Sunday, October 26, 2008

Musings from a homesick Yankee

One of the aspects of Facebook that I enjoy is that there are folks from all over the world who come to chat with friends, play games, and widen their little corner of the world. Kinda cool... we all speak the same language - makes talking with each other easier (except for a few terms that are country-specific!)

Some were asking what things are like here either in the USA or specifically Arizona. Many can wax poetic verses about the beauty they find in their corner of the world, and I find it discouraging that I can't do the same. I must be honest; I find little beauty in the desert. Maybe that is one reason I feel such a strong pull to leave.

Sure - there are areas that are lovely, yes there are areas where, at sunset, you simply cannot deny the existence of God for all the brilliant colors that flood your sight. But for the most part, what I see is dry, brown, lifeless. These pictures off to the side are about the only colorful flora we have around here! (the furry-looking one? I must admit that one is my favorite. When the sun hits it just right, it is really quite something to see!) Now, yes, Spring is another story, with all the desert plants in bloom but really, for most of the year - this is about how it looks.

What I miss is color. Really vivid color. Fall is, to me, all about the crispness of the air, the rustle of leaves loosing their color and vibrancy and falling gracefully to the ground. It is the smell of those first few fall nights, when folks put logs in the long-neglected fire places and the aroma of burning wood is carried across rooftops and through neighborhoods.

Fall is about the color of the trees, changing from an emerald green to brilliant jewel tones, the landscape transforming before your eyes. It is the crunch under your feet of leaves, or even perhaps an early frost. It is long pants, and long sleeved shirts and layering clothing to accommodate very chilly mornings and Indian Summer afternoons. It is about the Head of the Charles boat races in Boston, and McIntosh apples and honey-butter corn that is available for only a few short weeks. It is the home made apple cider and pumpkin patches that are really pumpkin patches, not lots like we have here, with all the pumpkins trucked in from elsewhere.

Fall, to me.... is this....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Righteous Indignation, Part Deux

My rant of the week needs a bit of back story for it to be fully understood. In short, No Child Left Behind has asked schools to assess the begeezus out of students. We test them, and then our schools are ranked according to how well our students do on these tests. Our schools base their "label", also require by NCLB, on these test scores. So, in order to be an "Excellent" school, you have to meet certain criteria for a certain percentage of your students meeting and exceeding the standards and watch things like enrollment. This in itself is problematic and troublesome, but wait, it gets better.

Teachers make squat for pay; this is a well documented fact. Most other professionals with equal amounts of education make generally at least 1/2 again as much as teachers. For example, if a teacher makes $40K and has a Masters' Degree, most other professionals with a Masters' Degree would make $60K. Ok, fine, we don't get into teaching to get rich.

But someone thought we should reward good teachers for their performance, and the disaster called Pay-For-Performance was born. In Arizona, it is tied to Proposition 301. We get some of this money in our paychecks and we are supposed to 'earn' the rest by participating in what we call our SIP, or our Site Improvement Plan. Participate, and you get the extra money. Mind you, you don't get it until the start of the new school year, so you have to be sure to return to your school, or at least stay in your district.

So, each school has to devise their SIP yearly. As a school, they look at the data presented to them from last year's scores and they make decisions on academic focus in order to keep moving toward the goal of having every child at grade level in all areas (a goal, by the way, that is virtually impossible to attain, but I digress)

I will admit that I have been a bit out of the SIP loop this year. I have not attended the meetings I was supposed to attend, whatever, so called another teacher today for clarification as to this year's SIP goal and what part I needed to play.

This year, we are hand picking specific kids to use as a sort of research project, for lack of a better term. Our SIP goal will focus on working with a specific group of kids in Expository Text, meaning helping them master non-fiction works; newspaper articles, biographies, reports and so forth. Fine - not the most exciting thing about reading to teach, but alright - I can get on board with that.

What I cannot tolerate, however is WHO we are choosing as our subjects. The AIMS is tiered out into 4 grading levels: Falls Below, Approaches, Meets and Exceeds standards. Meets means you have mastered the grade level material. Approaches means, well, that you approach grade level. Exceeds, then by default, means you are above grade level. It is hard to get a student who falls below to meet, but it is really not too much of a stretch to get a student who approaches to actually meet standards.

But, in order for us to maintain our "EXCELLING" label, we need to move MORE kids from Meets to Exceeds. We are not going to spend our time and resources helping the struggling kids make it to grade level... nope... we will hand pick students who are on the cusp of exceeding standards and develop specific plans to help them make that move.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

Oh, that's right - this is coming from the district that repeatedly refers to things as the "First Annual"... Dingbat - you can't call something ANNUAL until it has happened at least ONCE already!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just call me Macguiver...

When I decided to start running oh-so-many years ago *(like, what?? 2.5??) I thought that it would be simple. Me, a good pair of shoes, maybe some good tunes... I swear it takes me longer to get ready to go out for what passes for a run NOW than it would for me to actually get in my car and drive to the gym!!

There's the shoes, which is the easy part, except it is getting close to needing a new pair, and I hate shopping for shoes about as much as I hate shopping for bathing suits.

Then come all the THINGS I feel the need to take with me. Music is a necessity. I tried running once without it and the sound of my own heavy breathing convinced me it was time to turn around and go home. I think I had covered about 1/2 a mile...

I also have to take something to drink. My body is extremely finicky and if I manage to get too dehydrated (which is easy to do in the desert!) I get a migraine and we all know how much I love that!

