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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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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tell It To Me Tuesday "The Winner Takes It All"

This Sunday the 78th Annual Academy Awards will air on ABC. With the show less than a week away, I have a few Oscar-inspired questions to ask...

1. Who are you rooting for and why? (A list of official nominees to jog your memory can be found here.)
2. If you could have nominated anyone or anything for a performance this past year, what/who would you have nominated and why?
3. Imagine you won an award for something. What would it be for and (all together now) why?
and finally...
4. Who would you thank in YOUR acceptance speech?

I will post my thoughts on these questions on Sunday, but tune in for another Oscar related post this Friday where I will be discussing cinema, soundtracks and simpler times.
Monday, February 27, 2006

Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom: Part Four

If you've been stopping by the last three Mondays to read my four part series about what I see as the biggest problems currently facing educators, I thank you. I know these posts have been a little more heavy handed then the usual AOGB fare, but I figured you guys could take it. Today I will explore the final piece of the puzzle, the issue of parental involvement and community culture.

Parental involvement is easy enough to understand. When parents are involved, kids are more likely to care. Notice I used the words more likely and not definitely will care. This is because I believe that children, no matter how negatively or positively influenced, are in large part responsible for their own actions.

Not only do I believe this, I see this every day in my classroom. I have parents that do not seem to care nearly as much as the child does, and I know parents that want to help their child be the most they can be and the child still does not see the value in their own education. Sometimes I think we forget how young we are when our personalities start forming. Children can be surprisingly strong willed and opinionated all of their own accord.

I have to say that parental involvement varies greatly depending on who and what you teach. If you teach high school science for instance, you might not see nearly as many eager parents on a back to school night as you will in an kindergarten classroom. There's a reason for this. Many parents get excited when their children go to school for the first time. But year after year you start to seen a trend. Even by third grade, the parents know their own child's strengths and weaknesses and most don't feel the need to stop by the school to have them pointed out to them. At my school we see a sharp decrease in parental involvement the older the child gets.

Interest level also varies depending on the community you teach in. As I have stated many times, I teach in an urban district with a large Hispanic population. Although many of the families are poor, they are very interested in having their children do well in school. Typically, I have learned first hand that the Hispanic culture views the teacher as equally as important as the parent. As a result, they are extremely respectful of a teacher's recommendations and do not question them. Quite simply, they believe the teacher knows best.

I am lucky that the overly involved parent is the exception, not the rule. If I call home and say a child was fighting the parent rarely argues with me that I must be mistaken and that it can't be their child. They admit their children have flaws and encourage any consequence you give for a poor grade or poor behavior.

But as anyone knows, too much of anything is never a good thing. While many of the parents want their children to succeed in school, they adopt an attitude that is where the learning takes place, in school. If a child is failing a subject, the parent is sometimes concerned, and will ask what they can do to bring their child's grades up. I always give concerned parents a list of options which include: supplemental/extra work, free tutoring provided by the school, dollar store or homemade flash cards or practice sheets, taking a trip to the free, public library, private tutoring etc. Often parents seem grateful for this advice and the conversation ends with promises of doing one or all of the above.

But in my experience, rarely, if ever, does anything get done.

This is why the children make so many excuses for themselves. They are learning this behavior from the parents. Extra work is next to never handed in, flashcards are never made or bought, children show up late or not at all to tutoring, the list goes on and on. In third grade, children learn things like responsibility through those who model such behavior. Nowadays any educator is hard pressed to find a child who is working to his or her fullest potential without any help, interest or assistance from someone at home. The teacher can only do so much. Parents have to meet them halfway.

Now I understand that where I work, helping a child complete their homework is often easier said than done. Many parents work more than one job and aren't home to provide that support. Other parents want to provide that support, but a language barrier or even an educational barrier prevents them from doing so. Whether we like it or not, we are asking more of children now in third grade than we ever did before. Imagine being a parent who cannot understand their child's homework by the time they are eight years old. What is the future going to be like for that child at eighteen?

Because I see parents as such an important part of the child's success, I communicate with them every step of the way. Regardless of what is going on at home, I always act take the positive attitude that every parent can and will care about their child's progress. But while I am always communicating with parents, it's amazing to me how little communication goes on between parent and child.

For example, in my class, every time a child fails a test that test goes home to be signed and returned. I keep all failed tests in an individual file I create for each student. This way, if a parent or an administrator ever questions the progress of a child I have documentation of assessment and communication about such assessment.

If a child does well on a test, or at least passes, that test goes home and is given to the child to do whatever they wish with it be it decorate the refrigerator or throw it in the garbage. I do this will all assignments eventually, including many homeworks that I grade myself.

Every so often I will go through a child's folder and I find an overabundance of papers that have been handed back. You might assume that many kids simply trash or bury the assignments they did bad on, but I find this is surprisingly not always the case. Since most tests the child has done poorly on get returned, the parents end up seeing those, but if you ask a child if they've given the good grade to their parent, most of the time they haven't bothered. Not only that, the parent has never bothered to ask.

Another thing I do is have the children communicate directly with their parents when they did not complete an assignment or did not act properly in school. I will keep that child in for lunch detention, and, for the sake of time, have them write their own letters to their parents telling them why they are sitting. This saves me the time of calling each parent and gives the child a reasonable consequence at the same time. These notes also go home to be signed and returned to keep in my file. Amazingly, I have a pretty good return rate on both of these items.

Still, I can't even begin to tell you that despite all of this communication how many parents are completely in the dark about their child's progress.

I have found that many parents don't ask to see grades and don't have conversations about what happened in school that day. I also have found that parents will sign multiple failed tests and detention notes and STILL NOT QUESTION THEIR CHILD'S PROGRESS.

There have even been a few times I've been tempted to write "the cow jumped over the moon" on a note I send home to be signed and see if they even question it. And we wonder why the children don't read and take things seriously? What is it they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?

Now I know I'm not a parent, but you better believe if I ever become one, and I start signing off on numerous failed or missing assignments or problems with behavior that I'm going to follow up on it. That doesn't say that I can necessarily change my child's behavior, but that doesn't mean I won't stop being concerned cause after all it is MY CHILD.

Unfortunately I see many parents today throwing their hands up in frustration. They hear that their child is failing. They see that their child has emotional issues. But all in all they hope beyond hope that it will simply go away. I've even had parents say to me that they are ready to "give up". Give up on your child ever sounds harsh, let alone at eight or nine years old?!

The same thing goes for behavior. If I know my child is a behavior problem, I would not continually reward them at home with the new XBox game or by letting them attend the party they wanted to go to. I have a distinct reward system in my room for a job well done, but I also have clear consequences for things that are not done. You might think the kids would resent a system like this, but believe it or not, most of them actually respect it because deep down, they are craving structure.

Some might think this is being critical of the parent, but I believe it's the parent's job to do these things. Look at it this way. If this was your real job, and these were your job requirements and you didn't do these things you'd be fired. But with parenting, it doesn't work that way. You don't need a license to procreate. No one is going to make you take care of your child. But not doing that goes against the reasons most people have children to begin with.

And on that note, this concludes my rant on education. I am by no means done expressing my observations and reflections on teaching, but I wanted to try to shed some light on what it is really like to teach today's children from one teacher's first hand perspective.
Sunday, February 26, 2006

Write Back Weekend: "Outside Looking In"

Last week's Tell It To Me Tuesday asked you to describe me in five or six prechosen words via my very own Johari Window.

I found it interesting that at least 25 of you think you know me based on the words I write here. And to think they say the eyes are the window to the soul.

But seriously, it was a rather "eye opening experience" reading how y'all see me. I've had fun contributing to many of your Johari Windows for the very same reason.

There's one really important thing I learned from doing this. The Johari system is a flawed one.

I know what're you thinking. NO DUH. But I say this because the choices are built in. I would really love to create a window that asked everyone what they thought of me without giving them a list of words to choose from. This is because when you provide a list, I think you end up putting words into people's minds that might have not even occurred to them otherwise.

It also would be really interesting to do a battle of the Johari's, one for your blogging friends, another for your "real life" friends and family and see how they compare. It's an impossible experiment to test out on lab rats, by the way.

And while we're on the topic of such words, I learned after I created my Johari window that there was also a darker Johari Window, a "tinted window" if you will. A lot of people think creating one of these windows takes bravery and/or true self loathing, but I have to disagree. In my opinion, nobody in this world can be described by purely perfect words unless of course, you know something I don't about there being a perfect person walking around somewhere.

Then again some of the tinted window words are pretty harsh. Where's a middle of the road Johari Window when you need one?

But enough of this mindless banter. On to the good stuff, the results.

