Friday, April 28, 2006

Random Thoughts (in no particular order)

...ALMOST there....I have just a few things left to do before I'm finished with the work I have to present and / or produce for completion of my Master's...

...I was out for coffee with PTrinity yesterday when she mentioned that she'd heard that another intern, from a different school, got one of the three positions I'd applied for at the school where I'M interning. I'm still trying to get around that; I had been comforting myself in the belief that I lost the job(s) to people with more experience...

and then....

...I got, in an email from someone I almost never correspond with, yet ANOTHER confirmation that it was probably a good thing that I didn't get the job I so hoped I'd get after all...

...I have to remember to take some pictures of me with CT and the kids on Monday. The University wants to put on some sort of slide show at the final conference of interns next Friday, and the only pictures I have are really crappy ones....

...I can't believe it's almost over.........

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vacation Week

This is April vacation week at school, and I'm lucky enough that the school where I work and the school the girls attend have the same April vacation. This hasn't always been the case.

Anyway, we're starting the week off kind of slowly. I spent a good portion of Saturday afternoon printing out items for the portfolio that's due on the 11th of May, and I have to portion off at least one or two afternoons this week for work on the presentation I will deliver on the 4th.

The presentation centers around some observations I made in the classroom - and some thinking I've been doing for several years now - about the use of film in an English / language arts classroom. A lot of people - most students and some teachers included - think that popping a video in at the beginning of class is a way of killing time that is more entertainment than education. I have spent the last two months or so in the classroom, and several years in college, thinking about how to change that perception.

While it's true that most films shown in English classes are adaptations of novels that kids have read ("To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Of Mice and Men" are perennial favorites) there is, to my mind, no reason that a film can't serve as a stand-alone text in a classroom (see
"To Be or Not To Be" here). Certainly, there are a number of different "reading" techniques that must be employed when using visual media as a primary text, and student's must be particularly attentive to the mechanisms of critical analysis because so much more information can come out of a film (lighting, camera angles, music) that a student might get out of a book, but I'm not sure that showing an adaptation of a novel is the most effective use of class time, unless the class is focusing on artistic interpretation.

Over the course of the last two months, I've been working with the freshmen with the literature of the Holocaust. We've read Night and The Sunflower, along with various poems and the lyrics to Patty Griffin's "As Cold as it Gets." We also watched "Life is Beautiful," "Nuremberg" and portions of "Schindler's List." We've had amazing conversations about the concepts of discrimination, genocide and forgiveness. The students have written, eloquently and powerfully, about whether it was right for Albert Speer to get a lighter sentence than Herrman Goering, about the reasons why Dora chose to board the train to go to the concentration camp with her husband and son, and about the idea that one man can be seen as the rescuer of generations of people who might not have even existed had that one man chosen to look away and do nothing. I've already written about the almost unbelievable work the young people did when asked to investigate Samuel Bak's work. The students wrote and spoke about the experience of SEEING - about how different and, in some cases, more powerful the impact of the subject was because they were able to see it in front of them rather than having to imagine it in their own minds. While I am still intimately connected to reading, I realize there is no way we could have duplicated these experiences with books.

I think I have most of the material I need for the presentation, but I still have to make handouts and beg my husband to configure my computer to show film clips, thereby saving me the time and awkwardness of having to scroll through DVD menus. I plan to ask the people who attend the presentation to do some work that I typically ask my students to do, and I'm hoping to generate some thoughtful conversation about expanding the idea of what a "text" is.

I'll try to write here again at some point before it's all over, but it's going to be a really busy couple of weeks for me. I need to finish up the work for the presentation and portfolio this week, then I'm back in the classroom until I deliver my presentation on Thurday, then I have to spend the entirety of Friday the 5th in a conference where OTHER people deliver their presentations. I'm back in the classroom until the 11th, when my portfolio is due.

Then I'm DONE!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Special Guest Stars

Last week was a busy one at school. I had the pleasure of hosting two of my best and dearest in my classrooms: Wayfarer came to visit and observe on Monday, and Kizz came to teach and observe on Thursday.

