Sunday, October 28, 2007

Whining about work

I'll try to be broad and vague here:

Let us suppose that, the day after tomorrow, my administration announced the following: "The administration feels that ice cream is a delicious treat which should be enjoyed in moderation. We therefore will be providing ice cream--one scoop to each certificated staff member, and of the individual staff member's choice--every Friday after school."

Here's what would follow: an emergency faculty meeting and a dozen enraged emails about how the bosses were railroading their dairy-related agenda down our throats.

How does a new guy change such a culture? Is it intractable? Do I wait for people to retire or die, or for my pitchfork-carrying colleagues to run my bosses (who I basically like) out of town on a rail? Or do I leave?

As politicized and ugly as I sometimes thought the old place was...well, this takes the cake.

I think I need to give this two years to blow over. Is that too long?

I can't prove this, but...

I picked Red Sox in seven. The AL is too superior to the NL this year. While I'd vastly prefer the Rockies to win, because so many Red Sox fans are insufferable morons, they just don't have the horses.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In the middle of our street. Was our castle and our keep. With two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard...

Those of you who keep up with the wife's blog will know that we've finally finished the haggling over repairs and have purchased a way-better-than-I-thought-we-could-afford house in the 'Couv. It's good enough, and big enough, and located in an awesome enough place, that at the ripe old age of 37 there's a good chance that I won't ever buy another house. We'll move in around Halloween, give or take a faster close, speed of pulling up carpet, etc.

It's been a helluva process. I've been exhausted all the time because of my horrific commute, and money was tight enough to delay our getting to sleep on a few nights, but it's over. I'm immensely thankful to my in-laws for letting us stay with them during a longer-than-expected transition, to my family for putting up with my mood swings in the midst of all of this, to my friends for letting me call them and talk during my hourlong commute, and to my brilliant and beautiful wife for making house-related matters into her full-time job.

That was probably the best move we made in the midst of all of this. Swankette being unemployed, I mean. She was nosing around for temp work when we got an offer for our Redmond condo about four weeks ago. I immediately asked that she NOT take any work and make her full time job condo seller/home buyer for us. There were so many days that we needed me to initial something RIGHT AWAY and fax it up to Redmond. In all seriousness, with me working in a job where I can't take a quick 15 minutes to send a fax and can't have my cell phone on, that saved us. She showed up at lunch at least 4 times, showed me where to initial, and ran off to Kinko's.

How the hell did people sell houses from a different city before faxes and email?

Then, in the buying phase, Swankette would do some marvelous things. She'd say, as I fell asleep, "OK, so tomorrow I'm going to learn about the possible costs of sealants for the exterior of the house, and I'm going to research possible structural engineers to hire." I'd get up, go to school, come back, and Swankette would have a 7-minute lecture on both subjects. Then she'd say: "I will now learn about how best to fix a roof, and who the best people in Vancouver are to do that." 24 hours later, she'd tell me.

There was a close call at the end. We wanted a good deal of work done on the place, and the sellers didn't want to do it...they just wanted to give us a pretty small amount of money to make us do it ourselves. My dulcet bride pronounced the offer as "bullshit." (This is why, in our marriage, I'm the one to talk to customer service.) I clearly laid out to our realtor the following:

--If they had offered us money, or a lower price, we would walk. We're not at a moment in life where we want to add things to our to-do list. And it always costs more than you think it will. So that was a hill we were willing to die on. We didn't want the money. We wanted the repairs.

--If they didn't give us a new roof, we would walk. We were willing to negotiate whether that roof goes over the existing one or whether we knock off the existing one, but we were unwilling to just patch it up. New roof--period.

Their offer had been low enough that we were making contingency plans for not buying this place we were so smitten with--figuring out a furnished backup apartment to use for a while in Vancouver. In fact, since Swankette was the only person their agent had ever talked to, we think he might have tried to pull a fast one on a woman who, in his view, clearly cannot have known anyhing about home repair. (Man oh man, did they have my wife pegged wrong!) But when we made our desires clear and our resolve known, they immediately came in with a 100% acceptable offer. We stood strong, and it worked.

