Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Tradition

In the Solomon household, we have, like many other families, our own holiday traditions that we must keep, because it's The Law. Such traditions include running around like maniacs on Christmas Eve (although I personally tend not to do that - that's what Amazon is for, darnit - the exception being that I decided to bake oatmeal cream cheese butterscotch bars, so I needed to run to the grocery store today for a few items); wrapping presents; doing the last minute baking or decorating of baked goods (frosting the cookies; making marzipan for the fruitcake); going to Midnight Mass. (A number of years ago, the first year I moved out of my parents', I was living in downtown Allentown, where my parish was the seat of the diocese, so Mom, Oma, and I went; the bishop was the main celebrant. This was a glorious Mass; all the stops had been pulled out.)

Most importantly, it's time for decorating the tree (generally after dinner) while listening to Johnny Mathis. Apparently soon after they got married, my father introduced my mother to the requirement of listening to Johnny. Mom, of course, threw up her hands in despair but couldn't talk to Dad out of it, so the tradition has stuck for the duration of their marriage (40 years this year). Justin and I used to groan each year, of course - was Johnny Mathis ever cool? - but now it's part of the tradition; Justin especially has grokked on this and has been known to insist on said music even when Dad expressed ambivalence.

The only thing that disappointed me during my visit to Salt Lake last week was that I didn't have any Johnny Mathis in my iTunes collection, the result of which being I couldn't indoctrinate Ed; the poor guy doesn't know what he's signed up for. Today I found two of Johnny Mathis Christmas collections and imported them into iTunes, so next year I'll be better prepared.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Utah Trip Highlights

I've spent the past week in Salt Lake City; tomorrow I'm heading back to Allentown. It's been a really good week; I'm surprised how much I liked it here. Everyone is insanely friendly, like while I was stopped at a corner, waiting to cross the street, a random woman in a car going around a corner looked out at me, smiled, and waved. I took pictures. (Not of the friendly people.)

  • Saturday: Ed surprised me with a Christmas tree, already set up at home, so we acquired some ornaments, put on music, and decorated the tree. 
  • Monday: lunch at the Lion House Pantry; Black Holes at Clark Planetarium; Christmas lights in Temple Square. I got a bit sappy, but it was just so pretty, one of the best Christmas displays I've ever seen.
  • Tuesday: I got to sit in a cockpit of a CRJ200. This was extremely cool, getting to see and touch a whole bunch of controls up close. I let Ed to the talking and otherwise shut up, smiled, and tried to look professional so I'd look normal. Yay for escort privileges into otherwise restricted areas. (Also! I got to sit in the captain's side! Yes, I'm dweebing out. Deal with it.)
  • Also Tuesday: a really nice dinner at Log Haven. We drove through the mountains to get to the place, and the further up we drove, the more snow appeared; the trees looked very lacey, the higher up we drove. Walking through the parking lot was a bit tenuous (huzzah for snow at high altitude), but dinner was amazing, and the surroundings were quiet and peaceful and beautiful.
  • Wednesday: Antelope Island State Park. Got started a bit later than originally planned, but it was beautiful out. We practically had the place to ourselves, so we tromped around and attempted to find the alleged buffalo. (We finally saw one in the distance.) I've never heard such absolute silence before. 
  • Thursday: Watched a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal, which they apparently open up to the public regularly. We heard "Carol of the Bells" and "Hallelujah Chorus" (which was amazing to hear live), and a few other pieces.
  • Friday: an organ concert, given by organist Bonnie Goodliffe, at the Conference Center. This is one impressive organ, by the way. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fun With Work

It's been a really long time between updates, which is not always a bad thing (and sometimes it's necessary if nothing much has been happening), but I've been a busy girl lately.

Work at the daycare is (I think) going well. It's a very physical job, but I've finally begun finding my metaphorical groove; I'm more comfortable with the kids, they're more comfortable with me, we're getting to know each other, etc. I'm especially close to a very sensitive four-year-old, M., who can manage to push all my buttons pretty easily, although I have to pretend otherwise if it's a matter of discipline. He wants me to sit with him constantly; wants me to pick him up; wants to sit in my lap; wants to cuddle. I am more highly bothered when I see him cry, although I've made him cry a few times by disciplining him, but more than any of the other children he seems to need my approval, so I'm trying to be careful. One of my co-workers remarked, "He's really taken to you, like white on rice."

A few weeks ago, I applied for a part-time adjunct position at LCCC. About two weeks ago I was called in for an interview; about a week and a half ago I had the interview, and the very next morning I was offered a job of teaching two classes: ENG 100 (Fundamentals of Writing) and ENG 105 (College English I).

I'm now in a position, though, of deciding if it's possible to work both at the daycare and at LCCC. I suspect not: The classes that were offered would require me to leave the daycare about an hour early twice a week, and it doesn't seem too possible to find coverage for that remaining hour and 15 minutes; working part time doesn't appear to be a viable option, either. Teaching two classes at LCCC pays more than full time work at the daycare, plus there's an extremely good chance I'll be working back in their writing center, either as a tutor, or assisting them in growing their writing center. I need to give the daycare three weeks' notice, so I'll have to make a decision imminently.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tales from Day Care (Part II)

A summary of today's adventures: Today we had two birthdays. D.'s grandmother brought in Spiderman cupcakes (cupcakes with either candy Spiderman faces or candy spiders on them), Spiderman plates, Spiderman napkins, and Spiderman cups. One of the little girls actually groaned a bit and asked why boys liked Spiderman so much. I don't think one can answer such a question, to be honest. 

It was also M.'s birthday. Although M. is in the 5-year-old class, he shyly brought around mini-cupcakes to all the teachers, asked me twice if I wanted one, and put one in front of me anyway even after I declined. Lesson learned: Do not deny the cupcake.

I made a child cry today. M. (a different M.) kept running around and yelling (because the day before a holiday and afternoon cupcakes and pseudo-free reign of the Dress Up area of the classroom will equal very bouncy children). I asked him twice to stop, but the third time I sent him to The Table. His poor little face crumbled but I did not feel badly. Perhaps it is a short span of time that has turned me into Teacher Curmudgeon, but when Miss Michelle tells you to stop yelling, she means it. (M. cries at everything. He's very sensitive. If you look at him cross-eyed he becomes upset. He got over it within five minutes.)

Little boy N. wore a pink frilly (is there any other kind?) tutu today for a good long time during Dress Up. Two of the other (older) girls saw him and pointed out to me that N. was wearing a tutu. I said, why, yes, he was, and moved on. Clearly this was the wrong reaction because I was supposed to make N. not want to wear a pink frilly tutu, but who am I to argue with fashion? (I certainly don't have any.)

