24 September 2010


My American Literature students have been in the computer lab for the past two days completing their initial drafts of their first writing assignment.  As I was circulating the classroom today, monitoring their progress as they were getting started, I paused at one student's computer, seeing a quick fix that I wanted to address. The following conversation ensued.

Me: Hey, student, I notice a change I'd like you to make. Your MLA formatting is a little off. Remember, correct MLA format is a requirement of the assignment.

Student: Oh, yeah, I know. I just noticed that, too. It's a little messed up because I typed it on my iPod last night. 

Me: (taking pause) Oh? You typed it on your iPod? Wow. I'm impressed.

Student: (looking confused) Really? Didn't you know you could do that on the iPod Touch? I do it all the time. I just use the Notes app.

Me: Well, yeah. I mean, I've used the Notes app on mine before. But not like that. I give you a lot of credit for typing all two pages of your draft using that. 

Student: Oh, gotcha. Yeah, I was just adding stuff as I had ideas throughout the day, and then I emailed it to myself so that I could paste it into Word today when we got here.

Me: Well, I'm glad that you were able to do that. It looks like you're almost done. Make sure you fix that formatting before you print. Do you need help?

Student: Nah. You're talking about this part here and here, right? (I nodded.) Okay, I know how to fix it. Thanks, Ms. K! 

Later, with about five minutes left in the hour, another student politely asked if, since he was done with his draft, I would mind if he got on Excel to make some changes to a spreadsheet. Here's that conversation:

Me: Is it school-related? If so, that's fine. If not, I'd rather you don't.

Student: Yes, it's school-related. It's for school organization XYZ.

Me: Okay. But only because you're done with your work, and we only have about five minutes left.

I hovered for a moment to make sure that his intentions were good, and when he pulled up the obviously school-related spreadsheet, I was blown away. It was elaborately hyper-linked and organized. Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate Excel, mostly because I am inept, but that I am in awe of anyone who is adept with the program.

Me: What is that

Student: Oh, it's my spreadsheet for member activities. I have everyone's name hyper-linked to this (and he starts clicking around furiously, showing me all of his hard work) and that's hyper-linked to this to track this, which reports to this chart, and that's hyper-linked to this...

Me: Wow. That's impressive. They're lucky to have you! Excuse me, though, I have to give everyone final directions. And my head hurts just thinking about all of that hyper-linking.

I'm utterly baffled by how tech-savvy my students are. I don't know why. I mean, the amount of instructional technology I have available to me in my classroom is vast, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my students are doing things like this. It makes me wonder what's coming next. I've just figured out how to use my SMART board. I know my students are ready for a classroom like this:

But am I?

23 September 2010

Doing Teacherly Things?

Officially, my long-term substitute teaching position has started, and the past two days have been a whirlwind.  The original start date for my position was this Friday, when the regular teacher's maternity leave was scheduled to begin. I've been teaching in my classroom since yesterday.  I had planned to be in the classroom yesterday regardless--just to observe one last time, take some things in to the classroom, and get some other loose ends tied up before Friday. Yesterday started, though, with a phone call from the regular teacher, letting me know that she just wasn't feeling well at all and that she wouldn't be in to school.  Of course, I was the sub. Now, I've been prepared for this to happen because a) I've gathered that babies don't really wait for anything nor do they concern themselves much with their parents' schedules and b) she just looked really ready to have that baby soon, and I was hoping she would if only for her sake and comfort.  Yesterday ended with a text message letting me know that Mama and Baby were safely and comfortably celebrating a birthday together.

So two days,  150 new students, 60 projects newly-completed-and-ready-to-be-graded, 75 journals of the same nature as the aforementioned projects, one two-hour-long staff meeting, and countless steps around the school building trying to track down the guy who is supposed to give me my school email address later, I'm teaching. And getting paid for it.

My triumph for today is still managing to leave school at 3 p.m.

But I think I did a "scary" teacher thing today.

As I was getting my outfit for tomorrow ready, I grabbed a comfy pair of shoes that I wore frequently during my teaching internship. I slipped them on to make sure that they were indeed still comfy, and in doing so, I noticed a kind-of-big scuff on the back of one of the shoes. Now, if they weren't still comfy, I would have just put them back where I found them (which was under my bed, where they likely had been kicked sometime in May. I know, this is possibly how they became scuffed in the first place. Touche). Still comfy, though. So comfy.

What was I to do? I didn't want to wear scuffed shoes to school on my third day. Still trying to make a good impression here, people. And it would have nagged at me in the back of my mind all day. Woe.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the many black Sharpie markers that lurk around my house.  Thirty seconds later, my comfy shoes are scuff-free.

I don't know whether to just be glad that I own a surplus of Sharpies, one of which happened to be conveniently located for DIY inspiration, or whether I should be worried that I'm now mending my clothing with office supplies. I don't fancy myself a cobbler, but with the new knowledge of how quickly and well this works and armed with the new multicolored pack of Sharpies that I just bought, I fear that this might be something that occurs again.

