electricpaladin: (Aleph Hack)

It's everyone's favorite time again - the least exciting part of the year. Testing!

I'm going to be sitting around the classroom, hopefully watching silent children silently complete their test. Any amusing links and emails you can send me would be appreciated.

Normally, I love this job. Proctoring standardized tests... not so much.

LOL

Apr. 18th, 2012 09:50 am
electricpaladin: (Obstinate Familiar)
Me: Why are you trying to sneak into the classroom? Do you think I'm going to miss you? There's only one door!

 J (A Student): I just thought that you love me so much that you'd just let me in.

Me: No, I love you so much that I'm going to be consistent with you and teach you integrity.

J: Damn! (leaves to get tardy pass)
electricpaladin: (Default)

I think it is continually fascinating that my English Language Learners are much more likely to get my silly puns than my native English speakers. For example: practically without fail, my Latino boys (and some girls) will laugh when I call a student selected by pulling his equity stick (a set of sticks, each with a different student's name written on them - an engagement strategy that lets every student know that he/she can be called on, even if they don't volunteer, and helps address any subconscious biases I might have)  a "sticktim" (a victim selected by equity stick - as opposed to a volunteer who rases his/her hand). Very few of my native English speakers appreciate my silly puns.

I don't know what, if anything, it means, but I find it odd and entertaining.

electricpaladin: (Legion of Everblight)

 I hate giving tests.

It's boring for me. I came here to teach, not to sit around and torture children. If I have to torture children, I'd like to at least be active about it! Tests stress the kids out so I have to give a lot of consequences, and I'm not convinced that it really has any place in education.

In other words, total fail.

Anyway, my first and second periods have been pretty easy on me. Let's see if that holds true for the rest of the day.

electricpaladin: (Default)

"Death Spiral" is not the name of a goth metal band, but it should be.

Actually, I was introduced to the term "Death Spiral" by RPGs. In an RPG context, a Death Spiral is a rule that causes a character (or other entity) to become less effective as it approaches death. For characters, this has the effect of heightening tension and increasing drama. As the character becomes increasingly injured, he or she must struggle on despite the pain and handicap of wounds. Death Spirals - although for this to work they usually have to be accompanied by a mechanic for ignoring them at some cost - can often produce some awesome "from hell's heart I stab at thee" moments.

Of course, there are problems with Death Spirals. For one thing, the "circle round and beat the crap out of an increasingly crippled opponent" scene isn't much cooler than it sounds. A few games have done interesting things with inverted or otherwise altered Death Spirals that make opponents different or just plain nastier as they get more hurt, which is counter-intuitive, but usually a lot more fun, in that it produces rising action over the course of a battle, rather than falling action.

In the last few minutes, I've also learned that Death Spiral can also refer to some economics conditions, too.

But I digress. I'm here to talk about the Death Spiral in terms of sleep.

The Stress-Work-Sleep Death Spiral goes like this:

First, I am stressed. This is a general condition of my life. Then, I have work to do (also a general condition of my life). Because I am stressed, I am often doing the work at odd hours of the night. As it gets later, I get more tired, which reduces my efficiency and increases my stress. Which reduces my efficiency. Which causes it to become later. Which increases my weariness. Which reduces my efficiency.

And so on.

This is probably the worst thing about reality. Time, man, it totally blows. I would totally arrange things differently if it were up to me.

I think that recognizing the Stress-Work-Sleep Death Spiral (SWS Death Spiral, or SWSDS, for short) has helped me to avoid it, or at least mitigate it. The problem with totally preventing the SWS Death Spiral is that it acts upon the part of my brain that, well, acts. I may see it coming, but that doesn't mean I can do anything about it because it's the parts of me that manages time, makes decision, and works creatively that are slowed down, skewed sideways, and otherwise fucked up. However, there is something powerful about sitting in front of my computer at 12:45 AM and saying "damn, I know what this is - this is the Death Spiral" that helps. It opens the door to radical solutions, like "fuck it - I'm going to go to bed and set the alarm for 5:30 so I have time to do this before school" (a personal favorite). On a smaller scale, it sometimes helps spur me on to make more intelligent decisions about how to manage my time and reach the inevitable conclusion of the SWS Death Spiral - finishing my work and going, the fuck, to sleep.

And for the record, I know where the spacebar is. There's some kink of the Dreamwidth interface that they're still working out that occasionally erases my spaces. It's a space erasure. Very exciting.

electricpaladin: (Default)

In my line of work, it's considered a virtue to be sensitive to the culture(s) of the kids we work with. We are supposed to educateourselvesinwhat's appropriate and inappropriate in the cultural contexts of our kids and then do our best to meet their expectations. In a lot ofways, thisisan entirely good idea. It helps us get past the "culture of poverty" myths, connect to our students, and dodge a lot of the social,racial,andeconomic issues that could potentially divide and destroy classroom culture.