Interestingly enough my "dominant traits" were intelligence, 52% and the ability to be witty, also 52%. The next highest percentages included knowledgeable 32%, observant 32%, clever 32% and cheerful 28%. I wouldn't choose all the same words that were dominant for me. Does that make them any less true though? This is what I wonder. If you're just dying to know more, the complete breakdown is available here.

I was pleasantly surprised the majority of you picked such nice words to describe me. In fact, I'm so surprised that I'm embarrassed that I just used the word "nice" to describe how I felt. I don't think nice is really that nice of a word. It's so played out it ain't even funny. So instead I retract my nice and I raise with the word "delighted". There, all better.

This is, of course, what everyone else said about me, not what I said about myself. But what did I say about myself? That's the million dollar question. Whatever I said, so did most of you, so apparently I live my life like a "window" that's been rolled down in efforts to let the fresh air in.

The words I would choose were: nervous, dependable, reflective, sensible, witty and even a dash of self conciousness was thrown in for good measure. Mix well, and I can be served to up to 8 to 10 people at any given time.

All in all, the Johari Window is not without it's quirks. I'll wait for Johari Window 2.0, thank you very much.

So to review, my perfect Johari window would be like an open ended essay question that asked you to come up with your own character traits and provide reasons for your selections.

My ideal window would also would be complemented by a window seat and excellent drapery.
Friday, February 24, 2006

Ice, Ice Baby

If you get the chance, please go visit new renter, My Corner of the Web. Remember, no matter what you do, nobody puts My Corner of the Web...IN a corner except my corner herself.

My whole life, sports and I have been like oil and water; we simply don't mix.

I throw like a girl. I have no strength. I'm not super competitive. Do I really need to keep going?

So it's not surprise that the feelings for the sports I play, carry over to the sports that I watch. In fact, I have only watched one sport with regularity. That sport, dear Internets, is ice skating.

I've heard the words of the naysayers before and frankly, they can be cold as ice. No, not all ice skaters are gay and yes, ice skating IS a real sport. Just because they get to wear pretty costumes and dance to fun music does not mean it's any easier than tackling or hitting a homerun. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say ice skating can skate circles around those other sports any day.

My love affair with the ice first came about when I discovered the man who will no doubt go do down as the greatest male figure skater of all time. No, I'm not talking about the most uptight skater to ever grace the ice, Brian Boitano. I have long had a deep dislike for that man that I simply cannot put into words. The man I'm talking about is none other than Mr. Scott "back flip efficiando" Hamilton.

When I was in about seventh or eighth grade I had to do a biography on a famous person. I chose Scott Hamilton. Say what you will, but Scott Hamilton has to be one of the most inspiring people, EVER. He was adopted, came down with a mysterious illness, was given six months to live, overcame the odds and went on to win an Olympic Gold medal in 1984. Now he still skates and commentates, eventhough in 1997 he was diagnosed with cancer. I cried like a baby my whole way through reading that book. Seriously. Scott Hamilton and Ryan White are the only two people who hold that honor. Take that, Bridges Of Madison County.

Then in 1992 I watched the Winter Olympics and rooted for great male skaters like Kurt "my brother is not Scott Hamilton" Browning, Paul "I'm a lawyer, I'm a skater, I'm a lawyer, I'm a skater" Wylie and Elvis "I can also make a legendary name seem cool" Stojko. I watched the women too, but for some reason I never grew quite as attached to that group.

My favorite skater of the 1992 Olympic games though had to be Christopher "The Showman" Bowman. Once a child actor, Christopher was a born entertainer and arguably the most naturally charismatic, dramatic and troubled figure skater of his time. Picture Robert Downey Jr. on ice and you had Chris. He never quite lived up to his potential though and now he's coaching in the sticks somewhere.

Not only was 1992 a great year for real ice skating, it was also a great year for fake ice skating. This was because it was the same year one of my favorite films of all time came out. That movie is The Cutting Edge.

Touted as the ultimate "Love/Skate Relationship", I was embarrasingly excited about the release of this movie long before it was released to theaters. The Cutting Edge had it all. It was a love story. It had sports. It had legendary actor, Terry O' Quinn. I mean really, what more could a girl ask for?

Imagine my surprise when I found out recently that they actually made The Cutting Edge 2. Apparently this time around it's the story of Doug Dorsey and Kate Moseley's daughter, which incidentally sounds like the exact same story only with a much smaller "cold shoulder". I mean I haven't seen it, but making The Cutting Edge without Moira Kelly or D.B. Sweeney? That's just like eating the icing without the cake.

Unfortunately, for all the glory, many Olympic athletes have a relatively short shelf life, literally, ending up on Wheaties boxes for a month or two, never to be heard from again. Others resurface on the sidelines as coaches, commentators or on shows like Skating With Celebrities. Some are even involved in a scandal or two. And they say ice skating is a boring sport.

Given my past love affair with ice skating, I entered the 2006 Winter Olympics season with the best of intentions. Not to be "toepicky", but soon after I found out Michelle Kwan was apparently "washed up" and forced into an early retirement at the age of 25, the rest of the lot somehow lost their luster.

I admire the hell out of ice skaters, even if I still can't tell the difference between a double axle and triple sow kow. But I'm afraid, for now, the days of the Ice Castles in the sky are but a frosty footed memory.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Learned The Truth At Seventeen

If you haven't done so already, please check out my Johari Window . Go ahead, I can take it.

To whomever took part in compiling VH1's 100 Greatest Teen Stars of All Time,

Look I realize you took on a daunting task by trying to compile a complete list of the best teen stars. The words "of all time" have a way of coming back to haunt you. I should know. I attempted to recapture my electric youth with this post.

Whether you a fan or not, there were some that made the final 100 who belonged there. The hall of famers. The no brainers. Stars like Molly Ringwald, Rick Schroeder, Scott Baio, David Cassidy, Alyssa Milano, Brooke Shields, Matt Dillon, Kirk Cameron and Britney Spears. You know these people were big and I can prove it by not having to hyperlink to them and remaining confident in the knowledge that you will still know who I'm talking about.

But let's be real. Some of the people that made the cut aren't even benchwarmers on my dream team. I'm not even going to bother reprinting the whole list. Why bother when this site does it for me? Instead I'm going to hone in a few stars chosen and those that were not.

You're welcome.

For starters, how you can do a "best of anything" and miss at least an entire decade of teendom is beyond me. I mean hello? No Ricky Nelson, Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, or The Beatles? No ELVIS PRESLEY! That's just wrong.

I thought this might have been because the stars in question weren't teens themselves at the height of their popularity, but then again, not everyone on your list was either. Matthew Broderick was not a teen when he made Ferris Bueller, the movie that arguably put him on the teen king map. Neither was AJ Langer a teen in her heyday when she co-starred on My So-Called Life. Come to think of it, did AJ Langer ever really have a heyday? Nor did Wilson Cruz, another My So-Called Lifer who miraculously made the list. I'll give you Claire Danes. But to include the other two and NOT Jared Leto means someone, somewhere must have been sniffing glue.

And while we're on the topic stars with initials in their names, who the hell is P.J. Soles and how the hell does she rate getting on this list before the likes of nearly any other teen who was actually you know, a star?! Hell, I'd include E.G. Daily before P.J. anyday.

Then there is Holly Marie Johnson who made it BEFORE Robby Benson. Seriously, are you high? Jason London without Jeremy London? Now that doesn't seem fair. Shannen Doherty, Jason Priestly, Brian Austin Green and Jennie Garth all made the grade, as did honorable "old teen" Gabrielle Cateris. Noticeably absent and unaccounted for though? Luke freakin' Perry! Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aces. Dustin "Screech" Diamond but not Mario Lopez? In what universe is this happening?!

Then there were the geeks. Anthony Michael Hall? But of course. Patrick "I am the epitome of a teen geek transformation" Dempsey? Most definitely. But I don't know anyone who thought about the likes of Ilan Mitchell Smith, or Lawrence Monoson for more than five minutues. Scratch that. I don't know anyone who thought about them at all. I don't even know anyone who knew the Encyclopedia Britannica kid by name. In case you were dying to know, his name is Donovan Freberg. Between that kid from How Met Your Mother stealing his thunder and now this, I just know Jonathan Silverman is lying on a floor somewhere, wrapped up in the fetal position.

And what about troubled teen stars with checkered pasts? Begrudingly I will give you The Coreys, Haim and Feldman, but all this teenage drama and NO Drew Barrymore? No Olsen Twins? No Robert Downey. Jr or Michael Jackson? What? You WANNA be startin' something?!

But perhaps the biggest teen star faux pas of all was not including New Kids On The Block. NSync made it. Backstreet Boys made it. Even both Debbie Gibson AND Tiffany made it. So how can you make a list like this and not include the founding fathers of dreamy white boy, boy band pop?! It's sacrilege is what it is.

Sure it was long ago and far away, but I'm afraid I still remember it better than you guys do any day.


