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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Monday, February 28, 2005

All The Rest Have 31, Except for February

I can't speak for other states, but here in NJ we love to assess the hell out of our students. At my school, we even go as far as formally doing this every 9 weeks. This is a new thing this year and so far, the results have been quite disasturous. But you know what they say about assessments. They make an ass out of u and me. Oh wait, that's assuming. Whatever.

As if 9 week "assessments" weren't enough, my poor little third graders spend the entire year eating, sleeping and breathing the same mantra, "THE TEST IS COMING! THE TEST IS COMING!" Meanwhile, us teachers feel like the little engine that could's engineers repeating, "I THINK THEY CAN, I THINK THEY CAN..."

The test I am speaking of is the NJ Ask. It's this huge standardized test a la, the SAT's for eight year olds. So, before they even know how to write in cursive, these kids know all about anxiety. The NJ Ask is supposed to be a formal assessment of all skills the average third grader should be, at the very least, proficient in. It covers everything from from multiplication and division, to decoding and writing to a prompt. I think they might even ask kids for a recipe for how to make a good gumbo, I'm not really sure.

Basically, it's an all encompassing event, spanning a few days and a year's worth of material. This in itself wouldn't be a problem. If the test was given AT THE END OF A YEAR. But that, would of course, make sense.

No, here in NJ we give this test in March, cause you see, March is only three months shy of a school year and really, what's three months in the developmental stages of the average eight year old? I mean really, how much changes? Sure they reach new milestones every day, but wouldn't you rather waste the last three months of school and cram like hell the other seven to fit everything in? See! I thought so!

Now as most of you already know, this is my first full year with my own classroom. They say that teachers who are assigned test taking grades should feel honored that the powers that be saw something in them and not only hired them, but placed them in such a high pressure environment. They hand you the tools you need to suceed and then they say it: "Go. Turn the water into wine."

Some might see this as some sort of cleverly witted exaggeration. To those people I say, you haven't seen my group NOR have you seen the test. In fact, I haven't seen THE TEST either, but I have seen practice problems. I've also seen the disasters that occur when you show said problems to my bunch.

In a nutshell, this test is HARD. Hell, I don't always even know what the questions are asking. Right now the buzz revolves around open ended questions, hands on investigations and the three little words all my third graders repeatedly ignore: EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWER.

I knew I was in for trouble when questions on HW went a little something like this:

Question: Looking at the graph, do you think more rain fell in March or in April? Explain.
Answer: Yes

Oh, and it gets worse.

The other day a teacher asked some of my students about how tall they thought the doorway was. One student estimated it to be about 7 gallons.

Then there's this latest classic:

During a lesson on making tree diagrams, my pullout teacher did three, THREE examples of all the combinations you could make by making a tree diagram. It was going pretty well. Until she said the dreaded words, "Now, YOU are going to try this one, ON YOUR OWN." 25 minutes of tree diagrams and the kids went solo. Two kids DREW ACTUAL TREES.

I so wish I was kidding right now.

What kills me is that my principal, come report cards, is very accepting of the fact that not all students will be A students. Infact, she just might be too accepting. Because if you are like her and accept that "most might actually be D students" then how in the hell can you turn around and expect THAT VERY SAME GROUP to be proficient or advanced proficient on a standardized test? This to me, does not compute.

Now, with a mere three weeks before the test, it's down to the wire. Short of a miracle, all teachers can do is cross their fingers and hope for the best. I know God has granted me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference. Now, if only my principal and the other bigwigs would grant me that same pardon.
Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Day The Music Died

I found out on Friday that my favorite South Jersey radio station, Y100, is no longer. If you are not from the area, it's ok, 'cause technically neither am I. From day to day, I can't listen to Y100 because I don't live in South Jersey. But it was my radio station of choice when I was in college. It is also my radio station of choice when I go visit South Jersey, which is frequently.

I admit, since the onset of my MP3 collection, I haven't listened to the radio as much, period. But I still liked the comfort in knowing it was there. To make matters worse, my friend you all know and love, Judy told me it was replaced by another stupid hip hop station. Not that I have anything per se, against hip hop, I just don't think I need to be beat over the head with it. Besides, variety is the spice of life.

This has happened 2 other times in my life. (not counting the day MTV decided not to be music television after all) Another favorite radio station was taken over about 4 years ago and before that, yet another one was revamped to sound like EVERY OTHER SINGLE STATION OUT THERE.

What is it with middle America? Why do you try so hard to make us all sound the same? I swear, working in radio is a thankless profession. Here today, gone tomorrow. I suppose the same can be said about a lot of professions nowadays. And they wonder why people are switching over to satellite radio.

Goodbye, Y100. RIP.

This officially concludes this rant on the national broacast system.
Friday, February 25, 2005

The Lights Are On But Nobody's Home

Let me start off by saying I love my parents. I love my parents despite their quirkiness which I will only briefly elaborate on here.

Witness Exhibit A: Ever since I was little, my dad has had a bit of a paranoia about privacy. That would be fine if say we lived in a bad neighborhood, or even in walking distance of a bad neighborhood. But we don't. We live in just about one of the safest neighborhoods in America. Here's an analogy for you. If The OC met NJ, we would be it.