I am, in fact, a sucker for dimples. Don't ask me why or how I know the effectiveness of dimples even when they're on adults, but they are also especially effective when little girl J. smiles at me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tales from Day Care

Yesterday was the first day of my new job as a teacher in a day care (although my official title is Assistant Teacher), working with Pre-K (which means that many of them are actually three at the moment and will be turning four sometime this year). I think I'll like the job, although getting used to teaching little ones is a bit of a challenge: I know nothing about children's songs or what to sing with them and little of what's available to me in the classroom in terms of activities (although that's being rectified pretty quickly). I was given a schedule during my interview week before last, but the activities that we actually do don't seem to align (in my mind) with what they're called, but I suspect that's due to my own lack of ECE background.

It took the morning for the kids to get used to me (and for me to get used to them), but by afternoon things were going more smoothly. (And also, I'm going to be a complete pushover; it's just a matter of time.) By the end of the day yesterday:
* One little girl admitted she was always scared of new people, but once she got used to them, things got better. I agreed, and said I was the same way. She looked at me, squinted a bit, and nodded slowly (approval won).
* Another little girl hugged me several times and let me carry her around.
* Several kids offered random tidbits of very useful information, like the names of siblings,  what they were getting for Christmas, and examples of their artistic and creative brilliance.
* One little boy, overhearing music playing in the background, asked me what a booty was. (Seriously, why is a song that mentions that even being played on Disney-approved radio? Do these people not know that kids overhear everything?)
* Another little boy, having gotten whacked with some blocks, tugged on my shirt and looked up at me with huge watery brown eyes about the size of his head to tell me what happened (leaky nose and everything). I picked him up, we sat down on one of those little chairs that are not designed for adults, and we just cuddled for a bit. The director of the center, Jacquie, walked by and guffawed ("That kid is about to fall asleep on you.").

By the end of the day today, a few of the kids were crawling all over me and giggling madly. It's easy to be silly. (Also, dramatic flair is always good to have in situations when they attempt to put plastic food toys on your feet.) Booty boy only mentioned his new favorite word in passing.

* I was greeted at the door of my classroom by M., who ran up to me grinning happily, arms outstretched for a welcoming hug.
* A few of the boys deemed kisses icky (but caused massive fits of giggles if another boy got kisses), although kisses from mommies and daddies were nice (maybe - depending on the boy who volunteered his approval or disapproval).
* One boy informed me that he was not a darling or a sweetie, thank you very much. Ahh, boys.
* Four boys were happily engrossed in playing with a rather pink dollhouse.

They don't need to know that all they have to do is hug me to get me all mushy. Probably better they don't know that right away anyway.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Wedding

As of Friday afternoon, I officially have a sister-in-law. This is pretty cool.

We arrived with no trouble on Thursday around lunch; Justin and Cheng retrieved us from SFO and deposited us at our hotel. It was a pretty mellow day; Mom and Cheng went out for a manicure, after which they met up with Justin and Dad. (I was too beat; I hung out in my room.) We met up with Anne (my aunt) for dinner at Regent Thai, where Cheng works, and ordered a boatload of food and shared (apropos for the occasion, and the food is excellent; I highly recommend it).

Justin and Cheng's wedding itself was very simple - they got married in City Hall (rather impressive, as far as buildings go; it took up an entire city block) on Friday. There was some concern that only six people would be allowed to witness the ceremony, but fortunately the whole slew of us got to watch. We eventually traipsed on over to 54 Mint for whatever meal is between lunch and dinner. (Also experienced: the first wine I've ever had that I liked - a white wine from Milan. I generally don't like wine at all, but this was good stuff. I also tried two different red wines, which were pretty good, but this was a lot of drinking for me.) It was a pretty late night; after we were (nicely) kicked out (there was another party that needed the space), about 10 of us went to another bar to hang out and for more drinks - any excuse to continue the celebrations. I took some not-so-great pictures, and, of course, an obligatory video.

Patrick (my uncle) left late Friday night, and Anne left Saturday morning, so by the time Justin and Cheng had dropped off Anne at SFO, there were just the five of us (Justin and Cheng, Mom, Dad, and myself). We went to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which I happened to visit when I was in San Francisco in March, but on Saturday a serviceably larger Farmer's Market opens up, so it was really cool to poke around. I bought some zapallitos (and I got one for free!), an Argentine summer squash; I've never heard of zapallitos before, but I wanted to see what I might be able to do with them, so I transported them home, and I plan to experiment with them sometime this week:

ustin and Cheng had us over for dinner on Saturday night, and then drove us over to Twin Peaks (about 1,000 feet up), which offered I think the best view of San Francisco I've ever seen. It was late at night - after 10 p.m., at any rate - and very clear, and it was just a gorgeous way to end the weekend. I was sorry to go.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wedding 2009 - Highlight

Justin got married today. More are here, and at some point I'll cobble together a video and add details. For the moment I'm tired, and happy to have witnessed Justin and Cheng's wedding, and hang out with some my family, and Justin and Cheng's friends, who are all amazingly nice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back In Education

Last Thursday I had an interview for a TSS position. I believe the interview went well; I had them process background checks (the ones that seem to be required for any type of job I really want), so I figured that even if the position didn't work out, I'd already have the necessary paperwork completed. There would be various training I would have to complete - not only for the position itself, but CPR and First Aid - and then I could be available for interviews to be held by specific company clients that provide TSS services to students in the region. I may or may not have something put to me before Christmas, but since these schedules are based around the academic year and traditionally-offered 90-day contracts, it would be more likely I would have something for January - maybe. There might sometimes be 15-hour per week contracts offered, with potential of picking up two or three weekly contracts at a stretch, but full time work, and indeed even part-time work, could not be guaranteed. Added to that, besides the travel (to different schools or students' homes), no health care plan would be offered, and I would be responsible for my own taxes, made me a bit wary but I figured that the potential for work was better than the absence thereof - and it does sound like really interesting work, so I wasn't ready to dismiss it.

Friday I had an interview at a day care for a teaching Pre-K (four year olds). Because of my lack of ECE degree my title would be that of a teacher assistant, but as far as I'm concerned, it's teaching (the title seems to matter as much of the pay offered - does anyone go into teaching for the money? - as with state regs).