Janet B, Pop Culture Queen
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tell It To Me Tuesday "Come To My Window"

I almost forgot, your hours, not days, are numbered to go visit my renter Snozzberries. Go say hi, won't you? And why you're there, invite her over for tea or something as she's been awfully shy. I don't bite. Really. More on the Rent My Blog program later this week...

If you could pick any five or six words to describe yourself which words would you choose and why?

Now if I asked the people who know you to pick five words about you, do you think they would choose the same words? How about the people who only partly know you based on what you show them via your blog?

Perception, misconception and introspection are the main ideas behind something called a Johari Window. The window has four panels that attempt to show how where what you think about yourself and what others think about you overlap or in some cases, does not.

So for this TITMT I want you to click on the link and tell me all The more people who comment the more interesting the window becomes. Look at me, telling y'all what to do. Luckily, 'pushy' is not a choice and no, you can't add a write in vote.

If you participate in my Johari Window, end up creating one of your own, or just want to halfway participate and tell me which words you think best describe you, please leave me a message in the comments section.

I know you will wait with bated breath as I prepare to bear my soul for the blogging community this Sunday!

Janet's Johari Window

By the way, the original inspiration for this post was brought to you by the letters M,C and F....better?:)
Monday, February 20, 2006

Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom: Part Three

Sharpen those pencils everybody because it's week three in my ongoing assessment of underlying problems in education. You can read the first and second installment here and here. Today's topic will be the all important aspect of Grouping/Placement. This week's post is of particular importance to me because I believe this is the biggest challenge I currently face in the day to day education of my students.

Last week I told you all about how so many of my students have been pegged as low motivators, behavior problems, or both. I also told you how I had the largest ratio of this population for the third grade in my classroom.

If I were you, my next question might be, How can this happen? How do all of these children end up in the same room? Of course, I wouldn't put the question out there without being prepared to answer it.

In my school this year, there are six, third grade classrooms. One of these classes is bilingual. Two others are Gifted and Talented (or G&T) while the other three are regular ed. My class is included in the latter.

Like I have stated in the past, I teach in an Abbott district. So the cream of the crop in my school would be the kids who are average in a wealthy surburban district. Still, with this knowledge, my principal insists on having TWO classes of Gifted & Talented students in both third and fourth grade. To me it's more than coincidence that the severe behavior problems and lack of motivation also start in these grades.

That is not to say that kindergarten, first and second are without their share of low motivators and behavior problems because they are not. But those problems are equally dispersed amongst ALL of the classrooms, making one or two lower kids seem much more manageable than nine or ten.

At the end of second grade, however, the teachers have to sit down and make recommendations for children in their class who would be best suited for the G&T program. Most of the time this includes kids who get concepts a little more quickly than the rest, but sometimes it's just the kids who are trying their hardest that fill out the rest. Yes in my school, G&T doesn't necessarily mean Gifted & Talented. Sometimes it just means Good & Tame.

Case in point, G&T "pullout" programs we have for specials such as music or gym. You will never see a talented singer who is ALSO a behavior problem in one of these programs. It is always the students who are well behaved. Any actual talent is a pleasant surprise, not a necessary prerequisite.

When all is said and done, you have half or nearly half of the population getting placed in a G&T room. Even in the wealthiest of districts this is an insane percentage.

Anyone who has been in education for any amount of time now knows that there has been a strong pull for heterogeneous groupings in classrooms across the country. Heterogeneous groupings make it much easier when conducting group work, partnered activities or even a whole classroom discussion. This is because there are children who are getting it and there are children who are not sitting side by side. The children who are getting it have the opportunity to help their peers and their self esteem, while the children who aren't getting it, can look to someone their own age, or even extra attention from the teacher, for guidance.

Only problem is when you take a lower performing group and then pullout the majority of kids with any promise, who is left over to pick up the slack? In my room heterogeneous grouping is next to impossible because they are all the same. In fact, I'd be willing to be that at least half of my students, if placed in another district, would be classified as special education.

On any given day, I have under 5, what I would call "go to kids". These are the kids who usually get it. They are my informal measuring stick of how to assess if a lesson is on target or not. Most of the time, 75% of my students don't get, can't apply or won't care about what is taught. But if those "under 5er's don't get it" then I know the lesson itself needs to be reassessed. If they do get it, I know that as sad as it sounds, I probably have done the job to the best of my ability.

Having everyone be on the same level of lowness also breeds a whole other set of problems. In any heterogeneous classroom, there will always be students who get concepts easier than the rest. When this happens it is easy to pull out the five or so who don't get it and try to work with them one on one. But when the low group is the majority, you can't possibly provide individualized attention. Not to mention most of these students are already getting extra help via a mandatory afterschool program four days a week and optional morning tutoring for an hour before school. Recently I've even gone as far as to offering extra assistance to the students who need it during my lunch one time a week. I would love to offer more, but I have so much work to do and no time or help to get it done, it is next to impossible.

This is when having extra help in the classroom is a HUGE asset. That is of course, if you have it, which I do not. Right now I have one teacher who comes in for one 45 minute period to work on SSR or Self Selected Reading with my students. This is not really an instructional time, but more of a time we use to conference with the students individually about what they are reading. I also have another teacher coming in for 45 minutes but just for the next few weeks in part of the efforts to boost low morale and underachievement, like I was talking about in previous installments. Other than that there was no extra help assigned to my room this year.

Now that in itself wouldn't be as big of a deal if there was no extra help in the school. If the money or help isn't there, it isn't there. However the problem is IT IS. We DO have paraprofessionals working in our school district, however the paraprofessionals on the third and fourth grade levels are, are you ready for this, PLACED IN THE GIFTED AND TALENTED CLASSROOMS.

Now I don't know about where you come from, but I'm a firm believer that if a child is in a G&T classroom chances are that is because they don't need that much extra help. They are pretty self sufficient learners. So why, place extra help with them while the other students (and teachers) are so obviously drowning?!

Although my principal hasn't come right out and said so my theory is this. She knows that the population we teach is overwhelmed with low achievers, so she is taking all of her resources and banking on the 48% or so percent of kids who at least have a chance of succeeding. So what message does that send to the rest of the kids?

No mater what you think, never underestimate the intuitiveness of a child. My students might be lower, but they are most certainly not stupid. They see the division in the classrooms. They know who is considered "smart" and who is not. And it only gets worse when they go from third to fourth grade. Why? Because I will be forced to take those "under 5er's" I was talking about earlier and recommend them for G&T for the following year. So by the time these students get to fourth grade, they have been picked over not just once, but twice. This is why the general ed population in fourth grade this year is literally, hanging by a very delicate thread.

The bottom line is no matter what group you have we all the same job to do- to teach these kids to the best of our abilities. All of these kids will be assessed by the same standards and the same tests. Factors such as placement and background are not taken into consideration when they look at the scores of tests like the NJ ASK. As a result, all of these teachers are blindly misguidedly assessed as well.

I know most of the time my students cannot, will not or won't want to get assessments such as these, but I don't decide what they need to know when. I am just the person who was hired to try to get them to where they should be. I also know my students well enough now to know to differentiate between who can't get it even if they are trying or who won't get it because they don't care.

For the most part, the staff at my school has remained quiet about this problem. It was like the elephant in the room that no one ever talked about. However this year the feeling is that the division is becoming too big to ignore. So teachers started bringing this to the attention of our principal who is still in large part, in denial, that the split is as off balance as it is.

As a group who is dealing with a very stubborn administrator we have come up with what we feel are, at the very least, reasonable compromises. For one thing, we have suggested that next year she consider creating one G&T classroom, not two. This way we have more of the kids who get it dispersed with the regular ed population and thus acting as good role models. This also allows the G&T class to be a truer representation of what G&T means. As of now, she is refusing to consider this.

Another alternative was that the G&T program itself be pullout. This way the children who get things more would leave the classroom for core subjects such as reading and math working with a G&T teacher. Then you would have half of your class, the struggling half, to work with more closely in small group instruction. This is another alternative that she will not go for.

The only compromise we have gotten her to cop to so far is giving the general ed teachers more assistance during the day. So for half a day now I sometimes have a paraprofessional who comes in my room. I share her though with another general education teacher in third grade. The paraprofessional in G&T in third grade remains firmly planted as is. I share the para with the third grade teacher who has resource kids, again the group that needs it the most.

If you made it this far, I hope you swing by next week for the final installment in Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom where I'll talk about one more important piece, parental involvement and culture.
Sunday, February 19, 2006

Write Back Weekend: "Love To Love Ya, Baby"

In honor of V-Day I asked all of you to tell me the songs that make your heart skip a beat. Some of you, I must say, have excellent taste, my own.

