Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thinking through a Conundrum

Sometimes a very bad week is followed by an even worse week, and so it has been with me.

I want to preface my comments by saying that I generally believe I have a good relationship with my students. That said, they are pre-pubescent and neo-pubescent kids, and that moment in life comes with some emotional implications. One of those implications is the tendency to either love or hate, with very little in between. Another is the burning need for vengeance when faced with a firm ‘no.’ It’s a little like dealing with short borderline personality disorder sufferers with poor hygiene. Last Friday I gave unofficial, but still complete, progress reports to 75% of my students. The news was disappointing to many of them, and in at least one case I moved firmly into the hate column. (I guess I ruined Christmas by telling his parents his grade.)

I must also tell you that, up until quite recently, I maintained two Facebook pages: One for my personal use, and one teacher page for the kids to ‘friend’ me and send me bad videos made by ugly people who can’t sing. (Yeah, I am getting old. So?) In the past few weeks, I added a batch of kids who ‘friended’ me, and I also added my school photo to the profile, where once there had only been a cartoon drawn by a previous student.

You likely know where this is going by now. Friday I gave out progress reports, and Saturday afternoon one of my students copied my school photo, created a Facebook page with my photo and in my name, and began adding pornographic pictures and status updates to match. They indicated that I am a teacher, and in which town on the profile, but listed my education as “Slut University.” I won’t get into specifics, but they had clear, if inelegant, theories as to why a male teacher and I are friends. Based on these theories, I can conclude that the designer of the page likes him significantly better than me and that said designer has some very fucked up views of what is sexy. By Monday, the majority of the children in the school had seen it. I noticed an odd uptick in the number of boys who mentioned my Facebook page before and during first period, but since I had just added a bunch of kids as friends to the legit teacher page, I didn’t think of it much.

Then between first and second period, two of my girls pulled me aside and told me they needed to talk to me. We went into the hallway for a moment, and they pulled out their smart phones and showed me the page. My head was spinning. All I could think was that I now had to tell a friend who has always been hyper-vigilant about his online persona that he was collateral damage in an attack on me. I was not looking forward to that. I thanked them sincerely for showing me the page, probably three times, and then we went back to class. The students in the class asked me “Are you OK?” the moment I walked in, and I’m not sure if that’s because what I was feeling was showing or because they knew what my two brave girls were about to show me. I assured them I was fine, and the period progressed as normally as is possible when the teacher is thinking about everything but the lesson. Not least among my thoughts was that I had just said goodbye and happy retirement to the therapist I engaged to get me through my first year without mom, and wondered if I could convince her to put off that retirement for a little while. There was also the concern that I would see news vans pulling up to the school before I could get in touch with my principal.

There was some searching involved, but I finally found the principal in conversation with my friend. I notified him that I needed to speak with him ASAP, and then nodded at friend and said “you too.” I insisted on a private space to have this conversation that everyone in the school except the adults knew about anyway, then sat in my principal’s office and described what had happened. My Principal was OK about it. He started to advise me to go through the district’s people to deal with it right then, but as he was looking for the number remembered that the district has a history of victim-blaming with bullying even when children are involved, and they have no legal requirement to try to protect a teacher. So, they would likely comb through my emails and online activities and see if I sent any personal emails or checked my bank balance online while at work, so they could have reason to reprimand me or get rid of me if this became embarrassing. They would probably ask questions, trying to make my teacher Facebook page seem somehow malevolent, ask me why I let children get a copy of my school photo, start seeking out reasons why it was reasonable for the kids to assume and state outright that I was a total slut. At the very least, it would put my name ‘on a certain radar’ which would make things difficult for me. And I was upset about that assertion, but I also know it to be true. I have recently ranted about the ‘no cell phone on campus’ policy that was the district’s answer to a bullied kid taking film evidence of his bullying to the news after he couldn’t get the district to protect him. I followed his advice to try on my own first, then went off to find friend and inform him of his place in the problem. He was OK about it, too. Very supportive, though I know it pained him personally to have his name attached to anything unseemly online after a decade and change of careful monitoring to prevent just that.

And then I started to meltdown, waiting for the day to end, and I knew I had my most challenging/most in need of me at my best class coming up, and I knew that was a recipe for disaster. So, I went home to start working on the issue RIGHT AWAY. I reported the page to Facebook in the only way they have available to do that. (Seriously? No phone numbers or email?) They managed to get the site down after just a few hours. So, it was likely gone before any children came home from school.

And then this bizarre emotional state of alternating numbness and intense hurt took over. This has been exacerbated by being met at many turns with boys telling me that they saw my page or ‘friended’ me on Facebook, because seeing a teacher humiliated is funny, sex is funny, and this teacher was humiliated publicly with sex, so that’s just hilarious. To them. I see it somewhat differently. When I am being generous, I comfort myself with knowing that the boys who say these things are not my own students, usually. But then I remind myself that one of my students clearly did this, so my boys probably aren’t asking because they know I have their parent’s phone number. Many of my girls have been caring, but then several other girls were listed as friends on the fake site. So, this is a clear indication of where I stand with the kids, and that is not where I thought I stood at all. Not even close.

And then there’s the problem that always comes up when a teacher wants to complain about the treatment she receives at the hands of her kids. What did the teacher do to deserve this? Why don’t the kids respect her/him? Why hasn’t the teacher connected better with her students? And it’s that, more than the sex thing, which haunts me when I tell someone about this, or want to. In my mind I wonder what judgments they are making about me as a teacher and person. I alluded to bi-partisan support for the notion that teachers ain’t shit in my previous post, and in situations like this that idea radiates off people.

I stumbled through the past two days, barely, wondering why my kids supported this page, why they thought it was so funny, and why the hell my administrators weren’t trying to figure out who did this. They tell me it’s because it didn’t happen at school, but I know that there are loopholes that allow the inclusion of cyber-attacks in our code of conduct.

I want to defend myself somehow, and consider filing a criminal complaint since the school won’t help me. Yes, against a child. But then, I know that the district and the news people and everyone, every time, assumes the teacher did something to provoke an attack like this. And I just don’t know if I have the emotional, physical and financial strength to defend myself. Yes, against a child.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Moment I Started Hating Teaching

I had a rough week this week.

