Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Houdini writes a myth

Okay-back from the trip to Florida (old teacher's never die, they just retire to South Florida so I can visit them between snow storms)

And its back to "Make Up The Missing Credits- 'cause you didn't do what you supposed to do in the first place- course." It's the last period of the day and I admit I look forward to it. By the time ninth period rolls around, the calls from the support office about missing paperwork, the fight between the eighth graders and phone calls from irate parents fade into the background as jealous gods and vain goddesses strut into the forefront.

The English teacher, a young, thoughtful, caring teacher has been thinking really hard how to make the Greek Mythology course meaningful to people who find reaching the end of the Iliad and the Odyssey as elusive as scaling Mt. Olympus.

So for now the Iliad and the Odyssey are put away. We've been dissecting myths and looking at their place in the ancient world. The English Teacher thought maybe we could write our own myths.

I was late for Make Up The Missing Credits ...course today, stuck in the assistant principal's office discussing excessive flatulence with a sixth grader, his mother and the assistant principal (see why I look forward to ninth period). When I got there my buddies were struggling to come up with concepts for their myths.
But not Houdini- the teacher wanted a myth- he'd write her one.

I will leave today with Houdini's story. (Usually-I use the next letter of the alphabet to make an alias for the student - but I've been calling Houdini- Houdini for the last year. It's based on his uncanny ability to disappear in a split second)

How Thunder Came To Be

Zeus was married to Athena. But Athena was interested in Zeus's brother Hades. So she cheated on Zeus with Hades. They had sex. Zeus got angry and made thunder.

The end.
Bell rang.

Houdini disappeared.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not a Snow Day

So the mayor gets on TV and makes some sarcastic announcement about how he's sorry to report that the schools will be open on Thursday

Big surprise. I already wrote yesterday that the shock was that he called one at all. By six am my phone was ringing- did I have this one's home number? What would happen if we are late? Did I know which buses were likely to be running regularly? Strangely enough I could answer all those questions as I filled the thermos with steamy coffee and pulled the boots over my jeans. (Jean wearing always seemed to be one of the
few benefits of snow days).

And then just as the sun was rising I let myself out into the snow covered world.

And off to work I went.

My good buddies made it in somehow. I joined the "make up missing credit- because you didn't do what you were supposed to do the first time the teacher asked you to do it" session after school.

The English teacher stood in front of an almost empty classroom while four of my senior buddies sat with Homer's Illiad opened before them, eyes glazed over. The teacher showed me the topics for the essays and whispered that she was worried that they might be too hard.

Now here is my moral dilemma- my senior buddies are literally three months away from high school diplomas, and the real world and maybe college and maybe a reality where you are expected to be able to read complex sentences and write coherent essays. And my buddies were staring at the Iliad with about as much interest as... (actually I am having a very difficult time thinking of something they would havefound less interesting - I considered the phone book, the directions for installing a trash compactor and last week's news - but all of those would have been more interesting than the Iliad.)

And the English teacher was breaking into a cold sweat.

I suggested we talk about stuff for a while. Like what is mythology? And why do we study the Iliad? I asked if mythology was fiction or nonfiction? And then we had some problem defining and distinguishing the two.

The English teacher was really sweating now.

And I could end the entry here with the sorry state of the education system today. One of the teacher guppies claims her first grader's can tell the difference when I recounted the story.

But as the period went on, the glazed looks started to disappear. Bettina argued that Push by Sapphire was fiction even though the Precious seemed so real. She's a composite (Did I just hear Bettina say composite?) of so many different students Sapphire taught over the years. Bettina had seen an interview on TV.

Serina argued that Martin Luther's King's "I have a Dream," speech was fiction, because he could have not known what the future held.

Quincy moved from the back of the room, picked up his head and followed the discussion.

And Connor wanted to know why he just couldn't talk about things, why did we have to ruin his good ideas by making him write about them.

My buddies were articulate. They wanted to talk about literature.
They just weren't sure how to read or write about it.

Twenty years ago students like Connor, Bettina, Quincy and Serina, like Precious in Push would have been in some alternative setting secluded from the general education system with some teacher like Saphire or me who fanned the sparks of insight buried under the general confusion the written word provoked.

But today we are all "included".

The English teacher calmed down, we talked about things we could plan for this group.