Wayfarer teaches at a charter school in a neighboring state and was interested in not only coming to see me do my thing, but also to see whether public education had made any significant changes since he'd left. He didn't seem too surprised to find out that it hasn't. Anyway, he left me with a lot of great notes, asked some really significant questions about how I might want to set up the environment of my own classroom (when I have a classroom of my own) and we had another lengthy discussion about whether or not it's appropriate for kids to refer to their instructors as Mr. This or Mrs. That (Wayfarer is referred to by his first name - my kids call me Mrs. Chili). I'm hoping to go to see his classroom in the next few weeks.

Kizz came on Thursday, and I'm so glad she did. She's in the neighborhood performing her Susanna Shakespeare show, and I invited her to come to my second period freshman class to introduce them to the Bard and to do a few exercises to teach them how to approach reading
Shakespeare so that their heads won't explode (a few examples: read with a dictionary handy; read with the punctuation, not the line breaks; remove parenthetical clauses; try to find the subject and predicate in a sentence) All that is stuff that I teach when I teach poetry, but her comfort level and depth of knowledge of Shakespeare gave her an ease with the material that really came through with the kids. She was wonderful and engaging and we had a fantastic time. I plan to encourage her to offer, as part of her repertoire, a workshop in reading Shakespeare to be delivered in a classroom - once teachers see what she does, I'm sure she'd be in great demand.

When her class was over, she came to watch my fourth period freshmen work with the Bak paintings. I haven't talked to her yet about what she thought of the whole thing, but you already know what I thought of the class. I'm hoping my enthusaism was obvious to her.

This afternoon, I'm heading off to watch Kizz deliver her show to a nursing home. I'll take pictures and, with her permission, I'll post them here. Watch this space.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I LOVE This Job!!

Today was a really good day.

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry with a picture from an artist named Samuel Bak. It was one of a number of works I'd seen in the art gallery at my university while attending a conference on teaching the Holocaust to high school students.

I decided, standing in front of the enormous - and enormously powerful - paintings, that I would use them in my freshman classrooms. It just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up; the paintings are rich and full of symbols and images and, while I looked at the artwork, I found myself making connections to a lot of the material that I'd covered with the students. I was eager to see what the kids would do with it.

Tuesday, I began the experiment. My wonderful husband made a bunch of overhead transparancies for me so I was able to give the students a sense of viewing in a communal way rather than having to pass out one photocopy to each kid - I think that the act of standing in front of the piece with other people looking on was particular to the experience, and I didn't want the students to have to look at the work in an isolated way. As I projected the first image on the wall - "Self Portrait" - I instructed the students to remain utterly silent - they weren't to speak their thoughts aloud, they weren't to talk to their classmates or to me about what they were thinking. I wanted them to just stand there and absorb the image - to think about what they were seeing, to notice where their eyes were drawn, to really experience the piece. Then, I asked them to return to their seats and quietly write the most important things they were thinking - about an image that spoke to them, about a question they had about the piece, about a theory about what this or that meant.

When they'd finished writing, we started a discussion. I cannot adequately tell you how impressed I am with the work these students did. They noticed SO much - they picked out images and suggestions of images that I was almost certain they'd miss. They made guesses about what things meant in terms of the study we've been doing around the literature of the Holocaust ("Wait - is that a Jewish star on the boy in the wall?") They talked about the implications of some of the ideas they had ("what if the smoke in the background is from the crematoriums?" "What if the boy in the picture is the only one left, and he's holding a pen because he's responsible for telling the stories of all the people who didn't survive?"). I am, even now, astounded at the sophistocated work these 14 year olds did.

I continued the lesson today with two more paintings from the artist - "The Sound of Silence," which is on the post I mentioned earlier:

and "Adam and Eve":

I had half expected the students to balk at doing more of the same work I asked them to do on Tuesday, but they were eager to get to it - the hour-and-a-half block of time flew by, and several students were disappointed when the bell rang. When high school kids are sad to see a class end, you know you've done a great job as a teacher.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hey, You!! Back on the Horse!

So, I'm off to spread a few more resumes around today. I'm going to deliver a packet to the high school in my hometown and I have another almost ready to send off to a nearby community.

