Saturday, January 29, 2005

Is Joan of Arc a Hall of Famer?

I graded ALL of the medieval projects today. I am still wiping the sweat from my brow. And in the middle of it we had people from church over, which means I also grocery shopped, cleaned the bathrooms and kitchen, swept, swifferred, etc etc.

But I find Saturday is the best day to grade projects. I like to grade things like that in long spells because I find it helps me grade consistently. About a third of the students chose the medieval Hall of Fame project. Almost all of them included Joan of Arc. Of course they provided good reason, but enough is enough people -- I'M starting to hear voices myself. (They say "take a long, warm, bubblebath and go to bed you fool!")

Obviously, I didn't have a lot of time to surf the blogosphere today, but thanks to EduWonk for sending more readers my way. If you have a little time to surf and are looking for something new, he's got plenty of suggestions.

It is snowing/sleeting tonight. Yet another wasted bad weather day because if this was Sunday or a weekday we would have a snow day.

Uh-oh the voices are talking again. Something about a Hershey bar in the pantry...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Past the half-way point

We have officially passed the mid-year mark!

Today my tenth graders took their test on the Middle Ages. Hooray! In the past two years, this has been the unit that would not end. It is interesting enough, but is hard to plan because it gets interrupted by registration assemblies, mid-term exams, and usually snow. But there was no snow this year and so it was the first time we finished the unit before February. The exam is two part. The first part is all multiple choice. They did that today. For part two they have a choice. They can draw, label, and describe a castle or cathedral, they can create a medieval hall of fame, or they can write an essay about the role of the church during the Middle Ages. In two years, I've had four students choose the last option. Part two of the exam is due tomorrow. So guess what I'll be doing this weekend...

Before we move on to the unit on the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration, we will write the Black Plague DBQ. It is one of the release items from an old World History AP exam. This is their first experience writing a full-blown DBQ, although we've "played" with primary documents all year. The purpose is the help them prepare for AP U.S. History next year, which is what most of them will be taking. To be honest, it is a very tough thing to teach, and on their first attempt, the essays are usally pretty weak so it isn't somethingI particularly enjoy.

Luckily, we are smack in the middle of the Roaring Twenties in U.S. History. On Friday, we'll do one of my favorite lessons -- jazz during the Harlem Renaissance. Despite the fact that I hate jazz music, the lesson is fun. The kids listen to ragtime, blues, jazz, and swing and have to choose words they associate with the music. It's designed to help them see the progression of the music and also how it could be used as a way to support social awareness. (Can anyone say Strange Fruit?)

My cold, for the most part, has moved on. It wasn't too bad but I'm sure it helped that I had all weekend to rest up.

Friday, January 21, 2005


I've always heard keyboards are basically giant petri dishes of germs, but I didn't realize I could actually catch bugs through the blogosphere. Apparently, though, I've caught Ms. Frizzle's nasty cold.

I haven't taken a sick day in two years and I'm crossing my fingers. It's never fun to be sick but I guess now is a fairly convenient time since today my students were watching a video and Monday is a teacher work day. The work day may be cancelled anyway because they are predicting anywhere between 4 and 15 inches of snow this weekend. I am supposed to be proctoring the SAT tomorrow morning but I'm crossing my fingers it will be postponed.

For now it's me, my Interweave magazine, and some Tazo Refresh Tea.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

It's Tuesday already!

Last week seemed to drag on forever, but thanks to a three-day weekend it is already Tuesday and I'm feeling good! I spent Saturday through Monday with a friend (I'll call her J) in a very small town in West Virginia. All of her family lives there, within a half square mile of each other. The family runs a heating and air conditioning business. The town seems to be following the fate of so many others: It's pleasant, made up of such neat people, but trying to keep its character while slowly fading away. The recent consolidation of the schools into a bigger county system didn't help. It was neat to see where J grew up, though, and we spent lots of time reading and knitting.

What I read...
I'm reading America's Women: 400 years of dolls, drudges, helpmates, and heroines by Gail Collins. The book is just fascinating and has made me realize how I've tended to lump all pre-1900 women into one general stereotype when that is not at all the case. Glancing at the back cover made me feel a little like a failure, though, when I noticed that Gail Collins is also the editor of the opinion page of the New York Times. How in the world did she find time to write such a great book? Maybe they get sabbatical.

Anyway, I'm hoping that the book will help me in my most recent endeavor to propose a women's history course to our county. There is not one currently offered and I think there is great potential for one. If any of you out there know of women's history courses offered at the high school level, please point me towards any good resources.