Although I've lived in Mr. Roger's neighborhood, (sans the nice people and colorful array of sweaters), for over 20 years now, my parents did not always live in such a nice place. They grew up in a much more urban area of NJ, an area where my grandmother still lives to this day. So, this in itself might contribute to a well deserved paranoia. For them growing up, things like locking the doors weren't a precaution, they were common sense. I suppose some things just stick with you. My old boss used to live in a tougher part of NY. After living in NJ for years he still put The Club on the car as he made his 2 minute walk to his suburban office which also, I might add, had a huge picture window that faced...his car. I guess old habits die hard.

But what people like this don't understand is that being overly precautious can actually have the reverse effect. Instead of flying just under the radar, you are actually drawing more attention to yourself.

Here's my biggest protectional pet peeve. For as long as I can remember, my dad has had a habit of leaving a few lights on when they go out. The rationale? It looks like someone is home at all times, even if they're not thus giving potential robbers the message: "Back off buddy! We ain't leaving anytime soon!" Of course this doesn't cover the intruders of the "I don't care I'm gonna kill you and take your big screen tv anyhow" variety, but you know, we all do what we can.

But here's the part that gets me. Say my parents are going out for an all day affair, leaving sometime in the morning. My dad will still go around and leave on random lights throughout the house. Here's the thing: Lights on when it's already dark out? Ok. Good. Solid. Lights on when it's daylight out? To me, instead of covering one's ass, this screams: "WE ARE NOT HOME! WE WANT YOU TO THINK WE'RE HOME, BUT WE'RE SO OBVIOUSLY NOT! COME, STEAL FROM US NOW!"

I've tried to explain this to my parents numerous times, but they are getting up there in age or as nice people politely put it, their more set in their ways.

Suffice it to say, I really need to get my own place soon. And, as it turns out, I think I might know a good joint to scope out for the cash.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

Every first year teacher has their fair share of hurdles and obstacles to overcome. One of the hurdles involves getting observed a number of times. For most of us, observations are old hat since we got observed many times over during student teaching. But while we know it comes with the territory, this doesn't mean it ever gets any easier being watched.

Looking back on my days as a student, I can distinctly recall instances where my teachers were being observed. We always knew there was something special going on because our teacher was just a little bit more patient and praiseworthy. Whatever. Let's not mince words. Our teacher's became F-A-K-E. We laughed about this at recess, only half realizing the implication of what was going on. When I started teaching, that's one of the things I swore I would do differently. I would be me, no matter what.

In my district, first year teachers are observed four times, usually before March since that's when they do their hiring/firing, musical chairs assigning time. Sometimes, these observations are unannounced. There are both pros and cons to this. Pro- If you know where and when you are going to be observed you can prepare your room and a kick ass lesson accordingly. Con- you have a certain degree of anxiety knowing exactly when it's coming. Having been through both kinds of observations I can't say for sure one is easier than the other.

Observation #1- It was the end of October and I still hadn't been observed a first time yet. Even if you don't know exact times, there are basic guidelines to the where's and when's. The vice principal called me up one day and asked me when would be good for me. So we settled upon a good time for both of us. But he never showed. I was observationally stood up, which spawns a whole new breed of insecurity. After the fact, I was told I should have reminded the "absentee professor", but silly me didn't think to stop my lesson to call him to tell him where he should be. So instead, I approached him and suggested a different day. Luckily, that time he remembered. Obviously he's a laid back guy. So, the observation itself went well.

Observation #2- I was contacted via email by the district math supervisor. Not only did she tell me a specific date and time, she sent me a virtual laundry list of all of the things she'd be checking for when she came. Immediately, I went into panic mode. It was good to have a month or so's notice, but that meant I had the time and NO EXCUSES to fulfill all of her requests. Shit. So, I took it one day at a time and prepared a hands on math lesson, really pretty like.

I knew this woman from in service orientations and this woman, in one word, was the embodiment of INTIMIDATION. Everyone told me though that she was really nice. So the only other variable that was out of my hands was the kids themselves. At the last minute, I decided to tell them we would be having a "special visitor" who would be observing them, in the hopes of securing their good behavior. Only this strategic move backfired.


On the day of the observation, my class was, quite simply,was the worst I've ever seen them behaviorally. I have a few class clowns, spread out in my classroom set up like constellations in the night sky. One class clown (who never has his meds) was shining particularly "brightly" that day. I mean you KNOW it's bad when the observer has to go over to a student in YOUR class and reprimand him.

If I wasn't being observed, I would have handled it differently. But you don't act like yourself when you know you're being watched, no matter how hard you try. Plus, you don't know what said observer is looking for. Some respect that you keep a lid on things while some prefer a no nonsense, kick his ass to the curb approach. I opted with door number one and regretted my decision immensely. Still I managed to hold it together as she came over to me before leaving and complimented me on my lesson. I figured she had to be lying, sparing me considering how badly it really went and not wanting me to lose it right then and there.

At the end of the day, a fellow teacher who knew I was being observed, came up to me to ask me how it went. And that is when I lost it. Only problem was I hadn't dismissed the kids yet. So, I'm standing there, worst fears realized and I'm choking back tears to boot. A child in my class noticed. Another teacher attempted to cover for me saying she told me a really funny joke and that I laughed so hard that I cried. Some of the kids bought this, others didn't.

It wasn't until a few days later that, through word of mouth, I heard that the woman really did like my lesson. As it turns out, she was of the school of thought where she admired how I handled the pain in the ass child and she loved my classroom setup and actual lesson. This gave me renewed confidence. I was 2 down, 2 more to go.