Today wasn't so bad; I think I'm finding balance in all of this. The fact that PTrinity's husband had that story to tell me on the very day that I was passed over for the job is just a little too coincidental for me to not believe that the Universe is telling me something. Add to that the fact that two of the panelists approached me today to tell me that it really just sucks, that there's nothing that I could or should have done differently, that it was just the way the proverbial cookie crumbled and I'm starting to believe that I didn't screw things up for myself, that it really IS just the way it is. It's still a little on the tough side for me to accept; I like to think that, if you do everything right, you get what you're aiming for though yes, I know, that's not how the world works. Well, dammit, maybe it should.

So, I'm off to spread the word about my availability. It'd be nice to get some calls back. As much as I loved my "old job," I'm really hoping that my first year as a licensed teacher isn't spent as a stay-at-home mom.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Universe Saying "Hey!"

So, here's what happened to me last night; I thought you might be interested to hear the story.

I was invited to PTrinity's Passover Seder yesterday evening. When I arrived, her husband had a story he had to tell me, and he had to tell me right away.

He was in a local hardware store yesterday afternoon, getting something hardware-ish, when he noticed a patient of his in an aisle (he's a doctor). He went to talk to this person, who asked him how things were going, how practice was, how his wife was doing in her internship, yadda yadda.

In the course of their conversation, Doc mentioned that PTrinity was almost ready to start distributing her resume around when, completely unbidden, a random customer, who happened to overhear the conversation, piped up and said "whatever you do, DON'T let her teach in XYZ school!!" (this is the school I'd just applied to) Shocked, Doc asked the man what that was all about.

It seemed this man had been a teacher in XYZ - shop or building trades or something - who hurt himself, took some time off, came back with limitations, and was subsequently asked to resign - after a very long career. "They EAT their young there," this man said. "They'll keep new teachers for two years and then dump them before they can get tenure." He said he'd seen it again and again - and mentioned the English department in particular - and I remember hearing teachers there saying that several new teachers weren't offered contracts recently, which lends credibility to this stranger's story.

It's both remarkable and typical that something like this should happen to me. That Doc had a complete stranger interrupt his conversation with a patient whom he happened to meet in a store and tell about his experience at XYZ school on the very day that I was rejected for a job, and that I would see Doc that night (I hadn't seen Doc in almost four months) seems coincidental, but it's really not. Stuff like this happens to me all the time, and I'm thrilled when I'm mindful enough to notice it.

I'm taking this as further confirmation that things are happening the way they should. I'm trying to release my indignation and anger and frustration (and disappointment) over the whole thing and allow my faith in the Universe to take the wheel; I'm doing a pretty good job of it, I think. Still, it's going to feel different coming into work on Monday, regardless of how much equilibrium I can find over the weekend.

(the image, in case it's too small to see, is Calvin sitting behind a "swift kick in the butt" stand. I thought it was apropos)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Thanks, but No Thanks

So! Anyone care to guess how MY day went??

I got called into the assistant principal's office this morning after second period and was told that I wouldn't be invited to the next round of interviews.

The entire experience was surreal and more than a little insulting, really. "It's not YOU," the guy told me, "we had a very deep pool of candidates." A pool in which, apparently, I drowned.

His communication of my rejection felt a lot more like a bad teenaged break-up than anything I would expect in a professional setting. He kept stressing the fact that it wasn't ME, that there were a lot of other, equally qualified and impressive individuals who were also passed up, and that he'd be happy to personally recommend me to any other schools I might want to apply to (though he didn't say this, all I heard from that was "I don't want you, but someone else might"). Seriously, people; I was in the office, being subjected to this stuff, for about ten minutes longer than I felt was necessary. I get that I'm not in the running for the job, can we stop pretending that you feel badly about it so I can get out of here before I lose it?

Aside from the whole feeling of "it's not that we don't like you, it's that we don't LIKE you, like you," I'm feeling upset by a couple of things: 1) He didn't offer me any information about what successful candidates did, said, or had that I didn't. 2) He made a big deal about telling me that I had a lot of strong support from the panel (leading me to believe that he made an executive decision, in his ultimate wisdom, that kept me from the second round of interviews) and 3) neither he nor anyone else on the panel ever made any effort to come to see me actually TEACHING. I'm in the school every day - I teach classes by myself every day - I specifically invited both the assistant principal and the department head to come to watch me teach a class and no one availed themselves of the opportunity to see what kind of teacher I already am.