I liked the director, Jacqui; I thought her fair and direct, which I can appreciate, so I was just as forthcoming with her in terms of my background and what I was comfortable with; I emphasized that although my background is in secondary education, I love the work in whatever form it comes in. I would likely be asking a lot of questions, but I would have no trouble jumping right in. This seemed to be the right tactic to take. Jacqui noted that she'd be very blunt in addressing any issues she saw with my work, but if I had problems with that (and no sarcasm was meant), I could address her in a similar manner and that would be just fine. This is a relief: In previous jobs I had managers who never let me know where I stood; it was one of the worse aspects of working in a cube farm. In this case, I got pretty much the entire lowdown: regular working hours Monday through Friday; health care offered after six months; six paid holidays a year, but not the day before or after; three weeks' notice if I wanted to quit (it's in the contract I'll be signing). My wanting to start next week, and already having made plans to fly to Utah for a week in mid-December, were not issues.

Jacqui said she didn't want to offer the job on the spot; I was to go home and consider it, and call her back by the end of the day to let her know whether I was interested. I called a few hours later to express interest, after which I received a return phone call offering me the position. (I suspect that my calling back a few hours later gave Jacqui an idea how serious I was about the position, and let her consider whether I'd be a good fit. This was fair.) I'll be starting November 23rd.

I'm delighted to be working with four year olds; right now, I need hands-on work that puts me into contact with a lot of people; it'll be good for my mental state. (You simply can't be grumpy around an age group that's likely to run up and hug you in sheer happiness at seeing you. And I'm a pushover for little kids anyway.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Background Checks

This afternoon I have an interview for a therapeutic staff support position. It sounds like a really interesting gig, combining teaching (I have some experience in this field), special education (which I have peripheral experience in), and mental health (I have some experience in this field, too). Essentially, the position would entail my providing behavioral modification support to children who (from what I understand) have to cope with learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, autism, etc. It's a contract position, which means no health insurance, and taxes aren't taken out of whatever I'd earn, nor are contracts guaranteed, but it sounds like interesting work that I could do well.

But this being an overlapping field of education, health care, and mental health, there are a lot of background checks involved. In order to complete my application packet, the following credentials are required:

  • PA Criminal Clearance ($10)
  • PA Child Abuse Clearance ($10)
  • FBI Clearance - Cogent Fingerprint ($38.50) - must be Dept. of Education, not DPW
  • CPR/FA - must be child and adult (if training is needed: cost $55)
  • Training for TSS ($20)
  • Physical/PPD
  • Evaluated college degree and official transcripts
  • References (3)
I guess one of the reasons one jumps through so many hoops is to filter out the folks who aren't as serious about this type of work. It's not that big a hassle to get the clearances - it just takes a bit of time - but I could see how people would be turned off on choosing a career in any of these fields, based on the necessary paperwork alone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Education Policy & Politics

Yesterday there were elections all over the place, except that I've been focusing on so many other things lately, I forgot that I needed to reregister in Pennsylvania. So this afternoon I printed out the form and filled it out, but then I started reconsidering the specific political parties. I was never a very political person, but the older I get, the more interested I've become. I am decidedly not a Republican (although I do have a conservative streak), but since the last presidential election I've begun researching the differences between the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party. I've been reading their platforms; many of the issues are those that I'm ambivalent about, or don't have enough information about (my own fault) to have an informed opinion on. But when it comes down to education, I have plenty of opinions, and I have enough of a background (having gone through a teacher preparation program; and being raised by two teachers; being a second generation teacher on one side and a third generation teacher on the other) to have an inkling if the education platforms are on the right track.

The Libertarian Party platform covers a rather short paragraph (section 2.8) about education: "Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education."

I absolutely believe parents should be very involved in their child's education, yet I'm led to consider the options of financially poor parents and families if they can't afford to provide for their children. Simply advising them to not have children, or to plan better for their future, or to get better jobs, is not practical. Even the better educated don't always have the financial where-with-all even for college; I know extremely few people who have ever managed to go to college without accruing debt, yet most professional careers require a two-year or four-year degree; mine requires an advanced degree, and let me tell you, teachers are paid very badly for their time and couldn't afford to go without assistantships, financial aid, etc. I could not pay for any of my degrees (my A.A., or my B.A., and now my M.A.) out of pocket. I'm up to my ears in student loans, which I'll be paying off for a long time - and I consider this totally, completely, entirely worth it. If I had gone to college at 18, my parents would have been stuck with repayment of student loans - and my parents both have advanced degrees themselves. To my mind, and simply for me alone, an advanced degree is a basic level of education, but I recognize that not everyone requires such a level of education. I do think everyone has a right to a basic level of education - high school, at the bare minimum - without having to accrue debt. And as a community, it is our responsibility to pay it forward. When I'm old, I don't want someone undereducated taking care of me because I wouldn't support that person's education.

My opinions are much more in line with the Democratic Party's platform on education (starting on page 19): "We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom...We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.

"We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process..."

"We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education...We have to hold ourselves accountable."

Generally speaking, I can support the idea of less government involvement - in some cases. However, a basic education (however you want to define it - I define it as high school and some form of advanced training, which need not necessarily be college) is simply something that when missing, adversely affects a population. Critical thinking falls by the wayside; communication and outright curiosity about the surrounding world decreases, and then the next thing you know, we've become a population of sheep. (My brother made the comment to me a year or two ago that he thought I should consider a career in the non-profit sector or public policy. He might be on to something.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oktoberfest & Halloween

Last Friday, Mom had an Oktobefest at her school. I went in to "help," which really just meant I brought the coolers and some bags of ice, and then sat around, ate their food, and took various pictures. I think the kids had a good time.

Last night was Trick or Treating in Emmaus. I don't know why it's always on a Thursday, regardless of the actual date of Halloween; it's just the tradition around here. In any case, we took turns manning the door, and despite my secret fear of children younger than 14, there were some pretty cute kids, including the kid with the Darth Vader head gear that was bigger than the rest of him; the two year old with the pacifier in the Winnie the Pooh suit; and the preteen girl who told me proudly, after I admired her dress, that she was a butterfly princess.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The News

A lot has changed in the past couple of weeks. I've written details elsewhere, but mostly I've been doing a lot of what might be called "living in my head" for the past two weeks.

Chris and I parted ways, not under the best of circumstances, but breakups are never under any kind of circumstances other than bad anyway. There were some residual conversations and arguments and all the rest of it, but I think that the most painful parts are over with, and at this point just begins the process of getting on with it. I'm back in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, relegated to staying with my parents, who are being as supportive as they can, but no one wants to move back home with her parents, even under the best of circumstances.

