Thursday, February 23, 2012


It's been a minute since I last wrote- my apologies, but life has a way of getting in the way.
Many things are happening simultaneously. Some I can talk about, some I cannot.  But all in good time.

I am feeling better, more or less.  Since I got a doctor's note and moved from the perpetually-under-construction building into the perpetually-hot-cold-no-electricity portable building from 1975, I can breathe better and even headed off the last bout of bronchitis.  There are still some days when I cannot go to school and one day this week that I came home and went to bed.

Tomorrow we make good on the zoo trip.  I wrote a grant last year and got a trip to the zoo for 30 of my kids. I actually have 36 going and will pay for those six myself. Each of has perfect attendance, is passing all of their classes and doesn't have any behavioral problems.  It should be fun and I am excited to reward them for their efforts- most were completely unaware that they would get a reward.  This makes it that much sweeter. I did an internship at the Tulsa Zoo back in 1999 and had a blast in the herpetology department.  I do have a degree in biology and love to talk about animals.

My little lunchtime reading group has grown as well.  What started as 8 students reading Sherman Alexie's novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" has turned into 24 faithful followers as we sit and eat and read "The Hunger Games."  I picked it because the movie comes out next month.  I had a revelation on the way to work one morning.  I've started carpooling with Cathy once a week just so that we can talk and catch up.  Anyway, I was talking about ways to keep my kids engaged. Don't get me wrong, they like the book. There are 16 boys who are engrossed in a strong female protagonist because she can hunt and kill things.

Since there is a lottery at the beginning of the book and that lottery ultimately leads to our protagonist, Katniss, getting into the games, I decided I would have a lottery too.  Each time my students show up for lunch, they get another "tesserae", an entry into the lottery.  It stands for their participation in my group, in their investment in each other and in their membership in our little community.  You can get extra tesserae by doing extra projects or by writing about the book.  Everyone knows the rules and everyone is game to follow them.  Soon, I will draw five names and give five movie tickets to whomever is on the ticket.  One person could win them all. On the front of the bucket will go a saying, "May the odds be ever in your favor!", a catchphrase from the book. Since I do the word of the week, I have also added references to "The Hunger Games" into each example sentence I construct to demonstrate the use of the word.  For example, for the word "Ponder", I wrote "Peeta sat on the hickory log and pondered his next words thoroughly."

It seems to be working out well.  More and more students are getting into "trouble" with me and getting "lunch detention".  In the meantime, we talk about the book, predict outcomes, talk about characters and who we do and do not like.  It's great fun and I have 24 kids to have lunch with every single day.  Yes, that also means that I don't have any down time besides one plan period (all others are taken with meetings or tutoring), but those kids will always remember what we did together.

And so will I.

Speaking of tutoring, I have to tutor a group of 8 students twice weekly.  I'm supposed to have 8.  I have 16.  I'm "team teaching" with a social studies teacher but he doesn't know anything about teaching English. At first he didn't show up himself, just sent his kids.  I'm trying not to be bitter, but those kids won't get much actual help if I don't step up.  So I've thrown out the curriculum on this one.  If I have to give up my plan period, I'm doing whatever the fuck I want to.  We are reading mythology and fables, discussing tall tales and telling stories of our own. I'm enjoying it- this is what I signed up for. Literature, the basis of creative and critical thought.  The very same that is going away in the new common core curriculum.  My boss says good riddance- he only read informational texts and graduated (almost) magna cum laude at his (Mickey Mouse) college.  Neil Postman, Neil Gaiman and I all agree that he is an asshat.  And besides, those kids love coming to tutoring.

I guess they aren't the only ones engaged.  I am too. I love doing the things I do and being part of their lives. I'm pushing a few towards a choice alternative school that will push them towards college.  I am helping another kid out with a glove and some shoes so that he can play baseball. Because everyone needs to play baseball if they want to. If I had only the kids to think about, I'd stay here forever.

But tomorrow I'm going to the zoo and the sun will be out and I will have the sweet satisfaction that for several, their first trip to the zoo is with someone who can give a hell of a tour.

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