Observation #3-
No matter how hard my last observation was, I knew I had merely won the battle, not the war. I had yet to be observed by the big cheese. The head honcho. THE PRINCIPAL.

Just like any other workplace, principals come in all shapes, sizes and mood swings. My principal is very moody and very fickle. She likes what she likes. She hates what she hates. She wants what she wants. And she has NO PROBLEM telling you this. Only problem is she might not like, hate or want the same thing the very next day. Yeah, it's like that.

My principal is also a woman who thrives on ruling through intimidation. So, in short, her observations are never announced. So imagine my surprise when after shuffling a few papers on my desk, I looked up first thing one Monday morning and noticed her sitting there in the back, demanding to see my plan book. This was also the mornign after a long weekend doing report cards. The same exact weekend I got my first speeding ticket.

By instinct, I wanted to go into panic mode only thing was there was another teacher in my room at the time as the reading specialist often comes in to assist with teaching writing. We never formally plan this though so on this particular day the lesson was really all hers, not mine. She also came late, so by the time the principal got there the kids were dilligently working on their assignments while myself and the other teacher circulated.

And really that's all she saw.

At first, she barked something about my lesson plans and not being able to follow them. But 20 minutes later, she was commending my plan book.

She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me...

I just figure as long as I ended on a high note when the music stopped playing, I'd be good to go. She left and in my formal evaluation commended me on a job well done, even handing me so A's (A meaning accomplished). I was commended by office staff for a job well done since she it is so unlike her to praise.

Only problem was, I had no idea what she was praising. The lesson wasn't mine. There was next to no "teaching" invovled and still, she loved it. All I was told was to just not question and be happy with what you got.

So three observations in the hole and now I can breathe a short sigh of relief.

And then, the email came.

Observation #4- Coming March 1st to a classroom near you.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Tell It To Me Tuesday: "They're Gonna Put Me In The Movies"

Good news! They decided to make a movie about you, yes you, and your life.

But first, the script writer has a few questions:

What events from your life should they highlight?

If you could have one actor/actress play you in the movie of your life, who would it be and why?
Monday, February 21, 2005

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Finally. The reveal.Kudos to all who played along! I didn't get caught betweeen the moon and New York City but still, this was the best that I could do. Also, a big thanks to Visine AND Kodak. They both get the red out.
Sunday, February 20, 2005

Baby, Remember My Name

So I gotta ask, is anybody out there watching this season of American Idol?

Like a moth to a flame, I am inexpiclably obsessed with this show. I know they drag it on too damn long. I know there are only so many ways you can sing "Isn't She Lovely". I also know that Simon's sensationalistic hijinks are merely a ploy to get more viewers. Guess what? I. Don't. Care.

First off, I dig the fact that AI upped the anty this year and let "older folks" have a go. I also think counting Randy Jackson's mention of the word "dawg" and "you worked it out, you did your thang" is a great drinking game in the making.

I am, however, a little worried. By this time with both the first and second season, I had hands down, chosen both Kelly and Clay. Last year I had trouble doing that and last year, as a whole, sucked. I'm hoping that this season does not go the same way. Still, as always, I managed to have a few favorites lined up. Of course, I can only work with what they gave me. Every year when the semi-finalists are announced, I have a few that I have to pause and say: Huh? Who?

Yes, Aloha Mischeaux I'm talking about YOU.

Although it's early, here's my first impressions on a few of the performers I believe will make it to the top 12:

Anthony Fedorov- I like Anthony's voice but Anthony has the odds stacked against him already, fighting off the rabid "I'm Not Clay, though I play him on tv" remarks. Sure, he's a slightly nerdy white guy who wears glasses and has the voice of an angel. Unfortunately, no matter how good Anthony is, I think America will have a hard time voting him number one and poor Anthony, will have a hard time disassociating himself from the Clay clone title.

Anwar Robinson- Anwar gets bonus points for being a teacher from NJ just like someone else you all know and love. :) Anwar teaches music, so he should know a thing or two about control. He's also always so happy and mellow. It will make him a natural in the top 12, but Eric Carmen wants to know, does he have hungry eyes?

Constantine Maroulis- At first, Constantine was just another white guy rocker whose most unusual quality was his name. But they've spent a fair amount of time on this dude's backstory which makes me think he will inch out fellow rocker, Bo Bice to make it into the top 12. Why? Because he's prettier and as we all know, every top good top anything needs a good sex symbol. Oh and he can sing too. I particularly loved when he broke it down, Backstreet style at the auditions. Bonus points for diversity, big C.

David Brown- Also known as, the other happy black guy. So far we've seen David crying in church and almost shed a tear or two ourselves. This kid's got "overcoming the odds" written all over him. Unfortunately, I don't think David has American Idol winner writtten on him, but I do think he has finalist magic markered somewhere in his tighty whities.

Mario Vazquez- At first I thought wait. Why did Wilmer Valderamma of of That 70's Show go and enter American Idol? Then I realized these guys were actually two seperate people. Mario will make it because quite simply, he oozes self confidence. Plus so far he's shown he's talented and at age 27, he's way past the days of making it with Menudo.

Scott Savol- One of these things is not like the others! I like Scott's voice. He's an enigma because his look does not match his sound. This in itself, should carry him a long way. Only truth be told, I'm a little scared of Scott. This could be because he looks a little like Taylor Pruitt Vince, who, incidentally is a great actor who unfortunately often plays total psychos.