I'm unmotivated in revising my thesis at the moment. I've never been great at multi-tasking, and the inherent and total lack of money I have at the moment seems a tad more pressing. I've settled into a routine of applying for five to ten jobs a day, which has been easier to do some days than others. So far I've had two companies express interest (one company left a message; I returned their call three times but have yet to hear back); I had an interview yesterday from a second company. I've been alternating between applying for jobs that are likely to just hire people more quickly, but which tend to pay less; and jobs that would allow me to use my mind and my education, jobs that pay more but that tend to be offered by companies that take longer to act.  I want to be able to pay my own bills again, and I won't feel better about myself, or more like myself, until I can make that happen again. It's been awhile.

Laura and I have been discussing renting a house together, down in Lancaster County, where she's been living for a while. I went to visit her last weekend; it's a beautiful area, complete with Amish buggies all over the place, lots of country, and I like it. I could happily live there until I figure out my next step, however long that takes. Of course, all this hinges on my getting a job and being able to save enough to move out. Various friends have been incredibly supportive, offering me places to stay for the weekend or longer as respite, to allow me some space, to not place any demands on me. This has been really helpful, especially since in the cases of Laura and Maria who have had their own issues to wade through, but have been checking up on me regularly. Justin, Ed, Steph, and Brian have also been keeping tabs on me, and allowing me to get all weepy as necessary; thankfully I'm not feeling too alone at the moment.

Last week was difficult. It's a weird place to be in. I want simultaneously to be left alone and fussed at, although things have been a bit better the past couple days.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I spent the weekend in upstate New York, hanging out with the family. Ciara is turning 16 next week, so nine of us descended on my aunt's home outside Albany: me, Mom, Dad, Anne & Bill (of course), Patrick, and Bill's sister Harriet and her daughter. Ciara has turned out to be really cool and I enjoy her a lot. We're finally at the stage where we can talk about the good stuff. She told me she'd wished she had more of a chance to visit with me this weekend, which made me get a bit teary, because I adore her to pieces. I had a really good time and although I'm glad to be home, I really enjoyed spending the time with my family.

In family-related news: I got a link to Aidan's new film, which apparently was completed last August, but Patrick only gave me the link last night. I'm probably biased, but I think his latest is really good. Rather trippy.  

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Vendy Awards

I've been seriously lax in blogging lately, although to be honest there's not much to report. Chris and I went to the Vendy Awards this afternoon. It was a gorgeous day: sunny, cool, and breezy. We wandered through Flushing Meadows Corona Park, admired the Unisphere, ate a lot of food. I took a lot of pictures. And I made a video!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Summer of George

I wish it were the summer of George, but alas, I have nothing new going on at the moment. No word on jobs. No progress on the thesis. It's just been quiet, which makes me fidget, but no other real news.

Chris and I did drive upstate to visit his parents this weekend; we're leaving early tomorrow. Thursday we celebrated his mother's birthday, and on Friday the lot of us went to the Fonda Fair: Chris, his parents, his sister, her husband, and me. The only thing that could have made the fair better is having been able to go on the rides, but no one else seems to be interested.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born Rich

Jamie Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, made a documentary in 2003 called Born Rich (which one can watch online, thanks to Google Video); it's a film in which Johnson interviews friends and family regarding the struggles and lifestyle that comes with having such extremely large amounts of money. I found it to be an interesting film, and watched it again with Chris some time later. A couple of years later, in 2006, he made another documentary called The One Percent, in which he explores the rationale and connection between the wealthiest one percent of Americans controlling half the wealth of the United States. It's not a film I've seen yet; I haven't been able to find it being shown on TV, but both DVDs are available for purchase so at some point I think I'll buy them.

A couple of things were especially interesting about Born Rich. Many of the young heirs had foregone needing to find a career to support themselves. I remember several of those interviewed professing anxiety, almost as though they were overwhelmed by choice. There had been elements of not knowing what their options were, not having enough sense of themselves to know what they wanted to do professionally, if anything. This is not an uncommon problem: Many college kids, and those who are older, also have the issue of not knowing themselves well enough, nor having enough sense of their talents or interests, to know what they want to do professionally. The difference is that the rest of us need to work in some capacity in order to fund ourselves. Either you're going to discover what you want to do career-wise, or you're not; either you're going to get a chance to do that work, or you're not; but in any case you're going to have to work. If you're not required to, you are likely less in a position of evaluating yourself.

In Googling ways that I might find, watch, and/or buy  Born Rich and The One Percent, I discovered that Jamie Johnson write regularly for Vanity Fair; he writes a weekly column called (not surprisingly)  "The One Percent." In his June 26th column, Johnson quoted Cody Franchetti (an Italian baron) as saying: “[M]ost people do not understand 'that splendor is not comfort.'" This immediately struck me as true; I think many who do not have wealth but want it very badly confuse wealth with comfort. While it's true there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing that one is not likely to ever be poor, that one can pay one's bills, and buy whatever is wanted, I remain unconvinced that this is always comfort, unless you're happy with what you have.  It's unfortunate that such a high proportion of the comments left for Johnson on Vanity Fair are negative and derogatory; many voice nasty opinions that deride the rich simply because they have a lot of money.

I have to be careful, though, too; I have to remind myself to make the distinction between those who have a lot of money and those who feel a sense of entitlement
because they have money. There might be a fine line, but I've learned to distinguish this while living on Long Island, which I tend to dislike because of the blatant entitlement that so many people here have. It's overpowering when you come in from the outside, as I have (someone who is neither native New Yorker nor even a native Long Islander). Not everyone has that attitude; I would even say that most people don't. Certainly my friends don't act that way (if they did, we wouldn't be friends), and several of my previous landlords have not had that attitude either, but it is culturally pervasive here. My friends' salaries do not impress me; they are immaterial. I want enough of a salary to be comfortable, but I find I don't really care if I never earn a six-figure salary. This is partly pragmatic; as a teacher I'm not likely to earn a six-figure salary. But I'm also very okay with that, and I'm very comfortable with whatever salary I'll earn because for me it's enough.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Importance of Grammar

It's especially important and relevant when it comes to traffic safety.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Choosing A Religion

I remain one of the few people I know who was regularly taken to church as a child and who as an adult still attends Mass weekly. Most people I know are not religious; perhaps they weren't brought up to go weekly; they categorize themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious"; they categorize themselves as belonging to a specific religion but don't attend services - for whatever reason - except for the Really Important Ones (Christmas & Easter); and/or they've outright lost their faith. I suspect that in many religious cultures (and here I speak primarily of Christian cultures since it's the one I know best), there simply isn't the same stress placed on going to services each and every week as there is in Catholicism - although I know of only one or two other Catholics my age who go to Mass weekly.