If I start pinning my hair up with paperclips or fixing hems with Scotch tape, stage an intervention. Please.

14 September 2010

Here is where people/ One frequently finds/ Lower their voices/ And raise their minds*

*The lines of poetry in the post title are from Richard Armour's "Library."

Among the many things I've rediscovered an interest for this summer (i.e. this thing and this thing) in order to keep myself from going mad with boredom in my hometown, I have started going to the library again.

When I was in grade school, I loved going to the library. My dad would take me and my sister to the library, almost every weekend. He'd grab a comfy chair and read National Geographics or the newpaper while my sister and I pored over the stacks, looking for the perfect books to take home with us that week. The deliberation over books was crucial. We were both voracious readers, and the library only allowed children to check out two books at a time, so we had to choose wisely. Do I get this really long book that looks so interesting, so that I can make it last for a few days? Or do I get this book that I have been dying to read and that I know I will devour by the end of the night, only to risk being book-less and bored until next Saturday?  I usually went with the former choice, because I knew my own reading habits so well, and I discovered so many great books, like The Devil's Arithmetic and Gallows Hill.  These were books that pushed me to read above my reading level at the time and spurred in me an intense interest in historical fiction. I kept going back for more of the same, and these two books stick out in my mind because I never found anything quite like them again.

In high school, the library was not the place to be. No, you could find me at Borders most of the time. Librarians don't allow you to LOL with your friends, loitering until 11 p.m. And they certainly aren't serving you over-priced coffee. The moody but handsome, guitar-playing, Jack-Kerouac-reading older boy also was not at the library. Where else could my friends and I go where he might catch a glimpse of us buying our own copies of all of the awesome stuff he and his friends liked? Only Borders.

In college, I hated going to the library.  I associated the library with late night early morning solitary walk-runs through campus to where my car was parked, enough coffee to cause heart palpitations (I'm not kidding, it happened), and the migraine-inducing buzz of fluorescent lights.  When my roommates and I made group trips to the library, it was a little better, but sometimes that resulted in little work getting accomplished. I can't recall a single time in five years when I went to the library just for pleasure. Even when I did finally get a library card for the East Lansing public library, it was only to check out copies of movies that I had to watch for a class.  I was mere steps away from library phobia. Plus, when I was in college, I developed a preference to purchasing my own copies of books--that way, I could write all over them, annotating every square inch of margin, and nobody could fine me.

I still prefer to have my own copies of books (and so, I have a lot of books that I've never read), but something spurred me this summer to revisit the local library that I so loved in my childhood. I wandered around the library for about two hours on my first visit, because I hadn't arrived with a game plan or a reading list. Did I want to find some "teacherly" book to teach or inspire me? Well, sort of, but the selection was kind of shabby. Did I want to read the Sookie Stackhouse novels? The answer here was, "Yes, desperately." But good luck finding those at any public library, unless you want to start with the last one in the series.  Did I want to read Eat Pray Love? The answer here? "Not really." And again, good luck finding that book anywhere.

Getting discouraged, with a brand-spanking new library card just scorching a hole in my pocket, I wandered over to the young-adult literature section. Now, when I was young, all of the YA lit was mixed in with the children's literature.  Someone finally righted this situation and created a whole new section, right smack in the middle of the library, full of YA lit. And I'm a grown-up now, so I can check out as many books as I want! The teacher and the fourteen-year-old girl in me squealed simultaneously. I can't take them anywhere. I could read a bunch of high-interest fiction for young adults, keeping in mind the really good stuff for a future classroom library! I could remember what it was like to have crushes, and sleepovers, and persistent feelings of not-fitting-in-and-my-parents-don't-understand-and-my- best-friend-is-mad-at-me-for-no-reason-except-that-there-is-a-reason-and-it's-totally-my-fault-but-it-will-all-be-okay-in-the-end-and-I'll-learn-something-really-important! (Okay, yes, YA Lit is so much more than that, but when I was a young adult, that's the general plot of most of what I read.)

Now, I fully planned on reading the armload of books that I checked out on that first visit to the library as voraciously as I would have when I was a child. Alas, as fate would have it and as it always does, adult life has gotten in the way. Instead of basking in my haul of YA lit, I'm reading and re-reading texts that I have to teach (although happily, The Outsiders is one of them) and lesson-planning. But waiting for me in those rare moments when I can relax are the following:

Before I begin this, I should note that all of the images used below are credited to Amazon.com, linked via LibraryThing.com.