The administration has decided that we will teach according to an entirely new model, a different philosophy from the last two "all-in" philosophies we have had, and they gave us two days to set that up in the classroom. As you may imagine, this abrupt change is quite a disruptive force in the middle of the second quarter. As you may also imagine, changing your whole philosophy of education because someone has informed you that your philosophy changed is a bit disconcerting. And this week was when the change was to be implemented. I also got a new co-teacher this week. Integrating all these changes required A LOT of extra work and planning from me. I was up until 12:30 every night trying to pull it together for the next day, every day. By Thursday morning I was screaming at the alarm clock about the ridiculous requirement that I do this 18 hour day AGAIN. So, for most of the week I hated the administration's imperiousness, and I hated myself for my weakness in complying with yet another unreasonable request.

And then I had a parent conference on Thursday that went very well, actually, but included a grandmother whose grandchild calls her what my nieces and nephews used to call my mom. I have never before this heard of anyone whose grandchildren call her this nickname, other than my mom. So, ouch. For a moment I hated Fate's cruelty.

I was also informed that one of my students' fathers has demanded that his son be pulled from my class because I obviously don't like the child. This because I refused to let him leave the classroom until he had done enough work to indicate that he needed a break. This is what we do with children who have breaks built into their schedule, and this child does not have that accomodation. However, he does fail my assignments on a regular basis by simply refusing to do them, so I must be out to get him. The colleague who inherited the child informed me tersely that my race is the problem here, and I have much to learn about the culture. This same colleague does not allow any child to leave her classroom at any time, regardless of their 504 and IEP accomodations. She has also considered the whiteness of another colleague problematic when she wanted to visit a museum before lunch rather than after on a field trip. But, you know, however well I intellectually know that the problem here is hers, assigning me a category as less effective or ignorant based on my race and not on my actions was hurtful. For a while I hated the defensiveness of the father and the racism of my colleague. The kid I remain neutral on, since he hasn't really done much of anything good or bad to create a strong opinion.

The "coach" who was assigned to our school (the only middle school in our district to make significant gains every year for the past five years) after her previous school failed and was taken over, dropped into my class today. The extra test-prep class, which my principal has decided should be available until the state tests, is being organized. The coach has a vision. After so degrading and demoralizing our department with constant hectoring about all the things we do inadequately, after decimating the morale of my colleagues, and after talking our pedagogical skill down in public meetings at which representatives from many more schools than ours were present, after convincing administration to turn our core classes into glorified Kaplan courses, and making it clear to me that the only way to save my reputation was to step down from leadership so my name does not appear on the gross educational misfeasance and malfeasance she is perpetrating on my department, she has a vision. And so our latter-day prophet of education felt the need to share her vision with me. That vision for the test-prep workshop ironically does not include test prep, but is rather a nebulous, unstructured literature appreciation course for boys. There will also be a T-shirt designing contest, so they can have something "cool" to wear on meeting days. Because homemade t-shirts are cool to twelve year-old boys. And, since they are boys, we must have multi-media projects, because boys dig the technology. Except our boys dig sports and fashion and fear technology, but why rely on knowledge of your kids when there are stereotypes you can play to instead? I hated her ignorance and arrogance.

Then Friday, I was working with the children on editing the personal narratives I have assigned them. I told them, if they were stuck, to write about a moment or a person who changed their life. Rookie mistake. I read about rapes, parental abuse and neglect, police brutality, crushing poverty, and homes so dysfunctional that the children wish they could stay at school until bedtime. By the time there were two hours left in the day, I was having a very hard time refraining from the tears I knew would make the children who trusted me enough to tell me these secrets self-conscious. For those two hours, I hated the world. Intensely.

I notified a friend, who wrangled up enough coworkers for happy hour so I wouldn't have to ask the man at the ABC for his finest gallon of vodka and a straw to get over this week. I went home to pick up the cell phone I neglected to pack Friday morning. Service was not available because I had been neglecting to pay the bill due to the furloughs this year cutting my funds so that they are just high enough, after student loans, to prevent putting me into overdraft every other month if I am very careful with my money. I was not careful In November. I paid the bill (payday), fed the cat, and went to meet my friends at an establishment with entirely too much Republican and Church propaganda on the walls, but waitstaff with exotic accents. So, there's that. Plus, the place had Guinness on tap, and some fine, hearty peasant food that reminded me of a time before student loans and teaching, when I could afford to travel. (Peasant food is always the best tasting in every country, though often not recommended by modern nutritionists.) I simultaneously hated the graduate school that paid English grads at 1/9th the rate of every other discipline because they subscribed to the same school of thought as Fanny Price's aunts regarding the training of those who will be mistreated later in life, Ratzinger, the profligacy of the last Superintendent of Schools in my district, Reaganomics, Congress, and myself for allowing this string of indignities to get me down rather than piss me off.

Then, while we were out as colleagues, talking about our lives and our jobs, and our futures, a friend who still goes to some meetings this coach of doom attends to talk about how she is the superman that our school has been waiting for (because our teachers are so ignorant in the art of teaching) texted me to notify me, laughingly, about the newest statements being made by my coach about my department. It seems that someone at the most recent meeting made a comment about the exceptionally broad knowledge-base of the teachers in our school. This person was thinking particularly of another department, not English, but our coach interjected with a correction just the same. It seems that our department is deplorably ignorant about language and literature, and requires as a whole constant, exhausting instruction in the very basics of our specialty area. This from a woman I had to correct three times before she reluctantly conceded that Dickenson's "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" might not be a poem about poor self-esteem and wishing people would notice one. This woman whose readings of literature are frequently so off-base as to be laughable, and whose accompanying arrogance would be laughable if our administration were more willing to deny her requests, finds me and my colleagues plain stupid. And for the rest of the night I hated her, and the fact that my friend requires my discretion to prevent blowback from coming at her for her betrayal of the goings on in the meeting.

