Monday, January 31, 2011

Posts from an English Teacher

Things like this are fairly old hat, but given the nature of my profession, I tend to be entertained by them anyway.

funny facebook fails - Posts from an English Teacher
see more Failbook

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tales From School

When I was a student at Lehigh Carbon Community College, I majored in Liberal Arts because I planned on transferring to a four-year college; the liberal arts major allowed me to take the core requirements most colleges would require, like foreign language, a lab science, gym, etc. If I didn't take every single English class that was offered, I took most of them, including the Journalism class. Part of our task was to write articles for the school newspaper, which included interviewing folks (usually faculty) and covering events. I didn't hate the class itself, but I found it difficult to develop questions and interview people. Despite the professor, whom I'd had several other times, journalism was the only English class I didn't enjoy. It was an eye-opener, if for no other reason that I could ascertain without a doubt that I should not go into that field (not that I'd really considered it anyway, but it might have been a case of discovering another interest or talent).

A few weeks ago, it was arranged that a few students from local high school newspaper, The Silver Scribe, would come visit the 9th grade English classes today. Eight or so students arrived, armed with copies of the paper to distribute (and candy for those who asked questions), and described what they were about: It's not all writing; students could do other things like photography or website work or advertising; "We get to interview chicks" (mentioned by one of the male staff) and get into various events for free; they got to travel to places like Anaheim ("We got to go to Disneyland!") and Washington, D.C. for conventions; they get to meet actual professionals in the field and visit places like the NPR studios.

One of the students who came in had a beard. This proved fascinating to at least three of my students, one of whom chased the guy down to ask how long it took to grow the beard ("a couple of weeks"). Apparently he was asked that question a lot today.

It's repetitive and slightly boring teaching the same subject repeatedly throughout the day (I teach six sections of 9th grade English, although one of those is an integrated classroom, which presents its own sets of challenges); reading the same section of A Christmas Carol six times a day is, not to be dramatic, boring as all hell. On the other hand, it allows me to tweak how I teach. You're going along, thinking you're explaining something really well, or you forget (or don't think to) mention something that's really obvious to you but not to the students (because why would it obvious to those who are still learning whatever it is you're trying to teach?), and then later in the day you realize you inadvertently shortchanged the class(es) earlier in the day. Or, more commonly what's been happening to me is that I finally figure out how to discipline the kids who just won't shut up.

Today I gave a short, 22-question multiple choice/short answer test on "The Most Dangerous Game." Since the journalism students managed to interrupt each class - they always came in the middle of class, never at the beginning or end - my classes would get chatty and want to look at the newspapers, compare notes about the test, etc. I learned a few class periods in to tell my little test takers that if they continued to talk, I would simply take their tests and they would receive zeros. I missed that opportunity in the first two class periods, but by the end of the day eight students had received zeros because of talking.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marriage = Obligation

So, this Piers Morgan guy has a new show, and last week he interviewed a lot of famous people. His first famous guest was Oprah, whom I like. It was an interesting interview, the snippets that I saw, but apparently the excerpt that's really gotten a lot of attention was the segment regarding her thoughts on marriage. 

Oprah struck me as forthright, and I appreciated that, but a few points did not strike me as missing the point of getting married. (Yes, these points may have been addressed elsewhere in the interview; and granted, an "interview" can be different than a "discussion.")

  1. Hopefully one is getting married after one has already "defined" oneself and the relationship, and not before - although presumably the people in the relationship change over time, which means the relationship would change over time, too.
  2. "I want to make you a meal when I want to make you a meal; I don't want it to be my responsibility to make you a meal." I'm gathering that cooking dinner is a metaphor for the larger issue of being obligated to and responsible for someone else. I understand that in marrying Ed, I are responsible for him, and we are obligated to each other on multiple levels (mentally, emotionally, and financially). I would not marry Ed if I weren't willing to care of him, but I don't think it wrong if one does not want to make that level of commitment. I think the curiosity in Oprah's case, or in someone in a similar situation, lies in if someone is simply unable to commit to that level of responsibility towards another person, or if said person is just uninterested (or disinterested) in putting in that time. It's irrelevant whether anyone else is willing to accept those reasons - I certainly would - but give your reasons for what they are. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I really wish administration had given me a temporary e-mail address. I've been here for almost two months and it's frustrating to hear things like, "Teachers, check your e-mail for details about that really important meeting tomorrow!" I've already missed pertinent information because it doesn't get to me in time, or at all. (Expecting Mrs. T. to forward me the e-mail in a consistently timely fashion isn't realistic; the woman just had a baby.) 

