I done since then?

~ participated in a "teacher flash mob" for the winter assembly
~ drove home to see my parents for a night
~ flew to Japan
~ flew to Hong Kong
~ saw all my relatives
~ ate a lot of really good food
~ shopped a lot
~ people-watched a lot
~ rested a lot

I've also had a lot of time to think. In general, I think too much, and I don't act enough. Thinking a lot about the new year...about being closer to 30 than to 25...about the future and what it holds...

Professionally, I would like to accomplish these things in 2012:

~ become tenured at my school:lots of people have this thing against tenure. So do I, actually, if it's automatically given and never contested in the future. But I think I'm well on my way to earning that status. I work really, really, REALLY hard. I have positive results. Last year, I had better CST scores than the other Algebra Readiness teacher - who, according to the principal, is the best teacher on campus. By the end of June, tenure would be deserved.

But I don't mind the possibility of it being taken away if I don't work hard, or show positive results. I don't mind that kind of pressure. I don't mind that kind of fire. I'll simply continue proving to everyone that I'm a great teacher.

~ learn Spanish. Just cuz' this skill is a no-brainer in Cali.

~ restart that dang masters program I've been procrastinating on. Yep, I keep saying I will, and I keep telling people I will, but in the end, I haven't yet. I push it aside, convincing myself it's not urgent. It's certainly not as urgent as handling Textbook ADHD Boy, or Rude Boy, or I-Double-Dog-Dare-You Girl (huh, I haven't blogged about these students have I? The stories I can tell about these kids are killer). No, it's not urgent.

But that doesn't mean it's a good idea to purposefully make it non-urgent.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Patience is not a thing

Patience is not a thing right now. It is an escapee of the prison that is my soul.

Ha. Was that emo enough for you?

Even without a calendar, it's really easy to tell when it is the last week before winter break. The students are tired. I'm tired. The admin is tired. The support staff is tired. I think even my backpack straps are tired.

Four more days until break.

Four more days until HK (!!!).

Four more days of 6th period (actually, three! I don't see them on Wednesdays! gasp!).

Four more days. Hanging on for four more days.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Dear Sub Who Bailed on Me:

This does not bode well towards you being called back. Nuh-uh.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Small logistical steps, big leap for me.

Riding on a positivity wave, results of the 10 day Thanksgiving Break. It wasn't great in 6th period today - but it wasn't terrible either. Chatty, at least no one was rude.

I also have a plan. A glorious, mind-boggling, complicated, life-long-work-type of plan. It involves that D-word: Differentiation.

I love the idea of differentiation. I love it in theory. I have yet to love it in practice. So many places to begin, and seemingly each thing can't live without the other being implemented at the same time as well. Which only adds to the "Dude, I am SO. Not. Doing. That." feeling.

But I must. Hell if it's done piecemeal in a haphazard fashion! The kinks can be ironed out later - nothing can be ironed out at all if it isn't implemented first.

It also looks like those 12-hour days are coming That doesn't sound appealing. Setting a limit for myself to no more than two 12-hour days in the classroom.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things I'm looking forward to

Winter assembly is coming up! I wonder what the teachers' skits will be like? It's time to start brainstorming.

Wrapping up the first half of the Algebra Readiness curriculum and giving the semester final BEFORE winter break. Gotta love that!

Writing more. Just, writing more. Carving out time to write, on purpose. Not just because I feel like it, or want to, or have a few minutes to spare. But consciously making it a priority.

This time of year makes me want to set and plan goals. Come on ideas! Bring it!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I remember it being really difficult to go back to work after Thanksgiving break last year - much more difficult than after winter break. Not quite sure why - it certainly isn't because of length.

Perhaps it's because Thanksgiving break comes during a time when a break is needed - highly needed. I've needed this break a lot. I've cut my hair (after 1.5 years without a hair cut!)//got a flu shot (after 5 years of no flu shots!)//got my car serviced (6 months since the previous service!)//baked//read//wrote Christmas cards and sent them out//bought a pair of waterproof boots//organized personal papers//slept a lot.

I love Thanksgiving break. I also love the fact that I got to spend a whole day in the classroom - no students, no colleagues, just me. Prepping, cleaning up, grading, organizing. You would think I do that everyday anyway - and I do. It's just never enough to keep up with the rest of the action. New system perhaps?

Leisurely breakfasts were also taken during break. So nice.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recent teaching mistake

I make a lot of these, from the small, to the big. This time, I'm telling the whole interweb, just so I remember and can prevent it next time:

I. Printed 36 copies of the old Algebra 1 benchmark 1 test, instead of the new one. Only found out when a student noticed that the number of bubbles on the OARS scantron didn't match the number of questions on the test.

PREVENT: Double-check the hell out when setting up materials for class.

Paper is expensive, and we only get two reams each month from the school. Also: it's a pain in the butt to correct scantron tests by hand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baby names: teacher version

My colleagues, like myself, have vowed to never name their kids after certain students - mainly because of the student's personality. There's just a connotation that is difficult to get over.

We also all agreed that it's a horrible thing to name your kid after yourself - as in exactly after yourself. Not the "Jrs" or "the IIIs" or nicknames based on your name - those are ok. But the exact same name? Bad move.

Yes. Get a bunch of teachers together, two of whom are preggers, and you get this kind of conversation. It was kind of fun, actually.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

We do conferences different

Yesterday and Thursday were parent/teacher/student conferences at my school. I love conference time. It sounds a little weird I know, but no matter how low a student is, or how poorly behaved they are in class, the conference always turns out positive - and from what I remember last year, it always ends up with at least some positive results as well.

Things I love about the way we do conferences:

~ It's right before Thanksgiving break
~ We take a minimum day on Thursday to make room for conferences starting at 1pm
~ Then we continue in the morning the next day
~ Which means we get to do conferences without the pressures of daily lesson planning and grading on our backs
~ The PTA makes an AWESOME soup supper for the teachers on Thursday night, since we are usually at school until 8pm
~ The 8th grade team chips in for breakfast the next morning
~ Some of the younger teachers go out for Cheesecake Factory after all conferences are over on Friday
~ All the teachers are there, and it's pretty insightful to hear from the other subject matter teachers on any one particular kid

I don't usually have down time during conferences - at least on Thursday. If I'm not at my own conference, I'm translating for someone. I had 2-3 appointments at each time slot from 1pm through 7:30pm on Thursday and it was INSANE. However, I only had two conferences on Friday morning. It was just nice to sit, and chat, and grade, and help the other teachers do some organizing, and munch on snacks. Especially the snacks part - I don't normally get a chance to eat anything from 6:30am through 12:40pm on a regular work day.