The book also provided fodder for an ongoing discussion with J about women's roles in the world today. Mostly, our discussion centered, or at least started, with women's roles in the church. We both attend the same church that seems to really struggle with gender issues and we ourselves are trying to figure out where we stand. It's not easy and the two of us have spent a lot of time with the issue. I don't feel like we are any closer to answers when we began, but sometimes it's just great to know someone else struggles with the same issues.

What I knitted...
I'm working on two things right now. Since early fall, I have been working on the faux cardigan from last winter's Interweave. I got hung up on the second sleeve and had to wait for J (who is basically my knitting mentor) to get back from Christmas break so she could help me out. But now I'm going full steam ahead and think I should still meet my goal of finishing in time to wear it this season.

I'm also working on the garter ridge scarf from Knitting For Dummies. I'm knitting it with a thick ivory yarn that will look great on my co-worker/friend when I give it to her for her birthday next week. I'm only about half of the way through but it goes fast.
I haven't yet started the niece/nephew's baby blanket. I'm so nervous about it I can't even bring myself to cast on. Maybe this weekend...

What I taught...
I didn't teach anything today! It's the end of the semester and I gave midterms. It was so nice to return from an extended weekend to a day of light teaching. Tomorrow in my U.S. classes we begin the unit on the 1920's and 30's. My favorite! We'll start out with a gallery walk looking at advertisements for consumer goods of the time.

What I thought about...
A School Yard Blog has an excellent post about schools reporting violence. I have a friend who teaches at a magnet school in a struggling inner-city district. Due to Bush's new standards, each assistant principal (they are the ones that handle discipline) has been assigned a limit to the number of suspensions they can have in a month (with no regard for who is assigned to that AP or what month it is, so that you have the same number in September as May). So, basically, all of the zero tolerance policies we saw in the late 90's are being taken out. Schools don't want to suspend or expel students because they will show up in the statistics and threaten a school's rating as violent or non-violent. How sad.

Another example of how measuring success can hinder it: Our district set a goal of increasing parent/teacher communication. Certainly a commendable goal. Of course, they have no idea what current communication levels are so they need to measure them. So now, all teachers have to report the number of emails, phone calls, and face to face meetings with all parents. This is just so we can set a base rate. I'm sure it will continue so that we can measure if we increase on that base rate. There is so much paperwork required now when we communicate with parents that the red tape is more of a hassle than dealing with the actual parents. The time I spend filling out a report could be spent moving on to the next phone call.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

No news is good news

Everyone keeps asking me how things are going at work. My non-education friends look to me for hilarious, ironic, and depressing stories that come from my classroom. Lately I have had little to report. We are just cruising through the end of the first semester. No fights. No students masturbating minutes before my observation (yes it has happened). No students yelling "You Suck! I hate you! I hate this class!" No obvious plagiarism. I'm not complaining. No news is good news, right? I'll take "cruising right along" anytime.

I did get approved for tenure last week during my yearly evaluation. It was an upbeat meeting in which my department head, assistant principal, and head principal all had encouraging and uplifting things to say. My bosses are so competent, so organized, so supportive, that I actually feel guilty. I've heard plenty of horror stories about other places to work. I did tell them that I felt blessed to work with them.

In other news, I just heard about the Not One Dime movement. It's an effort to protest against Bush on inauguration day by refusing to spend any money. I myself had developed my own idea for protesting. When we were in D.C. in November, there was a whole crew of men working on a gigantic structure right in front of the White House. We couldn't imagine that they would place anything to block the view so my mother-in-law asked what they were building. "A stage," the man replied. "For the inauguration." All of this for one day we asked, astonished? "Yeah," he answered, sounding astonished himself. "4 million dollars just for this stage." I was more than a little dismayed. So, my plan was to go sit right in front of the stage with a poster that says "Sometimes my school doesn't have toilet paper." But, alas, inauguration day is a school day. I don't want to take a day off work because someday I want to have a baby, and when I do, I want more than 6 weeks maternity leave. So, maybe I will join in the Not One Day movement.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

An unexpected lesson

Today in my U.S. History class we began discussing demobilization after World War I. I had a transparency of statistics on unemployment, casualties, cost of living, etc. that was supposed to help them infer the political, economic, and social changes the U.S. underwent. One statistic was the U.S. debt. My students were shocked to see that we owed millions of dollars at the conclusion of the war. "How could we?" they asked. "We paid it off right away, right? We don't still owe that much money do we?" Whoa. Time for a lesson on the national debt. So, while they were finding some things in the text, I found a national debt clock and wrote today's number on the board. (It's above 7 trillion, now, if you didn't know.) This, of course, began a new host of questions. I was more than willing to discuss them, because it was so great to see my students concerned about and interested in a current topic. They wanted to know why we couldn't just forgive the debt, or print more money, or some other solution they were sure no one had ever considered. More than one student suggested we start a world war in Europe and Asia, but stay out of it ourselves so that we could sell them weapons.