I'm sure the administration wasn't thinking about things in these terms, but it's frustrating to never quite know what's going on, and I dislike having to consistently bother the other teachers for information I would have if only I were included on the e-mail.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Opting Out of Work

I recently read two articles about women who had had children had chosen - they had the option to do so - of staying home with those children and being a stay-at-home mother. It's something I've only marginally thought about; I'm starting my career late (I usually feel I've started my life late), and now that I'm in my mid-30s, (finally) engaged, and trying to get a teaching job, many of my friends who did their lives "the right way" now have children. I still have many single friends, some of whom rent, some of whom own their own homes; and all of whom are in various stages of wanting, having, or getting in or out of relationships. This is the first time I can recall hearing much about this issue one way or the other. I've had a few discussions with my mother about her staying home until I was seven (at which point I think my parents needed her to financially be working full time; it can be difficult to stretch a teacher's salary to four people, especially when two of those four people are growing children). 

One article, "Opting Back In," is written from the husband's point of view. There's little commentary about whether or not women should opt out to care for their children; he simply writes about the difficulty his wife is having in trying to get work. The blogger does note that "[t]he economy is not designed for parents. [W]e always assumed that when the time came, [the wife] could return in some capacity as the educated professional she is. [.....]Any younger couples reading this should probably know that optiong back in is a lot harder than it should be."

It surprises me to hear that there are women who simply didn't consider the ramifications of their even temporarily leaving the work force, and how this affects their career, not only in the difficulty there could be in finding work in the field they left (if that's what they would want), but potentially giving up their own savings, losing out on their own retirement funds, etc. Mostly I wonder if these women haven't had to really struggle for their careers to take off. That might be unfair - I'm sure that statement doesn't apply to all women - but insofar as I've done nothing but struggle to first find a career that I'd love, and then get it started, I have a hard time thinking I would want to stay home. 

The author of the second article, "Regrets of a stay-at-home-mom," stated that she "wasn't worried, frankly, about the long-term economic consequences, partly because nobody else seemed to be. Most articles and books about what came to be called "opting out" focused on the budgeting challenges of dropping to one paycheck -- belt-tightening measures shared by both parents -- while barely touching on the longer-term sacrifices borne primarily by the parent who quits: the lost promotions, raises and retirement benefits; the atrophied skills and frayed professional networks. The difficulty of reentering the workforce after years away was underreported, the ramifications of divorce, widowhood or a partner's layoff hardly considered. It was as though at-home mothers could count on being financially supported happily ever after, as though a permanent and fully employed spouse were the new Prince Charming."

I can really support a parent staying home, raising your child, watching those milestones, etc. And I'll admit that one of the reasons I got into teaching was because if Ed and I ever have children, it will help that one of us has a schedule that mirrors the child's. On the flip side, Ed and I are in an unusual situation, insofar as Ed telecommutes from home full time; he has a flexibility of schedule that nearly no one else has, professionally speaking. Theoretically - although we haven't really discussed this too much at this point - it's not out of the realm of possibility for Ed to stay home and still work while I'm out of the house working, too.

But give up my career entirely? Absolutely not. Being home all day makes me crazy; as much as I love Ed, and as much as I hope we can adopt at some point, there needs to be a part of my life that I can develop for myself.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exceptionalism & Naïvete

Today I was reading "Is Law School a Losing Game?", which pertains to debt accrued by law students who are unable to find work within the legal field. It's an interesting article that addresses several issues that I'm sure don't apply just to law school, including colleges and universities misrepresenting their academic rankings and supplying the public with false information such as the percentage of graduates who are employed. (At the moment, this percentage could include those who are employed in fields not pertaining to their degree, including those working, for example, at fast food joints.)

It's difficult to find work as it is, no matter what one's field; I've been looking for a full-time (or at least regular) employment as a teacher since I graduated from Stony Brook University in 2007. I graduated with a degree in English and was (and still am) certified to teach English in grades seven through 12 in New York State, but the most I could find were substitute teaching jobs, even when I was in graduate school. I wanted to teach in New York City, but even as the largest school district in the country, there was a hiring freeze that remains in effect.

One of those interviewed for this article addressed an interesting point:

“This idea of exceptionalism — I don’t know if it’s a thing with millennials, or what,” says [Kimber A. Russer], referring to the generation now in its 20s. “Even if you tell them the bottom has fallen out of the legal market, they’re all convinced that none of the bad stuff will happen to them. It’s a serious, life-altering decision, going to law school, and you’re dealing with a lot of naïve students who have never had jobs, never paid real bills.”