Notice all the comments about food? Yeah. I like food.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another Jonah day

But the thing is, it wasn't all bad! The good stuff:

- I did yoga!
- I did laundry!
- I left school before the sun set!
- I arrived at school after the sun rose!
- I had a really good conversation with a parent of a student
- I had a really good conversation with the student who is the child of the parent
- It was just a really good conversation between the three of us. Productive.
- I scrounged together a last minute cumulative review on the past first four chapters for Algebra 1...typed it up, printed it out, xeroxed it, hole punched it, and set it in the "Today's Handouts" tray in record speed.

But it is all for naught when one bad class period ruins the entire day. It's worse when that class period is that last class of the day. Reminders to self:

These kids are NOT bad - their behavior is bad.
I am NOT a bad teacher - but I can be better.

We can all be better. It takes blood, sweat, tears, and time. But we can all be.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On problem solving

Problem solving is funny. It is hard, it is both long term and short term. True problem solving doesn't create another problem in the solution. True problem solving contains truth.


I walked in on an EL teacher's meeting today at lunch, thinking I was just going to another colleague's classroom to hang out. To be in some place other than my own classroom. It was rather interesting.


I traced my hand onto a sheet of blue construction paper, and cut it out. I glued it onto a sheet of yellow construction paper, then used blue painters tape to attach it onto a spot next to my clock. It is a visual aid for me - to remind me to be more consistent about hand-raising procedures. To value the procedure more than the answer. Because I've got WAY too much blurting out of turn going on, especially in 6th period.

On change at a time. One goal at a time. Focus. Follow-through. Flake-outs eliminated. There are enough flake-outs in my students lives. They don't need to add their teacher to the list.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Am a Teacher

I am:

~ an eScript subscriber
~ a card carrying member of the Will-Shush-Your-Child-On-Airplanes-If-You-Don't club
~ a suburbanite
~ a spectator at school sports events
~ a dance chaparone
~ a "homework nazi," as one kid I overheard say today
~ a change machine for whenever your child wants a drink from the vending machine
~ a Girl Scout cookie shareholder

I do nearly everything on the list of things my 18-year-old self would have thought was too mundane/boring/suburban/2.5-kids-and-a-mini-van-soccer-mom-ish.

I've had approximately 650 kids in my life, an counting.

I am a teacher.

What are you?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chinchillas vs. MacBook - Chinchillas win!

It's been an exceptionally good week. Even 6th period was decent. Even the science teacher's chinchillas escaping and ruining my laptop cart that he was borrowing for his class can't get me down.

Actually, the chinchilla thing is pretty funny.

My laptop cart contains twenty 13" MacBooks set up for student use. My school subscribes to Study Island, which I have never used just because there's not enough time in the day. But I was planning on incorporating some of it this year.

The science teacher - our official school Zookeeper - borrows my laptop cart a lot. We have to share; there are only 5 laptop carts on campus. 100 Macbooks + 35 Mac desktops in the computer lab + 15 odd PCs in the library = the combined computing power available for students on a campus with a 1300+ population.

Yeah. We're working on the student-to-computer ratio. It's going to take some time.

Anyway, I have Mobile Lab 4, one of the newer additions to our computing arsenal. I used it a lot last year for students to research definitions and the properties of addition and subtraction. We also played a few games that came with our online textbooks. It costs $25,000 for the whole kit and kaboodle: the laptops, the software, the cables, the attached printer and wireless router, the cart itself.

$25,000 worth of equipment. Taken down by a pair of rampant chinchillas. Dude, don't mess with chinchillas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Let's get something straight. I am not the best teacher in the world. I am not even the best teacher that I could possibly be.

I have a lot to learn.

I have a lot to practice and improve upon.

I make mistakes on an hourly basis.


When I speak with different people, and hear their stories, I realize: Hey. I'm pretty good at this. Not the best. But pretty good.

Story #1: Teacher A has 3 classes of 15-18 students in each class. She's drowning in paperwork. She wonders in awe how I manage 5 classes of 30-35 students worth of paperwork.

Story #2: I have a student whom I shall call Elf, because he has super large ears. He tends to bounce off the walls, distract others and succumb to distractions. It's constant. It's annoying. It's one of the reasons why I've had a serving of Hagan Daz everyday for the past two weeks. It takes every fiber of my being to be patient with him. To keep up the energy. To make sure he's on task - or as on task as a kid like him can possibly be. Yet, I still have a good impression of him, on a personal level. He's not malicious, or hateful, and even though he drives me nuts he hasn't been outright defiant or rude towards me. He has good days and bad days. He tries - usually. He raises his hand to participate - and is actually pretty bright, under all the obnoxious shoe squeaking and bird whistles.

And then, one of his teachers from last year says, "You think he's horrible. Just imagine him on his worst day, multiply it by 100, and that's how he is with his mother all the time. She has given up on him, and he knows it. He's probably given up on her. Mr. Awesome 7th Grade English Teacher had to call Elf out on his rudeness to his own mother when they were having a parent conference last year. Actually, the way you describe him makes me think he's really matured since last year."

I am so glad I am not in his mother's shoes. That poor, ignorant, worn-down woman.

Elf doesn't respond to detentions though. I'll need a different tack on this one.

Story #3: SPED teachers deserve their own castle in heaven, and I have the utmost respect for them. But there is one at my school who seems just as ditzy as some of the students. She calls an IEP meeting, then doesn't give the time for it. She calls the time for it, but doesn't give the location. She calls the location, but doesn't actually tell the necessary teachers until literally 5 minutes before it's supposed to start, and then decides to call a new day because no one can make it. But when she calls for a meeting on a new day, SHE DOESN'T GIVE THE TIME OR LOCATION, NOR DOES SHE TELL THE APPROPRIATE GEN. ED TEACHERS. Again.

And then she meets me in the staff copy room and gives me a half-hour spiel on how the kid is doing, asking for the same from me in return, when I no longer have the kid in my class anymore due to a schedule change THAT SHE MADE HERSELF.

Um. Yeah. So, that's why I think I'm not so bad at what I do after all. I can't be all bad when Elf actually follows directions from me, or the daily 160 homework papers is a breeze to correct and grade, on top of the weekly 160 test and quiz papers, on top of the 160 bi-monthly appetizer papers, on top of the 160 quarterly benchmark tests, on top of whatever other papers that float through my hands regarding bulletins and assignments and projects and syllabi and progress reports.

And that's not counting the 22 chapters worth of lessons to keep organized.


On a lighter note: earthquake! On the Great California Shake-out, no less.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stress management

Some yummy Thai food, a good night's sleep, and a Saturday filled with watching Gilmore Girls has lifted my mood significantly. Writing it out in a rant also helped.