Let me say that for someone who has been so "in love" with music over the years that this was a very hard list for me to make. After careful consideration, I almost think there should a seperate list for the best sad songs. On my list there are songs of heartbreak, others of love that's been requited. Then there are a few that are just thrown in because they are romantic, for whatever the reason, to me.

Here, favorites of the faves in bold, is the somewhat abridged list of the songs about love that I hope you Google the ones you don't know and let me know what you think. I wouldn't ever tell you to download them. That would just be wrong.

Old School Loves
She Believes In Me- Kenny Rogers
Jealous Guy- John Lennon
Weekend In New England- Barry Manilow
Hello and Truly- Lionel Richie
Danny's Song- Loggins & Messina
Maybe I'm Amazed- Paul McCartney
God Only Knows and Don't Worry Baby- Beach Boys
Happy Together- The Turtles
Always On My Mind- Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson or yes, even Pet Shop Boys
You Needed Me- Anne Murray
Worst That Could Happen- Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge

Eighties/Power Ballad Loves
Faithfully and Open Arms- Journey
Glory of Love- Peter Cetera
At This Moment- Billy Vera

Angel Eyes- Jeff Healy
Crying- Roy Orbison and KD Lang
Can't Fight This Feeling- REO Speedwagon
Almost Over You- Sheena Easton
All I Want Is You- U2
The Search Is Over- Survivor
Wish It Would Rain Down,Against All Odds and Do You Remember?- Phil Collins
Only You- Yaz
It Might Be You- Stephen Bishop
Shameless and This Night- Billy Joel
Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)- Christopher Cross
Never Tear Us Apart- Inxs
Lost In Your Eyes- Debbie Gibson
In Your Eyes- Peter Gabriel
Forever- Kenny Loggins
Could've Been- Tiffany
I Love You- Climax Blues Band
Making Love Out of Nothing At All- Air Supply

Desperado- The Eagles
How Deep Is Your Love?- Bee Gees
We've Got Tonight- Bob Seger

Lesser Known and/or Newer Loves
Dreaming of You- Selena
Eve, The Apple of My Eye- Bell X1
Run- Snow Patrol
Serenade- Dion

The Way That She Loves Me- Chris Wilson
Ghost- Indigo Girls
The Reason- Hoobastank
If You Could Only See- Tonic
Creep- Radiohead
You Are The One- Chris Cuevas
Have You Ever Been In Love? Peter Cetera
I'll Back You Up- Dave Matthews Band

Bleed To Love Her- Fleetwood Mac
Does He Love You?- Rilo Kiley
Break Your Heart- Barenaked Ladies
The Background- Third Eye Blind
You Don't Know Me- Jann Arden
God Give Me Strength- Kristen Vigard
Wild Horses- The Sundays
#1 Crush- Garbage
Here With Me- Dido
I Shall Believe- Sheryl Crow
Last Kiss- Pearl Jam's version
Crying Like A Church On Monday- New Radicals
That Particular Time and Everything- Alanis Morissette
I Know Him By Heart- Vonda Shepard
Welcome To Love (Now Go Home)- Danielle Brisebois
Friday, February 17, 2006

Two Of A Kind Working On A Full House

It's no bluff, most of my students are not book smart.

What they lack in book smarts, however, they make up for, in spades, in street smarts. They know nothing of little leagues and play dates. They hang with their cousins and spend their summers in "DR" or "PR". All anyone can play is the hand God they dealt them.

Most of my kids spend a lot of their time letting their futures ride on being cool. Doing good in school? Not cool. Reciting lines from movies like The Godfather verbatim? Cool.

This is why it is so surprising, for all the time spent on decidedly more mature content, that most of my students go "all in" on shows like Full House. This my friends, is a bet I would have never wagered. Now in syndication, Full House had its heyday when I was their age, which was (God help me) nearly twenty years ago.

In case you were living under a rock, Full House was the story of a single dad, Danny Tanner (Bob "surprisingly foul mouthed" Saget) whose wife dies suddenly, leaving him to care for his three pre pubescent daughters: DJ "Donna Joe" Tanner (Candace "I'm With Kirk" Cameron), Stephanie Tanner (Jodie "look at me now" Sweetin) and Michelle Tanner (Mary Kate & Ashley "when we had baby fat" Olsen).

Deciding against going it alone, Danny begrudingly enlists the help of buddy Joey Gladstone (Dave "Cut It Out" Coulier) and Uncle Jesse (John "I wish that I was Jessi's girl" Stamos). Together the three men lead sail the unchartered waters of the SS PMS and even manage to belt out a song with The Beach Boys every so often.

I've tried explaining to my students that when Full House was on the first time around I was just about the age they are now. To seal the deal I use the example of the Olsen Twins and how much they have umm, grown, since the show. I think they get it. They still think I'm ancient, but they sorta get it.

Still it's bizarre for me to think that of all the sitcoms I grew up with, Full House is the one to transcend time. In some ways, I can remember watching Full House like it was yesterday. A time when the term 'annoying neighbor' was synonymous with the name, Kimmy Gibbler. When people weren't afraid to laugh at cheesy, overplayed one liners like "How Rude!" . Things were simpler then so laugh track enduced, canned laughter was acceptable, if not encouraged.

The more I think about it though, Full House and my students actually make the perfect hand. After all, Full House, and eighties sitcoms like it signify a way of life most of my students know nothing about. Their lives are hard, their innocent days numbered. This isn't just true of the youths of the urban areas, you see it in the suburban sects as well. Being young these days is like playing without a full deck.

I guess it was only a matter of time before a new generation found Full House since shows like these can no longer find them. Why? Because they simply don't make sitcoms like this anymore. This just goes to show that kids today still want to be kids, if only we would let them. When The Cameron clan stopped performing, who could these children turn to for entertainment?!

That's why I say let them enjoy their Full House. Before you know it, families like these will lose out to the likes of the Corleone family for good. But until then, they got it, dude.
Thursday, February 16, 2006

There's No Business Like Snow Business

No matter what is going on in the world, I find it funny how weather-related stories soak up so much on air time. If you are a semi-famous celebrity who happens to die around a big snowstorm? You're lucky if you get a mention sandwiched in between how much snow will fall and how much snow has fallen. Water, be it snow, rain or ice, is such a publicity whore.

This past weekend, the tri state area was hit hard with the first significant snowfall of the season. Up until now, winter had been remarkably mild with barely a hint of a flake in sight.

A few days before a potentially "big storm" meteorologists everywhere are always clamoring for the exclusive, Barbara Walters like scoop on...snow. Will it snow this weekend? If so, how much? How long? And how much will be outside the window? The one one mixed with rain, sleet and hail? Snow! I love you! Over here!

This leads me to something that irks me; What is the study of meteorology anyway? Apparently meteorologists are scientists who interpret the weather and atmospheric science. I don't know about you but I'd like more detail as to what they are "interpreting" because as far as I can see meteorologists, Huh. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing.

I understand that the weather can be an unpredictable creature, but you would think with all the advances we've made in the world that at least meteorologists today would be able to tell us if it was going to snow tomorrow, but they can't. All they can give us is a definite maybe.

In my book, definite maybe is only acceptable under certain circumstances. Will Arrested Development come back next season? Definitely maybe. Will I go on vacation this summer? Definitely maybe. These are questions where "definitely maybe" is an acceptable answer because there are numerous factors that are out of my hands at this point.

Snow plays games with meteorologists. One step to the right and we get a foot of snow, one step to the left and we just get rain. In the world of meteorology it's always anyone's game. And I get it. The meteorologists just don't know if it will snow. So you snow what? Why do these people get paid to not tell us what they don't know? Why do we need meteorologists to tell us what we can figure out for ourselves?

For instance, when it's about to snow, I often feel a little under the weather (no pun intended). I also notice that just before it's about to snow, the sky gets grayer and the weather is not all that cold. I did not go to school to figure these things out. I have just been living and walking around the state of New Jersey for the last 28 years and put two and two together.

And what about the meteorologists that live in warmer climates like California? Where's the conundrum in that?! There's always two choices, sunny or partly sunny. Ok, sometimes it rains. But it will defintely maybe always be sunny. Yes, de- def, definitely maybe. I'm an excellent describer.

Then, when the weather finally does whatever it decides to do, the meterorologists surface again and again to regurgitate mundane snow related updates: It snowed. This is how much it snowed. Here's a guy shoveling that snow. Here's an idiot who tried to drive in that snow. Look at all the places that are closed because of snow.

Yes, it seems the only thing that's certain in the partly wacky world of weather is that no matter when or where, snow always has a 100% chance of being a topic of conversation.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Love Is A Battlefield

Kids, do you know what time of the week it is? Why it's go meet the new renter time! Please extend a warm welcome to my roomie, Snozzberries? Who Ever Heard Of Snozzberries? Well, I've heard of snozberries, but I had never heard of this blog. So give it gander, won't you?