This is, I think, a very real and intimidating issue that faces those who go straight from high school to college; even if these students have held (or continue to hold) jobs in school, there are few students between the ages of 18 to 22 who have had the experience of completely supporting themselves. (Clearly there are circumstances that require young adults to be entirely financially self-sufficient, but the majority have not had this experience yet, even by the time they graduate at the age of 22.)

When I graduated with my undergraduate degree (I was 31, and had supported myself for several years before I went back to college), I talked to students who were graduating with me: Many were terrified because they had no idea what the next step was or how to support themselves. Looking for professional work and all that entails, and having an idea of how much money it takes to support oneself takes experience one could simply not have in a real, authentic way unless actually done for yourself. One can be taught to budget or how to dress professionally for an interview or create a resume, but only up to a point.

Russer's quote struck a chord on a more personal level. When I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I had to make the decision whether to accrue more debt and begin grad school the following autumn, or begin looking for work. My decision to go to grad school right away was partly made because teachers need graduate degrees before they can get permanent certification anyway; also, I wasn't married and had no children for whom I needed to be responsible so I was free from big personal commitments that many people my age had. Furthermore, by going to grad school I would have at least been conceivably able to find part-time work at grad school. The two years I was there, I was granted a teaching fellowship, a research fellowship, and several teaching assistantships, each of which granted stipends and would pay for three each per semester. Often this meant that three classes per semester were being paid for by the school itself. And this included tutoring at two on-campus tutoring centers that provided an actual (hourly) salary.

There was no naïvete on my part: I would be working hard and making little money, while still accruing debt. When I left grad school, I still had no job lined up, and there was still a city-wide freeze vis-a-vis the New York City Department of Education. I had the luxury of experience, knowing that even without the college degree, I knew what my marketable skills were (however limited they might be) and knew how to navigate the professional world. Had I graduated when I was 22, without having supported myself before, I would have been at a real loss. Even now, while I live in a state 2,000 miles away in a completely different environment, teaching jobs are still hard to come by. I'm unhappy that I spent so much of my time and effort getting a degree that I can't use permanently, but when it comes right down to it I have an idea of how to apply that degree elsewhere.

And there are those who are enticed by the promise of a large paycheck. It's lovely, of course, when what you love to do gives you some financial status, but I'm not sure I would personally go into a field simply for the paycheck. I did go into teaching because I love it, I'm good at it, and there are some benefits (it's a good job to have when you have a family in that one's schedule is similar to that of your child's; and it can pay decently). Yet it can be a rude awakening:

“With fatherhood impending,” wrote the student, whose name was redacted, “I go to bed every night terrified of the thought of trying to provide for my child AND paying off my J.D., and resentful at the thought that I was convinced to go to law school by empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career.”

If students are routinely told, it will be implied that once you graduate with a degree, you will easily and almost immediately find work in your chosen field. This does happen, but not consistently. No one discusses the issue with those about to graduate of what might happen once you graduate and can't find your dream job right away. Or ever. To be honest, I'm not sure how much students would be able to understand that things don't always work out as smoothly as hoped, but it still needs to be said.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wedding Spam

It's amazing the amount of bridal spam I've received after having gone to that one bridal show many months back. I don't get related e-mail from wedding vendors every day, but certainly several times a week. Obviously I needed to give the bridal show folks an e-mail address for registration purposes, and it would certainly make sense for these local vendors to be e-mailing me offering their services for our wedding. We went to the bridal show more to see what was out there; at the time we'd already booked most of our vendors, and those we hadn't wouldn't have been able to be found, since the bridal show was local to Salt Lake City and we're getting married in Pennsylvania. If we hadn't already booked so many of our vendors, it would have been interesting to compare packages in terms of price and service; although I'm not sure how much one can accurately compare similar services by vendors who are geographically far apart, services in the Salt Lake City area are more comparably priced to those found in the Lehigh Valley than, say, New York City.

As a side note, what was helpful to see at the bridal show was the ability to see some gowns: I had no idea what was out there or what I wanted, so I could at least look at gowns and decide what facets I liked or disliked; similarly, because we could look at a multitude of invitation styles we could begin to pinpoint what we liked and didn't like.

Last week, while meeting with cake ladies, we were told of a Lehigh Valley-specific contest held by Elegant Lehigh Valley Weddings and Special Events, that was held on the first of every month; one didn't need to enter multiple times, but would be automatically entered until one's wedding; the prize would be $200 towards any vendor listed in ELVWSE. Ed signed us up, which means I get more spam. (I shouldn't be surprised that it's the bride that gets all the spam, but I do wish the groom would get equally spammed - although I don't get that many e-mails, so I don't mind it.)

