Friday, July 31, 2009

What I Learned in Summer School

At the beginning of the summer I was so psyched about my summer classes. I got an A in the first one and I took my final in for the second one and I think I got an A in that one too. So, I should be happy right? Well. Yes. I am happy with my grades. I'm not exactly happy with how much espanol aprendio (I've learned.)

About the time I received my A en espanol uno I realized I had stopped focusing on what I was learning and was back to focusing on what grade I ended up with.

Bennington College was my first experience with a grading system that did not focus on an average of all the grades I receivced but rather a demonstation of how I could use what I had learned in the class. This was a whole new world for me after high school where all of your grades were averaged into one score that showed what you knew (and got you into college). I didn't do very well in high school. I didn't do badly, but I didn't do well. Often times it took me longer than my classmates to grasp certain things and so my grades at the beginning of a semester were not as good as my grades at the end. To my high school teachers, it never mattered if at the end I grasped the concept, it only mattered how all of my scores averaged out. I never thought to question this grading system until I entered Bennington. My first year at Bennington, I took a range of classes in different subject areas (as per "The Plan.") I remember two of them distinctly.

One was an environmental chemistry class. During class we learned mathematical ways of solving chemical equations, the ins and outs of running a real experiement (well, to me it was real, my high school didn't really have a lab setting at all, actually, it did, but you had to get the grades to get into one) and how chemistry is used in the environment. I was not good at solving the chemical equations. I was constantly in the professor's office for extra help. I took me a few turns before I felt comfortable in the lab and it took a while to get used to reading the amount that needed to be read and understood before each class. But I had a syllabus and I knew where I needed to be at the end of the course. It wasn't a final written test. As a final project, in pairs we were to come up with, perfom and critique an experiment that included each of the main ideas from the course.

My history class that semester was equally as challenging and equally as creative. It was called: Journey 1: The Year 1000. In this class, we broke up into groups and travelled the world. Our textbooks were novels and ancient atlases. Using our team members we were choose a place in the world to start and travel all over the world, while doing research about how the people from our part of the world traveled, what they wore, what they ate and how they related to other cultures. Each group chose a different place in the world to start and during each class, each group made a presentation on where they had been the last week and what they had learned. Our final project from that term was to take everything we had learned from our own groups and other and turn it into a comparitive paper at least 15 pages long. It was an amazing course. I didn't learn as much in four years in high school as I did in those 16 weeks. I loved that course so much I took Journey 2: The World Between the Wars, a course about what the world was like in between World War I and World War II.

It hit me. For once in my life, I was going to be graded mostly on what I knew at the end of the course. It wasn't going to matter that on the first problem set of chemical equations I had gotten them all wrong because I could show in my final experiement that I could do them. It wasn't going to matter that our group didn't really get the hang of what we needed to be doing until the third week. I was finally getting ascessed on what I could prove I knew. The rest of my classes at Bennington were set up this way as well. No tests, no finals because at the end of each class the professor said, "Show me what you learned." And we did.

I succeeded in college, a heck of a lot more so than I did in all my years of public schooling. I'm pretty sure that if my school had has a Dean's List I would have been on it every semester. College was where I blossomed. As I was finishing and getting ready to do my year of student teaching, I was a little nervous about getting back into the public school system and being forced to average out each grade that a student received in order to show their parents what they knew.

I'm happy to say that I never had to. Not once have done that. I was lucky enough to do my student teaching at a school that had been chosen as one of the schools to be in a pilot program for standardized report cards. A handful of schools from around the state of Vermont were chosen to take part and report back to the state on how it had gone and decide whether or not it would continue.

Here is the standardized report card grading system in a nutshell, if I haven't described it before, if you already understand it, you may skip to the next paragraph. Each state has a set of standards for each subject that has been agreed on. It is the job of all the teachers in each state to teach those specific standards. If students can perform those particular standards at their grade level, they recieve a 3 on their report card. If they are almost there and perform those particular standards with help, they recieve a 2, if they can not perform those particular standards, they recieve a 1. Students for the first three quarters of the year are aiming for a two or a three. They don't need to be able to perform all of the standards right away because they have the entire year to learn how to do it. The best example is this; a fourth grader is working at memorizing their muliplication tables. They take a quiz once or twice a week in order to gauge how much they know. They fail the first ten because they haven't gotten the hang of it. They take the next ten and know half, the next ten and they know them all. Why should I take all of those grades and average them out to an A, B, C, D or F. The kid got it. At the end, he knows his multiplication tables. I don't care that he failed the first ten times he tried. He got it in the end. He'll get a three because he can perform that skill at grade level.

