Friday, February 27, 2009

10 minutes to forever

Friday afternoon. Dark, cloudy, late February.

Today was an institute day. I went to Streamwood High School to attend a workshop on persuasive writing. I thought I would come away with some lessons and strategies for teaching this, but it was instead about the ACT test and how to prepare students for it. We looked at and critiqued different essay responses, but did not focus on any teaching strategies. Too bad.

After attending many conferences this past year, I've discovered teachers are a difficult lot to teach. There's always a veteran know-it-all who wants to hog the forum and pontificate. When groups break out for discussion, they never shut up when the speaker wishes to resume. One conference leader brought a chime bell to ring when class needed to resume. I found this to be effective, if a bit insulting. Teachers need to amass at least 25 CPDUs (Continuing Professional Development Units.) a year to maintain certification, but if you have a master's degree this requirement does not apply to you. I have over 30 CPDUs I do not need.

Job security is a major concern right now. The district is letting first year teachers go left and right. I am not too worried because in a way I'm eager to test the job market with updated credentials, including the two student teaching awards and resultant letter of recommendation from NIU's president of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I got my job last April without these on my resume. But, having said all that, I'm happy where I'm at and like the students I work with. Ironically, the most difficult group, my low-achieving middle-schoolers, are now my best-behaved and most enjoyable students to work with. And they have made the most visible improvements over the course of the year. I'd like to take all the credit, but they've done all the work.

My freshmen are reading There Are No Children Here and, for the most part, enjoy the true-life account of life in inner-city Chicago. As I wrote in a letter to author Alex Kotlowitz, requesting he speak to my class (he lives in the suburbs so it's worth a shot), my students can relate to the harscrabble existence endured by the Rivers family in the book.

After this, we are going to spend about three weeks working on a research paper, then it's right on into Romeo and Juliet until the end of the year. Tempus fugit.

My life away from teaching is fairly boring, but an update is in order.

Jonny is doing well. We've been working in identifying numbers and letters. He's still potty-training. He thinks it's funny to run away when it's time to be changed. I sometimes worry that he is not potty-trained yet, but like one fellow parent said, "you don't see any teenagers running around in diapers."

I've been going on hikes in area forest preserves. Very wet trails these days. Deer galore, herds of 20 or more are seen every hike.

I just finished reading All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. His spare style took a little getting used to, but I like road trip novels and enjoy the borderlands territory, though I've only explored it in California and Arizona, not Texas as in the novel. The next book I want to read by McCarthy is Suttree because it's about a character who eschews wealth to live on the fringe of society. I guess I can relate to that. Then, it's on to Cities of the Plain, the last book in the Border Trilogy. I started it before All the Pretty Horses, but then stopped because I erroneously thought the books all connected and I wanted to read them in order.

I saw a couple cool documentaries this week, Starbucking, about Winter, this crazy guy who is on a mission to visit every Starbucks in the world, and Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story, about people who put other people's words to music for money. I guess there's a station online that is dedicated to these. If I had more than 10 minutes I'd post a link. That will have to wait another time.

That's it. Time's up. Once again people are staring at me because I type so fast! Yeowtch!

Monday, February 02, 2009

25 random things facts

This 25 random facts thing is making the Facebook rounds, so I thought I'd post mine on the blog. These are just off the top of my head in no certain order.

1. I love my job, but am worried about the future. Job security is nil right now.

2. I have no pets, and no plans to get any. Not even a goldfish.

3. I'm alone often and often lonely, but I manage... even without a pet.

4. I wonder if fish oil really increases brain function.

5. I can do the word jumble in the Trib without writing anything down. That includes the Sunday magazine.

6. I do crossword puzzles in pen. The NY Times one is super tough for me after Wednesday.

7. I've never held a job longer than two and a half years, but there are very few gaps in employment.

8. Since leaving my childhood home, I've never lived in one place longer than two and a half years.

9. I've given away more books than I own.

10. Playing guitar is good therapy. So is focusing on my breathing. Doing both at the same time is transcendent bliss.

11. My favorite domestic swill beer is Old Style. I like the scenery on the can and make up imaginary dialogue for the guy sitting on the stump and the other guy sitting at a picnic table.

12. I'm systematically exploring parks and forest preserves in Chicagoland using a Rand McNally atlas that lists every street and park in a 7-county area.

13. I would make a good homeless person because I'm used to living outside.

14. When I was a teenager, my favorite Marvel Comics character was Uatu, the Watcher. A close second was the Molecule Man, the hero of Secret Wars II. Both characters are infinitely powerful, yet choose to remain obscure.

15. Despite the self-centered nature of this post, I'm a pretty good listener.

16. Small things, like early morning golden sun on the treetops, make my day.

17. I consider my life to be pretty boring, but wouldn't have it any other way right now.

18. I wish I could see my son more and worry how my absence affects him. I also worry that my absence doesn't affect him at all.

19. When I go for long walks I think about finances, failed relationships, and complicated plays on words that make me chuckle aloud and passersby think I'm loony.

20. Old friends make me feel awkward and nostalgic... for the first five minutes at least, and then it's like time never passed.

21. One of my recent favorite movies is Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World. I can really relate to the oddballs who live in Antarctica and sometimes feel like that penguin who's walking the wrong way.

22. I just found out that Toad Hall is still open and plan to go back soon.

23. I plan to section hike the rest of the Arizona Trail and the entire Continental Divide Trail over the next 10 years or so.

24. I'd planned to sleep outside 100 nights last year, but only made it to 35. Maybe I'll reach 100 this year.

25. Age is inevitable, but getting old is a choice I'll never make.