Even though I know this is basically a good idea, I sometimes wonder if it's bullshit.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should add a disclaimer. By that, I mean that the opinions expressed in this post are not necessarilyendorsed by the writer. In other words: I don't really know what I think about this issue, much less how I feel about this issue. I'm unloadingmyemotionsand expressing my feelings, and if you take this post as anything but me thinking out loud for your entertainment andedification,you're a jerk.

So, with black kids - and, in many cases, kids who belong to other cultures but have undergone a lot of their socialization around black kids -you aren't supposed to single them out by name. It's apparently disrespectful. I don't really understand how, but I don't have to. It's aculturalthing. It's true for the kids. Whatever.

The thing is, you can imagine that as a classroom teacher this isn't easy to deal with. How the hell else am I supposed to deal with kids ifIcan't single them out? It's important for me to note here that I'm not talking about insulting or humiliating kids - yes, yes, at least not bymyentirely subjective standards - I'm talking about saying something as simple as taking a break from whatever bit of instruction I'm doing tosay"hey, Manuel, please stop talking and listen to me" or "Christine, spit out your gum please."

I want to note that it's not like I'm taking any heat from anyone in authority to do this differently. My administrators seem pretty content to let merun my classroom my way, and they're pretty happy with how I relate to the kids. I've noticed a lot of conflict in my classroom, and I'm trying tofigure out how to improve my classroom culture. My classroom culture, not my kids' culture. That's their business. My mentor's advice was toconsider this "calling out" phenomenon and see what I can do to change how I relate to my kids.

The first thing is that I'm very confused about how the heck to communicate with my kids if I'm not going to single them out anymore. What am Isupposed to do, say "remember that gum isn't allowed" while looking meaningfully at one of my students while she chews? Is anyone but meaware that this will totally fail to produce any kind of response?

I know what the solution is, of course. My school has a number of excellent teachers who are born and bred in Oakland's black community. Ican - and will - go and watch them and see how they deal with it. Perhaps I'll discover that it's simpler than I think.

What's really frustrating is that the entire project seems a little ridiculous. My classroom isn't just full of black kids. There are black kids from Oakland, black kids from elsewhere, latino kids, kids born in America, and latino kids born abroad, Mongolian kids and Chinese kids and Vietnamese kids, and even one lonely white kid (actually, I think the white kid moved, but I still see last year's white kid in the halls sometimes). I know that more of my kids are black than anything else, but by bowing to their cultural preferences and ignoring everyone else's, aren't I perpetuating the same inequalities I hate, just for different reasons?

And for that matter, why the heck don't we expect black kids to develop cultural competencies like (nearly) everyone else in America (except the white people) has to? I know that the black and Jewish experiences in America are very different - for one thing, we got to be white eventually, and I'm not sure America can handle making black people white - but nobody ever gave a shit about my culture when I was growing up. I've had to learn to appreciate the Jesus myth in literature. I've had negative interactions with teachers based on my argumentative and belligerent ways. I've had to explain my weird Jewish holidays over and over again. Is this a white liberal guilt ("we must limit the ways our awful white culture impacts these poor innocent black kids!") thing? A low expectations ("we can't expect these fucked up, poor, urban black kids to adapt to other cultures") thing? Or is it some other thing?

*sigh*

The thing is, I understand that none of that really matters. It doesn't matter where this thing comes from or how I related to it in my childhood. What matters is that I want to teach these kids science, and the more harmoniously I can do it, the more science they will learn. If I have to figure out how to discipline kids without talking to them individually - or whatever it turns out I have to do - then I'll do it. But I still have a lot of questions, and I think I'm going to have to get used to not having answers.

electricpaladin: (Default)
There are days that remind me of why I'm doing this.

Of course, there are days that don't. There are days that make me wonder why - why, in the name of all that is lizards - I'm subjecting myself to this, and for so little money! And there are days where the spark just doesn't catch and it's just a job (like today, for example).

Anyway, I want to write about one of the formermost days that happened a few weeks ago, but for that, I'm going to have to give you a little background.

As many of you know, I was raised by a crazy woman and her sidekick. Or, as my wife likes to put it, I was raised by Captain Kirk and Frodo Baggins (now there is a match made in heaven) and my parents were just two people I had to put up with in the meantime. The truth is kind of elusive. I'm certainly a fairly crazy person thanks to my parents' behavior, but I'm a lot more selfless and creative, less neurotic and doubting, than you'd think I'd be with parents as nutty as mine. I'm proud to say that part of it probably is because of my adoptive dads James and Frodo. It's probably partly because, as an older child, I identified more with the somewhat less aggressively crazy of my parents, my father, also an older child. The fact that I spend nearly a month in an incubator might have also prevented me from bonding properly with my mother, which might have contributed to our lousy relationship today, even as it kept her from pouring as much of her crazy into me. Part of it is because for all their dysfunction, my parents have always loved me as deeply as they were able, something which they communicated despite their issues. And part of it is because of the other adults in my life, my teachers, mentors, and relatives.

