Friday, December 31, 2010

Pictures

I did take some pictures during Christmas this year, although not many.

The day after Christmas, Ed, his uncle Tom, and I went to Longwood Gardens. I haven't been to the Gardens in a long time, and I've never seen their Christmas gardens. It was pretty spectacular. (The full set is here.)


Yesterday, Mom and I went for a quick walk around Bethlehem; I wanted to buy some beesewax candles at the Moravian Book Shop. (Main Street has several shops that I make a point of visiting whenever I'm in town. Downtown Bethlehem is really lovely during the Christmas season; they decorate beautifully. And on a side note, Ed and I are having our wedding reception at the Hotel Bethlehem, which is this lovely old building surrounded by all this.)

On our way to and from our parking spot, we passed by Central Moravian Church, which every Christmas has a Christmas Putz (from the German putzen, meaning "to decorate"), which is a retelling of Jesus' birth by means of narration and music. It changes at least slightly every year, and I was a bit sorry I didn't have time to see it this year.

When I walked by the sign, I immediately thought of Pinky and the Brain, and giggled to myself. My mother, who knows me well, looked at me and said, "You're giggling because you're thinking of a putz having her own entrance, aren't you." 

Of course, she was right.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

I'm sitting here watching my parents and brother playing Scrabble; Ed, Cheng (my Thai-Chinese sister-in-law), and I alternate between making snarky comments and being supportive, mostly by interfering with Justin (my brother) trying to play his turns.

Ed and I have been in the Lehigh Valley since Monday evening, when he and I arrived on a bus from Philadelphia. We flew into Philadelphia on Thursday, rented a car, and drove to Landenberg to spend Christmas and stay with Ed's aunt and uncle; Ed's aunt and cousin from California were staying at their house too, while Ed's parents drove up from Virginia and stayed at a local hotel. It was my first time meeting Ed's extended family, and only the second time I met Ed's parents, and everything went pretty well. Ed's aunt is a bit of an organizational dynamo, so we had a great time but felt like we were being slightly micromanaged, but she cooked well and made us feel very welcome and comfortable. Ed and I went to a Christmas Eve Mass on Friday afternoon, which cleared us up for opening presents (and sleeping in a bit) on Saturday. We made out well: We got a calendar acquired in France from Ed's aunt Sarah (who, along with her daughter, Ed's cousin Collette, had spent Thanksgiving in Paris), as well as framed art from recent trip to Colorado; Collette gave everyone a lovely print based on her own artwork (she's an art teacher, and also a talented artist in her own right); Ed's parents gave us some of their own belongings that had been too nice to donate or throw away, but which they did not have room for themselves anyway, including a creche (instant family heirloom) and a Lenox porcelain vase that had been given to Ed's great-grandparents (I think) as a wedding present.

On Monday, when we arrived in the Lehigh Valley, Anne (Mom's sister), Bill (Anne's husband), and Ciara (their daughter, my cousin, and one of my bridesmaids) had just arrived in town from upstate New York, so we had a couple days of hanging out with them - plus, with Justin and Cheng visiting, it was the first time Ed had the chance to meet said family. It was nice to be back visiting with everyone, coming and going all at the same time. (Organized chaos.) Last night we all went out to Gregory's Steakhouse for dinner (this is becoming an annual Christmas tradition).
And - more presents! Ed and I both got gift cards from Amazon, as well as a Target gift card for the both of us. I also got a Kindle, which I was initially cautious about, which is turning out to be really cool; I've already downloaded a plethora of free e-books (although I bought a few e-books as well). I also got a few paperbacks in the form of collections of short stories, which is one of my favorite genres, so I was happy. Justin and Cheng got us a pasta maker (which had been on our wedding registry), which I'm very excited about, as well as a hot chocolate pot, which pleases my inner chocoholic.

We had an appointment with a wedding cake person yesterday, and two more today, but I'm still processing all the possibilities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Then There Are The Well-Behaved Classes.

This was done by a few of my fourth period kids today:

Student Logic

To varying degrees I like the classes and students I'm teaching. Each class has a different personality based on the students who are in the class; different classes find different things funny, or happy with different things, can be more easily bribed with candy canes, etc. But in all of my classes, the students just can't understand that I can still hear them and see them even if I'm sitting behind the rather large monitor the school has lent me to use during my brief stay here.