I was watching this video tonight about the declining numbers of churchgoers in Sweden, described as traditionally Lutheran (in the same way that Ireland is traditionally Catholic). The presenter introduced one young couple who had three young children who had baptized, but the parents didn't attend regular services; and as such, the presenter asked why they didn't take attend services more regularly. The parents said that they were quite busy, often worked weekends, and that the services weren't all that interesting. The mother added that she believed it important that children learn to find their own religious path. I agree that it's important that children find their own path, but I have trouble with not introducing them to any religion such that they don't know the basic theological tenets. In my mind, not taking the kids to church (or to the synagogue, mosque, etc.) is much the same as saying, "I'd like my child to find a good career, but I'm not going to send her to school to expose her to the possibilities. She can choose to learn and study what she'd like later in life; she can figure that out for herself down the line." The lack of guidance concerns me.

Should I ever have children, I plan on bringing them to Mass and giving them all the sacraments. They may decide that Catholicism is not for them, but in having been exposed to one set of practices, I hope to teach them how to differentiate between what they believe is important, and have that as a basis for a religious point of departure. I also have to admit they won't wander far but I'd rather they have some belief system as opposed to none.

As a side note, I find I'm genuinely confused about the difference between "spiritual" and "religious." I wish someone would explain how they differentiate between the two; to me, they're the same.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Media & Academic Careers

I read an interesting blog entry this evening on Inside Higher Ed, in which the blogger - a community college dean - responded to a reader-sent question of the potential impact of social networking & social media on one's career, specifically for the over-40 crowd. I'm a couple of years off from being 40, and I came to college late anyway so in being ensconced in teacher training the classmates with whom I've been studying have generally been under 25 (except in grad school, where the average age ranged much more). The anonymous blogger notes that he hasn't actually seen social media be as much of an issue, and not for anyone in mid-career (which I can rather see the point of).

Yet I got to thinking.

About five years ago, when I was in the middle of my undergraduate degree but beginning my teacher education courses, my Methods I professor had "The Talk" with us: We needed to be careful how we presented ourselves online because it was feasible that employers would Google us. This was not news to me - I was in my late 20s and had worked full-time prior to going back to college - but it was a surprise to many of my classmates, who were not yet used to thinking of themselves professionally. This was not altogether surprising, since many of my classmates were a number of years younger than I. We had several discussions on what was suitable, right down to e-mail addresses and the impression we might make by having one that is inappropriate.

But it's not just for the under 22 crowd that runs into this problem: One of my aspiring writer friends - a woman with whom I've been friends for more than 10 years - was surprised, at least momentarily, when I pointed out to her that since she was publishing some of her creative writing on a blog, she might want to clean up her grammatics lest a potential publisher come to the conclusion that she is unable to edit effectively. It simply hadn't occurred to her that there would be any of this type of reaction, which struck me as odd because I thought one of the reasons she published her stories on a blog was to gain exposure.

I feel like applied to millions of jobs, but I'm very aware of how I present myself online. I have a Web site (which has sample lesson plans and two versions of my CV); a number of blogs; profiles on FaceBook, MySpace, and LinkedIn; and accounts on multiple other sites (FriendFeed, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.). Even though potential employers may not Google me, I take care to at least write well enough to be thought of as someone who can spell (I'm pretty sure I'm not being judged for occasional typos, although one can only hope); I voice opinions and express frustrations on the subject of topics I care about, but I do not lampoon anyone. In other words, I keep it clean. I don't want to be thought of as an idiot.

It matters less personally than professionally, perhaps; I don't really care if someone disagrees with an opinion I voice, but I don't want a principal or chair of an English department thinking that I might not be a good person to interview because I can't express myself well. (Someone please tell me if I'm not expressing myself well!)

From the viewpoint of an employee, it may be easy for many to overlook the Internet as being global if one isn't thinking in those terms, but if hiring committees aren't considering the electronic trail many of us keep, it may be easy for the employee to overlook that perception.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Financial Rewards

Via the miracle that is Twitter, I was pointed to an article that advises students to choose a major that would lead to a career that pays well, however one might define that. The following equation jumped out at me: College Major = Interest + Financial Rewards.

My first thought after (well...while) reading this article was that if I wanted a job that would pay "well," I certainly wouldn't have gone into secondary education. We English teachers are a dime a dozen, and being that I live in the NYC metro area and there being a hiring freeze in NYC public schools, it would seem I chose a poor time to be in search of a job in that field.

I do admit that while the size of the (future) paycheck didn't affect my desire to teach, but aside from my genuine love of teaching, I did choose to go into teaching partly because I knew there to be some job security after retirement. I'll never become rich teaching, but I will have other benefits that I view as just as important after I retire, benefits that may actually allow me to retire. Plus, there are kids all over the damn place that need teaching, so it's hardly likely that the need for teachers will dissipate.

That being said, not everyone can or is likely to choose a career or college major based on the ever important (and highlighted) financial rewards. Choosing a major does not guarantee having the chance to use that degree anyway, so one may as well major in something that one loves or is likely to be interested in. While thinking of the recent graduate who is suing her alma mater because she hasn't been able to find a job after she graduated, I'm also thinking of my cousin Bronwyn, who just entered a conservatory this summer as a violinist. I can imagine the author of this article advising her not to follow her passion for music because of its uncertainty - but aren't all careers ultimately uncertain anyway? I just spent six years obtaining two degrees I may never use, in an allegedly stable field. Financial rewards are consistently tenuous.

I suppose the issue at hand - what the author had really wanted to assert, at least partly - is that many students don't actually spend time considering how they'll use the degree they're in the midst of obtaining. Many students might not even know flavor of career they want anyway, and just pick a major and hope for the best. (Inexplicably, English and psychology seem to be two of the more popular choices, which sucks for those of us who know how we want to use our degrees. Hello, overcrowded survey classes!) But one of the things one would hope would happen is that while a student is in college, she would be exposed to a raft of other skills she would like to develop, or other interests she might wish to follow. (I took an extremely interesting class in old English. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it, and I would consider taking more classes and adding that field of study to my professional repertoire.)

I recently downloaded a podcast called Programs & Advice for Music Students, published by the USC Thornton School of Music. What was especially interesting about it was that I heard several of the teachers say that they encouraged their students to learn several different skills - conducting, for example, or composition, and a few different instruments - in addition to their primary instrument because not only would might they discover new skills, but the students would become prepared to support themselves financially. (One teacher said he usually had several things going on at the same time - composing, directing, performing, speaking engagements, etc.)