I had the same fear when I moved to La Pasa, I hated the idea of moving away from my standardized grading system. I needn't have worried. The charter school that hired me also used a standardized grading system. I've been happy ever since. Because everything I teach is directly tied to the state standards and my students have been accessed accordingly, they have a better shot at the state standardized test. I believe my students are far better for it.

This summer was interesting for me. I had to go back to the "normal" grading system. It freaked me out at the beginning. I remember how frightening it was to take that first test (and then I found out that it was the fake one.) I hadn't taken a test in a class since my geometry final in high school. But I got through it all with an A and probably an A in the second class as well. But at the same time, I'm not really sure how much I have actually "learned."

Thank you Bennington for teaching me to question my education.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I love that car. Love it. So very much.

I went to the dealership to suss one out today and got to test drive one. It was RAD.

So totally want one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Harrison Update

Oh Harrison. What a good car you were.

So, the last time I blogged about Harrison, we were hoping that there were only minor problems.

I was so very wrong. The timing belt indeed was broken and because of it, the water pump and the starter motor locked up. (I'm not sure of the exact order of events, but those are the three parts that were dead.)

So, before deciding on whether or not to spend the money to fix these problems, while thinking about the huge chunk of money we put into the front and back struts, brakes, calipers and air conditioning at the beginning of the summer, we had a few choices;

1. Put more money into the car (which would definitely deplete my savings and that of The Boy) and fix it so that we would be able to continue driving it, while wondering when the next part would go.

2. Put more money into the car (again with the depleting of the savings) and fix it so that we can put it on Craigslist for a bit (but we'll set a due date so it won't be on Craigslist forever!) and if it didn't sell, we'll trade it in for a NEW car.

After careful consideration and discussion with multiple family members from both sides (Thanks everyone!) we have decided that number 2 is the best option. It really came down the fact that I need to be able to fully depend on my car, especially for the out of state driving I do by myself. I really don't like the idea of ending up on the side of the road in the middle of the night trying to get to a workshop or home from one in the desert. Hands down, I think we made the right decision. It will definitly curb some of the things that I spend "fun" money on but I think it's the best thing to do. Harrison now fixed, will provide some high school or college kid will really enjoy him. He's a subaru and at 114,000 miles, he's got lots of time. We're just ready for something better.

And for the something better! I've promised The Boy that I will stay opened minded and consider different vehicles. The thing is I really love my subaru and the all wheel drive that it provides me. This car is going to have to last us a long time and therefore I think, will need the all weather driving that Harrison had, because we are both hoping to move some place much colder with more snow than here. Subaru is the only company that does that well across the board. Other things I will take into account; it must have four doors (for the kids that are lightyears away) and it must be a manual (because I like to be in control of my engine.) So, yes, I will look at and drive other cars and have seen models I like the look of from Mitzubishi, BMW, VW, Acura and Mazda but my heart is set on this baby!

A 2009 Subaru WRX sedan. It fulfills all of my most important critera. Best of all; it's a rally car! A racer! Everything I wanted when my bro taught me how to stunt drive in high school (you know, because there was nothing else to do in our rural mountain town.) It has a high performance engine (eeeeeee!) and great resale value. I'll be so cool. Fast and the Furious cool! (Though I maintain that I could take Paul Walker anyday!)

Soooo, by the end of August I'll have a new car!


I just got back from a trip to Minnesota to surprise one of The Boy's best friends from college. He and his wife had a baby in January so we got meet her and boy is she a looker, totally cute.

His wife set up the surprise for his birthday and we were invited to fly up and spend the weekend camping and hanging with them and their new daughter. This was why I couldn't mention it until now...because my blog in on facebook and the person we were to surprise is my friend on facebook and so I didn't want to give away. It was really really great. We had such a nice time.