Obviously the e-mails we get are sent out to everyone; the vendors don't know who has already booked what. Occasionally we get e-mails asking where we'll be living after the wedding, and how we, as the Newly Married (tm), can get a great deal on a new apartment or even a house! I don't know who would have the money to buy a house so soon after getting married; thankfully Ed bought the house several years ago, so we're set there; that's a big thing to have to worry about, where you'll be living, especially if you both have tiny one-bedroom apartments.

My favorite piece of spam, though, came addressed to someone else. It was definitely wedding spam, but whatever software was being used integrated the wrong name. I e-mailed the sender to tell him of the issue; he e-mailed back to apologize and explain the situation, after which I got the same initial e-mail, this time with the correct name. At least the problem was (temporarily) fixed.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

(Not) Deaf and Blind

This long-term subbing gig is the most continued exposure I've had to teaching middle school kids. I'm learning some interesting things about how teenagers think.

The students don't think I can hear what they say or see what they do. If I allow them to work on their own or in small groups, of course there's going to be a certain amount of goofing off. That's true at nearly any age; even in college when I worked in small groups we sometimes got off topic. But after a few minutes of not working, if it looks like they're attempting to blow off the work, I just look at them. And keep looking at them. In first period, I made one group of four girls - incidentally, the four that talks most; they certainly know how to seek each other out to "work" together - paranoid; one of the girls finally burst out that she was working.

They also don't think I can hear what they say in terms of under-the-breath snarky comments or talking to each other. Of course, I can't always hear what they're saying, but I can certainly see that they're talking. (I have no ventriloquists in my classes, which means that their lips move.) I will sit at my desk, see them talking, continue to look at them until they realize I see that they're talking, and often try to tell me that they're not talking. I don't even need to say anything; I just continue to look at them until they're quiet. The Stare of Doom, I guess.

Mrs. T., the teacher whose classes I'm covering, would just read a certain amount aloud; if we were to cover six pages in class, she'd read six pages aloud. That's not something I'll do myself. For one thing, I'd have to read the same pages six times each day, and quite frankly it'll drive me crazy - and I'll start to lose my voice. (This has already happened.) For another thing, while I understand that students process information differently, they also have to learn to become stronger readers; and to do that, they have to actually read. I'll start by reading the beginning section - say, a page or two - and then tell them where to stop reading. (If they want to keep reading, that's certainly not a problem.) This also makes them responsible for their own education, at least somewhat. I grok that they may not get everything they read, or that they may miss key elements of the plot, but we discuss what was read, so I can ascertain how much they understood as well as make sure they get the important parts.

Of course, sometimes they don't finish the reading. Some students are just faster readers, but some, like the group of first period girls, just chatter and don't read. Yesterday we started reading "The Most Dangerous Game." I read the first page and a half, and gave them about 20 minutes to read the next five and a half pages, emphasizing which page we would be beginning today. This morning one of Group of Four asked, "What if we didn't finish?" (Sometimes it's hard to resist the urge to be snarky and remind them that if she had read instead of talked, this would not be an issue.) The flip side to my reading aloud is that they often tune me out and don't know what's been read anyway. In each case of reading aloud and then making them responsible for a certain number of pages, I've had to repeat where we are in the book.

They need to be reminded to hand in late work, not realizing that eventually it's going to have a due date. To the rest of us, that work must be accounted for is an obvious thing, but of course when you're 14 or 15 you don't see what the big deal is and don't place the same amount of importance on such things. And of course if they don't actually hand in the work, the worst that will happen is the potential to fail and have to repeat the grade (as opposed to the result being, say, a hospital not getting vital medical necessities because they weren't kept track of). In the grand scheme of things, not handing in an essay is unimportant, but they don't see the long-term possibilities of forming good work habits. At that age, I didn't see it either. So, I'll need to remind them every day that I won't accept late work past this Friday.

Logical thinking is not their strong suit at this age. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy them, which I do, very much. It just means they think I'm unaware of their behavior; they need to be reminded what to do; they don't see the relationship between action and consequence.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wedding Miscellany

Miscellaneous things that are on my mind about the wedding, which is, like, this year. (Aieee.) 