So there's my top 6 guys, or at least the 6 I think will make it, my opinion aside. The girls, however, I'm having a bit more trouble with:

Carrie Underwood- I'm saying it now. If Carrie doesn't mess up, I predict she'll be in the top 5, if not the top 3. She's like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. I'm a bit afraid, however, that she's going to fall into the "dumb blonde" category, given the evidence thus far. I also suspect Simon to throw a few controversial, "You're very pretty and talented, but could stand to lose 10 pounds" comments her way. Regardless, this is a girl who can turn the world on with her smile.

Mikalah Gordon- ....will make it. And she will both annoy and intrigue America as they have a love/hate relationship with her for at least the first 6 weeks of the competition. Incidentally, I loved Mikalah's act. The first time. When I saw a young Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady.

Vonzell Solomon- Who are we kidding? This competition is going to be down to Vonzell and someone else. You know it. I know it. In fact, the only thing that *might* hurt Vonzell is that Fantasia won last year. Still, she's definietly going to be the reigning diva to beat.

Right now, I'm withholding judgment on the other three girls as I don't feel I have enough to go on. I want to say I remember Lindsey Cardinale and Sarah Mather being good, but I might be inadvertently messing up my nondescript, just under the radar, white chicks. I'm also afraid that I don't remember Amanda Avila because she really wasn't that good, but merely good to look at and thus, well get through only to be one of the first few casualties. I could be wrong though.

This week should provide more of an indication on whether I'm right or completely off.

If you're also watching, feel free to hedge your bets (and your heckling) along with me.
Friday, February 18, 2005

Guilty Feet I've Got No Rhythm

For as long as I can remember, I have been into music. I collected albums, then tapes, then CDS and now MP3's. But as much as the music makes the people come together, I just talk about pop music. In short, I rarely dance to it. Normally, this doesn't bother me. But that pesky Leann Womack keeps not so subtlely reminding me that she hopes I dance. Sometimes, frankly, I just can't take her breathing down my neck like that.

I can't really say for sure when I made the switch from dancing flower to wallfower. All I can tell you is that when I was little, I wasn't the same person I am now. Oh no. Back then, I had the music in me.

When I was in first grade, I was in a dance contest at school. Not only do I remember that night vividly (down to the kickass tri shirt and skirt combo I was wearing), but I remember winning that dance contest and taking home a Michael Jackson 45 of "Billie Jean", thank you very much.

But as the years went on and my record collection grew, along with it grew my self-conciousness. By the time I got to middle school, I thought I had hung my dancing shoes up for good. It wasn't until I started attending sweet sixteens that my friends could manage to drag me out on the dance floor. Usually that was only if they could successfully fulfill my request to hear "Footloose". Then and only then, would I truly bust a move. (I told you all I was half a nerd so I ain't making any apologies.)

These days, I can pretty much successfully navigate the dance floor waters. I will only dance when summonsed and/or buzzed. I've also expanded my repitoire. "Jessi's Girl" has long replaced "Footloose" as the new clue to clear the floor and make way for Janet. By the way, I realize I'm actually going back in time with my song selections. It's all part of my theory that 5 years from now "Billy Don't Be A Hero" will totally be the shit.

So the other night you can imagine my own surprise when I heard myself accepting an invite to go to a club with a friend from work. When I got home, I had a good long talk with myself.

ME: What In the hell were you thinking accepting an invite like that?

ME TOO: What?

ME: Did you not learn anything from the choreographed but never before seen footage of block party dances to Madonna's "Burning Up" and Samantha Fox's "Naughty Girls Need Love, Too"?

ME TOO: Yeah, but it's been ages since I tried anything like that. I'm just going to a club with some people from work.

ME: So let me get this straight. You are going to not drink and manage to dance comfortably in front of new co-workers?

ME TOO: You're right. What in the hell was I thinking?

Needless to say, I sucked it up and decided to go to the club anyway. Yet within 5 minutes of being there, I felt like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing when she says she carried a watermelon. Not only was this a club, it was a latin music club. Now anybody who is anybody knows that a regular ol' dance club has its fair share of white guy, overbiter dancers and happy white drunk girls who like to sway a little too much to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline". But a latin club? A latin club is not for the faint of heart dancers. It's not for the under achievers. It's for the, "Rhythm Is Gonna Get Ya', Whole Rhythm Section was the purple gang type of dancers". Dancers that are cool enough to be professional, but too cool to bother to go professional, ya know what I mean?

So I did what any self respecting, white girl who is trying to break out of her dancing cocoon and into a beautiful butterfly would do. I got a drink AND a table and I HELD ON TO BOTH OF THEM FOR DEAR LIFE.

Then, this past weekend, I chaperoned the Valentine's Day dance. To my surprise I realized that even my little third graders have got some serious moves. Leave it to me to ironically get the bunch that can't stand still.

Don't get me wrong. I mean I'm all for expanding my dancing horizons. But even a local golfer knows not to get on the course with Tiger Woods. It's just common sense. Survival of the fittest as they say. Whoever they are, anyway.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a corner over there calling me with my name on it.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Because I Said So

As many of you already know, Ash Wednesday was last week. I'm not a hard core Catholic and frankly, I've never been as evidenced here. So, it probably comes as no surprise that I did not go for ashes that day.

That morning though, my mother reminded me to NOT eat meat that day. In fact, if we are being accurate, Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a day of fasting. Of course, I sighed upon hearing this news. Don't get me wrong, I am 27 year old grown woman who can eat whatever she damn well pleases, thank you very much. That said, have you ever been victimized by Catholic guilt? If you have, you know the burden that comes along with being reminded not to do something and doing it anyway.