Net result: Only about 3 more weeks of commute remain. And sheesh, I'm glad about that.

And then, for the first time in my life, I will own four walls and not share a single one of them with a neighbor.

Life is good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Higher Edumacation

Even though it's not far away, I won't be able to recommend Western Pacific College in Portland to any of my students.

A Gmail banner ad on one of my emails tonight read as follows:

Develope English Skills
Communicate Fluently & Effectively
Western Pacific College in Portland
www.westernpacificcollege.com

Monday, October 08, 2007

I was bad, and it was good...

So I didn't get any grading done tonight like I should have. I've got a fistful of essays that I'll need to get through. Because of tonight's sloth, it's probably gonna be a long next couple of nights followed by a long weekend.

But I'm totally cool with that, because I watched Monday Night Football (and peeked at the Yankees' loss during commercials).

Seriously, have you seen a better game in recent memory? I sure haven't.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Finally, I blog a little about the new job

I have my second high-school teaching job now. I have moved from one of the most affluent public schools I have ever seen to a school that actually has some poverty associated with it. It's not like I'm in the South Bronx or that Jonathan Kozol will visit, but about a third of my kids are on federal free or reduced lunch (compared to exactly one student in my 8-year career at the old place). So things are different.

I'm honestly glad I moved. Swankette said the other day that she thinks I have regained my passion for teaching. That's not really accurate--I was passionate every second at the old place. However, I think I had started to coast. I had a good reputation, knew pretty well every problem that would arise and how to counteract the problems, and things were going well. But now, I'm having to strengthen teaching muscles that I've been able to ignore for 8 years.

Every teacher should either change schools or change assignments every 8 years.

Anyhow, I don't like blogging about work that much, at least not in a way that might make my school, myself, or my students anything other than anonymous. I've always said I would quit blogging the second that students found this place, and that holds true still. To be honest, I'm amazed I've made it the three-plus years that I have.

But the difference between schools is so on my mind that I think I'll relax that restriction for a little while. Writing helps me clarify what's in my mind, and I'm trying to sort through a lot of job-related stuff right now.

There are so many differences that I won't be able to address them all in one post. I think I'll create a new category called Old Job/New Job that deals with differences I notice along the way.

For now, here are two observations:

First of all, the kids have some differences. I firmly believe that all kids are basically the same, but it's still a different culture. At the old place, the kids basically viewed the teacher as either someone actually there to help or--rarely, but noticeably--as "The Help," kind of like their gardener or something.

At the new place--and it could be because I'm a new face that they're testing--the default position of the students is that the student-teacher relationship will be adversarial. That's troubling. I've tossed kids out of class and into the hallway about 5 times in the first month, and have had two referrals to administration (more than in my last 3 years at the old place). And in each case, I feel like I gave the kids countless opportunities not to go that they passed up on. I hate tossing problems up the chain of command--I feel like I should be able to take care of everything in my classroom. But each of these kids absolutely, positively tossed themselves out of my room by ignoring countless civil warnings. I didn't lose my temper in either instance--but kids did, and when they couldn't calm down, well, we had ourselves an ejection and a referral.

Even in the minor day-to-day stuff, it's a different world. There's more whining and more backtalk. It's improving, I think because they've learned in this first month that I'm impervious to whining and backtalk. But it does make for a new, different kind of challenge.

Second--well, I don't want to be reductive and pass this off to a socioeconomic difference, but I honestly couldn't imagine this happening at the old place.

I called home to discuss a kid who's failing the other day. The conversation went thusly:

PERSON: Hello?
ME: Hello. Lavinia Parent please.
PERSON: (protracted pause)...Hold on...
NEW PERSON: Hello?
ME: Hello, Ms. Parent, this is Mr. RefPoet, Gertrude's teacher. How are you doing today?
NEW PERSON: (hangs up on me)

Wow. Now, at the old place, there was a fair amount of parental guff. For the most part, parents at the old place HATED to be told their kid was going to do anything less than attend an Ivy League school or a service academy. Over the years, I'd picked up skills for handling those interactions.