But just in case Monday is awful, here's a little reminder to myself:

I have the right to do my job. It is possible to have my rights infringed upon. I am in charge, I don't apologize for it - for when I'm wrong, yes. But NOT for being the teacher, not for being the one who makes the decisions for my classroom.

I don't need to reward students for doing what they should be doing in the first place. They shouldn't even need a warning. They should already know, and should already do it. Because they are students, and that is their job. The rewards and positive reinforcement structure I have - built in all over the place, by the way - is just a perk. A privilege. Their greed is apparent when they want more.

And as their teacher, I am in charge of curtailing that greed before it gets out of control. I am in charge of making sure they grow up to be minimally obnoxious.

Apparently, I am their parent. Geez. I should have a universal license for discipline. Like a doctor. Or something.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Walk in, walk out

I walked in assuming the best.

I walked out not.

I hate this, and I don't know how to make it better. I can try all I want, but I don't know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Assume the best

Rick Smith says in Conscious Classroom Management that great teachers:
...assume the best...When we start to assume the best about our students and ourselves, teaching changes and results happen."
I've been trying my best to assume the best in my 6th period class. I've adusted my management so that they get a daily reward for good behavior (on top of the quarterly reward). They have a visual aid that reminds them of how they are progressing during the class (a pocket chart with colored cards - you know, the blue/yellow/orange/red kind). I have consequences for inappropriate behaviors, acknowledgements for appropriate ones.

6 weeks into the school year, I'm STILL pulling my hair out with this class. It's one of the reasons why I haven't blogged a lot lately. I promised myself that I would only blog about positive things.

And 6th period is most definitely NOT a positive thing.

But it's my job to turn it around so that IT IS.

So what's my action plan? Besides continuing what I already have in place, that is. Because I firmly believe that what I have in place is good - hell, it's working wonders for my 4 other classes. SOMETHING must be going right.

I need something else. I need something else. I have not thought of ANYTHING else this evening except that I NEED SOMETHING ELSE.

And then it hit me.

I need to make 6th period as positive a place as I'm trying to make my blog.

Because, as of right now, it isn't. I haven't assumed the best in my 6th period - or rather, I've grown to un-assume the best because I've done things that, in combination with the personal histories and temperament of 6th period, has snowballed into the most horrific class I've taught since my failed phase 2 of student teaching at EIB.

So I've got to change my behavior. Because God knows the kids won't do initiate it. They don't have the self-control - nor the self-assurance, nor the self-confidence - to do so. At least, not yet.

So I'm changing my behavior, in order to affect my experience, which will affect my 6th period's experience, which will affect all of our attitudes.

Which will then affect behaviors - for the good, and benefit, of all.

I'm starting with notes inspired by thingsweforget. I'm making, printing, and choosing some in each set to hand-write an additional note. Something more personalized. Then I'm giving them out to 6th period at the end of the day.

These notes will only be positive. Appreciations. Observations. Thank you notes. Encouragement notes. These notes will have a space for students to reply (optional). These notes are intended to say the things I forget to say during class - things I forget because I'm so busy playing "wack-a-mole," as one of my colleagues put it the other day, as a form of classroom management. And Wack-A-Mole is tiring, for me and for the moles.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Get informed

Sometimes, I get the feeling I'm the only teacher who enjoys chaperoning middle school dances. That is, until I take a look at all my super colleagues who also enjoy chaperoning middle school dances.

At our dances, students wear wristbands which get cut off if they do anything inappropriate - dirty dancing mostly, but it also includes gum, shoving, pushing, and PDA. I love cutting wrist bands. It's a power trip.

This past friday was our first dance of the school year. I cut of bunches and bunches, but there was less whining and running away in the process. And after I cut off the first few, the students loosened up and focused less on trying to get away with bumping&grinding, and focused more on just being kids and enjoying the first dance of the year.

I did escort a young lady - one of my students from last year actually - out of the dance for PDA with a boy (a current student). She denied ever knowing it was inappropriate, that she was never told, that she was absent during the day the school broadcasted dance procedures during advisory period. The excuses never ended about how "I didn't know!"

I told her that her problem was she didn't do her research. She didn't get thoroughly informed before she did something, and that can be fatal in the real world. I also told her I was glad she got to experience this at a middle school dance, which doesn't at all matter in the long run of things. Because after she was done denying any knowledge that PDA was unacceptable at school, she started on how dances weren't important, and that she never wanted to go to a dance again.

The father came to pick her up and we had a little chat. They are good people, and they try their best, but in my opinion, they are too strict with procedures and not strict enough with values. That made absolutely no sense huh? It's hard to describe. It's like those people that always say no, for the sake of having said no, rather than for anything else. It's like the Zero Tolerance policy and the expulsion of a student for bringing a butter knife to school so that they can eat hummus on crackers for lunch.

Anyway, that little incidence gave me some experience on what to say and do now when students give that "I didn't know!" excuse. GET INFORMED. There is no excuse for voluntary ignorance.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekends are for weekending

Fun only!

This weekend is the first since school started where I don't have any papers to grade, I don't have lessons to plan, I don't even have ideas to flesh out and bring to reality.

It's been wonderful.

What HAVE I been doing then?:

~ ate home cooked meals properly, at a dining table, not at my desk, or on my lap, or standing up.

~ read Goliath. Leviathan and Behemoth were better stories. Goliath just seemed like a hurried wrap-up to the trilogy, with explanations thrown in at the last minute to fill in the gaps in detail. Westerfield seemed more interested in pulling together a wide variety of minor characters than in putting more depth into his main ones. Still, I like Deryn/Dylan, and Alek. I wish there could have been more to their story.

~ watched a whole bunch of season premiers online.

~ getting more use out of my Netflix subscription before I close it down (again) in a few days.

~ BOOKED TICKET TO HK! super yay!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Things I did today

- cut and paste stuff to prep for a Properties of Addition activity that will occur in the following two days

- update grade reporting for mid-quarter progress reports

- edit RTI plan and email to admin as well as participating teachers

- type up Homework ER schedule

- reassure the SDC teachers and aides that it's no bother (although it kinda is, and they know that too, but they are just doing their jobs, as am I)

- bring two students who were sitting at Fs back up to Bs by making them do all of their absent work, and having them do the tests they missed. ABSENCES MATTER!!!

- messed up on teaching my Algebra 1 kids...but they ended up figuring stuff out by themselves, which is what I expect them to do, which is AWESOME

- skipped lunch. Again. Starving. Ate an entire salmon when I came home

- grading, grading, grading

- planning, planning, planning

- finally got my lesson binders organized, after a month of dishevelment and loose papers flying everywhere

- made a list of students who scored at 3 or below on their 7th grade CST...