Chief among them, in many ways, was my uncle Michael, my mother's brother. Michael was a chemist who worked on identifying hazardous chemicals in products and preventing them from becoming a danger to health and the environment. As a young person with a growing interest in science, Michael was possibly the coolest thing to ever happen to me, and every time he visited us - and that one time we visited him - we would stay up long into the night and talk about science.

The thing I remember most clearly about Michael was his incredible patience. Here was a guy doing very high level science at one of America's leading universities, and here is a ten year old who likes the Time Life: Human Body series and Eyewitness Science books.

And yet, I remember one of the proudest moments of my young life was the day that I proposed inventing a chemical that would stop HIV from copying inside a host cell and my uncle told me that I had just predicted the principle behind AZT, one of the first drugs to slow the progress of HIV to AIDS.

A few weeks ago, I was proud to find my class discussion of the mechanics of HIV turning in the same direction, with my students asking me, with significant creativity and clarity of thought, about how HIV might defeated. It was a lot of fun, and it made me feel close to my uncle, and proud that I've created a classroom that is, at least sometimes, a place where my students feel safe to explore their ideas.
electricpaladin: (Default)

Today we begin one of my favorite units of the year: the HIV Mini-Unit.

I enjoy teaching this unit for several reasons. Firstly, I'm really proud of a lot of the activities I've cooked up for it, including the T-Pain Suicide analysis activity (culturally appropriate pedagogy for the win!). Other activities that come with the curriculum, like the "Drinking Party" or the "Mix and Match Fluids and Orfices" activity, are fun just as written. It's also fun to get to teach something that I know will definitely be relevant to my students' lives, practically no matter what choices they make. Everyone should know how to do science - it adds a lot to your life to understand the world around you, and the problem-solving skills it provides are invaluable - but let's face it, a lot of people don't remember an iota of middle school science and they do fine. HIV-avoidance, however, is a matter of life and death.

And, let's face it, I'm a bit of a sadist about this work. I enjoy cracking open my kids' brains and challenging their adorable little assumptions  and preconceptions for its own sake. It's fun. The HIV Mini-Unit gives me lots of opportunities to do that.

"Do we have to do this unit?" C asks me, in a typical whiny twelve-year-old voice.

"Yes," I reply, curtly. I don't like to spend a lot of time answering questions my students already know the answers to, things like 'do we have to do this?' and 'can I go to the bathroom?'
 

I thought the matter was safely resolved, until I walked by during the Pair Share to discover that C was sobbing. A moment of conversation revealed that C's aunt had died of AIDS last month.

I had been trying to explain to my kids that HIV is a growing problem in Oakland. Case in gut-wrenching, tragic, mother-fucking point.

Anyway, I shuffled C off to the counselor's office. It turned out later that all of the counselors are out sick today (wtf?), but when I saw her again she was feeling better; I guess a break from class did her good. C's mother - I called home to giver her my condolences and a head's up about C's feelings - is adamant that C participate in the unit, and I can see why. She's also a little puzzled about C's feelings, since the deceased was her father's sister and not someone she knew very well, but you never can tell with kids. Sometimes things effect them in weird ways.

Anyway, I don't think I actually did anything wrong, but I feel weird nonetheless. It's not every day I dive feet first into someone's personal family tragedy, and while I've had kids who have lost family members to HIV in three years I haven't previously had the bad luck to begin the HIV Mini Unit a mere month after an AIDS death.

That's it from the trenches today - unless someone else starts crying in my six. Wish me luck.


electricpaladin: (Default)
I faced an interesting quandary in class today.

The learning target was "I can list the characteristics of animal cells" and the activity was your basic cheek cell lab (have I mentioned that I love labs? I do. They're labor intensive, sure, but so much fucking fun!). Then, one of my 6th period lobstrocities (actually one of the sweeter ones, for whatever it's worth) asked "so, does that mean human cells are the same as animal cells?"

She didn't raise her hand, so we have to go through that again. Once she followed the correct procedure, I answered her question with "well, yes. Humans are animals."

Bad. Idea.

Class got derailed for about ten minutes as several of my students (loudly, and without raising their hands) opined that we are not animals, that we are not descended from monkeys ("I ain't no monkey!") [and yes, I know we're not really descended from monkeys, exactly], and so on.