The Boy is staying because he and his friend that we surprised are going to a bachelors' party (yes, it's a party where there is more than one bachelor.) They have all sort of exciting things planned and it's really nice that they all get to be together, like me and my college friends, since they're out they see very little of each other. The boy will be back in two weeks. The night before school starts.

The alarm system is now connected to a security company. And so commences the two weeks of sleeping by myself.

Oh and cooking for myself, which should be really interesting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Think Good Thoughts for Harrison!

Harrison, as in my car. Named after Harrison Ford, only the best actor ever.

Today, when The Boy tried to take it to the store (to buy a part needed to keep the air conditioner in the car running) it turned over and then made an awful sound. After much research and speaking to both The Boy's father and my father, we are left with two possible problems. 1. The timing belt broke and therefore the timing is off for all the mechanisms. Cost to fix: 250 - 350 dollars. 2. Catastrophic Failure meaning basically death for Harrison. Cost to fix: too much to think about.

So tomorrow, AAA is towing the car to our garage to have it checked. We will be following along on the motorcycle. All positive thoughts are appreciated!

And My New Co-Teacher Is...

Introducing: Ms. Jenson.

The other day Sr. Callejo called and asked if I wanted to be in on the interview for my co-teacher. I replied in the affirmative of course. And then realized...that meant for sure that was going to be teaching fourth grade (well at least for half the time)! There was awhile when it was thought that I would have to repeat my stint in the middle school grades.

So here's how its going to work: I'll be the homeroom teacher for the fourth graders and have them for half the day. The other half of the day I'll be teaching the third graders. Ms. Jenson will be teaching the kids when I don't have them.

We interviewed two teachers today and I didn't LOVE either of them. But I realized that's because I was comparing them to Sophia...and no one can top her. I learned so much from working with her and she was such a great role model.

Ms. Jenson is much older than me...perhaps in her sixties, anglo and bilingual. She's taught all grade levels, in inner cities as well in refugee camps in Costa Rica. She's got some serious experience. I hope to be able to learn as much from her as I did from Sophia. I really hope that she wants to work together for the both classes, rather than us planning seperately for both.

It was good to go back to ADLR. For awhile we thought we were going to move back to where our school was orginally situated, this was the reason for all the hurried packing at the end of last year. At the last moment, Sr. Callejo decided that it was better to stay where we were rather than make the move, which means that the packing was a mute point. It was nice to be back in the classrooms, everyone coming back from break, seeing the old faces. Report day is August 3. I'm ready.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On Meeting the Higher Ups

I love Johanna, the woman who owns and runs Moonlight consulting. I want to be exactly where she is when I'm her age. Did I tell you that she gave me a "Moonlight Consulting" mug at the beginning of term and pronounced me, "part of the team." (I'm drinking out of it right now!)

A few weeks ago she called me with a really neat request. She wanted me to accompany her to a meeting with some of the higher up in the state department of education to present all of the standards based materials we put together. I was so excited.

The day came and I wore a great outfit. The Boy got out of work in order to bring me to the rest stop where I was meeting Johanna and we drove up to Santa Fe together. On the way up, we talked about the presentation and I got to see the first hard copy of what I created a month ago and that its pretty damn cool (of course, there are already things about it I want to make better.)

This might be the time to explain that I have always sort of idolized the people that work for the NMPED in a West-Wing-Aaron-Sorkin-does-the-state-department-of-education sort of way. I imagine them working for teachers and students, putting their all into know, like Josh Lyman, CJ Criag and Toby Zeigler do in the best TV show ever. I like to think, in the end not only do I work for my own students, fellow teachers, parents and my principal, but also for these people. These people that are also supposed to be working for me. I always thought that working for a state public education department would be fab, top of the line, the best I could do kind of job, the place where the changes really happen. Well. Maybe it still would be, but from what I saw that day, it wouldn't be for the state of New Mexico.

We got there in good time. Introduced ourselves to the staff assistent and waited outside the offices. The building itself was a letdown in and of itself. It's shabby and falling apart. The inside is prettier, but still...just sad that that particular department is in such disrepair. Johanna told me that she wasn't going to take the elevator because ten or so years before she had gotten stuck in it for over and hour.