 The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais

Ah, two best friends like the same "perfect" boy. Most girls have been there, done that, had her fifteen-year-old heart broken, and lived to tell about it. I'm looking forward to Lotus Lowenstein reminding me what it was like in this glimpse into her diary.
 The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

I'll admit, I was drawn to this book because the book jacket mentioned St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Desperate Situations and Hopeless Cases --that Patron Saint to whom my grandmother reminded me to pray every day this summer.  Antonia is fifteen, waiting for her first kiss, and doing everything that her Italian-Catholic upbringing has taught her to get it.  I guess it must have sounded familiar to me.

And the ones I am looking forward to most:
 The Loser's Guide to Life and Love by A.E. Cannon

The book jacket says it's a "fresh, contemporary twist on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream." Um, sold.

 Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

When I found this book, Teacher Me started squealing again. (You'd think she would have learned from the last time. I'd send her to time out, but her services are frequently needed.) Shakespeare's Macbeth, from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old ward of Lord and Lady Macbeth. My favorite Shakespearean tragedy, YA lit, and an old favorite among YA writers? Le sigh.

08 September 2010

If there's something weird and it don't look good...

Who ya gonna call?

Gather 'round the campfire, kids, and hand me that  flashlight so I can hold it below my chin for eerie effect. I have a ghost story. I would not usually post about something this silly, unless I was thoroughly creeped out about it.  And I am.

I must begin this tale with a little exposition.  You see, last night I went to bed a little early and did some reading in preparation for my upcoming teaching gig. I fell asleep with the lamp next to my bed still on, and the window in my room wide open, blinds and all. The part about the window and the blinds will be an important plot point later. Take note.

Nothing weird about any of that, I know. Normal night.

My mother leaves for work at about 6 a.m. every day. She always pulls the car out into the driveway, leaves it running while she grabs her coffee and what not, and then leaves. This morning, when she slammed the car door shut and pulled out of the drive, the noise startled me awake. Realizing that I left my lamp on, I leaned over to flick it off, never getting out of bed. I repeat, never getting out of bed.

I rolled over and attempted to fall back asleep. My phone rings. It's Mom. She surely saw me turn my light off and would know that I was awake, so I thought maybe she was having trouble getting our consistently malfunctioning garage door to shut. She probably wanted me to get up and shut it from inside. Grumbling and sleepy, I grabbed my phone off the bedside table.

"What?" I groggily growled.

"What are you doing in your room?" She asked.

"Um. Sleeping? I just woke up when you left, and I had to shut my light off."


"Because I fell asleep with it on last night?" At this point, I'm a little confused and upset that I was not notified about this morning's quiz.

"Oh, okay. I saw you shut the light off. But I was wondering why you got up after that, opened your blinds, and stared out at me in the driveway like a creeper."

"Um. No. I didn't."

Refer back to your notes. Recall that I did not ever get out of bed. I realize that I had just woken up. I promise, though, that I was lucid enough to know that I never got out of my bed.
I pulled my covers up to my chin and stared around my room. I watch a lot Ghost Hunters, and I started to run through all that the guys from TAPS have taught me. Was there paranormal activity going on in my very bedroom?
Now, I fancy myself a skeptic when it comes to this stuff. I don't necessarily believe that there are beings beyond the living in this world, but I don't not believe it either. There have been a couple of instances in my own life--to summarize, weird and unexplainable things have happened surrounding the deaths of loved ones--that have made me wonder.Those instances are ones that I have often found slightly comforting, thinking that those I've loved who are no longer with me in person might have stuck around in spirit for a little while, like they were saying goodbye.  There have also been weird and unexplainable happenings that have made me uncomfortable. Say, the shadow thing that I've seen at night creepily sliding along the walls in the darkened hallways of almost every place I've ever called home, for example. Or the strange stories that my parents used to tell me about the hundred-year-old house that we lived in when I was born. I guess I've chosen to stake some belief in the things that don't make my skin crawl and to dismiss the things that have. If it creeps me out, and I can't prove it wasn't something scary, I'd rather pretend it didn't happen.

But, dude. In. My. Bedroom. In MY bedroom? Eff that noise.

02 September 2010

Sew Much

It's been a while since I've sewn...anything. And the extent of my sewing experience--as in sewing with a sewing machine--is limited to the pillow I had to make in Home Economics in sixth grade. Well, that and the small clothing repair every once in a while.

As I get ready for the school year, I remember how HOT it was in my classroom at the beginning of last year and how jealous I was of my mentor teacher in her cute dresses and skirts that looked so comfortable and cool. With my funding being limited, my taste in clothing being picky, and my need to be fairly conservative in my classroom wardrobe being imperative, I knew that any shopping excursions to find clothing for the time in between hot and cold weather would be unproductive and/or financially draining.

When I found these tutorials for a simple and fairly conservative skirt, I knew I could have some unique pieces to add to my wardrobe for this fall. Boldly, I will go where I have never gone before with little experience and a determination to, at the very least, sew two pieces of fabric together.

I may post pictures of my final products here. We'll see.