Then, this weekend, I started thinking about all the skills I will teach this week, in exactly the prescribed way, because I have no right to intellect or creativity or autonomy of any kind in my school. I started to rebel a bit inside, and then thought about the fact that I do not have a go to hell fund that allows me to quit my job. Plus, the kids need a teacher. When I started the year with them, I made a commitment to teach them for a year, provided there were no dire circumstances pulling me away. But then I thought about the education I am providing. The narrow focus on literacy and convergent thinking I am forced by my school and current legislation to keep does not prepare my students in the way I wanted to prepare them for citizenship of a town, state and country. It doesn't make them able to excel in anything other than following orders. It doesn't make them critical thinkers who will hold their government to high standards. I am becoming the teacher I was warned against becoming, a teacher who covers material and prepares kids for tests, but doesn't educate them.

Now, let's imagine that I can get reformers and saviors and politicians and other ignoramuses out of my room for a few minutes, and I 'go rogue' and actually teach something useful to kids who are dying to learn. Will it be enough to make them educated people? If we all do that, will our kids have enough sense, ten years from now, to come back and demand to know why we taught them testing skills but not thinking skills? If they do, what will I tell them? Will they be educated enough by those secreted dribs and drabs of critical thinking training by then to know that my Nuremberg defense is an unacceptable answer? Since I know that now, and I know I am cravenly saving my job by electing not to heed my calling, what exactly am I doing?

And it is with those thoughts ricocheted around my head that I realize that I have begun to hate teaching. Really hate it. I hate it so much that I can't even hear the politicos of both sides calling me, by turns, fascist and communist over my own seething rage at myself and my country. I hate it so much that even my students, whom I love, just add to my pain because I know what I - coerced by No Child Left Behind - am doing to them. I hate it so much that I am blogging about my hate for myself and my professional compromises rather than writing lesson plans I know won't help my kids in any meaningful way.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Very Worst Thing a Woman Can Be

... according to the very odd pair of twenty-somethings I shared the laundry facilities with this morning, is fat. The very worst thing a woman can do is to inhabit a body that does not comply with the aesthetic vision of the beholder.


I've long been astonished at how openly aggressive it is to feel that you have the right to wish people would alter their corporeal beings in order to fit your sense of style. I mean, even having a preference for someone else's style of haircut is a lot of damned nerve. Yet people feel the right to place demands for compliance on other people's waist circumference, calf tone, breast and buttock size and shape, and on and on. Even people I respect a lot, people who are activists for equality; people who theorize for a living, carefully undoing the false constructs that support silly, outmoded hierarchies will make reflexively appearance-based judgements, assigning lower status and even character flaws to those who fail their personal pretty tests.

But this morning, it just struck me as funny and I started thinking of all the things that I could theoretically do and be, and still somehow be a better person in the eyes of these people than I would be if I gained 50 pounds. The freedom I have to exhibit my nasty side while still being considered an acceptable person is awesome.

I could:
  • set fire to an orphanage

  • on christmas eve

  • and put a reindeer on the front lawn so the kids think Santa did it
  • Buy myself a whole bunch of stuff I have been fetishizing for months, rather than getting thoughtful gifts for the kids in my life.
  • Show my own nieces and nephews the cool crap I bought myself, causing me not to be able to afford even some blocks and handpuppets for them.

  • steal from the donation cup of a homeless person

  • Tape a friend saying exasperated things about his very guilt-sensitive mom and send her the recordings
  • Tape the same friend saying rude things about his "it's complicated" and send her the recordings

  • feed a laxative to the neighbor's dog
  • Ask another neighbor what vexing 'heavy construction' project her husband is working on, based on all the banging and hollering that goes on there when she's away.

  • Give students bad advice purposefully, then grade them on the good advice I should have given.
  • Have a dinner party, at which I serve only the foods that trigger severe allergic reactions in my guests.
  • Drink and drive with full knowledge that I am drunk and dangerous

And that's just the banal stuff that pops into my head in a few minutes. If I were really determined to be cruel, vindictive, selfish, rude, evil, controlling, passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, short-tempered, ignorant, unjust, and so on, I imagine I could come up with some far more inventive things I could be and do just as long as I don't gain weight.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Collaborative Planning

Hilarious, in that I have literally had conversations exactly like this already this year. (Regime change from good leadership to crazy leadership.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Amazon Gets it Very Right

[Edited to add the reason for the title. God, I'm out of practice!] After a gift-shopping spree on Amazon last year threw some wrenches into their profile of me, I have taken to ignoring their now very weird "suggestions for you" list when I log on to search for something. Recently however, I dared to peep at the list on the grounds that it might be funny to see what bizarre books they now think I want. And, lo and behold, I found language, history, theory and cooking books, and very few "Mummies' Guide to Dismantling Auto Engines" kind of books. It has reset itself. Calloo, Callay! In that list were many treasures, the greatest of which belong to the Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman oevre. (Yes, I was just that pretentious in public. Sue me.)

Though I am forced to be a partial Prescriptive Grammarian by trade (8th graders will start every daggone sentence with AND unless you insist they NEVER, EVER do that again, lest they anger the gods of language and get points taken off their work), I absolutely love The Origin of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman. It's got lots of stuff I revel in: language nerd facts, etymological arguments, and snark aimed at self-appointed grammar mavens who still seem to want to assign levels of moral authority to dialects. (!)

This particular fault is one that I meet up with every day at work. The school I teach in is predominantly African-American, and you would probably pass out if you heard some of the stuff even the (bourgeois) African-American teachers say about the class and regional dialect markers the kids use in their speech and writing. I'm not sure they realize they are thinking ill of the children for being working-class, southern, and black but that's prezactly what they are doing. And it's an ugly part of my personality, but I love doing the superiority dance right back at people who use false facts to make themselves feel superior to others. Especially when they're doing that at children. Of course, that doesn't help at all, because it just solidifies their belief in 'correct' and 'incorrect' language, and makes them more insecure and therefore more pernicious little language bullies, but a girl's got to have her fun.