With Valentine's Day all but a chocolate covered memory, I will now tell you the horrible truth; I can be a surprisingly picky card buyer.

I detest anything that is too sappy and I scoff at anything too corny. No, the card I choose has to be juuust the perfect blend of snarky, sentinmental and surreal. Witness Exhibit A. I found these at the dollar store years ago and managed to find one online to share with you now. Nothing,and I mean nothing, says devotion like a pocket full of Spader.

My first challenge this Valentine's Day season was to find the perfect card for my parents. I don't always get my parents cards for occassions like these, but as I get older, one year bleeds into the next and I find I can't remember which holidays I do, and which holidays I don't. The safest bet is just to buy one and be done with it.

Buying a card for the rents though, under any circumstances, is always a challenge. This is because most cards for parents fall under the seriously sentimental, not semi sentimental. Cards like these usually contain a randomly chosen flower on the cover, ornate writing throughout, and an equally random and ornate message inside. According to this article apparently a lot of you guys dig cards like this. For me, buying one of these cards is as uncomfortable as putting a tomboy in a dress.

As a result, I usually wind up with something overwhelmingly generic. Sometimes, if I'm feeling really snarky, I'll buy a little kid card and give it to them. This is only funny if you realize that my grandmother still gets me cards like these. Only one of us is serious about it. I'll let you guess which one.

My next challenge was to find a card for my boyfriend. For him, on Valentine's Day, I decide that one card does not say it all. So I usually end up with one sarcastically silly choice and one semi serious selection. As a Gemini, this also compliments the natural duality of my personality perfectly.

But something was amiss at card stores everywhere. Card buyers were swarming the selections like bees to honey, most of them tossing cards anywhere they could in their haste. Where do broken hearts go? On the disorderly stocked shelves of card stores everywhere, I guess.

That's when it hit me. Finding (and fighting for) the perfect Valentine's Day card is not all that different from searching for perfect love itself. In fact, the type of card you buy probably says a lot about what YOU would be like to be in a relationship with.

What Your Valentine's Day Purchases Say About You

1. If you buy the ornate, flowery, cards I was speaking of earlier, you're a romantic. You probably cry at every chick flick movie ever made. That or you are dating a girl who has you seriously whipped and you'll no doubt, be watching one of those movies later against your will.

2. If you select a card from the raunchy section of the Valentine's Day cards you're a risk taker. Chances are the "V" in Valentine's Day has taken on more than one connotation for you in the past.

3. If you desire a blank card, you're controlling and think you can handle the heartfelt message better than any greeting card writer ever could.

4. If you choose a card with some sort of animal on the cover or a card you're playful. You also most likely don't have an actual valentine right now but that's ok.

5. Finally, if a wacky valentine is your cup of tea you are sensible. You like to acknowledge holidays like these, but you also like to keep them in perspective.

Whatever you choose, whether it be in life, or in the card aisle at your local Hallmark store, my advice to you would be this: Make your selections wisely and be prepared to fight for both. It's a cruel, competitive world out there. Paper products and potential mates are no exception.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tell It To Me Tuesday "You Think People Would Have Had Enough of Silly Love Songs"

Although it's a commercial holiday overrun with stale chocolates, stemmed roses and stuffed animals I still way say this to you:

Happy Valentine's Day!

I just blogged to say I love you. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

I feel a holiday like this cannot go by without acknowledging the most obvious of questions. So today's TITMT is this, What are your favorite love songs or the most romantic songs of all time and why?

I will make the dedications to the ones I loved this Sunday.
Monday, February 13, 2006

Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom: Part Two

Welcome back to the ongoing report of one teacher's perspective on the underlying problems of a third grade classroom in New Jersey. Since I already covered discipline in the first installment today's lesson will be on the all important topic of motivation.

At this point I'm sure some of you think I am exaggerating with how many kids in my classroom are problems either behaviorally or academically. Well I will tell you this. The principal finally acknowledged a litttle over a month ago that there is an extreme lack of motivation in the third and fourth grade population. These are also the grades she is most concerned about because third and fourth grades are big testing years. The teachers, point blank are scared that this year we will not pass the tests and thus the school will not make something called AYP or Adequate Yearly Progress.

So we unveiled this new program a little over six weeks ago whose goal was to "REMOVE THE CULTURE OF NONACHIEVEMENT". It goes a little something like this...

Every week, children have a chance to earn ___ amount of tickets for working well. Note, this is not for behavior, but for children who are trying their hardest academically. The first week they had to earn 3 tickets, then 4 and so on. At first, the children seemed to really respond to this program because at the end of the week those students who have the most tickets got to go to an ice cream party.

But the program itself has not been without its fair share of controversy. One problem is when these kids get to go to the party. These students are pulled out of the classroom to go eat the ice cream. So essentially they are missing instructional time to be rewarded for a job well the classroom, which is definitely a contradiction. Some have argued this can be done at better, far less intrusive times during the day such as lunch (when they are eating anyhow) or after school when they are in afterschool clubs (which are mandatory).

Then there is the controversy over the worth of the reward itself. As one teacher pointed out, these kids will be fat and happy, but does the reward really match the effort? If we are praising these kids for working well, can't we praise them with something that has to do with school such as lunch with the principal or winning a prize like a book or supplies? After all, we are supposedly doing this to make the connection between learning and being rewarded for learning, not learning and a sugar high.

Connected to this problem is the problem of variety. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. Giving children the same reward week after week, even if it is ice cream, will eventually become futile. It's just like Pavlov's dog. The longer you use something as a stimuli, the more ineffective it becomes, not to mention that each week it grows increasingly hard to reach that goal. Within the first few weeks, all children were excited because all of the children knew the ice cream was within their reach. But the more tickets you add to the goal, the more children you remove from the realm of possiblity of getting the prize in the end. As soon as the kids realize this they don't bother trying anymore because they know they will never get there, so why bother?

The fact of the matter is although these kids are only in third grade, there is a huge problem already brewing with the kids caring about their work. The children often admit they didn't do their best work but they don't really care. To be in third grade and to already not care about school doesn't bode well for the next 10 academic years in these students lives, much less the future of the country, period.

So as another part of the plan, the guidance counselors got together in an effort to weed out low motivation. They asked each classroom teacher to compile a list of children they felt were either behavior problems or poorly motivated or both. They wanted the worst case scenarios. So in the end, I submitted eight out of 21 of my students for this program. They added another one and then I got a new student the other day who desperately needed to be part of this program. When all is said and done I have 10 out of 22 students being pulled out for motivational reasons.

Nobody else in the third grade has this high of a number.

One teacher has 1, the other has 3 and two others have none. I have 10. Not only were all of these students tagged for needing extra motivation for varying reasons, they are all scheduled to be pulled out at different times. This leads to a sub problem that needs to be addressed, INTERRUPTIONS. Between the phone ringing, redirecting, assemblies room has literally become a revolving door with children constantly coming and going it's no wonder they don't get what is being taught.

To make matters worse, the children don't get the full grasp of why they are being pulled, they just know it is getting them out of the classroom for awhile which is the last thing an unmotivated bunch needs. So I'm actually finding this program to to be counter productive with children now acting up more in the hopes they can go see the counselor more often. I even have a few children who sit there, doing nothing, literally counting the hours until their appointment with the counselor comes up.

Since I already touched upon how administration is of no help in this department, I decided to approach the school counselors with my concerns. First I talked to the third grade counselor, who I blogged about before. If you remember me blogging about her the first time you will see why I didn't get very far.

So then I went to the school social worker who appreciated me contacting her directly with my concerns. She said that with the children she pulls out I should tell those kids that they cannot leave until they get their work done. I still have a problem with this. These children are being pulled because they need help, a different kind of help, but a help nonetheless. They are disruptive or they have low motivation or both. Is it really right to tell these kids they have to get their work done before they can go see the school social worker? Aren't we then holding the work over their heads and still using seeing the social worker as a reward? To me that's sending mixed messages.

At any rate, she is also concerned about my students and my situation and she now wants weekly updates as to how things are going. She left it off by saying that if need be, we will get administration involved. But you and I both know that until administration consistently cares, that will get us nowhere.

I was having a conversation with a kindergarten teacher the other day who works at my school and she used a great analogy. She said when teachers hand over knowledge to their students, it is like they are passing them something heavy they have to carry. You can only walk around with something heavy for so long before you will drop it. Sooner or later you need to find a good place to put it.

The fact of the matter is until you can get the kids to care about their own futures your caring can only go so far. In third grade they cannot envision what it will be like ten years down the line, but if their work ethic at the ages of eight and nine is any indication, it doesn't look good.

Swing by next Monday for part three of Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom where I talk about another important piece of the puzzle, Grouping/placement.
Sunday, February 12, 2006

Write Back Weekend: "The Wonder Years"

Have y'all been over to say hi to Stumbling Through Life With Grace Yet? Some of her stuff is already in boxes so go visit soon, before she moves out!