Last week we finished reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol, so on Thursday and Friday we watched the Disney version of the movie. And yesterday we watched the classic cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. For both movies, students complained, either that they didn't want to watch the movie, or they'd seen it a lot already, or why did they have to watch the cartoon version when the Jim Carrey version was so much better? (Personally, I'm not sure I'd show the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to this age group - I think they're too old for it - but that's just my opinion.) They complain constantly about why I don't let them do this, that, or the other - despite my initial explanation that these are Mrs. T.'s lesson plans I'm following, not my own lesson plans.

First period is the class I like the least; they're the most frustrating. The first thing I do after the bell rings is to make a few announcements; this particular class continues to talk over me, constantly interrupting. There are a few that are outright disrespectful, telling me they're not talking even when I can see their lips move and hear them talking. I told several students to stop talking halfway through class only to be told by another student that no one was talking.

Two or three students especially cause issues, one by continuing to talk and not understanding why she would need to be quiet, another being outright nasty and rude. I pulled the rude-and-nasty student out of class today and lay into her, and told her I'd write her up the next time there was a repeat performance of today. She continued to question why she was failing (because she hasn't turned in the assignments), even if she found them in the file cabinet, graded and not entered into the grade book. (I apologized - again - for this occurrence. It does happen that students hand in work, I grade it, then for whatever reason it doesn't make its way into the grade book.) That doesn't give her blanket permission, though, to act the way she's been acting. More than any other student, this one particular girl is a proverbial thorn, although there is another girl who is a lesser version of this.

My other classes are fine; my integrated class is a challenge because of the nature of integrating these students into mainstream classes, but they're not nasty or disrespectful. First period is just difficult.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Funny Discipline

One of the things I learned quickly when I started teaching was that if the students are laughing, they're paying attention, they're engaged, and they're at least partially relaxed. I don't know that I make a specifically concerted effort to get every class to laugh at something every day, but I do try to be silly whenever I can. For example:

  • If a student won't stop talking after repeated requests to be quiet, and it's an especially silly kid, I'll be as dramatic as possible and tell the kid that if he won't be quiet, I'll have to glue him to the ceiling and he'll have to stay up there overnight. This invariably makes the rest of the class laugh (and I'm encouraged to do it). It's ridiculous enough that no one is offended for being called out, and the kid is usually quiet (or at least quieter) for the rest of the class.
  • When students get frustrated with each other and insult each other (there's one kid in my 5th period class who other kids just don't like), I put a stop to that right away; their insults run along the lines of insulting intelligence or sexuality. (The insults haven't changed; you know what they are.) By being dramatic, I intercept the insults when I hear them and say, "Stop! If you must insult each other, you must be creative about it." This gets them to laugh - they're not expecting me to say that, seemingly permitting insults - and then call each other things like "cat hugger" or "face smoosher" (actual insults used in my classes).
  • One kid today just would not sit down; he kept roaming about and desk hopping. Finally, after repeated attempts of having the kid stay put, I said that if he didn't sit down, I'd have to yell at him in German. This immediately got reactions of, "You speak German?!" "Yell at him in German!" (Everything sounds angry in German, even if you say "I love you.") And it focused on unacceptable behavior hopefully without being unnecessarily mean. And it got the kid to sit down.

Of course, I've also been known, in response to students complaining about an assignment, telling them that since I have no life, I like to stay up late at night to figure out ways of torturing them. Sometimes they can't tell if I would actually do such a thing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Disciplined for Disciplining

A few weeks ago, one of my classes was really acting up. Their task for that particular class period was to write a response, in class, to a service assignment they had been given previously. I repeatedly asked them to be quiet, only to have them continue to chatter. After telling the the same information repeatedly because of the continued talking, I informed the class that no, they were not allowed to submit the assignment late in this particular case because of my having to repeat myself, sharing the same information multiple times, information that would have not had been necessary to repeat had they been listening. Students were having trouble finishing on time because they weren't focusing on the work that they would have had enough time to do if they were to just write. (Since then, the majority of students have not had trouble finishing similar assignments in one class period. Those who need more time, of which there have been very few, have come to ask if they could hand in the work late.)