Anyway, I'm thinking of giving a copy each to a pair of math teachers at my school who insist upon teaching my kids "proper English," despite having no idea what they're talking about. This seems like a less passive-aggressive approach than teaching erroneous Algebra and Geometry formulas in my class, or breaking out into Anglo-Saxon at the next faculty meeting during which "the children can't speak proper English!" comes up, which were my first and second plans, respectively. (At some point I want to write a lovely rant about Mathematicians and Scientists who can't seem to believe that they don't know better than everybody, even when speaking about their interlocutor's area of expertise, because, seriously, WTF is that?!)

[More additions, because I can't shut up.]
I was originally on Amazon looking for a book called Small Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos, which was recommended by a dear friend and trench buddy from the Undergraduate German Class of Doom. God, I love this book! Even before my mom passed away, I was very reluctant to make a number of dishes that we both loved because I only knew how to cook for a small army, having learned the basics of cooking from my mother, who learned how to cook first for her father's restaurant, and then for a farm family and hired hands, and then off the farm for our extended family which included several exceptionally tall athletes. So, lots of food. Since my mother passed, I have been even more reluctant to make home-made baked goods, unless I could organize a dinner party to justify it, because cakes serve 8-10 people, and I do not wish to throw away a perfectly good cake or lasagna, nor to expand to the size of 8 regular people. Besides, even though my appetite can sometimes trip over into the rapacious, I can't demolish a lasagna or German chocolate cake alone. Unless I do like I did out of desperate need of cheesy goodness last week, and decide to eat lasagna for lunch and dinner every day, all week long.

So, now I have an information source which helps me to bake for self-soothing once in a while and have a reasonably-sized treat, rather than one single-sized treat followed by a week of gourmand-level excess that feels more like a chore than a joy. I mean, really, I dig gluttony, but only when there's some variety and discovery in it. The seven deadlies need to feel good in the moment, otherwise why bother, right?

[Tangential Blather]
Some of you may have noticed that I have stopped pretending I don't know how to boil an egg. My current social cohort is no less sexist overall than the graduate school weanies who kept trying to fob off all community work on the women in the program, while separating themselves out to argue feminist theory because they believed they understood that theory so much better than the women in the program (I'm not effing kidding), it's just that I have become much, much meaner in the intervening years. As Twisty typed, all those years ago, self-styled male feminists are greeted with the narrowed eye of suspicion for good reason. (That was a paraphrase because I'm too damned lazy to find the exact quote.) So, I don't need to pretend total incompetence in the kitchen anymore. Now I just tell people to fuck off when they try to nag 'womanly' behaviors out of me. Personal growth feels good. Plus, I get yummy food.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Damn It All!

I have done all the usual interventions. I've written emails and signed petitions and called the white house gripe line and my senator's gripe line and carefully controlled my breathing and my tone so that I was expressing a thought rather than abusing an intern. But, see, there's all this extra rage that has to go somewhere, and I have a blog.

The White House, the Democratic one, has released it's rules for the high-risk pools that will exist to cover people who have been unable to get coverage for the next three years, and in those rules coverage for abortion care has been proscribed. A woman of child-bearing age, with serious medical conditions, who knows that accidental pregnancy would be a medical disaster for her and likely her fetus too, can't even access that coverage with her own, extra money. Basically, this is the Stupak amendment again, but this time where it is poised to do maximum damage to the women it constrains and their families.

Women like me. I was lucky enough to avoid developing/being diagnosed with my health issues until I had good health insurance. And I do have good health insurance, so we're not talking about me particularly. Yet, I now know in a way that I did not before (yes, I'm that short-sighted) how absolutely terrifying the threat of being compelled to carry on with an unplanned pregnancy can be. Because, though pregnancy is technically possible for me, it would require six months of very careful prescription alterations and testing and the assembly of a medical dream team to give me a snowball's chance in hell of having a healthy child AND living to raise it. An unplanned pregnancy would likely kill me, the fetus, or both. And now, women who have my health issues but not my lucky timing will have to, what? I mean, what do you do when you have no room for error, because somebody else's 'moral objections' are more important to your government than your right to bodily autonomy? More important even than your life?

These women, the most medically vulnerable, the most likely to NEED qualified people to perform life-saving abortions on them, are now the ones least likely to get that care. Under a democratic government.

The relationship women are in with the democratic party is toxic. Women come together every two to four years, and we work hard, and we vote, and we get them power so that they can serve the people. 'The people' being understood to include women people. They would have no power without us, none. Women owe the government NOTHING. Not faith, not hope, not charity, not trust, not patience, NOTHING. The debt all goes the other way, and I am goddamned tired of having to jump up and shout and scream to remind the people who are supposed to be on my damned side that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE AND CITIZENS WHOSE FULL CUSTODY RIGHTS TO THEIR OWN BODIES SHOULD NOT BE MADE SUBJECT TO THE THEOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL RAMBLINGS OF PEOPLE WHO HATE US OR "LOVE US ENOUGH TO CONTROL US" OR THINK WE'RE SOCIALLY PROBLEMATIC WHEN WE GET ALL AUTONOMOUS BECAUSE OUR SILENCE AND PATIENCE WOULD REALLY HELP THE PARTY OUT OF A TIGHT SPOT.

1989 NOW convention was right, folks, we need a human rights party. The Democrats want to chase the middle all the way to the right, let them. We need a new party with a new vision. The sooner the better.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Will Be the New "Drilling Down"?

I can tell by the sudden uptick in emails (including a request that I alter a grade so that a child will meet the eligibility requirements for a sport--rage!) that it is time to start preparing in earnest for the start of the next school year. As always, that is an almost overwhelmingly complicated prospect, yet full of hope and possibility. This may, after all, be the year that I am able to leave for home just one day, maybe even a day a month, feeling like I've done everything exactly right; ALL the children know more, think better, and feel just the right balance of respect/love and challenge/accountability from me. Could be, right? So, in between preparing for my friends visit, I am allowing my mind to just go everywhere, thinking of all the things that might possibly be this next year.