As you have all proven to be true, kids do and say funny things all the time. I, of course, was no exception.

Part of MCF's comment hit home for me. In case you didn't read it, he said, "...Hazard of being an only child--everything is considered cute at that age and parents don't let you forget it..." The rest of his post had to do with how bad he was as a kid. I was an angel, so I couldn't relate to that.

As an only child, you are watched with much closer scrutiny than you might be if you had a brother or sister thrown into the mix. All of your firsts are adorable, as our your seconds, thirds and so on. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if my parents were still counting, only now they just count silently to themselves.

I am sure there are tons of things I did that fell under the category of "one day we will look back on this and laugh". For example, there was the time I stole a pack of gum from the grocery store while we were on vacation. I had to be about 3 or 4. The gum was right out there, eye level, for the taking. How was I to know you have to buy it first? It wasn't until my parents saw me sharing gum with a new friend I made at the hotel pool that they knew I had it. I told them my friend had asked me for gum and I didn't have any, so I went and got some. Made perfect sense to me.

Then there was the time I could have sworn my mother was African American. My mom is Italian and let's just say if she works at it, she can get very tan in the sun. I got my dad's coloring so I'm fair and have to work much harder to get any sort of tan so I usually solve that problem by not working at it all. But as a little child, I knew nothing of labels like "african american" and "caucasian". To me people were either chocolate... or vanilla. Imagine my confusion when I thought my usually vanilla mom had become chocolate all of a sudden. Somebody was double dipping.

As a child I also remember clearly believing raisins became bugs or that bugs became raisins. I used to think if you left either alone for too long they would simply turn into the other. I think this came from being traumatized by trying to pick up too many things that looked like raisins but were actually bugs as a child. Either that or you can just chalk it up to overimagination which has never gone away.

Or how about the time I drew on the walls? I don't remember what I drew, but I only did it because of the commercial for the fabulous cleaning product, 409. You know, child see, child do. As my parents scrubbed the walls, I sat there in the background singing, "Shine on! Shine on 409!"

But the number one classic mini-Janet story of all time has to be the time I was in preschool and we were learning about the seasons. The teachers asked, "Does anybody here know what the seasons are?" I raised my hand, proudly and said, "Yes, I do. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons."

Between the 409 and Frankie Valli, one thing is certain, I was pop culture obsessed, even way back then.
Friday, February 10, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Sometimes I find myself thinking about how much it would suck to be homeless.

It really bums me out.

I mean I bitch and whine as I exaggerate the painful walk from my car to the automatic doors of Target's super store. This pales in comparison, however, to the amount of time homeless people spend on the streets.

I think about this even more now because it's winter and let's face it, winter is not the time to become a bum. In fact, if find yourself near bumdom anytime soon, you should at least try to hold off until warmer weather arrives. Bum a few buck off of someone or something. I know the tide is high, but you gotta keep holding on.

Then again, if there's one thing I learned it's all about location, location, location! That being said, bums in places like Los Angeles really don't have such a raw deal after all. How many people do you know who get excited about sleeping on the beach, watching the stars? Bums get to do that every single night, no questions asked.

If you're a bum and you can't reside in a warmer climate, or you insist on staying near "family", your next best bet would most certainly be New York City. For one thing, there are a lot of other bums in places like NYC, so in some small way, you'd have a sense of community. A warped and demented community full of lowlifes and pickpocketers, but a community nonetheless.

But there are even more reasons cities like NYC would rock to bum around in. NYC, after all, is the city that never sleeps. So you could find yourself a warm place, anytime, day or night. It's also a place you can get to on foot. This is why you find so many bums in the penthouse suite of bumship, also known as the subway.

Then there's the little issue of sustenance. Bums are people too ya know, and so they also need to eat. This is why if I were a bum, I'd be all about the dollar menu at the local fast food restaurant. Seriously. Dollar menus are awesome no matter who you are, but they are doubly awesome if you are a bum.

Put together the prime locale of NYC and the dollar menu at McDonalds and you realize bums don't really have it that bad after all. Dude, people drop change all the time! All you gotta do is scrounge together $1.00, plus tax. New York City sidewalks are notorious for finding strange things, some of them even worth something. The best part is you don't need to hock your grandma's necklace to buy a Big Mac. All you need to do is be is use a soft voice and carry big pockets.

If you ask me Fiddler on the Roof spent entirely too much time talking about what they would do if they were rich men. Being a bum is where it's at.

Editor's Note: No bums were harmed in the writing of this post cause really, what bum do YOU know that has internet access?!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

After The Love Is Gone

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, the Best of Blog Awards are now OVER.

In case you didn't know, yours truly managed to take the runner up slot behind The Sarcastic Journalist. If she should somehow become unable to fulfill her duties as the most sarcastic, the judges know where to find me.

The best way I can think of to describe the past 50 or so days has been like some surreal summer camp. I've met interesting new bloggers. We've swapped stories. We even "roasted" things besides marshmallows. Then we parted ways and promised to write. Only time will tell if we will hold true to that promise.

If you had been following the awards at all you would know there was a decent amount of controversy swirling around. But really, what's a good awards ceremony without a Brokeback Mountain-like scandal or two?

It all started with the idea of a "Best of blogging" contest itself. Why do we need to pit blogger against blogger? Why can't we just instead make it be us bloggers against the world?!

Then there were the nominations themselves. Many bloggers questioned the nomination process, which was far from secret ballot. The rules were simple. Any blog could be nominated by anyone, any number of times. This irked most while it fueled others. Although some voted for one blog multiple times, all any nominated blog needed was the one golden ticket to make it to the finals.

Eventually a top ten list emerged in each category by way of careful calculation or the flipping of a coin, you choose. By virtue of this complex, yet mysterious algorithm, AOGB made it to the top ten of the best overall blogs.

Traffic rose. Comments came a courtin'. Seas parted. Ok, maybe just one out of the two happened.

And then, as Tom Petty once said, the hardest part came. That my friends, was the waiting. We waited for the voting to go live. Once voting finally went live the fans went crazy, flooding the system. This marked the first major rift in the delicate fabric of the BOB's. It seems some people were able to vote more than once, while others were allowed their one vote and they were done. The glitch was acknowledged, but at first, the judges kind've shrugged their shoulders, ambivalent about what to do about the fallout. This made bloggers angry.

Some bloggers saw this weakness and used it to their advantage, attempting to sabotage the system even further since voting, in many categories, was "allegedly" rigged. I wouldn't have believed it, the naive, optimistic blogger that I am, if I hadn't seen it with my own double click. I literally watched one blog go from 40 votes, to 120 votes to over 300 votes in less than five minutes, placing said blogger at the front of the pack.

If this were say, the stock market maybe then, and only then, would I accept such dramatic changes. Perhaps someone had an all of their minions lined up at computer labs across the country, a arsenal of double click majorettes who acted upon hearing the order "ATTACK NOW!"

With the popular vote itself ironically losing popularity, the judges had no choice but to reassess the situation. Voting was originally slated to last a grueling few weeks, which was far too long, even by Kevin "Dances With Wolves" Costner's standards.

The judges were now in a pickle. Should they call off the farce, end the bloodshed and announce the winners, or should they drag this thing on indefinitely?

What the judges did next might surprise you. They did neither. The voting was indeed closed, however, a decision was still far off. This was when the second major glitch in the infamous Battle of The BOB's. While voters and finalists waited for the results, very little information as to when the results were coming were actually revealed. In the meantime, the BOBers posted about a blog cruise and another blog contest where you could vote...for the BOB'S. Meanwhile the restless masses just got angrier...and angrier.

Many people incessantly worried about the outcome. These people clearly had too much time on their hands. Besides, if you looked at the popular vote it seemed overwhelmingly easy to predict who would come out on top.

But then an amazing thing happened. The popular vote went from being the be all end all to seemingly... nothing at all. Take that, ballot box stuffers!

Now that the dust has finally begun to settle, I can finally speak freely on where I stand on all things BOB. For most of this process, I can perhaps best compare my feelings to Drew Barrymore in the movie Irreconcilable Differences. Poor little Drew was just a child, wanting to be loved, who was caught in the crossfire of an ugly custody battle.

Only in my world, AOGB is that little child, caught in the middle between the denouncers and the makers. On one hand I admire the judges that volunteered to create a contest that helps little bloggers like me get more recognition. To complain about that would be like biting the blogger that feeds you.

Yet on the other hand, there is a fine line between error and embarrassment. No one, including the judges themselves, has denied there were a LOT of errors that gave the naysayers all the ammunition they needed.