I should note that, if not a district policy, it is a school policy to allow students to hand in each quarter's work until the last day of that quarter. I've been accepting work since my first day as a substitute teacher; this one instance in this one class was the only instance in which I would not allow late work to be submitted (obviously, if a student were absent, or if there were other extenuating circumstances, the situation would change).

Today I was pulled aside by the principal (very nice woman that she is) about this. Apparently the student had complained to his or her parent, who then called the counseling office. I explained the situation to the principal as best as I could remember at the time, but I was still a bet nettled (although that may be too strong a word). The principal did not know which student had complained; she had been approached by the counselor who had been called by the parent. Clearly the student must have noticed by now that I'm constantly accepting late work, so I'm not really sure what the issue is. Perhaps the student didn't understand why I was upset, or thought I overreacted, or wanted to cause trouble for the sub; perhaps the student didn't explain the situation well to the parent, who thought I would no longer accept late work. (I'm really not a fan of accepting late work willy nilly, but I'm only here at this school a short time, and now is not the time to fight this battle.)

The principal didn't seem too upset by the situation, thanked me for doing a good job and working hard, etc.; she said she'd pass on the message to the counselor, so I'm not sure anything else will come of it. If anything, the student will be encouraged to come talk to me about the situation, but I'm not expecting anything more severe than that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Open Letter to the Wedding Industry

Dear Wedding Industry Folks:
After reading various articles in magazines and on Web sites and in books (most recently The Wedding Book, which I actually returned because it stressed me out so much), I would like to address a few issues to those of you in the wedding industry who feel compelled to offer advice to those of us whose wedding is imminent. You're a frustrating bunch, and I think a few issues need to be rectified.
  1. Please don't automatically presume that all brides been planning our "dream weddings" since we were five - or at any point prior to our engagement. My fiance and I got engaged on July 16th, 2010, and that's when he and I together began planning our wedding. Aside from the necessity of being married in a Catholic Church, I had no notions or ideas of what I wanted. It's because I recognize that while getting married is one of the more important events in our life together, it is not the most important event in my life.
  2. Why do I need a theme for a wedding? I'm not planning a child's birthday party. The theme of our wedding is, "Michelle and Ed are getting married. Come hang out and get jiggy with them!" Isn't that enough?
  3. On a related note, who the heck cares if the style of the flower doesn't match anything else? It's all interchangeable, y'know. Somehow, I don't think that if I choose one specific dress, I have to eliminate a specific flower or table linen because it might not match. (Side note: This is partly why I'm refusing to wear white heels. I don't want to match.)
  4. Don't presume that we all live nearby our families, friends, or those who will be in our wedding party. Times have changed, and these days large numbers of people live far away from their families and friends. As such, not all of us go wedding gown shopping with our maids of honor, bridesmaids, or mothers. Sometimes we can only bring the groom with us because if he doesn't come with us, we go alone. It's pretty depressing going wedding gown shopping alone.
  5. Don't presume that we're planning our wedding with the help of anyone else. With the exception of my Matron of Honor, I haven't heard from any of my bridesmaids in regard to any aspect of my wedding unless I've e-mailed them first; I don't think my fiance has heard from any of our groomsmen. Your idea that the bride has gaggles of bridesmaids taking a continued interest in the wedding, or even occasionally checking up on the bride, is not always correct.
  6. Don't presume we all live in the same part of the country as our parents, extended families, friends, bridal party, etc. Why is there so little said about wedding parties that are so scattered? I have yet to encounter any really helpful advice when the bride and groom are on their own.
  7. On a related note: Stop telling me to take my bridesmaids out for lunch or a trip to the spa before the wedding as a thank you. I wish I could, but it's not feasible. My bridesmaids range in age from 8 to early 30s, and live in four states across the country, so please take into account that sometimes, we're scattered, and having lunch the week before just ain't gonna happen.
  8. On another related note: Yes, I would love to have an Engagement Shower (sans gifts) or Bachlorette Party (What's the equivalent for just having the entire Bridal Party hang out without parents or other guests?), but it doesn't look like I'd have a chance to socialize with my wedding party before getting married. Telling me the etiquette for who should be throwing me a party that can't happen isn't helpful. And how about including party ideas for a wedding party that includes folks under 21? (Five of the 11 friends and family members in our wedding party are under 21.)
  9. Don't tell us that by not serving alcohol, our guests will not have a good time. If guests can't have a good time without alcohol, that's their problem.
  10. I am not creating a minute-by-minute schedule of the wedding day itself. Lists can help some people, but many of us are capable of letting things go with the flow. It's just a day and if something goes wrong, who will care? It'll get resolved.
Please expand your thinking about weddings and loosen up. Thank you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Very Tuba Christmas