Alas, I have a good imagination, and a knowledge that some changes have been made that will require me to attend more meetings with school and district-level administration this year. This got me thinking about the 'professional level' verbal ticks adopted by some in leadership, and how vexing it can be to listen to the same damned word or phrase, often inappropriately used, dozens of times in a 'conversation' (read: lecture). The phrases change every year, of course, following the last trend in corporate blather. Three years ago, during my first teaching year, I was told I was being 'negative' because I asked a pointed question about an astonishingly foolish idea that was presented to the staff as intellectual alchemy. 'Negativity' is discouraged, or was, because 'positivity' was what made good results, and prevented annoying questions by insubordinate jerks like me, just like on Oprah and in the corporate world. I, as a newbie, foolishly thought that smart ideas executed well made good results. Silly me. Then, of course, the corporate world started to crumble and 'positivity' started looking a lot like either burying one's head in the sand or Harvey-level mental illness; it's pretty harmless and cute, but you wouldn't put the guy spouting this philosophy in charge of your money or your kids.

The bursting of corporate bubbles must have had a very serious impact on the health habits of corporate drones, indeed, because we were next instructed to "work the programs [we were] provided, with full fidelity to all the steps." This would have been almost reasonable, minus the insistence that educators stop all their annoying thinking and asking questions and just do as they're told already. Except. My school district spent approximately 70 jillion dollars on programs with competing and unreconcilable philosophies, and instructed us to put them all into place at once. This causes educators to ask impertinent questions like 'how can I implement all these together without making myself and the children explode?' and 'what results can I expect from this veritable cornucopia of overpriced programs?'. I don't want to go into detail, because I would probably be sharing corporate secrets, but it was a little like telling teachers and children that they had to simultaneously be completely skeptical radical atheists, and completely faithful as mormons, southern baptists, and orthodox jews. 'Twas a puzzlement, and all questions, objections, and general observations were met with a repeat of the 'full fidelity' requirement, because like addicts, we were addicted to workable solutions, and had to give them up cold turkey by working our steps.

And then we got to the "what the hell is wrong with you?!eleventyone!" year, during which we were encouraged finally to think. Huzzah! We like thinking! Thinking involves using knowledge and ability and coming up with further questions, or maybe even solutions! Thinking is our friend. Or not. Because there is no thinking, there is 'drilling down' to root causes, and when we had located 'root causes,' we were told to 'drill down' to the 'root causes of the root causes.' And then 'drill down' some more. I cannot begin to express to you how completely annoying it is to be told to 'drill down' repeatedly by people with annoying accents and nothing else to offer the conversation. And when we finally got to the platonic ideals we were mining for, we were asked how we could change them for the children. Except, some of the root causes have to do with the community and the fact that our schools are not really engaged with the community on a level that is helpful and unifying. Helpful and unifying costs money, and there's no money left to make the school a center of a vibrant community again, when you had to spend all those 70 jillion dollars on corporate education programs that each did much less than advertised, and combined did much, much less than slightly smaller class sizes and more frequent parent nights would have done.

Well, I can't imagine that 'drilling down' will still be the annoying as hell almost meaningless corporate left-over that gets touted with little context or understanding at the meetings this year. Even if my internal editors are all hard at work, which they rarely are, I have younger colleagues who haven't trained their editors yet, and older colleagues whose internal editors have become as cynical and grizzled as those guys in the forties movies. One person will say 'drill down' just once and then we're off on BP compare and contrast essay, I just know it.

Since there are still superintendents who append "CEO" to their title because it seems more professional (*cough* Arne Duncan *cough*), and consider educated children a commodity that we as educators produce from the raw materials of children plus books, measured by tests, I figure there will be no slowing of the desire of educational leadership in my county stealing bad ideas from their better-remunerated friends in corporate culture to prove that they are too cool and capable, and educators aren't out of the loop. So, some fool thing that some MBA somewhere used as a motivational earworm once will be adopted by leadership as 'the way to fix a broken educational system' like ours, and they'll feel like they fit in with their friends. The children, however, will continue to learn at the rates that teachers and parents can help them learn.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mood Swing

Yesterday's doldrums have been supplanted today by excitement upon learning that a dear, dear old friend (and her family) will be visiting my neck o'the woods soon. Yay!

This particular friend has had a tremendous impact on my life's trajectory; it was she who badgered, encouraged, and cajoled me into signing up first for a language class with her, and then for a full semester of college a few months later. It was her constant quest for knowledge in her own life that put her in a position to hold my hand and lead me into the undergraduate matriculation that finally took. She also was there to talk to and boggle with me at the extreme weirdness that is the university. I tend to think the university is an even stranger place when you've spent a decade in the work force, as we had. Perhaps that's just me trying to assign our non-traditional status as the cause of a culture shock that would have happened anyway. After all, I can't compare the experiences. Still, it was comforting to have another, more advanced adult in the trenches with me and all those rookies. For these and many reasons, I love her.

(S'blood, do I have to put a background story in for everything?!)

Anyway, I have now switched from grumpy to happy. I've been very busily working on what stuff is available to see around here for families. What's good for 7 year-olds, and what's good for 2 year-olds? How many Firehook cookies will I need to buy to allow me to purchase the children's affection without making them twitchy enough that I earn their parents' annoyance? All chocolate chip, or should I get the lemony ones too? Can I get my intermittently aggressive kitty in for a mani-pedi before they get here?