Lately, since I lost my little iPod with the Nike+ thingy, I have been woefully unaware of the little things like exactly how far and how slow, um, I mean, fast I have been going.

Then, because the sun is getting lazy around here, I have to make sure I have something reflective on, so I rummage through my closet for my light weight reflective shirt and my hat with the reflective thingys in the back.

So picture is - I have the big ole' iPod strapped to one arm, my GPS thingy on my other arm, and a water bottle in my hand, OH - and we cannot forget GUM!! I cannot run without gum in my mouth for some reason I have yet to discover.... I can't chew gum at other times for more than about 2 minutes, but can't run without it....

So much for it being just me and the road.....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eegads - another 2 weeks bite the dust

So much for my effort to keep posting each week. Sorry folks - please remember you can follow me on Twitter to catch my day to day ramblings!

Kids; doing well. Report cards came today. Parker got all A's and a B+. Matthew got all O's (which are the primary equivalent of As). Yes - we are pleased as punch! Parker has regressed a bit with the whole sleep-thing. Since this summer, he has suffered from insomnia and it freaks him out a bit when he cannot get to sleep. Guess I don't really blame him for being spooked, but it is hard to sympathize when he dashes in and wakes us up from a sound sleep. Clearly, my emphatic pleading that he who sleeps WINS have fallen on deaf ears. Matthew continues to grow like a very happy weed! We went through their winter clothes last week when the temperatures dipped below 80* for a few days and discovered neither boy had ANY PANTS to wear! None - zippo! Even the pants I purchased last year (too big, mind you) in hopes for the fall are too short. I don't have boys, I have giants!

Christopher - well, he continues to be cute and adorable and BIG. Last check, he could wear his brothers' shorts from last summer (size 6!!) and is busting out of his size 12 crocs. He has a toy on the fridge - Fridge Phonics - that has taught him how to spell several 3-letter words. Note to self - shameless product plug here... want to write a letter to the folks over at LeapFrog who produce Fridge Phonics. See, there are some 3-letter words in the english language that are really more like 4-letter words. This toy will, gleefully, announce the letters you used and then speak out loud the word you made. Except, when it stumbles upon these questionable words, it does NOT speak them out. It will tell you the sounds each letter make, but it will not, for example, speak out loud S-E-X or A-S-S. Kudos to LeapFrog!!

School is fine - I am completely insane and have taken on another 'pet project'. Last quarter, it was my goal to organize and inventory all the literature we had on the middle school campus. It took several weeks, but I got it done. Yeah Me! Now, I want to put together a literary magazine highlighting the works and efforts of our students. I've pitched the idea, and it has been widely received. Now, we just need to find a way to put it into action!!

Facebook continues to take up a tremendous amount of my time, and I am having a fabulous time finding and then reconnecting with old friends. I'm even making a few new ones along the way. It is nice to be able to communicate with folks when it is convenient for YOU, (such as in email) and to be able to read these quick Twitter-ish updates that make you feel connected. I wish more folks were on Facebook.... It would certainly allow me to ease up on the contents of the Christmas Letter!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Happy October!

The air is beginning to cool and remind us of why nearly 6million people choose to live in Arizona! We woke this morning to 66* and have been able to turn OFF the air conditioning, at least down stairs! On bended knee I thank the good Lord above for the strength to make it through another summer in Arizona. Of course, it is not totally over yet - we are supposed to be back up into the 90s again this week, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

We have had quite the interesting week around here. Weeks before vacation always seem to have more in store for you than your average week, at least when you are a teacher or a parent. Last week's entertainment began when I received a phone call, somewhat distressed, from the boys while I was on my way home from work. There was a "black worm" in the bathroom. Sorry guys - don't touch it - I will be home soon. Not much I can do from the comfort of the car! Long story short, it was not so much a worm, as a baby snake. Those of you who know me well can imagine how calm and rational I was at the thought of a snake in my bathroom. For those of you who may not be so intimately cognizant of my behavior around things without visible means of transport (read = legs) let's just say that this snake was in fact about 2 or 3" long, noodle thin and clearly in distress. And let's say that most normal mortal souls would be able to rid their house of such vermin with ease - NOT ME... No, I had to call the 17yr old neighbor boy to come get it out of the house, promising him that he was allowed to laugh at me for the remainder of time!

I've been spending altogether way too much time on Facebook again. It is really my new addiction. That, and the banana chocolate Vivanos at Starbucks!! One of the things I love about it (besides the cyber-horse-racing) is finding old friends. That's really the purpose of these social networking sites, in my opinion... and it has been really wonderful to find old friends from high school and college. I remember having conversations with my friends at SC; we'd look around and wonder - which of us will "make it big". One of my friends won an Emmy for directing (Shout out to Greg Yaitanes for directing the winning HOUSE episode)and another one received the Canadian equivalent for musical score (shout out to BRANDON WALKER!) Another group of talented Trojans!!!

We are on break for the next week. October break is a really wonderful psychological marker - it means we have made it through the first quarter of school. The first and the last quarters are the hardest. All things being equal, the next two quarters should be pretty smooth. It is only after our high-stakes testing is done that we have a hard time reigning the kids in.

Oh- and one more thought before I leave you all for the week... Some behaviors we think are learned. Mooning, for example. Someone must have to teach you to stick your tush in someone else's face, right? There is just no way that could come 'naturally' is there??

Well, ladies and gents - I give you CHRIS..... Yes, some things DO in fact come naturally!