So, begrudingly, I stayed away from meat.

It's not even that I need meat in my diet, cause I really don't. I just don't like being told to do something OR not to do something and given a reason of "just because".

A few years ago, I asked my mom why we have the no meat rule and guess what? She couldn't answer me.

What does it symbolize? I mean I get the Lent, giving up one thing- thing, but no meat? I need the facts and nothing but the facts. Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? 'Cause see if you gave me a reason I might be more inclined to play along, assuming the rule doesn't really deserve a modern spin by now. But she couldn't tell me, which is just silly because it's a rule she's followed her own life all because of the two dreaded words, "just because".

So now, we are in the midst of the 2nd of wave of no meat eating during Lent. No meat Fridays till Easter. Thursdays? Cool. Mondays? No problem. Then, on Easter you can apparently chow down on all the lamb, chicken, roast pork, venison etc. you want until the cows come home. Then you can eat them, too. Suddenly it's no longer sacrilege.

In the meanwhile, last Friday for some strange reason, mom forget this rule. Evil me didn't remind her. I wanted her to see she wasn't going to burn in hell simply because she had a grilled chicken sandwich. That no, she wouldn't be a better person if she had just eaten the bread.

When I finally reminded her it was Lent, she had a remarkably calm attitude about it. All she said was, "Well, everyone makes mistakes." Followed by this little gem, "I hear the rule only applies until your 59 years old anyway."

What the &*#@?!

And so it goes, yet another "rule" is made and followed for No. Good. Reason.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Tell It To Me Tuesday: And Then There Were Three...

Eenie, Meenie, Minee, Mo...NOW, which one is me?
Monday, February 14, 2005

Secret Admirers and Conversation Hearts

Let me be the first person (on this blog) to say: Happy Valentine's Day!

At the beginning of February, I came up with a stalker-like comment game that intrigued many of you. That being said, very few of you actually played.

So today, I'd like to offer a one day extension to the stalker game I posed at the beginning of the month.

The premise is simple. Go and visit a site. Any site. I don't want to hear none of the "But I've got no one to visit" crap. Pick someone at random from my blogroll if that's the case. Come on. Would it kill ya to be a joiner for a change?:)

Once you go there, leave an anonymous comment of the V day variety. Then, take out cupid's arrow and shoot me an email at telling me who you visited.

For the grand finale, (and the narcissist in all of us), come back HERE and leave a comment complimenting this site AS WELL AS your own. If your new, talk yourself up bunches so that everyone who's anyone will go and read it.

So what are you waiting for? Let the love fest begin!
Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wouldn't You Like To Meet A Blogger Too?

Recently I was talking to Judy about how cool it would be to meet other bloggers face to face. When you think about it, it's really a natural progression considering we invite some of these people into our homes every day. I figure we might as well take it one step further and have a beer in one hand and a burger in the other.

There is already one NJ blogging festival thingy going on in April. In fact, you can read all about it here. But as we all know, this blogging thing works in cliques and I am on the far outskirts of said clique. Plus that hoedown, though completely worthwhile, is much more planned out and formal considering they actually went through the trouble of renting a hall and charging money. Frankly, Judy and I are just too lazy for all of that. If someone else out there in the blog-o-sphere wants to pick up the slack, well then, by all means.

But, in the meantime, we are putting the feelers out there for a summerish meet date. Judy already has done so on her blog, as can all of you. This way, weather permitted, more people would be able to go. And you don't have to be only from Jersey by the way.

Oh no.

You can come from anywhere in the tri state area. You might even be passing through on your way to another, more exciting state. (It's ok, we understand). Heck, you folks in Colorado or Guatemala or wherever are invitied too. But I gotta say, as cool as it would be to see everyone there, I'd be a bit surprised (and perhaps even scared) to see some of you.

So there you have it. Consider this post your unofficial sign up sheet. If you are interested in entertaining the proposition, or even would like to be on the welcoming committee, comment on the dotted line saying, "sign me up sista!"
Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why Level 42 Isn't Just A Band From The 80's

As I've said before, my school is in an Abbott district, Abbot here meaning, "kids get lots of free things".

One of the things my classroom is oveflowing with is books. In fact, I had so many books at the beginning of the year, that I had to give some way. Now that's a crying shame when there are districts where teachers barely have 2 copies of Cat In The Hat to rub together.

Since there was no limit on money till this year, the teacher before me ordered sets upon sets of books. I'd say I have at least $70,000 worth of children's books in my classroom alone, easy.

But having those books in the room isn't enough. Oh no. When I started, I was told that the books had to be organized by theme. You know. All the chapter books with the chapter books. The non-fiction with the non fiction. The snozzberries with the snozberies. Sorry, I got away from myself there for a moment.

Now. On top of having them categorized, the books should also be leveled. Every student has a DRA level that comes with them, along with their final grades from the previous year. A student's DRA level in say June should give you a rough idea of where to start with them. Assuming, of course, you know what the number means and in which direction to lead the kid to. Which, alas, I did not.

But wait. Didn't I just say I had approximately $70,000 of books floating around my classroom? Wouldn't that make organizing all of these books a job in itself? So, my mentor told me not to stress. Put them in bins (Like oh my God, didn't you know, bins are the new bookshelves?!) and categorize them as much as you can.