I finally stopped the conversation with "look, I'm not going to tell you what to believe. I'm going to tell you what science believes; this is a science class, and science is what you're going to have to know to pass the CST next year. I don't care what you believe, but I do care that you pass the CST."

I don't know if I did the right thing. I think I did, but some part of me still wishes I'd ridden out to battle with the douchebags who own part of my kids' brains. To be fair to myself, that is what I do every day, and perhaps this was not the time and the place for that particular battle.

Evolution should hit in January-February, anyway.
electricpaladin: (The One Electronic)
Today in my first period, during your typical onion skin microscope lab, a girl turns to me and says "this is great! I feel all smart and sciencey!"

Maybe I'm not the worst science teacher in Oakland. In fact, I feel like I could burst.
electricpaladin: (Default)
I've been meaning for a while to write about my first week at school, and now - taking a break between grading Period 3's first week quizzes, diagnostics, exit slips, and daily catalysts and Period 2's - seems like as good a time as any.

I am having the time of my fucking life.

I teach five sections of 7th grade life sciences a day: Period 1, Period 2, Period 3, Period 4, and Period 6. My lunch is beteween 4 and 5, and 5 is my prep, which is a pretty pleasing arrangement. I usually roll into work around 7:30 AM. My commute takes between half an hour and fourty five minutes, depending on the traffic, and I have my podcasts to keep me occupied. I occasionally feel guilty about the driving, but I'm currently considering it an important slice of "me time" before I begin my day. Besides, public transit would take me three times as long and cost about as much. Carpooling would be virtuous, but there goes the "me." Anyway, I arrive, I make my photocopies, I arrange the classroom, and then the kids arrive.

They're a rough bunch. A lot of them are clearly grappling with some serious issues. I can already see signs of learned helplessness, serious anger issues, and the hypervigilance that Abby tells me characterizes trauma. I'm not seeing things: this part of Oakland is one of the most violent, and Oakland itself is one of the most violent cities in America. Gangs are a huge issue. I'm under instructions to report any kid I see wearing baggy pants and exposed boxers, oversized white t-shirts, or a marked preference for certain colors. Scrawling the wrong symbols on their notebooks is also a big deal.

But they're also kids. They're snotty and loveable. They want to assert themselves, but they also want structure and limits to help them grow. They might grumble when I tell them the rules, and they definitely test my rules, my dedication to my rules, and my patience, but they want me to pass their tests.

And I love life science. The science of living things has always fascinted me, and at the middle school level, I get to focus on the fun stuff.

Grad school is also surprisingly nice. I had expected to find my classes pretty useless, but I'm finding them remarkably interesting so far and looking forward to next week, when classes start again after the furlough. Stupid furlough.

The long and the short of it is that I'm loving my job. I feel fulfilled and empowered and like I'm doing something worthwhile in the world. I'll keep you all posted on how it all goes.

electricpaladin: (Hobbes)
Today was one of those days at class that reminds me why I'm doing this.

So, with my fourth graders, we've been talking about the Book of Kings (who were mostly sociopathic power-hungry maniacs), the tradition of prophesy and speaking truth to power, and the ways of speaking truth to power available to us in the modern world. Today was the culmination of those lessons. With some guidance from me, the kids made signs, picked a few chants...

And marched around the block, protesting the unfair and unjust policies of King Rehoboam, Solomon's son.

It was awesome. The second class loved it so much, they walked around the block twice. I had to repeatedly stop two kids from chanting "vote democratic!" and "Rehoboam's not as bad as Cheney!" and one kid worried that protesting ancient dead kinds wasn't 'cool' enough for him (as he explained often, he is 'in a band'), but other than that, the lesson went off without a hitch.

Not only was today one of those days when I felt the rush and the thrill, the fire of the moment - it was one of those days that drilled home the point "I am good at this."

I think I really am.

In other news, I've decided to go ahead with the writing blog project. I've taken [livejournal.com profile] homais's advice to use Blogger to start my writer's blog (and I'll be begging his help creating rss feeds and customizing it, and such). The updates will be based on my experiences and development as a writer, and there will be accessible content in the form of some of my stories.

I am soliciting all sorts of advice on blogging. I need a style - a blogging voice that somehow expresses my narrative voice - and most importantly, I need a name. A name that reflects my style without being lame.

A name that isn't dumb. On the internet.
electricpaladin: (Default)
Only a short Cheerieos post today, kids.

Last night I dreamed that I went to Japan, was rescued from a biker gang by a kindly old lady in a church, visited by a ghost who turned water into... something that proved to the old lady's husband that a ghost had been there, given a bunch of gifts, and guided with an incomprehensible saying, something about giving rice to monks and mountains to Chinese people.

I have no idea. No idea at all.

Also, today is the last day of my Shir Hadash class. I'll find time to meditate on that later.

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