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.