Seriously, I can live at school for all the work I need to do. Has it already been a month of school? Thank goodness the first pay check is approaching at the end of this week. Thing I will do for myself once I get said pay check:

Buy my plane ticket to HK for Christmas. Oh yes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In on the ground floor, part 2

Pretty amazing week of ideas, idea sharing, and implementing some new things at my school. All thanks to the legislation called RTI!

The very first thing the 8th grade math team is starting is "Homework ER," which, essentially is homework detention for students who habitually don't turn in their homework - as defined by 3 or more assignments missing within two weeks. I already have a list of students who fall in this category, and thus will receive this intervention.

The entire plan for the 8th grade math team, including Homework ER is still very experimental (ER - as in Emergency Room, although the one time I was actually in an emergency room, this acronym was used for something else, so we might be perpetuating a common mis-nomer....). It may or may not get the results we want. But Homework ER is supposed to be structured in a way that gets students to do what they are supposed to do. It's to change their behavior, which will change their experience, which will change their attitudes - or so goes Gardner's theory. More updates to come. The first Homework ER is in October.

But besides that, I do want to change up a whole bunch of things about my own instruction. It's mind-boggling to think about right now - so I'm only handling it one piece at a time. Still very excited about what will happen.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ducks in a row

Positive things that happened today:

- Grievances Boy came in for after-school tutoring today. He got all his math and most of his history homework done. He was not surly, nor rude, nor disrespectful. I had fun looking up the Bill of Rights for him on my teacher computer. This kid has deep-seated emotional and social issues that are way too low-brow for his intellect. He is my first tutor candidate for the year - note to self: get pre-tests made for Grievances Boy.

- I was asked last minute to attend a 2-day conference in Santa Clara. Soooooo glad I typically plan ahead anyway, or else sub plans would have been chaos. Also glad that tomorrow is a minimum day, and Algebra 1 is only taking a quiz. And Algebra Readiness is still doing easy-peasy things so no matter if the sub lied and said they can do math when they really can't, most of my kids will understand the material anyway. And the ones that don't will either ask their buddies in class or their case workers in resource

I'm kind of looking forward to the conference. I had no idea what it was going to be about when the math coach pleaded for me to go (Dept. Chair #1 refused to go, and the district had already paid for it). It sounds exactly like something up my alley - equity, accessibility, intervention, prevention, and all sorts of good stuff like that.

- I was WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY more consistent with behavior management today. I've been so excited with the start of school - and to be honest, I've been relying too much on my enthusiasm and cheerfulness to get through the day (which is good because it's positive and the kids get enthusiastic too, but bad because I get WIPED OUT and sometimes the kids get a smidge TOO excited). There is still structure, there is still calm, and I can still get everyone's attention within seconds of a consistently given and reinforced signal. Consistency = the first layer of my classroom management "to work on" list.

But really, I am so excited with this year's crop of kids. They are unbelievably positive, they try so hard, they have a lot of school spirit, and their basic math skills are much more solid than I expected. Already in the first 3 weeks, I've seen my AR kids grow a LOT. It's awesome.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Paradigm shift

Happy candy for happy thoughts.

I read a lot of blogs. Probably less than others, but still a decent amount. I love blogs. I have/had a blog at some point in time with most of the major blogging platforms (i.e. livejournal, xanga, blogspot, wordpress, tumblr, twitter).

Funny thing is, I rarely follow education blogs.

Fashion, definitely. Food, yep. Tech, of course. Animals, hands down. Art, sure. Architecture, yes.

Education, not so much.

I do pop in with the education blog-o-sphere every so often, but it's not nearly as much as the others. Weirdly enough, I blog the most at TCLB - way more than my other current blogs (although, still not as much as others).


I can think of one reason right now: we are a bunch of negative souls who whine and complain - albeit in a sarcastic way, but still. Very negative indeed. I've been told outright by a good friend (so I know she has my best intentions at heart) that I come across as very negative on this blog.

I don't mean to. But I do.

So my blogging goal for this year is to only write about positive things. Things I can be happy and excited about. In short, it's the tone of voice found in a lot of fashion/food/tech blogs.

Now, I don't mean to be unrealistic. Because there are a lot of unhappy things going on in education today. But there are also lots of AWESOME things going on as well. There are lots of stories - heroic stories - of teachers and students and people working their butts off AND getting the results they hoped for, if not more. I'm going to be a voice for that. There's enough negativity on the planet without me adding to it.

It starts today.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"There's the best, the middle, the worst, and then the OH-MY-GOD-YOU'RE-STUPID"

This is most interesting.

This week in bullets

  • Department Chair 1 calls them "ping pong" kids, Department Chair 2 calls them "boomerang kids." I call it "Ms. Ng's Headache Machine." The Admin - in their grand and almighty wisdom, and without any advice from actual math teachers - have decided to rearrange the placements of 20-odd 7th and 8th grade students, redistributing them among the Algebra Readiness, and Algebra 1 classes. Most of my time and energy this week have been taken up with keeping track of who is in my classroom and who is not. It is no fun. Thus, I volunteered myself to make sure these seemingly random schedule changes get minimized for next year.
  • BSTA coach keeps telling me to pre-test my AR students who have behavior or academic issues already - and then offer them alternative assignments if they pass the pre-test. I'll do it, but give me some time lady! Planning, preparing, and implementing that activity won't happen overnight. It won't even happen within a week. But it will happen. So chill out.
  • I spent five minutes trying to decide whether to get the super big post-it notes or the 3in. x 3in. post-its that I normally use. I just stood there, staring at them stupidly until a store clerk came up to me and asked if he could help. I replied, "Only if you can somehow make each day 30 hours instead of 24."
  • Bought myself the most comfortable pair of shoes for teaching. Why are they so comfy? Because I splurged $30 on them instead of limiting myself to less than $15 like normal.
  • Can someone show me how to either grade more efficiently OR create fewer things to grade? I would really like some practical tips.
  • It is an everlastingly long time between my last paycheck of the previous year (June) and the first paycheck of this year (October).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Would you care about this moth in a baggie?

What Kids Need Most: A Culture of Caring by Scott Carol

Why does our culture not care? How do we get people to care? Why is it necessary for someone else to "get" a person to care? How does a person begin to care for themselves, by themselves?

Tom Brokaw said something to this effect recently: We have 2% of the population fighting our wars for us. We demand so much from them, and they rise up to the challenge beautifully. But we don't demand enough out of the other 98% of us.