Financial rewards are tenuous; what I wish we taught more of is the creativity of using those degrees in different ways, on the basis and understanding that, professionally, not everyone gets to do what they want.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Red Hook

Not much of a post, but today I took a drive out to Brooklyn. I wanted to go to DUBPies in Cobble Hill. (Completely worth the trip; I picked up four pies: Thai chicken curry, steak & cheese, chicken & vegetable, and Tex Mex vegetarian. Really good stuff.) I cruised over to Steve's Authentic for a couple swingles too. It was a nice day out and I hung out at the pier, and enjoyed the sun and the flowers and just being outside. (Steve's Authentic is in an old brick warehouse on one of the piers, and you can see lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, so it was cool to just stretch my legs and walk around for a bit.) The drive home was pretty terrible - bumper to bumper all the way from the time I got on the BQE until I got off the LIE (took about an hour to get fewer than 8 miles).

Enjoy some video handiwork:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Universal Healthcare

On FaceBook, the stupid quizzes are spiraling out of control - polls that ask whether you'd vote for Obama again, whether you support Universal Healthcare, etc. I tend not to partake in the polls because, quite frankly, I find them irritating and pointless, and I don't want my profile clogged with all manner of polls that reflect the opinion I'd rather just discuss with people. It's interesting to note, though, that of the friends who have completed those two FaceBook polls in particular ("Would you vote for Obama again today?" / "Are you in favor of a government-run healthcare system?"), the responses have unilaterally been "I did not vote for him the first time" (or "no") and "no," respectively. These are mostly from self-identifying Republicans or from those who wouldn't have voted for Obama. I've begun to wonder whether the people who voted against Obama are also against universal healthcare because Obama is supporting it; I wonder if a conservative or Republican candidate had endorsed universal healthcare would garner their support.

These types of polls are an irritant because they don't allow for discussion as to why folks are against universal healthcare. I know admittedly less about such an issue than I should, so I'm doing some reading on the topic, but my initial reaction is one of support. I think it oversimplified to state that "[w]hen half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation." This, to my mind, is lumping the uninsured into one category when there is so much more to the issue than that, and so many degrees and levels of assistance that need to be provided. I think it imperative to view the country as one large community in which all are entitled and deserve a basic level of care and compassion.

I could make this personal and say that I would love to be working enough that I had my healthcare provided by my employer; with unemployment hovering between nine and ten per cent, though, finding a job that provides this is difficult (especially with there being a hiring free in the New York City Department of Education). I do not want to be a burden; I do not want to have to ask for help if I needed care. And right now, that's not really a problem - no one's offering. I think there's a sense of social responsibility to care for others who cannot care for themselves. Making the distinction between those who can't take care of themselves versus those who won't take care of themselves seems to be the real issue in withholding health care and similar services.

This article states that universal health care "(a euphemism for socialized medicine) is both immoral and impractical; it violates the rights of businessmen, doctors, and patients to act on their own judgment." I would say this need not be the case.

There's a lot of detail in these arguments, and I've really only begun thinking about this issue of universal healthcare. The fact that a few friends are against it so vehemently got me to thinking about it. We do need a more comprehensive plan that covers those who really, sincerely need the help. I don't know what the answer is; maybe it's universal healthcare, and perhaps it's not, but I'm not ready to dismiss the possibility out of turn just yet. I would like to hear arguments that provide practical, implementable solutions, as opposed to just hearing why universal healthcare won't work.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Scary Application Process

For several reasons, I am bothered that there are services like those mentioned in this article. First, that's a lot of money to pay for a service that helps you get your ducks in a row when planning for and applying to college. Second, It seems to be directed at students who "need" to attend Ivy League universities, potentially on the (mistaken) presumption that if they don't attend such a university their college experience won't be worthwhile. There's a bit of false advertising in some these services that are offered by those who claim to have an inside advantage (i.e., claiming to have insider knowledge that really any teacher would have; or worse, a guaranteed acceptance). And what about students who have a genuine need of the help sorting through college information but can't afford it?

What passed through my mind, unfairly, was the suspicion that the parents who pay for these services are Ivy Leaguers themselves - and/or are very wealthy parents - who don't have much of a clue about how to guide their children through the college application process. What it takes, though, would be talking to the teachers on a regular basis - not just once a year, if that - as well as the school's guidance counselors and administration. Preparing for and applying to college isn't as difficult as some would lead you to believe, but I also recognize that my parents and grandmother, being college-educated and teachers, had a level of comfort in the application process that most students parents don't have.

Here in New York City, in 1970 CUNY schools implemented the nation's first "open admissions" policy (guaranteeing any NYC student who graduated from a NYC high school a place at a CUNY school). Even today many students are still the first in their families to go to college; many come from families who haven't even graduated from high school. When you don't know the first thing about going on to higher education, you don't know all the ins-and-outs, not only of what colleges might be looking for, but of financial aid, campus life, how to determine if a school is a good fit, etc.

I would love to see more guidance counselors at urban high schools, and I would love to see these guidance counselors specifically trained to deal with a population that could prepare these students more, either in getting them to and through college or some manner of career training program. A college degree is not synonymous with intelligence, nor is it a guarantee of success (however defined), but preparation in any form for life beyond high school is imperative. I would love to see more students have access to that training.

The programs mentioned in The New York Times just make me wary.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What "English Education" Means

I was reading this article, submitted to a community college dean, in which a reader questioned the wisdom behind getting an English Education degree - in this particular case, an M.A. in English Education. Reading the response, and a few of the comments, I realized that there is a tenuous grasp regarding what an English education degree actually is. I've encountered some confusion held by teachers at the university level who have never taught at the secondary (or primary) level. I'm not sure I agree that it's a "hybrid degree," since it tends to be geared towards those who wish to teach at the secondary level. There are a lot of overlapping certifications - even I don't know what they are are, but aside from elementary education and secondary education certifications, there are also certifications for Early Childhood, Special Education, Birth to Age X, etc. And the grades that are encompassed are dependent on the state. In New York secondary certification ensconces grades seven through 12, but you can teach grade six if you're working in a school (building) that includes grades seven and eight. In Illinois, secondary certificates are valid for students in grades six through 12. And then there are the Initial Certificates, Permanent Certificates, Provisional Certificates, Transitional Certificates, and so on. Each state has its own definitions. I can barely keep track of the requirements for my own certification.