So, the school year started and I explained the system to the kids as best as someone who barely had a system could. Guess what? The kids didn't care. Those who wanted to read were going to read anyway and those who don't like to read aren't suddenly enamored by the the idea of organization. They're eight years old for Christ's sake! Hell, I even have a bookshelf keeper job. But when you don't know what a book really is, how do you know where to put it?

Everything was all fine and good until whispers started circulating that the assistant superintendent was going to start making spot checks to make sure everyone had a "leveled library" in their room. Forget, putting all the mysteries together, she wanted to be able to judge a book by its cover, literally.

So about a month ago, the prinicpal stopped by my room and complimented me on my setup, but noted one thing I did not have a leveled library. I told her the truth. My books were not leveled, but I ordered a leveled library for next year. Ok. So that takes care of next year. But see, the principal wanted it done this year. So then, the crafty one that I am, said that I didn't know how to level the books. This was true. I only knew that it required the looking up of a lot of books. Time I didn't have and wasn't about to volunteer for because this was the latest fad that the district had bought into. So she said she'd get the reading specialist to "help".

Before I could say Dewey Decimal System, this leveling of the books thing turned into a downright school wide epidemic. Suddenly paraprofessionals were being pulled from their duties to pull all the books from classrooms without leveled libraries and to level...every last book.

Part of me felt relief. Part of me felt disgust. I mean what's more important here? A few measely books be leveled or that the kids actually learn something? And don't we spend so much time telling kids that winning isn't everything and that trying is what matters most? Then we turn around and level books and try to make sure the kids stick with "their kind".

Anyway, it took about a day and a half, but they came and and leveled every single one of my books. I must say, it all looks really nice. But now when kids ask me "where are the chapter books?" I can't tell them. I can show them something in a lovely 28 though.

To take the insanity even a step further, they want teachers to make mini baskets where they pull a few books from each level and the students at a particular table can only read from that bin for that week. I can't like this system. For one thing, we have a world full of wonderful books, now neatly organized, and then we tell the kids, but you can only pick from these 30? It's like going into Baskin Robbins and being told you can only have vanilla or chocolate. It's not fair.

But now remember earlier what I said about each kid having a level? So, within those bins of 30 or so books, only 5 or so will be on said child's level. Now it's as if we're saying, "I'm thinking of a number from 9 to 10". The next step being, the kids saying "why don't you just TELL me what book you'd like me to read?" Next thing you know you'll tell me the kids aren't allowed to dance in town because John Lithgow said so.

Sure, it might take a lifetime to love reading, but it takes no time at all to read between the lines.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Take A Picture, It Will Last Longer

Ok, I admit it. Part of me likes keeping y'all in suspense with this picture thing. But that's not the whole truth. The truth is I'm making this up as I go along. One day, I remembered I had a group picture (and no, I didn't take cheat and take the picture, promise) and decided it would be a fun, next step in the guessing game. But suddenly, before my eyes, the natives are growing restless. All I can say is that patience is indeed a virtue. Believe me, there is somewhat of a method to my madness. It, however, requires time that I don't always have and it also requires a good solo picture that I have yet to take (the posted picture is the most recent one I have, taken this summer).

By the way, did you ever try taking a picture of yourself? I have. One guess how they turned out since none of those pictures have been posted here.

I guess I just didn't know what revealing a picture would mean so much to you people. But I gotta say, I also enjoy making mental notes of who is paying attention from day to day and who's not.:)

So what I'm trying to say is, your business is important to me. Please continue to hold the line and someone will be with you shortly.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Tell It To Me Tuesday: "You Don't Know Me"

A posted picture, as promised...Ok, you tell me, which one is yours truly?:)
Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

For many, superbowl weekend is a time of chips and dip, beer and cheer. It's a time to kick back and relax and pray the fruit of (insert favorite team here)'s labor will be reaped, sewn and thrown, though not necessarily in that order.

But for me, superbowl weekend has always been just another weekend. Hate me if you must, but sports of all shapes and sizes have never been my thing. In fact, I didn't even know which 2 teams made it to the superbowl until a few days ago. I know. I know. Just take me out and shoot me and be done with it.

So while I had no vested interest in anything superbowl related, I did catch a glimpse of the halftime show. I love how the producers decided to play it safe this year by opting for the risk free booking of Paul McCartney vs. ahem last year's "show". Sure, Paul is getting up there in age, but how many artists do you know who can sing a song from 40 years ago and still make it seem cool? Hell, Ashlee Simpson can't even do that for a song circa 2004.

Still, amazingly enough, I did have intentions of possibly going to a superbowl party this weekend, but instead I ended up living out Janet Branagan and The Series of Unfortunate Events.

It all started a few days ago when I realized that report card time was rapidly approaching. Ok, perhaps approaching isn't the best word considering it was already here. In fact, completed report cards need to be submitted for approval by 9am Tuesday morning so they can go home with the little munchkins on Thursday. No pressure or anything.

Then, once report card planning was done, it was time to lesson plan. There are a lot of things to creatively plan this week for, too. Valentine's Day, President's Day and Chinese New Year became the trifecta of a Shakespearean dilemma. To teach or not to teach? That is the question.

Oh, did I mention I also made plans this weekend? So imagine my surprise when I got a call from one of my oldest friends saying her grandmother had passed away. The news didn't come as much of a shock as she had been suffering from Alzhemier's for some time now. Not that there is ever a good time for people to die, ever. Still, I knew that not being at the wake was not an option.