We were led into the offices of these people and began our presentation. I have to say, I was really disappointed. New Mexico is pretty low on the list of states with schools performing at or above AYP (yearly adequate progress) and so I imagined these people ready to embrace anything that would help the kids improve. They were not enthusiatic at all. They don't even have a list of resources that schools can go to in order to find help in upping their chances of meeting AYP. Bascially, they are just sitting up there making lists of schools that are not making AYP, not turning in certain forms and not helping schools do either.

Now I don't expect them to get all excited about every idea that people come in with. I'll admit I'm a little biased about ours because it''s amazing. It can help students and teachers at every level, including bilingual, special ed, gifted, native and ELL populations. We even have data to back it up. We didn't even get a "Wow, that sounds like an interesting program" or "hmm...I wonder if so and so would be intersted in hearing more about this." We got bland expressions and finally they offered to send someone to one of the presentations to further gauge their interest, but that was only after we pestered them for any kind of response and it was more like, "well...I suppose we could do that."

We got back in the car and Johanna said that she hoped they didn't send the one of the woman we were talking to, to a presentation that she (Johanna) was giving. I said, "No way, send her to mine, she won't know what hit her." I meant it.

I was disappointed by the whole thing. This meeting taught me that I'm not wrong to want vouchers for the kids that are in low proforming schools.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Moment When I Felt Like An Adult

I just had one of those moments when I felt like a real adult. It went like this:

I was inside cleaning the kitchen and The Boy came home from buying lumber. He's going to extend the fence on one side of the house because he thinks that's how the bad guys got in. It's at least 95 degrees out. I make him a big "thing" of gatorade and bring out to him.

Just like my Mum used to do when my Dad was cutting firewood, fixing cars, weed wacking and all the other things he did outside to make our lives better.

Keep it right here for before and after pictures!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your House Gets Broken Into When You Move Out Of The Student Ghetto

On Monday I came home (like you do), put my bike in the garage and stopped at the keypad to turn off the alarm. It was flashing some numbers I didn't understand, I memorized them so that I could tell The Boy about it later. I came in and sat down at the kitchen table to check my email. That's when I looked up and saw that the French door was wide open.

I certainly didn't leave it open and that's when I realized that someone else entirely had because The Boy had left before me that morning.

That's when I realized that because the garage door is so loud that someone could still be in the house.

So I squatted. It's been pointed out to me by more than one person now that when I'm afraid, I have a tendency to squat. It's as if there is something in my brain telling me that if I squat no one will see me.

After a split second of squatting, I grabbed my phone and my keys and ran out the door. Once outside, I called The Boy who convinced me to call the police. I waited in our neighbors' driveway because I had visions of gunman running out with my antique sewing machine and computer and I didn't want to be in their way. The Boy came home shortly and we waited together. A very nice policeman showed up and we explained what was going on and my fear that someone might still in the house. He asked if there were any guns, other weapons or dogs in the house. We answered in the negative.

This policeman radioed for backup and we waited some more. Sirens blared and with that the other policeman showed up. The second man was more gruff and straight forward. After the first policeman explained they were going to go in to make sure no one was in the house, the second policeman said, "If we are going to declare an all clear, I'd like to get my long gun." The first man nodded and the second man went back to his car and came back with what looked like an AK-47. We watched them walk into our house with their guns out, just like in Law and Order (en espanol, Ley y Orden!) it was pretty scary.

Out on the sidewalk we could hear them yelling things like, "This is the police, if there is anyone in the house, make your presence known now," and other such things. We were relieved to see them walk out by themselves. The second policeman left and the first stayed to fill out the report and to make sure nothing was missing. There wasn't. Thank goodness. This is what the door looked like:

This is the footprint of the man (I'm assuming man, because it is so large) that kicked in the door:

Now, I'm not new to that particular sense of loss you feel when someone breaks into your house. My house was broken into back in MA when I was in high school. That was awful. It took months to feel like the house was home again. It was weird to imagine people that weren't supposed to be there in the house, going through and taking our stuff. It was sad to lose that.