And then there are the differences between the requirements of a teacher preparation program and an education degree. Universities offer either a teacher preparation program or a degree in education, not both. Teacher prep programs differ from school to school in terms of where they are housed; at Stony Brook Univ., while there was no Education Department, there was a Professional Education Program, although the directors of each teacher preparation program were professors in their own departments.As I did, one graduates with a degree in the subject (in my case, English), as well as teacher certification (assuming one passed all the state exams), no matter which level of student they are (undergraduate or graduate level). I figured that the training I got through a teacher education program would give me enough of a foundation when it comes to teaching, and that experience and networking will teach the rest. I'd personally rather be familiarized with subject matter: Expose me to more authors, more styles of writing, more media interpretation. I can observe how my teachers teach; I can analyze their teaching styles and methods and usurp those methods and decide what works and what doesn't.

Education degrees come at it from a different angle: There's more an emphasis on education pedagogy, and lesser emphasis on the subject matter. I suspect a lot of students who go into teaching don't necessarily consider the differences professional outcomes in choosing one degree over another: Education majors tend to stay in primary or secondary education, and with an education degree might more easily move up the hierarchical ladder (principal, superintendent, etc.), while not having that degree in education leaves one freer to move into college or university teaching. One path is not necessarily better than the other; it's a matter of professional choice and where one may want to stay. And it doesn't mean that with an education degree you can't make the jump to teaching in higher education; again, it depends on where you want to go - teacher training, for example, or adjuncting. I'm really a big fan of teachers who stay in the trenches before moving up to principal and superintendent.

Ultimately, defining an English education degree as a hybrid degree would be more apt if all English teachers, regardless of the level at which they taught, were required to take a number of education classes. This would help some teachers, and I'm sure on others it would be lost, just as it is for those of us who teacher at the primary and secondary levels. But that would be my wish: All new teachers, even those who teach at the university level, would be required to take teacher education classes - regardless of subject matter, regardless of level.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Professional Rejection

In terms of job applications, I'm being rejected by a lot of places these days. And that's fine; I understand how these things go, and while it's not exactly personal, someone else was deemed more suited/better qualified/a better match, etc. I've gotten some very politely worded letters in the mail from schools and colleges stating that the positions for which I've applied have been filled, with no real reason given. I really do understand that applying for teaching positions by nature is competitive, especially for English and writing teachers, and especially given the job market.

Being that I've broadened my job search, there's a whole new range of employment to be rejected from. However, this afternoon was a new one for me: I was one of 69 CC'd recipients who was e-mailed a rejection notice that simply said: "Thank you for your interest in our open position. The committee has reviewed your materials and determined that the position is not appropriate for you at this time." No personalization, and the phraseology itself was a bit odd. The only thing I can determine from this e-mail is that the position would have been at a Christian church. In no way can my religious background be ascertained from my resume, so I'm curious as to how the position would not be appropriate. (In very specific situations I mention having volunteered as a catechist for elementary school-aged children at a previous parish, but I mention this only when applying for a teaching job that might involve younger children.)

In any case, I can't even remember which position it was I applied for, but since the position was not appropriate I suppose it doesn't matter. One rejectee responded to the entire list, asking to be kept in mind for future positions. To his credit, the fellow who initially e-mailed the rejection notice to everyone realized what had happened about 45 minutes later and sent an apology - via BCC.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teacher Burnout

Both my parents have been teaching for decades, although Mom is planning on retiring within the next couple of years; Dad took early retirement and has been retired for a several years now. I think one of the reasons he took early retirement was because he just started really disliking the job - not just the administrative minutiae that most people don't know teachers have to face, but the kids too; he started disliking teaching itself, and the kids he was facing every day. There were a number of years that the administrative stuff just drove him up the proverbial wall, but teaching was still a lot of fun, and he loved the kids, so he could put up with the nonsense. Once he could no longer find the joy in teaching or the relationships he had with his students, he hung up his slide ruler. (Dad was a math teacher.)

I've recently begun to read a couple teaching blogs: 
one by my new friend Maria in Rome (because at heart I'm really nosy, and I like to see other teachers' materials), who also has a personal blog; a former classmate's girlfriend's blog (she teaches in Brooklyn); and a veteran teacher's blog. I've only  just discovered the veteran teacher's blog, so I've only read the most recent blog entries, but this entry caught my attention especially, because she speaks about the extent to which she has begun to dislike teaching. I think this was the first time I had considered what I would do if I discovered I disliked teaching, and disliked it to the point where it was soul-crushing. I'm not entirely sure what I would do. I'm more prepared to be unemployed than for the possibility that I'd develop an aversion to teaching.

I thought of former classmates who did exceptionally well in high school, went to college at 18, graduated at 22, and began teaching the following September, having had no other full-time professional experiences, who might conceivably teach for the next 40 years without interruption. (I only occasionally get twinges because of their having gotten jobs right away.)

I thought of myself, and others, who worked before going back to college, had to discern through trial and error what they would like to do professionally. I question whether I would become burned out after teaching for 30 years: Will I get burned out before that? If so, how much sooner? Teacher burnout is a big deal; I don't have any numbers, but occasionally I hear things like the average amount of time it takes for teachers to become burned out is between five and seven years. It goes hand in hand with teacher recruitment and teacher retention - how to recruit teachers who will stay.

What if I don't actually get a teaching job? I'm not being a pessimist. There's a hiring freeze in New York City right now, in effect until the end of the summer; new positions can only be filled from within. Think about that:
There's a hiring freeze in the largest school district in the country. And it's damn near impossible to get a teaching job in Long Island unless you know someone. I do not know anyone here, not having any family in the area, not having gone to any of the local schools.

I'd be happy to get a job within a related field, like directing a writing center or tutoring center, even an academic coordinator or something along those lines; I have a background in writing centers and I love that type of work. I can't remain unemployed simply because I can't find a teaching job, which is why I've broadened my job search. I'm actually thankful I worked before I went back to college, because I have a resume that illustrates a skill set that isn't based on summer work or inconsequentialities. I had a life, such as it was, before college. But I
love teaching writing, especially at the college level, like I've not enjoyed any other previous job, and I think I'm good at it. I think I could be even better.

I'm just not sure what I'd do if I discovered I hated teaching. So much of it depends on the age of the students (you can hate middle school but love high school; hate college but love middle school); where the school is, geographically; even the specific culture of an individual school can affect a teacher. All these are potential deterrents for new teachers who hadn't considered such variables, thinking all variables are the same, that they'd  love to teach any students in any location at any level.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lifecasting: Episode 1 - The Beginning

I enjoy being late to the proverbial party, and I thought I'd give lifecasting a try. May not be regular, definitely won't be interesting, but what the heck. We'll see where this goes, if anywhere.