So, in a flurry of activity, as a sleepy self was driving home for the wake, I suddenly saw flashing lights appear in my rear view mirror. Yes, you guessed it. I was being pulled over, for speeding.

Now I have to state for the record that I am a poster child for good behavior. Seriously, at times it has been sickeningly so. But yes, even a Girl Scout like myself can be a little overzealous when driving at times. Come on now. Aren't we all? Still, I've cursed the guy who had to pass me to get one car ahead and cringed as I witnessed a vehicle or two slam on their breaks at the risk of getting that so-called edge in traffic. I bring these scenarios up because I am not that kind of girl. No, siree.

Only one other time in my life had I been pulled over for speeding. That time, I cried. I had just left school and I was going like 38 in 25. I don't know if it was the waterworks, the fact that I was a teacher or the way the sunlight hit my hair just so, but I got off that day, with just a falsified license plate mishap and a sigh of relief.

But this time when I got pulled over, for whatever the reason, the tears wouldn't come. He pulled me over and the first thing I found myself saying was the quite profound statement, "I'm sorry, I'm not from around here and I had to pee."

Now while this might work if say you were a tourist back packing through Europe or even a first grader roaming the fourth grade halls, you try saying it in Jersey and you might as well say nothing at all.

The guy asked me if I had a seatbelt on and I said yes. I realized immediately the catch 22 of this situation. Perhaps I would just get a damn falsified ticket and be on my merry way. But, if I didn't have my seat belt on and had run that risk I might have ended up with two tickets for the price of well...two.

Lo and behold the officer returned to my car, ticket in hand. Not just any ticket, a speeding ticket. Not just a speeding ticket, a 15-20 mile over speeding ticket (which I swear he didn't say the first time around). So of course, this puts me suddenly in a 4 point zone and running a serious risk of my insurance going up. But this thing ain't over it till it's over and I plan on showing up in court, even if it's in middle of bumble**** nowhere.

Wouldn't you know the minute I pulled away, that's when suddenly I was able to cry. I cried because if I had been really speeding, it could only have been for a split second. I cried because I tried too hard to be a successful multi-tasker.

But most of all, I think I cried because I was 25 miles from home and the officer never did tell me a good place to pull over and pee.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Taking Over The World, Nine Lives At A Time

It needs to be said that while I currently don't own a pet, I always considered myself to be more of a dog person. Dogs are affectionate and appreciative companions that will cuddle up next to you... whether you want them to or not. You say stay? They stay. You say, sit? They sit. Sure they slobber and want to play catch a lot, but that's the tradeoff for living with man's best friend.

But then I got to know a cat a little bit better and realized I had to issue a formal apology to all the cats out there. In my mind, a stereotypical cat is anti-social, doesn't play well with others and, not unlike Paris Hilton, seems to think only of themselves. But what I had been exhibiting, unbeknownst to me, was a form of cat racism, not to be confused with catechism which is another matter entirely.

In fact, over the past few weeks, I realized two very important things:

1. Not all cats are created equal.
2. Cats are about to take over the world.

While getting to know this one cat, I realized that cats can be affectionate and receptive when given a fair shake of the paw. Not only that, I think that I'm actually a lot more like a cat then I am a dog. Dogs love or hate everyone right off the bat. Cats might feel this way too, but they do so deep down, keeping cool. Cats know the score. They're selective about the company they keep. That my friends, is cool.

Cats are also a bit standoffish. I can be standoffish. I know you're off somewhere shaking your head in disbelief, but it's true. I need awhile to warm up to other humans. I don't like uninvited human contact. I think personal space is aces. But, once I get to know you, just like a cat, I'll cut the catnip with ya anytime.

Cats can also converse. Some cats make a clear meow sound. Not the cat I hung with. I think she truly believed you were picking up what she was putting down.
Cat: Yeeooww
My friend: What do you want?
Cat: Yeeooww
My friend: Do you want to go outside?
Cat: Yeeooww
My friend: Are you hungry?
Cat: Yeeooww
My friend: What? What do you want?!

It's silly to get angry. In reality it can only be one of five things: food, water, catnip, a cuddle or to simply be set free. Cats like living the simple life. Hey, yet another Paris Hilton connection!

But regardless of how you feel about cats I am here to tell you one thing. Cats are about to take over the world. Don't believe me? Just go blog surfing. There are blogs. Slews of 'em, all devoted to their prrrfection. Want a calendar, a key chain, a mug, a t-shirt, a notebook, a radio hell, ANYTHING? They make it with a cat on it, guaranteed. And there are books, ENTIRE SERIES, in fact with cats as the main character. Hear me now, believe it later.

So my advice to you would be to get on this cat bandwagon sooner rather than later. Sure dogs are fun, but cats man, they've got nine lives so if you're not on board,and I mean quick, payback may be a real bitch.
Thursday, February 03, 2005

Channel Surfing

Fox's new show, Point Pleasant, doesn't take place in NJ nor Point Pleasant. Discuss.

Leland Grant from VH1's The Partridge Family is a dead ringer for Benjamin McKenzie on The OC.

Does anyone else's eyes glaze over when Gilmore Girls cuts to scenes where Rory feigns interest in the day to day happenings of her grandparents?

If Jim Croce could save time in a bottle, the first thing he'd want to do is to save every day till eternity passes away. If I could save time in a bottle, I'd fast forward through all of these ridiculous American Idol auditions and get to the good stuff.