It was different this time. I wasn't as scared, the audible alarm had scared them off and we still had all our stuff. We were only short one french door. This however meant that The Boy had to leave work and buy a new door and install it same day. (Thank goodness he's handy like that.) I had stay in the house while he went to buy one because the house was now not at all secure.

The Boy suggested that I set the alarm while I was inside while he was gone. We usually only set it while we are sleeping. So we set it and he left. That was when the scariest thing happened.

About an hour after he left, the alarm went off.

I squatted with my heart pounding. Repeating over and over to myself the statistic that The Boy talked about before he left that showed that it was really unlikely that they would come back, even less so on the same day.

Eventually, I got up. I called The Boy thinking that perhaps he had been trying to get in and something weird had happened with the alarm because we had never used it that way. He was in fact, not trying to get in. So I shut it off and listened. Nothing. That was the scariest. The Boy got home and discovered that it was just a window upstairs that hadn't been shut all the way. Thank goodness.

The Boy spent the next four and half hours making sure the door he bought was installed and could be locked properly. It doesn't match because it's not stained. It is also not permanent. The Boy did a great job and I'm totally impressed:

Tomorrow a contractor is coming to install a new door that should be stronger. We also set up a contract with a local alarm company made up of retired cops. They station their officers throughout the city and the part we live in usually has at least four. So this is good. We also got an awesome yard sign and stickers for the windows.

The new door and the alarm company makes me feel really good because The Boy won't be here for two weeks in the near future. I will only have to sleep here for one night alone before everything is set up with the alarm company.

Yum. FRENCH Wine!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Gym

The Boy and I have been going to the gym for the past month, early in the morning and every other day. In that time I have gained and lost 4 pounds three times. That's twelve pounds people! What is the deal!

I got an A in the first Spanish class!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

To the Media on Michael Jackson:

I can't believe the media hocus that has been going on about Michael Jackson. (BTW, I thought MJ was Michael Jordon...buh?) Seriously folks. The circus has been on the TV for over a week now.

Don't get me wrong. He was a fabulous entertainer. The man could dance. There was no one who could dance like him. But for me at least, that's where it ends. I like his music, but there's a lot out there that I like more.

I have one story about Michael Jackson that is intersting. When I was six or seven my father woke my brother and I out of a sound sleep, brought us downstairs, plopped us on the couch and turned on the TV. He wanted us to watch the music video "Thriller." This was sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. Until last week, I thought he had gotten us up so that we could watch it debut, but from what I have found on the internet, it debuted before I was born. So it must have been some anniversary showing. My father was in awe of the amount of money spent on the video, the costumes, the dancing and just plain how great it looked. As the video started, he looked at my brother and I and said, "Now you watch this, someday you will thank me for waking you up." I love the memory. I love that my dad was watching TV, saw that it was going to be on and though that far ahead. So in the end, I think this memory says more to me about my dad than it does about Michael Jackson.

Anyway. CNN, Headline News, Local News, the papers, even, my proverbial port in the storm for telling it like it is, were slathered with Michael Jackson for over a week. There were far more important things going on in the world. Take these following examples; North Korea decided to test more long range missiles and South Korea was convinced for some reason or another that they would hit Hawaii, a serial killer was on the lose in South Carolina, Sarah Palin resigned, oh and there was an actual COUP in Honduras. I'm not saying these things weren't covered, because they certainly were, but not to the extent that they should have been. (Except for Sarah Palin, who I'm sure will continue to covered...well...forever...if only because sometimes the press doesn't even know what to say about her but they still continue to talk.) I was impressed with NPR though, they did their usual obituary speil and played some of his music as a transistion interlude.

I can home today and turned on the TV, it was already on one of the channels that was playing the Michael Jackson public memorial. Out came Reverand Al Sharpton who said something about Michael Jackson breaking down the color barrier. I stopped dead. Awesome dancer, great enterainer, child-genius, (and then there's that other thing relating to children) lover of the environment, these things I can go with. But come on. He did not single handedly break down the color barrier. Al Sharpton said something about how without Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods wouldn't be playing golf today. Pleeeease. Jackie Robinson and others did more in the world of sports and I would venture to guess that the Surpremes and Stevie Wonder (who was part of the memorial service and had played just before Sharpton spoke) did more for the entertainment world.