These and many other questions must be answered, and I will love answering them because I really like having something to look forward to again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Random Bullets of Crap

I'm feeling retro enough and grumpy enough to do this, so here goes:

  • It is too !#$% hot and humid to walk around my usually very walkable neighborhood with the extra weight of my walking cast. Driving with the driving shoe still hurts. I am getting very VERY grumpy about being at home.
  • My scanner is being a bastard.
  • Cat appears to invite large numbers of his little cat friends over in the night to shed all over my stuff.
  • I learned today that both sides can agree that I threaten democracy by being anonymous/pseudonymous and opinionated on the internet.
  • I am unable to make a very science-based dude I know understand that there is a very real possibility of entrenched ideologies affecting how a scientist asks his questions, even what questions he chooses to ask, and then how interprets his data. Because "social sciences" aren't "real sciences," so they don't count. And there is no discrimination against women and minorities in the "real sciences," because there is a several hundred year history of northern european descended males being superior at astronomy. Ignore the middle east. Never happened.
  • Also, he is not thinking in a sexist context, because his very feminist mom stayed home to raise him and his brother, so he didn't get all that yucky patriarchy training that happens in the preschools.
  • I am out of vodka.
  • We are now seven weeks in to my saga of the leak-damaged living room floor, which is still not fixed, though several promises have been made by the apartment managing company.
  • I bought an Angelonia because it was all pretty and purply, and would work well with my new bedroom decor, and it is dying at an alarming rate.
  • Organization and productivity remain elusive.
  • I gained five pounds since I hurt my damned foot.
  • I really suck at creating fiction. Even when I fictionalize reality, it's crap.
  • Affirmation bear has assigned me the task of eliminating perfectionism from my psyche. You know how you don't help a perfectionist? Give her an unquantifiable assignment!

[Edited to add the following]

  • Despite my status as an ex-Catholic, I am having a lot of difficulty learning how to work and play nicely with the loud n proud Protestants at work. Seriously, man, I don't say nasty shit about your grandma's intellectual and spiritual acuity. Also, praying for God to harm your enemies, including that guy who cut you off when you were on your way home from the Harris Teeter, is really disturbing. Save it for personal time.
  • There has been a lot of talk among people I know about "the renter's mentality" and nasty, clueless references to the poor in general, and renters in particular, as people who don't work hard enough. Because we can all be middle class if we work hard enough. And that is personally infuriating, because ...
  • With student loan payments figured in (an expense the complaining bourgeois I work with do not have, have never had, and do not expect their kids to have), I have determined that I can have a reasonably middle-class lifestyle, OR a reasonably middle-class bank account, but NEVER both.
  • But it is also professionally infuriating, because attitudes like that affect how one deals with poor children and their parents. The boy we had to hold back from moving on to high school didn't have his problems because his guardians were lazy, and rented their house, and were loud on Saturdays. He had them because they didn't have time or education to research the possible remedies, and even if they did, couldn't begin to afford the remedies for those problems.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Project Plan B: Attempting to Write Fiction

This was not supposed to be my summer project. Every year, I choose something large and somewhat scary to learn over the summer break. I was determined this summer to learn how to be moderately athletic. My general clumsiness and profound fear of looking foolish in front of the very muscular has prevented me learning anything more athletic than basic walking for several decades now, and even that is sometimes a wobbly affair. So, I decided this would be the year when I turned that history of clumsiness around. I would learn things and practice and emerge with the upright, squared shoulders and air of indomitable capability of the 'natural athlete.'

Despite those brave plans, a newer tradition reared it's ugly head, and I am in a cast this summer. For the third time in three years. Friends have declared that next year they will -- forcibly if need be -- wrap me in bubble wrap at least two weeks prior to summer solstice to break the pattern. This plan strikes me as a perfect way to break an arm rather than a pattern, but they mean well.

So, there I was with a summer to fill, mobility heavily limited, and no reasonable plan for learning in the face of a haunting fear. I hate that. I cast around for fears I could face heroically from a comfy chair and footrest, and lighted upon fiction writing. It is a shameful secret that I regularly ask my students to put aside their fears of inadequacy and try fiction writing as a way to engage with words and ideas in a fun and creative way, yet avoid the practice myself due to my own similar fears. I, Fraud. Filling in an empty spot where moral fiber should always have been seemed a plausible enough heroic journey for the summer, and I declared I would write something.

Almost immediately, memories of the last time I attempted to write fiction began to crowd in. I was twenty, and earnest, and arrogant, and painfully naive. I had written some letters to a favored uncle, and he approved of my style and encouraged me to try my hand at writing for real. There's very little that twenty year-old me wanted to hear more than that I could be an artist. I became perfectly awful almost overnight. I sat with my manual typewriter (Old School!), and my cigarettes (Daring and Tortured!), and put my Mr. Coffee on permanent duty (Dedicated!), and proceeded to type out the most humiliatingly transparent, precious dreck I could muster. My own mother read it and declared it 'kind of cute.' That chapter of the Great American Novel That Wasn't was quickly relegated to the back of a closet somewhere in favor of piano lessons, which I also took very seriously, and at which I also achieved little in the way of skill or artistry. We won't discuss the horrors I inflicted upon the poor, innocent bastards who trusted me to try my hand at cooking.

I think I kind of suck at everything artistic or in any way generative, folks. Yet here I am, with a proper computer this time, attempting to write a short story. (Start small, Heo!) You'll notice if you look to the right of this blog that I have approximately 250 words and have had since I put the widget there. In fact, I have managed a first page of three separate stories: a barely disguised autobiographical story that makes me cry too hard to write reasonably, a science-fiction story meant to use science to explicate a moment in biblical narrative (written by a humanities person and atheist), and some other pile of amorphous bullshit that I can't quite describe. They vary in quality from the merely humiliating to suicidal ideation-inducing.

I like to think of myself as the kind of person who can set her jaw at something and have it happen. I have managed many things in my life by employing just that strategy, and so I generally think of everything I haven't accomplished as stuff that I haven't adequately attempted. I think this may be the summer I find out what it's like to face a fear, do my best, and have that fear kick my ass anyway.

I wonder if it would be cheating to reframe the fear I face as "working my hardest only to find that I really do suck" and call it an odyssey already.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thanks, Susan Faludi. I Needed That!

The local library has a large bookshelf by the exit on which they place donated books that patrons can buy for a DOLLAR! I try to avoid that section of the library most of the time because I hoard books like an English major, but last week I was in the mood to spend $5 frivolously, and there were a lot more books than usual. I came away with a great haul, including a copy of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. And so it is that, after a mere 19 years -- half my lifetime, I have actually read the whole book rather than just the snippets that other people used for arguments.