Life As We Know It is actually a pretty good show. Translation, this show will be shelved and re-released on DVD as "The One That Got Away" in early 2007.

I have a love/hate relationship with The Bachelorette. I hate that 25 guys are vying for one freakin' girls attention. On the other hand, I love that 25 guys are vying for one freakin' girls attention.

Milo Ventimiglia played the exact same character consecutively on both Gilmore Girls and American Dreams, only in different decades. His eventual departure from each show was also the same- rejected and easily overlooked.

I've never seen 24. That makes 5 of us.

Hey! Isn't that Michael Ian Black on repeats of The $25,000 Pyramid?!

Note to Jack & Bobby- unless you plan on being on for the next 20 years, you can save the flashes into the future. If I'm never gonna see it, it really doesn't matter.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Vanna, Show Them What They've Won!

I realized something the other day. The school year is already halfway over. I also realized my class roster has changed more times than the revolving door that seems to service Winona Ryder's boyfriends. In fact, if my class were a game show, it would be The Price Is Right. Kids come in, take a few guesses and leave soon after, never to be seen or heard from again. I thank them for playing and they get a few lovely parting gifts in the process.

At the beginning of the year, I had say 20 students on my class list. I'm guessing here because right from day one a few of those people never showed up. Then there were a few others that DID show up that were not on the "guest list".

Now stay with me here cause it gets rather murky in spots...

The first few weeks I got 2 new kids, one of which had the same name as 2 other kids in my class (let's call them the "Bryans"). But within the few weeks following that they took 2 kids out of my room (2 of the "Bryan's") and moved them to another room. This was a good thing because first year teacher (that's me) was swimming in "made for tv movie" children in the making, not to mention, a whole lot of "Bryan's".

All kidding aside, do you know how much work goes into getting a new kid? It's not as la di da as you might imagine. First, you have to make sure he has all the textbooks, notebooks, folders etc he needs. Then you have to feel out what type of student he/she is. Where they can and cannot sit. What they can and cannot handle academically. Then you have to orient them to the room. The kids love to do this. After the 30th new kid or so though, I'm sick of explaining the behavior plan. Silly me wants to do things like, oh I don't know, teach.

But then, the 2 new kids I had gotten? They were soon gone and along with them the last of the "Bryan's". So, poof! just like that, I went from three Bryan's to no Bryan's.

Then around Thanksgiving another one of my students left. Have no fear, however, because soon after that yet another student took his place. Now this student du jour was absent constantly and late even more so than she was absent. So, it came as no surprise that she was failing. Then around Christmas time, she didn't come to school for a whole week. Her mom called the office and said there was a death in the family. The school asked for a copy of the death certificate (the school is hard core that way). The mother said she would stop by to pick up the work her daughter had missed.

I don't think I have to tell you what happened next, but I will anyway.

The death certificate never came. The mother never came. And the daughter? Never. Came. Back.

So we come back from Christmas break and there, waiting for me under the proverbial Christmas tree is...(all together now) ANOTHER NEW STUDENT! She's been with us now for about a month which in my class is a virtual lifetime.

The other day I rearranged my whole room. I now had a good solid number of 18 kids and with February looming on the horizon, I thought it was safe to say I wouldn't be getting anymore kids anytime soon. So I condensed. Four tables of desks into 3 tables of desks. Now everyone could see the board better and I could see everyone better.

And then, it happened.

The phone call came midday on a Friday afternoon. "Miss Branagan, you're about to get a new student."

Seriously, I can't even make this s*** up if I tried.

His name is Jose. I'm using his real name here only to say I'm dying to look him squarely in the eye, scold him and say, "No way Jose!"

I thought to myself well, at least this time they had the decency to call before lugging him up the stairs. But now my wonderful activities in pairs? The 6 desks in a group thing? All of it, went out the window. Not literally, although if I could get the damn windows in my room to open, that would have been a distinct possiblity.

Adding insult to injury the latest new kid started on a theme day. You know. Wear your school color days. Wear your pajamas to school days. But this day wasn't just any theme day. Oh no. It was opposite day.

The kids love stuff like that. Teachers act like students. Students act like teachers. Shoes are on the wrong feet (although I made them switch them back).

You know how much fun opposite day is for the new kid? None at all. It's already confusing enough without "Alica" switching name tags with "Raphael" and "Raphael" only answering to "Rufus". You try figuring out where the cafeteria is when some wise ass wants to send you to the gym.

Everytime I lose or gain a new student, the class dynamics changes along with it. In fact, as soon as this news was fit to print, I got wind of another child leaving my class any day now. And thus the revolving door swings again.

One thing's for sure though, if this teaching thing doesn't work out, I've got a gig as a tour guide in the bag.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tell It To Me Tuesday: Roll With It, Baby

Don't forget. February stalking contest details can still be found here.

Let's get right down to it. You're a blogger. I'm a blogger. You might know somebody else who isn't a blogger and to them you say, wouldn't you like to be a blogger too?
All kidding aside, I have a few blog related questions up for consideration this February 2nd, 2005:

1. What constitutes a site worthy of blogrolling?
2. Do you wait a specified amount of time to blogroll said site of interest or do you do so right away?
3. What, if anything, makes you remove said site?
4. Are you honored when someone blogrolls you?
5. Are you appalled when someone de-blogrolls you?

And although this should go without saying, please answer in the comments because frankly, I can't read your mind (though not without lack of trying).



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