So please, can we be done now?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My dislike of the setup of the cardio equipment at the gym as it relates to my fear of yoga in high school.

A few weeks ago, I promised some posts on a few things. One being the title of this blog.

First a little history. For two months a year in high school, one of our gym units was yoga. We would go to our locker rooms and the boys would go to theirs. No matter how fast we girls tried to change we could never get out of the locker room before the boys. Which meant they crowed the back of the area in front of the TV. (Yeah, we watched yoga on the TV, neither of our old men gym teachers could do yoga.) We girls would come out and be forced to be in front of them. The yoga video would start and the boys would half-ass their way through the video and snicker at our bodies while we half-assed our way through. Because multiple gym classes were happening in the gym at the same time and our class was watching a movie, the teacher didn't spend much time watching our class...which meant the boys had ample time for snickering and staring. Really frustrating. But the boys were smart...they were never obvious enough for us to tell the teachers what was going on.

The Boy and I have started going to the gym every other morning during the week. (After about a month of this, I lost four pounds, slowly gained them back and then lost four pounds again...buh?) This is our third attempt in a year to make a real routine of going to the gym and sticking to it. I think what's making it work this time is that we are going early in the morning, before work and school. That way we can't come home tired and decide we don't want to go. I used to run on the treadmill but my overweightness and the shinsplints I've had since I was a kid made the treadmill unbearable for doing anything harder than walking on an steep incline. I have moved to the ellipitcal machines and have found a routine I like.

The cardio area that we exercise in has three long aisles. Up against the huge pane glass windows sit the treadmills. (This is where The Boy works out and where I used to work out which is why I haven't disliked the set up until now.) On the wall just above the pane glass windows there are six big TVs tuned to different channels. The treadmills have their own TVs attached to the machines but they can also watch the big TVs. There is an aisle walkway and then there is a line of ellipitcal machines and stair machines. These don't have tvs attached to them, but there is a little converter you can plug you headphones into to hear what is going on the six big TVs. (I just listen to WAMC, my public radio station back in MA, and watch the subtitles on the tvs if I'm intersted in what's on the screen.) After another aisle there is a line of bike machines, the ones you sit back in, not the spinning bikes and a rowing machine.

The other morning, looking and feeling sweaty and gross after a half an hour on the ellipical, I stepped off being careful to keep my balance. (Getting off is like sking for a whole day and then trying to walk in your regular shoes.) Upon getting off I noticed two men on the bikes staring at me and the region just below my waist. Once I turned all the way around, their eyes settled on the upper middle part of my body. I felt like I was fourteen again in gym class.

After getting over the embarressment, I started to get steamed up. Why the hell are the bikes (where you sitting the lowest, closest to the ground) in the back?! If the bikes were up front, the people on them could see the big TVs even better because they sit further back. There are chairs with backs on them so no one could stare at their backside region. The ellipitcal machines can stay in the middle, they can still see the big TVs and can see out through the pane glass windows better because the bikes are lower and don't have tvs attached to the equipment. The treadmill line should be last because their view forward is a bit skewed by the TVs attached to their equipment and so would be less able to stare at other peoples' lower regions. They have the tallest machines and therefore would make more sense in the back anyway.

I would bet a large amount of money that a man put this set up together. Not necessarily because this particular set up makes it easy for men to stare at girls (that was probably subconsious) but because the set up makes absolutely no sense. After I explained to The Boy why I was so steamed all he could say was that if he was working out behind me, he would be staring at my lower region as well. He was not at all sympathetic to my cause, but he encouraged me to go talk to someone in charge if it really upset me.

Now I'm not much of a complainer, though I'm more likely to speak up now then when I was a freshman in high school, but I'm a little nervous they wouldn't take my complaint seriously and that they are going to think I'm some sort of crazy feminist. (I don't consider myself a feminist but that's a topic for another post.) The more I think about it, the more the set up is ridiculous.

Oh and Palin? I never liked you but still. WTF? I'm so confused.