But no way would ANY of them ever have hung up on me without talking to me. They may have fought with me, and one hung up on me after I wouldn't back off of penalizing her son for plagiarism, but never this.

Assuming that this was actually the mom (and I think it was, although I'll do more investigation by talking to Gertrude on Monday), I'm trying to imagine what might be in her mind when she decides to hang up. Gertrude has failed a lot of classes these past few years (in fact, a disturbingly-high percentage of the student body has, but we'll cover that later). Maybe Mom feels like she doesn't want to go through that at all.

Maybe, in short, her default position is that the relationship between parent and teacher is adversarial.

I guess if, every time you talk to a teacher, they tell you your kid is failing, it would be easy to see me as the enemy. That's too bad, because I really do think we can help her daughter out if we teamed up.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

2007 Baseball Challenge Results

Who has won the 22 oz. soda? Me or pankleb?

We shall soon see...as soon as I type the following.

The first number is the actual result for the year. The second is TRP's projected total, the third is pankleb's. Then, I say who's closer, and whether our picks were "on" (within 4 games), "off" (5-8 games) or "way off" (9 or more games).

Boston 96/91/90 TRP by 1, both off
Yankees 94/93/96 TRP by 1, both on
Toronto 83/83/84 TRP by 1, both on (TRP exact!)
Baltimore 69/68/69 Pankleb by 1, both on (pankleb exact!)
Tampa Bay 66/68/68 tied, both on

Cleveland 96/85/91 Pankleb by 6, TRP way off, pankleb off
Detroit 88/89/80 TRP by 7, TRP on, pankleb off
Minnesota 79/83/85 TRP by 2, TRP on, pankleb off
Chicago Sox 72/89/83 Pankleb by 6, both way off
Kansas City 69/65/70 pankleb by 3, both on

LA of A 94/88/90 Pankleb by 2, TRP off, pankleb on
Seattle 88/79/76 TRP by 3, both way off
Oakland 76/84/84 tied, both off
Texas 75/76/80 TRP by 4, TRP on, pankleb off

Philadelphia 89/91/85 TRP by 2, both on
NY Mets 88/83/93 tied, both off
Atlanta 84/79/80 pankleb by 1, TRP off, pankleb on
Washington 73/58/66 pankleb by 8, TRP way off, pankleb off
Florida 71/69/78 TRP by 5, TRP on, pankleb off

Cubs 85/84/86 tied, both on
Milwaukee 83/89/80 pankleb by 3, TRP off, pankleb on
St. Louis 78/87/90 TRP by 3, both way off
Houston 73/79/73 pankleb by 6, TRP off, pankleb on (exact!)
Cincinnati 72/81/73 Pankleb by 8, TRP way off, pankleb on
Pittsburgh 68/70/63 TRP by 3, TRP on, pankleb off

Arizona 90/90/89 TRP by 1, both on (TRP exact!)
Colorado 89/80/76 TRP by 4, both way off (went with pre-playoff total)
San Diego 89/85/80 TRP by 5, TRP on, pankleb way off
LAD 82/86/93 TRP by 7, TRP on, pankleb way off
SF 71/74/74 even, both on

And the winner is...
well, let me do this by division:

AL East, TRP by 2.
AL Central, pankleb by 6.
AL West, TRP by 5.
NL East, pankleb by 3.
NL Central, pankleb by 11.
NL West, TRP by 17.

I win by four games! Mmmm...tasty carbonated drink coming my way!

To put it another way:

TRP: 16 on, 7 off, 7 way off. That ain't bad.
pankleb: 14 on, 10 off, 6 way off. That's pretty good too.

Pankleb has 5 of the 8 playoff participants, including all 4 AL teams.
TRP has 5 of the 8 playoff participants as well (I had Philadelphia instead of the Mets; he had Cleveland instead of the Tigers).

His WS pick, Yankees over D-backs, is still possible. Mine, Tigers over D-backs, is not.

But he still owes me a soda. C'mon up to the 'Couv this winter, pankleb. I'll buy you your chips, then we can go to Moxie's and you can get me the hoagie and drink you owe me.