It was often unpleasant to remember the illustrative cultural moments Faludi used in her argumentation. I could have lived happily for the rest of my life not remembering when young men, the good guys, our friends as we thought they were, cheered during the rape scene of The Accused. It was always unpleasant to remember the terrible words of clergy and politicians who were openly hateful about me and the people I loved. It was also perfect timing for me.

I have been trying to figure out for the past three months why I am suddenly in a panic about not being able to present myself to my high school classmates as the 'Mom' of a perfect nuclear family. This has never been my wish for my life. I have actually threatened to move abruptly out of state if a man gets all gooey over me and the thought of diamond jewelry. Because, yikes, marriage cooties! But here I was, having all this angst over not having what I never wanted, and it confused me.

And then, as I read Backlash, I began to understand. Thinking about people I knew well 20 years ago was making me think about what was 'important' 20 years ago. That, in turn, was making me anxious about not having what I am supposed to have by now in order to be considered successful as a woman. The backlash finally caught up with me, but the explanation of what was happening and why was close to hand. I'm lucky.

I wonder who's going to be responsible for chasing down the truth about all the crap that's being put out now about women and burrowing in the brains of young women and girls as little self-esteem time-bombs that will go off at some unknown time in the future. Who will write a chapter explaining what the hell is wrong with Steven Pinker, for instance? Who will go through and explicate the rancid sexism that was thrown at political figures in 2008 by reporters who claimed to be supporters? (I'm looking at you, Tweety, you big snorty ass.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Heomodor's Prediction

When I was a wee colleen, eager to thwart the unreasonable hierarchical constructs that I identified as the enemies of justice and goodness, but still naive enough to think I could purchase the accessories of revolution at the mall, Heomodor sat me down for a little talk.* She started right in at the gaping hole of greatest import in my understanding: my full acceptance of the media-softened narrative of “the sixties.” I paraphrase, but what she said went a little something like this:

“The television is lying to you. This country was AT CIVIL WAR twenty years ago. It was an ugly time, not a beautiful one. There was no love and peace then. Shots were fired, and people were killed. They were killed for their ideas. They were killed by the police, under orders from the governments of their cities and states. They were killed by their countrymen in the name of America, and God, and Freedom. It was terrifying, and it will happen again. Hateful people still exist, and they will still be willing to kill to frighten others into pretending to believe they are right. The next time it happens it will be worse.”

My response was to roll my eyes covertly, as was so often the case when my mother would talk about the events that occurred before I was born as if they were not perfectly resolvable sitcom-level conflicts. Yeah, right, mom. Of course men were rude to women, and white people were rude to black people, on purpose, as if their parents never introduced the topic of manners. Sure. Yeah, yeah, the flower children chose images of peace and love purposefully to challenge their opponents’ world views, thus filling their opponents with the kind of frothy rage that made Travis shoot Ole Yeller. Whatever.

Then, a few years later, I was a little less wee, and a little less desirous of proving Heomodor wrong on general principle, but still aggressively ‘independent’ enough to be determined to watch all the political coverage available so I could make an informed decision in my very first presidential election. Thus was I willing and eager to watch the Republican National Convention of 1992.

Holy Fuck.

I’d like to say that my assessment of the situation has evolved to include pithy insights and erudite evaluations since then, but it’s really just been a decades-long, ever-increasing feeling of ‘Holy Fuck.’ These right-wingers, they know how to up the hate-monger ante.

Now we have those on the right – not the crazy cabin-in-the-woods right like Timothy McVeigh, but the ‘Hi, I’m running for Mayor/Congress/Senate’ right – speaking publicly of ‘second amendment solutions’ to their political problems. And it’s not just idle talk, as the family of the murdered Dr. Tiller will no doubt attest. There are those on the right who are not using eliminationist rhetoric as a mere political ploy; these bastards want us silent, and if dead is the only way to achieve silent, they’ll go with that.

The rhetoric is being assisted along by judicial decisions like the recent Supreme Court decision overturning gun bans in various locations, but most notably in DC, where we keep our federal government. This is the same federal government that oppresses all these hate-mongers by limiting their free reign to oppress other Americans with impunity.

I fear that the perfect storm Heomodor envisioned a bit over a decade ago is gathering now. Militarized ideologues have been defining themselves and their followers as warriors for decades, yes. Culture Warriors and Christian Warriors, yes, but that is just the preliminary work. That work is their effort to Other people on the left, and some of the people on the left then Other the people on the right, and then we have opposing sides of “war.” That is in place, really. And there is a very short hop between metaphorical ‘war’ and real duck-and-cover war once Othering has been completed. Ask the Sudan.

*She kindly neglected to inform me of how embarrassingly obtuse it was to be a little consumerist 80’s girl, wearing mass-produced simulacra of the artifacts of an earlier teenaged counter-cultural rebellion. That must have been difficult for her, because I had a full complement of mass-produced Hippie-inspired Yuppie gear. Thinking back on this gear now sends me into a full blush that rivals the one I produce when suffering from the effects of bad tequila.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spring Summer Cleaning Underway

So, I think I have cleared all the E.D. medication ads from the blog. Yay.

Despite my worst fears, the majority of my posts have not been so boring/childish/irresponsible that I'm left with three posts and a terrible desire to burn my keyboard. Most injudicious blogging was fixable with one deleted paragraph and an added note that editing occured to spare the innocent. Not so bad at all.

I've entertained the possibility of replacing pseudonym wih just plain nym, but have not convinced myself that this would add anything of value to the blog or my experience as a blogger. I do know it would come with some inconveniences, though, so an emphatic 'not yet if ever' on that.

Question(s): Anybody have any ideas for freshening up the old template? Should it happen? If it does, what kind of stuff would be perfect? What to avoid?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On Sending in Payment for My High School Reunion

I dropped that check into the mailbox over at CHECs central post office, and I could feel my dread grow as I heard the envelope slide down to meet its compatriots. Then, for an hour following, I tried to figure out how I could buy a loft like in Flashdance, only less rustic, and a weekend place in the mountains which manages to be both surrounded by woods and a working organic farm, and start a business, and write a book and possibly a dissertation*, and run my first marathon**, and get my 5' 10" frame into a smaller size without looking ill, and get married to a feminist man who doesn't want a cookie or try to outfeminist women or mansplain feminism to women, and adopt 3 beautiful refugee children in a way that is completely untainted by colonialist leanings. By August. Maybe I'll save the life of an injured unicorn as well.