I had some initial trouble getting TalkShoe to do its thing - my file took a couple of days to upload, and I couldn't get anyone to tell me why, which is the exact opposite of helpful and convenient, but on the flipside one can allegedly subscribe via iTunes (thanks to their Submit a Podcast feature), so more on that when I see how things work. For now, you can listen here, over at my TalkShoe page, and/or subscribe via iTunes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th

How I spent my holiday weekend, in a spiffy video that I shot and edited, effects, music, and all:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Made A List

I'm not planning on applying to doctoral programs for awhile but I am keeping a few programs in mind. Although I'm not likely to apply to all these schools, I want to bookmark them for comparative purposes; these are some of the programs I'm interested in (in alphabetical order, because that's how I roll) :

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Teaching of Writing

This entry has been a reaction to a writing center listserv e-mail, in which an erstwhile sociology professor pointed out that he would resist teaching his students "the basics of writing," because (if I'm understanding his argument), it's someone else's job: It's the job of the middle school or high school English teacher and/or the job of the Freshmen Writing professor - and something the students should already have learned. Clearly that doesn't always work, for many reasons. (Yet another potential follow up blog entry...) But if for some reason a class of students writes terribly, I believe it continues to do the students a disservice in not teaching them at least a thing or two (i.e., how to fix a comma splice). Trying to teach students what happens if one isn't professional in one's work is a really broad job - and something I do think all teachers should touch upon.

There are a lot of different types of English teachers out there; we come from a lot of different backgrounds. There are the creative writers, the dramatists, the literature folks, the theorists, and the compositionists/rhetoricians, although I'm sure there are other self-defining groups as well. Each group teaches writing based on individual background, interests, etc. I'm part of the last group - the compositionist - being in progress to get my M.A. in English with a concentration of the teaching of writing (although the name of the concentration has officially been changed to writing and rhetoric). 
Having tutored in various writing centers since January 2004 - and having taught since then at a variety of levels (middle school, high school, and college) since then - I've encountered different writing styles from a many different students who study different academic disciplines (the hard sciences, the medical sciences, the social sciences, arts, humanities - really, the entire gamut); I've had students ranging in age and education (middle school, high school, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral); and  I've worked with students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds (native English  speakers as well as non-native English speakers).

I've come to the conclusion that the reason students have such a hard time learning to write is that teachers across the disciplines make it complicated, even outright convoluted. I'm convinced there's no one way to teach writing, just as there's no one style of writing. But in order to teach any type of writing, what still needs to be taught is clarity. But students are given so much information as a means of explanation, they become befuddled. I'm not talking about teaching students less; I'm talking about the timing of when we teach students this extraneous information. I'm not convinced it's necessary to teach students how to diagram sentences and names of each verb tense - not right away. (I know that the
pluperfect is the same as the past perfect subjunctive and how to explain it - if I can look it up first. And of course, as a native speaker, I also have the luxury of not needing to memorize the names of the verb tenses. The politics of this is a blog post for another time.) I've had an easier time teaching verb tenses by drawing a timeline than I have trying to memorize the different verb tenses and making my students memorize them. I recognize the value of teaching such specifics in the case of ELL (English Language Learner) students, who might find it helpful to learn the names of the verb tenses, but I question the helpfulness of teaching native English speakers if that's the only method being used to teach verbs. And likewise grammar at large - it's difficult to teach unless students are doing a lot of reading. The hopefully larger vocabulary that a native speaker has is at least as helpful in explaining grammar. (Insert another disclaimer: I know not all native speakers have the same levels of vocabulary. Again, reading will help this.)

Knowing (or not knowing) the names of different grammatical syntaxes is one thing, but I find the inability to explain grammatical and linguistic syntax dismaying. A shocking number of writing tutors and English teachers, I've learned, do not understand grammar and syntax well enough to teach it; I've discovered this firsthand, and I find this disconcerting. I myself have never been taught how to teach grammar, and while I have a solid understanding of how to teach it (I had other tutors come to me to help them teach their students grammar), I still wish I had been made to sit through some training in how to teach it, if for no other reason than to see how others teach it.

Misplaced Emphasis

I was reading PostSecret today, and I read this secret:

I'm reminded of the director of the English Teacher Preparation Program at Stony Brook University; in his office he had a sign that read, "It's the students, stupid!" So, note to self: Don't put so much emphasis on grammar that it interferes with the recognition of value.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Stella's Wedding, &c.

Today Chris and I went to Stella and Dave's wedding:

We had a good time, mostly because it was a simple affair - maybe 50 people were there; we were seated with people who were friendly and chatty; the food was good. (The wedding and reception were at City Hall Restaurant, in TriBeCa.) Stella looked beautiful; she and Dave tangoed, which was nifty. Chris and I did not tango, or do any dancing of any kind, which was probably for the best.

In other news, and more of the same, I need to start going to the gym on an actual schedule, not just once a week. And I still need to start eating better. I've been sending out resumes; I have an interview for a caretaker/homemaker position on Monday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weak in the Knees

I recently joined a gym in an attempt to get more physically active. I went through their orientation last week, which included being shown how to use all the equipment by one of the personal trainers; and the manager had us go through a sample exercise class so we could experience a few minutes of each type of class. This past Monday I met with their dietitian/nutritionist, but I was disappointed at the meeting: I was told that as a new member I would get a free meeting with dietitian, who would help me plan a menu, etc. When I in fact met with the dietitian, she told me about their $299 12-week plan, which obviously right now I can't afford. I feel misled in that regard, to say the least.

In any case, today was the first day I went to the gym for an actual workout. I really just want access to the elliptical trainers. (I'll get to strength training in the future; right now I just want to start moving, and something low-impact.) I lasted about 10-15 non-consecutive minutes, which was pretty dismal, but I planned badly, too. I went without having eaten or drunk anything beforehand; I didn't bring water or a towel with me. I was going to try for 30 minutes but just didn't have it in me so I wobbled home. (This is the first time my knees actually wobbled; I didn't know that being "weak in the knees" was an actual thing that could happen. I hurt my left knee pretty badly a few years ago, and any hard exercise exacerbates it; today I definitely hurt that knee again, so I have to be careful.)

I've been tracking some of what I eat on SparkPeople. I like it; they have a lot of resources and a rather large community (and a free iPhone app). I'm not getting all my meals on there - hard to do if you go out for a meal - but I'm just looking for broad trends at the moment. One of the big problems I have is during the day I tend to eat well; I'm measuring food, watching portions and calories, and choosing healthy foods. At night, though, I just go overboard. I don't really know why this happens, and I don't quite know how to fix that pattern. It's worse with junk food and desserts. I may just have to cut out all chocolate and sweets for awhile.