I wrote before how I won't attempt to choose which system is better since in the end I have no choice.

But its nice to end a Not-a-snow-day- fanning faint sparks of intellect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day!

I've spent more than 80% of my life in the New York City School system. Between being a student and teacher that's more than four decades.

And I can count the number of days school has been canceled during those four decades on one (okay maybe both- but no more than both) hands.

When my older daughter was born (27 years ago this week) a snow storm stuck me in the hospital for two extra days because my doctor couldn't get in to release me. My husband came to visit on cross country skis - which totally blew the mind of my roommate's Dominican husband. (We talked about mind blowing in those days)

Anyway did New York City schools close? Well- our decentralized district did. The superintendent of our district and the one directly to the east had the unreasonable idea to look out at the more than three feet of snow covering the wheels of the vehicles, the unplowed streets and the sidewalks encrusted with glazed over precipitation and closed the schools. They had the mistaken idea that title "superintendent" gave them the power to do so.

It cost them their jobs.

But that is ancient history. Our current mayor has removed even the illusion that anyone but him has the power to mess with Mother Nature (or least concede to her). So he dismantled the local school boards and replaced them with an army of (hey I don't know what to call them- especially since I'm committed to not making this "a whine against the system blog).

Okay- for lack of a better word - I call the mayor's minions- the Blackberry users. If you're goinna have a centralized "top down" managed system- you got to have a way of getting directive"down"- fast. So I'm used to well dressed people walking around the school with a Blackberry.

So it wasn't surprising that the man in the dean's office pulled out his and read the message. What blew my mind (okay- I'm stuck in the 80's) is that he announced the mayor had decided to close schools.


All that advance warning too! The chicken is roosting, the cake baking and the wine chilling.

Who knows at the rate of one snow day a decade- I'm going to enjoy this one, it could be the last one of my career!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jury Duty

I had jury duty this week.
I got to sit in the central jury hall, outside the courtrooms, in the courtrooms and finally in the jury box, before I didn't get chosen to be a juror.

The judge told me being a special education teacher was a noble profession though, before I didn't get chosen. Just for the record, I believe (though it could never be confirmed) that I didn't get chosen for doing what I do best- opening my mouth.

Day one- I watched the potential jurors in the box, while I sat in the audience because I didn't get my name drawn from the wooden tumbler that resembled the contraption that is used to extract Bingo balls. The district attorney and the defense both grilled the people who did get chosen about being able to remember a face if their encounter with that face was traumatic. Two potential jurors took exception. One young man argued particularly cogently that his sole objective in a life threatening situation would be to survive, not to memorize the details of the attackers appearance. The other, a copyright attorney made a similar statement. They were not chosen for the panel. Neither was the young mother who said she read the Indian papers and used her free time to play with her children. However, the young man who replied to the question "are you married?" with the response, "in some places," leading me to conclude he was making a statement on same sex marriage, was chosen.

Day Two: My name emerged second from the bingo ball - panel selector tumbler, and I was seated in the jury box. The judge again apprised us of the privilege of performing our civil duty. (Earlier I complained - I was getting tired of jury duty after going through the fourth of fifth security check- and the man standing next to me said- "stop being such a model citizen and they won't call you) And along with this reminder the judge recalled that some of us might have an idea of things we could say that would get us excused. I was beginning to think that anything we said that was more than yes or no, or I like to read and listen to the local news mostly for the weather report would be the exit ticket from the juror box. So the defense attorney got around to asking me if I agreed with him that if you spoke to someone long enough you would be able to ascertain if he spoke the truth.

Wait- do you what I do?- do you know how many hours of my life I spend listening to people tell me, she did this, I said that, or more likely I didn't do "it", say "it", throw "it" etc.? After listening to opposing stories for more than a few minutes I have no idea what the truth is or who is the better liar. And I told the defense attorney this. From the corner of my eye I could see the district attorney pick up a yellow highlighter and slash decisively across her paper.

I was off the panel. And jury duty was over just a bit later that day.

Back in school on Thursday I found Marianna pacing in front of my room.
"I didn't pass the Algebra Regent, I didn't pass the Science Regent. I need a really good tutor"

We'll work together- we'll get them next time Marianna.
The judge is right about one thing It is a noble profession.

Even for those who can't keep their mouth's shut.