I'm sorry if I'm ranting; I'm still trying to get over the surprisingly painful sting of this day. I do have to say that several people, who were enthusiastic and supportive of my hope to be hired into the department, came to me to offer their continued support and encouragement over the course of the day. I am SO grateful to them, even if I was a little standoffish. It was difficult to accept such kindness and not lose my composure. Maybe by Monday I'll have enough distance from this to thank them properly.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ooo! Ooo!

I got this comment from Vanx, and it made me laugh so that I HAD to post it as an entry in and of itself:

[in voice of Horschak, hand flailing in air] "Ooo! Ooo! Miss Chili! I'm finished!" [in voice of Vanx, hands rubbing together like sandpaper] "Adam vs. Satan, you know what I'm sayin'"

So, who else is finished? Who wants to engage Vanx here in a discussion of that he's sayin'?

(Oh, and I didn't realize it until JUST now (seriously, I'm that lame) but the whole Welcome Back Kotter thing may be significant to me - I'm applying to teach in the same high school from which I graduated. Huh.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Failure of Confidence

I need to stop thinking about this. I was feeling pretty confident about my chances for getting this job - now, I'm not so sure.

I don't get any particularly positive feelings from anyone about my chances. One of the teachers mentioned that she's not sure she's EVER seen someone hired from within. I didn't go to a snobby school, which, I gather, is important to the assistant principal. I am a first year teacher with no work experience beyond the internship. No one has come to watch me teach, though I've extended the invitation.

I'm trying to keep a "the Universe will put me where I most need to be" attitude. I'm having a little trouble with that right now, though, because I really want the job.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"Reading" Art

I'm hoping for a lot of comments on this one - especially from those of you (Vanx, Claudia...) for whom art is a way of life.

I had the good fortune to attend a conference on teaching the Holocaust at my university yesterday. While I would have preferred they break the event into two days (eight-to-five of that subject is, shall we say, a bit overwhelming), I learned a lot and came away with the sense that I can be a better teacher because of what I learned.

Part of the conference included a trip to the art gallery on campus, where a number of works by Samuel Bak were being displayed. Bak did a fair portion of his growing up in the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania, managed to be secreted out of harm's way by his father and spent the rest of the German occupation hiding in a convent with his mother. She and he were the only members of his family to survive World War II, and Bak has only recently begun to paint about his experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust.

Conference members were given about an hour (though it felt like much less) to view the works on display and, if they wished, to talk to the artist, who had graciously made the trip to the university to speak to us. I never managed to get to him, though, because I was completely sucked into his work.

I know about this much about art. I recognize when I "like" something, but much of my art experience has been limited to just that - personal preference. I don't know anything about technique, movements or trends, who's famous and why, or symbolism and interpretation. Even with that ignorance, though, I was able to come away from the Bak exhibit profoundly moved and positively stunned at the layers of meaning present in his work. I was seeing meaning everywhere, and feeling confident that I understood it despite my lack of experience and knowledge in the medium.

I spent most of my time in front of this painting. It's about five feet by six feet, and this photo doesn't - obviously - do it justice; if you click on the image, you should get a full-screen version, though even that doesn't come much closer to speaking to the power of the actual piece. I could go on for quite some time about what *I* see in it, and why I think what I see is so profoundly significant to what I've been studying with my students, but I'm interested to hear other voices. Please, please comment.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reflections on an Interview

I promised to write more about the interview, so here it is.

I've been thinking about it ever since Thursday evening, and I'm pleased to tell you that I haven't had to beat myself up in any kind of serious way. I've come up with a couple of things I wish I'd said, but nothing that I wish I hadn't said. I think that's a very, very good sign (particularly given my tendency to release the clutch on my brain before it's fully engaged).

Friday morning, I wrote thank you notes to everyone who was in on the interview and delivered them to the office mailboxes. I met up with one of the panelists at the photocopier on Friday morning, and she told me that she thought my interview "went very well." Really, all the indications are that I didn't do or say anything that caused the panelists to chuck my resume as soon as I walked out the door. I remain optimistic.