In May I'll be marrying someone who has absolutely no musical tone whatsoever. Ed did not have music lessons growing up; and while he has talents and skills I do not possess, he should not sing. Inexplicably, though, he has developed a fondness for the tuba. Last week we were discussing Tuba Christmas and, knowing he would like to go to a concert, on a whim I Googled whether there was a way to ascertain if there were any upcoming local Tuba Christmas concerts.

And indeed, we discovered a tuba Christmas concert planned for this very afternoon. It was held at the Rio Grande Depot, which made me happy because even more than airports, I love old, historic railroad depots.


These days the building houses the Utah State Historical Society as well as the smallish Rio Gallery, an art gallery (somewhat inconveniently) open Mondays through Thursdays, but which did have some nice pieces:


In any case, we hung out while a plethora of tubists played various sizes and types of tubas. I had no idea there were so many different styles and sizes (and even colors) of tubas. Folks played tubas of varying sizes: Some tubas were small; a few were those huge wrap-around-the-tubist types that looked like the tuba was digesting a person. The youngest tubist in the bunch was a 6th grader; the oldest was in his late 70s. A man and his grandson were both playing. And the length of involvement of those playing ranged from those for whom this was their first year to those whom had been playing for more than 20 years in this particular collective. (Apparently, Tuba Christmas has been a Salt Lake City institution since 1983.) It was quite a range of people, and I hesitate to admit how much I enjoyed it for fear of inflaming Ed's obsession. One felt the tuba playing as much as heard it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Week in School

I felt like bullet points today.
  • Every day this week I arrived at school before the sun had come up. Monday and today were especially unfun, because the sky was completely overcast and dark, and it was raining. On a Monday morning that's especially depressing.
  • I managed to get all my photocopying done before the first bell two days in a row, although I forgot about the photocopier that does two-sided copies until I had made one set of copies that could have been two-sided, so I wound up stapling said set of papers during first period one day. But this means that students who are missing work now should have access to all the handouts they need to get caught up. (This is a big feat. Either the copy machines don't work, or other teachers usurp them and make 4,762 copies. Bastards.)
  • Yesterday, one of my fourth period students came to hang out before the first bell of the day had rung. She said she had nothing better to do, that she didn't really have many friends, but then proceeded to tell me about her mom, about the dance assembly that she was taking part in later in the day, asked me if I had any kids, and why not ("Because I'm not married yet."), that I should hurry up and get a husband ("I'm getting married in May, kiddo."), that I should bring my fiance to school so that everyone could meet him ("He'd be terrified." "Why?" "Large groups of children scare him." "It does? Why?").
  • We had a dance assembly yesterday afternoon, which means the last hour of my day consisted of watching students dance. They were good; some of them were really impressive, doing flips. (Item of possible interest: Every single performer was female.)
  • I wrote up my first student this week; R. left class before I dismissed everyone, and wouldn't come back after I told him to Get Back Here, so I asked another teacher what the school policy was, to which she replied that a referral was in order. 
    • I kinda screwed up a bit and wrote up the wrong kid. There are two Hispanic boys in the class, both with Hispanic hyphenated last names. I tried looking at their school pictures to ascertain which one was which but one kid was missing a picture, and the other picture was pretty bad. Fortunately the kid I did write up told the Vice Principal the name of the kid who should have been written up, and the kid who should have been written up got a detention. (The kid who should not have been written up was really good about it and was totally down with accepting my apology, which was a relief.)
  • I made a friend in my 8th period class. One student isn't doing especially well but is a voracious sci-fi and fantasy reader, so because I'd expressed interest, every day this week (except for today), he's approached me at the beginning - and sometimes at the end - of class to ask if I'd checked out any of authors he'd recommended. I don't have the heart to tell him I never really got into those genres; fortunately, Ed is interested in those books and knows many of the authors mentioned, so I brought in a book so the kid will think I support his geekery (which I do).
    • Of course, today was the only day he didn't approach me before class to ask if I got ahold of any of those authors.
  • A student begged me today to raise his grade so that he could play in tomorrow's big basketball game against a rival school. I couldn't do it - the kid has a 17% and is missing most of his work - but he spent more than half an hour trying to convince me that if I'd only raise his grade to a 60%, he'd be a model student, he'd hand in all his work by next Friday, I could even write a note to his coach saying he could watch the game but not play, he'd even give me money. There was some major cajoling but I was unbreakable. I felt genuinely bad for the kid, and if he had had a history of really working and trying hard I may have been convinced, but he's missing 17 assignments (he's handed in one assignment this quarter). I offered to stay with him after school so he could make up his work, but apparently there's a basketball practice. (Oh, the irony.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cleared Up