How does one demand proper parenting from the families of students? What are their rewards? Consequences? Well, I guess the consequences include a society that doesn't care. But then, what happens when people don't care about the consequences either?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Second week of school drawing to a close. So many things to think about, but only two at the top of my head right now:

1. With the exception of the first day of school, I've been able to pull myself away from my classroom by 4:30 PM each afternoon. That said, I still get to campus by 6:30 AM at the very latest. Last week, I got to school at 6 AM...and set off the security alarm. The plant manager officially hates me now.

2. I've been pretty unreliable concerning grading so far this year. Got stacks and stacks of it piled up. I don't remember it being this backed up this time last year. But then, last year, I stayed at school until 6 or 7 PM most days. And I still got there at 6:30 AM.

Two main lessons so far: haters gonna hate, and why do today what I can put off for tomorrow?

But really, other than the stress that each of the above provides in over-abundance, this year is looking pretty good.

Oh wait, I forgot. My students have no decision making skills whatsoever. Even the brighter ones are constantly asking needy, repetitive questions again and again. It's as if they have never been allowed to think for themselves in their entire lives.

Which, when I think about it, they probably haven't.

Friday, August 26, 2011

If you want schools to be run like businesses, then make sure you get things taken care of at school like a business would

It's official. We have rats in the F-wing. I will spare you the photos of rat crap. Instead, enjoy this photo of my hamster Yuki, RIP 2003-2004

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In on the ground floor

Building, creating, linking, making - with my own hands.

For the past few days, I've been doing some exciting - and apparently VERY cutting edge - stuff with a group of secondary math teachers. Basically, we are writing highly targeted, standards based, leveled assessments to give to students in order for them to understand where they are at, where they need to go, and how they (and us) can get there.

There's way more detail involved of course, but I'm talking here about the chance to even do something like this. To be in on the ground floor of something awesome. To make decisions with other like-minded professionals. To be challenged and to ask ourselves questions that probably don't have answers.

And I'm stoked. Because this is exactly the type of thing I wanted in a teaching position when I was job hunting a little more than a year ago. Getting a wish granted so directly has only ever happened to me once before: when I was in the second grade and I wished for a dog, and my dad brought a Chow Chow puppy home the next week.

On a similar note, last week I sat on an interviewer panel for a math position at my school. Please note: I AM ONLY A SECOND YEAR TEACHER. Yet, my principal, the AP in charge of taking care of the details of hiring, and my department chair all valued my opinion enough to let me have a say like this. I keep getting told how awesome I am for my school. And here I am, thinking I'm the one who got lucky.

Maybe we are both lucky. Maybe that's what it takes to have an ideal employer/employee relationship.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

11 more days!

Summer 2011 has been one of the most delightful summers ever. I pretty much spent every day without caring or following a clock or calendar - and it was perfect. Just what I needed. I probably talked about it before, but just so I can relive this summer later - specifically when this coming school year has gotten tiresome - here's a comprehensive list of what I enjoyed these past couple months:

~ Downton Abbey, Wives and Daughters, other BBC drama marathons ~ cook and bake new, exciting dishes like Russian potato & dill salad, Mexican wedding cakes, chicken in tarragon cream sauce, turkey feta tomato burgers, Greek chicken salad, and lemon butter tilapia ~

~ read read read ~ hang out with friends, old and new ~ met more new people than I've ever done since undergrad days ~ steam clean the carpet ~ frame completed puzzles for wall art ~ attend roomie's wedding ~ bike bike bike ~ go to the Asian Art Museum ~

~ organize personal papers ~ hike Lake Chabot perimeter ~ clean out kitchen drawers ~ attend my old youth choir's annual concert ~ reorganize personal finances ~ swim swim swim ~ go to the Oakland Museum of Cali ~ saw the dentist ~ rearrange Algebra Readiness curriculum with Super Colleague ~ go to the beach ~ go to ACCLAIM Institute ~

~ shopping shopping shopping ~ get sick and then got better ~ garden garden garden ~ blog blog blog, both reading and writing ~ digitize all my Algebra 1 stuff (still need to tweak, but everything is on a flash drive now so all other adjustments will be easy peasy chicken greasy from now on) ~ update my resume ~

~ complete change my way of eating (more protein and veggies, less carbs and high sugar stuff, even fruit) and enjoyed seeing/feeling the benefits of such diet ~ snail mail far-flung friends ~ went to the SF flower market ~ write write write ~ window shop at Ikea (will actually shop in the fall, probably after first pay check of the school year) ~ picnicked ~ ground floor planning of cutting edge education stuff which I will blog about later because it deserves it's own whole entry!

And most of all:

~ slept ~ ate ~ played ~ relaxed ~ lazed about as much as humanely possible ~

It's a summer well and worthily spent when I'm refreshed and ready for the new school year. Bring it on, 2011-2012!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Graduation bouquet...who will get one?

18.2% of California students drop out before they finish high school, or receive a GED. And apparently, it starts at the 8th grade.

Dude. I teach 8th grade. Some of my students will drop out, statistically speaking. But why?

Pressure to work? Pregnancy and pressure to start families? Did they move out of state? Did they unfortunately meet with an accident and pass away?

Are they freaked out about college pressure? Do they not see themselves fitting into a college experience? Do they enter a vocation track?

Or do they turn to crime? Become imprisoned? Sit at home in their parents/grandparents/guardians' places and live a life of "hikikomori?"

I would like to know more about the reasons, the why, and less about the percentages. Because, even this math teacher knows, percentages can only get you so far.

Read about it here. And here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And tape. THAT STICKS.

Thanks Target. Your encouragement towards consumerism comes at just the right time.

EDIT: Here's the 8th grade PE coach version. Thanks to dkzody for the heads up.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The rebel and the sloth

Hm. This is interesting. One the one hand, states are standing up and being heard with their dissent for NCLB. On the other hand...without a doubt, something needs to change. It's just that change doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of NCLB, and the like.

In other news, the countdown to the first day of school begins! I've got 22 days - well, 21 in reality. Today is almost over. It's been a really great summer. No clock watching, no calendar ticking, no need to keep track of time at all. Just what I needed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How to live comfortably on a teacher's salary

Alternative title: Way Too Much Info About My Income and Expenses

I was at Magpie Cafe with a friend last week and got into a conversation with two dudes who were at the table next to ours. It's nice like that at small, hippy-dippy, organic/local places - people are open and friendly and willing to talk and ask questions and be, well, human. Unlike the hordes of people at the Westfield food court at Powell station who don't talk to each other at all, but sit elbow to elbow like sardines in a can.

Anyway. These two Magpie dudes talked about their kids who went to CSUS, and I said I went to CSUS, and they asked what I studied there, and I said I was in the teacher credential program, and they got to talking about how teachers are underpaid and not given the respect they deserve, and I thanked them for their support, etc.