All the reasons listed above are what make any sort of victory bittersweet. You feel guilty for "winning" which implies you are "better" than another blogger. You also feel partly ashamed that it took so long to find out who won which makes you wonder how much of a victory it really is. And as far as the "it took very long part" some of you might be reading this right now thinking to yourself, "You mean that contest didn't end weeks ago?!"

For what it's worth, I was and still am proud to be nominated. As many of you already know, I consider AOGB the column I don't get paid to write and the thought that people out there enjoy it amazes me every. single. day.

The judges might have placed me in the top ten, but it was you, yes YOU who cared enough to submit AOGB to begin with. Without y'all I'm nothing. Seriously.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a silver medal to go polish.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tell It To Me Tuesday "Kids Say The Darndest Things"

Before we dive into TITMT, let's all give a warm welcome to my new renter, Stumbling Through Life With Grace. She's a blogger after my own heart, caring enough to comment on the blog she wishes to be a part of. Do her a favor and show her that same kindness, k?

I also want to thank whomever submitted me to Mister Snitch's HUGE Best Posts of 2005 compilation. This was the post that was submitted. Mister Snitch even has an idea to market this as a book. Not just my post mind you, all of them. Duh.
More on the other awards tomorrow.

Now on to the reason you are all here...

Kids have a way of looking at the world that most of us lose as we get older. Those of us who are fortunate enough not to lose this usually end up in advertising or comedy.

Thems my kind of people.

For this week's TITMT I want to hear about some of the crazy things you said (or did) as a child. You can also feel free to throw in something cute and adorable your child did, too. Basically the rule is if it's cute or quirky, it qualifies.

Watch this space for my answer's this weekend!
Monday, February 06, 2006

Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom: Part One

This post is decidedly a bit darker than most AOGB fare, but I have had many questions asking for elaboration about what it is like to be a teacher in today's schools. So in a way, you asked for it. Don't say I didn't warn you.

They say that you've truly "arrived" in the blogging world when you start to get mean, hateful or just plain misunderstood comments written about you, either on your own blog or someplace else. If this is the case, then color me arrived.

A little over a month ago I wrote this post which was picked apart on this site. Lucky for me, comments were open and so I was able to defend myself a bit, even if I was preaching to the converted.

Then last week this post took some heat on this site. I couldn't openly comment on this one though (something about registering which I couldn't do for some reason), so I emailed my rebuttal to the person who linked to the post, someone who also seemed rather ambiguous about what side she was really on. This woman has yet to email me back. She also has not yet posted my rebuttal. And meanwhile, the negative comments continued to pour in.

Now I know I shouldn't take it personally, but I have begun to notice a trend- the times where I am getting negative feedback revolve around my writing about my experiences in education. Apparently a lot of people are passionate about this subject, as am I. In fact, this is why I get so annoyed when people write about my posts, spending a lot of time speculating when they could simply ask me directly.

Let me first, address the misconceptions. Even if I don't always write about it, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my teaching methods so that these kids get it. I am very serious about the job I have of educating these kids. When I see it isn't working, of course I blame myself and yes, sometimes I even cry.

But then I try to take a step back and put things into perspective. I know I am a fairly new teacher, but this problem is not only in my class. This is a school wide epidemic that has permeated every grade, even the classrooms of teachers who have been teaching far longer than I. For all I know this could be a state wide or even national problem. Now that would be really scary.

In regards to the one post about the Social Studies test I will say this. A lot of people were confused because they thought the questions sounded hard for even them to answer. But the children didn't have to memorize anything. All they had to do was count how many pictures they saw on a map and most importantly, write down answers that made sense.

If you knew my class you would know that the hopes that all the children are going to "get it" is long gone. This is not a negative attitude, it is a realistic one. So sometime this year my goal for this particular group shifted. I don't need for them to get all the answers all of the time, but I am trying to get them to a place where they at least can defend the rationale of how they got to those answers.

And the SS test is just ONE example. I have literally hundreds more where that came from. For example, the other day I gave my students a making change word problem. They had a dollar and they bought a 70 cent candy bar. They had to tell me how much change they would get back.

I went around the room, asking everyone what they thought, and the answers were as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. One girl even put down $71.00. Some of them had the idea, but still don't know how to subtract properly. Things like this occur EVERYDAY in my classroom.

Now how this can happen is a question that should be asked and one that I have long looked forward to answering. However how to answer it without writing a novel is another issue entirely.

So that is why I am going to attempt to break down what I see as the major problems and I am going to do so in four, easy installments over the next four weeks. Although the four problems, (as you will come to see) do overlap, it's just easiest to do it this way. A new installment will be posted every Monday covering the following categories:

1. Discipline
2. Motivation
3. Grouping/Placement
4. Parental Involvement/Culture

The remainder of today's post will focus on the first part, discipline.

My school is a very well respected school, known for making real progress with inner city students from Spanish speaking homes. But this year, the climate in the school has decidedly changed, namely in the upper grades.

The school I work in is comprised of grades K-4. Last year my third grade class was a handful to say the least. With all of the things my school does right, discipline isn't one of them. Which brings me to the first major problem, there is no formal discipline plan in place. If you have a difficult child, you need to figure out a way to deal with them because administration either can't or more accurately more often than not, won't get involved.

So I end up giving a majority of my lunch periods up to monitor things like lunch detention for students who misbehave or didn't do their work. I could literally do this everyday, but some days I let it slide if only because I need a break.

And the monitoring doesn't only go on at lunch. There are constant disruptions for misbehavior while I'm trying to teach as well. If you have one or two kids who are problems this isn't a huge deal. But what if you have 5, 10 or 15 difficult children like I have the past 2 years? What do the other 5 kids who want to learn do? They sit there and wait and lose out.

Since I pride myself on running a very tight ship, most of the time the kids don't fall apart behaviorally unless they are not with me. Times like lunch or specials or when I am absent. Anytime, basically where there is no structure. But even though this happens when I'm not around, I'm forced to take time out of my instructional day addressing behavior issues. Who cursed. Who hit who. Who is crying... etc.

So another part of this new culture of non-achievement plan was a school wide initiative to come down hard on non-achievers. If a kid is disrupting your lesson or causing a problem with your class? Send them to the office, provide them with work and they will take it from there. Great idea, right? Only the best ideas only work if you actually follow through with them.

The same day they unveiled the new plan students of mine were fighting at lunch. They were throwing rocks. One day someone is going to seriously get hurt. So I told the guidance counselor who in turn told the vice principal who in turn did nothing. He didn't talk to the kids who did it. He didn't give them detention NOTHING on the VERY SAME DAY HE TOLD THEM THINGS WERE GOING TO CHANGE. Now what kind of message is THAT sending?! Instead he allegedly told the guidance counselor that kids were going to fight cause they were kids. Nice, right?

The problems they are seeing in the fourth grade are even more severe then the ones I am seeing now. But then again, I had many of the four graders who were problems when they were third grade or what I like to refer to as "the last year of innocence." In third, for the most part, kids will listen to consequence, not talk back and are afraid of authority. But by the fourth grade, it is a whole different ballgame.

In fourth grade this year alone we had two kids try to set fire to a desk and another pull down his pants and tell another student to suck my you know what. So fourth, is obviously administration's priority right now since their problems are more severe.

Or are they?

Just because third grade doesn't exhibit as severe behaviors doesn't mean they aren't as important. After all, if they addressed the problems that are happening in the third grade now maybe they could avoid some of the problems they will have next year when THESE students get to fourth grade. But instead, my school waits until it becomes a bigger problem instead of stopping the problem in its tracks.

Although the school lacks in discipline with no real plan in sight, that does not stop me from holding students accountable for their actions when they are with me. I am a firm believer most of these kids act out because they think no one cares and as a result, I am dead set on proving them wrong.

Tune in for Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom: Part Two, next Monday.
Sunday, February 05, 2006

Write Back Weekend: "As The World Turns"

It was interesting reading the responses to last week's TITMT if only because we were all at such different places in our lives. I did notice, however, that no matter where we were, we all had some semblance of a memory related to the crash.

When I was a kid, everything related to space amazed me, as it does many kids. I loved learning about the planets and even wanted to take Astronomy in college until I found out how much math there was involved. This is when Astronomy and I finally decided to go our seperate ways.

I was also fortunate enough to have grown up in a great era of space-related cinema. I mean hello, ET phone home? ET was the first movie I ever saw in the movie theater, an experience I'll never forget, mostly because I cried the entire way home. This was the downside of taking a five year old to a movie about a lovable, visiting alien.

Another great 80's movie about aliens was the movie Starman. Jeff Bridges was believable, almost too believable, as the alien of every girl's dreams.

There were so many more outer space films in the eighties, (Star Wars and Alien are like played out, k?) but just like the theme to The Facts of Life said, you take the good and you take the bad. So, that being said, I also sat through movies like: Mac and Me and Earth Girls Are Easy.