Place card holders: There are a lot of options out there. Shiny, silvery things that have bells and let you put pictures or flowers in them and are cutesy and are completely useless once you give them to your guests, who will immediately throw them out. (Except for maybe the topiary place card holder, but that might be difficult for those flying in to transport.) We found these mini apple candles that can serve as place card holders, which will smell nice, and which can then be taken home and actually used. If we put our guests' names in a mini-Eiffel tower, I'm not sure they'd save the mini-Eiffel tower, whereas hopefully they can enjoy the candle once they get home. (Weddings are expensive, and I have no qualms about paying a bit more for food or a better DJ. But we're not French or having a themed wedding, and I have a hard time justifying paying a few hundred dollars (which ultimately isn't a lot, but it's still money I'd rather use for something else; does that make me cheap?) for something that serves such a singular purpose.)

Wedding favors: Adagio has tea wedding favors that we had been considering; however, I don't quite trust them after the shipping debacle from a few months back. I did discover that Upton Tea has several types of strawberry tea, though. The packaging wouldn't be as fancy, but labels could still be personalized and we could have different types of strawberry tea, which makes me happy. (And it's about as close to a theme as I'm likely to get within the confines of this wedding.)

Hair: I'm hopeless with my hair. I wash it, dry it, put it in a ponytail, and call it good. I did find a stylist - strangely enough, in the tiny little town I grew up in - who offers the option of coming to your location. One can also schedule a trial appointment, which I schedule if we're in the Lehigh Valley beforehand. The feedback I had on FaceBook was all over the place: A few women had stylists come to them (or knew brides who had the stylist come to them); one went to a beauty school; one had a bridesmaid help; another did her hair herself. At this point, the more I think about it, the more I'd just prefer someone professional just come to wherever it is I'll be.

Wedding Cake

Last week, we took advantage of being in the Lehigh Valley to attempt to find an edible strawberry wedding cake. This is more difficult than it sounds. I've called on or talked to several bakeries who looked askance at she who would desire a strawberry wedding cake; they'd never heard of such a thing. (My parents apparently went through the same thing when they got married; my dad wanted a chocolate wedding cake, but in 1969, everyone only did vanilla, I guess.) Vanilla, chocolate, marble, even red velvet, all these were manageable, but strawberry flavored?

When we went to Louie's Bakery a few months back, they tried to give us some terrible concoction that tasted like it had been sitting in the garbage can; it had chunks of unripe strawberries in a mushy vanilla cake. Not what we wanted. It was apparently difficult to understand that we did not want strawberry pie filling, or strawberries cut up in a cake of a different flavor, or whole strawberries cut up on the cake. So while this time around I made four appointments for last week, I wound up canceling one; although the Village Bake Shoppe does do strawberry cake, I was told that since strawberries aren't in season they wouldn't make me one to try now.

We stayed nearly two hours at Kym's Creations. Kym was extremely chatty and very nice; she had mentioned in her e-mails that anyone I'd want to bring would be welcome; and she made various cupcake samples of various flavors - chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry - with various flavors mixed in, and various fillings to try on the side, which was really helpful. But of the bakers we tried, I liked her cakes the least: I thought they were dry and didn't have much strawberry flavor.

DK Cakes had a really good cake that I liked slightly more than the others we sampled. The woman (also named Kim) who made the cake used strawberry syrup, which I liked a lot, but didn't provide a sample of either ganache or fondant, so we couldn't ascertain how good either would be. And in a slightly odd twist, the strawberry cake wasn't pink. Although she said she could add the necessary coloring, Mom, Dad, and Ed all said it threw them for a loop that the cake wasn't pink, and of the three cakes we sampled, this one didn't taste especially strawberry to them. (We later discussed if this was psychological, which perhaps it was; we also wondered if my sister-in-law's having made Thai food for us that night may have affected our taste buds.)

Ultimately we chose Granny Schmidt's. The cake was good; the woman we met with, Michelle Q., had provided a small round strawberry cake with chocolate ganache and Swiss buttercream that she cut samples from (she then boxed and sent the rest home so I could give samples to my parents, and Justin and Cheng). Michelle Q. also addressed things we hadn't thought of: how the cake will be transported (including the cake board and supports, which we'll be charged for in addition to everything else, to make sure the cake stays in place as it's being transported). And the cake will include a small top-layer cake specifically to be taken home and frozen for our first anniversary.
Interestingly, none of the bakers make their own fondant. Kym's Creations and Granny Schmidt's both said they could get the buttercream as smooth as the fondant would look, while DK Cakes said that essentially such a look was too difficult to do and wouldn't (or couldn't) guarantee that same smoothness unless fondant was used.