My fourth period class was so irate that we did not even get to finish the activity I had planned. I spent some time tonight looking up current information because my economics knowledge was a little rusty. I've printed some charts from the Bureau of Public Debt and Ed Hall (who admittedly has an agenda) to use tomorrow. Today I let them freak out and spent some time discussing the recent doomsday economists' theories that U.S. is close to financial collapse (I'd link to the article but I read it in the Baltimore Sun and they won't let you read it without giving them your email address, which I refuse to do). Tomorrow I'll point out the opposing sides' views that the national debt is nothing to be afraid of.

Then, I'll have to move on. There are standardized tests to prepare for, you know.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Why oh why do you toy with my emotions?

West Wing used to make me happy. Now it just makes me sad.

I got addicted to it when my friend lent me the first 3 seasons on DVD. They were so optimistic. So happy. So witty and clever. We spent the entire day on Nov. 2nd watching the shows, trying to ignore the reality of politics. But now, West Wing, you are just as dramatic, just as depressing as the real thing.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Back to the Grind

I had figured I would post at least once during the break, but I did not. The week was just so exciting and action-packed that I never took the time. It started when we landed in Houston Christmas Eve morning. There was light snow at the time. It was very light. I'm talking look against a black background and you might catch a glimpse of one flake or two. We figured that was it, but really it was exciting enough for Houstonians.

That night we went to the children's pageant at my sister's church. When everyone headed out afterward we were shocked to see giant white flakes pouring from the sky. It was so beautiful. The kids spilled out onto the grass and tried to catch it with their tongues. It snowed all the way home and was still snowing when we went to bed that night. When I awoke Christmas morning, there was a thin coat of snow covering everything. It was just magical! It was the first White Christmas in Houston's history. I hear that here where I am now they had 60 degree weather.

Things got more exciting later in the day. After dinner when we opened presents, my mom picked up a gift in her pile that did not have a tag on it. She opened it and pulled out a bib that said "I love my grandma." I have two sisters so there was some real chaos for a moment as my mom tried to figure out which of the three of us it was from. It was, it turns out, from my middle sister. This will be her first. I'm so excited for her, and also a little worried because she is a workaholic. She actually worked until 3 am the Monday after Christmas!

Things calmed considerably after the Christmas excitement. We spent the rest of the break shopping, eating at Gringo's and Freebirds and playing with my niece and nephew. I also wanted to go to a yarn store to get a fun project for the plane ride back and obviously to get something for a baby blanket. We ended up going to Yarns 2 Ewe, since Amy Knits Texas had said such great things about them. They were in fact very helpful, nice, and NOT SNOBBY. I chose a pattern from the cover of Debbie Bliss's Baby Knits book.

We arrived back here on the East Coast around 1:30 Sunday morning. The problem with having a short break is you do lots of recreating and very little resting (or I guess vice versa, but I haven't met anyone who fits that description). So, I started back yesterday pretty groggy. My students didn't notice, though, seeing as how they were practically snoring the entire day. I ended up wishing I was teaching a different topic to my U.S. History kids. We were discussing the Espionage and Sedition Acts from World War I. Their reaction was "Who cares if they were reading our mail? Who cares if you couldn't criticize the U.S. or fly a German flag? It must have been necessary so be quiet and let me get back to sleep now." I wondered if these were the same kids that begin screaming about the 1st amendment the minute we tell them it is inappropriate to wear shirts with marijuana leaves on them.

Today was better, and I have high hopes for tomorrow when the students will be role-playing the Big Four as they negotiate the Treaty of Versailles.

I have been doing much philosophizing over the past couple of weeks and plan to post on some deeper thoughts in the next few days. For now, though, we are just minutes away from the Orange Bowl. Hopefully it will be a good game. I need a distraction from the Aggies' sickening Cotton Bowl performance.