Yesterday turned into an extremely foggy day. (It was apparently so bad that at one point, our best man, Captain Alex, had been stuck in Denver for at least seven hours because he couldn't fly into Salt Lake City because of the fog).

When I left for school this morning (7:15 a.m.), it was so overcast as to be completely dark: The sun still hadn't risen, the sky was dark with heavy clouds, and it started to rain while I was on the road, making it a rather dreary way to start the week.

Yet, when I went outside to run out to grab some lunch, I was met with the following view:

Posted using Mobypicture.com

It was still cold, but the air was sharp and clear; it smelled clean and of earth, almost like farmland.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Wreath

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, which is the beginning of the Catholic liturgical year.  Around the time the first (purple) candle was being lit, it occurred to me that perhaps I should get an Advent wreath for home. I did some shopping on Amazon and found some nice wreaths, but the one I kept coming back to was this one. It was on the expensive side, but it was the nicest one I saw. (Plus, bonus points for the Irish/Celtic factor.) It's inscribed with text that reads, "As I light this flame, I lay myself before thee." It's bronze, and pretty hefty. It finally arrived today: 

I had also ordered the appropriate candles, which of course arrived several days ago. (That's a beeswax candle in the center). I simply cannot make any of the candles stand upright; they kept listing off to the side, but we lit two of them tonight after dinner (since it's the second weekend in Advent), and kept them lit for a couple hours:


The candles themselves seem to burn pretty quickly, so for the time being I'll only leave them burning for an hour or so every night; perhaps I'll only burn them at the weekend, or perhaps I'll just buy some more candles, if I can find some more inexpensive Advent candles.

Christmas Shopping Fail

Around Thanksgiving, Ed and I were made aware of various Christmas markets in the Salt Lake City area being open for a week following Thanksgiving. Today was the last day two of these markets were open, so we thought we'd check them out.

The Old World Christmas Market looked promising, especially since it was being held in the old Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot, which is just a cool-looking old timey railroad building. I'd never seen anything Union Pacific before I moved to Utah, which I guess speaks to my lack of exposure to this part of the country.


The market itself was a bit of a downer, though. Because today was the last day, perhaps some of those outdoor vendors had already gone home, but there wasn't all that much to see or buy. We thought we'd grab some of the advertised German food for lunch, but aside from a guy outside selling some sausages, and separate vendors selling frybread, hot chocolate, and kettle corn, there wasn't much to be had, so walked a few extra yards and had lunch at Thaifoon instead. I think we spent a total of 10 minutes ascertaining there was nothing interesting to be bought - nothing especially festive, Christmasy, or unusual.

Since the afternoon was still young, we decided to try another Christmas market, the South Jordan Christmas Boutique. It was certainly larger, but it was more like a home show, selling sheets, weight loss products, jewelry, clothing, and the world's biggest collection of ugly purses (sold by multiple vendors). I think I saw one place that sold Christmas ornaments.