Also, this payment has depleted my disposable income budget such that I will have to wait a bit before buying that replica of the bayeux tapestry I have had my eye upon. One of those people had better have joined a cult in the past few years!

*Without being enrolled in any program, or, for that matter, having read anything more challenging than Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout in months.
**Just for fitness level context, my big goal for the summer is to be able to run a 5k by October 1st. Bonus points if I can do it without begging for death at any point during or immediately after.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Spring Cleaning Warning

This is to notify the literally several readers I have managed to keep through rather sporadic and often foolish blogging (LOVE you guys!) that I will be dusting the old blog off in the next few weeks, and eliminating some of the epic stupidity that sometimes landed here. Therefore, if you wish to blackmail me with evidence of which norse goddess I most resembled in 2006, for example, please gather all of your evidence as soon as possible. Soon these things will have gone, and the newer, grown-up blogging will commence. I think.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

End of March Love Poetry

The text of the poem below was taken in both Middle English and Modern English versions entirely from the website of Wessex Parallel WebTexts, a source I happened upon while seeking a printable text of The Owl and the Nightingale that I can scribble on. The poems are introduced and annotated on the site, in case you'd like to check it out!

Bytuene Mersh ant Aueril,
When spray biginneth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ich libbe in loue-longinge
For semlokest of alle thynge;
He may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.

An hendy hap Ichabbe yhent;
Ichot from heuene it is me sent;
From alle wymmen mi loue is lent
Ant lyht on Alysoun.

On heu hire her is fayr ynoh,
Hire browe broune, hire eghe blake;
With lossum chere he on me loh,
With middel smal ant wel ymake.
Bote he me wolle to hire take
Forte buen hire owen make,
Longe to to lyuen Ichulle forsake,
Ant feye fallen adoun.

An hendy hap, et cetera.

Nihtes when Y wende ant wake---
For-thi myn wonges waxeth won--
Leuedi, al for thine sake
Longinge is ylent me on.
In world nis non so wyter mon
That al hire bounte telle con;
Hire swyre is whittore then the swon,
Ant feyrest may in toune.

An hendi, et cetera.

Icham for wowyng al forwake,
Wery so water in wore;
Lest eny reue me my make
Ychabbe y-yyrned yore.
Betere is tholien whyle sore
Then murnen euermore;
Geynest vnder gore,
Herkne to my roun.

An hendi, et cetera.


Between March and April,
When the leaves begin to open,
The little bird takes its pleasure
In singing in its own language.
I live in love-longing
For the most beautiful of all creatures;
She is able to bring me joy;
I am in her power.

I have been given a piece of good fortune;
I know it has been sent to me from heaven;
My love has been withdrawn from all women
And settled on Alysoun.

Her hair is fair enough in colour,
Her eyebrows dark, her eyes black;
She smiled at me charmingly,
With a slim and well-shaped waist.
Unless she is willing to accept me
To be her own partner,
I will give up living for long,
And collapse, fated to die.

I have been given, etc.

At night, when I toss and turn---
That is why my cheeks grow pale---
Lady, all for your sake
I am seized with longing.
There is no man in the world so talented
That he can describe all her goodness;
Her neck is whiter than the swan,
And she is the most beautiful girl in the world.

I have been given, etc.

I am worn out with lying awake for love,
Weary as troubled water;
In case anyone steals my partner from me
I have been anxious for a long time.
It is better to suffer greatly for a time
Than mourn for ever;
Kindest of women,
Listen to what I say.

I have been given, etc.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Odd Development from War with Service Providers

People who know me personally know that I hate my local cable company like dogs hate fleas, and for much the same reason. They extract more than I am willing to give, and are an at least intermittent irritant. So, when I moved into new non-mom-memory laden apartment, I was already primed for a storm of vitriol and the shame that follows because they treat me (and everyone else) really badly, and I let them get away with it. And the vitriol was compounded by the fact that we were recently snowed in for about six months in Northern Virginia. So, new apartment, plus boredom, plus no cable and intertubes. Rage.

Then the snow was finally cleared, and the cable company called to reschedule, and then kept me on hold for 30 minutes. Hate that. Then they skipped a few more appointments. Hate that more, because I was trapped in the apartment without actually being quite TRAPPED after just being freed, you know? And all for nothing. So, I called. And I said "I am extremely displeased with the service I am receiving from your company." and detailed the non-emergency related eff-ups of the past few weeks. And the dude on the other end of the phone said, "Well, ma'am, what are you going to do? Do you want to be without television?" And I thought that was a fair question. Cable Co has a monoploy in my area, and they suck.

So, I reflected. AND GUESS WHAT? My life has been quite a bit better without television. I mean, the back to back blizzards sucked, and being stuck waiting for cable dude that never showed was really annoying. But being without TV and intertubes has made me read a lot more, and work out a lot more, and go out to all the free museums around here a lot more. Despite being just moved in, my apartment is together and cute-ish. I went to see a production of Richard II. I had a dinner party at which I griped about Bushy and Green being 'dispatched' on Bolingbroke's orders with a pistol. In 1399. (I'll bet they were never expecting that.) And asked my friends what they thought of all the fiftyeleven minutes of backstory before Richard II started where I remember it starting. I am Niles Crane, apparently, because I still enjoyed myself while having some reservations about the production. But my therapist has declared me sane, anyway!

So I called cable back, and informed them that I've decided I really do want to be without TV. They were not expecting that.

Friends are mocking me for "Going Henry David" on them, but that's OK. I have a library card. I am writing from the library now. I am really enjoying my break from watching idiots try to outwit each other on islands and in apartments and at fat camp for prizes or jobs or the public shame that passes for fame now. So, while I have classes to teach and homework to grade and limited free time, I'm cable-monopoly free.