The thing is, whether teachers are underpaid or not, they can still live decently. My high school econ teacher showed us in graphs and charts how even a minimum wage earning janitor can be a millionaire by the time he/she retires. It takes a lot of work, of course, but it's possible. I still believe it is possible, even in the economy today.

Disclaimer: I am single. I have no spouse, no kids, no mortgage, no car payments, not even student loans (thanks Mom&Dad!). Although rent is high throughout the bay area, I don't live in an area with the worst of it. I am young and healthy; I'm not on life-sustaining meds. My district has a decent pay scale - although not nearly like the $60,000-$150,000 that Arne Duncan thinks teachers should receive. These things vary from situation to situation, and for the most part, I am lucky. And I know it and am thankful for it everyday. It certainly would be more difficult if my situation was different.

But it's not. And as this is my blog, and my life, I'm going to write about my experience. I have enough to live on, I enjoy nice things on occasion, and I save like my social security is on fire.

Oh wait. It is. Haha!

So a little bit about what my situation actually is:

- I opted for the 10 month paycheck distribution, rather than the 12 month. I do not get paid in the summer (unless I teach summer school). There is no difference between the 10 month and 12 month option except that on the last day of June, you get 3 pay checks instead of just one. I would deposit all three right away anyway, so I went with the 10 month.

- I have very good medical and dental coverage. What that means on a practical level is: I have no copay when I see the doctor, any medications I take are covered as long as they are generic, eye exams are covered and I pay 50% of what my glasses/contacts would cost, and I write a check for ~$20 to my dentist after each visit. Cosmetic procedures (like lasik) are not covered.

- My district matches my retirement contributions, which is an automatic, set percentage from my salary.

- I do have to shell $119 each pay check towards the teacher's unions - local and state.

- I also pay taxes and support the old people now on social security and medicare, like a good citizen.

So at the end of pay day, I'm taking home ~$3,300 for each of those 10 months.

Rent is by far my biggest expense - and for the most part, it can't be helped. I can look far and wide and long, but the cheapest it'll get without compromising the level of security and safety I feel at home, and without getting into a massive commute, is ~$750 a month. Currently, my landlady includes water, electricity, gas, wireless internet, and basic cable in my rent. I do have 3 other roommates, including the landlady who owns the condo I live in. I do have my own room and bathroom. I dislike the dinky fridge space and kitchen storage that I get. There are areas where I have to swallow my pride and make a compromise in order to achieve something else. If I lived in a studio or 1 bedroom apartment with the kitchen all to myself, I would be paying at least $1,200 on rent alone, utilities not included. And I know I won't take up the entire kitchen with just my stuff.

But that fridge needs to be bigger. I cook a lot, which allows me to save in the next area.

My next biggest expense is food. I spent ~$2,800 on groceries and eating out this past year. This expense can't really be helped all that much either. The weird thing is, the healthier and less I eat doesn't necessarily mean I'm paying less for food. This is why I started growing my own basil. That's a start at cutting costs here, but it depends on whether you have the space for a garden or not. Once again, luck. I can, however, eat out less, and I'm working on that. I've vowed to not eat out next year unless it's with people. Because then, there's more worth in shelling out $15 for a salmon salad that I could have made at home for less than $5.

Third biggest expense: gas, car maintenance, and other auto expenses; ~$2,400 last year. I include parking and bridge tolls here, but not insurance or registration. I'll tackle that separately. This next year, I'm biking/BART-ing to school every day - yes, even in the dark. I'm debating whether I'll still do it in the rain. Maybe I'll just get mud guards and a good poncho. Or maybe I'll cave and drive on those days. But the comparatively low BART ticket costs will definitely save in gas money.

The last category that rounds out my big expenses, although I don't actually consider it an "expense" technically, is what I contribute to my parents in their old age. ~$350 per pay check. This not only helps to cover my share of the insurance and registration - which is in my parent's name because my car is in my parent's name - but covers the "Asian Filial Duty/Guilt Trip" responsibility on my part. My parents work hard and brought me up to the best of their ability. They supported me through school and those first few years right out of college. They deserve some love back. That, and the recession has done horrendous things to their retirement funds.

A note about insurance: I don't have life insurance. I won't get life insurance until there is someone in my life who won't be able to live comfortably without relying on my income. It's not needed. I do have car insurance. HOWEVER: did you know that you can haggle the price down? When I was a student, I flaunted my good grades and that fact that I'm a girl. Now, I flaunt my excellent credit rating and accident-and-ticket-free record. My dad's agent also gives us an additional discount for the three of us together.

So let's tally that up: ~$9,000 + ~$2,800 + ~$2,400 + ~$3,500 is approximately $17,700 in expenses so far.

Everything else is pretty flex: I supported my church, friends on missions, Charity Water, and Operation Christmas Child this past year. I need to wear clothes, and use office supplies. I've been on airplanes a few times this past year and apparently they make you pay for that. I've bought books and magazines occasionally, and subscribed to a newspaper. I've bought canvases and gardening things, which I list in the "home improvement" category. I give gifts to my friends when they let me crash on their couch, or when it's their birthday, or when they got married, or when it's Christmas, because, you know, otherwise I wouldn't have friends. I have a cell phone and I ACTUALLY PAID FOR TEXT THIS YEAR. I need to buy soap and shampoo and toilet paper and dish detergent and sponges, because I'm not that much of a hermit. I went to museums and zoos and the kind of parks that make you pay to enter.

All of that totaled up was less than $3,000 for the year. If you're keeping track, I still have a good $12K left over.

Which gets funneled into my Roth IRA or stocks account or high interest savings account. Like I said before, my social security is on fire.

Still, though, HOW do I do it? Well, there's basically only two money rules I follow. First: If I don't have the cash, I don't spend it.

I watch out for traps like, "next month's pay check will pay for it" or "it's cheaper if I buy more." Because it's NEVER cheaper if you buy more. One pre-made salad in the deli section may be $3.99 each if you get 3 of them, but I only wanted one at the regular $4.99 price. If I bought 3 of them, it would be $11.97 subtotal and I would have two extra salads I didn't want. Although, I guess a nice thing to do would be to give those salads away to a homeless person on the curb outside of the grocery store.

But that leads to the second money rule I follow: If I can't take care of myself and the resources I am blessed with, I can't take care of anyone else.

Money tips and tricks are very practical. I do look for deals, and shop in season, and I never buy any non-essential item unless it's on sale. However, there's a huge mental game played out as well. I view money as a tool and a weapon that can get used up if I'm not careful with it. I don't assume it will be replaced, especially not in this profession. At the same time, I don't value it like our consumer culture has taught me to. I have plenty of fun, and do plenty of good work without any money at all. Often times, I appreciate life a lot more when doing something that doesn't cost a cent.