Did I mention that I was also in the midst of a my second solo week while all of this was going on? Well, I was. I'm actually glad that I was so preoccupied with the work ahead of the interview; I'm pretty sure I would have worried myself to a pile of ash otherwise. Kizz asked me the other day what grade I'd give my second solo week. I'm thinking it's probably a solid B+, maybe even an A-. There were a couple of rough spots (I actually threw two kids out of my classes at varying points in the week, and one of them ended up in a conference - into which I was called - in the assistant principal's office. Of course, this was a little more than two hours before my interview with same said assistant principal. I wonder what kind of impression that made...), but overall, I'm pleased. CT is not-so-secretly hoping I'll take over a couple classes for the remainder of my internship (which, OH MY GOD, is only two more weeks! Watch for a post on THAT!) and I'm more than happy to take them. I love the work, I love the kids, I'm having a great time.

And I hope I get the job....

(oh, and the graphic? I couldn't find anything "interview-ish", so I went with a spring motif)

Check In, Please

Dear Frankenstein Readers:

I've never done this sort of thing before - this "book club on a blog" thing - so please forgive if it's seeming a little choppy and disjointed. I'm doing the best I can in uncharted territory.

My question to you is this - where are all of you in the novel? I've asked my kids to read through chapter 15 for Monday, and I may give them a "reading day" on Monday, to boot, just so they can catch up if they're behind. I've got a couple of blog readers who are trying to figure out what they can comment on; they don't want to give away anything that others haven't read yet, so I want to get a sense of where we all are in the reading.

I also want to know if you would like some guiding questions. I've refrained from offering discussion suggestions for a number of reasons; I do it all day in school and I often don't feel like doing it at home; we're all adults here (well, MOST of the time!) and I'm really interested in what you think is important or interesting enough to talk about without any input from me and finally, I recognize my tendency, as an English teacher, for overanalyzation of literature - I often just can't help myself - and you might not be so inclined. If you WANT me to throw out a question or a topic for discussion, let me know and I'll be more than happy to oblige. Please know, though, that YOU can throw topics/questions/comments out for general consumption, too.

In a couple of days, when we've had some more conversations about what we've read thus far, I'll post an entry about some of the conversations I've had with the AP kids. I'll likely be looking for advice about keeping those conversations going, and about what a meaningful tactic for assessment might be, so please keep those questions in your mind as you continue to read.

Happy Saturday!

-Mrs. Chili

Friday, April 07, 2006

SO?! How'd it Go?!?

Not having had any experience with this sort of thing, I will tell you that my interview yesterday didn't go badly. No one asked me any questions I didn't understand, I didn't babble too much, I didn't use any inappropriate language (those of you who know me know that I'm sometimes prone to use the more, shall we say base?, figures in our language) and, when it was all over, the assistant principal, who showed me out of the room, said that it "went well." When I mentioned that this was my first-ever interview, he seemed mildlly surprised. I'm taking that as a good sign.

I'll write more tonight - I'm on my way out the door right now and I didn't have a chance to write last night because I was called in as an emergency substitute for a sign language class at the university and didn't get home until pretty late. I was exhausted by then and only wanted to go to bed.

Thank you all so much for your support. I promise to keep you apprised of everything that happens!

-Mrs. Chili

Monday, April 03, 2006


Seventh period, the last of the day, is what's called a literacy lab. It's a remedial class for kids who scored very low on some standardized language test. Our lab consists of five kids - three girls and two boys - and we try to spend some time each class working on some of the basic structures of English. Some of the kids do better with the basics than others.

True story:

Today, after the lesson, I left them with a half an hour in which to read. Two of the students - both of the boys - asked me if we could spend the time playing Scrabble. It's one of my favorite games, so I said "sure!"

One of the boys is a little frustrating to play with, though, because he insists on asking me if a collection of letters is a word. "Mrs. Chili, is 'g-a-m' a word? Is 'l-o-c' a word?" He does this all the time. He did this today.

We were about fifteen minutes into the game when this boy turns to me and says "Mrs. Chili, is 'y-o-u' a word?"

I looked at the boy and said "ask me again?" Which he does. I had ALL I could do to keep a straight face.

"Sweetie," I said, "if you don't know, you can't use the word."

He didn't.