Christmas shopping felt anti-climactic, and I was reminded why I haven't even bothered to try non-Internet Christmas shopping in years. It's too much effort and too much of a letdown.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Discipline

I'm beginning to understand how to discipline my 9th graders, if by no other way than based on their quirks. There were a few things Mrs. T. told me in preparation: For example, late work was to be accepted (at least, for each quarter students were permitted to submit work by the end of that particular quarter); furthermore, students were not to be given Fs as final grades. I don't know if these are school policies or a district policies, but there are different levels of ridiculous in both.

Beginning today, I incorporated some new rules:

  • Mrs. T. had read A Christmas Carol aloud in class. I can see why she would; doing so makes sure the students are technically exposed to the text, but I want them to actually read also. On alternating days I make them read that day's pages, quietly and to themselves. If I don't make them responsible for reading a certain number of pages, they don't follow along or otherwise pay attention.
  • Students may not use the Hall Pass before we've done the reading for the day. (We're currently reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which the students don't especially like, and they look for reasons to get out of reading it or hearing it read.)
  • Fridays are SSA (Silent Sustained Reading) day. The day is abbreviated (classes begin at 10 a.m. and are only 34-35 minutes long), and students are permitted to go to the library. However, for the first 15 minutes of class, students must read, and after that, no one in the class may go to the library or use the Hall Pass if anyone has been talking. (Three classes lost the privilege of going to the library today because of students who continued to talk.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Wedding Present!

We got our first wedding present today! (I thin this means we actually have to get married now.)

Aren't they terrible?

Folks around school are slowly beginning to recognize me as Mrs. T.'s long-term sub. I've had an occasional "Who are you?"-type questions, and the teachers and staff here have been very welcoming and friendly, occasionally popping in to see how things are going. This morning the head of the English department stopped by, apologizing for not having stopped in sooner, provided me with her e-mail address, and encouraged me to stop by or e-mail her if I have any questions or problems. I really like this school and am trying to figure out a way of having them contact me for future subbing gigs after this one ends.

The kids are not the type I'm used to, but my experience teaching at the secondary level is still limited. I did my high school student teaching portion at a school on West 18th Street in Chelsea, New York City; it was so terrible, that the city shut it down in part because of its disciplinary problems and low, low graduation rates. (The man who was the principal when I student taught there had been forced to resign after a Regents exam cheating scandal. This was the same guy who told me that student teachers shouldn't teach because they didn't have the experience to teach. At least there's a new principal these days.)

My very first subbing gig was a five-day position at a very small private Christian school where I covered history and English. The school was so small, I had multiple grades in my classes, which were led by a teacher who was a career-changer. Apparently it was normal for him read aloud, or have the students read aloud, from the textbook, after which they'd answer the questions from the book; the tests were also textbook publisher supplied (I don't think teacher himself wrote any of his own tests). The students were very quiet, very polite, and completely personality-free, which made the job both easy and interminably dull. (Plus, the school had a policy that the female teachers could only wear skirts or dresses.) I then subbed in the South Bronx, which, let me tell you, was about as different as the Christian school as you could get. Students, if they attended, if they weren't hostile, had a big attitude; schools were loud and full of mayhem; the buildings were dirty and/or old; and the classrooms were largely disorganized. I remember thinking that I wished I could cross the Christian school students with the students from New York City; I like my students to have at least a little attitude, although not as much as the gun- and knife-toting, iPhone-stealing kids in New York City.

The kids here are completely different. They have actual personalities, and the biggest problem I have is that they won't shut up when I want their attention. (This is what we in education call "small potatoes.") There are some irritating kids, as there are everywhere, but by and large I like the kids, and I enjoy their goofiness. When I get asked by the teachers here how everything is going, and if I'm having any problems, I briefly think of the kids in New York City and have to admit that the kids here simply aren't a problem.

P.S. It's strange not to label my posts with the NaBloPoMo tag. I think I missed one entry during the month of November, but only because I was at a complete loss one day what to write. Fortunately, a few ideas were presented to me at the last minute and I got all blog entries posted. I enjoyed being put in a position where I had to write. It's cathartic.