I'm pretty much at the limit of the amounts I can save without being a total penny-pinching scrooge.  So the next step? To increase my earning potential. Story to be continued...

DISCLAIMER: I would totally NOT turn down a higher salary schedule for teachers, if that ever comes to pass.

Bleach it

I've been spending this summer getting reacquainted with some of my favorite reading material. It's been great, really great.

One of my all time faves is Bleach. It may sound familiar because many people know of the wildly popular, and exhaustingly long-running anime. But if you haven't read the manga, then you haven't really experienced Bleach yet. It's one of the most visually arresting reads out there.

What I like about it the most is that it contains some of the strongest female characters in the history of female characters in "boy's genre" manga - perhaps in the history of female characters EVER. None of them are infantilized, sexually objectified, nor are they given one-dimenstional roles to play. They are drawn with (what can be considered in manga) wide variety in face and body type. Their personalities range from taciturn, to wise, to vulnerable, to witty, to charming, to spunky, to emotionally drained. They've seen things and done much. These are female characters of both action and thoughtfulness, and it's all treated with respect.

There needs to be more female characters like that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Business minded

Some people think schools should be run more like businesses. Opponents immediately balk when they hear this. But today, I want to ask: which business?

Because I wouldn't mind schools running along the lines of Zappos.

Their core values are here.

Doesn't that sound like a wonderful place to work? Doesn't that sound like what education needs right at this moment? Doing the unconventional, innovative, fun, and weird stuff. Grow by learning, communicating, and doing more with less. Building a family spirit. Being humble.

Actually, that's all what American society at this moment needs a bit more of.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Augmented Reality

I saw this awhile back on another edublogger's page and have been meaning to write about it. I thought and thought and thought and I'm still not sure what I think about the "augmented reality" aka extrapolation, aka wishful thinking (?) part of the timeline. Quote:
The future history presented is intended to be edgy, but also as a conversation starter on futures for education and future thinking in human capital development.
Edgy, certainly. I'm all for edgy things. I'm just not sure I would want to worry about the future - especially as far off as 2045 - when there's so much to worry about the today. It's a good idea to keep a balance in mind I suppose. Where I want the future to go affects what my decisions today are.

So, in the end, no big epiphany here. Just...more questions and wonderings. Which I guess is the whole point.

By the way, is anyone else a little squeamish at the term "human capital development?" Just me? Hm.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Thief

This 1997 Newberry Honor story by Megan Whalen Turner has a wicked twisty plot and lots of descriptions of what people in Ancient Greece would have worn and eaten.

No plot giveaways here! The twists are too good for that. But here's a short premise: Gen was imprisoned for stealing, and now the King and the King's magus [wise man/scholar] has appointed him to commit espionage, and to steal something from the neighboring country.

A fun read. I liked it. It takes quite a long time for the story to spin its way around all the twists, and the ending felt kind of rushed - almost to the point of being half-thought and half-baked - but overall, fun.

The main character is humorously self-centered, which, I suppose is a good indication that he's a teenager; his age isn't specifically given, neither is his physical description. Which is refreshing. I like imagining what a character would look like solely based on his, well, actual character.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Re-thinking the way we re-think

Seagulls...are they related to this post? Yes. Why? I leave that up to you.

Despite the profuse supply of The Bachelorette video clips and the like, the internet is still a grand source of inspiration and thoughtfulness.

Any savvy consumer of information would have by now encountered by now. I stumbled upon this article there and it very concisely phrased what I've been trying to put into words. Granted, the writer is talking about workspace design and working, while I'm talking about technology and teaching. But in essence, it's the same.

I love technology, I really do. But my use of it for teaching is not what will make me a great teacher in the end. I can show endless Khan Academy videos, use those little remote control "voting" things for students to punch in their answer, wear out my (non-existent) SmartBoard and (arrived! or at least my colleague's has; I'm assuming mine is here too since the principal ordered both of ours at the same time, although I haven't checked yet) ELMO, and go through enough cans of Dust Air cleaning my LCD projector and it STILL will not make me a great teacher.

What will make me a great teacher?

~ practice
~ life-long learning
~ bouncing ideas off of colleagues
~ professional respect and trust
~ discovering new ideas in both familiar and surprising places
~ experimentation (aka "making mistakes")
~ time and space to recharge my batteries

So what will make my students great learners? Laptops for all? Fancy phones that can text their answers to the professor's iPad? Olympic-sized school swimming pools? Shiny, new hardback textbooks? I don't know about all that.

I only know that this coming school year, I will fuss less about the arrangement of student desks in my oddly proportioned classroom.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Not the most uplifting of endings, but still an interesting read. Life was like that - IS like that, in the Pakistan, Afghanistan, India region. Lots of details of daily life and daily struggles. Although the ending is realistic, I'm not entirely sure the personality of the title character is.

But then, I've never been there myself. I only know of one Afghani girl - a former student, ten years old when she was in my class, and had been in the country for about five years - but she was pretty spunky as well.

Warning: not a book for impatient readers - I skimmed over the second half. Phulan, Shabanu's older sister is quite annoying.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

40 minutes fast

Summers are for leisurely made and eaten Greek salads.

Dug up this 2009 article from the New York Times after talking to a colleague about our short lunch times. Apparently, when my colleague (in her 40s) was in school, she had a full hour for lunch from elementary through high school. I remember my high school lunch period being 50 minutes - enough time for me to go home for a decent lunch and get back with time to spare.

My middle school has a 40 minute lunch period, including the 5 minute passing period at the end for students to transition to 5th period. When I worked at the elementary level, I had a 35 minute lunch period.

It sucks in elementary - by the time the kids are all lined up, out the door, and safely under the supervision of the lunch time staff, there's about 25 minutes left until lunch is over. And it was expected at that school for teachers to start going out to the playground by 5 minutes before to pick up their class. My master teacher, Mr. B, taught me the trick of lining the class up at least 5 minutes before the bell so that when it finally did ring, we would be half-way to the cafeteria. This takes A LOT of practice, timing the lessons just right and making the morning sessions as productive as possible. Fortunately, that was my 5th/6th split and they were savvy enough to catch on - if we worked hard in the morning, we got to go to lunch first. And 5th/6th graders love being first.

My colleague, Ms. O, has this theory that kids no longer know what to do with themselves in their free time, leading to more behavior problems, which is why there is a seeming trend that school lunch periods are getting shorter and shorter. I say seeming because I haven't come across any documentation or studies on this. This is the first I've ever heard of Ms. O's theory, but it sort of makes sense.