Then there was the movie SpaceCamp that came out a few years later in 1986. According to the IMDB:

"What was supposed to be a somewhat light hearted action/adventure movie turned into a marketing nightmare. SpaceCamp was scheduled to be released in early 1986 but on 28 January the real-life shuttle Challenger exploded 74 seconds after liftoff, claiming the lives of seven American astronauts. After the Challenger disaster, the release was pushed back months. When it was finally sent to theaters, it grossed less than $10 million in the U.S. Eerily, the malfunction simulated in the film involved the solid rocket booster and was similar to the actual cause of the Challenger accident."

At 9, I was too young to understand the full magnitude, so I did see and enjoy SpaceCamp. All I knew is I was intrigued by the concept and loved it when we went on a class trip and I bought freeze dried astronaut ice cream.

Although I didn't get the full effect of everything related to the crash, I do remember it happening. Like many of you, I was in school in third grade. We were all huddled around the television set ready to watch the launch. Eventhough the trip was a big deal, I think what made it an even bigger deal to educators was that a real life teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was part of the mission. When she died, she was only 38 years old.

I remember the shuttle going off and then exploding. We only partly understood what was going on, but we knew it wasn't good. I then remember my third grade teacher quickly shutting off the television because she didn't know what to say. I don't remember what she finally ended up saying. I guess it didn't much matter as we were old enough to know that it had gone horribly wrong.

I started this post off by saying that when I was a kid, everthing about space fascinated me, as it does most kids. That is only partly true. I think space is one of those subjects that remains fascinating no matter what your age. It's the unknown that brings out the eternal kid in all of us and thus the reason why so much "is there life out there?" propanda remains so interesting.

That and the delicious discovery of things like dry freezed astronaut ice cream.
Friday, February 03, 2006

Eight-Six-Seven-Five-Three-Oh Ni ee ine

Before I begin, have you hugged a renter today?

Every once and awhile I wish I could go back to a simpler time. No, I'm not going as far back as when the word 'gay' still meant happy. I'm talking about a time of all VCRS and no DVDS. A time when Garbage Pail Kids trumped a Texas Hold 'Em hand.

A time when the prank phone call was an art form.

Back in the day, prank calls were commonplace, even dare I say, endearing. But just like hair band rock, we didn't know what we had till it was gone.

Picture this- you'd be sitting down for dinner after a long day at work or school and the phone would ring. On the other end of the phone there would be a heavy breather. You'd try to get said breather to talk but now way no how were they budging.

Looking back on it, the fact that we tried so hard to get that person to speak amazes me. I mean really. As if they had anything to say that you needed to hear. It wasn't as if they were going to breathe heavy for five minutes and then suddenly turn out to be your mom, telling you to pick up more milk.

But all prank phone calls were not of the heavy breather variety. Some were just regular people like you and me, making corny jokes like "Is your refrigerator running? Well, you better go get it!" or there were a gaggle of girls, giggling on the other end of the phone, caught up in the moment. Then again, I'm not only a member of the Prank Phone Call Appreciation Society, I'm also a client.

I remember making one or two prank pc's in my day. All of them were harmless fun, or so we thought. One time a friend and I tried to track down a high school crush and looked him up in the phone book because we didn't know his number. Phonebooks, by the way, were real, live books that people used to use to find out all the information they can now Google. We didn't end up reaching him, however, the midnight phone call did scare the bejesus out of his grandparents who also lived in the area.

Of course, not all prank phone calls were fun and games. One time my grandparents, who lived 45 minutes away, got a prank call from a young girl, crying saying her mom was bleeding and lying on the floor. My grandmother heard young girl + crying and automatically assumed it was me. So she asked the girl if it was Janet and she just went along with it, although the name Rosalie also came out at some point too.

So instead of calling our house line back to see if we were ok, my grandfather got in the car and drove 45 minutes to our house to see for himself, driving by following the white line on the road mind you, since he was not supposed to do any night driving anymore. I can still remember how much excitement there was once they showed up. Somehow everyone was amazingly slightly pissed at me. They forgot the minor detail that I was not the one who made the call in the first place.

Then there was the time when I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar as a temp at a local community college. One night I started getting really freaky, distrurbing phone calls that revealed personal information about me including where I worked and what kind of car I drove. Because they divulged information about me they couldn't possibly have known without "knowing" me, I reported it to the police. They did a trace and the details are hazy after that. All I know is that the phone calls stopped. Of course, the examples listed above are instances of what not to do when prank phone calling.

Either way it's a moot point since the beauty of the prank phone call died a long time ago, buried next to the eight track and the fanny pack. Yes, video killed the radio star and caller ID killed the prank phone call. As soon as you could no longer be anonymous and be horny or silly, the stock in prank phone calling plummeted fast.

Not only did prank phone calls lose some of their luster once Caller ID gained in popularity, shortly thereafter the Caller ID nazis came around. You know the type. You dial a number by accident, hanging up before anyone even picks up the phone. But a minute later your phone rings. It's wrong number girl, wanting to know what you wanted. Umm. Nothing. I wanted nothing. Otherwise I would have waited for you to pick up and asked you for something, but I didn't. These people have entirely too much time on their hands. My guess is these are the people who ironically, used to use their extra time to make the prank phone calls.

Just when I was about to write RIP on prank phone call's tombstone, my boyfriend goes and gets a phone call the other day. Not just any call, a prank call, on his cell phone no less. On the other end were innocent girls. The giggling kind. The good kind. Out to have some fun and annoy the hell out of their "victim" with their neverending laughter and need to redial.

Had it been 10 years ago he might have been pissed by that phone call. But getting a prank phone call now is like finding an endangered species wandering around in your backyard. It's rare and it's beautiful, and so he played along. You know, for old time's sake.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006

You Want A Piece of Me?!

I know I'm a little late in addressing this, but when it came to this topic, everyone was talking at me, and quite frankly, I couldn't hear a word they were saying.

What I'm talking about is the big scandal that recently rocked the literary world. And here everyone thought bookworms were only stuffy, boring types.

The controversial author is James Frey. The book is entitled A Million Little Pieces which, ironically, describes the state of Frey's career and reputation right now.

Admittedly I didn't know what this book was about before the scandal emerged. I had seen the book before and was intrigued, if only by the aquamarine cover and accompanying image. What can I say? I can be a shallow book chooser at times. I know I know, you can't judge a book by it's you know what. Regardless, I suppose you could say I'm still trying to put all the "pieces" together, so to speak.

So far this is what I think I know. A Million Little Pieces is a self proclaimed memoir of Frey's which highlights his triumph over tragedy and his success in the face of adversity. His words were so convincing that even Oprah, aka "God", put her stamp of approval on his book, literally.

Personally I've never put too much stock into anything Oprah recommends or doesn't recommend. I mean she's just a woman who happens to read. I'll take my must read recommendations from far less pretentious people who actually know me thank you very much. She's just another squirrel to me, trying to get a nut. This time though, as far as the nut part is concerned, she actually succeeded.

It was Smoking Gun, the folks who REALLY see you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake, allegedly blew Frey's "cover".

At first it seemed like Frey told us some lies. Sweet, little lies. But then the lies started piling up and when you get a bunch of little lies and put them in a room together the problem doesn't seem quite so little anymore. This also makes it much harder to ignore.

Questional Content Fabrications include but are not limited to:

1. Assigning himself a role in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students.
2. Undergoing brutal root-canal surgery without the aid of anesthesia.
3. Confessions he was in jail numerous times, one time lasting as long as three months, when really it was more like a few hours.
4. The means by which a former girlfriend committed suicide.

Before we throw the book at him and all of his mounting lies, let's look at some truths. If Frey had written a fictious novel including much of what he did in his "non fiction" novel he wouldn't have gotten nearly as much attention. It wouldn't have mattered if he was the best writer on the planet. What made Frey so riveting was not because he was a good writer, but because he was a real guy who happened to write.

In fact, as many people were reading this book, they became engrossed BECAUSE it seemed so untrue. Here was a real man, with real problems who managed to overcome them. And as we all know, everyone loves a story about a bad guy who turns his life around. They want the truth but just like Nicholson once said, they can't handle the truth. Actually, A Million Little Pieces would have made a perfect movie. Now, no doubt, the movie will still be made, only it will be about the man who lied to make the book. I'm calling it The Humpty Dumpty Man. Talk about poetic justice.

A controversy that is far from over, Frey has admitted to some fabrications, but he has done so begrudingly. He also does not seem to want to admit that the lies are large enough to effect the overall message of the book. But one look at Frey trying to defend his actions and it's obvious that he is frayed in more ways than one.

It almost seems as if he has been lying for so long that he doesn't know what's real and what's not. The only truth to be found here is that Frey has a hard road ahead of him where he'll be picking up the "pieces".



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