So here's my first question I've ever directly posed to my blog audience (if there's anyone reading this): Have you noticed the trend of shorter lunch times? What do you make of it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Planning for change

From the start, this has been the most frightening thing about teaching to me. Not the possibility of weapons or gangs on campus, not learning to deal with violent or serious behaviors (that comes a close second though), not even the fact that I might be pink slipped at any time.

I'm scared of quitting. More specifically, I'm scared of being backed into a corner, like the teacher in the CNN interview, and having no better option than to quit.

Quitting any job isn't a simple decision, although people water down their explanations so that they sound much more sane to their family and friends:

"I want to travel and spend more time with my family."

"I'm not working at my fullest potential."

"I've hit a pay wall."

"I'm just being shuffled from side to side in the company."

All really logical and proper and socially acceptable reasons to quit. But I really believe that underneath the soothing words are much more complicated things happening.

Of course, once again, I am astounded at how lucky I am that I got the position I have today. According to my district's salary schedule, I won't hit a pay wall until my 17th year. I started out at a significantly higher salary than the teacher in the CNN interview. As I accrue units and finally complete my masters, I'll have additional stipends. There is even a stipend schedule for Ph.D..

I am also young, healthy, and single: no kids, no car payments, no mortgage payments, no serious medical expenses. I don't even have credit card balances or student loan debt. Bureaucratic interference is easy to ignore. My district office does have some rather incompetent people, but it's saved by the genius who created and installed the system years ago. Morale is medium to high at my school, for the most part. Yeah, there are certain lack of resources that plague me but I've found creative ways to get around it. My principal has been nothing but supportive of me. The compensation isn't spectacular, but it's also not horrendous either. Too-little decision making, frankly I don't think I want to make any of the big, nasty decisions - let me stick with the small ones that are of no matter on paper. Too little time for planning...fake it 'till you make it - lost count of how many times I've flown with no lesson plan, or had to scrap plans and completely wing it. Accountability pressures...sure, I feel the CST pain, but once again I'm lucky to be at a school that has (yet) to be touched by PI status. My team that I work with is awesome. Weird of course, and sometimes we grate on each other socially, but I know they are good teachers and they trust that I aim for excellence as well.

So by any standard, I've been lucky. Yet, the fear lingers. All of that luck can change instantaneously. Expect change. Plan for it. Be prepared.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Queen had it right

Bicycles! Bicycles!

This is way cool. I'm all for greener urban living. And this, well, this takes the cake.

On a math note: 175,000 bikes @ 1 RMB per bike per day = US$27,144.77. Um, city debt reduction plan #1, right here. That's if American cities charges riders the same as Hangzhou does - approximately 15 cents for the 2nd hour. Because, remember the first is free.

But of course, Americans would never charge that cheap. Let's say $1 per hour, with the typical bulk shopping mentality of "increasing number of hours at a discounted cost" that Americans love so much. And we're even scratching that "first hour free" thing. And let's decrease the amount of rental bikes to 50,000 in, say, San Francisco.

If all 50,000 bikes were used at least once per day, which wouldn't be a far reach in a place like SF, that would be an income of $1,500,000 per month for something that is relatively low maintenance (unlike, say, buses - and rental bikes in strategic locations would increase the use of buses anyway, hence another added layer of income). Yep, that's in the millions, baby. Hey politicians and voters, let's make this happen.

Although, oddly enough, the most astounding thing to me was that one dude who said "the people love the bikes and won't do anything to ruin them" or something to that effect. That's real ownership of a city. It's our city. It's our earth. We take care of it.

Hey parents and teachers, let's make THAT happen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It. Is. On.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Little Blue Envelopes

I'm totally not a chick-lit type of reader, although there does actually exist good books that fall in the chick-lit genre. These two were surprisingly sweet and decent.

Synopsis: Naive, sheltered teenager (obviously from affluent, white America) goes on a European tour by way of her dead aunt's instructions. On the way, she discovers the wonders of Harrod's, the creepiness of over-sexed Italian men, that cool travel buddies come from down under, and the intrigue of art dealing. Well, I found the art dealing part intriguing at least.

My favorite parts are the letters from said, deceased aunt, and the main character's interactions with Richard - who probably is a paler-than-pale, uptight English dude between 35-40 years old, but I first imagined him to be rather dapper, and younger than he was described later on in the books.

The main character herself is rather forgettable. Actually, I have already forgotten her name. Um. Sorry. But really, she could have been the fictional doppelganger of that bland, squeaky, blonde girl from my high school chem class. Her sympathetic grief over the sudden disappearance and death of her aunt saves her from complete character boredom.

Overall, decent read. And yes, I cried. Which is what all good chick-lit should make you do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The Suzumiya Haruhi franchise all started with a little book that many adults would scoff at just from looking at the cover. But inside this little book is some heavy, mind-boggling, hilarious, and thought-provoking material. Excellent reading fodder for young people, and people young at heart.

It's a very strange story, with a premise that could go very wrong - have gone very wrong in the hands of a less talented author than 谷川 流 Tanigawa Nagaru. It's a very modern story - or at least, it speaks in a very modern way about very ageless things. A quick google search will provide loads of background, and a video search will provide the youtube links to the actual film, so I won't say much about the plot here.

I will say a little bit about why I want this series to be apart of my classroom/personal library. I go for quality reading material, and I walked into my job on the first day vowing that I will never fill my shelves with "filler" books. It's much more effective to have a small, carefully chosen library than shelves and shelves of penny paperbacks where the next book is as dry as the paper it's printed on.

Smart, fun reading material for middle school is few and far between, despite the huge army of YA authors out there. I blame Stephanie Meyers. Let's actually take a look at the books I have in my collection so far, and their respective publishing years, and discover a pattern:

Wolves of Wiloughby Chase, 7-9 novels, depending on who you talk to, by Joan Aiken (1963)
Anne of Green Gables, 8 novels, by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
Fruits Basket, 23 manga volumes, by 高屋 奈月 Takaya Natsuki (1999)
Harry Potter, 7 novels, by J.K. Rowling (1997)
The Hunger Games, trilogy, by Suzanne Collins (2008)
The Golden Compass, trilogy, by Phillip Pullman (2007)

Target audience age range: ~10 to ~16

The odd Diana Wynne Jones, and some pre-20th century classics are thrown in as well, but the above forms the core of my classroom library. All have spent time on my personal bookshelves long before they migrated to school. Maybe with the exception of The Hunger Games.

The Suzumiya Haruhi series is quite something else - very different from the above, but excellent story-telling like the above. There's something else to it too, I can't quite put words to describe it. Something intellectual about the S.H. series, deeply so, and it's all hidden in the folds of a sci-fi/fantasy light novel WITH ILLUSTRATIONS. To the people who say nothing intellectual can come out of a book with illustrations, I say you haven't met the great Haruhi and her minions.